My first novel, The Nightcrawlers, deals in dreams. This is incredibly fitting, since its inspiration came from one.
I grew as the youngest of three brothers living in rural Northeast America. We didn’t have ‘neighbors’ really. My home was set in the woods, with a graveyard on one side and an elderly couple on the other. In back was woods + more woods. In front, a road that was not yet a highway but with that aspiration. I set this stage to convey a message: there weren’t many entertainment options save for my brothers.
The eldest was and still is a massive horror fan. So, growing up, I saw films like The Evil Dead and Alien long before I should have. I also watched the Godzilla films on (what was then called) Sci-Fi and a VHS recording of King Kong. Just the Skull Island parts, mind you – I usually skipped all that ‘plot’ nonsense with the people at the beginning. Monsters, in all shapes and sizes, were my primary entertainment.
Go figure that I started having nightmares.
The monsters that entertained me during the day began stalking me at night. The Zuul terror dogs from Ghostbusters were an early antagonist, then Henrietta from the cellar in Evil Dead II. Yet my monster selection was not confined to the movies I had seen. The first manifestation of my imagination came in the plethora of ghouls my mind conjured up to haunt me. When my bedroom light switched off, my mental light switched on.
It was getting kinda bad. Every week was at least one nightmare. I had gotten used to waking up in the middle of the night in order to escape whatever beast was chasing me, then shivering under my covers until sleep returned. Of course, it probably didn’t help that I never stopped watching monster movies.
Then, one nightmare when I was six (I think), Nightcrawler came. He looked like Dr. Doom. The green cloak, the gray skin – it was the drawing come to life. I had (and still haven’t) really read Fantastic Four, but the illustration of Doom always stuck with me. I don’t know why my subconscious picked it for the form of a savior, or why it decided to combine the image of Dr. Doom with the name of one of the X-Men (a cartoon I was watching at the time).
Nevertheless, Nightcrawler was awesome. He soon became a recurring character, appearing at least once a week in my dreams. It is funny to think back – I can remember nothing of those nightmares now, save him. He didn’t always win, sometimes the monster would get away from him and come from me, but he never stopped trying.
With Nightcrawler in my dreams, the monsters became a lot less scary. Their supremacy was challenged and I saw that they could be defeated. It wasn’t long before my dream self gained an awareness of fighting back. Nightcrawler helped of course. He was as much a teacher as a defender, showing me the weaknesses of each creature he fought.
Less than a year later, Nightcrawler was gone. He was no longer needed. If I’ve had a dream with him since, I haven’t remembered it. In total, he must have been in at least ten of my dreams.
Yet he never left my mind. He lingered while I worked on short stories and novel ideas, a thought that I knew I wanted to use but was unsure how. Then, I saw the first teaser for How to Train Your Dragon 2:
The images and the music especially stuck with me. Suddenly Nightcrawler wasn’t just an old character kicking around in my head. I saw a sequence: Nightcrawler teaching a young boy how to fly in the dream world. The music swelled with the same eye-opening wonder that I had felt when Nightcrawler showed me how to defeat my monsters.
Author icon Stephen King has said that a book comes when two thoughts meet. Scenario + character. When I heard the music of that trailer and saw the images of Hiccup and Toothless flying together above the clouds, I knew that I finally had something else for Nightcrawler to do.
It was time for him to return.
* That’s it for part one. I’ll be doing these at least once a month until Nightcrawlers is released (coming soon!). Fun fact: the Featured Image at the top is actually a rough sketch of Nightcrawler done by my friend and talented artist, Scott Bernazzani.