“The Trade-Ins” (On Love)

Mitchell Brant has a problem.  Five years have elapsed between the end of The Eye-Dancers and the start of The Singularity Wheel, and numerous life events have taken place in the interim, but for Mitchell, there is still only one girl he longs to be with, one girl who has captured the secret inner chambers of his heart.  Heather.  The girl he met, five years ago, in the alternate town of Colbyville, the girl from a thousand universes away.  His friends tell him to let her go.  What’s the point of wishing you could be with someone so unattainable, so far away the mind cannot even begin to comprehend the distance?


But logic, practicality, reason cannot cut through.  Mitchell thinks of her all the time, imagines she is right there beside him, a smile on her face.  He cannot turn off his feelings, tell his soul to forget what it yearns for.


Love is like that.


In a third-season Twilight Zone episode called “The Trade-Ins,” a similar dilemma presents itself.  John and Marie Holt are an elderly couple–he is 79; she is 74.  What’s more, Mr. Holt is in declining health, often wracked by intense and ever-increasing bouts of pain.  But a new hope exists in the futuristic world where they find themselves.  The New Life Corporation shines like a beacon on a cold, dark night.


The New Life Corporation specializes in “youth, new life, rebirth,” the salesman at the office, a Mr. Vance, explains to the Holts.  They have the technology to switch an elderly person’s body, or a sick person’s body, with a new body, a body that is “perfect in composition, concept, and construction.”  All the while, the person who makes this anatomical switch will retain all of their memories, personality, and emotions.  As Mr. Vance tells the Holts, even after the switch, physiologically and psychologically they will be exactly the same.  The only difference will be that each of them will be placed in a younger body, “in the prime of health.”  They are told the average life span of a New Life body is 112 years.


And then he shows them the models.  All are attractive, in perfect physical condition.  But the Holts decide on the bodies of a young couple–a couple that, following the procedure, will be them.  Mr. Vance tells them they will have an entire new life before them–they will return to the beginning, in the full flower of youth.  Old age will be but a memory.


But then the price comes up.  Mr. Vance explains the model couple comes as a package deal of $10,000, surely a bargain, he says, considering all the Holts will gain.  Perhaps.  The Holts, however, only have $5,000.  And Mr. Vance will not accept it as a down payment.  There are rules, he says, government-mandated, that require the full payment, up front.

Mr. Vance then pitches a half-deal.  “One of you could get it,” he says.  The $5,000 the Holts have is enough for John or Marie to switch into a youthful, healthy body.  Marie encourages John to do it–he will be free of his pain, and she assures him, “I can wait”–until they can scrounge up the remaining $5,000 for her switch.


John does not commit, though.  “We can’t be separated,” he says.  “We’re no good without each other.”

Desperate, his pain worsening, John later locates a back room in a bar, where a high-stakes poker game is under way.  He has the $5,000, hoping he can gamble his way to the $10,000 he and his wife would need to acquire new bodies as a couple.  But John is out of practice, a naive and woeful poker player.  It is only the compassion and empathy of the gamblers he goes up against that saves him.  Observing the pain John is in, listening to his story, the gamblers allow him to leave with his $5,000, choosing not to “clean him out,” as they assure him they could.


His pain continuing to escalate, John decides to undergo the switch, by himself, with his wife’s blessing.  “Yes, yes, yes,” she tells him, over and over when they return to the New Life Corporation.  She wants him to be pain-free, to go through with the procedure.


And when he emerges hours later a young man, running and doing various calithsenics, amazed at how energetic and strong he feels, he joyfully tells Marie, “Do you know what happens now? . . . We’ll do everything we haven’t been able to do.  The big things, the little things, the crazy, illogical things that we were too old, too sick, and too tired to do.  Every day is going to be a wedding, every afternoon a reception, and every evening a honeymoon.  Marie, my darling, you and I are going to begin to live!  We’re going to–”


But here, Marie steps away, covers her face with her hands, looks at this strange young man in horror.  He is her husband, and yet . . . he is not.  Not anymore.  Their eyes meet.  She is 74.  He is 22.  They no longer match, no longer a unit, a team, lifetime partners.  The procedure has created a gulf between them, unspoken but undeniable.  John’s eyes are just as wide, just as understanding as his wife’s.


Mr. Vance tells John to come with him to sign some papers.  They leave.  And when, later, John reemerges, he is old again, the young body gone, the tired, pain-riddled body returned.

“Marie, my darling,” he says. “If I have to have occasion of pain, so be it.  I wouldn’t want it any other way, darling.”

When she protests, he stops her with a Robert Browning quote she herself had uttered earlier in the episode.

“Grow old along with me.  The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”

And then they walk off . . . together.


Rod Serling’s closing narration sums it up tenderly:

“From Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet: ‘Love gives not but itself and takes not from itself, love possesses not nor would it be possessed, for love is sufficient unto love.’ Not a lesson, just a reminder, from all the sentimentalists–in The Twilight Zone.”


