All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Transcript from an interview with

Libba Bray

Surrounded by stories

Hi, I’m Libba Bray and they have foolishly put me in front of a camera. You’re warned.

Some of my earliest memories are actually of being read to. I grew up in a family where reading was incredibly important. And a family of storytellers too. I grew up in the South where there is such a great tradition of storytelling. And I remember you know one of my earliest memories was of going to the Corpus Christi public library.

And I can still see the way that that building looked, it was sort of like a round building and there were these, it was the 70’s so it was like 70’s architecture which doesn’t usually make you think of beauty, it makes you think Logan’s Run. But this building, I just remember that there were all these windows and that the light would come in and it really did, perhaps it’s hazy memory, but I really do remember it being this sort of like “Ahhh.”

You know, and I would, my mother would take me to the library, I think every two weeks, and I remember reading all of Laura Ingles Wilder. I remember reading Charlotte’s Web. I loved the Madeline books, and I loved Madeline because she was sort of subversive. I was, Madeline and Max from Where the Wild Things Are, so I liked the subversive ones. I know you’re shocked. And Bread and Jam for Francis.  I loved animal books.

But I absolutely remember being read to and that we, and my parents were big readers and so it wasn’t just that I was being read to, it was that I was seeing in action oh, reading is pleasurable. Reading is a thing that is enjoyable, you know you covet that reading time.

My father was a big reader of history and biographies, so he was often telling me these stories. And my mother who ended up being a high school English teacher gave me some of my most beloved books. I’m sure I resisted them at every turn because she was my mother, but I remember that she got me to read Sounder and Where the Red Fern Grows, which are both really sad books. Thanks, Mom.

And she got me to read To Kill a Mockingbird, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. She was a huge influence as well. And I, you know of course there were all these great family stories and both my mother and my father were great storytellers and my grandmother too, my maternal grandmother. So I just remember always being surrounded by story.

And the last thing which is not incidental which is that when I was a young child, my father was a Presbyterian minister. So growing up in the church I was hearing those stories as well and often when I’m asked about what were the first ghost stories that you ever heard and I’ll say, “Well, the Bible,” you know. The Bible is really scary stuff man, especially when you’re a kid. And this is what happens. This is what happens if you read to your children.

A history of secret-keeping

I think that we can never sort of escape our family of origin, you know that we’re constantly working through that. And I certainly see things that pertain to my family. Not just in the stories that they related to me but in actual memories or important things that happened.

I often talk about how when I was 14 my father came out to the family. But he worked in the church, and so my parents who were liberal Democrats and would say things like, “Well, the Bible is an allegory, this is symbolism.” But we did not live in that kind of community, we lived in a very sort of religious conservative Texas town. And so when my father came out to the family, I was 14 and my parents said, “This is okay and we can talk about it, but you can’t tell anyone or your father will lose his job. And worse could happen, you know, he could, his life could actually be in danger. ”

So I became a secret keeper. And I think that there are a lot of writers who are observers and who have some history of secret keeping. And so I think that writing in many ways was a way of being able to tell the truth. So certainly some of that and some of the injustice that I felt about what was happening to my father. I think that those themes end up in my books.

I grew up in a very political family too, a very politically aware family. We were constantly talking about politics. I count All The President’s Men as one of those movies that if it’s on TV, I can’t stop watching it. I will just sit and be like “Alright, that’s it, I’m done, it’s Dustin and Robert and here we go.”

And I grew up in the Watergate era as well and so we were always talking about politics around the dinner table. I remember my parents boycotted Nestle and when Cesar Chavez was asking us to boycott, I remember we boycotted grapes. And so we were talking about movements as well, we were talking about revolution and change. And so those stories, I think, clearly have influenced my choice of subject matter. Because I do think that I deal with politics in everything that I work on.

I also think that there are themes of illusion and reality and what is illusion, what is reality. If you know, please contact me. And, that I, I think that that was also having grown up in the South where appearances are very, very important. You know I always joke that if you know if somebody’s murdered at a Texas dinner party you just kind of say, “Well, we’ll just go on in here and have our coffee in the living room.”

You know it’s like, “Let’s just not talk about the dead body.” So I think that there’s a lot of that as well.

