Dreaming to Publication

A couple of weeks ago I posted my awestruck reactions to the movie ‘Shape of Water’, writing “It’s savage. It’s beautiful. It’s funny. It’s spellbinding.”  I wrote about the moment where the mute female protagonist who cannot speak, has never been able to speak, is driven through the power of an unspeakable, impossible, forbidden love to try and whisper not just words but  a song, and added:

“It was like watching someone’s soul singing.”

I had rather hoped the film might win ‘Best Movie’ at the Golden Globes. It didn’t, but it did garner a win for Guillermo del Toro as best director.


Dreaming Stories illustration

by Lacie Slezak at Unsplash photos

I dream (some) of my stories

A favorite anecdote about the way the creative mind works concerns an artist who was happily asleep next to her husband when she suddenly sat up in bed sharply, still asleep, jolting him awake, and declared,

I got it! If storks bring babies, then vultures bring zombie babies!

Then she fell back down into bed and continued sleeping leaving him owl-eyed and awake and completely unable to banish the image from his brain and go back to sleep himself. In the morning, confronted with this, she flatly refused to believe that she had done anything of the sort.

But we do escape into our dreams, we who dabble in creating worlds, whether we do our painting on canvas or on a page.

I dream. Oh boy, do I dream. There have been times that I serial-dreamed . I’d wake from a storyline in the morning, and then simply pick up where I left off when I fell back asleep that night. And there have been multiple times when I woke with entire stories in my brain, and sometimes I had to get up in the middle of the night to write them. Sometimes they make me smile; most times they scare me silly.

The level of detail is indescribable I know people say they don’t dream in color, or they don’t dream anything at all except purely visual – but that is so not the case with me. My dreams are in color and surround sound. My dreams are vivid. I dream all the noises and the smells and the textures that go with the visual images.

And yes, I’ve dreamt whole stories.

There was the one that got published in Time and Space as “To  Remember Riobarre” I dreamed the dialogue for that one. And in my dream I felt the winds of the high skies, where forbidden memories of wings lived, touch and tangle my hair.

There was “The Butterfly Collection of Letitia Willoughby-Smythe”, and yes, I have cyberpunk vampire butterflies flitting around inside my head, apparently. In my defense I wrote that one after a night of flu fever and it might have literally been a fever dream. Please forgive me.

There was “Vision”, the story which appears in the anthology “Athena’s Daughters”, which I woke up terrified from in the dark and whose images haunted me so much that I could not even begin to go back to sleep.

There was “Princess of Ashes”, the first story in what became either a story-in-four-parts or a mini-collection of four tales that was published as “Ever After” – a story my husband caught me writing furiously at HIS computer (because it was closer than mine) at five in the morning, cold and bleary eyed, my bare feet curled up against each other for warmth and my fingers clawed at the keyboard.

There was the image of the flowering tree which grew into “To Leave Via Callia”.

And there was, just the other night, a single vision from which a trail of ghostly footsteps led back into an enormous and magnificent idea – the image was that of two lovers frozen in a moment just before a shared kiss, and the idea was that there were these frozen moments in the world and in them lived the world and if they were ever nudged into completion, into the next inevitable moment, they would lead inexorably to the end of the world. The end of a world, anyway. Things like this get fuzzy as I am just waking up – and then I start talking about them to my husband, and lo, there’s the vultures flying in bearing the zombie babies and the story basically falls into place. The story is written but so far unpublished.

There are dreams that don’t make it into stories, of course – some are just too incomplete, or too weird, or too SOMETHING that disqualifies them. But you know, that question, the eternal question always asked of writers, the “where do you get your ideas” question – for me, at least, at least part of the answer is simply, “Well, I go to sleep”.

I know. I am not being helpful. But there you have it. It is close to midnight as I write these words and I am about to drift towards my bed – and I honestly don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow morning with another story nibbling at my brain and the completely inadequate response, when asked about it…

“I must have dreamed  it.”

“For you are everywhere.”

Shape of Water phoyoFrom Official Trailer | FOX Searchlight

A few years ago, on the lam from a convention which was utterly failing to hold our interest, my husband and I and a good friend found ourselves snatching at other possibilities of entertainment, which ended up being an afternoon at the movies.

The movie we saw, which left an indelible impression, was Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

I have had a wide exposure to things fairytale-ish and fantastic. I had never seen anything quite like this movie before. It haunted me. All of it, from its incredible fantastic imagery, to that plaintive lullaby theme tune, to the uncompromising attention to detail, to the way it was set in a cruel “reality” and did not shy away from violence and viciousness to underline some luminous idea, to the punch to the heart when the whole thing unspooled and played out.

This was no pretty happily ever after fairytale. This was a fairytale filled with pain and with sorrow… and then with transcendence. It was astonishing. It was etched into memory. It was transforming. It was something that I had simply never quite experienced before.

Shape of Water

When the first whispers of “The Shape of Water”, the director’s new movie, drifted into my focus, I sat up and started paying attention. I tripped on the trailer almost accidentally, and watched it, spellbound. This was a movie I knew I was going to have to go and see.

I did, at last, on Christmas Day of 2017. And… oh. It’s savage. It’s beautiful. It’s funny. It’s spellbinding.

It’s no “Pan’s Labyrinth”. That stands alone. But this… is its own thing, and it is powerful in all the unexpected ways that Guillermo del Toro has apparently made his trademark.

There’s a moment where the mute female protagonist, who cannot speak, has never been able to speak, is driven through the power of an unspeakable, impossible, forbidden love to try and whisper not just words but  a song.

It’s like watching someone’s soul singing.

You want to look away because it’s so shiningly vulnerable, so private, so obviously not meant for YOU to see, but you can’t look away, you’re mesmerized, and the song stays with you, after, drifting through your mind, carrying love.

Visually magnificent, full of wounded human beings who respond to their hurts as best they know how and are either healed by that courage or stabbed even deeper through the attempt to succor themselves, visceral, unexpectedly funny, tragic in that way that apparently only Guillermo del Toro knows how to make shine with a dark and beautiful light.

This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but oh, if it is yours, you’ll drink it dry, you’ll taste the poison at the bottom of the cup, and you’ll treasure the bitter aftertaste of it because it is a hope and a truth and a vision. This director doesn’t  fob you off with anything that’s less than whole. He doesn’t give you half-truths, or white lies, or in any way gloss over the harshness that is part of life and living.

And yet… and yet… there is a fairytale hidden in it all, and when you open yourself to that, you open yourself to understanding life, and the universe, and EVERYTHING.

There’s a poem quoted at the end – not entirely sure of the provenance, but it might (some say) be either directly translated from or inspired by a poem by Rumi:

“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, for You are everywhere.”

You’ll remember this story. Because it will be everywhere. And if you tell me that you won’t have at least the ghost of this tale peer at you from the shadows of your mind every time you hear that song play again, the one she sang to him, I’ll tell you that you’re wrong.

You may not even remember what you are remembering – it might take all sorts of different forms – but… well… that’s just the shape of water.


A new treat for my Patrons

I have written a new short story set in a world I may revisit some day: Val Hall, the Bruce Wayne Foundation-funded Home for Retired Superherors (Third Class). It’s all about…well, you’ll just have to read it.

A note about Patreon: as publishing changes, most authors need new sources of income. If you would like to help me continue writing about wizards and Weres, Jin-shei sisters, and girls who rise from the gutter to Empress, consider pitching in with a small monthly pledge. For the cost of a latte or two you too can become a patron of the arts.

Details HERE