For a few weeks now, I have been AWOL on WordPress.  There is a reason for that.  I went back home, to Rochester, New York, the city where I was born, where I grew up.  But this time, I went back because someone close to me–so close to me–was, suddenly, near the end.  There were endless days in the ICU, walking the long, long hallway, turning the corner, calling in, visiting, hours spent by the bedside, the machines beeping, the respirator pumping air into lungs that could no longer breathe on their own.  Then there were funeral preparations, time spent with family, mourning a devastating loss, grieving.  Reflecting.


There were tears, so many tears.  Tender moments.  Heartbreaking moments.  Memories.  Discussions with doctors and nurses, trying to pry an ounce of hope out of a hopeless situation, seeking some possible path, some new and groundbreaking treatment.  But there was none.


And all I could do when it was over was to say–I love you, Mom.  I will miss you always.


In the days leading up to this post, I had intended to end it there.  But then something happened.  Something remarkable.

I returned to my current home in Vermont recently, a day removed from the funeral and after being in Rochester for the better part of two weeks.  I had to try to get back into a routine, to go back to work.  To live and carry on.  But then, first thing the following morning, I noticed something in the basement.

Let me back up.  We have a walkout basement.  It leads to the garage.  Every time I leave the house or come back, I walk through the basement.  And in the back corner, there is an old light fixture, a simple naked bulb screwed in to a socket attached to the ceiling.  The thing is, last spring, the chain that turns this light on or off became stuck.  The light was on, but I couldn’t switch it off.  I yanked on the chain–too hard.  It broke, severed like a mowed grass blade, falling to the concrete floor.  There was no way to turn off the light.  So I unscrewed it, removed it from the socket, and replaced it with a dead, burnt-out bulb.  The socket was “on,” but the bulb was a dud, and so it stayed dark.


Until that morning–my first full day back in Vermont following the funeral.  When I went down into the basement, I was surprised to see the bulb was lit.  It had been dead when I screwed it in last May, had been dark all through the summer, fall, and winter.  But now it was on.  A dead bulb come to life.  An oxidized, broken-apart filament burning brightly. And instantly I knew.


It was a message, a very personal one, from a mother to her son.  An assurance.  A comfort.  A lesson and a reminder.

That of all things, and across all time and space, eternal, bridging dimensions, spanning life and death, gentle but unyielding, conquering the darkness with light, love remains.

Love endures.


Thank you for letting me know, Mom.  Thank you for showing me.


And thank you to everyone, as always, for reading.


A Winter Walk in Old New England (Or, Down the Rabbit Hole)

Winter in Vermont arrives early, and it hits hard.  Already there is a stubborn sheen of ice on my driveway, creating an adventure every time I drive down.  The meadow out behind the house, with its rolling hills and undulations, is an unbroken sea of pure white.  And the wind chills?  Let’s not even talk about the wind chills!



I make no secret that winter is my least-favorite season.  People sometimes kid me about that.  “You live in Vermont, and you don’t like winter?” they say.  I reply that it’s not a big deal.  I love the spring, summer, and fall–three out of four seasons isn’t bad.  Nevertheless, winter in New England has a way of holding on, reluctant to let go.  Even in the brighter, milder months of March and April, winter digs in its heels, delaying the inevitable, resisting the birth of spring with every harsh gust of wind and squall of snow.



So I am under no grand illusions.  A long, unbroken string of arctic-like months awaits.  Still, I have no desire to huddle beside the portable heater all winter, hot chocolate in hand.  (Though surely there will be some of that!)  I enjoy the outdoors, and on days not quite so harsh, on days when the sun–too often a stranger in New England–chooses to shine, I will take advantage.



Recently, on one such sunny, crisp afternoon, I took a walk.  Navigating the icy slope of the driveway, I walked down to the road.  The road in question, as are so many in rural Vermont, is dirt–dry and dusty in summer, muddy and soft in early spring, hard and snow-packed right now.  If I turned right, I’d walk toward a paved road a mile away.  But if I turned left, within a third of a mile, the road would morph into a narrow trail, not maintained by the town.



I went left.

As I walked, I was struck by the silence.  No cars.  No people.  No sounds.  There was a gentle breeze, but no leaves to rustle–only the empty spaces in bare trees and lonely expanse of snow-covered fields and stripped woodland floors.  Even the songbirds were silent.   Briefly, a sound to my right–a wild turkey, startled by my intrusion, scurried into the woods, disappearing from view.  More silence.  I inhaled.  The air was a winter knife, cold, sharp, as if it might draw blood if I weren’t careful.



I walked on, reaching the trail, where the snow depth swelled, coming up above my ankles.  Even back here, though, there were tire tracks, the residue of rugged four-wheel drives and snowmobiles, no doubt.  My footfalls crunched the packed snow, punctuating the stillness.  My breath hung on the air before dissipating, molecule by molecule.



