Dreaming the Dead

It was 1:37 AM when I woke up. It’s 1:48 AM right now, and I’m still shaky.

I dreamed I was visited by Jim Baen, and by someone speaking for him. I didn’t know his intermediary, but Jim Baen was my first publisher, and he taught me a huge amount about the business, and, frankly, I adored him. And then differences of opinion came between us, and I moved on. I tried to call him a few times–to find out how to make things right between us–but he would never take my calls.

And then he died, ending the chance that anything would ever be fixed between us.

I don’t dream the dead. In my memory, I spent some sleep time once with my grandmother after she died. And once, my Persian cat Fafhrd came to sit beside me in my dream. Neither of them did anything. Neither said anything. And in my entire life, those are the only two times before this has happened.

I dreamed Jim Baen. In my dream, Jim had come back to set things right between us. And he did it by telling his intermediary to tell me something to write, something “that you would love, that you would be passionate about.” Through his intermediary, he told me that if I wrote it, well, basically, we wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore.

The intermediary named Jim’s amount. It was big, but surprisingly plausible. I tried to ask Jim something, to speak to him directly, to make sure I understood.

The dead do not speak in my dreams. If if approached directly, apparently they vanish. In the dream, I crashed to the ground while trying to talk to him.

And then I woke up.

And I’m sitting here typing at this ludicrous hour of the morning with my pulse pounding, with my skin prickled, with my hands shaking. I had the idea in my head. No. Let me restate that. I have the idea in my head, and it’s incredible. Even now that I am awake, even now that I am rational, it is so good it is sucking the air from the room, making it hard for me to breathe. It’s an idea that I want to write even if it isn’t a gift from Jim Baen, the publisher I adored but with whom I did not end well, making his own amends for the way things ended.

It is rich, it is workable, it builds on something that I’d plunked around with and loved and then put away because I was doing contracted novels. Because now, you see, I’m not. I’m done with every book of every contract I had, and I’m working my ass off to put together enough money so that I’ll be able to write a couple of novels on spec (yes, this is the reason I’ve been sinking my entire life into the How to Think Sideways course and willingly putting in 70-hour weeks while completely ignoring my fiction since June). I’m buying myself time to write the books I want to write. The books of my heart. I thought I knew what those books would be.

And now…

And now…

Now I have dreamed the dead, and have been offered a freaking brilliant publishing insight from someone I tried so hard to fix things with, and have dreamed that this was the olive branch between us, and dammit, the other thing I was writing was good. But this is better. This is SO much better, and it’s fantasy. And even if the amount of money his intermediary told me it would make was a dream, and even if the gesture of the olive branch was a dream, and even if …

Shit. Tears in my eyes. Tears running down my cheeks. And this incredible idea.

I do not dream the dead. But tonight I did. Tonight I did. And whether it was real or not, or whether it was a metaphor, or my subconscious mind trying to fix the thing that could not be fixed between me and a man who was a wonderful mentor before things went wrong, I think I’m going to listen.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and indie-publish my new ones.

29 comments… add one
  • Jenya Nov 5, 2008 @ 14:54

    I am writing this thing which gets bigger and bigger, and it is about visiting with the dead… actually, unborn. And it came out of essay, and then it is in pieces on my computer. In my mind it is rumbling and fuzzy and clumzy and too big… But that is not the only problem. It is in Russian (I live in US). It is not the only thing I write at the moment. I have my novel that was shortlisted but never published (I’d like to edit it, maybe rewrite :((). I am writing another big something about two women-writers and a ghost lover, and it is not formed in my mind. This piece is more of a feeling than plan or anything else. I am also trying to edit another story that is translated (rewritten) into English and would like to submit it. I might have ADD or something :). In fact, I have a full time job and a half, teenager in college, family, house… Where did I get lost? ๐Ÿ™‚ And how do you schlep between stories and facts of life?

  • belle Nov 3, 2008 @ 11:43

    There seem to be 4 major elements to the dream.
    -the intermediary
    -the story idea

    There may be more elements that you will realize later, like directional, or color, or power source, or time of year, or an emotion, or . If any of these come up, you might put a symbol of that item in your workspace for a while, just to keep the good energy going.

