Prism Book Alliance would like to thank Joanna Chambers for taking the time to talk with us today.
Title: The Dream Alchemist
Author: Joanna Chambers
Cover Artist: Gabrielle Prendergast
Genre/Sub-Genre: Contemporary, Drama, Fantasy, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, M/M Romance, Mystery, Paranormal, Romance
When the sun goes down, their passion awakens…and so do their nightmares.
Somnus, Book 1
Centuries ago, a man with Bryn Llewelyn’s dreamwalking ability would have been a shaman or a priest. In this time, he’s merely exhausted, strung out on too much caffeine and too little sleep.
Sleep means descent into Somnus—an alternate reality constructed of the combined dreaming consciousness of ordinary humans. A place he’d rather avoid. Trouble is, his powers don’t include the ability to go without sleep indefinitely. At some point his eyes close…and his nightmare begins.
As a teen, the treatment that cured Laszlo Grimm’s sleep disorder stole his dreams—and his ability to feel emotion. Petrified of needing more “treatment”, he clings to familiar rituals and habits. But lately his nightly terror has returned, and when he meets Bryn in the real world, the man seems hauntingly familiar. Not only that, Bryn awakens feelings in Laszlo for the first time in years…
Slowly Bryn and Laszlo realize they are both unknowing pawns in a plan of unspeakable evil. And that their powerful attraction could release the destinies locked within them—or be the instrument of their doom.
Come check out what Joanna Chambers has to tell us about her latest book, The Dream Alchemist, as well as tea, Welsh mythology and much, much more!
Hi Joanna! *waves* How goes it over on your side of the pond today?
Hello! Things are going very nicely over here, thank you! I’ve just sat down with a nice cup of tea and a bit of shortbread in preparation for our chat…
Mmmmmmmm, tea sounds good. What’s your favorite at the moment? Mine is some Irish breakfast I first had while in Ireland. I also just bought some pumpkin spice I want to try.
Plain old builders tea for me just now, though I am partial to an Earl Grey. Pumpkin spice sounds awesome! Aaaaanway…
I’m very excited to pick your brain about this new book of yours, The Dream Alchemist, the characters, the levels of existence, the concept of dream alchemy, all of it. I’ll ask the most obvious question first: do you remember what sparked this idea, and when that happened, what was your initial reaction to it?
I actually conceived the story a few years ago so I don’t remember what the first spark was now. I worked out the world building and plotted the whole thing while on holiday in the Lake District and then came home and wrote about 15k. And then…well, I was just suddenly overwhelmed by a burning desire to write another book, which turned out to be Provoked, so I put it aside. I ended up writing three novels and a couple of novellas before I picked it up again. I do remember being absolutely consumed by the idea though.
I and many others are extremely grateful for that burning desire that became Provoked and the Enlightenment series. When you got back to TDA, which character or scene grabbed and pulled you back in?
It was definitely that first kiss scene, when Laszlo and Bryn first meet in Somnus. The whole thing of the pursuit, then the kiss, then Laszlo waking up. So fun to write.
Yet another example of how good you are at surprising us in your stories. I know it surprised me. Happily. 😀
How did the world building begin for you? You give us specific rules (though some of those are made to be broken), history and culture for everything but the individual settings for most of the scenes are rather intimate.
Like I said, I worked on the world building pretty intensely at the outset and plotted the story out in a fair amount of detail. Because this was my first foray into this genre (if this story actually fits a genre) I was less at ease than with an historical so I decided to run my initial thoughts past my crit partner. She writes UF among other stuff so she was more comfortable with this kind of thing than I was. We batted a few ideas back and forth and I made number of tweaks based on her comments.
It’s interesting that you mention the intimacy of the scenes. I think partly that’s influenced by my experience of dreaming – dreaming always feels quite ‘closed in’ and immediate to me which is not how I find it depicted in books and movies.
That’s so true about dreams. They feel very immediate, demanding focus. That actually adds another layer for me when I think back about the story. Between the real world, Somnus and places like the safe house, with not always clearly delineated boundaries, the rules seem malleable, just like in dreams. To make something as intangible as dreams feel solid, real, as in this story, that’s a delish literary feast right there LOL
One does one’s poor best, Andrea…
You do just fine. 😉
The intimate nature of those settings resulted in character interactions also feeling very “close quarters”. The best word I could come up with to describe it is ‘cozy’. Sort of bundled up, warm, and everything that was happening was right there, unavoidable, immediate. It feels like you use emotion in a big way when creating the atmosphere in your stories, including this one.
