Earlier this afternoon, after literally three and a half years,
I finished the first draft of my first new novel since 2012. Oh,
there's lots still to be done; editing, finding a cover, thinking
about prices and promotions, all the usual. But without a first
draft, none of the rest of it matters.
The novel is Dreamhealer. It's what I call "suburban
fantasy," by which I mean no grittier than Chicago's suburbs. The
action spans Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Park
Ridge, Arlington Heights, and South Barrington. Oh, and the subtle
planes of dreams, imagination, and memory. Here's my logline:
A lucid dreamer discovers he can enter and heal the nightmares
of others, and declares war on the mysterious creatures living in
the collective unconscious that create nightmares and then feast on
the terror they evoke.
And the back-cover hook:
Meet Larry. He's your worst nightmare's worst nightmare.
It's not entirely serious, though it's not humor in the
strictest sense. I was looking for a sort of Secret Life of
Walter Mitty, played out in what the esotericists call the
subtle planes, or the Akasha. By day, 51-year-old IT nerd Larry
Kettelkamp maintains a room full of ancient PDP-8 minicomputers for
a dying industrial bakery in the shadow of O'Hare Field. But by
night, he busts nightmares. The thing is, nightmares aren't some
accidental consequence of human psychology. Nossir. They were
invented 15,000 years ago. The inventors were creatures living in
the collective unconscious, called archons. Archons feed
on human emotion. One particularly powerful and nasty archon
developed a scheme to keep himself and his minions well-fed: Scare
the hell out of sleeping cavemen and harvest their terror as
emotional energy. It worked well--until Larry, having read stacks
of esoteric works touching on everything from Theosophy to Persian
Dualism, figures out how to enter other people's nightmares, banish
the archons, and inoculate the dreamers against that particular
nightmare. This process involves an ancient symbol (everybody loves
ancient symbols, right?) that restores at least part of the ancient
And then the Boss Archon decides that his scam is in jeopardy,
and begins fighting back.
My goal is to publish it before the end of June, and in truth as
soon as I can manage a cover and some editing. But in the meantime,
to give you a flavor for what I'm doing, allow me to present
Chapter 1 of Dreamhealer:
Larry Kettelkamp slipped out of his
body and dove into dreamspace. There was no down and no up in
dreamspace, only focus. He did not consciously choose the focus.
The rational mind could focus only on itself. Those dreams-his
personal dreams-were good and necessary, but they were for other
Tonight, this night…was for
Slowly dreamspace coalesced into
light and darkness. Tiny glints like stars lay in every direction.
Each glint was a dreamer. Each dreamer lay at the center of an aura
that was a dream. Each dream was a color: red for warm comfort;
orange for pleasant wanderings; yellow for joyful exuberance; green
for study and discovery; blue for anxiety, shame, and sadness;
indigo for fury; violet for terror. What had been indistinct clouds
grew sharper. Larry closed his rational eyes. He knew his deeper
mind was choosing. He felt the decision when it was made, as the
silent emergence of up, down, time, and motion.
Larry opened his rational eyes, and
saw the nightmare his unconscious had chosen, burning in violet
A man was falling from a great
height. His silver hair whipped in the vertical wind as he thrashed
with all his limbs. This, one of the commonest of nightmares, Larry
had dealt with many times. He dipped one shoulder, stretched out
his arms, and banked toward the dreamer. Below them lay the entire
United States, still wrapped in night, its great cities and small
towns jewels scattered across the velvet darkness. The two men were
high enough that Larry could see the curvature of the Earth, the
blue layer of atmosphere, and the bright arc of the approaching
dawn in the east.
The dreamer clearly knew what the
Earth looked like from 90,000 feet.
That was a clue from Larry's
unconscious, which he needed to trust as his navigator, even if it
had no language and could only speak in hints and symbols. He had
gotten fairly good at interpreting what his deeper mind sent up to
guide him over the thirty-odd years he had been invading other
people's nightmares. Ten thousand nights and thirty thousand dreams
had proven that the collective unconscious was indeed collective,
and included a universal symbology and grammar.
The dreamer, eyes wide and mouth
agape, watched Larry approach. He wore a dark blue business suit,
jacket buttoned, wide tie flapping over one shoulder. Larry's
unconscious sent up the insight that he was highly educated and
used to getting his own way. Falling dreams symbolized lives that
were out of control. For such a man, that could be an overwhelming
The fear wasoverwhelming,
and where there was overwhelming fear, there were archons. Larry
couldn't yet see it, but the bitter reek of a feasting archon was
everywhere. Over the past year they had gotten better at hiding
from him. Later, later. Larry pulled himself up and crossed his
legs beneath him, as though sitting taylor-style in empty air. The
dreamer was an arm's length away.
"Help me. Please help me," the man
said. His words were clear to Larry even against the blast of air
past their ears. That was good: Dreamers who asked for help were
easy to help. The man lived by reason rather than emotion.
Larry reached out his right hand.
The man frowned, hesitated, then reached out his own hand and took
it. At once the roar of air passing around them ceased, as did its
chaotic motion. They still fell, but now in silence and stillness.
Only the man's tie continued to flap, in a wind that was no longer
Larry released the dreamer's hand.
