I tend to write about technology that scares me. Implanted microchips fit the bill… there are all kinds of things that can go wrong – horribly wrong – with subdermal electronic devices. My novel-length writing explores the darkest corners of my imagination, the terrors that await a future world where brain implants and subdermal ID chips are the norm.
I pray we never live in such a world. But if it does happen, I’d have to find a few perks to get me through the existential horror of it all. So here’s the third thing I would do,
IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT….
I would record my dreams.
Dreams are like candy for writers. Dreaming is a no-stress source for weird ideas, fantastical worlds, surrealistic nightmares, vivid characters, and heart-stopping terror. Writing ideas abound in the dream world. Many successful writers got ideas from their dreams, including horror masters Stephen King and Mary Shelley. Even The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by a dream, a neurological state that Stevenson described as ”that small theater of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night long.”
But how often have we forgotten our dreams? How often have we woken up in the middle of the night, haunted by the most sublime dreamscape, certain we’ll remember it in the morning, and yet dawn brings the dreaded amnesia? Then it becomes merely a faint memory, a feeling, with no concrete words to describe it. Lost. Forever.
If I had a brain implant, I’d program it to digitally record my dreams. The pictures. The sound. The emotions evoked. The fear, joy, pain, sorrow, desire. The sheer impossibility. The longing. The bliss.
Then I’d send the dream to a word document and write a story around it. I’d never run out of ideas. Never hit writers block. Never have a dry spell. My stories would literally write themselves overnight.
Of course, there’s always the chance that someone would hack into my dreamscape and alter my subconscious thoughts. Fans of the movie “Inception” remember the concept of shared dreaming – two or more sleeping dreamers who can change aspects of the dream to achieve a certain result. But dream hacking is a frightening thought that’s best left to novels and screenplays.
If I had a brain implant, I wouldn’t use it for anything dark or nefarious like the characters in my books. Instead, I’d sync it to my coffeemaker for fresh coffee every morning when I woke up. Then in the day, I’d use it to perfectly match my music with my mood. Finally, I’d record my dreams for writing inspiration.
You know, the fun stuff. Basic. Simple.
The stuff of dreams.
(This concludes my series, If I Had a Brain Implant…)
There are an infinite number of possibilities with cybernetic characters, and every writer has their own version. The CBS series Intelligence (loosely based on John Dixon’s new release Phoenix Island) features a government agent with a neural implant that connects him to the global information grid. The new FOX series Almost Human pairs an enhanced cop with an android partner, and the long-running NBC comedy Chuck takes a more humorous approach.
And then there’s Descartes’ Discourse on the Method from 1638. Bet you didn’t know that Descartes wrote about cybernetics, did you? I wonder what he’d say about today’s tech options. “I post on FB; therefore I am” or “When it is not in our power to determine what is true, we ought to follow what is most retweeted.”
Okay, that train of thought might end up in a different blog post. But for now, here’s the second thing I would do,
IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT….
I would match my music with my mood.
I like music. All kinds. For writing. For cleaning the kitchen. For driving through the massive amounts of construction and traffic near my home. The only trouble is that I’m not consistent with the style of music I want to hear at any given time. If I’m feeling tired, I might listen to upbeat dance music. If I’m in a deep frame of mind, I might appreciate some alternative rock like Flyleaf and Evanescence. Sometimes I use music to complement a mood, other times I use it to counteract one.
Clearly a brain implant would be helpful.
If I had a brain implant, it would analyze my neurological patterns and learn which types of music fit each of my many moods. Then it would sync to the correct playlist automatically. No more skipping songs on Pandora. No more flipping through the radio stations in the car, trying to land on the right one. My brain implant would just know.
Some research even suggests that music can treat and/or prevent depression, autism, stroke, Parkinson’s and other disorders. But let’s take it a step further: Imagine a brain implant programmed to detect neurological diseases early and adjust music therapy accordingly. Early disease detection and prevention? Sounds good to me. No medications. No annoying side-effects.
Just oh, you know… a tiny computer wired INTO YOUR BRAIN.
Would you do it?
I write sci-fi thrillers about cyborgs with brain implants. I just finished the first draft of my second novel, and it is my darkest writing to date. There’s blood. And gore. And all kinds of cyborg programming gone awry. So as I begin the revision process in the New Year, I thought it would be fun to lighten things up with a new blog series.
IF I HAD A BRAIN IMPLANT…
I would sync it to the coffeemaker.
Coffee is a morning necessity for me. There are some days when I don’t even trust myself to drive to Starbucks unless I’ve already enjoyed a cup or two at home. And while I have a decent programmable coffeemaker, it isn’t good enough. It could be better. WAY better.
If I had a brain implant, I would program it to notify the coffeemaker when I wake up. My brain implant would be able to read my brain waves. It would learn my sleep patterns and would detect the difference between sort-of awake, and definitely awake. No more setting the clock the night before. No more broken late-night promises that tomorrow will be the morning I get up – really get up – when the first drip of java hits the carafe. No more tar-thick brew at the bottom of the carafe when I finally stumble out of bed.
Picture it with me… there would be fresh coffee even on those holiday mornings when you hit snooze twenty-three times and sleep way past the coffee timer. Or when your children keep you up half the night. Or when your dog won’t stop barking at the goats (but then again… maybe that’s just me).
