Anime and Me

For what feels like most of my life, people have wanted me to watch and like anime. First it was one of my best friends in elementary school with her abiding love of Sailor Moon. Then it was my first roommate in college, the one who was obsessed with… um… well, frankly, I didn’t care and can’t remember what particular shows she enjoyed. We didn’t get along, and I have less than fond memories of her slurping ramen noodles and donkey-laughing at whatever show she was watching… at three a.m.

This what I think of your ramen and your creepy schoolgirls: BLECH.

So I made it to adulthood without ever gaining a foothold on the genre*. The strange story lines, the bright colors and alien appearances, the focus on teens and children, the often unintelligible plots that just didn’t translate into English culture, let alone language—all of it turned me off. But when I met my husband, who likes anime and whose recommendations I have a harder time ignoring, I was systematically presented with a veritable universe of characters, stories, and artwork to try on for size. Drew knew I would find something to like in a category that contains more variety in stories and subject matters than most small-town public libraries, from historical fiction to sci-fi to middle-school drama.

After a few mishaps with giant robots and creepy schoolgirls, I set him a few guidelines, meeting at least two of the three following criteria:

1. The artwork needs to be pretty.

2. The cast needs to include strong female characters OR, at the least, the male characters can’t all be sexist a-holes.

3. A fantasy or fairy tale element is preferable, but not strictly necessary.

Mushisi: Gorgeous, fantastical, and non-sexist. Too bad it once made me hurl.

With the help of these guidelines, Drew introduced me to xxxHolic (pronounced simply, and oddly, “holic”) and Mushishi, both of which are fantasy, have a few strong female characters (though their portrayal isn’t always what I’d call the feminist ideal), and have a strong connection to Japanese myth and folklore, which I can dig. We watched xxxHolic from beginning to end, though main-character Watanuki’s shrieking hysteria nearly drove me away many times, and we made a good start on Mushishi, though an incident with an entire bottle of wine and an episode about an ear-worm monster ended badly and I haven’t *gulp* managed to return to the show yet.

Enter Revolutionary Girl Utena. We told our manga-loving friend Amy about my staunch indifference to most anime, and she told me I needed to watch Utena, because the show had taught her so much about feminism and had honestly changed her life. She thrust the DVDs into our hot little hands, and we gave it a whirl.

Utena: If you get it, please email me and explain. Seriously.

On its face, Utena sounded perfect for me. Female lead wants to be a prince (better translation: knight?) and sets out to rescue “Rose Bride” Anthy from what appears to be a secret society at their school. Sounds like it makes sense, right? Pretty straightforward girl-rescues-girl! Until girl seeks mystery prince, other girl betrays girl, secret society seeks heaven, other girl has incestuous relationship and her brother, other-other girl has incestuous relationship HER brother and, well, I have no idea. Remember what I said about unintelligible plots? This show is so incomprehensible, so opaque that even Drew eventually admitted defeat, and then only after arguing that it was all alchemical metaphor for, uh, something.

Whomp-whomp. Anime fail.

kitten fail

After that, er, mishap, we returned the DVDs to our friend, and nothing more was said about anime.

Then, last week, I came home from an errand and Drew said, “You know, I just tried an episode of anime you might actually like. It’s about otaku girls—you know, the uber-fans? Well, the main character is an otaku who loves jellyfish, and she lives with a bunch of other otaku girls. It’s sort of about how they feel like they can’t fit in, and I think you might actually identify with it!”

Hmm. When I type that out, it sounds kind of insulting, but it totally wasn’t. I swear.

Anyway, it sounded interesting, so we gave it a try and… *drumroll*… I loved it!

Princess Jellyfish tells the story of a group of otaku women who live in the lone holdout building in a neighborhood targeted for gentrification. The story actually manages to parallel the women’s feelings of awkwardness and isolation with their love for the “retro,” eccentric old building they inhabit, and their push-pull relationship with the outside world is crystallized in their reluctant friendship with a “Stylish” who has acceptance problems (and secrets) of his—I mean, “her”—own.