The emotion is paramount to me. I find it very difficult to label this book, except in one respect : it is first and foremost a romance. For me, as a romance reader and writer, I want to see my MCs up close and personal and together as much as possible (a rule I’ve broken in other books I’ve written, I must admit… you have LOL but it worked and was oh so worth it in the end.) I want to be shown where the MCs stand emotionally and I want the satisfaction of seeing how that changes over the course of the book.
One of the big challenges in this book is that Laszlo doesn’t actually experience emotion for most of the book, and boy, did that become an endless challenge! You’ve no idea how often you use the word ‘feel’ until the character whose POV you’re in… well, doesn’t feel! Actually, one of the inspirations for the book was the fairytale, The Snow Queen (another was Sleeping Beauty).
That’s such an interesting connection and, for me, even though Laszlo doesn’t feel right away, he made me feel from that first encounter and forward from there. Something about him… it was easy to see from the beginning that there was a lot going on there and I kept thinking about him while Bryn was trying to figure things out. Laszlo was like the other lane in the road, initially separated, until…. well, until LOL
You may see parallels between Laszlo and Bryn, I guess. I think I tend to write one character that is more reader-aligned and one that is ‘other’. The ‘other’ will tend to be the one that is seen as the desirable object to the reader. Or at least, that’s how I see Laszlo 😉
I’m always curious when it comes to character names, how you choose them, what they may allude to, if anything. I love the name Laszlo, Bryn’s name is interesting and it fits him, and I like that Dylan has a more traditional name for the very non-traditional role he plays in this story. So, names, how do you go about choosing?
The starting points for the names in this book (even though it doesn’t feature in the book) is that there is a place in Wales that is important to the story – it’s a kind of mystical Stonehengey place. Bryn Llewelyn and Dylan Black are both Welsh.
The name Laszlo Grimm has been on the page since the moment I started scribbling about this story. I’m not sure where the name came from but I immediately loved it. Laszlo’s mother was a free spirit who met his father while travelling and Laszlo’s name comes from his father – the reader can decide for themselves what that means in terms of heritage…
Was your writing process any different with this book compared to your other works? I would have needed a wall-sized map and accompanying flowchart to keep it all straight while creating all of the rules, history and connections in a story like this.
Not really. I’m a weird mixture of organised and not. I plot religiously – I have chapter by chapter plan for every story that I will pretty much 90% stick to. However, given that each chapter ‘plan’ will generally just be a few sentences and each chapter is 2,000-3,000 words, there’s still a lot of room for things to go in all sorts of weird directions and I’ll generally revise my plot at least once or maybe twice whilst writing. The overall plan as to where the story is going to end up won’t change but important details might and occasionally characters who were never intended to be more than human furniture will assert themselves in surprising ways.
The only thing I did differently with The Dream Alchemist was to spend some of that initial preparation time on world building rather than historical research and then discuss the world building with my CP – usually I don’t seek CP or beta comments till I have a pretty advanced draft.
The disorganised side of my process is that I don’t do flowcharts or time lines or have character files/ notes. Rather I have a notebook full of scribbles that isn’t terribly easy to interpret.
You just answered another question that popped into my head, about whether you write histories for your characters to use throughout writing the story. Do you keep vital stats handy? Or does it work for you in such a way that all of them remain rather fully formed as you’re writing.
I write notes about my characters but they’re very free form and not very well-organised – I don’t have a specific template I use for example. For me it’s more important to get to the core character issues (what each character’s ‘big’ issues are and how those will be resolved) than to pin down the more specific character details. I tend to leave those sorts of details pretty fluid till I come to write – that means I’ve then got some scope to see what’s working and decide where I’m going to make adjustments.
One exception to that is that I like to have a clear idea of what the characters look like – all of my characters tend to have a muse. (Bryn, for example is a well-known singer…)
I liked that sinister aspects of the story had rather mundane-sounding names: the Shades, Somnus itself, etc. I can imagine regular folk choosing these basic names for all of these things and they’ve stuck over all of the centuries. The normalcy fits with the contemporary layer of this story and it made it easy for me to connect to everything. How did that all connect for you while writing?
The main inspiration for that stuff was myths and legends really. As well as the fairytale inspirations
I’ve already mentioned, I was quite influenced by Welsh and classical mythology. On the Welsh side of things, cyhyraeth (the ‘proper’ name I give for a Shade) is a kind of wraith, though I ended up using the more ‘easy to hear’ nickname of ‘Shades’ for most part (which chimes with what you say about the names that regular people would choose). Also ‘shades’ is also a nod to the shades of the classical underworld. Morfran is another creature from Welsh mythology and Somnus had a classical sound to it that I liked.
All such great names. I’d love a story dealing more directly with Welsh mythology, experienced by characters in any time period that struck you. Have any ideas along those lines given you a nudge recently?
