Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Occasionally I hear other writers talking about "dreaming" a whole book, or even getting an idea for a book from a dream, and I admit: it makes me jealous. Because I must have the laziest subconscious on the planet. No Eiffel towers, no rocket launches, no steamy orgies, no familial confrontations with tommy guns. My dreams are basically my ordinary life with the occasional orangutan thrown in.

The most excitement I ever generated in bed was when I once sat up during a dream (still asleep, I am told) and asked anxiously: "Has anybody seen Frank Ray?"

Now, Frank Ray was a dear and somewhat dotty old man who lived with his equally aged sister. . . two doors down from me when I was six years old. We all thought he was a little smelly, but otherwise benign. My only real memory of him was a trip my sister and two or three other kids and I took to collect pumpkins from a farmer's pumpkin patch. I had to ride in the front seat with the old guy and he caught my thumb in the car door. The car was so old (like him) that there was a huge gap in the seal and while it caught my thumb and kinda mashed it a little, it hardly even hurt. My sister cried; I didn't. That's it. No trauma. No terror. No illicit anything. Just a memory of ordinary childhood that popped into my head and apparently made me want to sit up and ask for the old guy. Sigh. See what I mean? Just plain forgettable.

Except that . . . I didn't forget it, and I can't figure that out. Most of my dreams are so forgettable that I. . . forget them. So why Frank Ray? What was he to me that I've forgotten. . . or suppressed? Hmmmmm.

Did I see something in that old woodshed with all the knives and civil war swords out behind his house? Something that marked my young mind? Something so terrible that I've blanked it out and can't bear to remember it? When I peeked in his windows, as all six year olds are wont to do, did I see him and his equally aged sister engaged in unnatural acts. . . like frying liver and onions. . . IN THE SAME PAN?

Why ask for Frank Ray? Did he have a son or a nephew named James Earl. . . who would go on later to infamy as the killer of Martin Luther King? Did I see swastikas hanging above an altar in the closet of the back room? Did he shuffle along all the time to make the neighbors "think" he was old and decrepit so he could go on secret courier missions abroad? Did his aged sister serve us all spiked lemonade that made us forget what we saw at the "pumpkin patch"? Did he snip off locks of our hair (or thumbs) to use to find us and invade our dreams as we grew up so he could live on-- night by night-- stalking us through our dreams?

Did he really keep a big orange orangutan?

Sigh. See what I mean? Back with the orangutan again and I know I'm back in Kansas and nothing really extraordinary happened. Not even in my dreams. And I guess I've made peace with that. Maybe it's all just a balancing act. My subconscious is getting rid of the flotsam and jettsum of ORDINARY so I can get wild and fertile with my waking mind.

Yeah. Maybe that's it. Who needs dreams when my waking mind is so. . . ummm. . . colorful?

What about you? How's your dream life? Any recurring things you want to get off your chest? Any strange dreams you've turned into books or proposals or good cocktail party stories?


Debra Dixon said...

I have taken to working out story openings as I go to sleep, trying to do the movie thing in my head or dream the story. I've never quite made it. The most I ever get is a scene or two. But the time spent thinking about the scene makes the writing of it a little faster.

Michele Hauf said...

Erica Orloff blogged about this the other day and it made me think a lot about how I dream. I don't have a lot of organic, unprompted dreams. At least, not that I can remember.

I do all my writing in my head, before it ever hits the page. I am an avid daydreamer, and can prompt dreams that will continue at night after I've fallen asleep. Thing is, most of my dreams are these elaborate epic fantasies that I'd never have time to write.

So usually I'll prompt a scene I'm working on for a current story, and by morning, I'll usualy have it worked out. But I keep paper and pen handy by the bed for notes, cause I'm not good at recalling stuff.

I rarely dream about people in my life. I know in the 20 years I've been married I've only dreamed about the hubby twice (and those were so strange). Never dream about my kids. Occasionally a friend will pop up in a bizarre dream. But otherwise, it's all fodder for the page.


Helen Brenna said...

Dreams are a love/hate thing for me.

I had 2 recurring dreams when I was a kid. I'd dream I starting sleepwalking and fell over the side of the banister at the top of the stairs. I'd always wake up eith that sick feeling in my stomach, like going down a rollercoaster, before I hit the ground.

The other one was my entire family turning into apes and running around the house trying to kill me.

Too bad they weren't Betina's mild orangutans! LOL

The most productive dream I ever had was the beginning to my second book. I knew I needed a catch and the dream came to me one morning. Perfect! Haven't been able to do that since then. Darn it.

