I'm so pleased to welcome back author Skyler White to P.S. I Love Books. I was fortunate enough to review her recently released novel In Dreams Begin (Berkley Trade - September 2010) and talk with her about it.
A lil background info before we go on:
Nationally bestselling author Skyler White’s debut novel, the vampire/neuroscience fable ‘and Falling, Fly‘ (Berkley, March 2010), was named one of the top five sci-fi/fantasy books of 2010 by ‘Library Journal’. Her follow-up, ‘In Dreams Begin‘ (Berkley, November 2010), is a time-travel horror/romance involving W.B. Yeats and other luminaries of the late Victorian ‘Golden Dawn’ occult movement, and was called a “singularly unique work of art” by Barnes & Noble.
The child of two college professors, Skyler grew up in an environment of scholarship and academic rigor, so naturally left high school to pursue a career in ballet. She’s been dancing around research and thinking through muscle cramps ever since. She has a master’s degree in theater and work experience in advertising; she’s won awards as a stage director and appeared on reality TV. She is a mother and an instigator, a wife and a realist, a liberal living in Texas and an atheist who believes in mythology. She is a sucker for paradox, and it’s a fortunate thing, too!
“I wrote In Dreams Begin because I fell in love with W. B. Yeats, which created some interesting problems for me. I fell in love with his world, one in which hypnotists and Charles Darwin, advocates of free love and Carl Marx cycled through the public lecture halls, where the tools of science were enlisted in the search for God and fairies, and where the sexual repression I thought of as “Victorian” did not extend to the artistic or royal classes, whose invention and exploration make modern sexual liberation look lacking in imagination.
“I shared with Yeats a fascination with demonic or occult possession. While his investigations were more experiential than mine, in writing a woman from my time who inhabits the body of a woman from his, I got to play with changing ideas of beauty. I was able to question whether I am my body or a part of it, or it a part of who I am. Possession — by spirits or of stuff — on either side of the then rise and now (perhaps) decline of the consumer culture, raised interesting quandaries: Do I truly possess my own body? Is it mine to maintain, enhance, neglect or add horns to? Can I give myself to someone? Do I own my child? Is my body’s health a status symbol, a communication tool, a shell for my soul, or a public policy problem? And isn’t channeling the souls of other people really what all writers do?
“Finally, I was attracted by Yeats’s total lack of interest in realism, the same restless curiosity I admire in contemporary fantasy writers, and by his passion and imagination, which I recognize and love in today’s bloggers and deep hobbyists. I also saw in him the beginning of the modern rejection of absolute certainty that makes it difficult to passionately commit to anything – book, blog or love forever. I loved his passion and his uncertainty. I still do. And I am still uncertain.”
You can visit her website here: http://www.skylerwhite.com/
Me: Thank you for taking the time out to visit P.S. I Love Books to talk about your latest novel Skyler! It’s always a pleasure to have you here.
Skye: Thanks so much. It’s fun to be here!
Me: Can you tell us a little about In Dreams Begin and your inspiration for the novel?
Skye: Happy to! “In Dreams Begin” is a dark romance/secret history in which the consciousness of a modern woman wakes up in the body of Irish Victorian freedom fighter, Maud Gonne. In Maud’s body, Laura meets and falls in love with the poet W. B. Yeats and must negotiate the body- and mind-shifting that happens between the past and her modern life.
Having written (but at that point, not yet sold) a dark vampire-and-neuroscientist love story (and Falling, Fly) that explored desire both mythically and medically, I wanted romance. I wanted it with a capital R, down on one knee, in poetry and Irish moonlight. So I was doing research. I was looking for an exemplum of a type. I was not looking for historical fiction. But I found Yeats. And I fell in love with him, and that’s what inspired the book.
Specifically, it was the fruitless courtship by Yeats of Maud that piqued my curiosity. Why would an intellectual, artistic, passionate poet pursue an irrational, violence-seeking radical? Why would he propose to her eight times, and then propose to her daughter? What was he looking for in her that he could find nowhere else despite her consistent rejection and frequent anger? I wanted to make up a story that could explain both of their actions, their marriage “on the spiritual plane,” and the complete commitment Yeats had to the occult.
The more I learned about him, the more I came to see him first as the quintessential Irish poet-hero, then as the ideal character model, and finally as the real person I had to write. Having discovered in his involvement with the occult, and his thirty-year, fruitless pursuit of a woman who claimed to be part Sidhe, a “how” and a “why’ for a body-switching time-travel (he tangled with Maud Gonne for so long because her part-faerie body intermittently housed the spirit his occult arts channeled into her) I was planning a fictional Irish poet/magus. But in the end it wasn’t even Yeats who made the real man mandatory. It was Maud.
Born on my birthday, exactly one hundred years before me, she was an actress, a revolutionary, and an international spy, with disastrous judgment of men. Almost six feet tall and famed for her beauty, she bore two children out of wedlock to a married Frenchman, married and divorced an abusive Sinn Feiner subsequently shot by firing squad for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising, but would agree to only a marriage “on the spiritual plane” with Yeats, the future Nobel Laureate. Anything I could invent to stand in for these real people would pale in comparison. I had to write the story I wanted to tell around their history. Between and into it.