“It’s looking at me! Oh god! Go limp!”

And how did it do with my criteria?

Well, it’s not fantasy, and the artwork isn’t notably beautiful, so it actually rather failed. But it tells (to me) a real story about real women, and I absolutely identified with the characters. My little rules ended up getting me shows that alienated me for other reasons, and because I was so bound by my own expectations of anime as a category, I eliminated whole swathes of stories and refused to acknowledge entire groups of characters.

So floored by how much I actually liked Princess Jellyfish, I wandered into the manga section at my local bookstore recently, and the ENORMOUS selection there completely overwhelmed me. Serials about Greek gods? Check. Romances? Check. Sci-fi epics about assassin girls? Check. Fairy stories? Check. Stories about anything and everything that might possibly interest me, told with every technique from gorgeous pencil sketches to comic book-style drawings? Oh yeah.

In the end, I learned my lesson. Anime is absolutely not a well-defined term that means “silly, garish cartoons about girly superheroes and giant robots.” Rather, it’s a medium filled with rich worlds, diverse characters, and thought-provoking stories. Check it out: you won’t regret it.

Just be sure not to set yourself any silly rules… and remember that not every “Stylish” is what he—I mean, “she”—appears to be.

*Anime is more accurately called an art form or style than it is a genre, but it’s very often CALLED a genre by folks who don’t quite understand what it is—like yours truly, until very recently.

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Living Up to Expectations

Last December I released WORLD OF ASH, my NA paranormal post-apocalyptic novel. It was the first time I’d ever written a book in this genre (not paranormal, that’s ma bread and butter). The age range was familiar to me because the end of my Elemental series the characters were all 18-19 years old, but post-apocalyptic was totally new for me.

WOA (1)

The book was very challenging to write for more than one reason. First, I attempted to write this book in more of a Sci-Fi vein without magic or supernatural creatures. My readers have heard me say that, after accomplishing this, upon my read-through, I hated the book. I just didn’t enjoy it at all. I am not a Sci-Fi nerd. I enjoy watching Sci-Fi far more than reading it. And really I prefer my Sci-Fi along the lines of Doctor Who – with a mix of fantasy.

So I knew I had to revamp the whole book. After a massive overhaul, research into rare plague bearers of Norwegian myths, and changing the whole damn thing from past to present tense, I had a much better book. It’s a dark horse in my catalogue of books, but it is by far my most well-received book.

And that’s kind of terrifying.

When I was first starting out with my plucky YA paranormal series, I was wide-eyed and a bit naïve. I did my research into the biz, made sure I did things professionally and smart, but, mostly, I kept my head down and wrote and polished and published and hoped for the best. I built a readership and enjoyed my work. And, while each release brought with it a new wave of butterflies and mild panic, I had no trouble writing the next book. Not so with this new world.

WORLD OF ASH has set me up for a whole new world of feels. As I sat down to start working on the outline for book two and sat down to start putting words to screen, I realized I was kind of terrified. In my first series I had a pretty good balance of love, hate and somewhere in between with my readers (luckily there wasn’t a lot of a hate, just enough to let me know that I was comfortably in the middle of “not pleasing everyone,” which is what you expect). But so far, WOA hasn’t had any hate or even any, “Eh… it was okay.” People are excited to read the next. They have a lot of questions and feels. I’ve had writers volunteer to beta read the second book who didn’t for the first because they became fans after reading WOA.

This is a lot of pressure that I didn’t expect.

Merida, Brave, exasperated

Like I said before, WOA is my dark horse. I’m not gonna lie and tell you it’s my best seller, because it’s not, but it seems to be the best received.

So I find myself asking HOW DO I LIVE UP TO THESE EXPECTATIONS?

