With my newest novel, ‘The Second Star’, now out in the world, I look back in wonder at how it all came about. It started with a fragment of a dream …
My dreams are usually rich, lush and complex. A number of times I’ve ‘serial dreamed’ something longer – a story that starts on one night, finds itself too long and complicated to conclude in one sitting, breaks at a convenient point, and picks up where it left off when next my sleeping brain flips that switch.
When I tell my dreams to my husband in the mornings, he often mutters “That’s a STORY.” In fact, some of these dreams have become short stories and even novels.
Then there are the fragments, the stuff that washes up tantalizingly as flotsam and jetsam on the shores of coming awake just as the dream peels away and most of the substance of it is lost
One such fragment lay glittering on that shore one morning – a single sentence – completely unattached to anything else: ‘A SOUL IS LIKE A STARFISH.’
I didn’t know any more about it at that moment, just the nebulous idea behind it – the fact that if you ripped a leg off a starfish it would regenerate a new one. But what’s this soul idea and how does it connect?
I worried at it for several days and gradually realized that the underlying idea behind this fragment of a thought seemed to be rooted in the realm of what was once popularly known as multiple personalities.
Now called ‘dissociative identity disorder’, it is characterized by a person’s core identity fragmenting into two or more – very often a LOT more – distinct personality states. It usually involves individuals who have been the victims of severe abuse, particularly when they were very young. It’s a defensive mechanism which offers a way of surviving the unsurvivable.
It has always been an interesting study, because so much of what happens in the human mind is still a matter of conjecture and our best guess. But this was the underlying basis of the story that was being shaped here. This was the first piece of grit in the story oyster, the first thin layer of story nacre around it. However, my personalities did not arise out of an abuse situation.
In my story, as I quickly found out, I had six crew members of the Earth’s first starship who had disappeared shortly after beginning their journey. The starship had been lost for nearly two centuries. When it was discovered again and brought home, the crew were not only still alive, they were only a handful of years older than they had been when they set out because of quantum physics shenanigans.
But the biggest problem was that while six people had set out, more than seventy returned.
SOMETHING HAD HAPPENED out there. Something bad enough to literally fracture six sane human beings, professionals at their jobs, educated, stable, grounded, into psychological smithereens.
The next layer of nacre kicked in. The fracturing event… was devastating to the six crew members. But they were also holding a deeper secret, one that they were desperate to protect. It was something that the team sent to work with them, psychologist Stella Froud and Jesuit priest Father Philip Carter, began to uncover, piece by piece. The more they found out the more peril everyone was in.
The third layer of nacre finally gave me my title, and the shattering center to the story.
All of this took several days, discussions in which I would constantly sit up wide-eyed and say to my long-suffering husband, “But WHAT IF…” and we’d be off to the races again, down twisty corridors and barely skidding on ledges before going off a cliff, with the characters who stepped up to populate this story becoming ever more complex, more real, more human, and more… many other things.
This ended up being a book about star voyages. About going away, and coming home again, and whether that is even really ever possible. About what hides inside people. About what people are willing to believe, and to endure for the sake of that belief. About friendship. About honor. About love. About compassion. About triumph and tragedy. About choices.
And over and above it all, now deep inside that pearl, there was that sentence of flotsam, lying on the edge of deep waters, glittering in the morning light: A SOUL IS LIKE A STARFISH.
I didn’t know what it meant, not really, when I picked it up and tried to understand.
But I do now.
And if you pick up “The Second Star,” so will you.
Follow me, into dream country. Let’s walk together under the stars, and see what dreams may come.
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