Researching Dreams

 

I have to admit, the research for The Dream Peddler wasn’t particularly intense, and that’s probably just because I chose not to do tons of research. Despite the historical setting, I had read enough books from the time and learned enough in school to at least sketch out what the world of my characters would be like. I stopped writing now and then to google things like images of kitchen pumps and corn harvesting, but most of that research came down to one book: Days on The Family Farm by Carrie A. Meyer. This diary of a farmer’s wife provided me with almost everything I needed to know about seasons for planting, harvesting, and what social activities were common for farmers of the time. Some things I found out surprised me. I had assumed, for instance, that farmers a hundred years ago must have been pretty well stuck in one place because of the nature of their work and the animals depending on them, but that apparently wasn’t so at all. They often went on driving holidays, and family or neighbors helped out by taking care of things while they were gone. I also loved the details I learned about early cars on early roads. Cars could really only be used when the unpaved roads were dry enough, and in times like spring, when mud was often an issue, it was not uncommon for horses to be used to haul stuck cars out of trouble. This was such a delightful detail to me that I couldn’t resist using it in the book.

Aside from learning about early twentieth century farm life, I also did a little research on the history and science of dreams. I had a book sitting on my shelf that I’d bought years earlier because I thought it looked interesting, but had never actually read: Our Dreaming Mind by Robert L. Van de Castle. I didn’t turn to it right away. I used my knowledge of dream interpretation in ancient times, along with a college class I’d taken in Freud and Jung, and basically made the dreams work however I wanted them to work. My dream research turned out to be incredibly fun—I’d thought I’d taken some liberties with my dream logic, which I could always get away with since hey, it’s a sort-of magical world and I make the rules. But it turned out none of my scenarios were that far-fetched. Did you know it has been proven in a laboratory setting that a conscious mind can influence a dreaming mind telepathically? Obviously it’s not common, but it can be done, and under circumstances that almost certainly rule out coincidence. Neat! So a lot of my dream research was actually just about rounding out my knowledge and confirming that I actually wasn’t stretching the credulity of my readers too far.

In general, The Dream Peddler was an exercise in that “write what you know” maxim. Even though there were some things I had to verify, I felt at home writing about an imaginary small farming town and its inhabitants. I knew what they would wear, what they would eat, how they would talk. It was funny when it occurred to me to check little details that I didn’t even notice in the first five rounds of editing, only to discover that I couldn’t, for instance, have this character remove a belt, because people weren’t wearing them yet. Research came down to getting those little details right, so there wouldn’t be any moment when I accidentally pull a reader out of the world I’ve created with a mistake. Hopefully, we caught everything!

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Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master's degree in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.

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