Please welcome Martine Fournier Watson to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Dream Peddler was published on April 9, 2019 by Penguin Books.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
Martine: I love this question, because I remember it so distinctly! I wrote my very first short story when I was in first grade, which is funny because I had only just learned to read and write earlier that year. Our teacher posted a list of title ideas for stories we might like to write. It wasn’t part of our curriculum, just suggestions she thought could inspire us, and I decided to write the story called The Magic Mittens. As my first literary effort, it was only about fifteen sentences long, or two double-spaced wide-ruled pages in my big round beginner printing, but it was also my first literary moment—I was named Author of the Month in our elementary school and asked to read my story aloud at one of our weekly assemblies. I was very proud!
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Martine: Pantser all the way. I’ve now written two books this way, and I can’t imagine trying to plot things first. What I love most about writing a novel is the process of discovery. Not knowing exactly what the characters will do or where it’s going to go fuels my writing in a way that I can’t imagine giving up by plotting first.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Martine: It’s definitely the editing. When I’m drafting, I just let myself go. I’m often aware that something isn’t good enough (or downright terrible), and I’ll just leave myself little notes about fixing things as I go so I can maintain momentum. When it’s time to go back in for editing, the very idea of momentum goes out the window. Because of my quick drafting, I’ve usually left myself quite a mess to deal with, and it’s just incredibly slow and painstaking. I do enjoy it once I’m in it, but it’s a methodical, deliberate kind of work, so different from the feeling of flying I can get during the draft process. I actually dread it so much that I find myself procrastinating to avoid opening my document. I get nervous butterflies in my stomach when I contemplate going into my book to tackle that job, and even after all these years I haven’t been able to shake that—I just have to overcome it and dive in.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Martine: Apart from authors I love, I think what influences me most is the fact that I’m such a visual person. I’m always describing the world of my characters, especially the natural world, and I’m always trying to come up with a new way to capture the things I see around me with language. I’ve been doing that since my early teens, and earning a BFA in drawing and painting further cemented that way of thinking in my brain. I look first. Hearing, smelling, tasting and touching are all secondary. I pay attention to that when I’m editing—otherwise I’m afraid I’d be neglecting the other senses completely.
TQ: Describe The Dream Peddler using only 5 words.
Martine: Buying dreams leads to trouble.
TQ: Tell us something about The Dream Peddler that is not found in the book description.
Martine: Despite its title, only four dreams in this book are described in any detail, and only two of those are actually concocted by the dream peddler.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Dream Peddler?
Martine: I grew up on the stories of L. M. Montgomery, and have read and reread the adventures of her beloved Anne of Green Gables many times. But one of Montgomery’s lesser-known heroines, Emily of New Moon, was really my favorite. So I hope dear old Lucy Maude will forgive me for stealing her idea.
Emily has plans to be a writer, and in the third installment of Montgomery’s trilogy, reference is made to Emily’s very first novel, a book called A Seller of Dreams. However, this book is never published. After a few rejections, Emily gives the book to a trusted friend to read, and because he is jealous of the book, he tells her it’s not good enough. Heartbroken, Emily burns it.
For some reason, this destroyed book haunted my imagination. The reader is never given any insight as to what it may have been about, except that it was some kind of contemporary fairytale. It was a book I always wanted to write myself, if only to satisfy my own curiosity about what shape such a story might take.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Dream Peddler?
Martine: The research was basically in two parts. The book takes place in a small farming town in the early years of the twentieth century, so I needed to make sure I knew a fair bit about the seasons of farming, what the characters would have been planting and harvesting at what times. I had a general idea of this, but I used Days on The Family Farm by Carrie A. Meyer as a reference to make sure I had the details right.
The other research I did surrounded the history of dreams, including how our attitude toward them has changed over time, and how they’re used and interpreted in the King James Bible upon which my townspeople would have based their faith. I learned a lot from Robert L. Van de Castle’s Our Dreaming Mind, which covers everything from consulting oracles about dreams in ancient times, all the way up to experiments with dreaming conducted in modern laboratory settings. I won’t go into details, but it was interesting to discover that some of the liberties I believed I was taking with the way dreams work are actually quite plausible.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Dream Peddler.
Martine: In my book, the dream peddler mixes dreams together like a liquid medicine or tincture and gives them to the buyer in a small glass vial stoppered with cork. The cover of the book is really about capturing that—a large bottle superimposed over a landscape that represents the unnamed farming town. The title and my name appear on the bottle like a label, and the gradation of pink to dark purple used for the liquid recall two different dreams described in the book: a pink dream about love, and an inky-dark nightmare. Through the very top of the bottle, the dream peddler’s silhouette is walking. I love how he appears to be striding, one hand in his pocket, right over the surface of the liquid, as if walking on water. The whole thing so perfectly evokes his ambiguous role as conman/magic healer.
