Today was my first book read, at the Barnes & Noble. (Shout out to Tim, who was so welcoming and arranged such a nice reading area. He even saved me a couple of promo posters!) I was asked to talk for a few minutes before the reading, and I thought I'd post my comments here in case people who couldn't make the reading are interested.
The last few weeks I’ve been answering a lot of questions for blog interviews, everything from “What made you want to be a writer?” to “If your book were a cupcake, what would it taste like?” Honestly, some of the questions have been incredibly difficult. But a few of the valuable things I’ve taken away from them have been a truer sense of what the book is really about, what it means to me, and why I love it and hope others will as well.
The question I keep reflecting on in my mind, even weeks after I sent the response in, is, “Can you tell us about your heroine Joshlyn? What makes her special, sets her apart from other YA heroines?” I struggled for a long time with this question, because I realized as I tried to answer it that I was afraid readers might not find her appealing for the same reasons I did. I wasn’t exactly an average, normal teenager. I mean, everybody thought I was too smart and too creative and completely weird.
That got me to thinking about what my own teenage years were like, and the more I remembered, the more I realized that I was awesome! Yeah, everybody thought I was weird, but the weirder I was, the more they wanted to hang out with me. In middle school, I invited all my friends over and we lay on the floor and listened to a self-hypnosis tape that guided us through remembering our past lives. When we had parties, I would make Jeopardy-type games, but all the trivia questions would be about us. I directed home movies with titles like “The Brilliance of Insanity” and “Schlinder’s Laundry Girls” and “The Dark Head.”
At the end of freshman year, I left high school to homeschool and focus on reading and writing. I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen. Before you get impressed, be aware that it was a terrible novel. And my second novel was even worse! My third novel contained descriptive gems like this one: “The stars were sprinkled across the sky like powdered sugar on a doughnut.” It took me a lot of years and a lot of novels before I wrote anything even readable. But I kept writing. I was committed—no, I was more than committed. I was obsessed. And that leads me back to Joshlyn, my heroine.
Josh is obsessed, too. We have that in common. We’ve both spent our lives feeling like we’re destined to do one thing, and sacrificing everything else to do it. But before I tell you what Josh’s obsession is, let me tell you what it’s not. It’s not popularity. It’s not beauty. It’s not money or fame. It’s not finding love.
Josh’s obsession, her destiny, her calling, is dream walking. She enters people’s nightmares through a stone archway in her basement, and she saves them. If they’re dreaming about a monster, she slays it; an unending task, she finishes it; an embarrassing situation, she relieves it. She is saving people from the cruelty of their unconscious selves, one person at a time, and she knows that her duty is a sacred one because the greatest unkindnesses in the world are the ones we inflict on ourselves.
Josh isn’t a traditional young adult heroine, and this isn’t a traditional young adult book. Obviously, I wasn’t a traditional young adult, and like all teenagers, I wanted to read about someone like me, someone who had a passion for something and knew the importance of that. Another blog question asked what I want readers to take away from Dreamfire: I want them to know that strength comes in many different forms, and sometimes the bravest act is to believe in yourself.
Unlike many of the YA heroines of today, Josh isn’t embarrassed by her talent. She embraces it because she knows that helping people is what’s important, and that’s why I love her, and Dreamfire is the story of Josh learning to treat herself with the same compassion with which she treats others.
It’s also the story of a young man who’s never had a place in the world finding his family, two friends torn apart by betrayal, an old man’s secret, a haunting, a fire, a disappearance, apple kuchen, thylacines, and a madman’s revenge on the society that destroyed him. So, basically, something for everyone.