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Powell's Q&A

Gordon Dahlquist

Describe your latest project.
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters is my first novel, begun while I was on jury duty in the midst of ice storm, after a particularly strange dream the night before. The book takes place in an unnamed city in 19th-century Europe, and begins with a young heiress from the West Indies who decides to follow the fiancé who has jilted her as a way of understanding why. Very quickly, she stumbles upon a sinister conspiracy using a new invention — a sort of psychotropic blue glass — able to capture a person's memories and then allow anyone else to experience them in every bodily particular. Falling in league with a mercenary criminal and a foreign spy — both targeted in their way by the wicked cabal — the heiress finds herself facing both deadly peril and heartbreaking challenge, where very few people — especially, perhaps, oneself — are truly what they seem. The book is very much an epic adventure, with elements of romance, mystery, and even a stripe of Victorian science-fiction. As someone who loves these sorts of stories, I take all of this fairly seriously, but that only means that my main intention was to write a novel that I myself would consider a kick in the pants.

I am a playwright, originally from the Pacific Northwest, who has lived in New York since 1988. As a writer, I am very interested in what stories we choose to tell and in the ways we choose to tell them. I am especially interested in genre stories, because these are ones we tell to ourselves again and again, without necessarily asking ourselves why.


  1. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters: A Novel
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If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
I don't have a subtitle, but a good title would be " The Punishment Element, Perhaps," which is a quote from A Clockwork Orange, spoken by a doctor when they realize that the aversion therapy is desensitizing the main character against classical music as well as violence. For me it's a lovely moment pointing out how many unintended consequences arise out of human intentions, and also how we tend to do our best to rationalize and moralize what we realize too late that we can't control. It's as good a distillation as any for what I try to write about — and am no doubt as subject to as anyone else....

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
Since Philip K. Dick is getting so much deserved publicity of late, I'll instead suggest Robert Coover, a writer I've loved since reading The Public Burning, an intensely imaginative novel about the Rosenberg executions that features a very persuasively captured Vice President Nixon as a narrator. But my favorite book by Coover — who's amazingly creative, caustic, wicked, and luscious in his wordplay — is probably Gerald's Party, a really amazing novel about an enormous party that goes very, very out of control. The book is fantastic and sprawling, hilarious and sexy, and entirely too prophetic about the state of America right now.

How did the last good book you read end up in your hands and why did you read it?
I was recently given Mansfield Park by a friend, who considers it one her favorite books, precisely because it makes such an odd fit with the rest of Jane Austen's books. Though it's very funny and romantic, it also seems like a book where a brilliant writer is really pushing herself around, trying new things and breaking her own perfectly excellent rules just to see what's going to happen.

What is your astrological sign? If you don't like what you were born with, what sign would you change to and why?
I'm a Taurus — and since I am a Taurus, I think it's goes without saying that I'm perfectly happy with it and can't imagine wanting to be anything else, no matter how dull, stubborn, plodding, determined, or just "reliable" being a Taurus might turn out to be.

What is your favorite indulgence, either wicked or benign?
I fence every week in the park with three friends — "slop fencing" — where we throw out the fineries of Olympic fencing and use a wide variety of heavier, longer, or broken weapons, often several in combination, with tripping, pushing, grappling, and ganging-up allowed and encouraged. It's an enormous amount of fun, regular bruising aside.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
More than anyone would be Diego Velásquez, the great Spanish painter, who I find remarkable both for his astonishing paintings — as free with his brush as a 17th-century Impressionist — as that he spent nearly all of his career as a court painter to the same king, that he was able to document the most powerful man in the world with such bitter truth and profound compassion. I'm also a big admirer of Francis Bacon, who dealt I think with many similar questions in terms of composition, and who has spoken very eloquently about the elaborate lengths artists travel to provoke spontaneity, to spark the unconscious and the instinctive. I find Velásquez and Bacon equally elegant and raw, and it's a mixture I look for in my own work.

Do you read blogs? What are some of your favorites?
Two favorites would be Firedoglake, a superb political blog run by Jane Hamsher and Christy Hardin Smith, and then GoFugYourself, run by the "tar-hearted" Jessica and Heather, which is superbly vicious. spacer

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