Sunday, March 28, 2010


By Lisabet Sarai

They're coming. I've locked the windows and the doors, but I know that won't keep them out indefinitely. Now I'm on the second floor, with no way to escape. I hear the squeal of the wooden front door being torn apart. Where can I hide? In the bathroom there's a cupboard under the sink, with a louvered door. I squeeze myself into the cramped space, close the door, hold my breath. Footsteps on the stairs. Shadows cast against the barred light that enters my place of concealment. My chest hurts; I must release the air trapped in my lungs. I allow myself to exhale, as slowly and quietly as I can. They've left the bathroom now and they're checking the closets. Maybe I'll be safe after all. Then the cabinet is thrown open and I'm dragged out, screaming, to stand before their leader.

Who are they, these invaders? Sometimes they are vampires, sometimes aliens or zombies, sometimes a cult of evil witches and sorcerers—always creatures with power. They are often fiendishly attractive, hardly ever physical monsters. Yet I know that they'll kill me, though I'm never sure why.

Just like my other dreams, my nightmares have elaborate plots. The motivations, though, are hardly ever clear. The only certainty in these dreams is fear.

Sometimes I try to negotiate with the leader, to bargain for my life. Sometimes I wake up just as I am dying. The worst dreams, though, are the ones where I discover I'm holding a knife or a sword, and plunge it into the villain's body, again and again. Then I awaken, drenched with sweat, my heart racing, trying to wipe the images from my mind. The most awful nightmares are the ones where I find myself turning into the evil one.

I shudder when I think about the sensations, the yielding of the monster's flesh as my blade enters. How do I know what this feels like? I've never stabbed anyone, but in my dream I don't hesitate at all. I can't get the scene out of my thoughts. I get up, use the bathroom, drink some water, trying to banish the taint of violence. Sometimes I'm successful, but the doubts linger. Am I really capable of such acts? Could I mortally wound someone under the right circumstances? If not, then why do I dream it?

In the real world, I consider myself a peacemaker. I dislike confrontation. I'm willing to compromise for the sake of mutual harmony. I consider most if not all wars unjust. I demonstrated against the Vietnam war and the invasion of Iraq. I strongly believe that violence is counter-productive, that it merely breeds more violence in a vicious circle of retribution. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and the Dalai Lama are my heroes.

So what does it mean that I sometimes dream of wielding a knife against an enemy?

Unlike many romance authors, I've never created a warrior hero. A few of my books, notably Exposure and Necessary Madness, include some violence—murders, beatings, arson, attempted rape. After all, it's difficult to write a thriller without some spilling some blood. I'm never all that comfortable writing about these topics, however, and I don't think that I do it very well. When I wrote Exposure, I worried that it was unacceptably dark; reviewers, though, seemed to see it as almost a romp.

I've mentioned in previous posts that I occasionally use my dreams as starting points for my stories. I wonder if I could harness my nightmares in the same way. Horror is a genre that I find totally beyond my understanding (other than at the level of parody). Dark erotica, however, like the work of Helen Madden or Polly Frost, is a sub-genre that I appreciate even though I've never been able to create it myself. Perhaps I could use my own dark dreams as a starting point. I should mention that in the recurring nightmare above, my negotiation is sometimes sexual. I'll offer myself for the pleasure of the evil crowd, in return for my survival.

The scenario above is not, of course, my only nightmare. I dream of elevator cables suddenly giving way (the classic dream of falling); of fat, chitinous bugs crawling out from the walls and across my skin; of losing my husband and having no idea where he is or how to contact him. The experience of assaulting my enemy is the most disturbing, though. I'd like to believe that's not me—but how can I disavow any of the images concocted by my mind?

For our Saturday guest, I've invited Kim Richards, horror author and founder of Damnation Books, to join us. Meanwhile, I'm understandably curious about the nightmares of my fellow Grip authors—and of our readers.


  1. Hi Lisabet
    Like you, my dreams are often filled with violence, and in my case, blood. If people aren't trying to kill me, they're trying to kill people I care about. I can only imagine what that says about my psychological state ;) but they rarely frighten me.

    I do dream about strange creatures, and I've mined those pretty thoroughly for the futuristics and paranormals that I'm working on.

    As for actually scaring me, the only dream that's really done that was a very vivid one where I knew someone was in the house while I was alone.

  2. I'm just relieved to know I'm not the only one who is horrified by the violent nightmares that manage to manifest in my mind. I try to avoid confrontation as much as possible and it bothers me to think that I could harm someone, even in my dreams.

  3. For me, the most disturbing are those that twist reality only slightly. The more far out it is, the less I am involved and usually force myself awake before it develops any real threat.
    Not surprisingly, that's the way I write as well, even when writing speculative fiction, like the series triggered by the obituary of a 107 year-old veteran of WWI, the French Foreign Legion, WWII and Korea. I take an idea and play with it, keeping it always within the bounds of logic.
    It's always fascinating to glimpse the creative processes of other writers.
    Thank you for the post.

  4. KC - I wish that I could use my nightmares the way I use my dreams. But I don't even like to think about them. It's too disturbing.

    Latesha - Maybe it's because we can dream the violence that we don't need to act on it in real life. Even in my dreams, though, I'm never the aggressor.

    Amy - Interesting comment. I sometimes do know when I'm dreaming, but even the most outlandish situations sometimes feel real.

    Kathleen - I'll be interested to see what you come up with. Your evil dom character in Chaos Magic is sort of a nightmare figure...

    Thanks to all for your comments!


  5. I'm back in his house. Oh I'm so happy to be here. I've missed him terribly, my best friend from the age of 19, my gay pal, my always supportive dearest soul mate.

    There he is and he's HAPPY to see me.All is forgiven. And at last, I'm back where I belong, in his house and in his heart.

    I wake up and cry real tears to find that it was a dream. He will not forgive. He refuses me, after all those years...and still, in my dreams, his house is my home.

    Why? What good does it do me to dream a forgiveness that never comes?

    I have many recurring dreams, some truly horrific, but no dream undoes me like this one.

    I'll post more on lucid dreaming, which might be a way out for you, dear hostess, and those who comment this week. But first - must work, or nightmares of being a penniless street person pushing a cart - may become reality.

  6. Hi Lisabet!

    This will be an interesting topic for this week.

    I've always thought you would be good at writing horror because of your ability to get emotions across. I'm also looking forward to meeting your guest in hopes someday I may have something to offer.

    As far as nightmares, one of the worst nightmares I ever had was a dream in which I was in a decaying house and there was a typewriter on the top of an easy chair. The keys began tapping by themselves. Doesn't exactly give you the shivers does it? But when I woke, I was freaked out. I couldn't go back to sleep. Maybe that was a premonition of writing for OGG. I see the next topic and then the next and I get that feeling like ohgodohgodwhatllIdo . . .


  7. Great post Lisabet,

    I'm looking forward to reading what you sane folk write this week. As I've said before: I don't dream. ;-)



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