Then I paused.  Stopped.  I listened to the silence.  It washed over me like a vacuum, snuffing out the sound.  I breathed again, in and out, in and out.  A gray squirrel chattered from a nearby tree, but then climbed higher.



Everything was so quiet, so white–the world seemed asleep, slumbering beneath the blanket of snow.  For a moment, reality itself seemed slippery, as if, perhaps, I had gone down a rabbit hole and was standing there only as an apparition, or maybe some figure within the realm of someone else’s dream.



What is real? I wondered, looking over the frozen pond that lay just meters before me, and, beyond that, the snowcapped mountains that rose in the distance like ancient giants worn and weathered by time.




In The Eye-Dancers, what we perceive as real is explored, and challenged, over and over again.  Indeed, in chapter 2, Joe Marma feels so disoriented that “reality felt too elusive, too fragmentary, as if it were crumbling away into jigsaw pieces that could not be put back together.”  Indeed–are his dreams, along with Mitchell Brant’s dreams and Ryan Swinton‘s dreams, real or “just a nightmare,” something to wake up from and escape and put safely and securely in the rearview mirror?  Who is this “ghost girl” who continues to haunt them?  And when they are transported to a different dimension, an alternate universe, is what they experience “real” or illusory?



When the boys first arrive in the alternate town of Colbyville, Ryan isn’t sure:  “The line between dreams and reality had certainly been blurred, if it existed at all.”

Have you ever felt that way?

George Bailey did.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday staple, and one I partake of every year.  Many people know the story of Bedford Falls and George and Mary and Old Man Potter.  We know George has a string of bad luck and at one point contemplates jumping to his death off a bridge, only to be saved by Clarence the bumbling but lovable angel who is still searching for his wings.  And we all know the movie ends with a rousing rendition of “Auld Lang Syne,” along with Zuzu’s memorable line, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”



And George’s response:  “That’s right, that’s right.”

But how does Clarence ultimately convince George to step away from the cliff, or, in this case, the bridge?  How does he earn his wings at the end?



By showing George what the world would look like without him.  Admittedly, this isn’t Clarence’s idea.  It is his response to a despondent George’s muttering that he wishes he’d never been born.  Wish granted!  You want to be erased, George Bailey?  Consider yourself erased.



In other words, Clarence helps George to see his many blessings not by hopping on to his personal soapbox or through any words of wisdom; rather, he rescues George by taking him down the rabbit hole and in to an alternate reality, allowing him to witness the fallout of a world that could have been, might have been, had he never existed to touch the lives of others.



He saves him by changing the very nature and shape of what we deem to be real.


I stayed there on that path, overlooking the iced-over pond and the far-off majesty of mountains and sky, for several minutes.  The wind picked up, and the bite of the cold chomped down, stinging my face and eyes.  But I just wanted to take it all in.  What is real?



In an age where unfiltered bias is immediately disseminated to millions upon millions of people, when individuals can and do attempt to delegitimize the press, when various forms of social media can be used to spread truth or lies with equal fervor, what is real?  If someone tweets out a lie, and sixty million people read it and believe it, is it now true?



The shifting, changing, amorphous lens through which the world views itself, and through which we view the world, is in a state of disarray.  Reality for many has become as confusing and inexplicable as George Bailey’s journey through his own personal rabbit hole.



But as I turned to leave the path, to retrace my steps in the snow and head back home, I attempted to answer the question that lingered on the air like wood smoke.  What is real?

George Bailey found the answers at the end of the movie.  Clarence the angel penned a personal note to George:  “No [one] is a failure who has friends.”  And with George surrounded by friends and family, singing off-key in a cinematic moment for the ages, he understands the truth, the essence, and so do we.



So, as 2016 nears its end, as we forge bravely ahead into the uncertain climes of 2017 and beyond, maybe, just maybe, we can all pause for a moment and tune in to a corny old holiday classic, walking the avenues and sidewalks of Bedford Falls, reliving the miracle on 34th Street, soaring with a red-nosed reindeer as he leads the way, or witnessing a walking, talking snowman.



These are, it seems to me, rabbit holes very much worth exploring.



Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and blessed New Year.



Thanks so much for reading!



The Paradox of Now (If “Now” Truly Exists)

It all seems so straightforward, so matter-of-fact.

We recently witnessed the passing of the torch from 2015 to 2016.  Time to put away the old year and venture forth into the new, complete with resolutions, optimism, goals, and hopes.  The ongoing passage of time, the catalog of days and weeks and months, would appear to be an irrefutable, self-evident, obvious truth,  The clock ticks, we grow older, hopefully wiser, and nothing stands still.



But is it really so obvious?  Is it really the kind of thing we can disregard as a fact so unchangeable, so plain, it’s not even worth thinking about or discussing?

Ar first blush, yes.  We can glance at our calendars, our schedules, our itineraries, and know, unequivocally, that we have this time thing figured out.  It is what it is, as they say.



Or maybe not.


