Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

One of my favourite series, The Glass Books trilogy by G.W. Dahlquist comprising The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, The Dark Volume and The Chemickal Marriage, has just been made available as e-books by Penguin. The trilogy follows the adventures of three unlikely allies, Miss Celeste Temple, Cardinal Chang and Dr Svenson, faced with a diabolical enemy who is trying to take over the country and enslave the citizens in an alternate neo-Victorian world.

I loved the books and was lucky enough to pose some questions to G.W. Dahlquist. Enjoy!

1) I loved The Glass Books trilogy and was a little heartbroken to say goodbye to the characters. Will there be any further adventures for Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang and Dr. Svenson?

I mean, never say never, but right now I have no plans to continue with them. Who knows, maybe sometime I’ll want to write short stories about events earlier in their lives, or a novella about events after the end of The Chemickal Marriage, but for now I’m caught up in other projects. I did carry those characters around in my head for about 8 years – they were a very regular part of the day, if that makes sense – so to set them aside was a little like moving house. But as someone who has also recently moved house, it’s usually healthy to shift things around every once in a while.

2) What were your inspirations behind the characters and plot for The Glass Books trilogy?

More than anything, the books flowed from a lifetime of reading: reading both proper history, and historical, social-tapestry novels, but also all sorts of more plot-driven novels that we associate with the 19th century. So many genres erupt out of that world: deductive mysteries, speculative science fiction, romances, adventure, exploration, erotica – it seemed like a natural thing to put a contemporary spin on those styles and try to wrap them all together. The main characters flowed very much from the action. That I started with Miss Temple was probably spurred by being American, by my interest in the clash of New World and Old. I’m interested in tarot cards, and one way of thinking of the major arcana cards is that each the opposite of the one that precedes it (e.g., if the Magician is consciousness, the High Priestess is intuition). This is sort of how I think of how Chang and Svenson took form, each one in some crucial sense the opposite of the narrator who’d come before. I certainly didn’t plan them, they just took form based on what else had started to happen.

3) It seems as though you had as much fun writing the books as we had reading them. Could you tell us a little about your writing rituals and what kind of research was involved in completing the books?

I had a very good time writing them, the first one probably most of all, since it was written for no other reason than to entertain myself. I try to write every day, for between 4 and 6 hours. I usually work in cafes, drinking lots of coffee and listening to music pretty loud on headphones. I’ll listen to the same things, or the same musicians, again and again while I’m working on a given piece.

I didn’t do very much research to start, on any of the books – as I said, they’re really the product of years and years of reading. Some of this is because I’m not writing about a particular, existing city, or a particular stated year. This is a fictive world, deliberately. I’d like readers to be caught up in what’s happening, but I’d also like them to see that what’s happening has been made, that they’re reading a story written now. That said, I certainly checked a lot of specific facts about language, and about science and the commercial availability of various things. Equally, sections of the books are very much inspired by particular places. The Iron Coast in The Dark Volume echoes where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest of the US, for example, as the journey to the Vandaariff tomb in The Chemickal Marriage is indebted to a tour through Highgate cemetery in London, and the Royal Thermae in The Chemickal Marriage carries the influence of the Szechenyi baths in Budapest.

4) Did you know how the books and the trilogy was going to end or did you create the story as you wrote?

I did not know how each book would end before I wrote it. My mode of writing comes from writing plays, where I think it’s useful to very much understand the world of the play (or the book), and the ideas one wants to attack, but not necessarily work out the plot itself, or not in such detail. My plot outlines are generally along the line of a hand-written note, “S meets FX. River.” Which is to say, what I don’t know is the actual dialogue, the actual nuance of the scene, because for me those roll into one another in the moment. In the case of The Glass Books, there’s a murder that’s discovered in the first chapter, whose solution figures rather prominently in the climax – but I didn’t know exactly who’d done the murder until about half-way through the last chapter. Of course, that kind of decision-making necessitates a lot of rewriting after the fact, but I think that the choices you make having been steeped in a book are more informed and less imposed than choices you make at the very beginning, when you frankly don’t know very much about the who and why of that world.

I didn’t write The Glass Books with any sequel in mind, and when the idea was broached by my editor I wasn’t sure, but soon enough I began to think about new possibilities for the characters, how the different locations at the start of The Dark Volume could bring out new parts of their personalities, and I became quite interested in pursuing the story to another stage. With The Chemickal Marriage, while I knew there would be a third book to finish things, I spent a lot more time thinking about how that world had changed and needed to change still before beginning to actually write. But for all that additional time, I wrote the book in the same way, keeping myself in the dark, or at least with one eye shut, knowing that there would be ample time to revise.

5) Please tell us about some of your favourite books and authors.

My favorite authors include playwrights, like Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, and novelists like Nabokov and Faulkner. I’ve always read a lot of science fiction, and particularly like Philip K. Dick, Roger Zelazny, and Iain M. Banks. I also read a lot of mysteries, mostly older authors like Ross McDonald or Georges Simenon. The last five books I’ve read have been Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka, The Roman Emperors by Michael Grant, and Today We Choose Faces by Roger Zelazny.