    If you view each element separately, and who you are to the element, even AS that element, you might learn alot about yourself and the story idea.

    What I do when I have a powerful dream, is that I continue to process it afterward, sometimes in another dream, sometimes in meditation.

    You might
    -thank Jim for his presence and let him know you want to make things right with him, or imagine yourself as Jim and what he/you might have been feeling, past and present
    -Intermediary, thank her/him/it and let him/her/it know you are listening. Then DO it, this intermediary might become a regular.
    -You, I cannot assume to know what you might want to say to yourself.
    -The idea, its a gift, open it, use it, honor it, go for it.

    Very cool experience, thanks for sharing it.

  • Tom Ballachino Nov 2, 2008 @ 17:37

    I don’t believe in the dead, per se. I believe when we leave this particular “reality” (and I think this reality is just a trick of our flawed three-dimensional perceptions in an n-dimensional universe) that we hopefully enter a place of penance and service (Purgatory) or a place of peace and service (Heaven) and we still care to heal and care for those we loved in life. I have experienced regrets at outbursts of anger or sullenness that I could not confess to in life, and I regret that I didn’t have the strength to ask forgiveness or to at least express regret at my words.

    In the next life, I believe we are given the chance to purge ourselves of these regretful actions, and I believe sincerely that you have been given the chance to accept an apology. It is a gift to him to accept, and a gift to you to know you are loved by one who you had thought lost.

    I know it’s my hope that someday I can purge myself of the bad things I have done and move on. I think that you have helped another to do just that. Whatever happens in your earthly goals, you and he are both one step closer to the Answer, whatever you believe that to be.

  • cathrene Nov 1, 2008 @ 16:30

    I’ve only been reading your blog for less than a year, Holly, but you’re a very passionate person, and I’ve learned loads of stuff from your workshops. It’s wise to pay attention to your dreams and to your heart. Whatever this project is… find a way to do it. If there is anyway your readers can help you in any way, please let us know.

  • hearwritenow Oct 29, 2008 @ 23:44

    It sounds awesome Holly! I hope you have a huge amount of fun writing this, first of all, and that it becomes as successful as it sounds.

  • remarkablyraven Oct 28, 2008 @ 22:36

    Seriously, I have goosebumps! What an incredible gift! I hope you spent the day writing, plotting and squealing with happy glee!


  • madcapmaggie Oct 28, 2008 @ 15:02

    I vote for it really being Jim Baen.

    Go for it.

  • Bettye Oct 28, 2008 @ 14:52

    My viewpoint? Whether it really was Jim Baen or your subconcious talking to you, I think this is something you MUST do. Good luck and good writing. I look forward to the results.

  • arrvee Oct 28, 2008 @ 14:38

    You must do this book. You must. Not just because we all want to read it, but because it is the right thing for you. Get finished with Think Sideways and get to work on writing your heart out.

  • WanderingAuthor Oct 28, 2008 @ 14:37

    Holly, I’d stay out of this normally, but in your newsletter you actually asked what we’d do. Although I make no claim to be infallible, this is my honest opinion, the best my understanding is capable of.

    I don’t normally dream of dead people either, but I’m one of those annoyingly analytical types. In my experience, some dreams are the result of your mind’s efforts to tell you something you aren’t listening to. You had other ideas planned, and this great idea was buried in your mind, ignored. So your mind used a painful incident from your past to ensure you’d pay attention. That’s what I’d say happened, and I’m sure the idea is a great one. You’re a good writer, with great ideas. So if your instincts tell you to go ahead, I’d say the idea is well worth pursuing.

    As for the other aspects of your dream, first, I understand just how painful a situation like that can be. My best friend died in high school, just hours after he’d fought with me over something I had no choice in (we were side by side in class, talking – I was told by a teacher to move or go to the office). In such a situation, the human mind is also desperate for closure. Being economical, it sought to accomplish that, as well, while getting your attention.