Ghost stories, great stories

I had this great grandmother and she lived in North Carolina, so I didn’t see her all that often but she lived to be 98 years old and when I would go to see her, she was very religious and very superstitious. Like I remember like putting a hat on the bed was a terrible, terrible thing to do. And if you saw a dead bird, that was a terrible omen. So, but she was lovely.

And the thing that we bonded over was our shared love of ghost stories and she used to tell me the best ghost stories. We would sit there and I think you know like we’d have a soda or something and be folding laundry and she would tell me these ghost stories. And one of the stories that she told me was actually about her growing up. So she was born I believe in 1887 and her mother died with her in childbirth and she was raised by her grandmother and her grandmother was the town seer, was a physic. And her grandfather ran, was the undertaker, you know.

I come by the creepy honestly people, it’s not my fault.

So she told me this story about how one time they were sitting on the front porch, broad daylight, rocking in the rocking chair and her grandmother just stops and goes into one of her trances. And she says, “Somebody has died. I see a light on in the shop and it’s a child. A child has died, they brought a small piece of string,” because they would measure the body with string to make the coffin, “and she said, ‘It’s a child, a child has died.’”  Well my great grandmother is like, “There is no light on in the shop, you are tripping.” And so you know she was kind of freaked out by this as one would be.

That night she wakes up, her room overlooked the undertaker, you know the undertaker’s shop and there was a light on in the shop. So she went down to see what was going on and someone had come from a neighboring village and they’d brought a small piece of string because a child had died and they needed a coffin made.

Evangeline

My maternal grandmother I remember being this fabulous storyteller, she was like Tallulah Bankhead. She always had a cigarette and she had this machin- gun laugh like ha, ha, ha. And she played cards and she always had these great stories about like how she met my grandfather and even my paternal grandmother who could be pretty intense had great stories like that too. So we were a storytelling family and I realize that so many of those little things find their way into my work.

One story that I realized made it into Diviners, is that years ago I was visiting my paternal grandmother and she was at that stage of her life where she was trying to you know, she just wanted to get rid of some things.

And I loved going through all the family lore, like who are these people in this picture and there were just tons of photographs and there was a photograph of her in the 20’s. And she was standing next to this, this sort of tall, blonde flapper who was looking right at the camera like she was going to eat that camera like just automatically I went, “Oh there is a story there, who is this, I don’t know this person.”

And so I asked my grandmother, I said, “Who is this?” And she said “Oh, that’s Evangeline.” And I think she said something like she was hot to trot or she was trouble. And my grand, I thought of my grandmother as being so kind of buttoned up that I thought “Oh, well, I really want to know this story.” And so she didn’t tell me a whole lot but I have that photograph.

She said, “You can have that photograph if you want it” and I thought, “Oh, yes.” And I thought I want to write about a character named Evangeline sometime because she seems really, and I do remember there were a couple of stories about just like riding in cars with boys.  Years after my grandmother died, my cousin sent me her diary from 1927 and of course I was already working on Lair of Dreams, which is set in 1927.

So it was wonderful to be able to I mean, go through and just read her diary from that time and you know, be stepping back into history and family history.

Telling women’s stories

A lot of my work is concerned with the role of women in society. I mean I’ve grown up female so I’ve inherited all of the narratives about what it is to be a woman in this society. And, you know, I also grew up in a family in which my parents, especially my father, actually, my father was very much a feminist.

And I think that some of that probably also stemmed from his feeling like you know, that he had been held back because of his sexuality and he didn’t want his daughter to feel that she had to be held back. But you know I think and actually growing up in the church was very interesting in that way because when I began to have real religious doubts and struggles, that was in my teen years and so some of it obviously was about the injustice that I felt was being done to my father. I began to have issues with the role of women in the church and in religion and it seemed that often religion was used to kind of keep women down.

And you know often people will say, “Oh it’s for protection” and I’ll think “Well, you know, protection is also another word for oppression.” And I think also growing up in southern society where it’s very, there are certain, I always say it’s like almost like Kabuki theater in its way of being very presentational about femininity. There are certain rules about femininity. And it’s very passive aggressive in its way.

So for instance my grandmother, my paternal grandmother who lived in Atlanta, I would go to visit her and she could say “Oh, is that what girls are wearing in New York City? Isn’t that interesting?” And there’s no word more damning than “interesting” said by a southern grandmother. And so you know immediately I think, “Alright, I have to go change.”

