The Dream Journal – One Writer’s Inspiration

Today’s guest post is by Mary Crockett, co-author of Dream Boy, which is due for release in mid-2014.

When Cassandra invited me to do a guest post, I used the title of her manuscript, Lucid Dreaming, as a springboard. I’ve always been obsessed with dreams—not surprising for someone whose upcoming co-authored novel is named Dream Boy, right?

But it’s not just me who’s obsessed. Fascination with dreams is as old as dreams themselves. Ancient Egyptians looked to dreams for portents of the future, while Australian Aborigines saw dreams as the secret to understanding the past. There’s Aristotle’s On Dreams, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, the Biblical representation of dreams as God’s cosmic telephone, the zillion weird dreams that figure in folklore and fairy tales, the zillion more books that interpret the symbolism of dreams… and of course let’s not forget Leonardo DiCaprio going all dark and broody as the lovelorn dream thief in Inception.

As a writer, though, I’m perhaps most interested in how we can allow our dreams to inspire and shape creative works.

That’s where the dream journal comes in.

One of the characters in Dream Boy keeps just such a journal. Drawing a line down the middle of the page, she writes everything she remembers about a dream on one side; on the other, she jots notes about real life events that may have triggered her subconscious.

In the notebook, reality goes in one place and dreams go in another; a clear line is drawn between the two. Of course, very little in life is quite as tidy as that—certainly not our creative processes.

So, why keep a dream journal in the first place?

For one thing, it’s fun.

For another, all the weird stuff that floats around in your subconscious can be a good place to go when your work-in-progress gets blocked up. Make a game of it: choose some random element from a recent dream and work it into a scene you’re writing. It will keep you going—and in writing, if you just keep going (somewhere… anywhere!), you often end up headed in the direction you genuinely needed to go.

(Plus, here’s a secret: the random element you select is probably not that random, even if it seems downright absurd. What happens when you dream and what happens when you write is not so different, really. They both connect to the subconscious. And the images that feed the subconscious have a way of making their own sense, regardless of your intentions.)

Perhaps most importantly, however, using a journal to map out the chaotic terrain of your dreams can feed your over-all imaginative life in very rewarding ways.

As you go along—recording your dreams—you are essentially trying to make sense of something that is by its very nature senseless. That process inevitably opens you up to contradiction. (Real world says X and ONLY X is true; Dreamworld says Y and Z and X’s second cousin Arnie is true. On Tuesdays. On other days, it says that baseballs turn into feathers when you sneeze on them. And your favorite dog never really died, but was just trapped all this time in a bomb shelter with elves.)

Contradiction, as you can see from the above, is pretty noisy. But it is also (at least in my experience) inspiring.

Think of it this way: the tension between two opposing ideas is often the wire on which good writing balances. So, exploring the boundary between reality and dream allows us to perch for a moment on that wire. When we return to our work of fiction, we see more. We see better. We see connections we might have missed otherwise.

But what about those who don’t even remember their dreams? How can any of this help them?

Unexpectedly, I have found that the very act of keeping a dream journal stimulates the recollection of dreams. So the more you plan to remember, the more you remember. Weird, but true.

Here’s how it works in two super-easy (super-cheesy?) steps:

  1. Put a notebook and pen beside your bed. Before drifting to sleep, remind yourself that you intend to remember and record your dreams. You might even say something as socially uncomfortable as “Hey, you are going to dream, and you will remember your dreams! They will be interesting dreams! Enjoy!”
  1. In the morning, before you get up or start thinking about your day, write down whatever scraps of dream you remember.

And at first they may be just scraps. But as you go on, exercising both your memory and tolerance for awkward conversations with yourself, you may find that you can build up to a pretty impressive recall. And remembering your dreams is a good thing—not only for the creative advantage—but also because your dreams can be an important shaping influence in your life.

I recently tweeted my two-year-old’s dream: “The cat was in my dream, and he was happy to be with me.” (Of course in real life, the cat barely tolerates my son, so this was pure wish fulfillment.) I was amazed at how many people tweeted back to share their own dreams—from the workaholic who dreams only of work to the woman who dreams of resuscitating zombies with a friendly Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Dreams are something we take with us into our day. Whether we entirely remember them or not, they are there, an essential part of us—telling us who we are. (Maybe in some ways even making us who we are.)

So listening to dreams—paying attention to wildness of the mind at moments when it answers to no master—is a worthwhile endeavor. And a dream journal is a great place to start.

About DREAM BOY (coauthored by Mary Crockett and Madelyn Rosenberg)

Annabelle Manning feels like she’s doing time at her high school in Chilton, Virginia. She has her friends at her lunchtime table of nobodies. What she doesn’t have are possibilities. Or a date for Homecoming. Things get more interesting at night, when she spends time with the boy of her dreams. But the blue-eyed boy with the fairytale smile is just that—a dream. Until the Friday afternoon he walks into her chemistry class.

