Sunday, April 25, 2010

Author Guest Post - Collin Kelley

Welcome to TNBBC's second Author Guest Post.

This blog comes to you from Collin Kelley, author of Conquering Venus, which was recently reviewed by yours truly. He has a beautiful blog that he updates regularly, and a gorgeous website for his novel. - both of which I encourage you to check out.

In this guest blog, Collin describes the dream-relationship between his two main characters, his reaction to rejection and advise during the editing phase of the novel, and synchronicity.

The Dreaming: Unconscious connections in Conquering Venus

By Collin Kelley

I began writing my debut novel, Conquering Venus, in 1995. While the plot was altered slightly over the course of nearly 15 years, the direction and motivation of the two main characters – Martin Paige and Irène Laureux – never wavered. These two very different people – a young American writer and an older Parisian widow – first meet in a series of lucid dreams.

Martin, who is traveling in Europe and mourning the suicide of his lover, feels that he is fated to meet Irène, an agoraphobic whose husband mysteriously died during the 1968 student/worker riots. As their proximity to each other increases, Martin and Irène’s unconscious visions begin to manifest as waking dreams. In the opening scene, they slip into trance like states and can see each other through mirrors, Martin in his London hotel room and Irène in her Paris apartment.

Magical realism – or paranormal, as one editor dubbed it in a rejection letter – is a connective tissue throughout the novel. Many editors who read the novel found the connection between Martin and Irène to unorthodox and unbelievable; they were unable to suspend their disbelief to see how this plot device could be part of “traditional” literary fiction. Obviously, they never bothered to read Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, which was an early inspiration for my incorporating magical realism into Conquering Venus.

I took the advice of many editors about plot, cutting pages, adding dialogue, but I refused to remove the dream sequences. Without them, there would be no novel. Martin and Irène would never meet. The Paris of Conquering Venus is grounded in reality; Irene’s recollections of the Nazi occupation and the 1968 riots are historical fiction, while the terrorist threat and bombings of the city’s Metro system in 1995 are also based on fact.

During those “real” moments, the fantastical is introduced in a straightforward way with no major build-up or unnecessary explanation. As the story progresses, Martin and Irène’s psychic link deepens to the point where they are sharing dreams and at one point encounter “ghosts” of people from their past who may or may not be alive.

The general, accepted thought is that dreams are simply manifestations of the chaotic mind trying to resolve worries and pressures of day-to-day living. As psychiatrist and dream analysis pioneer Carl Jung suggested, I believe dreaming taps into higher brain function that we have yet to comprehend. Is it so hard to believe, in this world full of unbelievable things, that two people cannot be psychically linked? Think of it as an extension of the ESP that twins share.

Past lives are also a major tenant of the story, and a medium suggests in a scene that Martin and Irène have known each other since time began and will be linked to each other forever. Many cultures and religions reject the belief of reincarnation, and dreams about past lives are considered just that – dreams.

The Aboriginal people in Australia believe in Dreamtime, where we exist on two parallel streams: one is the everyday life we lead and the other is a state called The Dreaming that is more real than reality itself. The chapter where Martin and Irène see each other in the mirror is called The Dreaming, so I will leave it up to the reader to decide if Conquering Venus is set in the "real world" or a parallel one.

Speaking of Jung, the relationship Martin and Irène share is a physical manifestation of his synchronicity theory. There is no real rhyme or reason to the experiences that Martin and Irène have shared, but they are not casual occurrences. There is a larger framework to how these complete strangers have lived similar lives, shared similar experiences and emotions, and have now come together at this moment in time.

Jung's favorite instance of synchronicity was in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass when the White Queen says to Alice, "It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” I’m working on the sequel to Conquering Venus now, and it that story Irène begins to dream backwards, and those dreams will finally lead her to the truth of how her husband died.

Several readers have asked if I will ever explain the dreams and links Martin and Irène share. The simple answer is no. As with many occurrences in real life, some things cannot be explained, and any attempt to do so would diminish the magic.

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