Daniel Quinn’s Dreamer: Back by Popular Demand
Daniel Quinn’s fans have long been devoted champions of his work, recommending “Ishmael,” “My Ishmael,” and
“The Story of B” to anyone that would listen and pushing copies of his books into the hands of the unconverted.
"Ishmael" won the $500,000 Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award, an award created by CNN founder Ted Turner, and
given only once, to Quinn's book for offering positive solutions to global problems. Among the judges for the
award were revered writers Nadine Gordimer, Wallace Stegner, Peter Matthiessen and William Styron. But with the
publication of his first novel, “Dreamer,” Quinn produced a most unlikely work: an offbeat novel of psychological
An underground classic even while out of print, Dreamer retained notoriety. In 1995, the
New York Review of Science Fiction included the book in its "Horror at the End of the
Century" reading list. Recently, fans persuaded Quinn to bring his first novel back into
print. The author was delighted to comply. It turns out, that Quinn himself is a prolific
dreamer — and an avid dreaming advisor.
Baryon: Your biggest novel, Ishmael, is a serious, influential book that's been a big seller for
twenty years, translated into dozens of languages, and the books that followed were in the
same mold. How does Dreamer fit into that history?
"I spent twelve years working on the book that ultimately became Ishmael. It was spent
producing one version after another, looking for the one that would do what I wanted. It
was a grueling experience, and when I finished the sixth version and realized that I was
still not there, I decided I needed a vacation. Writing Dreamer was that vacation. It was an
important one -- one that taught me a lot. Without it, I'm not sure I would have been ready
for that telepathic gorilla named Ishmael when I finally got to him in version eight."
Baryon: But I gather that Dreamer dropped right out of the Quinn portfolio.
Realistically speaking, Dreamer was never really IN my portfolio, having gone out of print
long before Ishmael appeared. Actually I was just as pleased that it had, since "Daniel
Quinn, author of Dreamer and Ishmael" would have made a queer sort of identity. When it
came to reissuing Dreamer, I was frankly not sure how my readers would take to it, but the
reactions I've had indicate that they're completely ready to accept it as part of my
portfolio. One them wrote: "Dreamer is better than any Stephen King or Dean Koontz I've
ever read. It almost made me cry a dozen times or more, not just because of the story, but
because I realize the amazing career you probably could have had as a genre novelist . . .
were it not for that 800-pound gorilla in the room that consumed most of your writing
Baryon: Would you call Dreamer a horror novel?
"My agent at the time, Scott Meredith, said that Dreamer "hangs onto the horror genre by
its fingertips." It's horror that leans toward the psychological, a book that shakes you up,
that leaves you gaping. It did that even to me, when I read it again after 25 years. There are
no demons, no monsters, no scenes of terror and carnage that'll keep you awake at night.
But it'll baffle you. When you're sure you've figured it all out, everything turns upside
down again and you don't know where you are. That's the fun of it."
Baryon: Can you point to a book that readers may know and say, "Dreamer's like this"?
That's a tough one. I guess I might point at Peter Straub's Ghost Story. If you're a fan of
horror stories, you're sure to know that one. It's a great book, and I'd like to think that
Dreamer belongs in that league.
Baryon: What can you tell me about the story of Dreamer that won't ruin the book for folks who
haven't read it?
It's the story of Greg Donner, a charming but rather naïve and trusting soul, a freelance
writer in Chicago. In a succession of dreams, he happens to come upon and follow a
beautiful young woman who seems to be in some sort of trouble. Then Greg meets that
very woman in waking life and quickly falls in love. But even in waking life Ginny Winters
seems deeply troubled and she warns him not to fall in love with her but won't explain
why. She knows why, but he couldn't possibly understand or believe her until one night he
falls asleep . . . and wakes up the next morning in a locked room in a sanatorium a
thousand miles away, where he's told that his whole life in Chicago was a delusion. This is
only the beginning of the nightmare he lives through in the weeks ahead, never sure what's
dream and what's reality.
Baryon: Many first novels tend to be autobiographical. Is that at all the case with Dreamer?
I'd have to say that Dreamer's probably the only horror novel ever written that is truly very
autobiographical. At the outset of the story Greg is involved with Karen, an attractive
woman he likes, but she's a great organizer and primarily wants to organize him into a
marriage that he doesn't really want. Then he meets Ginny and knows instantly that she's
the love of his life. Karen is disappeared from his life. This exactly parallels my own life.
The moment I met Rennie, my wife, I knew she was the love of my life, and the woman I
was with at the time was history. Almost the first thing Ginny says to Greg is, 'Don't fall in
love with me,' and this was almost the first thing Rennie said to me, word for word. In
effect, finding out why Ginny said this is what Dreamer is all about, and finding out why
Rennie said it was what the next two years were all about for the two of us. It wasn't a
horror story, of course, but it was a period of emotional turmoil.
Baryon: Are you at all tempted to go back to the horror genre now?
A few years ago I started a novel called Render that might well turn out to be a horror
novel if I ever figured out what to do with it, how to finish it. I made the mistake of
showing it to a fan who's made a career out of collecting everything I've ever published --
things even I don't have copies of. Every six months or so he comes back at me with the
question: "When are you going to finish Render?"
Baryon: People are always interested in authors' writing habits, writing life. What's yours like?
When I have a book to write, I write like crazy, ten, twelve hours a day. When I don't have
a book to write, I just go crazy. Some writers dash off a first draft and then go back to edit,
rewrite, and polish. I can't do that. I've got to be completely satisfied with every sentence I
write before I start the next one. And some writers start in the middle of a story or even the
end of a story and then go back to create the other parts. I have to have the whole thing
laid out in my head before I write the first sentence, and the first sentence I write is the first
sentence of the book. There is definitely no one way that works for every writer.
Baryon: What are you working on now?
"That's a reasonable question, though not one that gives me any joy to answer. Writers of
my kind -- writers who write because they have something to say -- go on writing till
they've said it all, then they stop. Bang. How they deal with having nothing more to write I
don't know. Some are probably okay with it, others commit suicide. I tend toward the
latter type. Writers of thrillers, romances, family sagas, or mystery novels are luckier, in
their way. They can go on till they drop dead at the keyboard. I've spent a lot of time in the
last thirty years working with aspiring writers, helping them see what they're doing that
works and doesn't work. One of these just recently published his first novel, after several
years of struggle. So I've got a book I tinker with called Finding Your Direction as a Writer.
The first two pages of it have a permanent resting place on my desktop.
Baryon: How can we visit your website?
That's easy. Search Google on my name and the top link will be to my web site. Or the
site's name is easy to remember – ishmael.org.