One of friends suspects he’s an alien. Another is pretty sure it’s all one big case of deja vu. While Annabelle doesn’t know what to think, she’s willing to believe that the charming Martin Zirkle may just be her dream come true. But as Annabelle discovers the truth behind dreams—where they come from and what they mean—she is forced to face a dark reality she had not expected. More than just Martin has arrived in Chilton. As Annabelle learns, if dreams can come true, so can nightmares.

Pre-order DREAM BOY today: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Add DREAM BOY to your Goodreads list.

About Mary

A native of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Mary grew up as the youngest of six children in a family of misfits. She has worked as everything from a history museum director to a toilet seat hand model. In her other life, she’s an award-winning poet, professional eavesdropper, and the person who wipes runny noses. If you tweet at her @MaryLovesBooks, chances are she will tweet back.

Connect with Mary: Website | Blog |TwitterFacebookGoodreadsTumblrPinterest

Musical inspiration: Tripod vs the Dragon

Tortured bad guy inspiration. This. Watch it.

It’s from a (mostly) comedy DVD called Tripod vs the Dragon. I’ll give you one guess which one she’s playing.

(Note: there are two copies of this on YouTube — I’ve linked this one because it’s better quality but if you are watching this with small people around or the f-bomb bothers you, don’t watch the last two seconds of the clip. The song is safe though.)

I was made in darkest night
Of chalky ash and children’s fright
I do not think you know what you behold
I was made of aching hurt
Of fairy tales and bloody dirt
I hope you do exactly as you’re told

Siegfried and Saint George
Potter, Baggins, Beowulf
Were tempered in my forge
So I say to you and yours

All caught fire in the ivory tower
In the marble arches
In the dust and darkness
And I have you on my mind

Once a mighty tree was grown
For you to know all that is known
I hope you hear exactly what I say
And by your sword a branch came down
And where the blood fell to the ground
It is my cradle and there I must stay

And should ever you return
Well I must confess my story to be true
You will be burned
And I hope that you have learned:

All caught fire in the ivory tower
In the marble arches
In the dust and darkness
And all caught fire in the ivory tower
And I have you on my mind
You’re on my mind
You’re on my mind

I could watch this on repeat all day, if only YouTube had a repeat function. (Someone get onto that, will you?) I have the DVD too, but that’s less convenient. :p

‘Where do you get your ideas?’

I think the single most common question authors—especially very successful authors—get asked is about their sources of inspiration. The question is almost a stereotype now. And a lot of them reply along the line of, “The real trick is making them stop!”

I used to not understand this answer. I spent a lot of time toying with ideas, usually for high fantasy novels, but never getting far because the well would run dry: the ideas I had felt derivative, or paper thin.

It wasn’t till I said “hell with it” and started writing anyway that I discovered the truth. Like writing skill, the ability to come up with story ideas—for me at least—is like a muscle. The more I write, the more I come up with ideas, the easier it is. I suspect a lot of other writers are the same.

Getting to the point where I had an idea with enough weight for an entire novel was a long process, though. I started out, like a lot of people, writing fanfiction. I wrote some short stories in another writer’s fantasy world; it felt easy to me, because the worldbuilding had been done. This was in the days before the internet was huge (don’t laugh!) so the stories were published in the author’s “official” fanzine and distributed via the post. Old school, yo. *poses*

Then I wrote two or three novella-length stories that were another type of fanfiction: the type with famous people as characters (no, I won’t say who). But the stories were my own. These novellas were about 25k words each; when a friend pointed out to me that if I’d put that amount of effort into real fiction I’d have a novel, it was a sobering realisation. And a motivating one, too. It showed me I could do it, whereas before I’d thought I couldn’t.

So I revisited one of the novellas, and took an extra element of an old (non-fanfic) short story, threw them in a pot, and stirred. Then I started from scratch with the ideas born from this mix. The result was Isla’s Inheritance. The only element from the original novella fanfic that has carried across is one of my original (non-famous) characters: Isla’s cousin Sarah.

And once I finished Isla’s Inheritance, that seemed to open the floodgates on my subconscious. Ideas for a sequel, and another beyond that. Another urban fantasy idea (now finished). A solid fantasy/Steampunk concept (outlined). And other, half-formed ideas.

Muses_HERCULES_RichB cv c

The muses from Hercules (copyright Disney; source).

These days it seems like whenever I hear a story on the news, or am talking to a friend, part of my brain is turning what I’m hearing over and looking at it from all sides to see whether there’s a kernel of a story idea there. I can see why writers call that their muse. I think of it more as part of myself—but a part I have very little control over. As my friend Stacey Nash describes in her latest blog post, it seems to have a mind of its own.

I’m curious though—do you find it easy to come up with story ideas? Has that always been the case, or have you had to train yourself/awaken the muse, like I have?

Finding inspiration, and ‘In Stone’


Today’s post is by one of my mates from Twitter, the gorgeous Louise D. Gornall. Her debut novel, IN STONE, was released on Monday, so the first thing I wanted to say was HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Massive thanks for having me on your blog today, Cass!

