Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday's Book About Books, Authors On Authors: Writer's Dreaming ed. by Naomi Epel

Writers Dreaming edited by Naomi Epel, Carol Southern Books, New York, NY 1993.
This is an antholgy of 26 writers discussing the nature of dreams and the degree of impact dreams have upon their work.  This was published way back in 1993 and is now out-of-print and not that easy to find for less than $35.00.  Babies born that year have already graduated from high school.

You'd be surprised how many authors use their dreams in their writing, and at how forthcoming they are about it as well.  The authors are:  Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Clive Barker, John Barth, Richard Ford, Sue Grafton, Spalding Gray, Allan Gurganus, James W. Hall, Charles Johnson, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Leonard Michaels, Bharati Mukherjee, Gloria Naylor, John Nichols, Jack Prelutsky, Reynolds Price, Anne Rice, John Sayles, Maurice Sendak, Anne Rivers Siddons, Art Spiegelman, Robert Stone, William Styron, and Amy Tan.

The first edition hardcover has 288 pages plus a comprehensive index.  There are pictures of every author, and a picture of Naomi Epel on the dustjacket flap.

Sue Grafton, then early in the alphabet, had only had a touch of gray in her hair.  Her contribution on her dreams runs fifteen pages.  Like many others here, she says that whenever she reaches a point in her writing when she is blocked and has a problem she can't solve, she gives herself a suggestion and sleeps on it, and when she wakes a solution appears.

"If I am very blocked or very confused or frustrated I will drink coffee late in the day, knowing that it's going to wake me up in the dead of night.  So I get to sleep perfectly soundly and then, at three a. m., when the left brain is tucked away, not being vigilant, right brain comes out to play and helps me."

She says she writes letters to the right brain all the time, and includes an example.  She says that if you are honest and use it all, holding nothing back, "the water will soon be replenished."

Sue Grafton has a mystical side and meditates, and in here she tells a personal ghost story.  She's not all that certain of the validity of this belief system, but she is certain that it works.

Robert Stone, the author of many fine novels and a solid memoir, then the winner of the National Book Award for Dog Soldiers, also says that dreams are very important to his work.  "The process of creating is related to the process of dreaming, although when you are writing you're doing it and when you're dreaming it's doing you."

"I'm experiencing something that maybe is below the level of language, or prelinguistic, but I'm giving it an expression that is language."

Robert Stone, a former sailor, says that often his dreams involve the ocean, often finding himself on it or in it, often alone or alienated on shore.  He cites several specific dreams and shows how they were reworked into his novels.  Stone's early memoir, Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties, was published in 2007, and I hope more of his memoirs will be published.  He is an interesting man.

One of the more interesting contributions here is from secular buddhist Charles Johnson, winner of the National Book Award in 1991 for his novel, Middle Passage.  Here he details how images from his dreams played significant roles in turning the rough manuscript into a major literary work:

"And sometimes one of those images resonates on more than one level.  Even the ship itself, the Republic.  From research I found what those ships were like and how the water would tear them apart, and how the sailors had to rebuild the ship.  That's why they had carpenters on board.  Everybody had to be able to help in chores other than the one that they had signed on for.  And it suddenly hit me, this is a process."

"And on top of that, since I'd named it the Republic, that meant, okay, that the government institution that we live under is also similar, being rebuilt and torn apart from day to day.  So the specifics of the ship became, then, this other metaphor for politics.  That's what I'm always looking for when I'm writing.  I'm looking for different levels of meaning."

"The name Republic was there from the very first paragraph.  That's all I had in the beginning. . .I didn't know until later that I would use that Republic to represent the ship of state."  Johnson says that the story kept opening up in ways that weren't initially clear on a conscious level.  "Part of it is mysterious.  As you go along, the job for the writer is to clear up the mystery."

Just this week, I read a new essay by Charles Johnson, now a professor emeritus at the University of Washington, in the current issue of the Shambhala Sun, about his new music-loving neighbors but also featuring his wife and his dog and the wisdom of his years.  I hope he'll be publishing a memoir soon too. 
Not every author in Naomi Epel's anthology believes in their dreams.  Richard Ford, award-winning author of  The Sportswriter: Bascombe Trilogy and other books, does not.  In fact, his contribution trashes the value of the rest of the Writers Dreaming book, saying that he ignores dreams entirely, that he considers them irrelevant junk along with metaphors at large, that metaphors just get in the way of the actual, the material, "the real."

I've read a couple of Richard Ford's early novels and found them promising if superficial.  And I can now better see where he's coming from.

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