Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sleep Writing - Part 2

The last piece of sleep advice that conference speakers like to give writers is: "Record your dreams - you may find wonderful stories in them." I resisted this advice for years.

Perhaps I was hampered by a story my mother used to tell me. She had a recurring dream in which she would get out of bed, sit down at a desk, and begin writing by hand. She would write through the long hours of the night and finally stop at dawn, with a stack of manuscript pages to show for her efforts.

At that point my mother would wake up. She always remembered the dream in detail, and she knew she had written a bestseller. The only catch was - she couldn't remember a word of what she had written.This might be an understandable dream for a writer, but my mother wasn't one. In fact, she tried to discourage me from becoming a writer. "Be a doctor," she advised, "and write in your spare time."

I, however, couldn't imagine writing in my spare time any more than I could imagine creating stories from my dreams. They made perfect sense while I was asleep, but they lacked coherence in the light of my computer monitor, and faded into wisps of insubstantial plot and character. So I was astounded to wake one morning from a vivid dream that would not let me go.

I'd dreamed of a boy in a dark, smelly cellar. The boy stood in a small room, in front of the open drawer of a file cabinet, reading through a file of news clippings. And I knew exactly what he was doing. His name was Cameron, and he was the son of a serial killer. His father locked him in the cellar while he tortured and murdered the young boys who were his victims. Then the man made Cameron help him bury the boys in the cellar, but the smell never completely went away.

Serial killers always keep souvenirs from their victims, and Cameron's father kept news clippings about the search for the missing boys in a file cabinet in his cellar. But his son had found them and read them until he knew the dead boys almost better than he knew himself. And when his father was killed in an attempted arrest, Cameron decided to take on the identity of one of the murdered boys, and try to begin a new life with a real family, as an impostor.

That morning, with the dream still fresh in my mind, I wrote what would become the prologue of COUNTERFEIT SON. Six months of research and writing later, the novel was finished. When the book was published, it was chosen immediately for the YALSA Quick Picks list and went on to win an Edgar for Best Young Adult mystery and quite a few other honors.

Do I keep a pad at my bedside these days so I can write down my dreams? You bet I do. Lightning doesn't usually strike twice, but I've since had another vivid dream that I turned into a story called "Gatekeeper" available from iPulp. Who knows what I'll dream tonight? I'm now a believer in making my sleep work for me.

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