The Lake of Dreams: On Writing (and Dreaming)

John Gardner, whose novels and books on writing have been important to me as a writer and a teacher, talks about the need for the writer to enter the ‘fictive dream.’  I think what he means by this is that as writers we must create a world so convincing and compelling that we are able–and our readers will in turn be able–to remove ourselves the from the sensory world we inhabit to dwell for a time in the imagined world, instead. 

Writing isn’t exactly like dreaming, but it requires the same openness to surprises and the unexpected.  And stories, like dreams, grow from images and scraps of conversations overheard, from moments of inspiration and from details and fascinating facts that slowly accumulate.  I was still in graduate school when I went out to try and see Halley’s comet–a huge disappointment in 1986.  But driving home in my blue Nissan truck, the first vehicle I ever owned, I found myself fascinated by the comet, which returns every 76 years, once a generation, like clockwork.  I’d never see it again, but my descendents would.  My ancestors had.  What a good way to tie an intergenerational novel together, I remember thinking.  I made a note.  I read about comets, too.  The word comes from the Greek word kometes, meaning hair, in reference to the streaming tail of the comet as it travels through the sky.  I learned that in 1910, Halley’s comet was vivid and spectacular.  The earth passed through the comet’s tail that year, and many people thought it would be the end of the world.

I made more notes, collected other things–the history of the people and the land of the Finger Lakes, the mesmerizing arts of glass blowing and stained glass, the underlying structure of quest stories.  Gradually, over time, all these things and many others grew together, interweaving, and eventually transformed into The Lake of Dreams, a fictive dream, as Gardner calls it, a world I found so compelling that often, at the end of a writing day, I did not want to leave.

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