Friday, October 4, 2013

Entering the Twilight Zone: Guest post by Susan Sloate

Entering the Twilight Zone:
A Writer’s Strange Confession
By Susan Sloate

     Cue the creepy music …
     Here’s today’s question for all you writers:
     Have you ever written something as fiction that later actually happens?
     I have.
     I’m not talking about small things here, like writing that you get a letter from your aunt and presto! the next day you get a letter from your aunt. I’m talking about stuff that’s bigger, that’s unpredictable. And while it’s pretty cool at first (I admit it), when you stop to think about it, it’s also a little … freaky.
     I also know that this phenomenon has happened to a lot of writers. My writer friends all confess to some version of it. I think I even have an inkling of how it happens.
     There’s a famous example of this (I’ll tell you my own story later). A writer named Morgan Robertson published a novella about the world’s greatest ocean liner, which on a voyage in April in the North Atlantic struck an iceberg on the starboard side and sank, 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland. There were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers, and more than half of those on board died.
     Sound familiar? Of course it does. It’s the story of the Titanic. Heck, that’s not fiction; it’s history.
     Except it’s not. The title of the novella is Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan. And here’s the kicker: it was published in 1898, more than 14 years BEFORE the Titanic set out on its maiden voyage, and years before it was even designed, let alone built. Yet Robertson eerily forecast the name (Titan/Titanic), the exact spot of the sinking, the iceberg, the lifeboat issue, almost the exact speed at which the ship was traveling, and the fact that the voyage took place in April in the North Atlantic and the ship struck the iceberg on the starboard side.
     No one’s ever figured out how he did it. As a writer, I’m sure he wasn’t trying. He was just… writing the story that came to him. It’s what we all do.
     Now while you’re considering that, let me tell you about mine.
     When I was fifteen I began writing my first stage play. I had first seen Jerry Lewis on TV when I was about nine, and I just loved him. (Still do.) But I didn’t know for some time that he had ever been part of a team, and when I found out Dean Martin was the other half, it shocked me, because their careers had taken such divergent paths afterward. Still, I decided to write a play that began with the breakup of a similar comedy duo, followed them through the years and ended at a charity telethon (modeled after you-know-what). It took me some time, and I finally wrote the last scenes in July 1976. So I set the first scene onstage at a New York nightclub, where the duo did a song and dance that ended their engagement at the nightclub and their partnership. The entire third act took place at the telethon, where the penultimate scene showed the two reuniting onstage. I was very proud of myself for finishing it.
     Six weeks later came the Labor Day telethon, a staple of our holiday weekend. And lo and behold! There was Dean Martin, walking onstage with Frank Sinatra (who engineered the whole thing), greeting a truly stunned Jerry Lewis with a hug. It’s a beautiful moment; you can watch it on YouTube.
     But… I wrote it before it happened, virtually the way it happened.
     And that first scene I told you about, the nightclub scene where they ended their partnership? I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s actually the way Martin & Lewis broke up—their last engagement was at the Copacabana in New York, the most famous nightclub of its time. I had no way of knowing. But somehow, I just knew.
     It’s happened to me on other writing projects, too, and believe me, I’m not usually psychic. But I’ve thought about this a lot, and here’s my explanation, because I don’t believe in coincidence, and I do believe in the energy connecting us all.
     When writers truly get plugged in on a project, we not only plug into our own creativity and our passion for the project; on some level we plug into the universe, too, on our own crystal-clear frequency. We pick up invisible threads of information floating out there, which we call inspiration but might also be old stories still hanging around, or new events about to unfold. When we’re in the flow with our writing, we somehow have access to all of that information, and it just comes to us, as easily as a bee to a flower. But I also think we only access it at moments when we’re really plugged in, through our writing. (You could say this is related to Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious.) But I contend that until you’re on a deeply creative plane, you won’t be able to access it. You won’t get it if you’re rushing or if you actually try to access it. You’ll get it when you and the universe are aligned through your work.
     So the next time you’re writing (cue creepy music here), be careful what you’re writing about. Because it may turn out not be just a story. Your thoughts really can become reality… and do you really want that vampire strolling down Fifth Avenue?

     Think about it.