Debut author Martine Fournier-Watson talks about how our lives are magical, how it comes from within, her hopes and worries; how to query agents and so much more in THE DREAM PEDDLER


By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously and lyrically told debut from Martine Fournier Watson about desires and hopes, grief and love set against the backdrop of a small town in the early 1900s.

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How could I *not* pick up a book entitled, THE DREAM PEDDLER (Penguin, April 2019)? I love small towns and dreams…so this was exactly my kind of read. The premise here is that a traveling salesman comes to town with the promise of being able whip up a potion for you to have a very delightful dream, money back guarantee if you don’t. So would you purchase a dream potion?

Maybe you’d like the chance to reconnect with a lost loved one, have some superpower, a passionate fantasy, or some other personal triumph.

Robert Owens comes into a small farming town pulling a buggy of potions behind him on the very day a young boy, Ben, goes missing. Parents and townspeople search for the boy and Robert quietly sets up shop. Before long, townsfolk begin seeking out Mr. Owens to request a dream for themselves. But it real? Is it magic?

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Watson beautifully builds the world of this rural farming community and I felt at complete ease and delight with the simpler pleasures of life: quaint activities like lunch picnics, the quilting bee, town fair, prize-winning pies and cobblers, and everyone goes to church every Sunday. There’s gossip and hope and help, and a little trouble, but all is usually resolved. I enjoyed Robert’s backstory, but there were a few things that felt unresolved–at least for me.

At the heart of THE DREAM PEDDLER is how a stranger can be folded into the arms of a community, how neighbors look out for one another, and also how everyone is always struggling to reconcile needs and desires, tumultuous events with grace and love.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Martine Fournier Watson to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Martine, this book truly unfolds like a dream. I was captured and swept away with the small-town atmosphere, which you completely brought to life. But first things first. THE DREAM PEDDLER is your debut. What got you writing? Why this story now?

Martine Fournier Watson:

I think I’m one of those people who was always a writer. I learned to read and write in the first grade, and I also remember penning my very first short story that year, too. I never really studied writing formally because I had so many other interests—I considered being an actress, an artist, and took classical voice lessons for years—but I was always writing on the side, and I was always reading.

One of my favorite authors growing up was L. M. Montgomery. She’s most widely known for her Anne of Green Gables books, but she also wrote a shorter series about another orphaned heroine named Emily Byrd Starr. Emily wants to be a writer, and at fourteen she has an idea for a book called A Seller of Dreams. Knowing she’s too young to do the idea justice, she jots down some notes and only returns to them in the final installment of the trilogy, when she writes the book out and sends it to some publishers. After it’s rejected three times, she gives it to an older friend to read because he’s worldly and wise and she trusts his opinion. She explains that she’s not sure if the book is good enough to publish, but if he tells her that it is, she’ll keep trying. And if he tells her that it isn’t, she’ll burn it. The friend, secretly in love with her and jealous of her book, lies and tells her it isn’t any good, and she does destroy it.

This fictional book that never took its rightful place in the world haunted my imagination all through my teens. And while I didn’t expect L. M. Montgomery to outline the whole book or anything, it still irritated me that apart from hints about it being magical and something of a modern-day fairytale, the reader was never allowed to know anything beyond its title. I thought about it a lot, wondering what shape such a tale might take.

I wrote my own first book, or try at a book, when I was in my mid-twenties. Unlike Emily, I didn’t need any second opinion to figure out that it was terrible, so I put it away. I set writing aside altogether, actually, after I had two children and stayed home to raise them. Then, when my youngest started kindergarten, I had all kinds of time on my hands, and I wanted to write again, and I remembered Emily’s A Seller of Dreams. I knew it was the book that I needed to write. I felt a little bit like Emily, too—she knew when she had her idea that she was too inexperienced to do it justice, and so did I. After my first failed attempt at a novel, I knew that I should wait for a much better premise before trying another. I needed more life experience, more time, before I could even attempt something like THE DREAM PEDDLER. And that’s how I ended up debuting at forty-four.

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Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

And dreams! I’ve always been so intrigued with them and have had a lively dream life myself. In fact, some of them make their way into words and stories of mine. Is it that way for you, too?

