Dreams. Becoming. Life.

It’s a tricky thing, weaving dreams and fantasy into contemporary world building, the way I’m crafting my paranormal stories. Dreams are something we rarely remember clearly. Yet, they’re most often subconscious reflections of our real worlds that our minds use to tuck away memories. Memories that we slip back into and hopefully learn from.


We either learn, or we repeat the same mistakes over and over–one of life’s lessons. One of our brain’s solutions to hurrying that process along is dreaming–revisiting key episodes and the messages we’ve yet to process from them in dream sequences and symbols and fantasies. Dreams that our sleeping minds cycle through and escalate, focus on and reject, and basically play with until the message we’re searching for breaks through to our waking minds, pointing us down a new path.

The kicker is that the barrier between dream states and waking consciousness is designed not to let things easily bleed through,otherwise we’d carry out every dream in real time while we’re dreaming it (shudder). But the life messages in our dreams are determined–they’re subconscious signals we need to hear, and our minds will keep pushing us toward them until we “see” what we need to, sometimes to our detriment (ever not been able to sleep because your mind keeps racing, or wake up after a full night’s sleep and feel more exhausted than when you went to bed the night before, as if you’re mind’s been spinning all night?). 

So our dreams repeat themselves, often cannibalizing one image to give birth to another, turning inward and outward, swirling, until a clearer meaning is revealed. Using different images and settings, sometimes funny, sometimes scary, disjointed and surreal. Our dreams repeat our lives back to us. Some of us can remember them. Most of us can’t. Sometimes we experience them in color, mostly in black and white, or maybe you dont’ really know. And it doesn’t really matter in the end. It’s the messages that are key. It’s the connection to our unconscious minds that we need to trust–and it’s that dream theory principal that I’ve built my Legacy series around.

As I’ve stressed in earlier posts, taking dreams literally is a dangerous thing. We can totally freak ourselves out if we do. Dying, falling, killing, hurting ourselves, watching someone we love disappear–all are common dream experiences that have more to do with new challenges and breaking through to exciting new worlds than they do any actual pain and fear coming our way. This break with reality can make the journey into understanding a strong dream imprint difficult, and can require returning to the dream over and over to understand the context and the real message behind the images our sleep paints.

Those who loved Dark Legacy were excited by the escape and fantasy aspects, the thrilling pace, the  not knowing what was happening to the very end, and even then not being sure the dreams were done. Those who didn’t dig it by and large were turned off by the dream and symbol repetition and saw it as being too much of the same thing, over and over. Except that each return to the story’s central images peeled back another layer of understanding, exactly the way our minds do when we dream. Each pass reveals another clue to what Maddie Temple needed to know. Clues that would ultimately be her and her sister, Sarah’s, downfall if they didn’t brave the terrifying nightmares as many times as they needed to. The message that made no sense until the end would save their lives, if they trusted the darkest parts of their minds more than they did the “reality” playing out in their waking worlds. It wasn’t always what paranormal romance readers were always expecting, even if it was the story I had to tell, so the question was–how would I deal with dreams in its sequel?

Secret Legacy takes the fantasy of accessing and controlling and manipulating dream states to reveal truth in the real world even further, as Sarah Temple’s (the psychotic twin from Dark Legacy) mind splinters further while she hunts for a secret child no one else believes exists beyond her nightmares. Three-fourths of the book is told through dreaming. It’s a tricky balance as a writer, making sure each trip back to her inner world reveals more and deeper truths. As more people join her journey, I have to make sure each is playing a role that the dream’s original symbols and colors and images foretold. And every step of the way, I knew I was continuing a pattern that romance readers particularly didn’t always think worked in the first book. But I couldn’t stop.

Each time I tried to rein in the emphasis on the contemporary fantasy of living within our dreams, the path the my writing mind kept following into an alternate world, the story stopped, too. I either continued my Legacy series the way it needed to unfold, or the series itself was dead.

It was about half way through the adventure of writing Secret Legacy that I accept that critics of the first book where right–I’m not writing paranormal romance hereFrom the very start, that’s not what I’ve been creating. This is full on fantasy. Contemporary fantasy, because I want to paint a world that could be happening around us every day. But fantasy, nonetheless. And my subconscious mind had somehow known that and been steering my process from page one of the first book, repeating itself like a dream unfolding on paper, until I was ready to accept the creative path I’d chosen.

fantasy shore

It drove my editor crazy, this shift. But she worked with me and helped me make something beautiful out of my quest to capture lucid dream imagery and the powerful work it does in our waking lives. The result was ultimately the most satisfying writing experience I’ve ever had. Sometimes the story just knows best.

Sometimes your mind understands a truth you’re not yet ready to see. My fascination with dream theroy and the other parapsychological things that happen around us every day that no one seems to be able to explain–but can’t really explain away, either–has been a lifelong experience. It’s consumed my fantasies since I was a child. Now, it’s making its way onto the written pages that I’ve chosen to build my career around. How cool is that?

How many years have I been imagining the images and stories I’m telling now? I couldn’t say. Am I getting the balance right now, as I work on my craft and my new stories and create with an unrestricted vision because I’m finally accepting the fantasy aspect of my writing that a romance label wouldn’t support? All I can say is that I love Secret Legacy even more than the first book, and that I’m elbows-deep into a three-book continuation that begins with a ghost story and will end in the final book delving into the physical laws that support and defy our minds’ ability to break free and bring our fantasies to life.

It’s a delicate balance, weaving fantasy into contemporary world building. But it’s also a challenge that feeds my creativity and my paranormal stories like nothing else has. It’s a dream come true.

What are your dreams telling your set free in your life? What amazing places are your subconscious mind leading you to explore?

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7 Responses to “Dreams. Becoming. Life.”

  1. susan leech says:

    I have some of the most strange dreams but I can recall most everyone once I wake up. I have so many dreams where lost friends of mine are around me and I have to wake up and remind myself they are deceased..the dreams are so real. I sometime carry the dreams all day long because they are so vivid and real. susan L

    • Anna says:

      It’s the emotions that are key, Susan–they’re what pass through, even when the images and actions we fantasize about can’t. They’re what linger, often when we can’t put our finger on what’s causing our mood (good or bad). If you have the images to go with the, that’s golden. Because you can journey back and play with what your mind created end visit the friends and families and energy throughout the day.

      And it sounds as of you’re not afraid of your dreaming worlds. Wonderful! They really are a place where our true creativity and desires run free, even if they sometimes show us scary things it takes us a while to figure out.

  2. Janet G says:

    Very interesting post. I can’t wait to see more.

  3. Mary Preston says:

    I have vivid dreams. I recall some of them upon waking. I am never frightened in my dreams no matter how bizarre or weird they are. I do know that when I eat near bed time the dreams are intense.

  4. Vicki H says:

    I remember alot of my dreams and mine do scare me sometimes. I believe the dreams do have alot of meaning in them but not so much like in the books where they say if you have a broken leg in your dream, this is on your mind, etc. However I think the brain is an amazing thing and if we could open more up of it, it would tell us lots of things.

  5. donna c says:

    i have injoyed your atlanta heroes series but could u tell me if your going to do one about seth washington from atlanta heroes thanx

    • Anna says:

      Hey Donna,

      I love Atlanta Heroes, too. It’s absolutely my favorite Harlequin Series I’ve written to date. The plan all along has been to write Seth’s story. I’m working on new contracts, so stay tuned to see what’s on the horizon!

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