While writing my first novel, Baby Jane, which is set in Vancouver, Canada, I wanted to restrict my main male protagonist to a single detective, Dylan Lewis. In Vancouver, though, homicide detectives work in pairs, and thus I contrived to have Dylan’s partner, Tom Farrow, off on holiday for the whole book. So you can imagine my surprise when, only 48 pages in, I found my imaginary medical examiner asking Dylan, “When’s Tom back?” “Sunday,” Dylan replies.
Tom Farrow did indeed return on Sunday, and became one of my favourite characters in the book. Question is, why did he come back, and uninvited no less? Was it just my creative subconscious realizing I needed another foil for Dylan? Or was this something more intriguing: that Tom existed in another, perhaps parallel, universe, and I had merely tapped into his existence?
Many moons ago, in university, I studied comparative religions and was intrigued to learn that the monotone beat of shamanic drumming induces the brain to produce theta brainwaves, which are the same brainwaves our brains produce when we dream. “Ecstatic” religions, such as that of North American Natives, teach us that when we dream we enter the spirit world, or, more precisely, that we connect with our soul that lives in both the spirit and the mundane worlds, and as such keeps us connected to the rest of the universe, that is, to Creation. Our dreams are therefore messages from the spirit world, from both guardians and foes, or are events we experience in this parallel dimension.
(In Western medicine many psychologists suggest their patients keep a dream diary in order to analyze and understand their problems better; in Native medicine, rather than passively wait for messages from dreams, shamans — also known as medicine men/women — use the shamanic drum to enter into a controlled dream state where they can communicate directly with the spirits to gather information and help the patient.)
If dreaming, then, is really us connecting to another dimension, then is this also what imagination is? After all, what is imagination if not a form of controlled dreaming? And if so, what, then, is a “product of my imagination”? Are my stories and characters manufactured by me, the writer, or am I merely a stenographer for the universe?
I decided to explore this theme in my latest novel, The Point Between, in which a famous mystery writer is murdered only to meet in the afterlife the lead detective of her novels. Marcus Mantova claims authorship of the now dead Lily Harrington’s stories, and his assertions send her into a crisis: what, if any, talent had she then possessed? And if none, then why her? As Lily ponders in the book, “she must have had some aptitude for the job … you certainly don’t hire a mechanic to perform brain surgery, or vice versa.” So is Marcus really the author of her books, or is she the author and he merely her muse?
Ironically, while I was writing the novel the experience I had with Baby Jane repeated itself. The Point Between was supposed to be centered around Lily and Marcus, but a woman named Penelope Winters inserted herself into the story. Like Tom Farrow, Penelope arrived fully formed, her looks and personality both clear as a bell. When she first popped into my head, I thought it would be fun if she, too, had been a character in Lily’s novels, but Penelope was having none of that:
“I’m a dead Whatcom County homicide detective.”
“But wouldn’t it be cool if you were Marcus’s great love from early in the series? You know, the one who got away and so now he’s a womanizing narcissist who can never love again, like Vesper and James Bond?”
“No. I am Marcus’s ex, but I’m a dead Whatcom County homicide detective.”
“Huh. Okay, then.”
And thus I found myself in the rather bizarre situation of experiencing the very experience I was writing about even as I was writing it:
“[Penelope] had appeared uninvited, like some of the characters in Lily’s novels who seemed to write themselves into the narrative, leaving her wondering where they had come from, what far recess of her mind had conjured up the apparition. Or the way a minor character, written in to bridge a gap or maybe create a red herring, would then take on a life of their own and become central to the plot. It was always a spooky feeling when such events occurred, and each time they did Lily would assign responsibility to her muse, yet this muse never had a name or even a face, was nothing more than a mechanism to explain the inexplicable.”
So the next time you’re reading a novel and imagining yourself in the story, or imagining the hero or heroine as a real person in your own life, ask yourself what if? What if he or she is real? What if your alleged fantasy life is actually taking place — but in another dimension? Would that make your dreams more real? More possible?
And while you’re reading a book, consider this: is it possible someone somewhere else is reading — or writing — about you?
About M. A. Demers
M. A. Demers is a writer, editor and self-publishing consultant with a diverse clientele as far away as Australia and Columbia. In 2011 she self-published her first novel, Baby Jane, followed by The Global Indie Author: Your Guide to the World of Self-Publishing, now in its third edition, and the concise To Kindle in Ten Steps: The Easy Way to Format, Create and Self-Publish an eBook on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The Point Between is her second novel. She lives near Vancouver, Canada.
There’s more to good and evil than meets the eye...
When human remains are found in her pre-war fixer-upper in an east Vancouver neighbourhood, Claire Dawson’s grand plans to fix the house—and her life—take a disturbing turn. Suspicious there might exist a relationship between the discovery and her own tragic past, Claire insinuates herself into the investigation, unknowingly placing herself in harm’s way and Homicide’s Detective Dylan Lewis in an impossible conflict of interest. And when Dylan’s grandmother, a Coast Salish medicine woman, wades into the mystery, challenging the demon whose earthly form is behind the murder, the three find themselves embroiled in a high-stakes battle where lines are blurred and worlds collide—but souls are ultimately freed.
It’s hard to tell fact from fiction, especially when you’re a ghost …
Bestselling mystery novelist Lily Harrington has been found hanging in her home in the tiny, oddball haven of Point Roberts, Washington, and all signs point to suicide. Worried the truth will be buried with her, Lily teams up with Marcus Mantova, the sexy detective of her novels, to influence the investigation and catch her killer. Yet no sooner has Lily come to terms with the existence of Marcus, the womanizing egomaniac she had thought a product of her imagination, than dead Whatcom County detective Penelope Winters also worms her way onto the case. Lies, frauds, and competing agendas take Lily on a roller-coaster ride over heaven and earth until, at last, she discovers the truth and another chance at life.