06 April 2011

The Deep Dark Secret Truth

If I wrote a compelling title then you are reading this sentence, most likely. Just had the idea of revealing something that has never before been known by anyone. There isn't a closet big enough for this secret. I'm talking about revealing for the first time the deep dark origins of The Dream Land trilogy's origins!

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The science-fiction series began as a YA story, safely innocent for adolescents. It was a tale of a boy who was visited one day by "aliens"--though they were not called such back then. The aliens resembled mice--or, perhaps, the hamster he once had as a pet. In actuality, the boy was me and I was not actually visited by alien mice. Well, that's one of the secrets. What that boy did do was to take some pipe cleaners and yarn and make some play creatures that looked like mice: clawed feet, fuzzy bodies, tiny ears sticking up out of their fur, and a yarn tail. Evolution caused them to gain clawed hands and lose the tails. The boy's mother told him that his story was like one she had read long ago: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. The boy had never read it--and refuses to do so today as an adult, chiefly for political purposes--because he feared people would say he was just copying the idea.

As the boy grew, he kept the story secret, lest anyone steal his idea or accuse him of stealing someone else's idea. And as he grew into a high school student, the alien mice further evolved into human-like beings, though still small in stature, something akin to child-sized adults. They described their world and explained all of their customs, and this allowed the boy to create maps of their world and flags of their nations. He was even able to design football helmet logos for their football teams--which was certainly a shocking development inasmuch as they did not play the sport on their world.

And speaking of their world, the boy-turned-teenager somehow heard the name incorrectly from the alien mice visitors, something like "Gupal"; he used the word to indicate the visitors themselves ("I played with the Gupals all afternoon.") and their planet ("My friends all came from the planet Gupal.") and so on. In high school, however, as the teenager was becoming more widely read (but never The Hobbit!) he began to decypher the language of his Gupal friends. His more sophisticated understanding of linguistics allowed him to be more correct, more precise in his construction of the language. Thus, "Gupal" became the significantly cooler word "Ghoupalle" and the planet whence his companions originated became "Ghoupallesz" and their language "Ghoupallean."

Then, one dark and stormy night, a story began. Home for Christmas from his job teaching English in Japan--after high school, after college, after a few years working at a dead end job (during which he continued to develop the world and its features, including beginning a bright colorful new map series and creating dictionaries of Ghoupallean and other languages of the world)--he had a dream. He had long wanted to tell the story of his Ghoupalle friends and their adventures, of course, but as the boy turned into an adult, his interests also changed. Now the adventures of Ghoupallesz consisted of political intrigue, wars, magic, and sex. There was no longer a YA planet to write about. Prior to that dream--of course, that is the origin of the series title!--he had been looking for a starting point to get into the story, a story he already was expecting to be a series of books, each about a separate adventure.

In that dream, he saw a Zetin maiden riding the kind of horse-like creature (the "Jepe") that they have on Ghoupallesz, high in the mountains (well, that's where Zetin people live, as opposed to the Ghoupalle people living down along the coast) and she caught him watching her. The image stuck. Back in Japan, he set out to write the story, beginning with that scene on the mountain. That was something new, he realized, something that was not part of the adventures of the earlier mice-like Gupals. Instead, he was inventing new adventures...which eventually allowed him to introduce the "original" story, not of alien mice visiting a boy on Earth but of a well-intended teenager and his girlfriend finding a portal, an invisible doorway, through which they stumbled quite serendipitously to discover a new world.

Thus began The Dreamland. It was completed in 1993 and was sent out to a few agents and editors, who all rejected it. Although a couple of them added handwritten notes of encouragement, one even saying it was "well-crafted," all believed the protagonist was not sympathetic. Because the protagonist was based on the teenager-turned-adult himself, that hurt. So he set about recrafting the story to make the hero more likeable, and more distinct from the author. Since the hero suffers from many tragedies in the course of his adventures, the tragic qualities of the hero needed to be introduced at the beginning. But how does one get to know a character who is aloof, quiet, private, and solitary? Have his co-workers talk about him, speculate about his life, and even tease him!

As the rewriting was continuing, another heartbreaking discovery was made: The Dreamland was already being used as the title of a sci-fi book about Area 51, the infamous location of alien crash victims. So he reluctantly changed the title to The Dream Land--which meant changing that phrase everywhere it appeared in the novel. Instead of the characters saying Ghoupallesz was the Dreamland, they had to say, in order to be politically correct, Ghoupallesz was the Dream Land. It was a big hassle. But he finished a major edit of the novel and was so excited that he rushed right into the next novel: The Dream Land II

The second book picked up right where the first ended: Did our hero safely escape back to Ghoupallesz through the portal, or did he actually catch a bullet from the pursuing police and fall into a coma? Fifty or so single-spaced pages in and he ground to a halt. A plot conundrum (after the hero awakens from his coma) stopped him cold. He was becoming busy with other matters of an adult life, anyway, and eventually the second book--and the first book--were left to languish on a dusty shelf somewhere in his computer. 

The boy-turned-adult went away to graduate school and became a professor who was tasked with teaching college students how to write essays and research papers. He still enjoyed creative writing--had even picked up an MFA degree by producing a slew of short stories with contemporary settings, and a thesis consisting of a literary novel about a doomed romance. So he encouraged his students to write whatever they were interested in, something about their lives. One student showed him a story that superficially reminded the boy-turned-professor of his Dream Land story. Not too much, however, just enough to cause the professor to be curious and search for it on his computer. He read through what he had written, then continued writing. The plot conundrum that had stopped him almost 10 years earlier now was cleared. He marched on to the end of the novel--all the while conducting research and writing his Ph.D. dissertation.

That brings us, humbly, up to the present era. When the second book was happily completed, he rushed forward into the third book. Being busier than ever before with life, and all its coquettish foibles, he has turned now to trying once again to deal with a publishing world that has changed so dramatically he no longer recognizes it, nor knows what to do to get the first two books published. Good friends and their advice have helped and the encouragement provided has sustained him. The portal still exists, however, and as the hero of The Dream Land ages, he has taken on a protege who can lead readers through the third novel of the series and perhaps into a fourth book. The universe is endless, after all--at least, according to the rules of the Dream Land. Imagination is the key...and the map...and the compass!

For additional information about The Dream Land trilogy, you may enjoy visiting this page: 
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