The plan is to work the Welsh mythology angle in to the rest of this series. We’ll see how that goes…
I like the sound of that.
The other layers to this story for me are mystery and fantasy. Not shocking, I’m sure LOL. Mixing these with the contemporary waking world kept things grounded and very believable. How was it for you weaving all of these things together, was any one aspect more difficult than the other?
As I said earlier, I find this book really difficult to label. I’ve been calling it a ‘paranormaly/fantasyish
thing’ for the most part, lol, but I don’t feel like it fits easily into either of those categories very neatly. In some ways, it didn’t feel too tricky to weave the waking and sleeping worlds together because – well, that’s how we live anyway, isn’t it? We spend our lives either awake or asleep. The leap of imagination in the story comes with accepting that the time the characters spend in the sleeping world is equally real to their waking lives.
Paranormaly/fantasyish sounds perfect LOL. And that is one more reason this story was so easy for me to make a connection with: the sleeping world was so relatable, so real, including the paranormal parts. Dreams feel very paranormal so it feels natural to explore the possibilities like this. Did any part of a dream of yours make its way in some form into the story?
Yes. The dream with the dogs was inspired by a recurring dream I have. Ugh.
Oy vey, let’s make sure they remain in dreamland only. More tea!
Those layers also make it easy to buy into the surprises as they happen, something you’re very good at doing in your storytelling. What surprised you in terms of something one of the characters did, wanted to do, didn’t want to do, etc.?
Because I’m such a plotter-in-advance, I don’t really get many big surprises as I write, so the only things that were unexpected were some of the mechanics around the denouement. I don’t want to say anything spoilerly, so I’ll just mention that there was another version of the endgame that had different things happening and different characters taking different roles. As is fairly typical in a final revise section, you go back to it and sometimes just think – ‘no’. In this case, the reason I thought ‘no’ was because one of my MCs was too passive and I needed him to have more agency in that final scene.
Well, knowing that final scene, I loved it and it still makes me grin most evilly and excitedly about the possibilities. 😀
Version 2 is definitely better…
The supporting characters all played important roles: Finn, Aron, Tristan, Wyatt (I’m so intrigued!), Wolffe (grrrr! LOL) and even Nanette. How was it writing some of them, any surprises from them? And will we get more on Nanette?
I love Wyatt – he was fixed and immutable in my mind from the moment I thought of him. He looks like Sam Elliott, for what it’s worth – see below. And yes, he has Sam’s amazing voice. By contrast, Aron kept changing – it took a while to get his picture fixed – I’m not sure whether Aron will have a continuing role but Finn and Tristan definitely will. As for Wolffe and Nanette, you’ll just have to see…
Omigosh, Sam Elliott is fantabulous. Nice casting! 😉
Ok *cracks knuckle* any deleted bit or scene you can give us that wouldn’t be too spoilery?
Oh, I’m going to be so disappointing here! It’s back to that plotter in me. No wasted words! The one and only time I’ve departed from that method was when I wrote Introducing Mr Winterbourne for the Another Place in Time anthology and I can’t tell you how much trouble I had with that story! I literally wrote it three times and it took me ages – never again! So whilst I have great huge deleted chunks of Introducing Mr Winterbourne (enough for another novella, seriously) from The Dream Alchemist, I’ve got nada.
Oooooooooooh, it’s ok that you don’t have anything for TDA if it means we may get more from the world of Introducing Mr Winterbourne! I loved that story. All of the contributions for that anthology were wonderful.
I know – it was a pleasure to read everyone else’s stories. I would love to do another one of these!
Given the last two sentences of this book, it appears obvious as to who and what will be at the center of the next story. What can you tell us regarding your plans for the next story… and more? 😉
Do you know, it’s funny you say that, because a few people have said that to me and then when I say “Oh yes?” they tell me they’re expecting the next book to be Finn and Dylan – is that what you were thinking?
I was definitely thinking Dylan, but I honestly hadn’t thought about Finn and Dylan, or maybe who the possible romance might involve. But now I am! LOL
But definitely Dylan. We are given so many possible directions for this character and which way it all may go, but hardly any of them are complete. It feels like there is a lot more about Dylan we don’t know and I’m so curious about what he is up to, has been up to, who he knows, what he knows, what he doesn’t know… see? 😀
Ok, so I’ll just say that Dylan is not one of the heroes of book 2 – he’s planned for book 3. He’s kind of my ultimate guy. The provisional title of Book 2 is The Dream Hunter and for Book 3, The Dream Assassin which – read in conjunction with the epilogue – should tell you everything you need to know, lol!
