For those not familiar with Dreamlander, can you tell us a bit about it?
Dreamlander is the story of Chris Redston, a discontented journalist from Chicago who begins having strange dreams of a beautiful woman on a black warhorse who is trying to shoot him. Turns out he’s special: one of the few who can consciously travel between our world and the world where we live in our dreams. Before he figures all that out, he accidentally resurrects a vengeance-obsessed warlord who knocks the balance between the worlds out of whack. Together with a suspicious princess and a guilt-ridden Cherazii warrior, Chris has to hurl himself into a battle to save a country from war and two worlds from annihilation.
This is your first try at the fantasy genre. How has that been compared to other books you’ve written? I’m thinking both about the writing process, but also the way it has been received by the fans.
My readers have been very receptive to the switch in genre. My previous book was medieval fiction, so it’s not a big jump to epic fantasy. I knew this book was coming before my first historical novel was ever published, so I was calling myself an “author of historical and speculative fiction” from the start of my career, to prepare readers for the direction I was going to be heading.
It was a challenging book to write. The solidity of being able to look up all the facts about a foreign setting, which had always been available to me before in writing historical novels, was replaced by the heady experience of getting to make up everything as I went along. Creating realistic geographic, political, and technological systems was all interesting—and, in the end, extremely rewarding. I based much of the feel of the fantasy world on the Thirty Years War (think: Three Musketeers), so I had that framework to work with. It was also a lot of fun challenging myself to think past classic fantasy tropes of elves and dragons and swords and sorcery. I ended up with some unique and fun races, as well as an aerial railway system and hydro-powered firearms, which ended up giving the whole thing a bit of a steampunk vibe.
Can you tell us a bit about the Reivers, what was your thought when you created them?
The Reivers were in the story almost from Day One. Originally, I had conceived them as a sort of mischievous brownie-like race, but somewhere along the line, I had the idea to make them symbionts of the Cherazii. Pitch and Raz, of course, personified the Reiver race for the majority of the book. I knew I wanted them to have contrasting personalities—Pitch, cute and childlike, and Raz, grumpy and selfish—and they just took off on their own from there. I had more fun with those two than I have with just about any other characters I’ve written.
What goals might you have set for yourself when writing Dreamland and how do you feel about the end result?
Dreamlander’s first draft was a mess. Everything from my main character to my main setting weren’t as fleshed out as they needed to be. My main goal was just to fix it. I rewrote the heck out of the book. It’s probably one of the most exhausting books I’ve written, simply because I pushed myself so hard and in so many new directions. But it’s also one of the most rewarding stories I’ve worked on. I love how the fantasy world turned out. By the time I was finished, I think it had become more real to me than any of the historical settings I’ve worked on.
You have characters that are born into a role like Allara and then Chris who are more tossed into the unknown. Can you give us some insight into your main characters?
I clearly remember thinking, in the first draft, that Allara was one of the most difficult characters I’d worked with, simply because she refused to talk to me. But she ended up being one of my favorite female characters. It was fun to pit Chris’s sometimes unpredictable enthusiasm against her stubborn determination. He was water to her rock. And I would have to say much of their contrasting personalities were the result of their roles in the story.
Allara was born into this tremendous responsibility. Not only was she the daughter of the king, but she had the duty, from childhood onward, of being a Searcher. The inherent structure in her life molded her into the structured, unyielding, terrifically dutiful person she ends up being.
Chris, on the other hand, grew up in a chaotic childhood, in which his mother and sister were killed in a car accident and his alcoholic father went emotionally AWOL. So he’s much more flexible, much more impulsive. He and Allara both share a certain amount of skepticism about the world—which is what gets him in trouble when he first crosses over into the dream world—but he’s less confined by fears and responsibilities than she is, and as a result, more inclined to immediate and forceful action in response to situations. She plays by the rules; he thinks outside of the box.
I discovered Dominick Finelle’s amazing photography and design via The July Group and fell in love with his style. He worked with me to create a concept that would reflect the Renaissance feel of the fantasy world and paid special attention to my desire for eye-popping color.
Will we see more stories set in a fantasy setting from you in the future?
Oh, definitely. I find myself leaning more and more in that direction. I love the flexibility of the fantasy genre. I love starting with a historical setting that interests me, then using it as a jumping off point for a fantasy world. It gives me the best of both worlds, since I get to play with the history without being confined by it.
My next two novels are both set in our world, but with supernatural elements. After that, I see myself going exclusively epic fantasy for a while.
Do you see the Dreamlander universe and characters as a closed chapter or have you considered a spin-off of sorts? I’d imagine it would be hard, but I’d personally love to follow the main characters on a new adventure even though the concept and setting probably would have to be quite different.
I’ve yet to write a sequel to any of my books. I tend to think in standalone stories, largely because I have so many other ideas I want to explore. But I’ve definitely considered some sort of sequel for Dreamlander. There is a lot about the world and particularly the Gifted/Searcher dynamic that I’d like to explore. But so far no concrete ideas have presented themselves. Maybe someday!
Can you tell us a bit about your next novels?
My next novel (due out in 2015) is Storming, a historical novel with dieselpunk overtones. After an eccentric woman falls out of the sky onto his biplane, an irresponsible barnstormer must help her prevent a pirate dirigible with a weather machine from wreaking havoc on the Nebraska hometown he fled nine years ago.
What in your experience has been the best way of marketing your books?
An online presence has been vital for me. I’ve built a following around my instructional blog Helping Writers Become Authors, which allows me to connect with thousands of readers. I make a point to interact with followers every day, both on the blog and through social media. When it comes time to launch a book, I like to go big with giveaways and fun contests.
How did you start writing? Was there a particular book or moment in your life that spurned you on?
I started writing almost by accident. As a child, I always told myself stories, with no inkling of ever actually becoming a writer (I wanted to be a horse trainer). I started writing them down just so I wouldn’t forget them. Before I knew it, I found myself wanting to spend more time inside writing than I did outside with my horses. I can’t look back and pick out any specific moment as being the one when I knew I was a writer. It crept up on me.
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Interview by Dag Rambraut - SFFWorld.com © 2014