    It is very tempting to believe more than that – and I’ve had at least two experiences I can’t explain away rationally, so I won’t claim everything can be dismissed so easily. But those experiences also taught me another lesson – there are things we can’t and don’t understand – but, precisely because we don’t understand them, we can’t trust them. We have no way of knowing what is real and what is misleading. So I would be very careful to set aside in my mind the feelings of amazement and awe, to make any judgment unaffected by those emotions or by any assumption this was a real visit with the purpose of giving you valuable advice.

    I’m not trying to attack anyone else – I respect their right to their own beliefs. This is simply my advice, from my own experience.

  • haarajot Oct 28, 2008 @ 14:33

    What I already know about your book is whom you dedicate it to!

    One definitely does not need pagan influences to believe this can happen to you. As you said, ‘And whether it was real or not, or whether it was a metaphor, or my subconscious mind trying to fix the thing that could not be fixed between me and a man who was a wonderful mentor before things went wrong, I think Iรขโ‚ฌโ„ขm going to listen.’

  • Lenneth Oct 28, 2008 @ 14:13

    Holly, this is a wonderful story and I’ve been thinking about it since I read it late last night. As a Christian, I believe God can permit the dead to communicate to us in our dreams (because they are really still alive) or at the very least, use their familiar images to get through to us powerfully, at any time of year. ๐Ÿ™‚ Something similar to this happened to me a few springtimes ago, and though I didn’t get an actual story idea, I got the encouragement to keep working hard at my writing, and a sense of reconciliation with the person, who I dreamed sent me a parcel from Hawaii (you know, “Paradise”, lol).

    Go for it, Holly! I’m excited for you! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • bspvirgo Oct 28, 2008 @ 12:08

    You must honor the dead. Even if it is just your muse playing a dirty trick to get your attention (my interpretation of the dream is that the unnamed intermediary was in fact, your muse). Either way, you have to do it.

  • Denise Oct 28, 2008 @ 10:19


    When one passes over, there is a review of life issues. Actually, this can also happen in the last few days before death. (Read Into the Light by John Lerman, M.D., for a good understanding of what happens. It will leave you amazed, in wonder, and can change your world.)

    Your friend and editor carried a regret. He knew his actions carried detriment to you, and he knew–at the time he did it–that he was in error and was making the wrong decision for the wrong reason.

    He wants to make amends. He wants to set things right. His ‘guide’ was there to help communicate with you, and to add credence to the message because if he alone had arrived in your dream, you would have been more apt to label it ‘just a dream.’

    The message is there for you to follow. All he can do is give. It is up to you to unwrap the gift. He admires you so, believes in you, knows you can do it, and wants you to do something that he blocked you from doing when he was here.

    He always respected your creativity. When you wanted to spread your wings a bit more, and become stronger in your insistance to be YOU, he resented the loss of power over you, and so blocked you, to keep you ‘under his wing.’ He knows that his actions were more for him, his sense of power, his ego need to be ‘in charge.’ So, now, he wants to make amends because he can see, from where he is, that his decision was based on frivolous personal need.

    Does this make sense to you? Write your outline, its a go.


  • Texanne Oct 28, 2008 @ 10:12

    I’m very happy for you. In my Christian faith, we believe that people continue to grow and learn even after “death.” Looks like your friend Jim has done some of that. If it gives you goosebumps, write it.

    And I don’t know much about the pre-Judeo-Christian faiths, but late September through late October are always big re-beginnings for me. I don’t even think of January as the new year any more.

    I’m so happy for you.

  • alisons Oct 28, 2008 @ 9:41

    It comes now, when you’re 2/3 of the way through writing the course and so must be beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and in the dark days before Halloween? Go for it. How can you do otherwise? If you didn’t, you’d always wish you had – and you’ve set yourself up for it by putting so much effort into the course. Very best wishes to you.

  • Sue L Oct 28, 2008 @ 8:41

    I believe.

    …and I can’t wait to see this book.

  • Bethanie Oct 28, 2008 @ 8:29

    Goosebumps, goosebumps…. I’m still shaking them off from reading this post. At the very least, it seems like your subconscious is begging you to get back to writing fiction! ๐Ÿ™‚ Think Sideways rocks – the effort you’ve been putting into it really shows – and after you’ve invested so much in helping other writers follow their dreams, I really, truly hope it enables you to follow yours (in this case, quite literally!).