Thank you very much G.W. Dahlquist for taking the time to answer these questions and in so much depth. I will be checking out some of Gordon’s favourite books and am looking forward to re-reading The Glass Books trilogy. If you haven’t tried them, then I strongly urge you to – they’re mad, bad and deliciously subversive.

The Doctor found the hidden door and pulled it wide. On another table lay a man secured with chains, naked, pale and still. Miss Temple screamed. Cardinal Chang’s eyes snapped open.

G.W. Dahlquist is back on fine form with the concluding volume of his Glass Books trilogy, The Chemickal Marriage. After the events in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters and The Dark Volume, Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang and Doctor Svenson find themselves thrown together once again after surviving the horrifying crash of their airship and the betrayal of their nemesis, the cruel and achingly beautiful Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza.

But all is not as it seems as all three have had to endure severe trauma which may ultimately tear apart the pact they had made with one another at the beginning of their adventure. Miss Temple has been subjected to the decadent degeneracy of the blue glass books, forbidden memories of the now dead members of the decaying aristocracy and members of the Cabal from the hidden to the carnal swirling around in her brain. Will she be able to control her emotions and physical urges? Cardinal Chang has been captive of the increasingly deranged Lord Vandaarif who has experimented extensively on Chang’s body but has allowed him to remain alive. And Dr. Svenson has suffered the loss of his love who was stabbed in the back by the Contessa whom they have all vowed in their own way to kill.

And so the three of them, damaged but burning with revenge are in a race against time to stop the Cabal from staging a coup and destroying their world. And in order to do this, they must unravel the puzzling trail set by the Contessa to find the mysterious painting called The Chemickal Marriage. What is the meaning of this painting and what does it have to do with the poisonous glass books? And what is the real motive behind the Contessa’s actions? For the beautiful, beguiling lady is not an enemy they can trust.

After what I thought was a brilliant debut and a disappointing second volume, The Chemickal Marriage had me hooked right from the start. There is something about Dahlquist’s writing, the sheer exuberance and decadence which tugs you wholly into his tale. I raced through the book with trepidation, wanting to know whether Miss Temple, Cardinal Chang and Dr. Svenson would survive. And most importantly, would Miss Temple and Cardinal Chang get it together?

I used to read obsessively about alchemy and the notion of the chemickal marriage or chymical wedding is intriguing. I loved the way in which Dahlquist folded in these esoteric ideas within his story while at the same time keeping it current with the steampunk theme and the mishmash of Mittel-European with the neo-Victorian. I just loved everything about it including the ultimate villainy of the baddies from the delicously cruel Contessa to the rather stereotyped Foisin, Lord Vandaarif’s Asiatic right hand man/killer. The combination of Cardinal Chang, assassin and all round badass with a chivalrous heart, and Dr. Svenson, the upright Teutonic diplomat who muddies his noble ways, and Miss Temple, the prim and proud virgin who can’t control her lusty thoughts, just adds to the complex tale woven by Dahlquist. True, I may have gotten a little confused with part of the plot but who cares? Dahlquist has managed to ensnare my attention for the length of the novel and I sincerely hope that he will write more about this crazy, bustling world he has created.

If you want adventure with a dash of steampunk, history and sex, then look no further. As usual, I recommend starting with the first book in the series, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters.

And do check out Annabel’s post for a brilliant overview of the series.

In The Dark Volume by G.W, Dahlquist, we are re-united with Cardinal Chang, Doctor Svenson, Celeste Temple, Eloise DuJong and the Contessa di Lacquer-Sforza as they continue their adventures begun in The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. I don’t really want to give the plot away as I do hope you will read the first volume in this series, but we join the characters as they outwit assassins, search for their lost companions and try and unravel the truth behind the mysterious and deadly books made of blue glass. Who is behind it all? And can they escape the secret plot that strikes at the core of the Government?

Hmm… I so wanted to like this book. I really did. But I struggled to read it, although it did improve towards the end. Unlike its prequel, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters which was fast, exciting and deliciously wicked, I felt the plot was indulgent, circling the central event, the points of views ricocheting from one character back to the next without advancing the plot significantly. Don’t get me wrong, I love the world and the characters Dahlquist has created set in an alternate historic Europe with steam-punk overtones. And I mean how can you not love a novel with such fantastic character names as Francis Xonck and Charlotte Trapping as well as those already mentioned above? And that’s one of the reasons I didn’t give up on the book. But finishing it left me more frustrated than when I began. There’s going to be another book, but I’m not sure I can handle another one where the plot crawls at a snail’s pace with no closure in sight. Negative reviews aren’t my thing, but I just wanted to scream when I read this book because it could have been so much tighter. Dahlquist’s prose is smooth and excellent, but a bit more editing wouldn’t have hurt. Maybe I needed to read it in fewer sittings, but still, it just took me ages to finish and left me wanting… I’m not sure what. The only good thing about this book was Cardinal Chang. So repressed, so tortured, so hot.

If you’ve read this book, what did you think? Am I being too harsh and did I miss the point? Was I focusing on Cardinal Chang too much???