Dreams seem to go in phases for me. Ups downs. Remember, don't remember. Good, bad. Wish I could control them better.

Anyone ever do any dream analysis? Or have it done?

Kathleen Eagle said...

I had several dreams when I was a kid that were so vivid I can still see them. The earliest--maybe age 3, 4, definitely pre-school--had a mean girl threatening to bake me into a cake. She said it over and over. "I'm gonna bake you into a cake. I'm gonna..." And she's looking over the edge of a bowl, wooden spoon in hand, and I'm looking up at her, and I'm going round and round... I woke up before I was poured into a pan. We were at my grandmother's house, and went running to my parents.

Then there was the time I was to be executed for waking the Queen from her nap. I was 9. That was a bad one. My mother said nothing could be done; I shouldn't have been so noisy during the picnic. The executioner was a girl wielding a fencing foil with a razor blade on the end, like a small guillotine. She waved it at me while she danced on the picnic table, stepping in the food. I woke up before she whacked me. It was early morning, and for once I couldn't wait to get up.

I do dream about a wip sometimes--nothing actually usable, but often gets me moving in a more useful direction.

Christie Ridgway said...

My recurring kid-dream was that a man took me to the laundry area in the garage and made me eat Tide detergent. I'm thinking my mom had made a big deal about the dangers of doing so!

I'm so wondering about Frank Ray! I think there's something deep there, Betina.

I often dream about the wip. I observe the characters talking with each other. I can't say it's ever been helpful in the writing of the pages--I don't remember enough, but it does let me know that I'm deep in the story.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, what an interesting bunch of writers we have here. . . responses all over the map!
Deb, you're lucky to get that much!
Michelle, you get writing done in your head? You lucky thing, you!
Helen, the family becoming apes and chasing you around. . . whoa, very Freudian!
Kathy-- those are some of the most interesting dreams I've ever heard come from a child. Wow-- the image of you being in a mixing bowl, going round and around. . . that's great enough for cinema!!
Christie-- how icky-- eating detergent. But you're probably right-- you probably heard a story about some kid who did that and your mom cautioned you strongly.
Interesting stuff, dreams.

I've dabbled in dream analysis, but I'm not sure I'm any good at it. Occasionally I get to pontificate about one of my sister's dreams. (I always tell her it's "anxiety." Which it always is.) I've even bought a couple of books on interpretation. Someday I'll get around to reading them.
I hope Frank Ray isn't Freud-speak for "hopelessly insane" or something.

Samantha Hunter said...

I'm so fascinated by Frank Ray now, I want you to put him in a book -- any of the above scenarios would play... ;)

I am a nightmare gal -- have struggled with very vivid nightmares since I was a kid -- the kinds that can get you out of bed and halfway down the hall. Spiders get me every time -- I have had repeated dreams of spiders in situations you'd probably not want me to describe. Other repeated nightmares, a few I managed to consciously work out in various ways. Let's put it this way -- I am usually relieved and happy to have good, sexy, or ordinary dreams because they are so few and far between. ;) I don't know why -- digestion, I guess. ;)

It does mean that I try to stay away from anything to violent or sad or dark in movies or books, especially in the evening. Violent or scary movies do not enter the house, much to dh's chagrin, but he understands, since he's the one laying next to me when I wake up whacking at the bed, trying to kill all the... well, you know. ;)

Very likely anxiety, I like the interpretation of something "bugging" me -- I like to think about my dreams and try to work with them, though sometimes they just irk me and I'm often relieved when I wake up and can't recall any.

I also work out stories before falling asleep, if I wake up, or in the morning, and while I now and then dream something for a book, it's almost always wrong. ;)


Betina Krahn said...

Sam, you've made me appreciate the value of "ordinary" dreams. I'll take them over spiders any day. I'm not especially afraid of spiders, but I sure don't want to see them in my dreams! With such colorful stuff happening in your subconscious, I'm surprised you aren't a horror writer! LOL!

You know-- I think my most productive subconscious time is when I go to bed and get comfy and start to fall asleep. Many times, I've made myself quit falling asleep and get up to write something down. Usually it's good stuff, because I'm still mostly awake. If I go completely to sleep, my subconscious apparently goes with me.

You know, Sam, Frank Ray just might be something I ought to look into. If I ever write a Romantic Suspense, Frank Ray's going to be the bad guy. He has to be, I guess, cause who wants an 85 year old hero?

Helen Brenna said...

I think Christie must have swore a lot as a kid.

Must wash that mouth out with Tide. Teehee!