So, there are a couple important reasons I’m studying history instead of, say, creative writing:
Cite your sources or die!
One: The stories practically write themselves.
Two: The characters are usually more interesting.
And three: I’m a wizard with footnotes.
But there’s always been a part of me deep down inside that wanted to write fiction, yearning to go all crazy second-person, present-tense, steam-of-consciousness on readers’ asses. (Actually, in the first major original research I did for history a couple years ago, I did try to write the intro in the present tense. My professor sighed sympathetically and simply said: “I tried doing things like that when I was starting out too.”) I’m cured of that delusion now, but sometimes, on the dark, stormy nights of REM cycles, my subconscious rebels.
I’ve been writing down my dreams almost every night since fifth grade. That’s… 12 years now. Which is kind of messed-up in itself. BUT, it also means I have a fantastic record of what I’d write if I weren’t sane. Personally, I think they’d be awesome.
NOTE: These are actual excerpts from my current dream journal. Otherwise known as Volume 23.
1. “Prepare to Suffer” (Nov. 14, 2010)
Abe Lincoln says to the boy, as the kid puts on his floppy straw hat, long beige canvas-like coat, and picks up his staff in preparation for his journey—“Prepare to suffer.” Lincoln has taken this trip before, and I think to myself, If I didn’t know better I’d say Lincoln’s read some Nietchze. I am going on the journey then, and there’s a copy of a hardcover book (an old book with a spine that’s not very sturdy anymore) which says something to that effect.
Lincoln takes us to this man/prisoner being interrogated in a room. His name is “Nikator.” He’s calm and nonchalant, and tells one of the men in there (there are a number of FBI agents) that he could kill him and escape if they were alone—and says all of this with a smile and a laugh.
I have to leave because I’m an actress who gets these bit parts in some murder mystery show, where I’m stabbed with a sword in an elevator. Of course it’s fake, but I still dread the part when it plunges in and then comes out the back, because I feel the pressure. Then I fall over backward and the point coming out my back balances me above the ground.
Afterward, I realize that there’s a flap of skin missing on my stomach, and my intestines dangle out a bit. I hold them in as I look for the doctor, who isn’t wearing pants and has an unbuttoned short-sleeve pint shirt in lavender and blue. He’s been drinking, and doesn’t want to sew me up.
NOTE: I envision this as an alternate history sort of psychological thriller, with a lot of gnostic philosophy between chapters. Kind of like a cross between Philip K. Dick and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
2. “Diarfa eb ton od, alebasi.”
Pronounced: “DARE-fuh eeb ton ood, al-EB-uh-zih.”
NOTE: Backwards, this reads “Isabela, do not be afraid.” Obviously it would be incorporated into my novel as a not-that-cryptic-at-all message from the heroine’s (obviously Isabela’s) historical doppelganger Rose Hawthorne (daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne), who keeps appearing to our heroine in vivid mystical visions. Not that this has actually happened. But compare pictures of us as children, and you’ll totally see what I mean:
On vacation somewhere with mom and [my sisters], and we’d been there previously. I find things I left for myself: like hints in a live-action game of Clue we played, only this time it was really serious. I pass this little hill of rocks and bricks and sticks I’d been working on the year before, painting them blue to mark for future-me to find.
There are directions above an arch like a doorway without a door or walls outside. It says to go over the “Giants’ Path,” and then a certain number of steps past a nail on a post, or sthng. I go the direction indicated, through some trees, barefoot, and hit a pitch black lake. [My sister and cousin] are with me—I ask her: How do we get across this? We walk, she says. But I’m up to my neck quickly. She is out far into the middle really quickly, but I try and gesture to her—it’s near the shore, to the right, submerged in the water at this end: the Giants’ Path. We go over a great royal blue plank bridge I’d forgotten was there.
Across the bridge is a house, very old, that’s like a library. There are scrapbooked pages propped on a dresser, news clippings on pink and yellow floral paper. The pictures from the newspapers, however, are of King Henry VII ordering the execution of someone. This is the answer to a mystery, I realize. And the picture shows Henry looking at the camera with his tongue stuck out, like that famous picture of Einstein. I realize Einstein must’ve been photoshopped from this one.
The message above the arch had given a jumbled code starting F8. I immediately knew this was Library of Congress cataloguing code. The books are numbered so in the house, but the F8 one indicated isn’t useful. On my last trip there, I hadn’t found the newspapers. In the piano bench, though, I do find my sister’s Level 2 Spanish book—which she hasn’t done, even though now she has Level 3.
