Monday, November 2, 2015

Dreams and Nightmares: Writing The Nest

Illustration c. Jon Klassen from THE NEST
I’ve been writing down my dreams (and nightmares) for years. Like morning mist, they burn off quickly, so it’s best to write them down first thing on waking. I’ve got a pretty big collection now. They always make good reading, sort of like hearing stories other people might tell about you, with the facts all mixed up, or altogether invented; sometimes with malicious intent.

There is definitely a Top Ten playlist to my dreams. Many share common ingredients and plot lines and themes and I can see my real life easily enough in the fun house mirrors; other dreams are more enigmatic, featuring strangers and locations with which I somehow have a deep personal connection. I am many ages and have many different homes: my dream self has many lives. My dreams do not tend to be serene and meandering; they are mostly fierce, intense things. There is a great deal of menace and peril --- not unlike the kind of books I write.

I had terrible nightmares as a kid. I slept under the covers with only a tiny air hole to keep me from suffocating. I was scared of the dark. I was paralyzed by the fear someone might be standing unseen in my room. I made a lot of night time sprints into my big brother’s bed, or my parents’. When I was a bit older, I’d even have nightmares about scary movies other people had seen (after, of course, stupidly begging them to tell me the entire plot).

It wasn’t just nightmares, of course. I also had many dreams of flying (some fraught with peril, others purely ecstatic) which might explain why I’ve written so many books about winged creatures and people who live in the sky aboard airships. To this day I continue to mine my dreams and nightmares for material. Sometimes it’s just an emotion, a striking image. In THIS DARK ENDEAVOR and SUCH WICKED INTENT, some of the young Victor Frankenstein’s dreams and nightmares are my own, pretty much verbatim. Perhaps this should worry me. I’ve even pilfered my daughter’s dreams (she’s quite a dreamer, too; it runs in families), one of which gave me an amazing idea for a new novel. (Please tell me your dreams, so I can steal them.)

So, it’s hardly surprising that dreams form such a big part of my latest book, THE NEST, or that my hero, Steven, is an anxious kid who’s scared of the dark. At the heart of the book is a series of dream conversations that Steven has with a mysterious winged creature he at first believes to be an angel. Like all of us when we dream, Steve discovers that he’s both powerless and powerful. He may not have control over the stage set, but he can say and do things he would never do in his real life. In THE NEST, Steven is able to confide things and wish for things he probably wouldn’t allow himself to do in his waking life. In his dream he can be reckless, but also be courageous. And in his dreams he must decide whether to say no or yes.

I’d been writing notes and bits of scenes for THE NEST for ten years, without being able to figure out the characters and story properly. But it kept pulling me back, insistent as a recurring dream. And when it suddenly made sense to me, when it finally came, the novel poured out of me in just six weeks, scene after scene, with the intensity of the best nightmares.


  1. I just finished reading this today and expect to have nightmares tonight.

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