Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
I love stories inspired by Chinese mythology. I love it when stories, that feel familiar and homely to me, are given a different perspective or an exciting twist, breathing new life into stories of old. The Dreamweavers instantly intrigued me, with its allusions to Chang’e, the moon goddess, to a depiction of the Jade Rabbit, and to mentions of delicious mooncakes.
Today, I am delighted to have Gail Z. Schmidt visiting us at the Pond today, to talk about her latest middle-grade fantasy, The Dreamweavers. Gail visits us as a black tuxedo cat – and she’s holding a notebook that looks like the cover of her book! I’m excited for you all to read the interview that I did with Gail, where we talked about the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is coming up next month in September, and the inspirations of her book.
And if you haven’t heard of The Dreamweavers, I get the pleasure of introducing you to the book. So, without further ado, here is the cover and synopsis of The Dreamweavers, and my interview with Gail!
The Dreamweavers by G. Z. Schmidt
Cover artist: Feifei Ruan
Since their parents’ strange disappearance several years ago, 12-year-old twins Mei and Yun have been raised by their grandfather, who makes the best mooncakes around using a secret ingredient.
On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the emperor sends his son to sample Grandpa’s renowned mooncakes—but instead of tasting wonderful, they are horrible and bitter, strangely mirroring the odd, gloomy atmosphere and attitudes that have been washing over the village in the last few days. Grandpa is arrested for insulting and harming the prince, and Mei and Yun realize they are the only two people who will come to Grandpa’s aid.
The twins set out on foot for the long journey to the emperor’s palace where Grandpa’s being taken, but a surprising stop in the eerie City of Ashes, a visit with the legendary, mystical Jade Rabbit, and an encounter with a powerful poet whose enchanted words spread curses, influence just how Mei and Yun will manage to clear their grandfather’s name.
Author Interview: Gail Z. Schmidt
CW: Hello Gail! A big and warm welcome to the Pond – it’s so wonderful to have you visit us. For our friends out there who haven’t met you before, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Gail: Hi CW, it’s an honor to be here! I’m a middle-grade author who loves writing whimsical characters and stories with a dash (or bucketful) of magic. I’m Chinese American and grew up in the United States. I love traveling and exploring new places. So far, I’ve lived in three continents and six states.
CW: Congratulations on your upcoming middle-grade book, The Dreamweavers! Can you tell us what inspired your story?
Gail: Thank you! The idea for The Dreamweavers came in the image of a fisherman sitting on a cloud. I thought, “What if the fisherman was fishing for dreams instead of fish?” I then had the idea of putting the dreams in food and having them affect the eater’s mood. As the idea evolved, I decided to set the story in ancient China. Dream elements are common in traditional Chinese folktales, where characters go from the real world to the dream world.
CW: Something that I loved about The Dreamweavers was how you wove Chinese mythology and folklore into the story, particularly those surrounding the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival. What does the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival mean to you personally?
Gail: Growing up in the United States, the Mid-Autumn Festival was one of the few Chinese holidays we celebrated. You knew it was almost time for the Mid-Autumn Festival when the Asian supermarkets began carrying boxes of mooncakes, sort of like how stores put up Christmas decorations several weeks in advance. I was not able to visit China often, so the mooncakes served as a reminder of my heritage.
CW: I also enjoyed how, in The Dreamweavers, you gave the folklore your own twist, creating this wonderful adventure that explores justice and forgiveness. What was your thought process when making the folklore your own?
Gail: I try to make every element in my books connect in some way. The Jade Rabbit is a popular mythical figure in Chinese folklore. I wanted the Jade Rabbit to play an important part in the story and tie it back to the main characters’ plotline. Hence, I decided to make the Jade Rabbit a mysterious creature who could make elixirs powerful enough to curse an entire city. This ties into the abandoned city where the twins’ parents disappeared prior to the beginning of the story, and the mystery that surrounds it.
CW: I loved the magic in The Dreamweavers and how there’s this mysterious and magical atmosphere across the story – especially dreamweaving itself! What was the most fun part about crafting the magic for The Dreamweavers? What was the most challenging?
Gail: The fun part was coming up with different categories of dreams (nightmares, leisurely dreams, dreams about ambition, etc.) and the colors that represent them. I chose sunshine yellow for the cheerful dreams, for example, and dark green for nightmares. There was a lot of thought that went into the colors! Originally, I almost used red for the unpleasant dreams, as red is often associated with anger and strong emotions… in the West. But in Chinese culture, red is considered a lucky color, so it would not have made sense.
It was challenging to introduce the idea that the twins could switch from the real world to the dream world. I reworked the manuscript several times to make sure it didn’t come across as too sudden and unexpected. But now that I think about it, it’s okay even if it comes across as abrupt. One of my favorite genres is magical realism. I love magic that is unexplained, ones that don’t have explicit rules outlining exactly how they work. It adds to the atmosphere of the story.
CW: I absolutely loved our two protagonists, Yun and Mei, and I particularly enjoyed their sibling relationship! Who did you draw inspiration from when creating Yun and Mei’s characters?
Gail: It’s funny, Mei’s based a little on myself. I tend to react emotionally to things, though I was not as brash as Mei was when I was twelve. To complement her, I created Yun, who’s logical and cautious, based a little on some classmates I knew growing up. Some of Mei and Yun’s bickering was inspired by my own siblings. I think sibling dynamics are super interesting and the most fun to write; you can be arguing over a tiny thing in the morning, and by the afternoon, you’re best friends again.
CW: What is an aspect of the story that you’re excited for readers to discover in The Dreamweavers?
Gail: In one of the scenes, the twins must play a game of dice in order to escape a dungeon. They have to roll a specific sum on the dice after three consecutive rolls, with certain numbers being negative and others being positive. I contacted my math professor from college to help create a chart of the exact probabilities of rolling each sum! It’s in the appendix, and a good way to introduce young readers to basic statistics and probabilities.
CW: Thank you so much for visiting us today, Gail! My last question is one that I ask all of our friends who visit: What is a food that reminds you of home, wherever or whoever that may be?
Gail: It’s a pleasure to be here! I love pork and chive dumplings. It’s one of the foods Mei and Yun make in the story, and it’s always been my favorite meal since I was a kid. My mother makes dumplings entirely from scratch, including the dough. It took me a few tries to wrap them the way she does. Mine are not perfect, but I’m slowly getting the hang of it!
About the Author
G. Z. Schmidt was born in China and immigrated to the U.S. when she was six. She grew up in the Midwest and the South, where she chased fireflies at night and listened occasionally for tornado/hurricane warnings. G. Z. is the author of the middle grade novel, No Ordinary Thing, a time traveling story. Her new book, The Dreamweavers, comes out September 2021. She currently lives in Southern California with her husband and their tuxedo cat.
Find Gail on: Website