And I remember butting heads with my mother a lot as a teenager, God bless her, I owe her about twelve fruit baskets, but you know we really locked heads because I was of the punk rock generation and she was of the 1950’s generation of like well “No, you’re going to wear … that’s not what you’re going to wear to church.”

So I just became very aware of the ways in which women were policed and I, and it would be easy to say like, you know, like so I just rebelled against that but no it was a struggle because there was a part of me that wanted to be a good girl, that was afraid of what would happen if I were not a good girl. And I figured I couldn’t be the only one struggling with that.


The story behind Beauty Queens

David Leviathan who is a good friend of mine is also an editor at Scholastic, as well as being an amazing author. He called me up and he said, “I have this great idea for a book but you have to write it and we should talk about it over lunch.” And he said the magic word, which was “lunch.”

So we went and had lunch and he said, “Okay, plane load of teen beauty queens crash on an island, what do you got for me?” And I was like, “Ah, this burrito is amazing. Also that idea, I am totally stealing it.” So we shook hands and we’re like, I said, I’ve got, I was still writing the Gemma Doyle trilogy, and I said, “Eventually I will write that book.”

And it was good that there were a few years in there because in those years it felt like there was this huge backlash against feminism and I had grown up calling myself a feminist, I had marched for NOW at 17. I had always been interested in being able to sort of fully inhabit space in a way that I think women are not encouraged to do, even if that was a struggle for me to feel entitled to that, that’s a lifelong struggle. And so in that, in those years, it felt like there had been this huge backlash against feminism and against women in general. Certainly through our laws.

And I remember the moment that I had walked into a grocery store, and you know how they always have the tabloids up there, it was US and People and In Touch and you know, your sister called me with a tip and you know, your neighbor, NSA Weekly whatever it is. They’re all there.

And all of them, there were covers and all the covers with you know Kim Kardashian and Beyoncé, they were all so reductive. It was, “What is Kim wearing this week, is she engaged, is she pregnant?” And I remember that there were a lot of those for Beyoncé, you know, “Is Beyoncé pregnant or is she getting married?” whatever it was.

And the thing was that that week, I believe, she had had something like, she had reached some milestone on the Billboard charts. Like I think she had had more number ones than Elvis or Michael Jackson or something, some really big marker. But all of the tabloids were like, “What is she wearing, is she getting married? Oh my gosh, is she pregnant? Bump watch.” And I thought, “Are you kidding me? Really, this is where we are?”

And I was so mad and then I think at the same time like that same day I had to run an errand where I wanted to get some moisturizer because my skin was dry. And so I’m like looking for dry skin lotion as one does and I’m going past all these shelves.

And it is like age correcting or defying or you know shaping, every single label on a product was, was shaming in some way. It was basically saying, “You are not right but we can fix you.” And then p.s. there was one product under Men’s and it was like dry skin lotion. And I thought again, like really? This is where we are? And that made me a little mad.

And so I wanted to write about that, but the important thing to say and I would say this about all my writing, is that it’s not, I’m not going in saying, “Well, I want to deliver a message.” I always go in saying, “This disturbs me and I want to explore it.”

And it’s not that I have the answers, I have the questions and I have the feelings and I want to explore those things fully, I want to challenge the status quo. But that means challenging my own status quo too and taking myself to uncomfortable places. So I would never say that I’m going into something fully formed like I popped out of the head of Zeus. It’s always, I’m going in with like a little bit of a torch and lots and lots of questions.

Stories grounded in history

So one of the things that I write about quite often is the supernatural, which I love because I grew up, I was a big horror fan you know, big Buffy fan and X-Files and Hammer Horror and Steven King. And I always feel like, especially when I’m dealing with historical, so I write a lot of historical supernatural because it’s fun to be able to go into those worlds and build those worlds.

But I feel like if I’m going to have monsters and ghosts and things like that, then I have to be really grounded in the historical setting and so that means that I have to do a lot of research. I happen to love research, even if I’m really chaotic at it.

And I like to say that because I think that often for kids who might have brains like mine, which is to say I’m very sort of ADD, this should be painfully obvious every time I answer a question, really non-linear, I have trouble organizing, I tend to think very symphonically so that does not automatically, I think for those of us who have those kinds of brains, I know from my own experience I can often feel not up to the task, like oh I’m just, like I walk in and I feel overwhelmed. I walk into a library, even though I love them, I feel overwhelmed.

