While I love research in a general sense, I more or less refuse to do it while drafting a book. I’m too addicted to that archaeological sense of uncovering another world to allow this one to consciously intrude. However, at some point I generally do have to pull out the books (hi Google) and go hunting for real world equivalencies, or at least reference points.
Enter the Mara. The story that has become BLIND THE EYES emerged out of an image or a scene wherein a girl is saved from monster attack by a hero. And diverged dramatically from there - the Wattpad story-in-progress THINGS GOT OUT OF HAND is closer to the original intent. All that to say, my sense of what the monsters in question were was vague to say the least.
But successive drafts did serve to nudge things along. Fairly early on, I knew the monsters were a waking nightmare, a concrete manifestation of a victim’s fears, though I intended this literally as depicted in TGOOH. Later, with the addition of THE FIRST DREAM (BTE Chapter 8), the nightmare-monsters were found inhabiting a separate plane of consciousness, killing victims in a sort of dreamscape, with only gradual crossover into the waking world.
Around the same time, I realized the monsters, the dream-eaters, had their source in the paranormal world of ghosts or malevolent spirits. Obsessed with mist, fog and boundaries, I envisioned them as hungry spirits of the dead, trapped within a closed city and cannibalizing the living inhabitants. Amorphously inhabiting and twisting victims’ desires or longings to attack, they manifest in the real world with considerably less clarity, little more than a sickly yellow mist.
But dancing around their identity, both named and visual, was adding confusion to an already vague and dreamy draft, and I hated every time I had to write “dream-death” or “nightmare”, feeling it too clunky.
More drafts, more careful excavating of a story world that I could envision but wasn’t making plain enough for readers. My monsters were hemmed in by a literal boundary, a city cut off by environmental as well as spiritual damage. The ocean had risen, flooding the edges of the city, and opening up identities for the monsters in the pantheon of water-monsters that I was most familiar with from Celtic legend. Time to pull out the books.
I started with a survey of aquatic monsters, with a quick turn through dream-eating and nightmare beasts, scanning through familiar Celtic sources as well as Japanese monsters and a brief, not particularly successful survey of Canadian and American First Nations spirits, legends and monsters, and came up with surprising results.
As it turns out, there wasn’t a single likely culprit that blended aquatic and dream attributes, but a Japanese dream-eating monster called the baku came awfully close to meeting my dream-eater needs. It seems to function in a mostly positive way, eating nightmares, but it has a darker side where it can go too far and eat the hopes and desires of a dreamer as well, leaving them hollowed out and empty…
…which as I write this, brings up some interesting implications for a historical angle on the story world’s current troubles. I chose to integrate the aquatic or marine element of BTE’s dream-eating monsters by calling them the Mara. In various Celtic/European languages, this ties in nicely to night’mares’ or nightmara, with, at least in my mind, some shadings of Kelpie and other water horses as well, but functions more like the Japanese Baku.
And there you have it, the not-so-well-researched anatomy of a monster, in which my imaginary demons turned out to have surprisingly connected real-world counterparts, confirming once again that human imagination has its limits. I think I’ll do a feature on the world monsters and their traits in my next newsletter (October) - keep an eye out for it!