Blog #11: In Dreams and Nightmares


Greetings, readers!

In today’s blog, I talk about dreams and whether or not they are of any use.

You can also expect:

  • A tribute to the late Terry Jones
  • My review of Floria Sigismondi’s The Turning
  • New music from Hayley Williams and Billy Talent
  • A selection of poems, short stories and essays you should check out

In a dreamscape far, far away…

There is nothing more dull, to me, than someone describing their own dreams, but occasionally I have one that lends itself to a good story.

This particular dream took place at a theatre where I was watching the new Star Wars movie (yes, I am aware that watching a movie is the saddest possible thing to waste dream-time on, but it is also peak me). To my dream-self’s surprise, the film ended on a bizarre note of Canadian content, with a descendant of Rey going on to become an early Prime Minister of Canada. (This is the kind of dream you have when you grow up in a government town and have a thing for Historica Minutes). Anyways, this dream struck me as too amusing to waste, so I turned it into a surreal flash piece, finishing and sending it off on January 16th.

On a related note, I often find myself wondering how useful dreams and nightmares are for artistic inspiration. My dreams tend to be too out-there (or incorporate too much of others’ IP) to be of much practical use, but I find the process of dreaming fascinating.

In fiction, I have a love-hate relationship with dream sequences.  They have their uses (exposition, exploring the inner life of a character who may not be inclined to vocalize their feelings, a quick no-stakes jump scare) – but that’s the thing: they’re often used as mere plot devices, and have almost no dramatic impact.

The most interesting element of a dream, as far as I’m concerned, is what it feels like to be inside one. Watching and participating in something at the same time, running without going anywhere, transforming into another person without even noticing – when a piece of fiction can capture these experiences, it’s a magical thing.

Rest in Peace Terry Jones (1942-2020)

One of the finest examples of dream logic in film is Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, a modern-day Alice in Wonderland in which an imaginative teen girl must navigate a shifting otherworldly maze to rescue her brother from the Goblin King (played by David Bowie).

The film’s tagline is “Where everything seems possible and nothing is what it seems,” and the strange things she encounters in the Labyrinth don’t disappoint: hidden corridors, vicious fairies and gentle beasts, practical riddles and dangerous illusions.

The film’s screenwriter, Terry Jones, passed away on January 21st. Jones was best known as a member of Monty Python, and as the director of Python films The Holy Grail, The Meaning of Life, and Life of Brian. A skim of his Wikipedia page shows him to be a prolific writer and historian, as well.

Like Monty Python (and Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz…), Labyrinth‘s surreal flights of fancy aren’t just whimsical: they’re subversive. The film shatters the most romantic of fantasy tropes, revealing that the most beautiful creatures bite and that the kindest, truest friends may look like monsters.

I can’t overstate the influence that movie has had on me (my short story “The Beast and the Hummingbirds” probably borrows more from it than I’d intended). I like to think it’s inspired generations of kids to question the things that seem obvious and to live out their daydreams.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jones.

A Cinematic Nightmare: The Turning

Speaking of dream logic, director Floria Sigismondi commands it well in her new film The Turning, which I reviewed here.

Known for her surreal music videos for everyone from Marilyn Manson to Katy Perry, the Italian-Canadian director uses whirling camera angles and misleading shots to create an air of disorientation and unease even when there are no ghosts on screen…She’s the ideal director for a project where logic and realism aren’t the point; she even manages to redeem an infuriating ending, which sees the film take a jarring turn into Lynchian surrealism.

Sigismondi’s no stranger to the landscape of nightmares, having directed hallucinatory videos for artists like Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Fiona Apple, and Justin Timberlake.

New Music Round-Up

“Simmer” – Hayley Williams

Hayley William’s first solo single is a startling departure from her Paramore output, trading grandiose arrangements, soaring choruses and giddy oversharing for sparse synths and chillingly ambiguous lyrics.

Granted, Paramore’s seen her dabble in everything from emo-punk and indie rock to pop at its funkiest, but this truly sounds like nothing she’s done before.

Williams’ voice seethes with pain and repressed anger as she sings about bitterness, leaving her target vague until a devastating second verse: “If my child needed protection / from a fucker like that man / I’d sooner gut him.”

“Reckless Paradise” – Billy Talent

Billy Talent’s urgent new single is a frantic punk throwback that takes aim at “crooks and deceivers” and “mislead believers” alike.

I cannot wait to hear what their new album is going to sound like.

Some Literary Recommendations

“Princess Syndrome” by Ren Iwamoto (Bywords)

I love anything that explores the darker meanings within fairy tales, so I really enjoyed Ren Iwamoto’s “Princess Syndrome,” in which she casts herself as “the girl, the dragon, and / the tower all at once.”

Read it at Bywords.

“Demons of Particular Taste” by Hailey Piper (The Arcanist)

Hailey Piper combines an exorcism with a breakup in this darkly funny horror story. Fans of Mister B. Gone and My Best Friend’s Exorcism will dig it.

Read it at The Arcanist.

“Three poems” by Jessie Lynn McMains (Neon Mariposa Magazine)

I am absolutely in love with Jessie Lynn McMains’ contributors to Neon Mariposa’s “The Haunting” issue.

The first (“Mad, Love”) is a quirky love letter to German actor Peter Lorre; the second (“all night in the city of longing”) is a surreal southern gothic. The final poem – “The Scream Queen, The Final Girl, and The Vengeful Ghost (A Greek Chorus in Three Parts)” – is my favourite, a slasher epic that finds humanity in the stock characters who are terrorized for our pleasure: the Scream Queen laments the unfairness of being punished for living; the Final Girl carries on, traumatized, in a state of living death, and wonders why others always feel entitled to her; the Vengeful Ghost mutilates and skewers.

Read them at Neon Mariposa Magazine. Or while you’re at it, read the rest of the issue – it’s all wonderfully chilling.

“The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” by Gwendolyn Kiste (Nightmare Magazine)

This startling feminist take on Stoker gives voice – and vengeance – to vampire victim Lucy Westenra. It’s Dracula with a touch of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.

Read it at Nightmare Magazine.

“The Pale Man’s Eyes Never Leave the Horizon” by Jack B. Bedell (Rhythm & Bones)

This sinister poem (published in Rhythm & Bones in 2018) is perfectly paired with a wonderfully evil-looking alligator illustration by Stephen Briseno.

Read it at Rhythm & Bones.

“Things We Can’t Pronounce” by Kailee Haong (Split Lip Magazine)

In this thoughtful essay about her grandparents who survived the Cambodian genocide, Kailee Haong reflects on how her family has been shaped by experiences that defy comprehension.

Read it at Split Lip Magazine.

“Midwestern Gothic” by Sadie Shuck Hinkel (Barren Magazine)

With striking images of chained dogs, maple donuts, and burning crops, Hinkel highlights the unnerving and uncanny in her hometown.

Read it at Barren Magazine.

“Wolf Moon” by Tianna G. Hansen

I am a huge fan of Tianna G. Hansen’s werewolf poems, and I especially enjoy the ones that use song lyrics to fuel her dark fantasies. This one is a delicious orgy of violence and lust.

Read it below (make sure you expand the tweet to see the full poem).

Tell me in the comments:


  • Do your dreams and nightmares inspire you?
  • How do you incorporate dream sequences and dream logic into your own work?

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