What Writers Get Wrong About Nightmares and Dreams, with Dr. Dylan Selterman
Plus insomnia and the show I watch when I can't sleep
From the Writing Desk:
Well. I thought August was a lot. Then September came and life said, “Yeah, we’re still going.”
September—I got full fledged into the swing of things with my new teaching job. I had family in town and visited family in Missouri, since my sister is about to move to Latvia for 18 months. I took my kitty to the vet for even more bloodwork and we discovered that the thing we thought he had isn’t the thing he has, so we’re back to square one. I got sick.
And then there was the writing stuff—I turned in the first full draft of my next book at the very beginning of the month, and because we’re all trying to make sure we can get keep this book on it’s already tight schedule (if all goes well this next book will hit shelves next fall!) my editorial team turned it back my way super quick, and gave me my own super quick deadline. The fastest I’ve had in publishing so far, actually. But now when you read this book, you insiders will know that I did a lot of edits in the back of the car while me and my family drove from Orlando to Nashville to Kansas City!
This next book? Well, I can’t say too much about it yet, but hopefully soon! And I can say that it’s another standalone middle grade spooky book. Here’s a hint mwahaha:
Lastly, thank you all again SO much for your support of The Nightmare House. If you have a minute, would you mind leaving a quick 1 or 2 sentence review on Amazon? The algorithm gods track these things and its honestly one of the most helpful things you can do for a writer. THANK YOU!
4 Questions About Nightmares and Dreams with Dr. Dylan Selterman:
One of my favorite things about getting serious about this newsletter has been interviewing people and learning from those wiser and smarter than me. And the thing about being a writer is that we have things to learn from not only other writers, but professionals is all sorts of fields! The learning and research never ends.
Today I am incredibly honored to learn from Dr. Dylan Selterman, Ph.D., and professor at Johns Hopkins University. He’s even given TED talks about what we can learn from our dreams, and you can learn more about his work on his website. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Selterman!
1. What is something that media (books, tv shows, movies) often gets wrong about dream psychology?
Lots of people believe in dream symbolism (like if you dream about a dog, it has a latent meaning involving companionship or something), but there's zero scientific evidence to support dream symbolism.
2. What is something new we've learned about dreams in the last 3-5 years?
Well, a lot of researchers (including myself) are interested in how people's dreams may have changed during the pandemic. I'm not sure if we can be completely confident in this idea but a few studies have shown that when people's dreams had higher COVID-related imagery (e.g., masks), this was linked with an increase in pandemic psychological distress/anxiety. One thing that makes me a bit skeptical is that many of these studies are cross-sectional (I myself am guilty of doing this), rather than using diary methods that are more reliable.
3. Is there an explanation for why some people have more nightmares than others?
Some people may be more prone to negative rumination, and this blends in with nightmares. Others may be suffering from mental illness of some kind, such as PTSD. In most cases, however, people have more negative emotion compared to positive emotion in dreams. So that means negative emotion is "normal" in people's dreams and does not necessarily indicate a nightmare or mental illness.
4. If you could make sure people (especially kids) understood one thing about their dreams and nightmares, what would it be?
Oh, I would love for everyone (esp. kids) to share their dreams openly with each other and to make that a regular, normalized part of daily life. Although there's little scientific data on this, I think life is happier and healthier when people are sharing dreams openly and honestly with each other. I think we could be a more compassionate and empathetic society if we were aware of each other's dreams.
Thank you so much Dr. Selterman for giving us your amazing insight and wisdom about dreams and nightmares. You can learn more about his work here.
What I’m Reading: I was sold on this book by premise alone. Think Redwall with dinosaurs. I don’t need to say much more than that, do I? This book was fun and the perfect audiobook for my commute. I still think about these endearing dino characters. Highly recommend the Deadlands series by Skye Melki-Wegner.
What I’m Watching: It’s the most spectacular time of year. Kids spooky and horror stories are some of the best movies and shows ever made, and I’d like to introduce you to one of my favorite pieces of media of all time. I mean, it’s been out for a while and you may very well already know it. I hope you do. I watch this delightful series several times in the fall, and, let’s face it, several times throughout other times of the year as well. Over the Garden Wall is a series of ten episodes of ten minutes each, so basically a movie. The music is absolutely incredible. It’s available on Hulu, I believe. If you know this series or decide to watch it, let me know. We’ll be friends, and that’s a rock fact.
Interview with Aaron Blabey: As I’ve been trying to teach myself illustration, and as I’ve been drafting chapter books and stories for younger kids, Aaron Blabey has been one of my biggest inspirations. I keep copies of the Bad Guys books nearby as mentor texts. And the movie was great too, btw, if you haven’t seen it. I’m also a huge fan of Jarrett J. Krosoczka and his amazing books, so this conversation is between two geniuses. I learned a lot. Definitely worth checking out.
What I’m Drawing: I’ve never been a good sleeper, so I made a drawing about it.
But the fact is, dreams catch us with our armor off.
Writing Opportunity: We’re keeping with the nightmares theme here. The Underdog Press is accepting submissions for their “Nightmares Before Bed” anthology. It’s due in January, so you have lots of time to get your submission ready!
Teacher or Librarian? I would love to do a free virtual Q&A with your class or book group! If you’re interested in scheduling a visit you can reach out to me via my website. Let me know how I can support you! I’ve also got free classroom resources to accompany each book. You guys are rock stars!
Thanks for coming along everyone! I’d be honored if you forwarded this to anyone you thought might find it useful. Onward!
Thanks for reading!