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Member No.: 1
Joined: 5-November 06
I spoke with "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters" author Gordon Dahlquist for a long time about this book, it's part fantasy, part romance, part adventure, all mystery.....
Mr. Dahlquist was very easy to talk to and had a lot of amazing things to say to us.
I hope you enjoy reading what he had to share with us as much as I enjoyed visiting with him about "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters."
Don't forget, we begin our discussion of his book, right here on Jan 05!
SPOILER WARNING, some plot lines are discussed, so consider this your fair warning.
Cover images copyright Bantambooks.com
JDR: Thanks so much for speaking with me about your book, "The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters!" I want to thank you for this book, but I also want to beat you up about it because I've carried this book with me everywhere I've been just so I could read the next page or two when I had a spare minute! (We laughed)
GD: Thank you, it's that kind of book! It's not a book for everybody, but it's a book that if you want to, it asks you to sink into it, it's that kind of experience.
JDR: I did a little Googling on you and found an interview you had done, where you said that you wanted to write a book that would give you a kick in the pants.
GD: Yeah, I think everyone writes on some level to please them selves or write the kind of book they would like to read. I read lots of different kinds of things, I've always read a lot of science fiction, when I was younger I read all of the Tolkien books several times, I read mystery stories, all kinds of things like that, and I read comic books and all of those things I enjoy but so frequently it's all about turning them out so quickly. I just wanted to try to write something that took a little longer that could afford to be a little more detailed, a little more luxurious, the kind of things that I take more pleasure from in the stories.
I didn't have any kind of publishing deal when it happened so it was very much written to entertain me. Because I like those stories I wanted to try to do five of them at once.
JDR: What gave you the kick? Was there a particular storyline that grabbed you?
GD: In a way what gave me the kick was being able to combine them to actually realize that you can make it kind of complicated, that you could actually spend time in the details. An enormous amount happens in the book, but it really only covers about two and half days. For me, my pleasure is actually imagining the situation, what would you do? What would you think? And some of that is also about imagining a different time and there are different pressures and different societal assumptions but also it's just the ability to lace one little plot thread clue and not really come back to it for about fifty pages and then...oh there's a little bit more and oh there's a bit more...and by the end you've got this really dense weave of things going back and forth. For years and years I wrote plays and the American theater is such that the money situation is such that people generally write four to six character plays and that's all anyone can afford, if that. That last act of the book is essentially a fourteen character play set on a dirigible. I've counted them, and there are something like ten or twelve people with speaking parts and it's a long scene. If you were to speak it out it's at least a half an hour or forty five minutes. So in a way there's also the pleasure in actually writing a one act play, a one act climax in a way that you can't do anymore in the theater. The thing that really hooked me was the complexity, being able to do that kind of detail and that kind of psychological detail, hopefully going deep into people's psyche, but not through like ' Oh I have this memory about my kitten,' in a way you never find out, like what in the world happened with Chang,.he's blinded and getting in the nose and who was that guy. In another kind of novel, the person who did that to him would show up. And I don't really so much care about that, I'm more about trying to find his psychology just by what he does and how he chooses, so it's all through the details of every day life, actually reveal that. Which to me, that's interesting because that's actually how you get to know most people.
JDR: The whole time, as I was reading the book, I kept thinking what a marvelous play this would be!
GD: Right, you know I have nothing to do with the whole idea of it being a movie, which I'm really happy about. I'm still writing...a sequel is out already in England and then here in March, and I'm about halfway through a third. But, I'm still writing them. Any conventional screenplay has to chunk it down to about a third the size and you have to cut characters and combine things and I don't want to do that, I don't want to say that I'm cutting this character while I'm still writing that character. (laughs) So I can't have anything to do with that and I'm totally supportive of what they're doing but you know a film production is in many ways its own kind of theater board meeting....you know 'who can we get" -."who can't we get?"..."how much time can it be?".. "where can we film and depending on that, how much can we spend?"
JDR: So you've turned it over to somebody else?
GD: Yeah but on the other hand, I think it's the kind of thing that you read and you can't help but imagine ...like "oh that would look so great."
JDR: I kept imagining Depp as one character, but I'm interested in what character you think he'd play.
