When we first read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor had us daydreaming about dying our hair, moving to Prague and falling in love with an angel. In her new fantasy, Strange The Dreamer, she delivers an epic world of gods, moths and nightmares; a world where the dream chooses the dreamer.
We had to learn more…..
J: How would you introduce Strange the Dreamer?
LT: Let’s see. Strange the Dreamer is the story of a young librarian obsessed with a mythic lost city, and it’s also the story of the children of murdered gods, surviving in hiding. It’s a hero’s journey, and it’s a love story. It’s fantasy, and maybe science fiction, with a little bit of Gothic thrown in. With superpowers. And ghosts.
J: What qualities do you love most about the main character, Lazlo Strange, and when did you first fall in love with him (we love him, too!)?
LT: I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with Lazlo. It is my clearest memory of writing this book. Initially, Sarai was to be the main character, but as I was describing Lazlo, these words came from my fingertips: “His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales when he was a boy.” And it just hit me: this was his book. I don’t know why that little detail affected me so deeply, but it did. I just loved it: this young man has a broken nose that makes him look kind of like a thug, but really it was broken by fairy tales. It changed everything. Lazlo became real, and he became the hero and focus of the story. What do I love most about him? I love that he’s a dreamer, and I love that he’s nice. Don’t get me wrong, I love the brooding, dangerous types, too (hello, Akiva!), but it was so refreshing to write a nice boy, and prove that they can be sexy, too. (Girls and boys: the dark and dangerous types are great in books, but in reality, go for the nice ones!)
J: The title seems “strange” until you read the book, and then it’s genius. How did you come up with it?
LT: Thank you! Initially the book had a different title, and I didn’t mean to change it. But there came a moment of inspiration that shifted the entire focus of the book, and the title of the chapter I was writing when that happened was Strange the Dreamer. I just looked at it and knew: this is actually the book title. I hoped my publisher would agree, and luckily they did!
J: What will fans of the DoSaB series find familiar in Strange the Dreamer and what is the biggest departure?
LT: Though Strange takes place in a different world from DoSaB, fans might find one particular point of familiarity. I don’t want to say what it is, though! It’s a surprise. As for departures, when I embarked on writing Strange, I was kind of burned out on two things: ass-kicking and villains. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things, but I had hit a saturation point with action climaxes and wicked villains out-eviling each other. I wanted to try something else. So my main characters in Strange don’t know how to fight, and as for villains, well, there are antagonists, and one of them is pretty creepy, but I still don’t see her as a villain. You may disagree…
J: What do you enjoy most about writing stories for gods and monsters and how did you decide on and then assign the magic for each of the godspawn?
LT: That’s a good question. Sarai’s very strange ability had been in my mind for years, as had Minya’s, but the gifts of the others arose more out of their personalities, as well as what they would need in order to survive in the citadel. What I enjoy most about writing gods and monsters is the big, lush possibility of it all. What has more scope for the imagination than gods and monsters?
J: Nothing! Sarai and Lazlo’s dreams are everything. Where do you find your inspiration for world and dream building? Is it all in your head or are there places you’ve traveled that inspire you?
LT: I loved writing those scenes. It was a little scary though, because as a reader/viewer, I’m easily annoyed by dream sequences, so I wanted to be careful not to do any of the kinds of things I myself find off-putting. As for inspiration, travel is definitely a big one, as well as folktales and history.
J: Karou has blue hair and Sarai is blue. Does the color blue hold a special meaning for you?
LT: I know, so much blue! Actually, no, blue doesn’t hold any special significance for me. Karou came to be in a burst of unexpected inspiration. She arrived fully formed (which had never happened to me before), blue hair and all. With Sarai and the godspawn, there was more to it. I was searching for a way to mark their otherness—the fact that they aren’t human—in a way that couldn’t be concealed. Skin color was the clear choice, and really, no other color would do. Green=extraterrestrial. Red=demon. Pink? Yellow? Nope. But blue is already associated with divinity. Hindu gods are depicted that way. So it felt right.
J: Do you ever dream these stories or are all your dreams waking ones?
LT: Sadly, I almost never remember my dreams. But while I was on deadline with Strange, I started getting up at 3 and 4 am to write (I’m useless late at night, but can get up super early) and during that time, I guess due to the interruption of my sleep cycle, I was remembering all kinds of dreams. I may try to get back to that schedule soon!
J: You were a teenage writer, even writing stories for friends (in French!) as birthday gifts. How would you describe yourself as a teenage writer? Do you have a favorite line you wrote back in the day, and what quick advice do you have for teen writers today?
LT: Ha ha ha! I was a pretentious teen writer, and I love to mock the crazy, over-the-top metaphors I wrote back then, but actually I’m proud of their over-the-topness! At least they’re not boring, and I can see myself in them. I loved the same things then that I do now. I just hadn’t figured out how to rein it in. From the story in question (pretentiously titled, en Francais, “La Doleur des Phantomes”), and describing an abandoned chateau, the curtains: “strained outward, like soiled doves with their tail feathers pinned to God’s lapels.” Oh man, so bad it’s good. Now I like to refer to overwriting as “pinning birds to God.”
J: Of all your characters do you have one that you feel is most like you?
LT: Kizzy, from “Goblin Fruit” in Lips Touch: Three Times. She’s got a weirder family than I do, but emotionally, she’s high-school me, with all her insecurities and her huge longing for a big, strange life. Karou, on the other hand, is who I wished I was in high school, living the kind of life I craved. I didn’t understand until I was in deep that Karou was a gift to my teen self, including Poison Kitchen, because when I was in high school, we had nowhere cool to hang out!
J: If Karou and Sarai were authors, what kinds of books would they be writing?
LT: Well, I think Karou would be doing epic graphic novels, and they would be big, gorgeous hardcover albums like bande-dessines in France. Sarai might write poetry—brief impressions of the humans she’s visited over the years. I would love to see both of these books.
J: We would, too!