Helping Writers Become Authors. I find myself disagreeing with about half of the writing advice I read, but KM Weiland's practical tips continually ring true both to my experience and to my philosophy of storytelling. It was no surprise to discover that Weiland is a Christian and a home-ed graduate who can write a corking good story. Such is Dreamlander...
Chris Redston has been dreaming. Every night a woman riding a black horse begins by telling him to stay away from her and ends by shooting him in the face. It's not the kind of dream he wants ever coming true, but when he wakes up in Lael, the parallel world where we go when we're dreaming, he finds that the cranky princess Allara is the least of his problems. For he's one of the Gifted, whose fate is to change the course of Lael's history for the better--or the worse. As Lael plunges into war, Chris must face up to his destiny and become a hero--unless it's too late, and he's already become the villain...
This was a really well-written book, full of the meticulous craftsmanship I expected! Fiction writing, like any other craft, has a certain amount of science and formula standing behind it. There are specific, objective ways of making a character sympathetic, for instance, or of crafting a satisfying plot. In Dreamlander, KM Weiland has followed her own advice, done the hard work, and produced a really excellent story.
The fact that Dreamlander follows the basic tropes of good fiction writing doesn't mean it doesn't have its own distinctive flavour, which I appreciated. One thing I found refreshing was that it's a standalone book, not a trilogy or a series. It didn't have a generic medieval fantasy setting--with hydraulic firearms and a kind of airborne tram system, Lael was more Renaissance-steampunk in flavour. There was even a rather Bertie-Woosteresque character named Eroll with a brother named Phlin. All good fun, but icing on top of a good, solid story with complex characters, satisfying drama, and above all the sweet savour of eternal life.
I do have, of course, a few small criticisms. The writing style was comparatively very good, but I did feel it stumbled here or there. And there was one character--in the Chicago segments of the story--who never seemed to stop being irritating,
More seriously, the genre of this book is epic fantasy, which means it comes with a pretty big scope--and although the book is already over 500 pages long, I felt it could easily have been a quarter as long again. By the end, Weiland was throwing everything and the kitchen sink into her novel, but the plot was moving too fast to take care of everything.
(Mild spoilers follow)
The last quarter of the book seemed sketchy, and I began to have questions about characters that were being left behind. For example, late in the book a town is evacuated, and the plot follows a few hundred of those who escape. What happened to everyone else? What happened to the cute animal Allara adopted? What happened to the Guardsman who was part of the cult? How did Lael get rebuilt after the climax?
Also, while we're talking about the ending, I appreciated that it was bittersweet. That makes sense for a book so ambitious in scope: not everyone is going to live happily ever after something like this. I love all kinds of endings, including the unhappy ones. But--poor Allara! After all she’d been through I really yearned for some happiness for her. I felt like all the dire warnings about Chris hurting her if they allowed themselves to fall for each other had come true, and it seemed to me that he could have taken more care not to hurt her any more than she'd already been hurt.
Other than these few things, I really loved Dreamlander. It's been a few weeks since I read the book, but I remember whole chapters where I was quietly squeeing in appreciation every few sentences.
The three main protagonists--Chris, Allara, and Orias--were all extremely compelling and relatable. I was particularly surprised by how much I liked Allara. The contemporary fantasy world is filled with emotionally-scarred sword-wielding warrior women who I find it difficult to feel any sympathy with. Allara, though, was surprisingly relatable.
Part of this was how unfeminist she was. I hope KM Weiland does not mind me blowing her cover with her feminist fans here. Dreamlander is filled with battles and action scenes, and its heroine is an action girl who can ride, shoot, and fence...but never participates in an actual battle. She’s clearly a competent woman, she defends herself on occasion, she has a spine of chilled steel, she wants to help out with the fighting, but there’s always a voice of reason standing there to tell her no, no, you have a bigger job. You have a more important job. You focus on your job and let the men get on with theirs. It was great.
On the other hand we had Chris, and I loved him too. If you believe popular culture, the kind of guy who wins the love of the tough-as-nails action girl looks like this.
Not in Dreamlander. Instead of curling up under her scorn, Chris actually stands up to Allara and tells her that he intends not to just do as he’s told, but to take responsibility for his own actions and do what he has to do, whether she’s OK with it or not. Then, instead of angsting about being thrown into mortal danger in a deadly fantasy world, he leaps in with both feet. In other words, he takes responsibility--for himself, for the relationship, and for Lael. Dreamlander takes place in a world where masculine headship and leadership can be a comforting, healing thing. Chris has suffered from his father’s irresponsibility, and his healing from that comes when he meets the man his father could have been.
To be honest, I don't want to pretend like Chris's leadership always goes right. KM Weiland is too good, and too subtle, a writer to give us a running commentary on what she thinks of her characters' actions (thank goodness). But Chris seems like the kind of guy who'll err on the side of hot-headedness, and as I mentioned above under the spoiler warning, I feel like he demonstrably messes it up in one respect. But, maybe that's just a true-to-life picture of that kind of personality.