DeanScreamInternally

I don’t. Plain and simple. I need to go back to my old way of thinking, just put my head down and write the best book I can. Often I find myself thinking about the book and thinking I’m not doing a very good job. That I’ll send it to my betas and they’ll rip it apart and the new volunteers will cringe, wondering why they offered to read. But you know what? Every writer has those doubts. Whether it’s their first sequel, or their thirtieth.

So, how am I dealing with it? I just am because I’m a writer and I want to continue to be a writer and to do that, I have to keep writing. I will just allow myself to have my doubts and my worries, so long as I keep writing. My editor and betas are supposed to help me make the book better, so if they hate it, they can help me build it up to the level it needs to be to live up to the precedent that WOA set.

I’ll drink my coffee, add to my soundtrack, build the outline, and somehow find the end of the book and hopefully people will love it as much as the first book. Hopefully.

(Hopefully this is what my betas and my readership will say when I’m done.)

(And then there will be wine.)

Blurred Lines – Authors Writing in Multiple Genres

word-cloudBy now we’ve all heard of the famous case of JK Rowling writing under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In this instance, she did it as an experiment, but many authors write under secondary names when they branch out into genres other than the ones for which they’re known. For example, Nora Roberts had several names, including J.D. Robb, and gothic novelist Carol Goodman writes under the name Juliet Dark for a gothic fantasy trilogy that’s a little spicier than what she’s done previously.

Some writers do this on purpose, especially those who write in genres that may affect the reputation they’ve built. Others do it because they are asked to do so by publishers or agents who are worried how the change of subject matter may affect the brand they’ve built. It used to be a requirement any time you switched genres, but more and more authors are choosing to own up to their pseudonyms or forgoing them all together. I’m no expert, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem to have negatively affected their sales.

This has been on my mind lately because I recently completed my first non-historical novel. It actually couldn’t be more different from my previous books if I tried. I’m not exactly sure how this one will be classified (that’s up to my agent), but it’s contemporary and has a romantic comedy vibe about it. I never intended to write a non-historical book, but when this plot popped in my head, I knew I had to follow it – and I ended up with a product I can’t wait to edit and show to the world.

But now that it’s drafted, my PR background is kicking in. I’ve spent the last two and a half years building up my credibility as a historical fiction author (and that is still by far my first love). I find myself wondering if when this comes out, will it harm my brand? Will readers take me less seriously if they see my name on something that’s a lot lighter and more fun than what I usually write or will they take it in stride? Perhaps they will be interested to see some range from me. And who knows if I would attract more readers by crossing genre lines (i.e. fans of one may discover the other).

As a reader, I don’t personally care if an author writes different types of books. If they’ve hooked me with good writing, I know I will likely enjoy their other work. The only thing that might stop me from buying a book in another genre is if it’s a type I don’t enjoy. (I don’t like westerns, erotica or horror, no matter who writes them.) But otherwise, I’m just thrilled to have new content by a writer I can trust to take me for an amazing ride.

Ultimately, I’m going to be looking to my agent and publisher for advice when the time comes, but right now I’m wondering how all of you feel about this subject. Do you prefer your authors to stay in their defined genres so that you know what to expect? If so, would it upset you to see them write something different? Or would you rather be able to see everything they’ve written just by searching a single name? If you’re a writer, what’s your preference? Why do you feel the way you do? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Bon Voyage!

New Orleans
Is it possible to have a crush on a city?

By the time you read this, I’ll be in New Orleans. It’ll be my first visit, and one I’ve been looking forward to my whole life – or at least since I read The Vampire Lestat. While we’re there, I want to walk along Bourbon St and see Marie Laveau’s grave and eat bignet’s and drink chicory coffee.

Wow! Travel cliché much?

Seriously, though, I told my daughter yesterday to expect me to move slowly so I’d have a chance to absorb as many of the sights, sounds, and smells as I could. So I’d have time to talk to the person serving my coffee, to memorize their accent (unless of course they’re a college student from Brooklyn, which could also be cool, but in a different way). And so I’d have time to learn by heart the place I fall in love with a little harder every time I read about it.