  • davidstone Oct 28, 2008 @ 5:02

    Gifts are gifts, wherever they come from, however they arrive. I’ve had some of my best ideas through dreams – although never in this way.
    If it’s an idea that gets you out of bed, that hits you in the guts, that makes you burn to write it, then go with it all the way.

    Good luck!

  • Lily Munster Oct 28, 2008 @ 2:25

    Wow. I actually cried reading this. Perhaps it’s that time of year…
    I believe, like others have stated, that this time of year is a very magical time and there is a veil between the otherworld… and right now it is very thin.
    Also, it is a new moon.
    I just have to say that I also had some very strong, real, and powerful dreams last night. I can’t describe it, but your explanation of your amazing dream brought back memories of my own dream.
    I’m just finding once again, and eerily, how all things are connected.

    Anyway I am so happy that you were able to have this dream. I already know this story is amazing.

  • Kyralae Oct 28, 2008 @ 2:14

    I’m with some of the pagan influenced types here and believer that your message was just that. A message. You won’t get a face to face discussion to fix what went wrong between you and Mr. Baen but you are being offered a story from someone that once thought highly of you and mentored you when you were starting out. Accept it as a gift and run with it. It’s exciting and comes at a time of year when I sincerely believe those that have passed on do make contact in various ways. Your life is writing and you have been offered a gift in tune with your life. Hug it and nurture it into what might just be your most exciting story yet.

    And, thank you for sharing your feelins and your wisdom. I’m a student in your Think Sideways and am loving every minute of it.

  • Terculum Oct 27, 2008 @ 21:07

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, but haven’t posted very much. I just wanted to say that that’s a really incredible story. Spooky but incredible. I wish something like that would happen to me. Run with it.

  • anders Oct 27, 2008 @ 20:56

    Which isn’t to say I haven’t ALSO been variously laughing, blinking back tears, grinning loonily, softly muttering “Yes!”, and reacting in dozens of other different ways, at dozens and dozens of different points throughout following Pocket Full of Words and its predecessors. You put your breath and your fire and your life into this blog, like you do into your fiction, and it shows.

  • anders Oct 27, 2008 @ 20:53

    This is one of the most striking entries I’ve read in your blog, which I’ve been following more or less daily for the past three years or so. I’m bookmarking it. It’s a wonderful change of pace from daily Twitter updates.

  • tambo Oct 27, 2008 @ 17:10

    You must listen.

    Congratulations. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jess Oct 27, 2008 @ 16:16

    Creepy to me in a different way: I had a random snippet of premise the other day, nothing concrete, just a fleeting thought that melted back into my mind… this morning I saw my husband off to work, went back to bed, started to fall asleep and then bolted upright with an entire premise and subplots and people bloating my head. I tried to go back to sleep but I had to get up and type out at least the synopsis. I had to get ready for work and so I’m itching to get home and start notecarding it. I don’t get lightning bolt struck by entire novels. I never have, especially not when I’m trying to sleep. But this one is practically whole, and what’s there is SOLID like a a rock. So what makes me creeped out by your story is that it’s apparently an epidemic of sorts, even though a good kind…. ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Noxi Oct 27, 2008 @ 11:31

    I agee with Peacehheather put out an extra plate for him, you never know he just might take you up opn the invite. One does not dream the dead lightly. there is awlays a message there. My gut feeling says go for it ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • peaceheather Oct 27, 2008 @ 10:00

    Well… all I can say is, it’s the right time of year. Us pagan types believe that the “veil” between this world and the next is at its thinnest right about now, which is where Halloween originated.

    On Halloween night, if you’re willing, it would be nice to set out an extra plate at the dinner table for Jim, and maybe any other beloved dead that you’d like to invite to join you.

    I can feel the energy and intensity and awe in you, coming through in this post. PLEASE, go for it.

  • TinaK Oct 27, 2008 @ 7:40

    God Holly – I got goosebumps reading this. Write it. I so miss you wildly excited about writing. Things like this don’t happen for no reason.

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