The many origins and inspirations of The Dreamcatchers

This is the third post on the creation of The Dreamcatchers. I already wrote on the initial origins (where the idea came from, how the dreamcatchers’ appearance was based off Marvel villain, Dr. Doom) and how the book took on a new identity as it evolved, but today I wanted to do a deep dive. Let’s talk more about everything Dreamcatchers, answering so many questions. My goal is to provide you with an inside look at my writing process and even my inner mental workings.

So, without further ado – let’s talk about The Dreamcatchers!

Character names

Every author will tell you that a character’s name matters. It becomes part of their larger personality and an easy mental association as you write. Having the name nailed down can call to mind a fully formed image of the character in your mind.

“Oh, I’m writing about so-and-so! That’s easy! They look like this and they act like this because of what happened years ago, plus this person they met…” You get the idea – the name becomes a mental bookmark in your brain. It marks the start for a chapter detailing your entire character.

So choosing the right name matters. When I began writing Dreamcatchers, I wanted to convey that most of the main characters weren’t human right away. So, I chose names that, for the most part, sounded very alien to me. What better place to start than one of my favorite video games of all time, Mass Effect.

Vakarian Dreamcatchers
“I’m Garrus Vakarian and I was an inspiration for The Dreamcatchers!”

To better humanize Dreamcatcher – give him a life outside of his job – I decided to name him after long-time wing man and BFF Garrus Vakarian. This name grab served another purpose besides honoring a game series. I wanted Vakarian to be balanced. Garrus is always a constant in the Mass Effect series – a character who can be depended on time and time again. That was also my vision for Vakarian. At his best, he is in control and there for his fellow squad mates – just like Garrus.

When it came to the other nefiri, most came to me as I wrote, without one single source of inspiration. There were three exceptions. Fidel, a.k.a. Duckie, was named after a close friend of mine – using her last name instead of her first. Romaniuk has similar origins.

Then there was Zarel – specifically his codename, The Midnight Phantom. When I was younger, I used to attend a camp in Maine called Birch Rock Camp. This place had local legends – stories the campers and counselors told to entertain ourselves. One of my favorites was the Midnight Phantom, a prankster who would move stuff around during the night. You could always tell he’d been there because he would leave his initials – MP.

Since Zarel was intended as a comic relief, I felt that the Midnight Phantom was a natural fit for his codename. In regards to his appearance – I went a different route: ‘

Gorefiend Zarel Dreamcatchers
It’s tough to get captures from old games but Gorefiend’s picture is in the upper left.

Warcraft II was my favorite video game growing up, in large part due to its incredible art style. One NPC – Teron Gorefiend – had what looked like a disfigured face, hidden largely by a scarf and his hood. This image has stuck with me throughout the years and, when the time came, I felt it was a terrific basis for Zarel’s facial structure.

Quick side note: Gorefiend’s yellow hood also inspired the choice of female dreamcatcher garb.

The technology

Part of what I loved most when writing The Dreamcatchers was their technology. On the one hand, it’s very traditional fantasy. A big part of this is the lack of traditional firearms, which made sense to me since there is no gunpowder in their world. To compensate, many dreamcatchers still use bows, namely crossbows. But this does not mean they’re outdated.

At every other turn, I wanted the nefiri to come off as a technically advanced race. Part of it is there world structure. It isn’t easy to navigate the Nether, and Inspiration is even more hazardous. To get around, the nefiri had to be hardy and capable of building impressive machines.

Some of this notion came from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. I’ve always loved how he blended the fantastical with the technological, so I sought to strike a similar balance. If Colfer’s faeries could adapt to a challenging world, then so could my nefiri.

Dreamcatchers damsel pod
The damsel pods were based off of damselflies and have similar designs.

The villain

Incubus was a lot of fun to write as well, in part because he was one of the rare points when I got to project beyond the The Dreamcatchers. To all of you who have trouble understanding what exactly he’s talking about, all I can say is – just wait. After you read The Night Terrors, go back and check his dialogue. You won’t be disappointed.

I knew early on that I wanted him to be a shapeshifter. This comes from my own experience as a lucid dreamer. When I was fighting back against my nightmares, I noticed the more persistent ones had the ability to change forms, adapting to whatever would scare me the most. How nice of my subconscious to put in that extra effort.

In regards to Incubus’ appearance in the Inspiration, I used two primary sources. The first was Hayao Miyazaki and his demons from Princess Mononoke. The second once again came from Marvel. Anyone watching recent movie trailers might have seen this one:

Venom and Carnage are my two favorite Spider-Man villains. I love how their bodies change to fit the situation (like arms turning into weapons). When I was thinking of how Incubus’ skin should look outside of the dream, the texture of the symbiote was in my head.

