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Dreampunk profile: Mikaela Bender
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’ll be a senior at my university come fall. I’m majoring in editing, writing, and media. Most people probably assume I want to be a writer for a living but really I want to be an acquisitions editor. I’m very critical of my own work and maybe that’s the editor part of me rather than the writer part. I enjoy rewriting way too much and that causes problems, because I’m more likely to rewrite a whole paragraph rather than change one sentence.
Since I started writing when I was fourteen, I’ve always seen myself as the baby in the room when I attend conferences and seminars. Now twenty, while still young, I’m finally not seeing myself as the youngest, least experienced writer in the room. It’s an adjustment.
Nice. When I was 20, I was changing my major from computer science to linguistics, still a ways off from my writing path. Sounds like you’re on track to be an old pro at 25! What sort of fiction really tickles your fancy? I mean, if you had a hundred manuscripts to sift through, which ones would you want to look at first?
I would love to one day be a pro! My tastes change a lot but I still love young adult fiction. After reading The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, I’m on a fairy kick. I just tore through Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I love stories set in a beautiful world with wicked politics. Show me a heroine who can crush her enemies while wearing a ballgown. Show me a villain who’s the perfect gentleman. Show me a villain I can fall in love with. Mix it in with solid world building and you’ll have me.
From what I’ve seen of it so far, your first novel, Asleep, is mind-bendingly dream-oriented. Would you call it “dreampunk”? What does that term mean to you?
I would call it dreampunk since the technology is based on dreams. Like with steampunk where the technology is based on steam power.
Right on. In this context, what would you say might constitute a “dream”? Would a mystic vision count? A psychedelic trip? A system of delusions like in Don Quixote? How about a computer simulation like in The Matrix?
What matters is that you’re asleep. If the person is unconscious when they’re having the vision then it counts as a dream. The Matrix absolutely counts because they’re all asleep. Asleep is similar to The Matrix, which is why I’m convinced it counts as a dream.
That sounds like a pretty good dividing line, as long we can agree on what it means to be “asleep.” Have you ever pulled anything specific from a dream to include in your writing?
I think I might have tried once, but I don’t think it worked out. Dreams don’t make sense most of the time. Anything that would be good to use in a story ends up forgotten.
Sometimes, though, they inspire a daydream, and I’ll spend the next few days spinning a story in my head that’s only for me. Anything I want can happen in them. I don’t have to worry about plot holes or anything. It’s glorious.
How would you describe the feeling you want your stories to have? Can you think of any examples of that feeling from books, movies, music, etc.?
The feeling I want each story to have is different, I suppose. It may change throughout each story too. Phantom of the Opera inspired a lot of Expiration Date and Expired. For me, musicals are one of the best type of music to write too because they express so much emotion—not just in the lyrics but in the singers’ voices.
I can then really relate it to how my characters are feeling. That then helps me with putting different feelings into my stories.
Before the interview, you mentioned that you used to want to be an oneirologist. Could you please give a quick explanation of what that is and what you took away from your preliminary studies?
I never got to fully study it. Since I was fourteen I only had the internet. Oneirology is the scientific study of dreams. How dreams function in the brain, how they work. Not what they mean. Since it’s still a new field there wasn’t a good way to study it in college. A couple years later I realized I wanted to be a publisher.
If you could, either through writing or another role in publishing, shape the genre of dreampunk into something you you’d absolutely love, what would that look like?
It would be technology-based. If a character can dream walk then for a dreampunk story their ability needs to come from some technology. If it doesn’t then it’s fantasy and not dreampunk.
Interesting. What would you say is the line between sci-fi and fantasy? I’ve read a lot of classic sci-fi where the only science was basically psychology. And then you have something like Octavia Butler’s Kindred where time travel just spontaneously happens. Is the time travel trope enough to make it sci-fi, or is that just fantasy?
I definitely believe that science-fantasy is a thing. In order for it to even be considered science fiction or science-fantasy it must have technology or aliens in it. Unless time travel is based on technology or some type of gene engineering that allows a person to have the ability to time travel, then it would just be fantasy. It would essentially be considered magic. For example, Harry Potter isn’t sci-fi but it has time travel. They use a magic necklace to do it.
Well, that settles that. 😉 How can we support you in your work? Do you have any books for sale?
I do have a book for sale! It’s so weird being able to say that. I’m published in the Once Upon Now anthology with nine other amazing Wattpadders. As always, you can support me by reading my stories on Wattpad. You can follow me on Twitter as @MikaelaBender and Instagram as @Mikaela122.