by Gayle Lynds
I’ve had a number of restless nights lately. You know what I mean — weird stuff speeding through my brain, banging at my consciousness, trying to be useful (or not). Mostly, it’s about writing — I’m working on a couple of different novels at the same time.
In the past, the night sometimes delivered great ideas, sometimes even scenes. Talk about a dream situation — except I’d jerk awake at 3:00 a.m., grab the legal pad beside my bed, and scribble notes blindly in the dark. It’s hard enough living with a writer — sleeping with one can be treacherous. Fortunately, John sleeps with a pillow over his head.
Inquiring minds want to know, fellow Rogues! What do you dream at night?
I could never get a book out of one of my dreams…they’re either too bizarrely disjointed, or too boring. I have worked in forensics for over twenty-five years, first at a coroner’s office and then at a police department. Do I dream about bloody crime scenes or killers wielding machetes? No. If I dream about work, I will literally be writing reports, searching for a courtroom, or trying to get to work via a bus that isn’t coming and I’ve lost the schedule and my watch has stopped.
This is not to say I don’t get a lot of book ideas in bed. Many a plot difficulty has been worked out either before I fall asleep or promptly after waking. But I lack the discipline to get up and write just then, and have to hope that it will still be there in the morning. (It usually is.)
I dream about whatever story problem I left myself when I closed down my Work In Progress for the day. My characters freeze at that point, only to come alive again when my head hits the pillow and I run the scene over and over, until I eventually fall asleep. Usually, I’m looking for a hook, if I haven’t found one already, a choice bit of dialogue that reveals, if I need it still, something I can tackle in my next writing session. If I find it, I’m golden and can sleep the sleep of the righteous. If I do all that pillow thinking and I’m still stuck, I just keep worrying the problem. A Work In Progress is the ultimate earworm. It’s a sea of endless story problems. Solve one, face another.
The end of my last book, Runner, came to me in a dream. My main character’s running in knee-high snow through a dark forest trying to escape a killer. Strangely, that ending came to me before I had a solid middle, first time that’s ever happened. But who am I to tell the dream gods how to run their business?
Oh gosh, my dreams are such a mess—as coherent as hyper channel-surfing to the point that I wonder what that says about my psyche or who spiked my dinner. I will say, though, that the twilight between awake and asleep is golden to me. Suddenly, everything I was trying to figure out for a plot line, or sort out for a character makes sense… right as I was about to happily drift off. I’ve been known to say, “Really?” out load while groggily grabbing for my phone to jab a quick note.
My subconscious often drops me into my Work In Progress. During Desperate Creed, I found myself surrounded by tornadoes. While writing Silent Creed, my nightmares buried me under a mudslide. In my latest, Fallen Creed, a blizzard raged outside while a wounded Ryder Creed fell into fever dreams trapped in what he called the blood forest. And yes, for nights I was stranded there as well, wandering through the trees while blood dripped from the branches.
A writer’s dreams…they can be a blessing and a curse.
While I have all sorts of dreams, I don’t recall having one that inspired an idea for one of my novels. However, I have included dream sequences in some of my thrillers, beginning with the first one, Checkmate. In this story, the heroine who works for a defense contractor, is being tracked and threatened by a terrorist. Her contact, a man on the White House National Security staff, tries to protect her by having her stay temporarily in his Georgetown home, which has good security.
After the first fitful night, her experience is described like this: “The digital read-out said 5:45. Cammy flipped her pillow over. The cool linen did little to relieve her hot skin and the dull ache developing just behind her eyes. She didn’t know if a headache caused her bad dreams or if the all too familiar image of a burning plane crashing to earth brought on the headache. She stretched, pushed the nightmare from her mind and then remembered yesterday’s dire developments.”
As a thriller writer, I often stay up tossing and turning as ideas for my stories rush through my consciousness before penetrating into my dreams. This occurred when I was writing Blood’s Echo, the first in a series about a homicide detective who takes on an entire crime family. To keep the pace moving briskly, I use an active setting so characters don’t sit around talking.
One night I dreamed about my time at the police shooting range, woke up certain I had nailed the location for the next scene, and grabbed my phone to email myself about that flash of insight. I did end up using the police range as a setting, which became one of my favorite scenes in what turned out to be an award-winning book.
Dreams can be two things. In the first variety, it’s the kind that takes over at night, invades our sleep, waking us with remnants in the morning. Lately, since losing my beloved father, Alan Milchman, last summer, I’ve been dreaming of him. Sometimes in ordinary situations we actually lived — like welcoming him into my house on a visit, only in the dream it’s a new house — sometimes just as a vague, floaty presence. Both kinds are gifts.
But there’s another way in which writers dream, and that’s in the hopes-and-dreams sense, their desires for their art and their career. Now on the cusp of a new book going out with a new agent, this kind of dream is taking shape for me. I can’t quite see its form yet, it is boundless and unknown, lying just over an invisible horizon as dreams often do.
Do your dreams ever inspire you? Do they demand to be written? Let us know in the comments!