One of the themes in The Eye-Dancers has to do with the way we perceive reality.  Can dreams and “real life” truly be separated by a hard, Maginot-like line of demarcation?  Or are there, possibly, gaps along the edges, where the two dimensions intersect and become enmeshed?



Is the life we know, here, now, on this earth, really the only life we live?  Or are there alternate versions, parallel worlds, going on beside us, without our even knowing it?



Nearly midway through The Eye-Dancers, Marc Kuslanski, the class science wiz, explains how he understands all of this . . .

“Everything in existence fits together,” he says.  “The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our own earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”



Could it be possible that time works in a similar way?


Then again, what is time, exactly?  Is it nothing more than our means of measuring it, slicing it up like so much fruit, into bite-sized pieces?  Can it really be tamed in such a systemized, linear fashion?



We hear it often:  “Don’t dwell on the past.  The past is over and done.  Don’t live too much for tomorrow.  Tomorrow may never arrive.  And, even if it does, what you do right now, in this moment, will directly affect what happens in the future anyway.  Therefore, focus only on the now.  Live in the moment, firmly where your feet are planted.”



Sound advice!  But let’s delve a little deeper.

If we ask the question, “What is time?” then it seems to follow we must also ask, “What is ‘now’?”  On the surface, the answer seems so elementary, as a certain Victorian detective might say, the question itself appears almost rhetorical.  Because, of course, “now” is “now”!  It can be nothing else.  Right now, I am keying these words into this post (which, hopefully, you are not regretting reading!).  There.  I just keyed in this sentence.  Now.



But wait.  Can’t we slice “now” up even further?  I am keying in this word, this letter, this space . . .  You are reading these words, one at a time.  Which of these is “now”?  Should it be quantified by the minute?  The second?  The millisecond?  The nanosecond?  How precise do we need to be?  This is far from a trivial question.  How we measure “now” greatly affects our perception of it.



If we define the now as a minute in time–perhaps we have something to work with.  A minute isn’t long, but long enough to perform many things, think thoughts, dream dreams.  Living in the now, in this case, seems attainable.



But what if we define “now” as a moment, a breath, a blink of an eye, a beat of the heart, here and gone so fast that by the time it disappears, the next moment arrives, and then the next and the next and the next, one to another merging into a living, continuous, moving thing with no beginning and no end.



If we view “now” like this, time is expanded, and we view it as an eternal, something that cannot really be measured and itemized and saved.  If “now” operates more like a wave than a particle, as it were, more like whitewater rapids than a still, tranquil pond, then what is this term we call time?



“The present is the ever-moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow,” Frank Lloyd Wright once said.

William Faulkner added, “Clocks slay time . . . time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”

Where does that leave us?  Are we, like Martin Sloan in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance,” “trying to go home again,” listening for “the distant music of a calliope, and hear[ing] the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of [our] past”?



Maybe time, as we know it, live it, define it, conceive of it, is an illusion. Maybe “now,” as opposed to something we can take hold of and posses, is, in actuality, a wisp, a billow of smoke rising against a blue winter sky, a flickering flame constantly in motion, never resting, never stationary.  Tomorrow’s dreams and hopes are, in an eye-blink, yesterday’s forgotten memories, tucked away in some vaulted corner of the mind.



It is, by necessity perhaps, a mystery.

Centuries ago, Augustine may have said it best:  “What then is time?  If no one asks me, I know what it is.  If I wish to explain it to him who asks. I do not know.”



Thanks so much for reading!


The Wormhole of Our Dreams

“Peering out his bedroom window, his eyes flattened into squinting slits, Mitchell Brant saw her.”

So begins The Eye-Dancers,  but is this episode merely a dream or is it real?  Or is it, in some strange, inexplicable way, straddling the sorcerer’s tightrope between the two worlds, with one foot in each?



This of course begs the question:  What are dreams, anyway?  And should we even preface references to them with innocuous terms like “merely”?

Marc Kuslanski, for one, would certainly answer with a resounding yes.  Or, knowing Marc, he’d probably say, “affirmative,” but that is neither here nor there.  Logical to the core, unwilling to grapple with the mystical or the unexplained, Marc believes that dreams are nothing more than a biological function, a by-product of sleep.

“We’re beings of electrical current, pure energy,” he explains in chapter four.  “While we’re in our sleeping state, the brain needs something to do.  It gets bored.  So, it manufactures stories, adventures, even nightmares.  It’s like a prisoner in solitary confinement.  Nothing going on.  No outside stimuli.  So you need to create your own entertainment.  That’s all dreams are, you know.  Just the brain–your brain–killing time.”



Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, and Ryan Swinton, Marc’s target audience for his mini-dissertation, don’t agree.  They’ve each dreamed of the “ghost girl” three nights in a row (the reason they ask Marc’s opinion on the subject to begin with), and are convinced the dreams have significance.  More than once, over the course of The Eye-Dancers, the characters are struck by the fine line that separates our dreams from our actual lives–to the point that they start to question where the one begins and the other ends.  I suppose that’s a line we’ve all wondered about, at one time or another.