GD: Many, many people, who would know nothing about the filming, from the beginning would say "oh he's Cardinal Chang and I think he would be great as Cardinal Chang, I don't think there's any question about it. I also think he would actually be, when thinking about "Sleepy Hollow" and any number of kinds of roles he's played I think he would be also superb as the doctor. And in a way, I think that's a more natural fit but it's not up to me. (laughs again) I think he could do either of them, he could do anybody.
JDR: Talking about something being a kick in the pants, you've written several plays, won awards....what kind of kick in the pants was it to sell your first book?
GD: Well it was really insane! The whole circumstance was really crazy. I basically knew nobody in the publishing industry. A friend of mine who was also a playwright was also an audio book editor at a big press. And I knew her and said can you read the first three chapters and let me know what you think? And typical of any kind of editor, they walk around with these satchels of twelve manuscripts at all times. And they're always saying I'll read it, I'll read it. You know they are reading things constantly and so that was in March of 2005 and I was doing a play in New York that summer and she had gone to the west coast, I think, for the Fourth of July and came back and was jet lagged and up and she read it. She started reading it and burned through the first few chapters in a night and I didn't have a cell phone then but she knew my director and she left this message on his machine saying "havehimcallmehavehimcallme" and of course my director, being a director, let me know after midnight that she'd called. By the time I got back to her, it was the next work day and she was kind of worked up and hadn't heard from me and had kind of marched into her boss's office and whopped down the first three chapters and said that my friend's working on this thing and it's great. I want you to look at it. And so it went into the pipe at that press, that was in July and then by August I had met with the editor there who was really enthusiastic about it and the expectation was, crazily that they were going to bid. I didn't know what that was, I didn't know anything. But then August in the publishing world is all about vacations so there was a week when the editor was on vacation and then when the Editor in Chief was, then another when the publisher was. I was told at the beginning of August that I'd know something any day now....and then it really dragged until Labor Day (Sept)..and then after Labor Day they came back and said well, the editor's point of view was that it's a mystery, it's a thriller, it's sexy, it's romantic, it's exciting, it's all these things and it's the publisher's view as well, it's a thriller, it's historical, it's romantic, what is it? We don't know how to market it. So they kind of disagreed, so they made an offer and it was really pretty low and at any other time in my life I would have jumped at it. But I had an agent but that time and he was like really, I think we can do better than this. We should at least talk to other people. So I left my office, took a walk around the block...and then my agent, who at the time was in California was partnering with this agent who was primarily a foreign rights agent put together an auction. And I really knew nothing about it. So literally on Friday we say no to the one press and then over that weekend, this other agent who I'd not met, faxes the book, which is not short, to thirteen presses. And then over the weekend there's this kind of frenzy and I hear about it on Monday and get a sort of update on Tuesday. The New York agent's office is up in Westchester and so he comes in to the Algonquin Hotel, it's a huge meeting place for publishers, so I went there on Wednesday and met the editor and we had this crazy meeting where I walked out at the end of an hour having a hand shake deal. I didn't get a check for another two and a half months. It was this crazy hallucinogenic thing. It was about the publishing market then and international momentum and all of these things. It was very strange. I've had friends ask me how do I get my book published and literally, I have no idea. It just happened. I have a lot more experience now...I know a lot more about the publishing industry. It came totally out of the blue.
JDR; WOW! And then the rights were sold when?
GD: That took a long time, right when the whole deal was happening there was a sort of feeding frenzy...everyone wants to buy it! And also every Hollywood film agencies were saying let us represent your book. So first I met with all of these agencies - tried to decide which was the right one. Then, the one I signed with, which was UTA ...their advice was you can sell it now for a lot of money but you really are just selling it and you don't know who you are selling it to. But our advice is to wait for the book to settle down, let the mania pass and you'll see who really cares about it and see who really wants it. The risk being, after the mania passes, no one will want it. But that was their sense and it made perfect sense to me because I care about the book and I didn't want to sell it to anyone who I thought was crap and then they contacted me and I heard from Sam Sarkar, he's a great guy. We met for breakfast…totally no pressure, not about the book, talked about everything in the world...everything. We had a perfectly lovely talk, he's a great guy and then I didn't hear anything and then they wanted to buy it. I believed they were the right place, certainly everything that Johnny Depp does has a real clear sense of integrity with regard to Hollywood. They cared about the details and that's why they wanted to do it, which is again, for me all the more important to know that any attempts to make the book into a movie means turning it into something entirely different. You want people who are going to really care about what they are doing, it may look like something entirely different but it's going to have its own integrity that's going to pay attention to what the book's all about. So in that sense I feel really comfortable.