So, I’m here to tell you guys the inspiration behind In Stone. Of course there was music, various breath-taking landscapes and thousands of hours spent searching through pictures on Pinterest. Then there were the emails between me and my CP, as well as the countless 4am brainstorming session with my twin sister. All of these things were inspirational, and the book would have undoubtedly sunk without them. However, if I HAD to single out three things that were inspirational in the pre-writing stages of In Stone, they would be:

In Stone_cover1. This quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

2. Then there was a conversation I saw between two agents on Twitter that amounted to ‘stakes in a story are significantly lowered when immortals are involved because immortals, after all, can’t die.’

3. And then there was the plot of The Lord of the Rings.

I’m not going to go into too much detail because I will undoubtedly—however inadvertently—end up giving away the plot of In Stone. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done that. I just wanted to tell you a little bit about how these things wormed their way into my imagination and helped me cook up a story.

So, I think the first point is pretty standard. Who doesn’t find inspiration in a good quote? This one spoke volumes to me. I’ve read a couple of academic articles that all ponder its meaning, but I took it at face value when I applied it to my plot. To me this quote says that if you’re going to hang around with bad guys, eventually some of that badness is going to rub off on you…

The second point was something I’d been thinking long and hard about for a while. I knew I wanted my MC to be an immortal, but I didn’t want my stakes to be significantly lower because of it. This conversation really got me thinking about how I could avoid compromising my stakes, and that in turn helped me to develop a huge element in my plot.

Finally, The Lord of the Rings is my favourite film of all time. I love everything about it. I would have loved to have had the balls to attempt a retelling of Tolkien’s epic tale…but I don’t. So instead I borrowed some aspects of LOTR. Location, for example. One of my favourite things about LOTR is that it is as much a physical journey as it is a mental one. Plus, you know, I’m a writer. I like to add to my characters hell whenever I can, and dumping them in unfamiliar landscapes while they had this epic task to undertake was just too perfect. And then of course, there was the idea that this one tiny thing (a ring) could cause so much trouble and make even the most loyal of people turn rogue.

…and I’m going to stop now because my spoiler senses are tingling.  I’m a bit of a sponge when it comes to inspiration. I find a little bit of something in everything, but these three things were definitely responsible for shaping In Stone.


Beau Bailey is suffering from a post-break-up meltdown when she happens across a knife in her local park and takes it home. Less than a week later, the new boy in school has her trapped in an alley; he’s sprouted horns and is going to kill Beau unless she hands over the knife.

Until Eighteenth-century gargoyle, Jack, shows up to save her.

Jack has woken from a century-long slumber to tell Beau that she’s unwittingly been drafted into a power struggle between two immortal races: Demons and Gargoyles. The knife is the only one in existence capable of killing immortals and they’ll tear the world apart to get it back. To draw the warring immortals away from her home, Beau goes with Jack in search of the mind-bending realm known as the Underworld, a place where they’ll hopefully be able to destroy the knife and prevent all hell from breaking loose. That is, provided they can outrun the demons chasing them

In Stone is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. You can also add it to your Goodreads list here.


Author pic 020

Louise. I told you she was gorgeous.

As a general rule, nobody walks the Switch on account of the overgrown nettle bushes, a pungent aroma of foot infection, and a collective fear of encountering something feral. However, the Switch shaves at least ten minutes off my journey, and lately I don’t trust the dark. I blame my encounter with the almost-corpse, two nights ago. Before then the dark was just a natural progression: something to be slept in, a different color in the sky. Now, shadows make me jump, and the dark carries a silence that makes me think of funerals. It breathes life into creatures that had always been safely contained behind a TV screen. I make my way down the Switch, striding over vicious flora and trying to ignore the occasional nip that sinks straight through my jeans.

“Hey, Beau!” A voice from behind startles me. When I turn, Gray is jogging in my direction, thwarting thorn bushes with his bare hands. “I was looking for you.”

The hairs on the back of my neck bristle. My hand is in my pocket, and my fingers are wrapped around a slender cylinder of pepper spray as he reaches me.

“Well you found me. What’s up?”

“There’s something I need to ask you,” he says sheepishly. He hammers his toe against the ground, grinding it nervously into the dirt and crushing several stems of dandelion into gold dust. He giggles; it’s a soft, sweet sound that suffocates my hostility. He reminds me of Mark moments before he’d asked me out on our first date. Maybe this guy could be the one to liberate me from my social network sabbatical. Maybe my slightly-too-heavy eyeliner and my reputation as the mortician’s daughter hasn’t freaked him out.

“Really?” Surprise raises my pitch. “What’s that?” The pepper spray is abandoned in my pocket.

“Where’s the knife?” he replies, snatching my throat and slamming my back up against the concrete wall. It’s so forceful, so hard, that my spine ripples. Red flashes across my vision. The muscles in my neck go slack, and my head flops forward. He stabs his thumb up under my chin, forcing me to look him in the eye. His eyes are like the moon; cold, giant circles of icy-silver. But a change in his eye color is nothing in comparison to the change happening on either side of his head. I don’t understand it. It makes me wonder, briefly, if what I’m seeing is a side effect of the migraine pills Leah slipped me at lunch. Gray is growing horns. Giant grey horns that slide out of the side of his skull and then curl like springs around his ears. They’re animal.