"My name is Larry Kettelkamp. I fix bad dreams. Take off your
The man pulled his legs up beneath
him in imitation of Larry's posture. "My tie?"
"It's not a tie. Take it off. Then
give it to me."
The man glanced down at his tie,
which still flapped over his right shoulder. He shrugged and
reached up with both hands to undo the knot. The tie writhed in his
hands like a live thing. It was still writhing as Larry took it in
his right hand. Larry stared at the tie, gathered inner strength,
focused his attention on the tie, and squeezed.
The tie screamed. As it screamed it
melted, contracting and flowing into a pale, blank human figure as
long as Larry's forearm. It had no face, ears, or mouth, nor any
other features. The scream was not sound, but a polyphonic
disturbance appearing directly in his mind. He had wondered often
if it was an expression of pain, fear or perhaps anger. His
unconscious had given him no clues on that question.
No matter. "Begone, archon," Larry
said in a soft voice. The scream ceased, and the creature vanished.
With it vanished the smell of fear.
The man squinted at Larry' hands
where the archon had been. He smiled. "Hey, thanks. What the hell
"Archon. Emotional parasite. It
creates nightmares, and then feeds on the emotions that the
nightmares cause." Larry held out his hand again. "I'm Larry
Kettelkamp. Tell me your name."
The dreamer took Larry's hand and
shook it. "Erwin McKinley, Ph.D. Astrophysics. Did thirty years in
satellite guidance and space navigation. Wrote the textbook on
"This dream tells me you need to
take control of your life."
Erwin wrinkled his brow, and was
silent for a few seconds. "Life? Do I have a life?" He sighed, and
looked down past his knees. "My wife's dead. I haven't had a job in
ten years. They just put my book out of print. My kids ignore me.
I've been forgotten, pretty much." He looked down again. "By the
way, we're still falling."
Larry shook his head. "No, we're
not. We're flying."
"Yes." Larry reached over one
shoulder to the backpack he always wore when he battled the
archons. The end of something like a roll of cloth protruded from
under the flap. He grasped it, pulled it out, and shook it. It
unrolled to a long, narrow rectangle of deep blue, printed with the
constellations and the pale band of the Milky Way. "Like Superman."
Larry handed the cape to Erwin. "Put it on."
Erwin took the cape, chuckling.
"Hey, I saw The Incredibles. 'No capes.'"
Larry shrugged. "Stay away from
aircraft. You're in satellite guidance. You can manage that."
Erwin took the cape's two clasps
and brought them around his neck, snapping them together. "I
"Now let's fly!"
Larry stretched out horizontally
with his arms in front of him. Erwin followed suit. The rush of air
returned, but was now a headwind that rustled Erwin's cape.
"Look down there," Larry said.
Below them, across the shadowed vastness of North America, the
jewels that were city lights had vanished. Instead they saw a
dusting of softer green lights plus a few brighter ones in
yellow-orange. "Every light you see is someone with an emotional
connection to you."
"Huh! Like friends? I don't have
that many friends. And most of the friends I have are in
"Not friends." Larry stared down at
the lights, listening to his unconscious for clues. "I think
they're people who've read your book, and liked it. They admire
you, respect what you know, and learned from it."
"Ha! I've sold a hundred thousand
copies over the last twenty years! No other textbook on guidance
and navigation ever got anywhere near that kind of sales. The
publisher says it's obsolete, even though I've updated it every few
years. They won't say the rest of it, but they're all young punks
and I can tell: They think I'm too old."
Larry banked to the right, toward
where a constellation of many yellow-orange spots dotted Omaha.
Erwin evidently had more friends than he thought. "Well, they're
wrong. Screw 'em. Build a new life. Get the rights to your book
back. Update it. Turn it into a seminar series. Give lectures.
Don't just lie around the house."
Erwin nodded. He twisted his body
back and forth, as though testing himself against the strength of
the wind. "Flying, heh! I can do this!"
"You already are. In fact, you've
been flying by proxy your whole career. Don't stop now." Larry felt
more clues bubbling up from his deeper mind. He pointed with his
right hand. "Down there, west of Omaha. Lincoln, I'd guess. See the
bright yellow light?"
"A woman lives there. She rejected
you a long time ago. She changed her mind."
"Lincoln? I don't know any women in
Lincoln. I haven't lived there since I left home for MIT, and…wait
a second! Diana?"
"I'm not getting her name, but it
"Diana Zaborski! That was over
fifty years ago!" Erwin's voice softened. "She told me I was too
weird for words."
Larry swallowed hard. Did he
understand that or what? "So? Maybe you were. You're not
anymore. And maybe she grew up a little herself. Fifty years will
"I can't imagine she likes me that
Larry pointed again. "Look how
bright her star is. Maybe you treated her better than the boys who
came after you. So send her a card. A letter. Look her up on
Facebook. Ask her to get in touch."
Erwin was doing barrel rolls.
"Yeeee-hah! I can! And I will! I'm…flying!" He turned
skyward and did a tight spiral loop around Larry, before vanishing
into the rising dawn.
Larry watched Erwin's contrail
drift eastward. He raised his right hand and made an ancient symbol
in the air. "Erwin McKinley, go in peace. Build yourself a new
life. You will never have this dream again."