I’m not 100% sure, but I think my first literary exposure to New Orleans did come from Ann Rice. (And yes, going past her house is definitely on the to-do list.) The city is almost another character in Lestat and in Interview With A Vampire, and it’s an even stronger presence Feast Of All Saints, her novel about the gens de couleur libre, or free people of color, a class of black and mixed race people who carved out their own cultural place between the white upperclass and slaves. The city in that story is gorgeous and mysterious and vicious, a perfect fantasy to fall in love with. (Apparently it was made into a movie in 2001…might have to check that out…)

Another of my favorite series set in a similar version of New Orleans are the Benjamin January books by Barbara Hambly. The first, A Free Man Of Color, tells the story of a physician and music teacher whose skin color makes him particularly vulnerable to a murder charge because the document declaring him a free man is as fragile as the paper it’s printed on. The mystery is well-constructed and the period details are amazing. I almost want to go back in time and live in that Creole world.

Almost.

A more recent – and tremendously fun – New Orleans appearance happens in Definitely Dead, book six (I think) in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire mysteries. Sookie’s cousin Hadley is killed (and that’s in the blurb so not a spoiler) and Sookie inherits her estate, which turns out to be more than she expects. New Orleans is hot and sexy and so is Quinn, the were-tiger who’s along for the ride. This is one of my favorite Sookie books. Hmm…might have to bring my copy along to read on the airplane.

And I can’t forget one of the best books of any type describing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson begins a couple days before Katrina hits, and gives you an insider’s view of the storm and the people who survived it. The paranormal elements are fun (especially the very crushable take on Jean Lafitte!) but the real story is the city and her resilience. Royal Street is the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, definitely in the auto-buy section of my bookshelf.

So even if you’re not lucky enough to have a midwinter trip to The Big Easy planned, put some Kermit Ruffins or Harry Connick, Jr on your stereo and crack open one of the books on my list and have your own little vacation. And if you have a favorite New Orleans book that I should take a look at, leave a recommendation in the comments. Or tell me about a city you’ve got a crush on…

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Liv

Blame the Romans

Tomorrow is one of those days you either love or hate. There is no in-between when it comes to Valentine’s Day.

I love Valentine’s Day–despite my perpetual single existence–because Valentine’s Day happens to be my birthday. I basically consider myself the sacred keeper of this day.

Image
Me, on Valentine’s Day

Every year, I hear the same complaint about Valentine’s Day: that it is a fake, made-up, commercial holiday. To which I always respond, “If by ‘fake’ you mean made up by the Romans around 753 BC, then yes.”

Lupercalia

The Romans celebrated a holiday called Lupercalia, which started today on the Ides of February* and ended on the fifteenth. If the “Lup” party of Lupercalia made you think of the word for wolf, “Lupus,” then you’re not wrong! Lupercalia basically translates to “Wolf Festival,” and the holiday was in honor of Lupa, the wolf who myth claimed suckled the founders of Rome: Romulus and Remus. (Yes, Rome was founded by a guy who was literally raised by wolves.)

Lupa, in many ways, was considered the mother of Rome, so it makes sense on this day honoring the mother of their great city and (later) empire, Romans would turn their thoughts to fertility. Thus Lupercalia became a festival of fertility.

Granted, Lupercalia didn’t work the same way Valentine’s Day does. No one was buying their significant other roses or writing bad poetry. Instead, they started off their celebration by sacrificing goats and dogs. Then young men–clothed in the skin of the sacrificed goats–would run around the city hitting women with little whips. Women used to line up to be hit, because it was supposed to make them fertile and make childbirth easier.

Can you imagine: standing in the cold Roman winter hoping that a young man would hit you with a whip? No matter what you have to do/suffer through tomorrow, take solace in the fact that at least you don’t have to do that.

