Before bed during Inktober and NaNoWriMo I read Dreamer of Dune. Often, books seem to come to me at just the right time so that when I am in need of support, inspiration, humor or anything, I discover just the book I needed. Brian Herbert’s biography of his father (which I would argue is actually a biography and a memoir) helped me prepare mentally for NaNoWriMo as well as to examine my own writing process.
“Heroes are dangerous, especially when people follow them slavishly, treating them like gods.”
I appreciated this book for the unique perspective Brian was able to share of his family who were overshadowed by Frank Herbert’s legacy but were all intertwined as they lived their lives together. As other reviewers note, there are some uncomfortable subjects such as Brian’s brother’s homosexuality and the family response to it as well as Frank’s poor parenting. As a reader who prefers memoir I appreciated Brian’s approach to the subject of his father. It’s hard to say about what he includes about his brother, I think that Brian chose not to gloss over how poorly the family treated his brother, especially after he came out because he recognized it as problematic. Brian doesn’t really make excuses for anyone’s behavior but leaves this to the reader, which seemed in the spirit of his assertion that Frank did not especially trust heroes and hero worship.
No one in the Herbert family comes off especially well but I don’t think this was about airing grievances. What I appreciated throughout the book was that Brian’s approach gave an unvarnished picture of the sacrifices that a working writer makes in order to attempt to make a living off of it. The ways in which Bev worked to support her husband, took care of the kids as best as she could and also channeled her creativity toward Frank’s work was illuminating. But so was Frank’s lack of patience towards his young sons and eventually towards his grandkids.
“This super human of awareness, this hero in so many respects who one day would become a hero to me, had an Achilles’ heel. He could not handle children. Perhaps this was because he had never really been a child himself. Assuming important responsibilities from a young age, he had been more of a miniature adult, with a keenly searching mind.”
Do I think this is the definitive biography on Frank, not necessarily. However, I think it is an important book for writers to read. We often get varnished stories that over glamorize the creative process and Brian’s biography isn’t glamorous. It is filled with insights into the process, struggles and the impossible balancing act.
Brian included a lot of details about the nuts and bolts of his father’s writing life as well as the biographical and it helped to see the ways in which Frank struggled to get the right word count, to fit genre expectations, to make a living, to keep his life and his work in order (he needed his wife to help and she contributed enormously). So many of the creative lies we are told make it difficult to really get good at writing and to be successful within the context of the lives we are personally living. Brian’s approach with Dreamer of Dune helped me through NaNoWriMo.