Lizz Huerta on Her Mesoamerican Feminist-Inspired Fantasy THE LOST DREAMER

Inside Lizz Huerta’s sprawling fantasy debut The lost dreamer, we meet two girls. Indir is a Dreamer, a powerful young woman from a long line of seers. Saya also knows how to dream but her life and her magic have been controlled from a young age by her mother. These two intertwined tales are at the heart of the ancient Mesoamerican-inspired tale, which comes out March 1. The lost dreamer.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Nerdist: Where did The Lost Dreamer start and what was your journey to publication?

Lizz Huerta: Since I was a teenager, I go to the same place every night when I dream. I had this dream world that I visit. I practice a lot to write down my dreams every morning. I like this kind of little window into everything that’s going on in my subconscious. And there’s a place I went to in my dream world, this beautiful cove where I go and float in the water there and hang out with sea creatures. It’s always night. A little over 10 years ago, I told myself that I had to write a little story in my dream world and that’s when the character of Saya was born.

I started and I thought, “Let’s have fun, let’s get into the fantasy and see what happens.” I gave up on books on and off for years, and it just wouldn’t let me go. The plots came back, the characters came back. I have notes in a million notebooks and on pieces of paper everywhere about the book. Finally, when I signed with my agent in 2017, I was like, “You know what? I have to finish this book. I made it and sold it, then had to completely rewrite it during the pandemic. It’s a double story, and it was originally two different books that I had to cut together. So it was all an exercise in discipline and grief.

It must have been a tall order. What was that experience like as a writer, having to weave the two stories of Indir and Saya together?

They were two stories of young women facing a major identity shift at a pivotal time in their lives. They are teenagers and everything they know about their world is changing. This requires both a lot of courage and presence in this grieving process. “Hey, I have to mourn who I was and what I thought the world was for me in order to inhabit this new sense of self and possibility.” I love these two characters. I wrote them letters. I wrote Indir a long letter of apology because I put her through more than anyone should. So I wrote her a long letter like, “Hey, baby, I’m sorry. I know it was hard but you got what you wanted. I’m sure you’ve had so many adventures along the way. I felt really bad for her!

The lost dreamer immerses readers in such an immersive and engaging space. What was your process like when it came to creating the landscape and world of The lost dreamer?

Worldbuilding came to me very intuitively. I spent a lot of time in Mexico, my father is from Mexico. In my early twenties, I lived there for about a year in central Mexico. I would visit these archaeological sites and just sit there and take them. I tried to imagine all the stories that had been lived there. So the world building came very organically. He just showed up. I love it.

It’s really funny because when I read the book, I can see where I was very heavily influenced by other world-buildings. specifically The cave bear clan books, which is so strange. But I was like, “Oh, I’m using the same birth control flower.” There is just a short moment of this anthropological construction of the world. These books were very formative for me when I was growing up. I can see how they’re kind of woven into my world-building, which I’m really happy with. It also cracks me up because I read the delivered and I’m like, “Cave Bear Clan!!”

How did you bring together these two fundamental aspects of history and personnel?

I have a bit of a unique approach to how I sit down to write. I read voraciously. I worked as an iron painter between the years, so I listened to audiobooks every day, all day. I think a lot of that seeps into the subconscious. My writing practice is before I sit down to write, I meditate. I have a long history of meditative practice. So I sit down and kind of invite the characters. I visualize myself in the world. I have this mantra that I just tell myself, “I trust the story that chooses to emerge through me.” Then I let my subconscious do the work. All I do is sit in front of the keyboard! I still surprise myself! Sometimes I read the book and I’m like, “Who wrote that?”

One of the most unique and powerful things for me in The lost dreamer was your exploration of family violence and specifically abusive mothers. Could you talk a bit about that?

When I was growing up, especially as a teenager, I had a few friends who had these very emotionally abusive mothers. We hold motherhood sacred in this society, which it is. But there can be a dark side. There’s so much work going on right now around the absence of a mother, the hurt of the mother, and the trauma that is passed on from generation to generation.

Saya’s mother is not a good person. She is very manipulative, vindictive and cruel. It has its own history, so it is the continuation of a cycle. So I just thought about the friends I had with really abusive mothers and I thought, “There must be a story for them too.” There wasn’t really any physical violence. But still, this kind of emotional restraint, cruelty and manipulation, it’s real. It happens in this world and it ended up in the book. I’ve had people in my life say it’s really hard to read because it’s so cruel. And I’m like, “Yeah, that’s hard to read. Imagine how difficult it is to live. I know so many people who have completely cut their mothers off due to cruelty and abuse. But not me, I love my mom, my mom is amazing!

As for Saya’s journey, she explores her life outside of the family she was born into. It delves into one of my favorite tropes: found family. Why was it something that mattered to you and to this story?

There is a liberation that passes through the community. If you don’t find this love and release in your home, you will find it through a family that you build yourself. Saya has this experience of not only building a community, but also realizing that there are people out there who will stand up for her.

We don’t really have a choice in the families we are born into. Not consciously, maybe in another dimension. I think we all have to build our own communities. In fiction and in real life, you have to find the people you resonate with, who see you and support you.

In fantasy you have your little group of people and they all have their own special skills, and I have that in my real life too! I become the storyteller. My other friend becomes the mother of the group for everyone. There are these roles that people take on, almost like archetypal roles, to help us navigate the world. I love travel and fantasy and the small group that forms to move the story forward. Each bringing their own strengths and weaknesses. And I feel like my little inner circle of family. I wouldn’t be here right now without them.

Is there a moment, character beat, or page turn that you get the most excited for readers?

I don’t want to give anything. But the night owl ceremony, I’m so excited about that because I haven’t seen that in fantasy. I want it for my queer community, so deeply to give a name to this very sacred act. Naming something so beautiful and powerful is really, really important. I put it in the book specifically for my friends, who, when I was writing the book, were following this process and saying, “It’s so heteronormative that we don’t see this process anywhere discussed or talked about.” And I was like, “I got you, I’ll fix this for you.” So I’m excited for readers to find out what it is.

I’m excited to see how people will react to the reveal…I’m sure ICT Tac many. I love BookTok and TikTok author. So I like when people react to what they read. The biggest curiosity is how will people react to the book? I have no idea. I have no control over it. So I’m curious to know who my readers will be and what will resonate with them. It’s a lifelong dream. It’s a roundabout way for me to get here. So I’m like, “Let’s see what happens!”

Is there anything you would like young readers to take away from the book when they read this?

Much of what we read in fantasy focuses on the immediate. But we all live these very long stories, hopefully, if we’re lucky. We have no idea what will become of them. There will be really, really hard times, and there will be times of exquisite beauty. So I want my readers to believe in the long game, to believe in the long story of their lives. You never know the twists. Before this book was sold, I was ready to stop writing. I made a deal with myself. I had just turned 40 and I said, “If I don’t sell a book this year, I’ll choose another career. This is the year I’ll do it or switch gears. Here I am three years later and everything has happened! I could never have imagined this.

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