Shootin’ The Breeze With Tara Altebrando

Dreamland Social Club Questionnaire:

What’s your earliest memory?

I’m not sure. Possibly standing up in my crib crying? But I see the memory as if it were a photo of me, so probably not. I went to Disney World when I was like three and have weird memories of the Electric Water Pageant, just images of flashes of light on water and my own excitement and wonder.

What sound makes you happy?

My oldest daughter has this particularly delicious squeal when she’s laughing.

What is the last dream you had that you remember?

Last night. Dreamed I got up and fed the baby. Then woke up and had to get up and feed the baby.

Name one thing you want to do before you die?

As ridiculous as it sounds, I’d like to swim with dolphins. I keep trying to talk my four year old into doing it with me, when she’s a little bit older, because then I could blame such foolishness on her, but she’s firmly against the idea.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Because I said so.

What is the best thing about being you?

Wow! Too many to choose among. That I am married to my soul mate. That I was blessed with two lovely children. That I get to write books for a living. That I have wonderful and varied friends.

***

The BookBandit (BB): What inspired you to write Dreamland Social Club? What was the best, and the most challenging part of writing it?

Tara Altebrando (TA):  I was inspired by the history of Coney Island’s old amusement parks. Once I learned about Dreamland and Luna Park, especially, where there were midget cities and crazy attractions like premature babies in
incubators and simulated boat rides through hell, I knew I had to find a way to work a book around all that. The best part about writing it was really being able to delve further into Coney island history—and learn so many amazing things—and the most challenging part was probably selecting what elements of history to use and what to leave
out. It’s a novel, not a history book, so I had to be selective.

BB: What’s the best part of Coney Island? What is the most magical part of it, and why should everyone experience it?

TA: The best thing about Coney Island is that it’s a beach that’s right there, on the subway line in New York, accessible to everyone who can pay train fare. This makes it a very accepting and anything-goes kind of place in the world. Everyone fits in there. The Wonder Wheel is pretty magical, I think. And everyone should experience riding it,
traveling way high over the sprawl of New York, with the water right there. It’s lovely.

BB: A lot of research must have went into the writing of Dreamland Social Club. Of all the facts you found, what is one of the most interesting facts you found? Why did this information stand out, and did you work it into the book? What are some facts you wished you could have worked into Dreamland Social Club but just couldn’t?

TA: The fact that premature babies in incubators were put on display in amusement parks definitely tops the list, along with the fact that an elephant once escaped Luna Park and swam fives miles to Staten Island. Those both got worked into the book in big ways. For example, Jane’s grandfather, who she inherits the house in Coney from, was actually one of the “Preemies” at Dreamland and was rescued from his incubator on the night Dreamland burned to the ground. I somehow never found a place to talk about a ride called The Witching Waves in the book. See below!

BB: Would you say that any of your characters are based upon real people?

TA: I think I’ve grown out of writing characters based on people I know. Maybe I used up most of the interesting people in my life? I don’t know. But this cast felt entirely new and fresh and fictional to me, which was fun and freeing. Also, I don’t know any giants or dwarves or contortionists. 🙂

BB: If you were to write something about one of the many characters in Dreamland Social Club (besides Jane that is) who would you want to write about and why?

TA: I sort of love Babette. I’m not sure I have it in me to write a whole novel about a Goth dwarf but I think she’s sort of the star of Dreamland Social Club, so in some ways I guess I already have. I just think she has such a unique perspective.

BB: Leo really intrigued me. He’s only sixteen and already the tattooed boy. How many tattoos does he have, and what are they?

TA: Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on his leg. And some mermaids, serpents, and stuff  on his “sleeves.” I guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

BB: Dreamland Social Club is a great name for a book title, and a name of a high school club. What does the title say about the overall book and the people in the club?

TA: The name comes from an old photo of an annual dinner held by the sideshow workers of the Dreamland amusement park. And the club in the book is a sort of mirror image of that group of people, and its ideal is acceptance. Though in the book, the members of the club realize that saying you accept anyone is actually harder than it sounds, which I think is an interesting sort of life lesson. We’re not all as inclusive as we’d like to think we are.

BB: If you could go back in time and travel to Coney Island’s past, which ride would you want to experience?

TA: I’d like to spin around on the human roulette wheel and go on Trip to the Moon, which was a simulated ride to the moon where you’re greeted by alien creatures who serenade you. Gosh, this is so hard, though, because I’d also love to ride the signature ride of Steeplechase Park, where you got to ride a mechanical horse as if you were a
jockey. Also, the Witching Waves sounds awesome. Imagine standing on and driving a sort of first cousin of a bumper car around a circular track that itself undulates under your car. Frankly, if I traveled to old Coney I’m not sure I’d ever come back. 🙂

BB: What was your writing process like for this book? How was it different from writing your previous books?

TA: This book took me a lot longer to write than my others. And what was different was that it required research. A lot of it. I set out to write a book in which my main characters is really dealing for the first time with issues outside of her self, related to the world and her community, so that was a fun challenge.

BB: What advice could you offer to up and coming, aspiring writers?

TA: Read. As much as you can. Write. As much as you can. And don’t be precious about what you’re writing. A lot of it probably isn’t that great, but it doesn’t matter. You can make it great, if you set out to study the craft and apply it to your own work.

Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before
somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on
his leg. And some mermaids and serpents and stuff on his “sleeves.” I
guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most
places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many
tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before
somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on
his leg. And some mermaids and serpents and stuff on his “sleeves.” I
guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most
places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many
tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

Let’s see. He has the seahorse that Jane knows she’s seen before
somewhere. He had a seascape on his back. He has the lightning bolt on
his leg. And some mermaids and serpents and stuff on his “sleeves.” I
guess I was going with a nautical theme, eh? I’m pretty sure in most
places it’s not even legal for a sixteen year old to have so many
tattoos, but the book is, in many ways, a fantasy.

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