Same Song Second Verse

It’s strange and strangely comforting–at least for me–to imagine that for over 2,500 years women have been stressing about this day. For modern women it’s the stress of romance. That can manifest itself in the stress over not having a romantic partner or manifest itself in the stress of having an ideal romance. For women in the past, it was the stress of fertility–the need to have a child and thus prove her worth. (The Romans did have other ways and avenues for a woman to distinguish herself, but much of a woman’s worth was still wrapped up in her ability to provide her husband with children.)

Lupercalia is very much the same story as Valentine’s Day, but also very different. One could imagine a Roman girl, sitting in front of her mirror, worrying if her lover will think she’s pretty. Except instead of going out for a date, she’s going out onto the street with her friends–the other women her age–hoping against hope that she might get hit by that whip so that she can conceive a child and meet the expectations placed on her by her husband, family, and society.

Just as every year modern girls stress and worry over having a date on this day so that they might meet the expectations placed on them by their family, friends, and society.

It’s the same story. A story of expectations, love, romance. It could even be a similar character. But it’s in vastly different cultures and time periods.

And this is what makes every story new and fresh.

They say there is nothing new under the sun, that every story has been told, and that is true. Roman girls have experienced the same sense of failed expectations: striving to meet some extreme goal and just not making it. But they didn’t do it with cell phones and valentine’s. And that’s what makes a story new.

A new circumstance, a new setting, a new atmosphere, a new perspective.

Nothing is new, and everything is new. Every story is the same and it is different.

It’s Lupercalia versus Valentine’s Day.

And I hope you have a very happy Valentine’s Day.

Image

*You’ve probably heard the phrase “the Ides of March” in reference to Julius Caesar. Without getting into a long drawn-out conversation on the Roman calendar, basically the Ides means either the 13th or 15th of the month, depending on which month it is. So in March the Ides is the 15th, and in February the Ides is the 13th.

How I Met Your Mother, Cristin Milioti, The Mother, Ted Mosby, ukulele, music, la vie en rose, powerful song, acting, beautiful acting

Why Should I Care?

Whether you’re creating media or consuming it, there’s one question that needs to be answered. If you want to hook a reader or a viewer or a listener — or if you’re any of those things settling down to give of your time to someone’s art — four little words lie behind everything you are about to do.

Why Should I Care?

It sounds like a rude question. It kind of is, most of the time you might hear it. But when you’re talking about media and art, it’s the single most important question that keeps you as a consumer engaged and you as a creator the ability to captivate people.

You can’t just dump rose petals on the ground and expect everything to be hunky-dory.

Image by D Sharon Pruitt, creative commons free use with attribution, via Flickr.
Image by D Sharon Pruitt, creative commons free use with attribution, via Flickr.

In the past six months, I’ve seen two particularly noteworthy examples of television that answered this question particularly well. As such, this post will contain some spoilers for Doctor Who (Episode 4.08, Silence in the Library and it the following 4.09) and How I Met Your Mother (Episode 9.16, How Your Mother Met Me). You’ve been warned.

Both of these episodes have something major in common: they introduce a brand new character. In the instance of HIMYM, this character has hitherto been ultimately a concept, the M at the end of HIMYM, a barely-faced, barely explored entity who has somehow powered the entire show. Even though we’ve seen her a couple times, this is the first chance we’ve had to really get to know her. In Doctor Who, River Song shows up for the first time in this episode — but we’re working with almost blank slates for both of these characters.

Let’s start with Doctor Who.

River Song, Doctor Who, the Doctor, Silence in the Library
River Song and the Doctor in Silence in the Library.

Silence in the Library

They say you have one page to hook a reader. I think you have 20-40 minutes of television to hook a viewer. Some factors can make that number skew a bit — if you’re watching something everyone has told you to, you might be more prone to give it a few episodes before throwing in the towel. When I read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I gave it 100 pages — and I’m glad I did. But let’s say you have one episode. One single slot of time in which to snag someone’s attention and make them care. Make them feel something.

Give them a question.