Like, “I don’t know where to start, I don’t know where to start.” And the place to start is to walk up to your friendly local librarian and say, “Hi, I can use some help, I don’t know where to start” and that librarian, librarians are superheroes I’m telling you, they just, we haven’t had the capes made yet.

One of the great things about research is I think a lot of times when we think about research we think of it as this kind of dry, dull, dusty thing that you have to do. And it’s like oh, God please like could I just clean the cat box, I’ll clean the cat box for a week, just don’t make me do this. But it’s actually really liberating and it’s fascinating.

And I think that to become a fully formed person, you really, you have to learn to think critically and doing a lot of research really helps you with that.

Evaluating your sources

One of the things that I think is really important when doing research is to try to find primary sources.

Like for Lair of Dreams I was setting a huge portion of it in Chinatown and I was dealing with the Chinese Exclusion Act. Well, I went to the Museum of Chinese in America and I walked up and said, “Hi, I don’t know where to start, could you help me?” And the answer was yes. But then all of a sudden I’m reading, you know I’m reading actual stories of people who lived in Chinatown in the 1920’s. And it’s fascinating and you never know what you’re going to discover when you’re researching.

A lot of times of course, the first thing is like well I’ll go on the internet. There’s nothing wrong with that, there are some great sources on the Internet. And there’s nothing wrong with going to, you know, Wikipedia first just to read something but that is not research. That is a great jumping off point because what it can do is make you go, “Oh I didn’t know this aspect of this or this, or this. They’re all connected. Let me write those down, now I’m going to go research them.”

And you want to have multiple sources, and as I always say it’s like let’s say that a news story happens. And you watch the coverage of that on TV. Fox News is going to give you one perspective, MSNBC is going to give you another perspective. Well, which one do you believe? And so that is part again of the choices, that’s part of the making choices.

So you want to read lots of different perspectives on something so that you’re not just getting one person’s opinion because there’s bias. There’s always bias.

I think the important thing to remember about research is that it is liberating. And you’re forming the story of yourself as a teenager, you’re breaking with what, with childhood and with what has been told to you.

And you’re kind of coming to see like, “Well, wait a minute, what do I really feel about this? What, what do I really know about this? I know what’s been told to me.” So if you don’t want to form your identity completely on what is being told to you, you need to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

When you are learning to think, you can make those choices for yourself. When you pick up a book, you are making a choice. And I think that when you’re doing research, you can choose which avenue to pursue. What interests you?

Building Gemma Doyle’s world

When I was writing the Gemma Doyle trilogy which is set in Victorian England, and again, I like Victorian England, I like Sherlock Holmes, I like gothic stories. So I’m doing what’s interesting to me. But of course I had to find out more about the society and you know how, because I’m building a world.

I wanted to set something at Bedlam (Asylum). What was it like for people who had mental health issues in England at that time? Well, I contacted the archivist. I found him on the Internet, see you can find things on the Internet. I found him on the Internet and I contacted him, his name is Colin Gayle, and I said, “How do I find out about this?”

And he said, “Actually I’ve written a book.” Because you know he’s British and so he said, “You could perhaps read my book” and so I did, I read his book and it was fascinating and that lead me to some other resources because of course he had an index in the back with all of his research so I could go and read those as well. And one of the things that I found out was that they had sometimes they would have dances that were open to the public.

Like ticketed dances, because they thought that it was good to socialize, you know for the patients to socialize in that way. Now in a million years I never would have thought, “Wow, I’m going to stage a dance at Bedlam.” But I had, I needed to figure out, it was a plot problem, I needed to figure out how I was going to get my characters in to see this other, you know to see one of the patients there.

And I was trying to figure out how I was going to make that happen. And I needed something kind of theatrical. And so then boom, I didn’t have to like kill myself coming up with you know some crazy plot point because it was right there in the research.

Humor, absurdity and satire

Humor is so subjective. I always think about like when I was a kid, or when I was a teenager rather, I was obsessed with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, that was like my world and my best friend thought that it was the stupidest program in the world. And she thought Benny Hill was super funny and I was like, “Benny Hill is sexist and stupid.”

And still the fighting continues. And other than the fact that she was obviously wrong, we could not agree on what was funny there and so it’s very, very subjective. But I think that the world is, I mean, I think sometimes humor is the best, sometimes it’s the best medicine, as we know.