TQ: In The Dream Peddler who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Martine: The hardest was definitely the dream peddler himself, Robert Owens. He is necessarily mysterious, and yet I had to give the reader enough of his thoughts and feelings to keep them engaged and interested in him. This turned out to be a really tough fine line to walk—I knew him so well, but most of his backstory is only revealed near the end of the book, and I could only hint at it. My editor definitely had to prod me to let the reader into his mind a little more as his relationships with the townspeople evolved. There was only so much one could glean from my subtle clues!
For some reason, I almost always find children easier to write than adults. I think this is just because children are so open. They often haven’t learned to hide the things that make them unique or that could draw negative attention, and bringing that out when I write about them is so much fun. It’s easier to make them interesting as characters. In The Dream Peddler, this character was eight-year-old Ali McBryde, youngest customer of the dream peddler. Ali’s smarts and precociousness were a pleasure to write, and he has a decidedly immoral streak that I enjoyed.
TQ: Which question about The Dream Peddler do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Martine: No one has ever asked me if I had to make any major revisions to the plot for my agent or editor in order to get the book to publication, and I’ve always wanted to talk a little about that, because I did. Asking a writer to make a significant change that doesn’t resonate with them puts them at a serious crossroads—they have to decide if it’s worth making the change, rather than just walking away. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel as if it’s in our hands. Fairly early on in my querying days for this book, I had some interest from an agent, but she wanted me to completely refocus the book in a way that just didn’t feel right. I gave it serious consideration, but I couldn’t do what she wanted, and we parted ways. More than another year went by before I had an offer, but I never regretted that decision.
When my editor asked me to make a major change, though, the situation was quite different. I was no longer being asked by an agent who might not even offer me representation, and there was a book deal in place, money on the table. It had taken me a long time to get there, and I knew there might not be another shot.
It wasn’t so much that making the change felt fundamentally wrong, as it had in the earlier scenario, but that making it would require a lot of tricky maneuvering in order to shuffle the book’s plot without destroying any of the parts that were important to me. I knew if I could accomplish that, it wouldn’t feel as if I had lost anything, but I really sweated some bullets until I finally had solution. I’d been sifting through ideas for days, when I was drifting off to sleep one night and—in that totally cliché scenario—I suddenly sat up in bed, quite certain that I had the answer. I grabbed a notebook and wrote an outline of the changes. The story held.
I always wanted to share that experience because revamping a book, or even a smaller part of a book, can be truly daunting, but coming out on the other side is a really important milestone for a writer. It’s an amazing mental exercise, and even though I never really thought it was necessary, I’m a better writer for having done it.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Dream Peddler.
“She knew he was awake, and she could hear the movement overhead as he rolled one way and then the other. He was like the dream in the sleeping mind of the house.”
“He had tried to sculpt a permanence where there was none, and she realized, in fact, this was her own definition of love.”
TQ: What's next?
Martine: I’ve been working on a second book for a number of years now, and I recently completed a few rounds of revisions on it and sent it off to my agent. It’s quite different from The Dream Peddler, centering on a friendship between two eighth-graders growing up in the 1980’s. Both have family troubles, yet for most of the book they don’t realize how intimately they’re connected. I’d describe it as a literary coming-of-age story—hopefully the world can still use a few more of those!
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Martine: It’s my great pleasure. Thanks so much for having me!
The Dream Peddler
Penguin Books, April 9, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
“Astonishing . . . Explores the vast underground legacy of our own desires. This is the must-read book of the year.” —Rene Denfeld, bestselling author of The Child Finder
A page-turning debut novel about a traveling salesman and the small town he changes forever, both a thoughtful mediation on grief and a magical exploration of our innermost desires The dream peddler came to town at the white end of winter, before the thaw . . .
Traveling salesmen like Robert Owens have passed through Evie Dawson’s town before, but none of them offered anything like what he has to sell: dreams, made to order, with satisfaction guaranteed.
Soon after he arrives, the community is shocked by the disappearance of Evie’s young son. The townspeople, shaken by the Dawson family’s tragedy and captivated by Robert’s subversive magic, begin to experiment with his dreams. And Evie, devastated by grief, turns to Robert for a comfort only he can sell her. But the dream peddler’s wares awaken in his customers their most carefully buried desires, and despite all his good intentions, some of them will lead to disaster.
Gorgeously told through the eyes of Evie, Robert, and a broad cast of fully realized characters, The Dream Peddler is an imaginative, moving novel of overcoming loss and reckoning with the longings we keep secret.
Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master’s degree in art history after a year in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.