Monday, August 30, 2010

Why do writers write?

You wake up one morning, excited by a dream. You recall brief glimpses into a strange underwater world where you can breathe water, and some oddly beautiful, non-human creature communicates with you telepathically.

Responding to psychic pleas, she entices you through an opening into a vast cavern. Water current builds around you, pulling you deeper into the sea cave, until you suddenly realize it is not a cave at all. You grab for weeds rooted to side walls but they tear free, quickly vanishing in a vortex of debris racing past into blackness beyond. With your last bit of strength, you manage to wrap your arms around an ancient rock protruding from the wall. Algae threatens your grip on the slick surface and your fingernails tear into your own flesh as you cling to that last anchor. Then, you wake up, heart pounding and bed sheets soaked in sweat.

What does a writer do? Grab a pen and pad.

Is this a mental illness? Surely normal people don't engage in such weird response to a nightmare. Sane people don’t grab a pen and begin expanding on bits and pieces of their underwater nightmare. They don't turn the sleep drama into an elaborate fantasy world where extraordinary things happen to ordinary people. What motivates fiction writers to create word images to strike fear, or build anxiety, or generate thrills for unknown future readers?

I confess. My imagination has always been extreme. I was four years old, living with my parents in family student housing at the University of Florida, when I woke up in a panic from a nap. Mother must have been out back hanging clothes, so I ran to the nearest neighbor’s house. “Jimmy fell in the gator pond and got grabbed!”

Running from neighbor to neighbor, I screamed about what I had just seen. My little playmate, Jimmy, had climbed over the fence around an old sinkhole, one where we often threw rocks at alligators and turtles basking in slimy green water. The banks of the sinkhole were particularly steep and Jimmy tumbled down until he splashed into the edge of the water. Ole One Eye, the biggest gator in the pond, lunged from the green depths, grabbing my friend and dragging him under.

Police, fire rescue and university officials rushed to the scene. Nobody could find Jimmy. His mother cried while strong men tore down a section of fence and prepared to slide an aluminum boat down the steep bank to start looking for Jimmy’s body. About this time, Jimmy and his daddy drove up having completed his father’s book search at the school library. Despite the proof of my own eyes, I never did accept that my vision of Jimmy being dragged under water was just a dream. I was destined to be a writer!