Where do you get your ideas?
That’s a question writers get asked all the time. Not me so much, because nobody knows who I am. Apparently, though, this is something non-writers are famously curious about their favorite authors.
For me, as probably for most writers, I’m sure there’s no single answer. Every project has its own origin story, most of them hopelessly convoluted and boring as hell to anyone but the writer who conceived it. I know these “making of” tales are boring because every time I’ve tried to explain my chain-of-inspiration process to my wife, she always gets that glazed, faraway look in her eyes. But the story behind the conception of my first to-be-published novel, “The Black Monkey,” is a little different. I think it’s noteworthy enough to talk about here. (And if you get that glazed look in your eyes, I won’t be able to see it.)
The story came to me in a dream.
That’s not completely unusual. Throughout my life, I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and dream-related phenomena, and have always been blessed with a very vivid dream-life. (With the associated curse of equally vivid nightmares.) Almost everything I’ve ever written has at least some connection to a dream I’ve had. Sometimes a plot point or a line of dialogue, but more usually just an image. “The Black Monkey,” though, came to me fully formed.
The “actual” dream was brief and very simple. Little more than an image itself. I saw a young African-American kid, about ten years old, alone in the woods on a cold pre-dawn morning. (This was a rare “third person” dream where I was not a participant within the dream, but rather watching from the outside.) The kid was terrified by something I could not see, something horrifying that was coming for him.
In the dream, I knew what was coming for the kid. I also knew that it was something he had created himself. I knew why he had created it. I even knew how.
I emerged from the dream into a very rare hypnopopic state. I was not fully awake, but I was completely lucid. In this semi-conscious state, the story assembled itself in my mind as vividly as if I watching a film. Like I was downloading it. Even in this state, I was aware that this was a story that I would eventually write. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my creative life.
This is the story I “received”: The children in a small Illinois town have gathered in the same harvested cornfield every Halloween night for longer than anyone can remember. Here they enact a strange ceremony in which a sock monkey is buried along with handfuls of sacrificial trick-or-treat candy. The ritual had become just an excuse for partying and making out, the true meaning long forgotten. But then the little town becomes the hunting ground of a monstrous serial killer who preys upon children. When the adults can’t catch the murderer, the children resort to the dark magic of the monkey.
The concept was spawned from such an obscure corner of my consciousness that it was almost as if it came from some alien place. To the point where I feel a little dishonest taking full credit for it. (I will cash the royalty checks, though.) To this day, I have been unable to duplicate the experience. If there was a pill or a supplement I could take to induce that state, I’d do so in a heartbeat. Yoga, hypnosis, trance meditation, whatever. Hell, I’d undergo electro-shock therapy or sacrifice hamsters under the full moon on the Feast of St. Crispin if I thought it would work.