I’ve certainly had my share of dreams that have caused me to take a step back, examine, and delve into the heart of the matter.  And I remember the day–a snowy, frozen January afternoon with the wind slamming into the house, the eaves whining in protest, the world a white snow globe, the flakes swirling, blotting out the yard–when my older brother told me about dying in dreams . . .



“You never see yourself die in your own dream,” he said.  “Am I right?  Or am I right?”

I looked at him, shook my head.  He was wrong. There were multiple dreams I’d had, nightmares, where I knew I would die . . .

“But you didn’t see yourself die, did you?” he persisted.  “You didn’t feel your heart stop.  Didn’t feel the fangs gash into your neck.  I bet you woke up right before it happened . . .”



I didn’t answer.  It was as if he were inside my own head.  He had nailed it to a T.  Outside, a stiff gust of wind rattled the windows, invisible fingers seeking entry into the house, an escape from the cold.

“If you actually did see yourself die in your dream,” my brother went on, “we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.  When you see yourself die in your own dream–and I mean, really see yourself die, not wake up a second before you do–you really will die.  Your heart’ll just stop, right there in your bed.”

“That’s dumb,” I said.  “I mean, how could anyone know that for sure?”

“Ask around,” he said.  “You’ll see.”

I did ask around, and eventually I realized my brother’s theory wasn’t rock-solid unassailable truth.  But it stayed with me anyway, perhaps triggering a lifelong fascination with dreams–a fascination shared by many others.  Dreams have been studied, speculated about, hypothesized, diced, sliced, and spliced for millennia, and surely, a thousand years hence, the field of oneirology will still be going strong.  People want to know, have always wanted to know–what do our dreams mean?  What do they represent?



Have you ever experienced such an unusual dream–not necessarily even a bad one–that, upon waking, you couldn’t help but ask yourself, “Why in the world would I ever dream that?  Why would I even imagine something so completely bizarre?”

The rapid scene changes.  The helter-skelter quality of the “stories” that unfold.  The themes and dangers and desires that define the world of our dreams.  What should we do with them?  Anything?  Or do we blissfully ignore them, relegating them to some neat, locked box, to be opened only when needed in passing–perhaps to amuse a dinner guest or scare a friend or impress a date–but never to be explored in depth, or grappled with in any meaningful way?



Maybe we tend to push our dreams to the background because, well–how else should we respond?  We can’t let them cripple us or hinder us in our everyday lives.  Perhaps more than that . . . even after all these years, all the scientific advances and data and studies, dreams remain elusive.  No one can say, unequivocally, what they mean and why they occur.  The answers are likely broad and layered anyway, dependent on the individual person and the individual dream in question.



Are dreams moving symbols, manifestations of our fears, needs, desires, memories, goals?  Are they gateways to previous lives or vehicles for predicting the future?  Could it be that they provide us with glimpses into the multiverse, our assorted lives sprinkled throughout alternate realities and dimensions?  That they are, in effect, another version of reality and not actually “dreams” at all?



“You know what it felt like,” Mitchell Brant says shortly after he and the others have traversed the void and find themselves in the alternate-world town of Colbyville.  “When she was in our dreams, it felt real.”

Who knows–maybe we even have it all upside down.  Maybe, just maybe, there is another version of ourselves, somewhere, who, every night, “dreams” our lives here on earth, our days unfurling strand by delicate strand in the mind of our counterpart while they sleep. And maybe, while we are asleep, we, in turn, “dream” their lives for them–the two intersecting, interweaving, forever linked . . .

. . . in the wormhole of our dreams.



Thanks so much for reading!


Of Protons, Neutrons, and Shrodinger’s Cat

How much is enough?  And how much is too much?  These are questions every writer must wrestle with at some point or another.

Let’s say an idea strikes.  It hits you, unannounced, perhaps as you’re walking the dog or lying half-asleep in bed, the sounds and silences of the night enveloping you like a warm, familiar blanket.  Maybe you’re out jogging or playing a tennis match.  Ideas are funny that way.  They often come at the oddest, most unexpected of times.



But this particular idea, this hypothetical kernel of excitement, also carries with it a hefty helping of intimidation.  Not so much due to the story itself, or the characters–they’re the aspects that are so exciting, after all.  No.  It’s the research.  The subject matter.  The amount of know-how that must be present to write about the topic intelligently.



“Write what you know,” is a maxim every writer is familiar with, and to a degree, it’s true.  We can only create from our point of view, from our own unique and perhaps even idiosyncratic vantage point of the world and the people who inhabit it.  But does that mean we can’t write about the past?  Bygone eras?  Or what about the future?



What about “ghost girls” with swirling blue eyes who are able to pull four seventh-grade boys into a parallel dimension?



Are these ideas somehow off-limits to us?  Of course not.  This is why the “write-what-you-know” edict can be constraining if applied too literally.  There is nowhere our imagination cannot take us.  No star is too far away.  No date too distant.  No world too remote.



