From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Daniel Homan, Author Of The Queen of Hearts

Daniel Homan was born in Gainesville Florida and now lives in Austin, Texas. He teaches at Texas State University. In his free time, Daniel has been researching Ponce De Leon, the fountain of youth myth, and 15th century Spain for a new novel. Also, he is working on two internet series, one animated, the other involving puppets. Currently, Daniel is seeking representation for a narrative-nonfiction book, The Israeli Trail, about his travels in South America with Israelis recently released from the Israeli Defense Force.


Tell me a little about The Queen of Hearts. What was the first image or phrase or impetus that made you sit down and spin it out?

Long before it was commissioned into a novel, I actually wrote The Queen of Hearts as a poem. This was in 2002, after an incredibly vivid nightmare, most of which made it into the major scenes of the story and forthcoming novel. What I remember most were the city scenes, a crowded, frenzied market, wave after wave of people spreading rumors and gossiping about a murder. Behind me was a striking woman, mysterious, ethereal, but I didn’t know why she was with me. The nearby market-dwellers, which I came to call the “louts,” were whispering about black hands and the murder, and there was something searching for me.

The nightmare flashed between these street scenes and a high-society poker tournament in a manor on the hill. After I had woken, I wrote out the verse quickly, just to rid myself of the images, but I found the images compelling and they stayed with me for many years, even past the completion of the book.

The nightmare was after 9/11, of course, and in the writing of the novel, I came to realize that this probably had played a large part in the nightmare. Then, as the Iraq War commenced, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, the heavy stuff of my generation basically, the essence of the story became clearer.

The first line of the story/novel I remembered word for word from the nightmare, spoken by some unknown narrator: “But one question remains, did it begin or end in theft?” That was the mystery that I wanted to explore.

Where do you get your ideas?

I’ve always had an active imagination, probably because I read so much as a kid. In elementary school my mom exposed me to Frank Herbert, David Eddings, Piers Anthony (another Floridian), Terry Brooks, J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, the list goes on. Those books expanded my imagination in the most wonderful way. I was always writing little stories or retelling my favorites, trying to emulate writers I liked.

In general, I read a lot, which helps — non-fiction, mostly about terrorism and the Iraq war. For fiction, I get inspired by novels like Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Just an incredible book. I also read the news obsessively and have the nasty habit of checking headlines several times a day. Also, much of my writing comes from traveling — South Africa, Nambia, Chile, Argentina — I’ve seen some bizarre things.

Many writers say that dream logic doesn’t easily translate to story logic, but your story on Fantasy and a novel were both inspired by a dream. Is this a frequent occurrence? Any thoughts on the use of dreams for stories?

Sometimes, an image from a dream will make its way into a story or a part of a novel, but really, The Queen of Hearts is the only piece I’ve written in which entire scenes were lifted from a dream. For me, the influence of that dream is most clearly represented in the prose itself, in the narrator, in how the characters speak. At the same time, the dreamy prose and these issues of logic are also influenced by the title’s namesake, Alice in Wonderland, which I’ve always loved. Talk about a story in which the style of the prose and the logic of the story play off each other in such an incredible way.

As a result of the dream, my story became much more open-ended than most of my other fiction. While this freedom of filling in the cracks of a story is a quality I personally find engaging, it can also be frustrating. Luckily, the novel really goes a long way in explaining the back-stories of the leading protagonists. There’s just a lot you have to leave out in a short story. However, in the end, I still have more questions than answers. Even the opening question — “Did it begin or end in theft?” — has competing answers. I was fortunate enough to study under Tim O’Brien, one of my favorite authors. He taught me not to “explain away the mystery.” I really believe that. Because the mysteries that matter to us are the unanswerable mysteries of the heart.

What does your writing space look like?

A coffee shop. Ideally, I’d have a cubby or studio somewhere. But, right now, I like being in the company of other people, even if my Newcastle hat is bent down, my ear buds are in, and I’m crooked over my laptop.

What are your creative hobbies — other than writing?

I’ve been playing guitar and piano since I was young, and I write and record a lot of music; one day I hope to write songs to accompany my books — my brother is a classical composer and we’ve been collaborating for years on various projects. For more information, go to danielhoman.wordpress.com or homanmusic.com, where you can listen to a few samples.

Who are your favorite visual artists?

Salvador Dali, William Turner, Dennis Hopper, Caravaggio.

Musical artists?

Currently, I’m listening to Beach House, the Shins, the Blue Hit, Belaire, and Fleet Foxes.

How do you come up with your ideas for music-writing, and does it differ from the ways you typically come up with ideas for stories?

Actually, for me, prose writing, song writing, and composition go hand in hand. Most of my songs are built off an opening melody that I turn around in my brain for a while and then record. After that, the fun part begins, riffing off the melody, playing around with structure, figuring out the appropriate instrumentation, maybe fitting in lyrics.

I write this way too. Here’s a character who interests me. Now, what if this happens to him? How would he react? How would this character change if he had a certain past? I try to layer my music and writing so there are a few themes working simultaneously, plot weaving in and out of the expected and unexpected, style playing off of character. Often the fiction I’m drawn to has a musical quality, such as In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien. The melodies of his prose are so haunting.

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