Ever wake up from a strange dream? Perhaps you did something you knew you’d never do in real life. Perhaps your situation was something absurd, like sprouting wings and flying through the school. It was absurd, inventive, creative.
In Caragh O’Brien’s The Vault of Dreamers, dreams and creativity play major roles.
“I’ve always been interested in the way dreams seem to tap into uninhibited creativity, so it was a natural fit to have dreams central to what’s happening at an arts school,” said O’Brien.
Recent research and surprising discoveries in the ability to read dream images brought up questions: what could happen if someone used dream technology in an evil way?
What if it melded with reality television?
O’Brien’s first editor didn’t like the idea of merging dreaming and reality television. Concerned that the television cameras created barriers to privacy and restricted plot development, O’Brien was asked if she could drop the reality television aspect.
O’Brien pushed to keep it in.
“I liked what the constant surveillance did to my main character in terms of stress, and I could see how having an audience could galvanize students to try their hardest to be creative. The reality show is integral to the arts school, and the constraints forced me to be inventive, too, almost like I was a student at the school myself,” O’Brien explained.
School was where O’Brien discovered that she wanted to be a writer. She’s a little bit plotter, a little bit pantser, writing “horribly messy” first drafts by the seat of her pants before going back to find the plot. Writing her first romance novel in her parents’ attic soon after finishing college, it took another five years to write the story that would become Birthmarked, the first novel in O’Brien’s first young adult trilogy.
Writing a young adult novel, though, happened by chance.
“I wrote the best book I possibly could, and it turned out to be a YA dystopian novel. Writing about younger characters interests me, definitely, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a future project turned into a MG novel,” said O’Brien.
The Vault of Dreamers is the first book in O’Brien’s new young adult trilogy. Though this is her second, trilogies are a challenge for O’Brien, like puzzles that last years.
“[Writing trilogies] forces me to think with a broad scope and go beyond the private domain problems that can work well in one volume. For instance, it’s not enough for Gaia or Rosie to find satisfying relationships or to mature as individuals. In a trilogy with a big arc, they have to confront problems at a societal level or face widespread evil. I like wrestling with those ideas myself. “
Though currently working on the second book in the Vault of Dreamers trilogy, the most important lesson O’Brien learned as a published author is something she knew before being published: books bring people together.
“Over the last five years, I’ve interacted with wonderful people—readers, editors, publicists, librarians, teachers, literature professors, booksellers, publishers, bloggers, my audio book narrator, my agent, translators, and fellow writers. I’ve found myself in sensitive, passionate, quirky, and often fascinating conversations. For an early example, I once stayed up past midnight with a midwife student friend of mine who was living at my mother’s house. We talked over the birthing scenes in Birthmarked so I could draw on her expertise as I revised the manuscript, and it was an amazing experience.”
If she could tell her pre-published self one thing, it would be to have more faith in herself. But through it all, O’Brien is happy to be where she is.
“We have an extraordinary YA book community and I’m fortunate to be part of it.”