But it’s also I think sometimes a way of exploring really difficult or political topics because many times they are absurd. I mean there’s a reason that we read Jonathan Swift. And there’s a reason that we read George Saunders.

And also things are just ridiculous. There’s so much that’s ridiculous. One of the things that was such a joy about writing Beauty Queens was to just be full on absurdist. I mean taking on boy bands and consumer culture and I grew up watching James Bond movies which I adored even though they’re you know, they’re kind of sexist. But it was like to be able to turn it on its head but play with all those tropes. And also to be able to talk about all of the ridiculous messaging that teenagers get and especially that teenage girls get.

And I think that a lot of times when dealing with satire I always say this gets harder and harder to write satire because the world is just so insane. And in fact when I wrote Beauty Queens, all this stuff that I thought was completely over the top, well then you know one of the, in Beauty Queens there is this sort of crazed dictator, Momobe Chacha.

And he is obsessed with this politician, Lady Bird Hope, this American politician Lady Bird Hope. And he has sort of blanketed his room with her pictures, like he’s obsessed with her and I thought, and at the time as I was writing it I was like, “Okay, man, this is like out there but…” Well, then Gaddafi, when he was killed and they went into, you know, his palace, he was obsessed with Condoleezza Rice and he had pictures of her everywhere. And I was like, truth is stranger than fiction.

But I just think that humor is so important and there’s so many different kinds of humor. And it’s just, I couldn’t imagine like getting through the day without a laugh.

Listening to teens (Explicit language)

I absolutely love getting to work with teens and I don’t get to do it as often as I would like because I think that unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room to have authors come into high schools because we are just testing the crap out of them all the time and giving them staggering amounts of homework and pretty much torturing them. So there’s no time for pleasure reading.

I was at a library recently actually in which somebody asked me the question, “Isn’t this sort of a golden age of YA?” and I said, “Yes it is, and it’s a shame that no teenagers are able to read it because they don’t have the time.” And I said, “How many teenagers are in this audience right now?” and there was one hand that went up.

So I hope at some point we will stop torturing teenagers and pushing our anxiety and narcissism onto them, but I love to get to be around them and I think part of it is because, the thing I love about teenagers is because they are forming their identities for themselves at this point where everything is possible but you’re also sort of breaking with what has come before, I feel like teens have what I call an inner bullshit detector.

And that makes me actually feel safe because anything, they will speak honestly, and I so appreciate that because I do that and sometimes to everyone’s chagrin, but it makes me feel safe. I have a teenage son and I know pretty much my role with him is to listen. I hope that that’s right. We never know, we never stop coming of age.

I mean I have a lot of the same doubts and questions now that I had when I was a teenager, it’s just informed by, you know, some different experiences. But a lot of that internal struggle about identity, it never goes away.

Improv story building

It’s wonderful to get to work with teens and to hear what they have to say. I’ve also gotten some great recommendations for music, for manga, for anime, for movies, you know.

And I love that the ideas never stop so often when I’m working with teens, I don’t ever actually talk about my books because I feel like if you want to read one of my books you will, that’s a choice you will make or you will decide not to and that’s cool. I’m not here to shill for my books, I’m here to have this experience with you in this moment.

And so usually what we do is an improv story building thing which is super fun. But the thing that I love about it is often we’re asked about writer’s block and how you get past writer’s block and so it’s sort of a get past writer’s block exercise. There’s no shortage of ideas, we’re like doing lightening rounds, we’re throwing out ideas constantly, people from the audience are throwing out ideas and there’s no shortage of ideas. There’s just excitement about you know, “What is this story? It’s crazy, where is it going?”

And that’s fun for me as well and I think that if, so I guess my only thing I would say is that I’m, I don’t feel like I’m walking in with some kind of authority. Like here, “Let me tell you about this,” because I don’t, I’m still figuring that stuff out. What I will do is I will come in and say honestly, “I’m still trying to figure that stuff out but for this time that we have together let’s talk, let’s talk about story, let’s talk about words and meaning and you know why pizza is awesome and all of the things that encompass your lives right now. Let’s just, we’re here right now, that’s what we have, let’s you know, let’s do this together.”

A writer’s playlist

When I write, and I was saying that I think symphonically, I think in musical terms often. Like I’ll be writing some passage and I’ll be like, “Oh that’s the Aaron Copland passage but there’s sort of a descant over here and I think that might be Memphis’ story” and I love music and I actually play in a band with other YA authors. Daniel Aaron Haft, Natalie Standerford, Varney Miller and we’re called Tiger Beat.

