From January 28 through February 4, 2017, I will have the honor of being an instructor at the first Writer’s Retreat of San Buenas in Costa Rica. The workshops I’m planning will basically be informal conversations with some assignments along with discussion.
One of the workshops will focus on “Dreams, Memories, and Imagination.” This two-part blog will serve as a brief primer for this “course,” not just for the attendees of the retreat, but for any author that happens to be reading this.
“Sweet Dreams Are Made of This…”
When you recollect an experience, it doesn’t matter whether it actually happened in your waking life, or it was simply a product of your subconscious while you slept.
Case in point: My new erotic horror noir novella Things I Do When I’m Awake started out as a modernized giallo – a stylish subgenre of Italian horror cinema focusing on sex and serial killers that thrived in the 1970s and ‘80s - in literary form.
I actually thought of that title when I awoke one morning, mentally summarizing my tasks for that date, once I realized exactly what day it was, after I shook off my grogginess. (Another Costa Rica workshop subject I’m planning with retreat co-organizer and fellow author Ezekiel Tyrus will focus on creating original titles; ironically, I’m still trying to decide what to call it…)
My surrealistic dreams were still fresh in my memory, so the abrupt relocation from dream world to waking world was, as usual, a disorienting transition. I sublimated this sensation directly into the narrative, even though I didn’t even have a plot yet.
Though my dreams are basically indescribable, I drew from them to create an otherworldly ambience that was distinct from every day “reality” as most of us experience it while conscious, but then those lines gradually blurred to the point where the reader could no longer easily distinguish between the two parallel states of consciousness.
I also incorporated some of my experiences as a dog walker, though none specifically. It was more the general occupation that provided more realistically resonant fodder for the story, which actually developed more like a fever dream, transcribed by a schizophrenic.
“Memories Are Made of This…”
Which brings me to the ultimate inspiration for the book: the tragic life story of my mother, who was diagnosed with a sudden onset of schizophrenia when I was in her womb. The illness destroyed her dreams of becoming an actress as well as any hopes of a normal life, aborting her career just as it was beginning, and naturally our relationship was a casualty as well.
Not to get too personal in this context, but suffice to say I had plenty of authentic emotional drama to infuse into my narrative, some of which was funneled directly from my few memories of time spent with her, as a child and as an adult, with many others merely imagined.
I received word my mother passed away while I was in the middle of writing the novella, still unsure of its direction. This unexpected news definitely impacted the trajectory of the narrative, and shaped the overall tone and tenor of the book, which wound up being a tribute to her, or at least what I knew of her, since she was a virtual stranger to me.
By weaving together my murky impressions of her while creatively extrapolating from the few known details of her actual existence, separate from my immediate experiences with her, I concocted a piece that is wholly original, whose points of real life references remain known only to me. As far as the reader is concerned, the entire story is fabricated.
And in fact, most of it is sheer fantasy – but with universally relatable roots in raw reality.
Now it was time to pour all of these ingredients into the blender of my brain…
Next: Blending Dreams and Memories with Imagination
IMAGE: WILL VIHARO/DYER WILK
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New Orleans, LA