But what about the details of said world?  What about the nuts and bolts of the journey to that star?  How much actual history do we incorporate into our period-piece novel?  How much science do we put into our science fiction?

Admittedly, genre does play a part.  After all, it’s possible the plot of a historical novel will revolve around an actual event–perhaps the sinking of the Titanic or the First World War, or any of a number of a million other possibilities.  In such a case as this, the historical details are crucial to the flow and outcome of the story.



Even in the realm of science fiction, there are no hard-and-fast rules.  Some stories, by their design, their makeup, subject matter, and perhaps even intended audience, will be more technical in nature.  Whether we are dealing with a period-piece romance set in 19th-century France or a futuristic, galaxies-spanning epic, however, no fictional story can afford to get too bogged down in the minutiae of the subject matter.  A novel is not a textbook.



But how much is too much?  Do we really need to do copious amounts of research?  Does an author need to be a subject-matter expert to be able to write adroitly about a particular topic?

Or can you get away with simply winging it?

As with so many things, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the middle.


When I wrote The Eye-Dancers, I realized early on that I had a challenge on my hands.  While there is a significant fantasy aspect to the story, I also intended to incorporate an element of pure science fiction, as well.  I didn’t want every otherworldly twist and turn to be nothing more than a product of the imagination.  After all, parallel-worlds theory is not merely relegated to the fictional.  There were some fundamental quantum-mechanics principles at play here.  The question was:  How to incorporate them into the fabric of the story?  And did I even know enough about quantum physics to attempt this?  I had always enjoyed a fascination with alternate universes, and had long dabbled in scientific literature.  I knew my protons from my neutrons and electrons!  But I was far from an expert.



So . . . I decided to read up on quantum physics.  I researched online and read a few books, making sure I at least had some understanding of the basics.  I learned much more on the topic than I would use in the novel–but that was by design.  I was more comfortable trying to pick and choose selectively from a base of knowledge as opposed to blindly groping for random, low-hanging quantum fruit.



But I knew the quantum-physics aspect of The Eye-Dancers needed to be judiciously utilized.  The goal was to sprinkle it in and scatter it throughout the story like finely dispersed particles of stardust.  At no point did I want a reader to feel bogged down.  Rather, with hope, the quantum principles would enhance the story, make it more interesting, and attempt to give a (at least somewhat feasible) scientific rationale to a fantastic series of events.



One advantage I had was the character of Marc Kuslanski, the precocious science wiz.  Throughout the novel, it is Marc who gives voice to the quantum-physics possibilities.

For example, shortly after the boys arrive in the variant town of Colbyville, Marc, after a brief reference to Shrodinger’s Cat,  a quantum-mechanics thought paradox, explains the concept of parallel worlds . . .

“‘Everything in existence fits together,’ he said.  ‘The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our own earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”‘



His logic-oriented views of the universe may not always be right.  But they serve as a counterpoint to, as well as a conceptual explanation of, the paranormal events he and the other protagonists endure.  In this way, Marc discusses the rational behind the irrational, the theoretical behind the random, the science behind the fantastic.  Some of his hypotheses, rigid as they are, unwilling to account for those phenomena beyond the purview of science, may not always be true.  But hopefully they provide an additional layer, an interesting nugget, to the plot.




“A little learning is a dangerous thing,” British poet Alexander Pope once wrote.  And that may be the case, much of the time.  But for novelists, “a little learning” can be the difference between a believable story and one that doesn’t quite ring true.

Or, put another way:  There is always room for Erwin Schrodinger’s theoretical feline.



Thanks so much for reading!


The Greatest Distance Is Only a Thought Away (Or, A Morning on the Beach)

I have always loved the sea.  From the first time I experienced an ocean beach, I felt drawn to it, its vastness, the steady rhythm of the waves, the sounds and smells and textures.  Growing up in Rochester, New York, hundreds of miles from the Atlantic coast, I didn’t have the chance to visit the sea very often (though Lake Ontario is a pretty fair facsimile!).  And so, whenever my family would take a trip to the coast, I always looked forward to it, counted down the days.  The trips never disappointed.



But there was one trip, one particular experience, that stands out, apart from the rest.

It was midsummer 1994, and my family and I took a two-week expedition to Prince Edward Island, Canada–to this day, the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  We toured the Island, took in the sights, the rich red dirt roads and farms and quaint seaside villages.  But most of all, we went to the beaches.  PEI is famous for its beaches.  We stayed at a hotel right by the shore.



One morning, at dawn, I woke up.  I don’t know why.  I just felt an urge to get up early and experience the day.  Everyone else was still asleep.  I quietly let myself out of the hotel and walked down the narrow footpath, through grasses still moist with dew.  Off to the left, a raven, an early riser himself, pecked at something in the grass, ignoring me.  I continued on to the beach, empty at this hour, as the sun began its ascent in the east.