And yeah sometimes we play book festivals, we play YAL Fest and YAL West and it is a good time. But I could not imagine life without music, and I actually write to music. I make a playlist for every single book that I write, and the act of choosing those songs is so fun but it gets me into a headspace and if I’m, you know, if I’m stuck or I’m in a coffee shop where I often write and if like the espresso machine is like a little too loud or somebody is on a cell phone talking about their latest doctor appointment, thank you, we all want to know, I can just put on my headphones and listen to that playlist and it takes, it’s like a sense memory exercise, it takes me somewhere.

Libba’s dream

I love to write, and I hate to write too, like there are times where it’s just ugh, why can I not make sentences happen.

I try to put them together they fall, Hulk smash words, they fall. But I love, I love to write, I love story because we are made of stories, we are our stories and so to be able to work with story all the time is just to me that’s heaven, I love doing that. I love, and I constantly want to challenge myself. I want to figure out what that book is and the best way to tell it. And I want to take risks and I want to take myself to uncomfortable places.

So I just want to keep doing that and then also to make music, to continue you know being able to play and sing and write and maybe write a little music here and there is also really enjoyable. And then you know, hanging out with my friends in the YA community and eating snacks. Basically my future involves a lot of eating of snacks.

And I don’t think it gets any better than that, people. I don’t know what your dreams are but I hope they involve snacks.

The richness of dreams

I’d never realized until people pointed out to me that I write so much about dreams and that there is this sort of like in and out of reality quality really in all of my books, it shows up in all of my books.

And I know earlier I said that I was fascinated by the idea of what’s real and what’s illusion, but yeah I think also like when are we awake, when are we asleep. To me, it’s all, it has always felt very porous and I am, a sort of, I think, probably dreamy person. I don’t mean like dreamy like ah, that Libba Bray, heart.

I just mean like you know, I’m always sort of in my own head in a way. And I was always a, I was a big daydreamer and doodler. And so I think again it’s that sort of chaotic roamy mind. There is, and in fact I’m giving a roaming answer but I swear it’s going to come back to one, just like in jazz.

There’s an anime, manga anime that I love called Attack on Titan. And it is phenomenal. It feels Shakespearean to me. And in it there’s, so you know it’s really gruesome in many ways because there are these huge, these huge giants and they attack the villages and they eat people. And it’s heartbreaking, but the characters, so in the midst of all this action, the characters will stop and have these soliloquies about what it is to be human.

And it’s beautiful, I mean it’s philosophical in the midst of all this carnage, what is it to be human and why do we go on, it’s like Beckett, it’s amazing. And I love things like that, I have always loved and maybe also because I came up in theater where you know, it’s a stage and life is a stage and so this idea that things are often presentational and what is real, I mean even with social media, that’s performative. So is that real or is that performative or is it both?

We live in a country that takes as it’s sort of, in a way as its underpinning the idea of the American dream, but we know that that is a myth. You know so we’re raised on myths as well, we have this sort of, a lot of these narratives are a false inheritance, and so again it gets back to the questioning, what is real, what is not real?

But I also am fascinated I think by what dreams tell us, I have spent many years in psychoanalysis, probably some people are saying not enough, go back. But there’s a lot of interpreting of dreams and what that has to say about ourselves, you know like what, what primal things are coming up, what things from our childhood are coming up in our dreams? What fears and anxieties? I mean it’s a rich wonderland to explore.

So when Henry is walking through the dream world in Lair of Dreams, he sees his father and his father gets bigger and bigger well that’s symbolic and I think maybe also because I grew up as the daughter of a minister and an English teacher I always say that my first language was symbolism. So I’m trained to see the world in terms of symbols, which is great if you want to talk about literature and not so useful if you want to make toast, you know. Like, “I have tried to explain to this piece of bread about man versus nature and yet still it will not toast, why, why bread? “

So you know I think that’s part of it too is that was part of my language was just to see things in a dream-like way. I like things that are not spelled out but that have been outlined in such a way that it leaves lots of room for the reader to have his or her own interpretations. Dreams are just rich for that.

Bray reads an excerpt from Lair of Dreams

Hello.  Look you’re here, I’m here, ah, and I have a book, isn’t that convenient. This is Lair of Dreams, I can barely hold this thing it’s so heavy. It also doubles as an upper body workout because I’m looking out for you okay, got you in mind.

