An Interview with J.D. Kaplan

J.D. Kaplan was kind enough to stop by today to talk about his debut novel, Waking Dreams: The Torment of Colin Pierce, which is currently available in e-book and paperback.

ACW: Welcome! Care to give readers a taste of what Waking Dreams is about?

JDK: Thanks, Alison. On the surface Waking Dreams is about a man whose dreams, for better or worse, sometimes come true. He discovers he has an important role in the world of our dreams and has to come to understand that role so he can preserve the separation between dreams and the waking world. Beneath that it explores the relationship between our dreams and our realities, a journey through the worlds we live in and the ones we dream.

ACW: As I read your novel, I got a strong Charles DeLint vibe, and lo and behold, you cite DeLint as one of your major influences in writing this novel. Are there any other authors who either inspired you early on or who are currently shaping your thinking about writing?

JDK: Yeah, DeLint is one of my heroes. If I ever get to meet him I’ll be unable to think of anything intelligent to say, I’m sure.

My other big influence is Neil Gaiman. I first found him when he wrote comic books in the late 80s and early 90s. His work on the Sandman title was earthshaking for me. He creates worlds within our world that are utterly captivating. The idea that there is a world where we go to dream wasn’t a new one but the way he built that world and the characters that lived within it was magical.

I’ve always loved the idea of worlds below the surface of worlds. The worlds of magic and possibility hiding just around the corner in our world of reality. World creation is a fundamental aspect of writing fantasy and both DeLint and Gaiman go to extraordinary lengths to create these new worlds while anchoring them firmly in a contemporary world with which we can all relate. That familiar territory allows the reader to really pay attention to the bigger things going on in their work.

Add Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, China Mieville and Joe Hill to the list of writers that currently inspire me. I also have to admit quite guiltily–please don’t tell anyone–that I find satisfaction reading urban fantasy. I love strong female protagonists and if you can thin out the barely concealed romance novels, there is a great amount of interesting things being done there.

ACW: On a related note, other than the authors who inspired you, is there anything in particular that sparked you to write this book?

JDK: Music. My grandmother always said that music was her religion and I think I inherited that love of music. The emotion and ideas that come from music always influence where I’m going.

ACW: I’m a bit of a process nerd when it comes to writing. What was your writing process like with this novel? Are you the type to make outlines, or did you just let the story unfold? Either way, did anything surprise you during the writing process – an unexpected plot twist, a new character demanding a bigger role?

JDK: My process can be defined as a pattern of starting out organized and fading into a complete loss of control where I’m chronicling a story as much as authoring it.

I always start out with a scene. That scene provides the kernel for the characters and for the story. I role play it in my head over and over, while driving or running or just sitting around I inundate myself in that scene and will have dreams about it. That kernel may not survive the growth of the eventual story but it’s where I start.

Once I have that I become super organized. I use post it notes to story board, sometimes an outline. I write tiny character portraits. I will pretend that a given character is a friend of mine and I am introducing him to someone I know. I write short shorts–a couple hundred words–that I know are going away but help me visualize the path the story will take. Then, when I start, I use those things to build a head of steam.

But inevitably I reach a point where that stuff loses relevance. The story and characters take on a life of their own–I know how cheesy that sounds–and I am just going along for the ride. At that point writing is not linear. It’s steps forward that require things that came before to change, things to be removed or added. The entire ending of Waking Dreams just came to me as I approached the point where something had to be resolved–I was rapidly approaching this huge conflict but had no idea how to resolve it. The moment that it came to me was an epiphany and though I had to do a lot of backfilling and revisiting previous sections the ending never changed after that.

ACW: What made you decide to go the self-publishing route? How has the experience been for you thus far? Do you have any tips for authors considering self-publishing?

JDK: Frustration over trying to get an agent to look at my work. There are so many gateposts blocking writers from a clear path to a publisher that after three years of beating my head against that wall I decided I’d had enough. In retrospect I can easily rationalize it: the internet is slowly killing off the massive power of the traditional publishing industry, freeing up people like me to put real effort into realizing their dreams.

Once I made the decision my first step was to publish my book in Kindle format. During that process I found CreateSpace, an Amazon publish on demand service, and the entire world changed for me. I really have come to see self publishing as the best course. As part of the CreateSpace service the novel will also become available through Ingram’s, which means that any bookstore, physical or digital, can sell the book. I’ve been told that traditional publishing houses have taken to leaving the bulk of marketing to the authors. In this brave new world what exactly do those publishing houses provide? A certain weight of perceived quality, perhaps. A big name backing your work. Those things can be overcome by simply finding and using the truckloads of resources available on the internet. I bet I’ve just ensured I’ll never get a book deal with a traditional publisher.

At any rate, the experience has been deeply liberating and empowering. The first time held a trade paperback copy of my book–that was almost religious. I’ll never forget that moment.

As for tips? Don’t sell yourself short, believe in yourself and learn to market. Make marketing postcards and either mail them or take them to local businesses and ask them to put them on display. Look into doing book signings–I’ve found that local businesses would love to have you do this in many cases. For them it’s as much a marketing opportunity as it is for you. Write to anyone you can imagine that does book reviews and ask them to read your book. Invest yourself in the process. Most importantly, build a large online presence. Tweet daily, get a Goodreads author page, a Facebook page. Be noisy. Promote other authors that are doing the same things you are–it doesn’t seem to be a competitive situation and they’ll more often than not return the favor. It’s all about exposure.

ACW: Now that Waking Dreams is out in the world, what’s next for you?

JDK: I’m really interested in writing another book set in the same world. The characters are still fresh and my head is buzzing with ideas and scenes that might be good starting points. A nice side effect of the power of this experience is that my brain is buzzing with new ideas.

ACW: Since your novel is all about dreams, it seems appropriate to close the interview with some dream-related questions. Do you tend to remember your dreams? Do you ever have recurring dreams, or dreams that continue over multiple nights? Are you the kind of person who realizes right away when you’re dreaming, or do you just flow with the dream-logic of ‘of course there’s a swimming pool full of horses in the middle of this office building’ and let the dream take you where it will? Any particularly vivid dreams (that you can share with the general public) that really stuck with you?

JDK: Dreams, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Some I remember, some I forget. Some leave residual emotions that cling to me for days. In some I know I’m dreaming and in others I don’t. Some are good and some are bad. The thing that fascinates me most about dreams is the way it reflects the sheer power of our minds and imaginations. Dreams are often non-linear and illogical but our brains find a way to cloak them in believability. I have dreams where the story of the dream is heading one direction and suddenly it shifts radically. Instead of feeling this moment of dissociation and awareness, my mind just changes what came before–I can’t think of any other way to describe it. It backfills and mutates what I perceive as history in the dream, adjusting things so that the change is seamless and smooth. One minute I’m on an airplane arguing with a flight attendant and the next I’m a super spy on a train, and the shift doesn’t even bother me. When I wake up I want to know how the heck my airplane turned into a train and why it felt so natural. The thing that makes fiction so enjoyable and powerful is our brains’ ability to suspend disbelief under certain circumstances. Dreams and stories represent infinite possibilities and food for the imagination.

ACW: Thanks for stopping by!

JDK: Absolutely my pleasure.

[House-keeping note: Unfortunately, comments on the site are still broken. I’m doing my best to fix them. Apologies again and thanks for your patience as I try to figure it out!]

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