The music I wrote to

A lot of authors listen to music when we write. I’ve always found that it helps shut out the world and allows me to focus more on the story in front of me. My goal with musical choice is to have it enhance the scene I’m writing. For starters, when Tony and Vakarian fly, I wanted to use something inspirational. The initial teaser music for How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a perfect fit:

Vakarian’s final showdown with Incubus was another moment very charged with musical influence. The initial fight in Inspiration had multiple parts. The showdown with the omen was inspired by part of the Transformers: Dark of the Moon soundtrack. Vakarian’s fight with Incubus came from a sampling from V for Vendetta.

As for the fight in the Dream itself? Well, that actually came from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I loved all the imagery surrounding Bard and Smaug. The idea of this single lone warrior against an overwhelming force really summed up what I wanted the final fight to feel like. As much, the music from this scene also factored into The Dreamcatchers finale:

Lastly, we need to talk about Tony and Fidel’s victory moment. Since the book has just come out, I don’t want to go too much into spoilers. For this particular point, I reached back to one of my favorite scenes as a kid and used the corresponding music:

So there you have it! There’s more – so much more to say – but I hope this has satisfied at least some of your curiosity when it comes to the novel writing process. Writers are like sponges. We absorb the art around us and transform it into something new (or at least try to).

Writing a novel is a process, equal parts inspiration from without as well as within. Not all ideas fit together well, and that’s part of the trick. I don’t think I ever would have used anything from Dragonball Z in a “serious” story but for a fantastical adventure like The Dreamcatchers, it made perfect sense.

As a storyteller, feel out ideas by tone and try to group them accordingly. You’ll find it may help!

That’s all for now. If you’ve bought a copy of The Dreamcatchers –  thank you so much for reading it! I hope you found it as entertaining to read as I did to write. I’ll leave you now with one teaser. A look ahead to The Night Terrors. As with Dreamcatchers, I’m using music to help write certain scenes. Here is one of the tracks I’ve been listening to a lot:

As always, if you’d like to get your own copy of The Dreamcatchers, it is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ta ta for now!

The Purpose of Genre

Writing is an act of creation. When we put pen to the page (or fingers on keys), we created worlds of characters and give them a meaningful plot to propel their lives. They can fall in love, discover treasure, fight a mummy, fly to far off worlds, or all of the above. With writing, we’re really only ever limited by our imagination.

Then it’s time to publish.

I have said it before and I will say it again: publishing is a very different animal from writing. Whereas writing is a passion, publishing is a business. It operates on rules and logic. In a publisher’s eyes, the best writing is the world is worthless unless people read it. It is from this desire to connect writing to readers that we get genre.

Genre is essentially the characterization of narrative. It is the neat boxes that our wild writing is driven into. While this sounds restrictive, it is actually very helpful to the writer. Writing can be unwieldy. If we write with only passion then we will have stories that shoot wildly in many directions. Genre, and the logic behind it, helps focus our narratives on a desired goal. In writing a romance, the main drive of the plot has to be the protagonist’s relationship. In writing science-fiction, the writer must fully explore their idea of a non-existent technology and its impact on society.

book genres
There are many many many genres in literature. The above does not even list all of them.

The writer who tells you “I have a story for everyone” in fact has a tale for no one (at least that’s how agents and publishers see it). To date, not a single work has been written that has been liked by the entire population. As of 2014, The Holy Quran had sold over three billion copies but I’m willing to bet that we could find people who don’t like it (even if they’ve never read it). Every work of art has a finite audience and genre is an excellent tool in this regard.

That said, I would not get too caught up on genre while writing. For one thing, there are many layers. At the broadest is Fiction and Non-Fiction – simply put, is this a true story or not? Then there’s tone, romantic or realistic? Am I seeing any heroes this time around? Next is form – am I reading a novel or a short story, or is this a graphic novel? What age group is this for?

I asked all those questions without getting to “genre” as most people think of it. When writing, it is best to remain as out of your head as possible so these are not questions I would concern myself with too much. Most of them answer themselves as the process unfolds.

Hobbit genre
Yes The Hobbit is fantasy. It is also a romantic children’s comedy novel. Isn’t genre fun?

When I would think of genre, however, is when I encountered writer’s block. If my story was struggling and I didn’t know where to go next, then examining its main idea makes sense. If I’m writing a horror story but my last couple chapters have done nothing to build dread then I’ve gone off topic. A solution to my writer’s block may be to backtrack several chapters and rewrite in a new direction, one that keeps my hopeful genre in mind. Genre can be a guidance system that helps the writer see through their process.

This is the first of many blog posts that I’ll have on genre, in large part since it is my primary topic in this year’s South Shore Writing Initiative class schedule. I’ll be diving deeper into genre in future posts, looking at specific categories and their definitions. I will also provide the same writing exercises that I give my class.

Genre is a part of publication but it is still a writer’s friend. Being aware of genre can help a lot in regards to the writing process. Genre is a pathway to the audience. Use it to frame a narrative, play tricks with audience expectations, or help keep focus. It is far more a tool than a hindrance.