Interview with Jordan Bell: Artificial Dreaming, Childhood Nightmares and his Debut Novel 'DreamWake'
Geo Bell 14/7/2016
DreamWake: a device designed to induce and network dreams.
After recently finishing (and loving) the newly released dream-themed novel 'DreamWake', I pinched author Jordan Bell to discuss his debut novel, experience with lucid dreaming and more...
G: Hi Jordan, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. First off I'd just like to say that I absolutely loved your novel from start to finish. I'm sure that a lot of lucid dreamers would love to hear more about it, but before we get into DreamWake, could you tell us a little about how you first discovered lucid dreaming and your experience with it?
J: Sure thing. I was young, perhaps four years old. I remember dying sunlight reflecting off of big glass windows as my family approached the pet store. My mind was filled with wonder at all of the creatures in cages, just begging to be my new friend. I was immediately drawn to the fish tank, the largest one. As I watched the beautiful colours of the swimming fish, I noticed a very strange fish, like a miniature octopus. As I watched it scuttle forward, I knew it was a miniature octopus. My heart filled with dread, I had seen this before. The octopus suddenly began growing larger and larger. I backed away from the tank with a cry as a massive twelve foot monster octopus stood before me, limbs reaching out to grab me as my family ran out the front of the store. This had happened before, but this time was different. I raised my hand in front of me as if holding the octopus between thumb and index finger, and then squeezed my fingers together. The octopus instantly shrunk down to it’s original size and plopped back into the tank. In the excitement of victory, I woke up. I had done it, I had changed the recurring nightmare and thus I became a lucid dreamer.
I have only had one or two nightmares since then and each time, I was able to conquer them through changing them. My dreams became my playground; the sandbox of my mind. In that same year I learned how to fly. Over the years I've run with (and from) dinosaurs, explored the depths of strange oceans, fought in the final battle for Hogwarts and many other adventures. I have become: a wizard, a Pirate, a Jedi (I fought Darth Vader once!), The Avatar, a woman, and various characters from my favourite games, books, and movies.
G: Wow! Now that's a childhood dream to tell the grandkids. A fair few of the long time lucid dreamers that I know have the experience of overcoming childhood nightmares in common. Sam, our protagonist in DreamWake learns how to lucid dream following his mother's advice to change his nightmares as a child. As well as your own dream life, what else has inspired the writing of this book?
J: I really love stories that focus on the raw struggles of humanity. Some of my absolute favourite science fictions are my favourites because not only is there awesome science, but the characters make the struggles real and human. I had recently finished a show that got me thinking about these sorts of stories and struggles. As I was walking home the idea came to me to write a book. I knew I wanted the core struggle to be uplifting and inspiring, to help bring readers faith and self confidence. Since I had gained these attributes through lucid dreaming and since my dreams lend themselves to great narratives, it just made sense to make the science fiction focus around dreams.
G: Great stuff. One thing that I really enjoyed is how the storyline weaves in and out of dreams, from either Jane or Sam's perspective. At a number of points it felt like I was reading straight out of a wonderfully detailed dream journal - something that I'm certain a lot of oneironauts will enjoy. What really made this book for me however was not the gripping storyline, but the countless lucid dreaming references which oneironauts will understand and relate to.
For example, in Chapter 1, Sam uses his finger-gun (or so I call it) to shoot down guards at the party. This in particular made me chuckle because the finger-gun is my go-to weapon in my own dreams.
J: I am glad to see fellow a oneironaut recognize and appreciate the lucid dream aspects. To be honest, I was worried that the technology in the book might make it less relatable to lucid dreamers. That was my biggest problem with the movie Inception, the technology superseding the dreamers control (among other inaccuracies such as dream characters as a defence mechanism).
I think it's interesting how connected dream control is to our bodies despite the fact that we by and large are laying in bed in sleep paralysis. I could think about flying all I want in a dream but until I run forward or jump or perform some other bodily movement, nothing happens. Even with verbal commands, I usually have to perform an action to see them fulfilled.
I accidentally flew the first time I did so. After that it was pretty easy to get in the air, but as soon as I became afraid of falling, I would fall. One of the scariest moments for me was a dream overlooking a cliff and deciding to try flying. You have to really believe it's a dream no matter how vivid and real, and that you will be able to fly in order to take that step off the ledge. It's a literal leap of faith. This has helped me to understand that faith is an action word. More than just believing, you have to do something to prove that belief to yourself, and to confirm that it is true faith (in other words that you believed in something that turned out to be true).
In the book Sam and Jane also face off with mind games. These were inspired by my own challenges with controlling specific things; walking through windows or ceilings, changing the dream scene, meeting specific people. I remember for a number of months having an issue where if I tried to fly straight up through the ceiling of a building or vehicle, I would hit my head and crumble back to the ground. In each instance I learned to find a different way to accomplish that same task whereupon I was able to successfully do it in the manner that had been giving me problems. Like my own mind was pushing and testing me to think outside of my own box.
G: See that's something that I've always found fascinating - how varied each of our experiences with dream control can be. For myself, flying in dreams has always been second nature. I'm sure the fact that I had no doubts I could fly once lucid played a big role in my success with it. I also feel that my exposure to video games and heavy doses of Anime (did someone say DBZ?) as a child had something to do with my knack for dream control.