It was obvious from the setting, with its supreme God and his messenger, the Garowai (who felt like a sort of cross between an Old Testament prophet and Narnia's Aslan) that KM Weiland has written a self-consciously Christian fantasy. Then, if you squint your eyes and look really carefully, you might realise that a couple of characters have had some kind of conversion in there somewhere--or at least, by the end, they believe differently than they did to begin with. But that's not what the story is about, so it's no big deal.
I don’t mean to say that the eternal state of one’s soul is no big deal. The book is all about sin, repentance, forgiveness, and redemption. It’s a big part of Chris’s character development that at a key point in the plot he comes to see himself as a villain. Then he has to bear fruits in keeping with repentance. The book is all about this, but subtly, deep down: not on the surface.
CS Lewis turned to fiction when he realised that his non-fictional apologetics were not working well in the postwar world. In a letter, he said that he hoped his stories would “steal past those watchful dragons” and affect people in another way. That’s what KM Weiland is doing in this book. She provides a story that nourishes, satisfies, and tells the truth. I found it not just a fun read, but also deeply refreshing.
Interview with KM Weiland
KM Weiland, hello and welcome to Vintage Novels! Can you introduce yourself briefly to our readers?
I’m a very stereotypical writer chick, hibernating in my make-believe worlds, most of which are either historical or fantasy. I’ve published three novels A Man Called Outlaw (western), Behold the Dawn (historical set during the Third Crusade), Dreamlander (fantasy), and the non-fiction writing how-to books Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel.
What are some of the things you’ve discovered about yourself and about the world through writing?
This is actually really tough question. I’m sitting here thinking, and it’s so hard to separate writing from life. Stories have always my “language,” my way of interpreting and interacting with the world. So it’s tough to talk about life without the subject being influenced by my writing.
Writing has definitely helped me solidify gut feelings about life into more logical approaches. It’s taught me the value of empathy with other people—to always look beyond the surface to find the “backstory.” It’s refined my abilities to be motivated, diligent, and organized. And it’s made me appreciative of how the whole world is really just one big, epic story crafted by a Master Author.
What are some ways your favourite authors have influenced you?
Growing up, classics like Louisa May Alcott, L.M. Montogery, Will James, and Walter Farley were huge influences. Dickens is a major favourite, as are Patrick O’Brian and Orson Scott Card. And some of my current favourites includes Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, and Lois McMaster Bujold. They’ve all taught me different things, but mostly it all comes down to a love of the craft. It’s hard not to love and learn when a master of the story sets a ripping good tale before you.
For the encouragement and edification of other writers, what’s a good piece of writing advice you’ve benefited from?
If you can not write, don’t. Writing is a rich and rewarding lifestyle, but it can also be full of frustration and depression. If you don’t love what you’re doing so much that you’d do it even no one ever read you, much less paid you, then you may want to rethink subjecting yourself to the rigors of the lifestyle.
One of the things I loved in Dreamlander was the very unconventional technological setting, with hydraulic firearms and trams in the sky. What fun! What gave you the idea for that? Was there any particular historical period that inspired the dream world?
I had a lot of fun building Lael. In the beginning, it was much more medieval. No technology. Very Crusades era. But then I had the fun idea for the water-powered guns. That immediately gave me a 16th-century/Three Musketeers vibe. So I started exploring that era a little more, particularly in regards to fashion and architecture.
I really enjoyed your characterisation. I was pleasantly surprised by how much sympathy I felt with Allara, who as a very prickly, damaged sort of person is not the kind of character I would normally feel much in common with. How does an author convincingly write characters which are radically different from herself?
The foundational principle of writing anything emotionally resonant is that it first has to resonant with the author. We have to be honest. We have to stop and analyze our own perception of events. How would we react in certain situations? Then we have to ask ourselves how our characters are different from us. How would their reactions differ from ours.
After that, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to write that emotional reaction in the clearest and most truthful way. And that is one of the most difficult parts of writing any story.
What’s the main thing you hope readers get from or learn from Dreamlander?
First of all, I hope they have a good time. I hope they get swept away into another world and fall in love with the characters. But I also hope they find it to be a story of faith and hope—and how both of those are sometimes the hardest things we’ll ever have to do in this life. But also how they’re always worth the struggle.
What, in your view, are some hallmarks of a good, Christian fantasy?
I’m always aware of how I present faith in my books, and sometimes that means that I actually don’t address faith explicitly at all. Although my relationship with God is a fundamental part of who I am, a discussion of it isn’t going to be right for every story. Nor am I ever trying to preach my own beliefs at my readers. Novels aren’t meant to provide answers, only ask questions. And, ultimately, I’m often just using my fiction to allow myself to work out my own questions about God and life.
I appreciated that you had the self-control to stop at a single volume with this story, but I have to ask: do you have any plans for more stories set in the Dreamlander world?
I’ve yet to write a sequel to any of my books. I tend to think in standalone stories, largely because I have so many other ideas I want to explore. But I’ve definitely considered some sort of sequel for Dreamlander. There is a lot about the world and particularly the Gifted/Searcher dynamic that I’d like to explore. But so far no concrete ideas have presented themselves. Maybe someday!
And finally, where can readers find your books?
They’re available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and my site. So pick your poison!
Thanks so much for participating in the Home Educated Authors Feature Week, KM Weiland!
Tomorrow on Vintage Novels: our final home educated author, Jennifer Freitag, with The Shadow Things!