Discover more from Rabbit Trails and Parting Veils
Dreampunk Profile: Alex Pilalis
From an online interview on December 30, 2019, through January 2, 2020
First off, tell us a little about yourself. How do you see yourself as a writer?
I would call myself a writer who wants to be an author. I’d love to make writing my “full-time job,” but think I’m a long way from that stage at the moment, and for now I’m enjoying the creative and storytelling process of writing what I can, when I can find the time (and motivation).
I started out writing around 15 years ago, when I decided to turn an idea for a story I had into a novel. I liked to write but had no formal training or experience with it, so basically tried to run before I could walk. As such it took me about 10 years(!) to finish that story, learning the writing process and rewriting many times along the way. That turned out to be the first of my fantasy adventure series, The Awakening of James Island, and I caught the writing bug from there.
I’ve since written several novellas and short stories, many of which have been published and are available on Amazon—though some are now looking for a new publisher. While I consider myself a fantasy writer, I’ve enjoyed delving into the horror genre, as well as writing pure action stories, and I’ve dipped into the steampunk genre a little too, along with some creepy, dark tales.
In my attempt to diversify myself as an author, I’m currently writing a YA novel.
How would you say genre shapes your writing? For a new story, do you consider ahead of time whether it will be horror, steampunk, etc., or do you mostly figure that out as you go?
I’d say that genre plays a big part in shaping my writing, as I try to “feel” the tone of the genre as I write. So I’d try to get in a fun and cheery mood for a comedic tone, or be fast and snappy for an action story, or tense and morose for a darker-toned story. It can help to go slower to build tension, or move faster to ramp up adrenaline. For example I might focus a little more on world building and scene setting in a fantasy story, and less so with an action story. Word choices and flow of sentences also help inform the tone.
But regardless of genre, characters come first for me. I try and figure out who the main character is and what kind of journey/progression they’ll have, and why I want to tell this particular story. If I stick close to the answers of those questions, I generally end up writing the story I originally thought/felt.
How do you see the genre of dreampunk? What kind of tone and pacing would you expect to encounter?
Dreampunk to me evokes an ethereal world without limits, where anything can happen, and—perhaps the most compelling aspect to me—it allows us to delve into our own psyches and find our deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings. I think that’s what most writers set out to do anyway, find the deepest “truth” of a character, challenge them and see how they handle various situations.
I like slow-burn stories, where I’m not too interested in explaining everything right away and allowing the story to unfold for a reader. I think that suits the dreampunk genre fairly well, because there’s a lot that can happen in the mind and in dreams, and it doesn’t all strictly fit a traditional linear story progression.
I can see dreampunk being a dark and twisted genre in general, but there’s also a lot of space for whimsy and wild imagination. So it’s one of those genres that allows the writer to create a wide variety of stories and have more lenience to set their own tone. Which is very appealing.
That sums it up nicely, I’d say. In this context, what would you say constitutes a “dream”? Would a mystic vision count? A psychedelic trip? A system of delusions that distorts the waking world?
They all sound like they’d count. I think it’s pretty much anything that explores the mind, or a journey that takes place inside the mind. It can be something that “distorts” the real world, or feels real to the characters and viewers/readers, but the general concept as I see it is an exploration of a character’s inner struggles, desires, and fears. It’s the “internal conflict” that’s part of storytelling (the others being “external” and “interpersonal” conflicts).
Can technology play a central role in a dreampunk story, or is that more the domain of cyberpunk? On my quest to figure out what dreampunk is, I can’t help but ask what it isn’t. What do you think? Is it worth it to draw lines between genres, or should we just accept a lot of overlap?
I think of it like how Star Wars is predominantly a fantasy adventure story, but some could class it as sci-fi, and it also has western/samurai aspects. I wouldn’t think that having a focus on tech would turn “dreampunk” into “cyberpunk,” but there’s likely some overlap between the two.
Having a spiritual journey that takes place solely in the mind wouldn’t necessarily be classed as fantasy if it takes place in a Tolkien-esque setting, with orcs and dragons. Although the Nightmare on Elm Street films have more of a focus on the horror aspects even though they deal with “dreampunk” ideas. You’re right; it’s a tricky concept once you get into it.
Well, now that we’ve sufficiently muddied the waters for the word ”dream”, how about “punk”? I take the term to mean anti-authoritarian in a very broad sense. Would you agree? Are you a punk, sir?
Actually I haven’t thought of the “punk” part too much really. You’re right that it’ll likely mean anti-authoritarian. Something “niche” comes to my mind too. Those forgotten about, downtrodden, misfits and outcasts. The kind of people and organizations that rise up. I think that’s a strong part of storytelling too, showing a rising progress that ends with a change of the status quo.
As for me, my sister put blue dye in my hair once because she had too much left over in her hands—but my hair was too dark and protested against the dye setting in. So maybe my hair is punk?
Yeah, I tend to take rebellious individualism for granted in fiction myself. When it’s not there, it’s like somebody left the salt out of my soup. So how would you describe your taste in fiction? Which writers can you point to as influences?
I’ve gotten into a lot of Brandon Sanderson’s works in the past few years. The Mistborn trilogy is one of my favourites and his Stormlight Archive series is pretty epic. I like the simplicity in his writing and how he doesn’t try to be flowery or overly poetic, but there’s still a depth and impressiveness to it. Stephen King of course is a big influence. I haven’t read as much of his work as I’d like, although the Dark Tower books are a stand-out. The most epic fantasy books in my opinion are definitely the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. The scope of them is overwhelmingly impressive. I went through an Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick phase back in the day too.
My “main” writing work is a fantasy adventure series that is mostly influenced by Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings (imagine them both being smashed together). By far the best Star Wars novel in the new canon is Lost Stars by Claudia Gray, which is highly recommended for all kinds of fans.
The Dark Tower was great. And I’m partial to Philip K. Dick myself, as I’m sure you know. I’m always up for the marriage of sci-fi and fantasy. So how can we support you on your quest to rise up among these literary giants you’ve mentioned? What should we buy, and where can we find it?
Currently I only have one book that’s available for purchase, which is my short story collection. It includes three novellas along with several shorts and flash fictions.
My other work, the epic fantasy adventure The Awakening of James Island, is currently looking for a new publisher—the sequel of which is going through a second draft right now. Pretty much all my work is up on Wattpad in some form, so you can find me there.
And I’m usually critiquing and posting chapters up on Critique Circle too, where I have some critique buddies. At the moment I’m about two thirds of the way through my first YA novel. I like to stretch my writing experience and wanted to have a go at YA and see what the outcome and response would turn out to be.
Thanks very much for having me. It was great to talk genres and writing with you!
Update: Alex contributed to the dreampunk short story collection Mirrormaze (2020)!