Hahahaaha that definitely ups the intrigue for both books for me, and if Dylan is the center of a book titled with the word “Assassin” in it… well, I’m betting on even more awesome surprises. You’ve done quite well in telling us a good bit without giving anything away LOL.
I must do this: if I don’t ask about your Enlightenment series, and David and Murdo, those that absolutely love those books (like me!) would probably give me the cold shoulder and side-eye at the same time LOL. Any news on some upcoming stories that may center around some of the other characters from those three books?
YES! My current project (and I am sooooo excited about this!) is going to be the story of Captain Iain Sinclair and James Hart. Iain features in Beguiled and they both make a brief appearance in Seasons Pass.
What really gets my teakettle whistling, from a writerly point of view, is when I get excited about a theme/ central idea. I’ve been plotting and planning this book on and off for a few weeks now, trying out different ideas – and now I’ve got it all worked out. I know what the story is about and I know the character journey the two MCs are going on and what they will get from each other, and I just can’t wait to try to nail that. But I have to be patient – there are a few bits of research I need to do first.
First, woohoo! How exciting that the story is coming together for you like that. Second, take your time with the research because it adds so much to your stories, pulling me in 100%. A lot of people are excited about the Captain and James Hart getting to be center stage. “Seasons Pass” was such a wonderfully yummy little tease when it comes to these two.
And thank you for the short story from Murdo’s point of view! That was a treat and definitely explained some of his actions and motivations. Did it spark any unexpected ideas about more?
I’m so glad you liked it! It’s short but considering the word count, I put quite bit of time into it, trying to get the tone just right to fit with the other books and pinning down where Murdo was at emotionally at that point in time, a few months before book 2 starts. I knew when I started writing the story that I wanted to write an Iain story, but I had no plans at that point in time as to what the Iain book would involve, so I just kind of plucked James out the air. Sketched him out and gave him some words – not much, just enough for him to take on a bit of weight and shape in my mind. Once I had that, I was able to start asking myself questions about him – how does he know Iain? Why was he at Redford’s that night? What did he need to talk to Iain about? I kind of like the discipline that sort of serendipity forces on me as a writer – that I have to make sense of that scene. That it creates a rule for the world of my new book and gives me the glimmer of new idea.
Given the weight of everything that happens in SP, I definitely understand wanting to get it exactly right, especially considering it takes place between books one and two. There isn’t a wasted word and yet we’re told so much.
You’re very welcome, tis simply the truth.
What other projects are in the works, ideas that have recently surfaced, and what is coming out next?
The very next thing out after The Dream Alchemist is going to be Rest and Be Thankful, a festive story in an anthology called Comfort and Joy which will also feature stories by Josh Lanyon, L B Gregg and Harper Fox (pretty fancy company, eh?). That’s due out 7 December 2014, so very soon!
I’m so looking forward to this! It’s like a multi-feature at the cinema with the four of you LOL
I know, but can you even imagine how stressful it is to feature alongside three such talented authors? Talk about having to bring my A game!
Anyhoo, after that, the Iain and James story is next in the writing queue and since I’ll be putting that out with Samhain, it will be a wee while before it appears – November 2015. I’m keen to get something else out before then and my anthology adventures this year have made me realise how quickly you can get something out when you self-publish. In view of that, my provisional plan is to also aim to self-publish another novella-length story in Summer 2015. There are a few potential contenders for that, possibly a May/Dec MM historical called The Forfeit that I started a couple of years ago and abandoned (you can see this is a theme…). And then it’ll be Somnus #2 – The Dream Hunter! I’d be very open to doing another anthology too. I enjoyed both of those projects a lot.
Phew, that’s quite a lot, isn’t it? I think I need another cuppa!
Hahahaaha you definitely deserve another cuppa. Thank you so much for spending some time with me and all of us here on the blog today. 🙂
Always a pleasure, never a chore – thanks for having me!
About the Author:
Joanna Chambers always wanted to write but she didn’t find her muse until she rediscovered her love of romance novels after the birth of her first child. These days, Joanna lives in the UK with her family and finds time to write by eschewing sleep and popular culture. You can find Joanna at her website, www.joannachambers.com, friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @ChambersJoanna and connect with her on Goodreads.
Link to Samhain store: https://www.samhainpublishing.com/author/1704/joanna-chambers
You can find out about all my published books here: http://joannachambers.com/buy-links/ and here http://joannachambers.com/free-reads/
You can find out about upcoming stuff and news here: http://joannachambers.com/coming-up/
My infrequently updated blog: http://joannachambers.com/
My facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Joanna-Chambers-author/1466201913643550?notif_t=page_new_likes
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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