From an online interview on June 30 through July 1, 2018.
First off, tell us a little about yourself. How do you see yourself as a writer?
I see myself as a madman with a typewriter and sleep deprivation.
But seriously, I like to think of myself as a myth maker. I write fairy tales for adults.
Awesome. Same here, on all counts. Now as for “dreampunk,” where did you first encounter the term? What does it mean to you personally?
I first encountered the term when I realized there was no term at all for what I write. It isn’t really fantasy, because fantasy evokes Tolkien and it’s not really science fiction. (I still refuse to say sci-fi because I’m still old school in that way.) Decade-wise, Storm Dreams falls somewhere between steampunk and dieselpunk, so I was checking out a list of subgenres and found dreampunk. It describes what I do so perfectly because almost everything I write is either based on dreams or is at least partially based on dreams.
I’ve always been obsessed with the nature of reality, and dreams, to me, have always been the cusp between our world and a reality beyond. The term “dreampunk” not only resonated with me, but it was kind enough to put a broad label on a type of writing for which there was no useful term. I only hope it grows into a fully recognized genre which won’t make agents cock their heads to the side and say, “So is that like cyberpunk or something? How am I going to pitch dreampunk to publishers?”
Yes, this is my problem currently. I’ve discovered I write dreampunk. Now, how to sell it? About your dislike of the term “sci-fi,” are you following the late Harlan Ellison’s lead on that one? I see you’re a fan.
To the letter. I know times change. Terms evolve. But Harlan was my hero and I couldn’t help agreeing with him on that particular subject. To me, sci-fi will always mean cowboys in space. Science fiction (or “SF”) is something different. It’s not about space fighters and laser guns. It’s about the genuine attempt to make a strong story where a futuristic setting and/or scientific premise is necessary for the story.
Yes, I’m part of the old guard. I’m also not really a science fiction writer, but I feel the SF/sci-fi distinction is important; at least to me as a writer. I’m not expecting society as a whole to adhere to that. It’s just my own personal feelings on the subject. Like Harlan, I think “fantasist” is a perfect term for what I do.
In the context of “dreampunk,” what would you say constitutes a “dream”? Would a mystic vision count? A psychedelic trip? A system of delusions, as in Don Quixote? How about an immersive computer simulation?
That’s a fascinating question. I would say that for me, a dream is what you experience while asleep, though that might come down to semantics. The question of altered states are certainly related, however. I think whenever our minds reach some level of altered perception, we might very well be experiencing something which could be the same thing as dreams, even though we reach that level through a variant medium. I think anytime one experiences reality through something beyond our mundane senses there is every possibility those realities could be closely related (i.e., we could be experiencing reality through the same way or mentally traveling to the same plane of existence. Out of body experiences. Meditative states. Substance-induced states. Hallucinations.
I think it’s a solipsistic question for me, if that’s not being overly philosophical. If one was jacked directly into a computer and therefore experiencing reality through what one might call artificial simulation, then it would probably be indistinguishable. At that point we are truly delving into the question of what is even real and is real decided by the majority. In my book Storm Dreams, the word real is italicized throughout the book for this very reason.
As far as dreampunk is concerned, all of that is fair game.
Have you ever pulled anything specific from a dream to include in your writing?
Yes, I have on many occasions. Back when I wrote my first book, which ironically wasn’t about dreams per se, I got an entire extra plot line because of a dream. Sometimes I take scenes directly from dreams, and sometimes I just get concepts, situations or characters.
I also used to be a professional magician and appeared on television in France. I performed, lectured and sold industry instructional videos. One night I dreamt of a new design for an effect I often performed. In the morning I remembered the image so vividly that I made the gimmick that very day. It worked so well I manufactured and sold it to many other professional magicians. Everyone said they’d never seen anything like it. I therefore always listen to my dreams and often record my recollections of them in the morning. Night wanderings are a source of endless inspiration.
I am so with you on that one. These days, I actually do most of my writing on my phone, usually while on a walk at night. Getting the atmosphere right while I’m writing is essential for me. What type of feeling do you want you work to have? Can you think of any examples from movies or TV that approach that same feeling?
David Lynch comes to mind. I want my readers to feel as if they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them and they’re being dragged through a tornado into a hurricane. I like bittersweet endings and a sense of both beauty and dread. My favourite compliment is when I hear someone say, “I’ve never read anything like that before.”
Yes! Sounds like you’re describing the end of Twin Peaks season 3 (“The Return”). Completely surreal. So how do you hope to shape this weird little subgenre of ours with your work?
I don’t know how much I want to shape it, per se, because the process feels so organic. In a strange way I think dreampunk is part of a new mythology growing in our culture as we deal with the slow degradation of what one might call “classical religion” and the rise of a more rational approach to belief. I think the two are melding. We, as a culture, are realizing rationality isn’t everything. “God is dead,” wasn’t enough of an answer, merely a lament. We need heart as well. We need the raw emotion, but I think many feel classical religion is too dogmatic and incapable of adapting in a world of ideas which is changing so fast.
Dreampunk is one of those wild cards which helps fill in the gaps as our culture tears from stretching so far, so fast. I want this kind of writing to show people there are other ways to think. Deeper ways to see reality. We are the myth makers of our present future. Or at least, that’s the hope.
That brings me to my last question: How can we help you to keep on making myths? What do you currently have for sale?
Right now Storm Dreams is up for sale on Amazon. The Audible version just came out, so you can buy it in all three formats. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook and I’ll be releasing a new book called “Gods of Filburn” very soon.
Storm Dreams (2016) by Jeb R. Sherrill
Trapped between the real world and the lands of dream, John Cassidy is a WWI fighter pilot with no memory of his past. He may not even be a real person. Rescued from a dream by a mysterious airship captain and forced to flee Armada agents, Cassidy is thrown into a chaos he can’t begin to fathom. He’s on a search for the meaning of his life and the man who dreamed him in the first place.
Next Profile: Yelena Calavera