I’m going to read a section from this book, this book is filled with spooky things because I’m a little creepy and because I love horror and so I’m going to read a section that is actually, comes in the middle of the book, you can see it’s the middle of the book and it’s called Dreams Were Everywhere.

 “The dreams were everywhere. From the moment the people took their first breaths, they exhaled want until the air was thick with yearning. Jericho dreamed of Evie, firecrackers exploded in the sky above her. The ragged light gave her face an angel’s glow and framed the outline of her body beneath her flimsy chemise. Her lips were an invitation and Jericho moaned her name in his sleep.

Sam dreamed that he was a child walking with his mother, his hand in hers, safe and loved. But they were separated by sudden crowds of soldiers filling the street. Sam was lost. And then his mother’s voice drifted out from a radio in a store window, “Find me, little fox.” In Mabel’s dream, she climbed a tall platform and towered above a crowd of people who chanted her name. They were there to see her and no one else.

Isiah dreamed of the boy in the boater hat and the girl with the green eyes, happy as can be and Isiah was afraid for them, as if he could see the storm bearing down on their idyll. He screamed and screamed that they were in danger but no sound came out. Drunk on gin, Evie would not remember her dreams come morning.

Theta dreamed of Memphis and Memphis of Theta and in both dreams they were happy and the world was kind.  But dreams can’t be contained for long. Their natural trajectory is forward, out, up, away. Past all barriers and borders into the world. This is true of nightmares too.

In the gloomy tunnel, the pale hungry creatures crawled down the walls and into the old train station. They tested the rusted gate, when it opened they sniffed at the damp air, breathing in the intoxicating fumes from so much want. Tasting it on their tongues, pushing out farther. Crawling into the city’s sewers and into the miles of subway tunnels, hiding in the archways when the trains rumbled past. They loitered in the shadows on the edges of the stations where they could watch the bright lights of the people, so full of yearning. “Dreams,” they murmured, ravenous.

In substation number eleven beneath Park Row, the rotary converters shuddered to a halt, flummoxing the two men on duty. They thumped the dials on their control panels but the dials didn’t respond.

 ‘I’ll go, Willard’ said the more junior of the two, whose name was Stan. He grabbed a wrench from the tool board and flashlight in hand made his way along a futuristic corridor of humming pipes and tubes, taking the staircase down into the rotary converter room. That marvel of modern engineering, now dark and silent.

Flipping the switches on the wall did nothing. Stan’s flashlight beam swept over the hulking converters. In the dark, they were like the rounded backs of sleeping metal giants. On the far side of the room, light pulsed behind one of them. A downed wire perhaps, or a small electrical fire trying to spark. Stan approached cautiously.
He stopped when he heard the sound, a syrupy growl made deep in the throat. The growl shifted into a quick, low pitched shriek that chilled Stan to the bone. “Who’s there?” he barked, gripping the wrench tight. It was quiet for a moment. So quiet that Stan could hear only his own breathing which was amplified by the cavernous room. And then, without warning, the scream exploded like a storm front. It sounded as if it were being torn note by note from the throats of a hundred damned souls.

It filled the room so completely that Stan couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Behind the converter, the light crackled anew, one, two, three, projecting macabre shadows onto the substation’s high white tiled wall. And then the thing stepped out. It appeared to have been a man once, now it was something else entirely, something not human.

Pasty skin as cracked as dry earth and blighted by red patches and sores, hair thin to spindly tufts. Opaque blue soulless eyes stared from its chalky skeletal face. The glare of the flashlight caught the razor sharp edges of small yellow teeth inside a rotted mouth that hung partially open. “Help me,” Stan whispered like a frightened child because this was the stuff of nightmares left behind in the nursery.

The thing saw Stan. It cocked its head, sniffing. From deep down the growl started, like a dog giving warning over its food. Black drool dribbled down from the sides of its mouth and then its jaw unhinged wider than humanly possible. It shrieked again and Stan didn’t care that he’d wet his pants or that he was blubbering as he stumbled backward toward the door.

He was running now, but it was no use. Because there were more. Quick as beetles, they scuttled around the room and there was nothing, no wrench, no flashlight, no reason that could save him as the bright things closed in.”

Dun, dun, dun!

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