I walked along the beach, my feet making patterns in the sand, down to the water’s edge.  A gull flew overhead, calling out, perhaps demanding a scrap of food I didn’t have.  The water was warm as it flowed over my feet and around my ankles–just another of PEI’s many charms.  Despite its northern location, the ocean water surrounding the Island is the warmest anywhere along the Atlantic coast north of Virginia.



The waves were gentle that morning, the breeze blowing in softly off the water.  I looked out, as far as I could see.  The sky was some nameless variant of pink, the sun rising, slowly, steadily, the start of a new day.  Another gull–or perhaps it was the same one–squawked again, its call echoing, echoing.



I peered at the horizon.  It was hard to tell where the sea ended, and the sky began.  It all appeared to be joined somehow.  Not separate, but whole.  Not two, but one.  That’s when it happened . . .

I suddenly felt something, I wasn’t sure what.  It was a jolt, like a surge of electricity, but it was also airy, gentle, a feather swaying, nearly weightless.  I closed my eyes, opened them, and I saw.



I saw, in my mind’s eye–so clearly it was as if I were seeing it directly before me–a distant beach across the water.  It was hours later there.  People were milling about.  And some of them were looking to the west, looking toward me.  Maybe they, too, were feeling something above and beyond themselves.


In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski travel through the void, whisked to a parallel world through an unexplainable psychic connection with the “ghost girl” who haunts their dreams.  While Marc, ever the rational scientist at heart, attempts to explain their remarkable situation through the principles of logic and quantum mechanics, Mitchell–inquisitive by nature, intuitive, with an imagination constantly in overdrive–believes there is much more to it than the laws of physics can explain.



And yet, he, too, wants a reason, something to grab hold of, something that might begin to explain why this happened, how this happened, and how Monica Tisdale, the “ghost girl,” was able to draw them into her universe.



At novel’s end, when she once again walks in the shadows and secret places of his dreams, Mitchell asks her, point-blank  . . .

“Why did you ever come to me in the first place?  We . . . I . . . don’t even live in your world.”

To which Monica Tisdale answers, “I never really picked you.  I didn’t say to myself, ‘I need to get Mitchell Brant to help me.’  I just called, and you were there.”

But Mitchell needs more than that.  It’s not good enough, doesn’t go far enough . . .

“‘But the distance,’ he said.  He couldn’t even fathom it.  The void.  The gulf.  ‘You and me, we’re so far apart.'”

“‘Are we, Mitchell?’ she said.  ‘Are we really?'”

Later, upon reflection, in his own words, Mitchell states . . .

“Maybe more than anything, I learned that everything’s connected. . . . I’m not sure how I can explain it to make sense.  It’s like, even the things that seem so far away you can’t even imagine . . . even those things are right there with you.  And the people, too.

“Maybe we’re all connected to each other, in ways we can’t even really understand.  And that’s okay, I guess.  Because maybe we don’t need to understand it.

“We just need to believe it.”




Standing on that beach along the sandy shores of Canada’s garden province, the sunlight warming the morning air, I felt a part of the whole, as if a million invisible fibers extended from me, in all directions, everywhere, across the expanse of the globe.  I thought of the fish beneath the water, miles offshore, swimming, pursuing, surviving.  I thought of giant squid and crustaceans and blue whales, slicing through the water like living, breathing ocean liners, and blind, glowing creatures with fangs and stings, as yet undiscovered by humankind.



Looking across the surface of the waves, their rhythm timeless, eternal, I thought about the continents on the other side.  What were people doing at this moment?  And I realized–everything.  Babies were being born in London, Moscow, Johannesburg, and Rome.  Somewhere in Berlin, there was a car crash; elsewhere, there was an unexpected visitor popping in unannounced, perhaps a long-lost son returning home and bringing smiles to his parents’ faces.  In Ankara, in Casablanca, in Madrid and Paris and Warsaw and every town and village and hamlet in between, life was happening.  People laughed and cried, some shared and felt good; others were alone, in run-down apartments or dark alleyways, thinking of surrendered choices and opportunities now irretrievably lost.



Here I was, standing by myself on a fine Island morning, the sea and the wind and the gulls my only company, and yet–I was everywhere, plugged in, one small cog in an infinite and incomprehensible machine.

The gull squawked again, as if acknowledging my thoughts, and then another gull swooped in low, and then another, and another.



I watched as, moments later, they flew out over the water, becoming smaller and smaller, until they vanished, like a sea mirage.



It was then that I heard voices.  Other early risers were coming now, the beckoning of an Island summer day too much to resist.

The spell broken, I turned around and headed back for the hotel.

As I walked, I thought of sandy beaches halfway around the world, fish that swim in the dark, and stars that shine, like diamonds, in the night sky.  I realized, the light from some of those stars, distant beyond imagining, takes millions of years to reach our planet.

Yet reach us it does.



Thanks so much reading!


