Last night, I was pushed out of the depths of a dream by a voice from within it. That happens a lot. A strong voice or a provocative statement flips my wake-up-and-write-this-down switch, and I’m vaulted from the province of preconsciousness, through the id and the ego, to conscious awareness where I keep my pens and paper.
A few years ago within a dream I can’t remember, I was pulled by this line:
It serves me no purpose to speak for the dead.
A woman said it, her voice solemn, mature, resigned, strong. I woke up and knew that the owner of this voice would become a character in a story, and she did. Her name became Alta, and she is the protagonist in WHISPER HOLLOW. I still think about that line, how powerfully she spoke it, and I wonder where it came from.
I read once that the content of our dreams come from stimuli from our own senses, from thoughts or impressions made during waking life, or from our psyche. Some may say they come from God or from some other metaphysical source. Maybe they’re memory mash-ups that the limbic system serves up during the nightly therapy sessions between the hippocampus and the cortex. Wherever they come from, I’m just happy to have them. It’s like having James Earle Jones playing the role of my five senses, narrating the experiences to me using simile and metaphor.
My friend Dave, on the other hand, hates to dream. I’d have thought a neuroscientist would find it fascinating, but he says it’s like “sticking your head in the night blender.” (He should try eating the wine-soaked tongue or gall of a dragon. According to Edward Topsell in his 1608 Historie of Serpents, it may prevent nightmares.) Dreaming certainly interrupts my sleep, but while I may be made tired by dreaming, I’ll never become tired of dreaming.
Sometimes, the dreamscape itself is interesting enough to write down, or even expand into a story. In at least two of my books I’ve mentioned a character’s dreams, and they were always borrowed from my own. One in particular not only inspired me to begin writing my first novel, but it also became an important part of one character’s backstory.
Most intriguing are the ones—the dreams and scraps of dialogue—that end before they are resolved. I wake up, hanging from cliffs, wanting to know what happens next. For example, I dreamed I was in a castle and Satan came rushing into the room where I’d been searching for something—I can’t recall what—and handed me a paper grocery sack with the top folded carefully down. “The archangel Michael wanted you to have this. He sends his love,” he said, sweet as a priest. The surprise of seeing the devil in a bathrobe awakened me, and I never found out what was in the bag.
And this one, the line that demanded to be recorded at 3:33 AM today:
Years later I still refuse to believe that the corpse in the back of my minivan had been put there by me.
Who knows? Maybe that begins my next novel. Or maybe something or someone even more compelling will crawl into my sleep tonight and I’ll wake up in the morning saying yet again, “I had the strangest dream last night…”
“Each morning in every family, men, women and children,
if they have nothing better to do, tell each other their dreams.
We are all at the mercy of the dream and we owe it to
ourselves to submit its power to the waking state.”
~La Revolution Surrealiste, No. 1, December 1924