Martine Fournier Watson:

Actually, quite the opposite! Once in a while I’ll have a hair-raising nightmare or a particularly odd dream, but most of my dreams are unbelievably dull. Seriously, I’ll dream that I’m in the grocery store and can’t find the orange juice. I think this is supposed to be a sign that I’m very contented or something, and that’s certainly true. But it’s guaranteed that I was drawn to the idea of people buying dreams because my own are so boring. Buying an exciting dream feels like such a simple way to spice up a humdrum life. On the surface, at least, it seems like a path to excitement that would have no real consequences. I had a lot of fun exploring that idea with this book.


“Awash in poetic language and remarkable characters . . . A mesmerizing story forged by breathtaking prose, Watson’s novel is an intoxicating exploration of desire and loss.”
Dianca London Potts, Read it Forward


Leslie Lindsay:

My great-grandfather was a traveling salesman. I recently acquired a copy of the book he sold: POTIONS AND POISONS. Really. He was an exterminator and sold this companion book. It’s a bit like Robert Owens, but not. So…would you buy a dream from Robert Owens?

Martine Fournier Watson:

Well, when you put it like that! Seriously, though, if I didn’t buy a dream from him it wouldn’t be because of any fear of the contents. I had those old-fashioned tonics and oils in mind, the kind of thing that may not do you any good but certainly won’t do you any harm, either. It’s just that if I could insert myself into the town I created, I wouldn’t be the person most likely to take an interest. All the people who buy from him have a good reason—a need, a fantasy, something they want out of life that they aren’t getting. I don’t really fall into that category. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a lot of exciting or wish-fulfilling dreams. I love my life as it is, and I’m not too hard to please. I also do plenty of fantasizing when I’m awake, and of course my imagination is also my livelihood, so maybe I don’t need as much of that at night.

There’s a moment in THE DREAM PEDDLER when Robert puts his hand over the heart of another character and tells him that this is where the adventure of life really is. I believe that, myself. As much as I love to travel and try new things, all I really need to be happy is a walk in the woods I have known for years.

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Photo by fall maple on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

At the heart of THE DREAM PEDDLER is the mysteries of love and desire and hope. There’s a bit of magic, too. And fear. In fact, I think there’s a passage that goes to the affect of, ‘we sometimes don’t know what we fear.’ What do you hope readers take away?

Martine Fournier Watson:

I suppose there is a message in the book about running away not solving anything, and what Evie eventually discovers is that it’s impossible to circumvent grief—she will have to go through it. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the magic, though. What I most want readers to take away is the idea that our lives are full of magic, and that it comes from within us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk a bit about your path to publication? What do you feel you did ‘right’ and what do you wish you had more information about?

Martine Fournier Watson:

As far as doing things “right,” all I can offer there is that I persisted and tried not to lose heart. My path to publication was long because it took me about a year and a half to find an agent. In that situation, the only thing that matters, I think, is not to give up on a book you believe in until you have exhausted all the options.

One of the things I wish I had known when I started querying is that it can be a good idea not to query all your favorite agents right up front. As you go along and continue to revisit your book and revise, sometimes getting professional feedback if you’re lucky, your manuscript can change and improve. If each batch of queries has some newer agents, some more experienced, and a couple of your top picks, you won’t exhaust your list of favorites right up front with the worst version of your manuscript.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

THE DREAM PEDDLER might be about sleep and dreams in some ways, but it’s also about worries. So what’s keeping you up at night?

Martine Fournier Watson:

Like many people, especially women, what worries me most right now is what our country is becoming. A woman’s right to choose is under attack. We have inhumane camps at the border. School shootings terrify me, particularly since my own children are still in school. I wasn’t born here—I came here from Canada in 2003, and I became a naturalized citizen in 2015. I can’t get over the fact that I gave up that Canadian citizenship just before Trump was elected. I still have hope that we can turn things around, and I hope one day I’ll look back and be proud that I was able to participate in changing things. But right now, that’s what I worry about most.

Leslie Lindsay:

Martine, it’s been delightful. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Martine Fournier Watson:

These were amazing questions, most of which I’ve never been asked before! And thanks very much for not asking me whether Robert’s magic is really magic, because I never answer that one.

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with Martine Fournier-Watson via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE DREAM PEDDLER, please visit: 

Order Links: 

IMG_0120 (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she completed her master’s in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in journals such as The Beloit Fiction Journal, Roanoke Review, Scrivener Creative Review, The Bellingham Review and Sixfold. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. When she is not curled up, writing, you can find her walking in the woods, playing Sudoku, trying to read all the books in the world, or stalking famous authors on Twitter.

 

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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#fiction #dreams #smalltowns #debut #missingchild #travelingsalesman #historical 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of M. Fournier-Watson and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]. 

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