When River Song waltzes into the library with her archaeology team, one of the first things she does is give you a question. She knows the Doctor. Her reaction to him is one that makes that question. She knows him. And personally — maybe intimately. But he doesn’t know her yet. Even better, she refuses to tell him more.

Hint at the question’s answers.

Later in the episode, River is seen using a sonic screwdriver that’s more advanced than what the Doctor has. When asked where she got it, she replies that he gave it to her. This is another breadcrumb in the question — why would a future Doctor give River his sonic screwdriver?

When you answer the question, make it breed more questions.

Throughout this fabulous two-parter, the story of River’s interaction with the Doctor doesn’t so much unfold as play peek-a-boo. When it’s revealed that the Doctor gave River his screwdriver, it makes him wonder why…which makes us wonder why. And when we discover that he can use it to save her life, well, my mind immediately went to wondering who this woman was, that he cared enough to make sure she had it. More questions.

Not only that, but River sacrifices herself for the Doctor — something he (and we the viewers) don’t understand. When she answers that question, it makes more. Who is this woman, this woman so determined to make sure the Doctor still meets her in her own past? What happens with them? Why is she so special? Even in asking those questions, she becomes special. She is a fascinating character.

By the end of this two-parter, I was a blubbery mess of tears for a character I’d just met. Even though I knew she’d turn up later, this was a perfect answer to the why should I care question. I cared because she came to life. Because she left things unanswered, yet her story begged me to find out more.

How I Met Your Mother, Cristin Milioti, The Mother, Ted Mosby, ukulele, music, la vie en rose, powerful song, acting, beautiful acting
Cristin Milioti sings La Vie en Rose in How I Met Your Mother season 9

How Your Mother Met Me

The entire basis of the show How I Met Your Mother is the story of Ted Mosby’s journey to finding his wife. For the show’s run, we’ve seen glimpses of her, an ankle here, a yellow umbrella there — but until the final episode of season 8, we’d never seen her face.

This season, we’ve gotten a few more chances to meet her. I’ll be honest and say that I approached season 9 with no small amount of trepidation. Having invested in these characters and this story for so long, I knew I wanted the chance to actually get to know this person. I didn’t want the show to end with Ted and The Mother shaking hands…and scene.

I wanted to see who she was, know she was a person, know she fit in with the others in the group. In short, I wanted to know her. So I am entirely thrilled to be able to say that  a couple weeks ago, an episode of How I Met Your Mother (cheekily titled How Your Mother Met Me — including a redone opening credit montage) was the episode I’ve been waiting for…for EIGHT LONG YEARS.

They made me care as much for The Mother (it’s driving me crazy not to know her name) as I do for all the other principal cast members.

They gave her a backstory.

This is a tricky thing. This doesn’t mean they told us where she went to high school and that she used to hate artichokes and now thinks they’re the bee’s knees. No. They didn’t do that. Instead they showed her at the East Side MacLaren’s (with a charming tie-in to the main group at their West Side MacLaren’s) at her 21st birthday, waiting for her boyfriend to show up.

And he didn’t.

Instead she got a call I think every one of us dreads.

He wasn’t going to show up. Not that night or ever again. Her boyfriend had passed away.

Anyone who has ever gotten a call like that (and I have) probably couldn’t help but feel something at that moment.

Prior to that moment, she wasn’t sad. She was happy. Excited to see what her boyfriend would get her this year because every other year he’d gotten her amazing things. And when she gets home finally after his memorial, she opens the gift he’d gotten her. It’s a ukulele.

We got to see her overcome her backstory.

Losing someone like that hurts like someone blew a hole in the middle of your torso. Two years ago, I was in the car five minutes from work, discussing random things with my husband who was driving — when I saw I had a message from an Ohio number. It was my cousin Andrea. She was calling to let me know that my cousin Nate had been killed in a car accident. It was a week after his 30th birthday. His baby girl (who is my namesake) turned 1 the day after his funeral. I still feel that hole. It doesn’t go away.

