Floating Next to the Whale: A Dream

Most of my dreams are confused, fragmentary affairs.  There are elements I recognize from dream to dream, mostly large, labyrinthine structures through which I wander, sometimes alone, generally in the company of a small group of people, but I don’t experience the kind of long narratives some of my family and friends have related to me.

In some ways, the dream I had the other night wasn’t much different from usual, but its effect on me was and continues to be profound.  In it, I was floating in the ocean; I think I was wearing a wetsuit (which I also think was orange and black).   I am, as a rule, made very nervous to the point of panicking by the thought of being in deep water, but I was oddly calm.  In the mid- to far distance, I could see the low, jagged spine of a mountainous island, which, in the weird way of dreams, I knew was tropical.  Directly to my left, maybe eight or ten feet away, there was a man in a kayak, also wearing a wetsuit (which I think was also orange and black), a life-vest, and a safety helmet; he was holding a paddle in one or both of his hands.  I don’t remember recognizing him, but we were familiar enough for him to warn me to be very careful.

The reason for his caution was the blue whale floating directly in front of me, no more than two or three feet away.  The top of its head was barely out of the water; what I could mostly see was one brown eye the size of a saucer, set in blue and gray skin traversed by deep grooves and lines.  I was aware of the immensity of the whale just underneath the water next to me, and of that great brown eye studying me as it slowly moved from left to right in front of me.  I had the sense the whale was female, though I can’t say how.  The man in the kayak was telling me how dangerous my position was, how you weren’t supposed to be this close to a whale, how if it decided to dive you could be sucked underwater.  I wasn’t afraid, which struck me even in the dream:  I knew I should be, next to so massive a creature in so perilous a location, but all I was aware of was a kind of emotion–I want to call it a subdued or muted gladness at the sheer size of the whale, at something like this existing.

And that was the dream, just floating beside this blue whale as she regarded me.  The next night, as we were preparing dinner, I told it to Fiona, my wife, who almost immediately had an interpretation for it.  “I think it was your imagination,” she said.  “I think you were meeting your imagination.  In a lot of Jungian psychology, the ocean is a symbol for the unconscious.  I think you were having a meeting with your imagination.”  Which is far cooler than anything I could have come up with.  I love the idea of a whale as the image for my imagination:  there’s a whale scene in my first novel, House of Windows, and then there’s The Fisherman, which started life as my riff on Moby Dick.  Funnily enough, the night I had the dream, I had just had a breakthrough about the long project I’m trying to get started on now.  So there you go.

Blue whales are the largest mammals, and possibly the largest animal of any kind to have lived on Earth. A long, whale has been seen, but most are smaller than this. Blue Whale Pictures, Sea Whale, What A Beautiful World, Beautiful Things, Deep Blue Sea, Tonne, Large Animals, Nature Reserve, Sea Creatures



A Reading of One of My Stories

As a writer, one of the things you dream of is thoughtful, nuanced responses to your work.  Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to receive a number of these kinds of reactions to my stories.  Recently, Ryan Whitley wrote a terrific analysis of my story, “The Horn of the World’s Ending,” which appeared first in Darrell Schweitzer’s That Is Not Dead in 2015, and which will be part of my forthcoming collection, Children of the Fang.  I’m extremely moved by the care and attention Ryan has brought to his reading of the piece, and I thank him for it.


Ryan included this illustration with his essay, and it’s pretty cool.

The Shirley Jackson Awards

Today the 2019 Shirley Jackson Awards were announced, in a terrifically produced video (if I do say so myself).  If you didn’t have a chance to watch the video, here’s a link. (Don’t worry:  it’s pretty short.)  Congratulations to all the winners, as well as to everyone who was nominated.  Thanks, too, to this year’s jurors, Linda D Addison, Aaron Dries, Josh Gaylord, Gabino Iglesias, Kate Maruyama.

During the annual meeting of the Board of Directors, I was somehow given the role of Vice President.  My goal during that one year period will be to assist as best I can in following through on our pledge to diversify both the Board of Directors and Board of Advisors for the award with all due haste.  Just think of me as the Agnew to Brett Cox’s Nixon!  (Wait…)

Birthday Buddies! or, Me and Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

I don’t know if you did this when you were a kid, but I was always interested to find out who else shared my birthday (July 6).  There were a number of kids in my elementary school who were born on the 5th, and even more, it seemed, on the 7th, but the day in between, I had all to myself.  When it came to celebrities/historical figures of note, I didn’t fare much better:  Sylvester Stallone and Nancy Reagan (I kid you not).  John Paul Jones was born on the 6th, which I guess was something, except that my middle name is, you guessed it, Paul, and my fellow students took great delight in calling me “John Paul Jones.”  Not that any of the little thugs knew about the birthday connection:  it was just something obnoxious to say.

(During college, I think it was, I found that both Guy de Maupassant and William Faulkner had died on July 6th–not the same July 6th, mind you, but I supposed that was…well, you couldn’t call it auspicious, exactly, unless you believed that one or both of their souls/essences had traveled through the ether to take up residence in my infant brain.  Which I never thought.  Never.)

More recently, I learned I share a birthday with the great Frida Kahlo, which pretty much makes up for the whole Sly/Nancy thing.  But I also learned I have it in common with a fellow writer of weird fiction, the very talented Jayaprakash Satyamurthy.

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As you can see from the photo above , he and his wife run an animal rescue/shelter operation out of their home.  That alone would make him okay in my book.  But he’s also a fantastic writer.  Over the last several years, he’s released a pair of slim collections of weird stories, as well as a standalone story (I think it’s a long novelette, but it might cross into novella territory) called Strength of Water.  All of it is excellent work, its prose elegant and lucid without being overly stilted or formal.  Set in and around Bangalore, which is where he lives, the shorter stories evoke those of M.R. James and Robert Aickman without ever feeling derivative, while deftly evoking day to day life in contemporary India.  In terms of both story and ideas, Strength of Water packs more into its pages than many long novels.  I like to describe it by evoking the scene in Gaiman’s American Gods where Shadow gets to see the space behind the world, and then telling whomever I’m talking to to imagine that what you’re seeing when you’re in that space is actually the ideological constructs that shape and govern our societies brought to life.  And that’s not to mention the psychic kids and the painfully sharp portrayal of India sliding towards authoritarianism.

Strength of Water by [Jayaprakash Satyamurthy]

Recently, Satyamurthy has released a new collection of stories, Come Tomorrow:  and Other Tales of Bangalore Terror, which brings together the material of his previous two collections with new work.  I purchased it the second I found out it was available:  that’s the kind of writer Jayaprakash Satyamurthy is, the kind whose every new story you snap up the minute you hear about it.  If you want to wish one of our finer writers of weird fiction  a Happy Birthday, head over to your preferred vendor and treat yourself to his work.

Come Tomorrow : and other tales of Bangalore terror by [Jayaprakash Satyamurthy]