Learning to teleport however took a good few attempts. Reading about Sam's "blink-flash" instantly sent me back to the first time I did this in a lucid dream - I vividly recalled how it happened upon reading this part of the book. The references to dream spinning, false awakenings and so on are also a nice touch. Little things like that, and being able to relate on some level to the dreamers in your book is what I feel makes it a real treat for lucid dreamers.
With regards to Dream Spinning and other little technicalities, did you have to do much research during the writing of DreamWake, or had you previously come across these things during your years of experimenting with lucidity?
J: I didn't learn the technical name for what I was doing until I was 14. Most of these technicalities I discovered on my own. However, Dream Spinning was something I read about in an article from Stephen LaBerge as a way to re-solidify a dream that was losing clarity. I later learned to use this same technique as a means of traveling through the dream world on my own.
I did a fair amount of research on brain waves, sleep, and dreams as I started writing which led me to MU waves which I had never before heard of. Some friends who were reading along with my writing found some very helpful articles on tACS and The MindWave. I was able to go back and shore up the science of DreamWake with these findings.
G: Good old Dream Spinning has never failed me. So, one last question on the topic of dream control: Sam's profound ability to influence the dream is a strong theme throughout the book. His actions are both imaginative and sometimes unconventional! Trapping hordes of zombies in giant bubbles - genius! You mentioned having to think outside of the box to overcome obstacles in dream control - would you say that Sam's techniques mirror your own in some ways?
J: Absolutely! All of the dreams Sam and Jane experience are inspired by my own dreams. Their techniques and solutions are largely my own. The setting and details of the zombie horde dream were all from my own dream. Of course there was no thought of dream servers or hacking in my original dream, and I took a more violent course rather than trying to cure them. Having to alter the dreams to fit the books plot, and DreamWake's functions was a fun exercise in original thinking.
G: Awesome! I've had a lot of zombie themed dreams over the last few months, likely thanks to The Walking Dead series. I found that dreams following the evenings I spent reading DreamWake were especially action packed - and my lucids are rarely dull!
So one thing that I wanted to hear your thoughts on is a hot topic of 2016: the question of how the rise in Virtual Reality (VR) technology will impact the practise of lucid dreaming. Some experts such as dream researcher Daniel Love, have suggested that the ease and availability of VR could sway potential oneironauts from investing the time and effort required to become a seasoned lucid dreamer.
I've written about this previously on LucidSource.net, and how, in contrast, I myself feel that increasing use of VR and exposure to virtual worlds will actually whet the appetite for exploring lucid dreaming. As such, I don't think we should necessarily view it as a VR versus LD scenario. In your book, however, the idea of an artificial world replacing raw, organic dreaming indeed takes place through the invention of DreamWake - an idea I find fascinating and if I'm honest, not really that far fetched for future civilisations.
Let's imagine that such a technology were to become a reality in the near future. If some sort of artificial dream inducer like DreamWake became available to you, given your experience with and current love for lucid dreaming, how likely do you think you would be to succumb to such a leisure? Do you think it would signal the end for natural lucid dreaming?
J: First, as far as VR versus lucid dreaming I tend to agree with your stance that they are not truly competing. The first time I played a 3D video game was on the Nintendo 64, and it was Super Mario 64 (of course!). I remember sitting there thinking how amazing it was and how similar playing felt to my lucid dream experiences. Of course, I quickly began to see the flaws of gaming (graphical detail levels, reverse normal walls getting me trapped in nowhere, cameras lacking complete freedom etc.) but I've always felt that gaming will keep on progressing to the point that they are as vivid and free as lucid dreams.
If DreamWake were real, I would love to use it mainly for the ability to share in dream experiences with my loved ones. And don't even get me started on multiplayer gaming!
I don't think a VR Dream device would replace lucid dreaming, rather they would compliment each other. I view it more as the ultimate dream induction machine. There are many lucid dream induction machines and products on the market right now but they tend to wake the user with their flashing lights and sounds more than anything. In order for such a technology to become a reality, I feel that sleep, mind, and lucid dreaming research must play a big part.
The only real fear I have from such a machine is that it wouldn't live up to the expectations just as so many game consoles and devices to date. In this case the fear is specifically that the programming would be so locked down that a lucid dreaming sandbox mode (or truly user controlled and created experiences) would be discouraged.
G: Multiplayer lucid dreams would be another level wouldn't it? Well if artificial shared dreaming does make an appearance in our lifetime I'll be sure to add you as a friend! I have one last question for you Jordan. I know it's early days since the release of your DreamWake, but I've got to ask - is there any chance that we can look forward to another lucid dreaming novel from you in the near future?
J: Thanks I look forward to some awesome dream adventures with you! I am currently working on the sequel to DreamWake tentatively titled Incubus. I had planned to finish it by the end of summer but life finds ways to interfere (people need jobs? And schooling?!). I still hope to have it completed before the end of the year, but maybe it would make a great release for next years lucid dreaming day?
In addition, I have a number of novel ideas and outlines that will not be lucid dreaming sci-fi's, but they are all inspired by lucid dreams I've had.
G: That's great news, I'm looking forward to it already, as I'm sure other DreamWake readers will be. Well you'll be glad to hear that I'm done picking your brain for today! Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me, and an even bigger thanks for unleashing your thrilling novel to the lucid dreaming community! All the best and looking forward to your future work!
J: Thanks for a great interview!