JDR: Did you start to write this book with the idea that it might be more than a single title?
GD: Not immediately, I originally wrote it knowing that the story wasn't finished, but really feeling like it could end...that it's only two and half days and that in some sense, you've come full circle. So it was really fine to me. Again, totally unbeknownst to me the New York agent negotiated a two book deal. Then when an adventure starts up again, do you look at it differently? And are you changed? Are your reasons for doing it different? So that seemed like a book about transition so it seems pretty natural that the book would have its own, that there would be a third one. So I didn't write the first one knowing that there would be a sequel, I was perfectly happy with the end.
JDR: You've got three really, really fascinating characters with Cardinal Chang, Miss Temple and Doctor Svenson. By the way, I love that you call her Miss Temple through the book, I kept wondering when we'd find out her first name.
GD: Lots of people call her Celeste, but I don't, really. That's been a funny thing, as the books have gone on, the degree to which Svenson and Chang can actually call her Celeste. But no one else does...well or the Contessa.
JDR: These three characters, Miss Temple, Chang and Doctor Svenson together make a whole, was that your goal, to kind of bring pieces to the table with them?
GD: Definitely, and on different levels, one of the things that's sort of fun, like a big fake 19th century novel so much seems like the project of a 19th century novel is about it's being a portrait of society. There's this huge wide canvas and so to one degree it's certainly about showing different levels of class and really different levels of this kind of experience, different kinds of education, different genders, different class, different nations. So there's that, and trying to have each of them have a different biographical, biological background. But then also, that each one offers immediately a different kind of fictional genre. In Miss Temple you have a sense of mystery and intrigue but it's much more kind of lurid and romantic, because she's so much more steeped in innocence and foreignness. It's so much more full of wonder, I think and with Chang there's so much more immediately about adventure and about another kind of intrigue and with Svenson there's immediately a deductive mystery...all the stuff at the very beginning about where's the cigarette butt and where's the ladder and who could have done this? And that he's more rational, more educated so there's bringing those different kinds of stories. For me some of the pleasure is watching it overlap in the last couple of chapters, Chang is behaving much more like Svenson and Svenson is careening through the mansion killing everybody. For me the fun is that that can only happen if you've already set up somebody else being that, if you notice the switch, and it also kind of overlaps them with each other. So definitely, to have each one of them bring things and definitely create a whole. But the other thing that's kind of funny to me is that they don't really spend so much time together and yet they really become attached to each other. Which is one of the interesting things about it, the second book is out in the UK...a little bit of a spoiler here, but a lot of the second book is spent with them apart. And the third book, they're very much together. So what's curious about the third book is actually having the three of them have a ten page conversation which has never happened before after 3,000 pages. For me it's a real interesting kind of challenge, everyone knows each other really well except actually, they don't. So it keeps it hopefully fresh and it's also exciting to read.
JDR: And you've set them in the make believe place...that you just created.
GD: Yeah, pretty much. You know, I don't presume to know any European city well enough, nor do I really care to do the research because the book isn't really about that. But I don't want to set it in London or Amsterdam or Budapest and pretend that's where it is. But at the same time, I think there's something really deliberate about that fact that it's fake or made up allows you to both, put your own stamp on it as a reader. I've had people say ...oh it's just like London and others say oh it's just like Paris. And I recently went to Budapest and I thought oh it's just like Budapest. LOL Part of it's just fun and also because it is a really a historical story, it's really a 21st century narrative in fiction. You read it and it's clearly also about other things like computers, and it's about things like imperialism and it's about things like sexuality that you view as a 21st century person when you are reading it. I did very little research for this book, I'm a real fan of George Macdonald Fraser who wrote Flashman, he was so scrupulously researched, at one point she has the big scene of having tea in the hotel and she has been given slices of mango and my editor was is mango a European fruit? And she notes that her father had a mango tree on the island and so I had to go to my computer and found that the Portugese brought the mango from Brazil in 1500-something and figured it could get up to Antigua by 1800-something, so I figure I am fine.
