First off, I'd like to thank Skyler White for dropping by again to answer some questions. Her first visit was last March for her release of and Falling, Fly, which I loved. Her new Dark Fantasy novel, In Dreams Begin, releases on November 2nd. I enjoyed In Dreams Begin and will be posting my review soon.
Sara: How would you describe your novel, In Dreams Begin, in three sentences or less, for readers who haven’t heard of it before?
Skyler: When the consciousness of a modern woman wakes up in the body of Maud Gonne, the turn-of-the century Irish revolutionary and famous beauty who might have been part faery, Laura meets and falls in love with the poet W. B. Yeats. As long as she believes the poet exists only in her dreams, her modern life and new marriage benefit from her wild, Victorian love affair, but as she understands that Ida Jameson, a dangerously ambitious amateur occultist, is channeling her actual awareness, things start to fall apart in the present, in the past, and in a mysterious and sinister world between.
How would you describe Laura, Amit, Maude, and Will using only three words each?
Laura -- modern, uncertain, rational
Amit -- fearless, generous, practical
Maud -- single-minded, passionate, selfish
Will -- passionate, brave, visionary
Sara: Why time travel? It’s a subject that’s not used too often in the genre. Were you worried it wouldn’t quite fit in with other Urban Fantasy or Paranormal novels? Did you think it would fill a gap in the genre that many authors are not writing about?
Skyler: I wanted to tell a time travel story because I like reading them. I’m interested in other eras, I wanted to map the origins of the Hell Olivia travels to in and Falling, Fly, and I wanted to play with some of the contrasts and similarities between the Victorian age and our own. As for genre, honestly, I don’t think about that while I’m writing. So I guess Dreams, for that reason, probably doesn’t quite fit into either Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance as neatly as it might, although there are certainly elements of both. Technically, it’s Dark Fantasy. I know that genre designations are there to help readers find more books of a type they know they like, but I worry that sometimes they become prescriptive rather than descriptive, and I think that’s bad for readers. Readers are much more open-minded than marketing departments give them credit for being. I know that books need to be categorized so bookstores know where to put them, but I think writers have an obligation to challenge all sorts of conventions. Shelving among them.
Sara: The details of the occult practices and possession were very interesting and precise. Was this subject hard to find information about? Or did the research come easily? Was it something you had always planned to include, or did it sneak up on you while researching for other aspects of the story?
Skyler: I’m glad you found it interesting! I did too. The time-travel mechanism in the book evolved from a portal, so the channeling of souls wasn’t something I started out with. It came out of links I discovered between my actual life and Maud’s, but by the time I’d settled on the modern-soul-occupies-Victorian-body idea, I was already deep enough into the lives of Maud and Yeats that the occult was already part of my research, since they were both so heavily involved with it.
There’s plenty of information out there on the occult, but it can be difficult to parse. I restricted myself to period resources though, so everything I was reading about the technology of séances and channeling, “metallic mediums” and ritual sex, was either written by or would have been available to my characters.
Sara: The occult played a large part in your novel, In Dreams Begin. Was this aspect of history expanded upon for your novel, or did you find that many people dabbled in the occult at this time?
Skyler: The occult was the ‘reality TV’ of turn-of-the-century Europe. Mesmerists worked the lecture circuit and professional mediums gave private sessions in the White House. It was great theater. People were expecting science to prove –- really any day now –- the empirical existence of the soul. Technology had already revealed so many other mysteries. If science could turn up microbes and show us distant planets, certainly the spirit realm would be next to yield its secrets. It seems credulous to us now, but really, I think it was a wonderful optimism. Imagine believing that, with the right device or discovery, you could actually see the lingering souls of the dead, or that re-arranging your magnetic field might instantaneously remedy emotional problems or guarantee longevity. To the late Victorians, and really until the First World War, history was seen as one continuous improvement with perfectibility a real –- and probably nearby –- option.
Sara: Your descriptions of all the places visited in the novel are so vivid. I know from the first time you stopped by that you visited Ireland for fun in 2005. Have you taken another trip since for research purpose, or do you have a good memory of your first trip?
Skyler: I went back. Pretty late into writing Dreams, I had an opportunity to go back across the ocean, and since by that stage I already had a pretty evolved draft, I knew where each scene in the book was going to be set. I was able to visit every one of them –- or the closest extant place –- in Ireland, London and Paris, and that hugely affected the book. There were sections that got taken out, or re-written or added based on what I learned traveling. I blogged about it some while I was there.
Sara: There didn’t seem to be any crossover between characters from your first novel, and Falling, Fly, and In Dreams Begin. Was this your intention, did it just happen naturally, or did I miss something?
Skyler: It’s subtle, but it’s there. Olivia from Falling sits next to Laura on the airplane to Ireland. And
*Spoiler alert -- highlight to read*
the thing MacGregor Mathers turns into when the sleeping king moves into his body, with the matte gold fingernails, Victorian dress, and long white hair, the thing with a name “half Gaelic and half God” is Gaehod. The hotel Olivia and Dominic retreat to is built – to a large extent – based on the ideas Ida gives to her devil of possession, which she stole from Yeats’s description of the haven he would like to build as his Castle of Heroes.
Sara: Do you have any future books planned in this dark and edgy world you’ve created?
Skyler: Oh yes! I have a ‘Secret Plan’ (cue cackle). There’s an over-arching series concept at work way in the background of both books that should become more obvious as the whole thing unfolds, but I also have some very specific stories planned. Right now, I have a proposal in with my editor at Berkley for a series-within-a-series. It’s a set of three books following two main characters, set in LA, and concerned with more “normal” supernatural creatures –- monsters and faeries and maybe even a zombie. I want this trilogy to nest inside The Harrowing, and to be faster both to read and write than Dreams and Falling.
Sara: Who are your greatest influences, both in and out of the Urban Fantasy genre?
Skyler: Carl Jung and David Bowie.
Ursala LeGuin, Tanith Lee, Emma Bull, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Neil Gaiman.
That’s a tiny section of inside.
Sara: What are you currently reading?
Skyler: The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers and The Possessed by Elif Batuman.
Skyler White is the nationally bestselling author of dark fantasy novels ‘and Falling, Fly’ (Berkley, March 2010) and ‘In Dreams Begin’ (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her on the web at http://www.skylerwhite.com.
Thank you, Skyler, for taking the time to answer my questions! Feel free to post any comments or questions for Skyler.