Donna Glee Williams is a writer of fantasies for the teenager in all of us, as well as being a seminar leader, dream worker, and creative coach. A sort of Swiss Army knife of the page, Donna Glee has seen her work published in anthologies, newsstand glossies, literary magazines, academic journals, reference books, big-city dailies, online venues, and spoken-word podcasts, as well as on stage and CD recordings. These days, her focus is on speculative fiction, aka fantasy and science fiction.
Your novel Dreamers features a character that dreams for her people. How did you approach dream interpretation for this story?
The actual dreams in the book were night-dreams that came to me while writing it, shortened and sharpened for style. Dreamers flowed straight out of my own experience of working with dreams. A long time ago, I got some training in Senoi dreamwork, which is said to be based on the worldview of some tribes in Malaysia who view the dream-world as equally important as the waking-world. Exploring Senoi techniques piqued my interest in dreams, so I also got some training in Gestalt ways of working with our nighttime adventures–perfect for a writer, as they include writing your dream from multiple points of view. I rumbled along, working with my dreams in my journals on my own until about 17 years ago, when I met Dr. Jeremy Taylor. Jeremy is, in my informed-and-not-very-humble opinion, the most sensible Jungian thinker about dreams, myths, and symbols on the planet; too many people who spend time investigating the irrational parts of life seem to have their brains turn to cream cheese. Jeremy always kept his one foot in the rational. I am so honored to have been one of his students. The figure of the pudgy Scribe in Dreamers, sitting in the dark, waiting to hear the dreams–that owes a lot to Jeremy’s presence at the other end of phone and Skype calls, listening to my dreams. When you read Dreamers, you will have walked a mile with Jeremy. The world lost a shining light and two twinkling eyes when he died unexpectedly last week. Anyone who wants to engage with dream matters could get a good start by checking out his simple “toolkit” at The Dreamwork Tool Kit
A major theme in Dreamers is the conflict between duty and personal desire. Why do you think, as Mitch Jagger once said, that we can’t always get what we want?
Duty and desire? The “duty” foisted on the Dreamer in the book is a lie, a bill of goods being sold to a vulnerable young girl and her town in order to keep the Council of Interpreters in power. That kind of “duty”–laid on people by outside, oppressive, fundamentalist structures–is a fraud. Real duty comes from inside yourself, your own authentic need to have integrity, what used to be called “honor.” Personal desire and real duty aren’t opposites–real duty is a personal desire–though there are, of course, situations where you have to rank your personal desires, because sometimes you can’t have all of them in a given situation. (See Jagger, Mick.) But never confuse that kind of inner struggle–“Is my highest desire, today, to have honor, or survival?”–with the kind of struggle we face when we are trying to throw off the “shoulds” and “oughts” imposed on us by schmucks who are trying to use us to further their own ends.
You spent a number of years presenting seminars designed to open up new worlds for people. What is the hardest part of finding a new horizon?
I guess the hardest part of finding a new horizon is just seeing it. In the haze of The Ordinary, our senses get dulled by habit and expectations. You have to polish your lenses, try to consciously see new possibilities. Then welcoming new horizons becomes a fairly easy step: Just say “yes” to something you might have said “no” to if you’d let your habits have their way with you. Of course, that lets you in for anxiety: Can I do this thing I just said a crazy “yes” to? How uncomfortable will I be? How stupid will I look? Just how risky is this anyway?
I just ran through this cycle this week: While visiting New Orleans, my old home town, my old friend Julianna Padgett and I got invited to march with the Amazons in the first parade of the Mardi Gras season. Because of my firm habit of saying “yes,” I enthusiastically agreed, then immediately started to worry: Will the costume fit me? How far will we march? How tired will I get? How dumb will I look in fake golden laurel leaves? How cold will I be? (Amazons don’t wear a lot of clothes, even in January.) Old friends with anxiety, I just let the qualms wash over me, went to the parade, and had a fabulous experience of stalking through the French Quarter at night with my sister Amazons, waving our swords at the cheering crowds on either side of us. Our leopard-skin cloaks kept us warm.
You have traveled a great deal. Is there any place in the world you haven’t yet explored but are interested in?
Oh, wow, yes! I’m heading to a writer’s retreat called Jentel in Wyoming for a month in the spring. Then back to Norway in the summer–another writer’s retreat. But beyond immediate plans, I want to see the high Inca ruins–many readers tell me the vertical world of my first novel, The Braided Path, reminds them of that landscape. And then there’s the Czech Republic. And Slovenia. Poland. Wales and the little islands off the coast of Britain. My travel mentor, Julie Szmyd, (check out her blog ) prescribed Colombia for me. Colombia would be easy, unlike the vowel-deficient Balkans, because I was born in Mexico and speak Spanish. A big goal is New Zealand–that will take a bite of money and time, because of the distance, but I’ve learned to travel very cheaply (you have more adventures that way) and I can be a writer anywhere there’s an easy chair and a light bulb.
What advice would you give a young hero just starting out on her journey?
Ah, young hero, keep your eyes peeled: You will find your destination all around you, every single day. (And always know where your towel is.)
What is your favorite (read) book and why?
I’m usually burbling about whatever book I’m reading at the time. These days, that’s been several classy mysteries–Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everwhere, and Tana French’s Likeness–because I’m teaching a class in subtext for Odyssey this January and there is nobody like a mystery-writer for embedding clues to subtext in their prose. Over the long haul, I guess Ursula K. LeGuin is my hero. My stranded-on-a-desert-island books would probably be all of Earthsea and The Dispossessed. (And if they said I could only take one, I just wouldn’t go.) LeGuin’s style, wisdom, intelligence, humanity, and connection to deep myths and archetypes make her the best of the best.
What is the book you dream of writing and haven’t yet?
The book I dream of writing is probably called The Night Field. It’s a much darker tale than my first two novels, and comes out of some months I spent in India in 2008 on a Fulbright Senior Environmental Leadership Fellowship, studying how agricultural addiction to pesticides has shredded the life of cotton-farming communities in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Like my other books, the story is set in a world that isn’t what we laughingly refer to as “the real world,” but it does show some remarkable similarities to it. I’ve finished a first draft and the story is now “resting” while I try to grow some new eyes so I can see it fresh when I go in to revise it this year. Keep your eye out for it.
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