JDR: Glass books. That's an interesting concept.
GD: I spent a lot of time working at Columbia University doing digital publishing, working with computers I was the Columbia webmaster for a few years so a lot of it comes from hanging around computers and computer people. It's not so much about computers, as it is how we use technology, particularly technology that holds information, whether it's a photograph or whether it's a computer or a television, it really changes how we think about ourselves. If you think about it, right now we can have just about any piece of music pretty much anywhere and you think a hundred years ago the circumstances under which you would hear a symphony were really specific and they weren't portable and only so many people had ever heard one. Speaking of Johnny Depp, I saw an interview with Jack Nicholson once and he was saying, in the nicest possible way, you know "you've got to understand that I meet more people in a year than most people meet in their entire life". And not be a colossal ass when you literally can't take it in, but you think about just from photography, how many people's faces and bodies do we just take for granted that we've seen relative to someone say a hundred years ago who lived in a village? Things are happening so quickly, just with the jumps with cell phones, you have cell phones with pictures and cell phones with texts. I'm old enough to remember VCRs and I remember the first Apple computers coming out, and I remember the first i-pods and people saying that it's just like people walking down the street in a movie. And now that is totally invisible. So some of that for me about the glass books is to get that kind of technology that radically changes the way you think about yourself, the idea that you could either lose yourself in or swamp yourself with all these other experiences as if they're real. I'm not a technophobe, I mean I love my computer and I love the internet but it's clearly a tool. People now define themselves by how many friends they have on Facebook. If you were to tell someone fifteen years ago that a really important part of your life was connecting to a hundred people that you've never met they would find that strange, they might not find it bad but it would certainly be different.
JDR: The story you've told highlighted the idea of men wanting to control women. Big sexual control issues.
GD: I think that's the narrative, I think the degree to which western history is about triumph or insecurity, the chicken and the egg. I was upstate in NY with a bunch of friends and we were on this lake and the lake had these tiny little islands, little bits of land. ..and we had three canoes and we decided to just race to the island and one of my friends got there first and we had decided, in the imperialist tradition that who ever got to the island first, got to name the island. So my friend got to the island and proudly pronounced it "My Triumph Island" and it was like, that was western history. For so many people, women are part of that "my triumph island" and whether it's control of their workplace, controlling their body, controlling their education, it's still really active territory. And you look at what was going on in the 19th century and it's even more so which is one of the reasons to talk about the 19th century, for writing purposes all these genres are out, you're getting Sherlock Holmes all kinds of big novels and you're getting Victorian pornography all kinds of undercurrents of genres, you're getting Bram Stoker.. so there's that and you've got the society that views itself as intensely moralistic and kind of superior and all about kind of reaching down from a height to elevate people and yet what's going on in this sort of imperialist mission, what's actually going on in Africa or the Indies or anywhere, it's insanely immoral in regards to what's going on in England in regards to women, in regard to children working, it's heinous. But the people in charge, the people writing the history of the country aren't aware of it and it's this kind of cognitive dissonance, two trains running at the same time. You can be a liberated woman if you are someone like the Contessa or if you're someone like Miss Temple who's rich and if you're not it's really tough and no one's interested in that toughness.
JDR: Do you have any idea when the movie will start filming?
GD: My understanding is that they've just hired a writer, so I don't know. I don't know if he, Johnny Depp, is interested in being in it, or if they just want to produce it. Who in the world knows? I mean a film is so difficult to make and there's so many different people involved in it, so many different steps of real active creativity.
JDR: I have a couple of other things I wanted to hit on, and you've been so generous with your time, if you are OK time wise?
JDR: Dirigibles, pan opticons...did you know about these?
