There’s almost always a single germ for each of my novels. A moment, a line of poetry, a news story, a piece of junk mail. What happens next is -- a bit odd. I start to hear a voice, or a couple of voices. And these voices draw me through my narrative. I don’t have an outline. I don’t know who is going to show up each day or what they are going to do. And I certainly don’t know how the book is going to end.
For UNDER MY SKIN, it wasn’t a single moment, as there often is. It was something.
Carl Jung wrote, a phrase that’s been kicking around in my head for a while
“Between the dreams of day and night, there is not so great a difference.”
It’s a short sentence, but as with many Jungian quotes there are layers of meaning here. The dreams of day and night – what did he mean by this?
We spend an average of 229,000 hours asleep during our lifetime. That’s more time than we spend eating, working, or driving – more than a third of our lives sleeping and dreaming. Still we’re convinced that our waking life is more real than whatever it is we’re experiencing when we close our eyes at night.
Between those two worlds – the waking and the dreaming worlds – is a doorway called hypnagogia. Maybe you haven’t heard that word before, but you’ve definitely experienced it. It’s the threshold moment where we have those bizarre dreams – we’re falling, or a bear leaps out from the shadows – and we’re startled awake. This connection between the adjacent worlds of waking and dreaming has been a point of wonder for me, as are other states where perception is altered.
For example, while I was researching another of my novels CRAZY LOVE YOU, I interviewed a clinical psychiatrist about fugue states and black outs. I had always thought that black outs were the result of repressed memory, or memories that got buried so deep that you no longer have access to them. But he said no. That black outs are ultimately a failure of cognition, that at a certain point in intoxication, we stop taking information in altogether. Addiction alters our perception of reality.
And then, of course, there’s trauma –which is most certainly a brain event, as well as a psychological and emotional one. And one I’ve explored in other novels. This too is a state where our memory, our perception might be altered. I was speaking to a former Navy Seal who works with veterans suffering from the after-effects of blast and PTSD. And he talked about the spiral some of these soldiers find themselves in – untreated PTSD, which can lead to sleep disruption, which can lead to addiction, which unravels the support system of family and friends. In this state, reality starts to unravel to devastating result.
So, it wasn’t one of these things, but all of them I think that led me to start hearing the voice of Poppy Lang. In her journey, I wanted to explore the way the psyche copes with grief and trauma, the twin demons of addiction and sleep disruption, and how our own perception and memories can be as slippery and unreliable as our dreams.
Under My Skin by Lisa Unger published by HQ on 18th October 2018
Her husband’s killer maybe closer than she thinks… It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run. She’s trying to move on but what happened that morning is still haunting her. And now she’s sure she is being followed… Sleep deprived and secretly self-medicating, Poppy is unable to separate her dreams from reality. She feels like she’s losing her mind. But what if she’s not? What if she’s actually remembering what really happened? What if her husband wasn’t who he said he was? And what if his killer is still watching her…