NOTE: I’m sure you already realize where this is going, but it seems obvious to me that the house at the end of the Giants’ Path will be my portal to Narnia, where I’ll either find religion or else go all Golden Compass and kill God. I’ll ask my editors what they think. A major subplot, of course, will be my decision to get a Masters in Library and Information Sciences.
4. The Traveling History Circus (that’s my title of choice)
Penta is a young girl with short blonde hair and a small braid on the right side; talking to her grandmother Penta, about the little green bugs that used to live on flowers, aphids, and the yellow stems coming out of the center of the petals covered in pollen. Penta is also the name of the place where they live, now completely submerged in water, so they’re amphibious people. They are a people of oral history, and every year they send two children to a workshop. Penta is one of them; she leaves at night, choosing the steepest and fastest of three paths up the mountain.
Its purpose is to seek out the talented young of these people and turn them into mobile historians—visiting other places and telling the stories of their culture. This was one of the projects instituted by the new king of one region, whose power extends to influence over others nearby. The king is bearded and made this announcement over a dam that was being worked on and should be ready “in two weeks” (which wasn’t true—it’s more like a month or more). They are all water creatures, and Penta’s people live completely underwater. One man came to the dam—he was a charcoal-gray color over his whole body and the narrator says: He was pale and wouldn’t have been noticed (in the water).
Penta is already unique, though few seem to realize it yet—she “remembered” aphids and pollen, wven though she’d never seen or heard of them before. It was a sort of psychic collective unconscious. Her grandmother, blind, sitting under a tree, had listened with a sense of wonder.
NOTE: This is one of those classic “coming of age stories,” with an Asimovian The Gods Themselves kind of twist regarding the lives of the alien people of Penta. Naturally, there will be an incredibly complex background mythology, and the historians will ultimately foment rebellion across the countryside against the bureaucratic king. Because that’s what historians do, am I right guys? Shoot, I really need to think about what I’m posting… I’m applying to grad school this semester…
5. Terson Bragg
NOTE: Prepare for it. This one’s seriously meta.
I suddenly remember that long time ago, I wrote a science fiction novel (unpublished) in which the hero was a man called Terson Bragg, who became a machine. I have forgotten this book until recently.
Now, the technology is available to place human consciousness into a machine—I am to be the second to do it; My uncle was first. The thing is that, for two seconds, the mind is placed in a machine way out in space, one of those out by the asteroid belt and Saturn, taking pictures. So, this transfer can be done at a great distance. And for two seconds, a person’s mind will be there, seeing what the machine sees, and all the vastness of space. Uncle John says it was beautiful, so great and awe-some. I am nervous, and worry that the two seconds will seem like such a long time, like a lifetime (Uncle John said it felt longer than seconds), and that I’ll be blinded by all the stars and celestial bodies. But I know it is an opportunity I cannot miss.
I go to the front desk—the reception room all chrome and glass—of the company where this will take place. I am holding my kindle, which is circular and about the diameter of the inner circle of our large Frisbee. The woman at the desk uses that to ascertain my identity, but says that next time I should bring the proper paperwork [it had a name—sounds like ubiquitous], which looked like dark blue-green x-rays. All the time I am frightened, like on the way up to the first drop of a rollercoaster, thinking all the time that I want to get off but knowing I can’t, and knowing I had to take this opportunity.
I return home.
Mom and my sisters and Uncle John and everyone ask me how it was, but I find—I can’t remember. I literally can’t remember, and Mom suggests—maybe I didn’t do it after all. Maybe I backed out. But I don’t remember doing that either, and I know, I couldn’t have. I was frightened, but determined. I try so hard to remember, but I can’t. I can’t. And then they suggest—well, do you remember it four years ago? Because four years ago I wrote the Terson Bragg book, and this robotic-mind technology is analogous—and perhaps when I shifted consciousness back the memories went to the place they thought they should be. And I was panicked and said no, no, but I do have an image of space from a rotating spot, black but bright with a golden light, with stars and colors everywhere. And beautiful.
Then the future. The world has strange collapsing tendencies, and people sometimes float down from buildings I see on the empty streets.
FINAL NOTE: Besides the fact that the science is off, I kind of think I wrote that one pretty well, even half-asleep at my computer, probably not wearing my glasses. And besides, when did iffy science ever stop science fiction writers? And Terson Bragg is a badass character name.