GD: Pan opticons are something...I went to grad school in the 80s and I think pan opticons were definitely in the air during a certain part of academia, that I kind of knew and that's also very interesting to me in terms of theater. And the dirigible is just really crazily...I can tell you the origin of the dirigible which is the thing that I do for exercise is fence, and a bunch of guys that I fence with for now almost twenty years and one guy that I've been fencing with since junior high and we've gone through training programs and we've learned at various places but we fence in this old dilapidated park that's surrounded by trees and malfunctioning lamp posts and in the middle of it ages ago as some community project they had painted this kind of strange circle probably about eight yards across and the circle was almost a kind of game board only this strangely almost demonic, one would have a big eye, one had an almost female centaur with horns, almost wicked kind of thing ..so it was almost like this weird kind of sacrifice circle but one of the guys I fence with had created, kind of out of whole cloth, this kind of 19th century idea of people fighting in the hot air balloon. So we're going to fence on this circle, to go out of the circle is to fall out of the balloon and to fall into the circle is to fall into the flame that elevates the balloon. So you're fencing and leaping around over the middle and backing off and we did that for several years and it became its own sort of game really but that put in my head the whole balloons...dirigibles, and there's no fencing outside the dirigible, but the whole notion of balloons in general was totally in my head because of that. So that was a very long answer. Not that I hold myself up to be any kind of fencing expert but a lot of the stuff that happens, particularly with Chang is stuff that I've done in one way or another.
JDR: You even managed to have Miss Temple use a weapon, she was so amazed at the heft of weapon and that was so believable!! Then this little Victorian woman would be fencing and stabbing people and her reaction is perfect!
GD: I'm so glad, I mean that's also that kind of thing if you feel like this is actually happening what it would be like for someone else to really do it then that's the measure of success.
JDR: May I share that there is a number three coming out?
GD: Sure, sure.
JDR: Are you going to do a book tour with number two?
GD: I have no idea. I did a small one with book number one, just going to a few cities really. I don't know, that would be March, April...so I'm not really sure.
JDR: If there is one, I'll rally the troops in support.
GD: Oh well, if there is one, I'll let you know. Absolutely.
JDR: I'm going to throw a word at you...steam punk.
GD: Oh sure, totally....yeah yeah yeah there's William Gibson, Bruce Sterling books, "the Difference Engine." There was a big animated movie years ago...what was the name? Steam boy! This wasn't written with any sense of that but certainly I am aware of it. I'm a big fan of Neal Stephenson and I really like the "Baroque" trilogy books and the "Cryptonomicon" book.
JDR: You have been so kind and generous with your time today!
Member No.: 21
Joined: 26-January 07
Thanks Karen for this fascinating interview! Thanks to Mr. Dahlquist for taking the time to share his insights into The Glass Books......I find it fascinating to read about author's motivations for their books.
"It is not the destination so much as the journey" ~Capt. Jack Sparrow
Member No.: 1,134
Joined: 7-August 07
Karen, you simply floor me. Thank you to Mr. Dahlquist for sharing so many details of his writing experience. It was well worth the wait to read this interview. My recollection of the book is fuzzy...finished it awhile ago and it was a library copy but I'm still looking forward to the discussion and hope that I might participate in some small way.
Member No.: 182
Joined: 3-February 07
That's interesting to see he was a university Webmaster and now also a novelist. It just goes to show that people may be multi-talented and have broad interests even though you may meet them while they are in a particular job at a particular point in their lives.
Member No.: 84
Joined: 28-January 07
Very nice interview, Karen, thank you so much.
I have to thank Mr. Dahlquist for writing such a unique, strong female heroine character who proves that women can tap into power they never knew they had. I'm not that far into the book at this point, but from the very first chapter "Temple", you can see that this is a woman who has intestinal fortitude - an 'all or nothing' attiude and is not the shy, retiring flower that society wants her to be. She seems driven by her curiosity and her intense pride. She's not going to take it lying down. I love her!
Member No.: 1
Joined: 5-November 06
I love her too and she and Cardinal Chang and Dr. Svenson just work well together!! Miss Temple reminds me of a more sexual "Amelia Peabody" character, she's written by Elizabeth Peters and is set during the same time frame. Strong, smart and a person of her own mind.
Angelica to Jack - "How is it we can never meet without you pointing something at me?"
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