I’m sure there are more practical and beneficial uses for brain implants. But teaching my coffeemaker to read my mind is at the top of my list.
Stay tuned for the second thing I would do, if I had a brain implant…
There comes a point in the writing process when things become insanely clear. Granted, the words and sentences might be muddled. The manuscript itself may remain half a dozen revisions away from anything even resembling clarity. But don’t let those minor details distract you. There is something that happens toward the end of writing a novel that I’ve decided to call a PLOT ICICLE.
A plot icicle is gorgeous. Let me explain how it works.
It needs a supporting structure. This is the original outline you crafted at the beginning of the writing process. Without the structure, there is no icicle. But don’t be alarmed when the plot starts dripping away from your outline. This is the beginning of the plot icicle.
There is a melting and refreezing process. Writing a novel isn’t easy. Your brain will melt and refreeze repeatedly. It’s okay… something beautiful is growing. You’ll see.
It gets bigger with time and emotion. Robert Frost famously said, “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” The more you put into your novel, the larger a plot icicle grows.
It becomes sharp. During icicle formation, water drips down the existing icicle and gathers at the tip, rounding off until it freezes. But when the water stops dripping and freezes solid, it becomes deadly sharp. Every writer who has that “a-ha” moment about their plot has experienced this. A sharp, piercing sense that the plot has come of age.
It is crystal clear. Again, ignore the messy draft. You can fix those details in the revision. But when a plot icicle happens, step back to marvel at the beauty of it. You know what’s going to happen. Just you. It is your novel, your outline, your characters. Your time. Your tears. Your research. Your joy and heartache, crystallized and shiny. Savor the moment.
It will break off. God willing, you will eventually finish that novel. Then comes the revision process. This is like breaking all the icicles off a house and seeing which ones shatter into splinters and which ones stay whole. Get ready for it. Brace yourself. If you can write a whole novel, you can certainly handle a revision or two… or twelve.
Don’t even get me started on the querying process. That’s like summer in Death Valley.
For now, just enjoy the icicle. It is beautiful, rare, and transient.
(Disclaimer: There is a minor possibility that a monster early-season ice storm contributed to the ideas in this post.)
Those of you who know me in real life have seen me around town. At church. The store. We’ve talked, laughed, shared meals together. But part of my mind, the deep and introspective part, remained in the cave even as we spoke. Figuratively held hostage by the unwritten book inside. Pondering words. Planning the next scene. Weighing dialogue. Writing in my head. Always. Writing.
It must come out.
Today I’m at 63,000 words. Tomorrow I hope to be at 65,000. It’s going fast now… much faster than the first half of the book. The characters drive the action, and I’m breathless to see how a scene ends. I want to write all day but it drains me, so I write in an ebb-and-flow pattern fueled by regular activities and lots of coffee.
I would write all night, but I’ve learned that sleep is a necessity. I limit myself, try to stay balanced. The writing cave has windows for a reason, because without fresh air and relationships the writer will stagnate, suffocate, go under.
It’s the best kind of cave. And yet I’m ready to finish. So ready. The story? Almost excavated, almost fleshed out.
Until… The. End.
Then I’ll throw open the door of the writing cave, tell the sentries to go home, stretch my legs. Take a breath. Rest a while. And I’ll need the rest. Man, will I need it. To recharge. Refuel.
And prepare myself for what comes next.
Here’s my short story, UPGRADE, that I’m thrilled to announce just won the grand prize in the DFW Writers’ Conference “Fire and Ash” Contest. DFWCon is one of the best writers’ conferences around. Interesting people, great classes, ample networking opportunities, and yes – FUN CONTESTS. Thank you, DFWCon and Jonathan Maberry, for this cool opportunity to develop our craft.
We live in the country. Sometimes it’s terrific, like when we play ball as a family in the front field or have friends over for do-it-yourself fireworks on the 4th of July. Other times it’s not so great. Like when one of our pet goats becomes dinner for bobcats and scavengers.
Messy things happen in the country. Brutal things.
When my kids were younger, we read a couple funny books about goats. One of them, Gregory, the Terrible Eater, was about a young goat who would rather eat nutritious people food than the junkyard trash his parents forced on him. And the other one – a Norwegian fairy tale called The Three Billy Goats Gruff – is a classic, though I would probably categorize it as children’s horror.
“Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling-stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones.”
That was what the big billy goat said. And then he flew at the troll, and poked his eyes out with his horns… and after that he went up to the hillside. There the billy goats got so fat they were scarcely able to walk home again.
(Yes, I read this out loud to my young children. I will completely understand if you unsubscribe from this blog and call CPS.)
Our billy goat, however, was not so lucky. By the time we found him in the back woods, nature had mostly taken care of his bits, body and bones.
Life is brutal.
As writers, we cannot shy away from the dark realities of life. Sometimes we need to write fun pieces like Gregory, the Terrible Eater. Truth can be found in this kind of humor, especially for parents of picky eaters.
But often we need to write more like The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Because even children can sense trolls and bobcats under the bridge, waiting to gobble us up.
“Snip, snap, snout.
This tale’s told out.”