Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Charlie Lovett

Charlie Lovett is an award-winning playwright and author of the New York Times bestseller The Bookman’s Tale and other novels. His plays for children have been seen in over five thousand productions worldwide. A former antiquarian bookseller, he collects books and memorabilia related to Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland and has written extensively on Carroll. He hosts the literary podcast Inside the Writer’s Studio. Lovett and his wife, Janice, live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and in Kingham, Oxfordshire.

Lovett's new novel is Escaping Dreamland.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I feel like the title of Escaping Dreamland works on two levels. First, Dreamland is the amusement park on Coney Island where the three historical characters, Magda, Tom, and Gene, spend a day in 1906. Almost everything about the relationships among these characters either leads to or springs from what happens at Dreamland and in a real way the characters find ways to escape from the mistakes they made that day. But Dreamland can also be a metaphor for sleep or for non-reality. The novel explores the relationship between stories and real life, between fantasy and reality, and so I think the title also works as a kind of caution to the contemporary character Robert that he needs to escape from a world of memories and stories and deal with reality.

What's in a name?

Names are a big deal in this book. One of the main themes of Escaping Dreamland is identity and the ways in which society forces us to subvert who we really are. Take Magda, for instance. Her real name is Magdalena Hertzenberger—the daughter of German immigrants. But Magda longs to leave her German identity behind and become an American, so she starts to go by Mary Stone. Then, when Magda wants to write a book and the publisher will only consider books written by men, she presents herself as Marcus Stone. And finally, to her readers, she is known only by the pseudonym Dexter Cornwall. So, I create four layers of identity in four different names for a single character.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think my teenage self would be delighted because this novel was inspired by some of my early teenage (or perhaps slightly pre-teen) reading—the Hardy Boys mysteries. My teenage self believed these books were written by someone named Franklin W. Dixon and one of the first things my protagonist Robert Parrish discovers is that Dixon never existed. That would surprise my teenage self. But if teenage Charlie might be surprised at some of the historical facts in the book, I think he would be thrilled with the idea that books he read for fun on rainy Saturday afternoons might still have some place in his creative life forty years later. And he would, I think, be fascinated to discover the larger historical and cultural context of the Hardy Boys, and the history of other children’s series books leading up to those mysteries.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I don’t consciously base any of my characters on any one person but rather on what I observe of human nature in myself and others. That being said, since I know a lot more about my own human nature than anyone else’s, it’s inevitable that parts of myself will manifest in my characters. Sometimes it’s little things, like the fact that Robert Parrish and I both love The Princess Bride, other times it can be something a little deeper or darker. Robert feels like an imposter as a successful author and hates when people ask him what books influenced him. While I don’t have as bad a case of imposter syndrome as he does, I can remember being puzzled that total strangers would turn out to hear me talk about my books and wondering if I could really call myself an author if I hadn’t read Tolstoy or Hemingway. All four of my main characters in this book are writers and in sharing their creative process with readers I certainly draw on my own.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I feel a strong connection between place and story, so places influence my writing quite a bit. That’s easy to see in the case of Escaping Dreamland where so much of my inspiration came from New York City—in both its early 20th century and early 21st century incarnations. Since the day I first set foot on Broadway in 1982, I have loved New York and found it endlessly fascinating to explore. Escaping Dreamland gave me the chance to discover parts of the city I had never seen. I dug into archives at the New York Public Library and New York Historical Society, read old newspapers, pored over antique atlases, and more. With the exception of reading some children’s series books and a few novels of the period, my research for Escaping Dreamland was almost exclusively non-literary and I found my inspiration in everything from a postcard of Dreamland to a menu from Child’s Restaurant.
Learn more about the book and author at Charlie Lovett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Escaping Dreamland.

--Marshal Zeringue