Meet Martine Fournier Watson, author of the literary historical novel The Dream Peddler, which releases today from Penguin Books
Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master’s degree in art history after a year in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.
Tell us about your book.
Traveling salesmen like Robert Owens have passed through Evie Dawson’s town before, but none of them offered anything like what he has to sell: dreams, made to order, with satisfaction guaranteed.
Soon after he arrives, the community is shocked by the disappearance of Evie’s young son. The townspeople, shaken by the Dawson family’s tragedy and captivated by Robert’s subversive magic, begin to experiment with his dreams. And Evie, devastated by grief, turns to Robert for a comfort only he can sell her. But the dream peddler’s wares awaken in his customers their most carefully buried desires, and despite all his good intentions, some of them will lead to disaster.
Where did you get the idea?
I was a huge fan of L. M. Montgomery growing up, and my favorite heroine was Emily of New Moon. Emily wants to be a writer, and in the final book of the trilogy she writes her first novel but is unable to sell it, so she burns it. All the reader ever knows about this book is that it was a modern-day fairy tale called A Seller of Dreams. Since I could never know any more than this, my curiosity about the burned book eventually led me to write my own version.
Are your characters based on real people, or do they come from your imagination?
It’s a bit of a mixture. Characters come to me already formed, and I get to know them better as I write, so they’re not based on anyone I know. But I often throw in little bits and pieces from real people when I’m rounding them out, either as personality traits or backstory. For instance, Evie Dawson, my protagonist in The Dream Peddler, hates to be laughed at, and that’s modeled on my own mother’s feelings.
How long did you take to write this book?
The first draft took about six months, and then I spent maybe another eight months or so getting feedback from beta readers and revising. Finding an agent took a long time! Over eighteen months and a grand total of one hundred and nine queries. Once on submission, it didn’t take dreadfully long to sell—maybe about five months.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
My research was in two parts. I wanted to know as much as I could about the dreaming process and what kinds of things are possible in terms of influencing our dreams and remembering them. This was fascinating, because I discovered all the things I’d written that felt far-fetched to me are actually quite plausible!
The other branch of the research was understanding farming communities and how they operated during the early part of the twentieth century. Not quite as scintillating, but in order to make the characters and their way of life tangible, I really needed to have all the details, even down to what crops would have been planted or harvested at which time.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am a pantser all the way. The process of discovery is what makes writing so joyous for me. I think if I always knew exactly where my plot was going, I would grow bored.
What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
Definitely the drafting, although it wasn’t always that way. I was in my thirties before someone enlightened me about how first drafts are supposed to stink. Once I started drafting more quickly instead of stewing over every word, it became my favorite part of the process. I love the feeling of a great idea for a scene popping into my head and rushing to get it all down.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
It depends on the book, but editing is always hard for me. Once I’ve written the book, I’m afraid to look at it again, to be overwhelmed by the mess, and I really have to talk myself into it. With my current project, I also did myself the great disservice of writing it out of order as scene ideas popped into my head, having only a vague idea of how they’d fit into the storyline. Organizing that jumble of scenes into a coherent narrative, linking them up with new writing, is the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer.
Can you share your writing routine?
I don’t have a routine, and I write anywhere and everywhere. I have to keep paper and pen handy everywhere I go! I love best to write outside, usually sitting on our back porch, but if it’s too cold you’ll usually find me on the living room sofa.
Do you have any writing quirks?
I don’t know if this counts as a quirk, but I detest typing. I draft everything longhand in notebooks and then transcribe. There’s something about typing that deadens the writing for me—I don’t know how else to describe it. Everything feels more vivid when I’m putting pen to paper and scribbling furiously to try and keep up with my mind.
Which book influenced you the most?
I’m not sure I can narrow it down to just one, but certainly one of my all-time favorite books is one that I happened to be reading around the time I was writing The Dream Peddler: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. His writing is everything I could hope mine to be, and his agent was one of the first I queried. I also read everything by Donna Tartt—she is brilliant.
What are you working on right now?
I recently finished a readable draft of my second book, so I’m waiting to get feedback from a few kind writers who have agreed to critique for me. It’s another adult literary effort, this time about two eighth-graders who become friends without realizing that one of them has found something precious the other recently lost.
What’s your favorite writing advice?
Ignore all the advice and trust your instincts.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker and loving it! I wanted to read it because it’s about a small town overtaken by a mysterious sleeping sickness that seems to cause powerful dreams, and I was curious about what it might have in common with my own book. I’m so glad I discovered it, because the writing is beautiful and the story completely absorbing.
Thanks for chatting, Martine! We wish you success with your debut!