HIMYM did a fantastic job of showing how that hole does not go away. As we saw The Mother go through her grief, meet someone new, and be on the response side of a proposal, we saw that hole.

It culminated when she went outside to ask her dead boyfriend Max if it was okay for her to move on. Boy, was I feeling feelings.

She went back inside and told her boyfriend no. She packed up her bags and left. She returned to the hotel where Barney and Robin were to be married (her band was to play the next day), and she took her ukulele out of her case. Then she went out onto her balcony and sang one of the most stirring renditions of La Vie en Rose that I’ve ever heard. I had tears running down my face and goosebumps all over my arms when the camera panned over to show Ted listening in silence on the other side of the wall between their balconies.

And holy explosion of farting German cows, did I care.

These are two examples of how media made me care — and judging by the Facebook comments on HIMYM’s page (for once, positive), I wasn’t the only one. The comments that a few months ago were judging Cristin Milioti on her dentition were now proclaiming how much they loved her.

I look forward to every River Song episode — and now I am sincerely looking forward to the final episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Because the writers restored some of my faith in the show by finally allowing me to get to know this woman I’ve waited eight years to see — and making her fantastic.

As media creators, it’s our job to make that happen — not just answer the question of why consumers should care, but hammer it home and make them feel something.

What Dreams May Come

Whadya mean, you're not gonna write about us?
Whadya mean, you’re not gonna write about us?

I woke up from a dream about water-balloon fights and bears the other night, and my sleepy brain immediately exclaimed, “You should write a blog post about bears!” Well, I’m not going to do that, but I will write a blog post about dreams.

Dreams are one of life’s great mysteries. Freud saw them as the key to unlocking the unconscious mind and revealing the true desires of the Id. Psychics and mystics believe dreams can tell the future or reveal important truths about one’s life, and that lucid dreaming can be a gateway to astral projection. Creatives of all types see dreams as tools for enriching the art, literature, or science they seek to create. Richard Feynman famously experimented with lucid dreaming to enable more creative problem solving; Salvador Dali used dream incubation techniques to inspire new works straight from his unconscious; Christopher Nolan’s personal dreamscape directly influenced his blockbuster film Inception.

Stephen King writes,

I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back. To me that’s what dreams are supposed to do. I think that dreams are a way that people’s minds illustrate the nature of their problems. Or maybe even illustrate the answers to their problems in symbolic language.

Dream, from Neil Gaiman's Sandman
Dream, from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman

I always admire people who can effectively translate their dreams into coherent art, writing, or ideas. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series does all three of these things so wonderfully, as does Alan Moore’s Promethea. Kubla Khan, my favorite poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was born in a dream and evokes a land of sensation and mystery. As a child, The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds transported me to a hallucinogenic world of rocking horse people and cellophane flowers.

The manuscript I’m currently working on has a lot to do with dreams. And it’s been challenging so far to use them in such a way that is both meaningful to the plot and interesting to the reader. Dreams can come in so many different forms. They can be banal and nonsensical (like my bear-centric dream from the other night). They can be fraught with anxiety (like my recurring nightmare about an upcoming final in a math class I haven’t been to all semester).

And sometimes they are full of incredible imagery. Vague, dark-haired figures moving beneath the frozen surface of a vast lake. A sky made out of cracked, multi-colored glass, staining all the people in shades of crimson, jade and sapphire. A dying stag, his sweeping antlers drooping as his knees give out beneath him.

One of Dali's many surreal paintings.
One of Dali’s many surreal paintings.

These are the dreams I treasure, the dreams I write down and dredge up whenever I am in need of a creative boost. Because I believe it is possible to use images and ideas from dreams to inspire brilliant stories or works of art, but it can often be challenging to make sense out of the often disjointed manner in which dreams present themselves. All we can do is keep remembering our dreams, marvelling at their strange beauty, and letting our creative selves do the rest.