Saturday, January 19, 2013

Author Guest Post: Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Night Terrors

Research, as those of you who write already know, is often freakishly random.

Those of you who don't write . . .well, let me give you some insight into the strange workings of the Writer's Life. Specifically, research. Very specifically, research for a fantasy novel.

I have never written a novel set in the "real world." But I have a fairly good idea what it looks like to research for one of those. While I was growing up, my mother pursued a successful career as a short-historical romance novelist, and I have vivid memories of her seated on the couch with piles of research books all around her and a notepad in her lap. I remember the eye-widening horror that filled her face during her reading (those Tudors were crazy folks!), or the bursts of sudden laughter (looking-for-love letters from the 1800’s are at least as funny as online dating profiles today!).

This type of research made a lot of sense. You get your story idea; you select a time period that suits it; you order the books, you make your notes; you write your story and, hey presto! You have a book.

Just not quite how it works in the fantasy world, is it?

Not that I haven't pulled out my own piles of research books. For my recently-written Book 5, Dragonwitch (releasing summer 2013), I had out books on the Norman Conquest, James Frazer's The Golden Bough, a work or two on the life of medieval peasants, and others. But do you know what ended up being one of the most interesting bits of research I did for a recent novel?

Night terrors.

This weird sleep phenomenon possibly runs in families, though the mind in sleep is difficult to research, so no one knows for certain. Members of my family get them, some more regularly than others. I had them myself as a child, but nothing quite like what I've experienced in recent history.

Night terrors are a dream state, different from nightmares in that they happen during the first few hours of sleep, the NREM stage (non-rapid eye movement stage). While nightmares happen fairly often for most people, only 1% of adults experience night terrors in their lifetime!

What it is, on a broad scale, is an overwhelming feeling of utter terror that comes upon a sleeper in the night, without provocation, but with very, very real sensations that often include hallucinations. Many people scream when they experience them. Most people don't recall ever having them and simply feel fatigued the morning after. But there are those precious few who remain completely lucid through the whole thing.

I am one of those. Lucky me!
Actually, odd as it may sound, I ended up being rather grateful recently when I experienced the second of my lucid night terrors. During the episode, I was more terrified than I have ever been in my entire life. My heart rate must have been through the roof, and my chest was sore the whole of the next day. During the episode, I felt what seemed to be electric explosions in the front of my brain. I was so terrified--beyond all reason terrified. I opened my mouth and tried to scream. But my throat closed up. I was literally scared speechless.

Then it passed. I was awake. My husband slept sweetly beside me. There was nothing in the room to fear. Nothing whatsoever.

I lay for some time, my heart racing out of control, and I thought to myself, "Wow. That's just what I need to make that one plot point in Dragonwitch believable."

Yeah. Such a writer.

But, as any of you who have read my series know, dreams are an important, recurring element of my work. The Lady of Dreams and her brother, the Death of Dreams, are my primary two antagonists. So you know what? Night terrors. Research! Fantastic research, just what I needed for my novel!

I got up the next day and read up on this parasomnia disorder (isn't that an intimidating phrase?). I talked to family members to discover who among them have experienced it as well. This was the practical side of research. But I have found that for my work, the actual live experience, while not always as much fun, often produces the best results when it comes to writing "convincing fantasy."

This was true when it came time for those fencing scenes in Heartless. Sure, I could read up on fencing and pore over famous swashbuckler novels. But it was in the going and doing of the sport that I felt I was able to bring an authenticity to those scenes in my novel.

The problem with fantasy is that there are so many otherworldly elements that you really can't go out and experience firsthand. This makes it even more important to be sensitive to your daily experiences, to see the supernatural in the everyday, to know how to take and twist (just a little bit) something completely ordinary so that you can see the extraordinary within.

Well, I suppose night terrors are, in and of themselves, plenty extraordinary . . . The point is not to take experiences like that and say, "That stinks. I hope that never happens again," but instead to say, "Wow! What an interesting thing just happened to me that I would rather not happen again but, hey! I can use it!"

Bad experiences like heartbreak, like loss of a job, like an ornery sibling, like a broken limb, like . . . you name it. These are the things that, once taken and reoriented slightly, will make a fantasy story--with all its dragons and magic and other worlds--sing with honest realism.

Author Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a passel of cats, and one long-suffering dog. When she's not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and studies piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of HEARTLESS, VEILED ROSE, MOONBLOOD, and STARFLOWER, with DRAGONWITCH due to release in 2013. HEARTLESS and VEILED ROSE have each been honored with a Christy Award.


When a cursed dragon-witch kidnaps the lovely Lady Gleamdren, Eanrin sets boldly forth on a rescue mission...and a race against his rival for Gleamdren's favor. Intent upon his quest, the last thing the immortal Faerie needs is to become mixed up with the troubles of an insignificant mortal.

But when he stumbles upon a maiden trapped in an enchanted sleep, he cannot leave her alone in the dangerous Wood Between. One waking kiss later, Eanrin suddenly finds his story entangled with that of young Starflower. A strange link exists between this mortal girl and the dragon-witch. Will Starflower prove the key to Lady Gleamdren's rescue? Or will the dark power from which she flees destroy both her and her rescuer?

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