Worlds without End

Have you ever been somewhere, just some random place on a normal, nondescript day, when, all of a sudden, it hits you?  You blink, once, twice, three times, trying to reorient your senses.  You look more closely at your surroundings, inspecting every detail, hoping to prove–or disprove–your suspicions.  But no matter what you do, or where you look, or how you try to rationalize, the conclusion is inescapable.


You know you’ve lived this moment before.

Deja vu is a phenomenon that science has never been able to explain with certainty.  It has tried, of course.  Many theories exist.  Perhaps memory itself is the root of the feeling.  Maybe, in moments of deja vu, we are remembering something similar, something partial–unable to make the necessary links to complete the picture.  Maybe there is a rational, scientific, perfectly logical explanation to all cases of deja vu.


Or maybe the answers are not so cut-and-dried.  Certainly, to anyone who has felt a strong sense of “having been there before” when they, in actuality, never have, an explanation of faulty memory or a perception that somehow has gone momentarily haywire might not satisfy.

I know it has never satisfied me.  I have experienced deja vu several times, but there was one episode in particular that stands out from the rest.

I was in a store I had never visited.  I knew this to be true because I had never even been to the town in which this store was located.  It was an old-fashioned country store, in the hills of southern Vermont, the kind of place you might expect to see in a Norman Rockwell painting, with hardwood floors, exposed ceiling beams, and an antique cash register, behind which stood a bespectacled woman with snow-white hair and a welcoming smile.


Immediately, upon entering, the feeling hit me, an almost out-of-body sensation.  In my mind’s eye, I saw myself–months ago, years ago?–walking down the aisles, browsing the merchandise, the dull thud of my shoes echoing against the sturdy wooden planks on the floor.  And when the woman behind the register waved, said, “Nice day, thanks for comin’ in,” I knew, knew, she had said those exact words to me before.


I took a deep breath, my head swirling.  I nearly walked out, then and there.  It was too strange, too uncanny.  I paused, thought . . . was I mistaken?  After all, I had been to several country stores throughout Vermont.  Maybe I’d forgotten.  Maybe I had visited this town, this store.  But no.  I was sure of it.  This was the first time.


I walked down one of the aisles, knowing what I would see before I saw it.  I turned into the next aisle, still feeling as if I were somehow hovering above, unseen, a film projector in hand, recording the past, yet playing it simultaneously, the very fabric of time wrapping in and around itself, with me stranded in its spinning, whirling center.  How could this be?  How could my memory of an event that had never transpired be so specific, so actual?


I purchased a small item, checked out.  When the clerk rang me up, I knew what she was going to say.  “Come back and see us again soon.”  I nodded, thanked her, and quickly left.  I have never been back.

Or, perhaps, without knowing it, I have. . . .


The Eye-Dancers, among other things, explores the concept of parallel worlds, of a layered reality, where universes lie, side by side, without any knowledge of each other.  And in these parallel worlds, we have other selves, other versions who go about their days and their lives, just as we do, running errands, picking up the mail, going to the dentist on rainy November mornings–most likely convinced that their universe is unique, the only one in all creation.


In The Eye-Dancers, after journeying through the void and while exploring the variant town of Colbyville, Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski are confronted with these issues head-on.  And while discussing their plight, Marc offers this explanation, from chapter 12 . . .

“Everything in existence fits together. . . . The smallest subatomic particle, the worst hurricane, the largest whale, the layers upon layers of reality.  All of it.  And what quantum mechanics tells us is–there are infinitely multiple versions of each of us.  Infinitely multiple versions of our earth.  You couldn’t even begin to count them all.”


Such an idea is difficult for the other boys to grasp, and Marc does admit:  “Infinity will blow your mind if you let it.”  But, given their situation, it is something they think about often.

In chapter 13, in a quiet moment, Joe Marma ponders it all.  The text reads:

“He thought about what Kuslanski had said earlier–worlds upon worlds, onward through infinity.  Each of us scattered throughout the various realities like fallen leaves from the same tree.”


Indeed, might this be the real reason behind deja vu?  Could it be when we feel a strong sensation of having done something we haven’t done, seen something we haven’t seen . . . could it be that some small, hidden aspect of our subconscious mind is remembering an event one of our alternate selves experienced?


Marc Kuslanski considers just this in chapter 18 . . .

“It made him wonder.  What we call the subconscious–how much of it is derived from other worlds, other selves, spread out through time and space?  How much of who we are, what we know, is but a small piece, interlocking with an ever-expanding, layered puzzle of an infinity of existences?”


Far-fetched?  Outlandish?  Perhaps.  But impossible?  Nothing is impossible.  So, you see, maybe I had in fact visited that Rockwell-esque country store before, after all.  And maybe I have again since . . .

. . . in a world far, far away, beyond the sign posts of our reality.  And yet, so close, close enough to almost remember, to almost touch and see.

Close enough that, if we listen, really listen, we can occasionally hear its echoes speaking to us, like soft whispers in the dark.


Thanks so much for reading!


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