Me: What was one of your favorite and least favorite things about writing In Dreams Begin?
Skye: It’s the same answer for both questions, actually: the research. Having decided to write a secret history about two real people, I had a tremendous amount of background and logistical research to do. I read all of Yeats’s poetry – and he wrote multiple volume’s worth. I also read all the letters he wrote to Maud, both of their autobiographies, a bunch of biographies, and many works on Victorian Ireland. I also traveled to most of the locations in the book and rewrote a late-stage draft in response to what I learned by being in the graveyard, or on the beach where they were. (Notes from that trip are on my blog, if you’re interested.)
The assignment I set for myself is the inverse of the politician’s plausible deniability. To the best of my knowledge, there’s nothing in the book that can be proved false. I tried very hard to make certain that if a scene takes place between Maud and Yeats in London in 1898, that I had evidence that they were both there then (or at least no evidence showing they were somewhere else). Also, I tried to make sure that none of the historical figures in the book say or do anything inconsistent with what I could learn of their character. I also didn’t invent any of the named Victorian historical characters except Ida Jameson, and she actually existed; I just don’t know anything about her. I used her name, her parentage, and her friendship with Maud, and invented the rest. But with that exception, any character with a first and last name in the book was a real person whose description and behavior is based in fact.
And the simple logistics of the project almost killed me – trying to arrange the events of the book so that they fit with the events of history. Just getting Maud and Will in the same country was a challenge! But it was also the most fun. The constraints imposed by the experiment were fun, and all the details and information I picked up was fascinating. But treading the line between the interest of the research and the requirements of my story was a sort of gleeful agony.
Me: I know you’re a big fan of Yeats and it certainly shows in your novel but which of your characters was the most fun to work with in this novel? As you were writing did any of the other characters capture your heart?
Skye: Ida did. She’s so wicked and twisted, but only because she has such a strong growth impulse in such a confining environment. She wants to learn. Really, that’s all she wants. She has this fanatic curiosity, but keeps having avenues of wisdom closed on her fingers because she’s a woman. Curiosity is one of my two favorite character traits in people. So I have to forgive Ida for hers, even if I hate the way it warps and twists her as it is thwarted and stunted by her situation and time.
Me: How do you like the cover chosen for In Dreams Begin?
Skye: I think it’s beautiful! I love the way it contrasts but still resonates with the cover for “and Falling, Fly.” And I love the colors. I would have dressed the model differently, if it had been mine to do. I worry that her outfit signals a steampunk book, which this isn’t, but I love the aesthetic of it.
Me: I really enjoyed the excerpts from poems written by W.B. Yeats at the beginning of each chapter. What was your process for choosing them for each chapter?
Skye: As I read the collections of his poetry, I was always keeping an eye out for excerpts that seemed to lend credence to my secret history. Some passages, actually, helped determine plot elements, they were so spot on. But the hardest thing was eliminating sections that worked when I had too many options for a given chapter.
Me: If your life were made into a movie, who would you like to see play you?
Skye: Er… Ewan MacGregor?
Me: Do you have any habits or rituals you do when you sit down to write?
Skye: I don’t have a daily routine, writing or otherwise. Maybe one day. Every Sunday though, I sit down and look at the upcoming week, which kid has what sport, whether we have houseguests, my husband’s work schedule, school vacation days or field trips, the “full catastrophe” of hearth and home, and block out at least ten hours of writing time, ideally in two-plus hour blocks. I try very hard to protect those time slots from other commitments and actually make myself sit down and write. I can’t listen to music while I write, but I have a one-hour track of white noise—thunderstorms actually—that I listen to on in-ear earbuds on my iPod, so I can turn off the sound on my computer. It reminds me to take breaks at the hour mark and drowns out ambient noise.
Me: I’m always looking to add books to my gigantic TBR (to be read) pile. Do you have any books you’ve read recently or are currently reading that you can recommend?
Skye: Absolutely! I recently read Stacia Kane’s “Unholy Ghosts,” and was really impressed by that. And “The Anubis Gate” by Tim Powers is great, if you’re looking for more Victorian secret history.
Me: What can we look forward from you next?
Skye: Ack, I don’t have dates yet! I’m a painfully slow writer. I have two projects going at the moment. In the same way that “Dreams” is, to a certain extent, a prequel to “Falling” I have another piece that’s a prequel to both. But it’s short and very experimental, so I’m not quite sure where it will find a home. The other project is a contemporary trilogy nestled into the world that “Dreams” and “Falling” inhabit, but self-contained and set entirely in the US. It’s about two women who end up running a metaphysical detective agency in LA.
Me: Thanks again for stopping by Skyler!
Skye: Thanks so much for the invite!
Skyler White has generously offered one signed copy of In Dreams Begin (read my review here) to a lucky reader!
To enter simply fill out this form.
Giveaway ends December 21st and the winner will be announced December 22nd. Open Internationally!