What inspired your latest novel? I had this idea—if the legends are real, why do they change so often? I started to imagine worlds where various legends were true. Werewolves, vampires, fairies. And what that world would look like, how it would have to be made up, in order for all these disparate legends to somehow be based on the real magic that underpins it all. I started with fairies, and how the stories about them change and are shaped, over time, by human invention. So I came up with an idea that fairies themselves are actually shaped by humans. By our dreams, by our collective stories. But once every thousand years or so, a human comes along who shapes the fairy world more drastically. The Phantasmer. And that’s where the story started.
How did you come up with the title? I always joke that titles are the bane of my existence! When I first started writing the book I called it Phantasmer. And one of my friends read it, and he told me, “That’s terrible, it sounds like it’s about a ghost or something. You have to change it!” So I thought I would try to find a lyric or a bit of poetry that I liked, and name it after that. At first I wanted to use a line from the poem by Emily Dickinson about fairies, there’s a beautiful line about, “Buy here! … Even for Death, a fairy medicine.” that I really loved, so I called it Even For Death, for awhile—death and ghosts! It sounded way too maudlin, not at all what the book was about, and if you didn’t know the quote it was even worse. So I was scanning through song lyrics, trying to find something, and then this line from “Sounds of Silence” just hit me, and it was just so perfect. What is Sylvia is not a dreamer, restless and wary? And “In Restless Dreams” was born. I don’t recommend choosing a song lyrics as your book title, though. I have that song stuck in my head constantly now!
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Life is beautiful and life is messy and life is precious, and it’s never too soon and never too late to go on the biggest adventure of your life. And it gets better.
How much of the book is realistic? It’s really important to me, both in my writing and in the books I read, that novels that are fantastical are even more rooted in the real and everyday than novels that are set on the real world. I hate how much young adult literature especially dives into magic and forgets all about the real consequences of being a teenager. Your parents, your friends, keeping up with school—none of those things vanish just because there’s something huge going on in your life. I think we’ve all experience that to a lesser degree, whether it’s having a huge fight with your best friend but you still have to write a math midterm, or your parents are getting a divorce but there’s a party on Friday night and everyone is going. Magic is a bit like that. It doesn’t make room in your life for itself, it just is.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life? I’m inspired by the stories I read and the themes I find in the world around me, but I don’t usually base characters on specific people. My next novel that I’m working on has a character based on my best friend, though! She thinks it’s really weird to see her name in print.
Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog? I’m very active on Facebook, you can find me at facebook.com/wrenhandmanwriter, and I do have a blog on my personal website, www.wrenhandman.com/blog
Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone? I am forever writing the next book and working on the next idea, and I have quite a few finished projects waiting in the queue. We’ll see how it goes, but I would like to return to the story of In Restless Dreams. I don’t think Sylvia is done with her journey yet.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why? Stranger is by far my favourite character. I love that he breaks that ‘mystery guy’ mold by being funny, by enjoying laughter and life and knowing his place in the world.
Do you favor one type of genre or do you dabble in more than one? I dabble in a lot of different genres, but always speculative. I love the intersection of mystery and magic with the everyday, that’s where my passion is. So I write a lot of near-future science fiction, and a lot of paranormal fantasy. Things where we still recognize our lives and the world, but something has been added to it.
Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer? Both! I think a combination is the key to a really great story. You need to have an idea of the shape of it, or it can get really meandery and lost. But if you stick too closely to an outline you had before you really knew your characters, they can feel stilted. So I like to write an outline that’s usually 4-5 pages for a full length novel, and then I let it grow and spread and change as it needs to over the course of writing.
What is your best marketing tip? I really like providing something fun for readers who follow me. So I talk a lot about my process, and I post quotes as I work on the book, things that might not even end up in the final draft.
Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance? Yes! It’s so necessary and every author has to do it, but it can be a huge time suck. I recommend choosing your platform and concentrating there. I’m on Twitter and Instagram, but my real focus in Facebook, and that’s where I put the majority of my time.
What do you enjoy most about writing? When I’m not writing I grow restless, as if something I can’t quite define is missing. It’s that sense of building something you hope will last, those stories crawling up your throat that need to be told. It’s seeing a finished product and knowing it will mean something to someone one day, that it will take them away and erase the world, just for a little while.
What age did you start writing stories/poems? Since before I can remember I was telling stories, playing make-believe, inventing. I was always a child of great imagination. I wrote my first play when I was six years old, and got everyone in my class to star in it. I wrote my first novel in junior high, was sending it out to agents by the end of high school. It was rough, those early things I wrote. But I had a lot of support from family and friends, and that made all the difference.
Has your genre changed or stayed the same? It’s stayed pretty consistent, actually. It’s always been that sense of imagination and escape that’s appealed to me.
What genre are you currently reading? I read about 50 books a year, and most of them are either fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal, in both adult and fantasy. I like to be transported.
Do you read for pleasure or research or both? For pleasure, though there isn’t anything that isn’t research in a certain sense. If you don’t like to read it, you have no business writing it. You need to know what’s already been done. It’s like when Oryx and Crake came out, and a bunch of reviewers said how groundbreaking it was, and the entire science fiction community was like… You’ve never read sci-fi before, have you? It was a well written book, don’t get me wrong! Of course it was, she’s a literary master. But it wasn’t new. It wasn’t saying anything that hadn’t been said before.
Who is your best supporter/mentor/encourager? My family is a bulwark I could not live without. My mother especially loves to read works in progress, and never has a single negative thing to say. My friend Hollis I call my cheerleader. I really don’t know if I would have come so far without her. I always knew I had someone to write for, that even if I was never published at least I was creating something for someone. That really got me through the long days before my first publishing success.
Do you see writing as a career? Yes, absolutely. Of course it’s a passion, and a vocation, and a calling. But I think people who fail to become “writers” fail because they don’t see it as a job, too. You have to put the time in. You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. You have to do some boring stuff to make money while you work on your creative projects on the side. It takes discipline.
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food? I am a terrible snacker! Thankfully writing usually keeps me more distracting than my other work, so it’s almost a dieting aid.
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline? I’m all about the champagne. Finish a novel? Champagne! Get a writing contract? Champagne! Book release day? Champagne!
Wren Handman is a novelist, fiction writer, and screenwriter. She’s written three novels: Last Cut (Lorimer Ltd 2012) and Command the Tides (Omnific 2015), and In Restless Dreams, which was originally self-published and is now forthcoming from Parliament House Press. Check out The Switch, Wren’s TV comedy about trans life in Vancouver. Follow her blog at www.wrenhandman.com/blog, or on Twitter @wrenhandman.