Sometimes, the idea for a book comes to me in a flash – a character walks into my head and starts talking, a bit of a news story catches my fancy, a line of prose shines all sparkly and bright amid the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of my generally jumbled thoughts.
Not so with Between.
This book has a long and complicated evolution resembling alchemy more than anything else. The primary ingredients were a deep and abiding curiosity about the nature of reality, an introduction to the artwork of M.C. Escher, and a penguin named Vivian. The catalyst was my friend and mentor, Jamie Chivers, who introduced me both to the penguin and Mr. Escher, all while engaging me in philosophical discussions about reality and the meaning of it all.
I’ve known there was something weird about reality since I was about six. I clearly remember having a tiff with my best friend. We were standing there, both of us in a fist-clenched fury, entrenched in one of those hopeless “I did not, you did too” conversations. All at once I realized that we both fervently believed in a different version of the same event. Mind you, this wasn’t crystal clear to me then. What I felt was bewilderment as I realized that my friend totally believed I had done or said a thing that I equally believed I had not. It was only later, after many and varied repetitions of this scenario that I realized how very differently we all view the world around us – that it truly is not the same place for all of us. I could go on at length, with my surmises that we even see, smell, and taste things differently – but I need to get on with Escher and the Penguin.
I met Jamie when I began a new job as a Designated Mental Health Professional (DMHP). In short, a DMHP is designated in Washington State as the person who can make decisions about the need for involuntary hospitalization in the case of mental illness where there is risk of danger to self or others. The job, as you can imagine, provided plenty of fuel to my thoughts about reality being different for everybody. To somebody suffering from psychosis or a delusional disorder, the world is a very strange and different place indeed.
“It’s like walking into an Escher painting,” Jamie said, on the very first day I met him. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know who Escher was, although I nodded and agreed because I didn’t want to appear stupid to this obviously intelligent man, and went home and Googled Escher at the very first opportunity. I immediately fell in love with his strange drawings, in particular the Hand with Globe, which figured prominently in early versions of Between and eventually resulted in something called a dreamsphere.
Jamie had a handle on the weird and the surreal, and was always sharing little blips of things that would make me blink and re-evaluate my worldview. One of these was Vivian the Penguin. Vivian was one of a group of male Adélie penguins rescued from an oil slick, rehabilitated, and then turned loose with a tracking device. The penguins were expected to travel south to their breeding grounds, and a daily updated map on a website documented their progress. Vivian, unlike the others, never did swim south. For awhile he swam in circles, inspiring commentary from Jamie about ADHD penguins and shiny fish, and then one day he struck out due north. When the transmitters went out and the project ended, Vivian the Penguin was still swimming determinedly north, and by then had become a symbol for Jamie and me for going your own way in this world.
It so happened that right around this time Nanowrimo came up, and I sat down and wrote a crazy, upside down tale involving multiple realities, a woman named Vivian, and a penguin. Many revisions later, during which essential elements like a coherent plot got added in, I ended up with a book called Between.
*I am thrilled to tell you that this just happens to be Cover Release Week for Between and you can get involved in the fun by clicking on over to Marley Gibson’s lovely blog.