Need a thriller? Dream Wide Awake is free today, Sunday, November 15th, & Monday, November 16th on Amazon.
Two real life events inspired this novel. The first occurred when I was sleeping in the attic of my grandparents house on Parade Blvd in Erie, Pennsylvania. Except for a few changes, chapter three in Dream Wide Awake mirrors that incident. I was three years old at the time and NEVER again slept with a hand dangling over the side of a bed.
The second was a premonition I had two months before 9/11 of a building collapsing in a large city in the Northeastern United States. (You can listen to interviews about that premonition on AfterBuzz Books or on Beyond Reality Radio.)
Although this novel is fiction, many years ago the government did have a program similar to the novel’s program, Project Dream, called Stargate. A few readers have asked if I thought my novel is another one of my premonitions. As far as I know, the Project Dream in Dream Wide Awake is only a figment of my imagination.
Every author has a favorite book they’ve written. Ask me which one mine is and, hands down, I’ll tell you Dream Wide Awake.
Hope you enjoy the free read. BOOKMARK the FOREWORD to keep track of the characters. Then see if you can figure out who the perpetrator is!
What was that? Am I crazy? Or am I having (gulp)—a vision?
At the risk of sounding deranged and for the lack of a better description, I’m admitting I experience occasional, brief, inexplicit “movies in my head” without reason. These little episodes surprise me in different settings: at home while relaxing on the couch, at my workplace, the bank while talking to a teller, or in a chapel while I’m praying. This last setting was the inspiration for the first chapter in my new novel, Project Dream.
What happens in the book is much more melodramatic than my real-life experience because, well, because I write fiction and real-life isn’t all that exciting. So here’s what I conjured up:
In Project Dream, ten-year-old Izzy Jimenez visits a chapel in San Diego, California. An angel appears. The ghostly spirit swoops down and begs Izzy to dissuade a forlorn woman in that chapel from going to New York City. Reluctantly, Izzy approaches the woman and relays the advice of the angel (who she thinks is the woman’s mother). The woman asks Izzy what the angel’s name is. Izzy doesn’t know. She doesn’t hear the angels, only sees them, but they do give her signs.
“Wait!” Izzy says. The spirit opens her arms. She’s holding roses. “Rose? Is your mother’s name Rose?” And with that verification of the mother’s name—walla—the woman cancels her trip. Izzy has saved her life.
Was that the real-life story?
No. I wish it was. My 9/11 vision (read that story) was so vague, it helped no one. I often question why I had it. I knew a building would collapse and I suspected people would lose their lives, but I had no idea where the building was located other than somewhere in northeastern America near a body of water.
The single advantage of that premonition was personal confirmation. That vision made me, CJ Zahner, believe I wasn’t crazy. It was too accurate to be coincidental.
But I digress, what actually happened in the chapel?
Many years ago, a new friend asked if I would like to visit a side chapel of a Catholic church—not in San Diego, but in Erie, Pennsylvania.
The chapel struck me as lovely. I knelt beside my friend and immediately began praying. I don’t recall who I prayed for, probably my kids. Regardless, there I was—minding my own business praying—when I had this swooshing feeling like an angel came down out of the ceiling. I attempted to ignore the sensation, blaming my wild imagination. This time, however, the woman, white spirit, ghost, whatever you would like to call her, was relentless. She wouldn’t leave.
She said, quite clearly, “My daughter doesn’t believe in this sort of thing.” She chuckled, told me she wanted her daughter to know she loved her, and just before she left, she opened her arms and showed me roses.
The dream seemed so real that I was quite shaken. When we were leaving, my friend asked what was wrong.
“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” I said. “But I think the mother of one of those women in that chapel appeared to me.”
My friend didn’t know me too well at that time so, of course, she looked at me like I was nuts. But still shook, I described what the angel relayed, and my friend became quiet.
“What was the woman’s name?” she asked.
I told her I’d seen lots of spirits, but I never seemed to get their names right. They usually only gave me feelings or showed me signs. Then I remembered the roses.
“Oh, wait,” I said. “The woman’s name may have been Rose.”
Again, silence from my friend. I was sure she thought I’d lost my mind. Finally, she spoke. “My mother’s name was Rose.”
And from that true-life experience, I conjured up the entire first chapter of Project Dream.
CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two paranormal thrillers. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own real-life experiences. See the video of her 9/11 premonition here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.
Do my premonitions scare you? How would you like to be me? You can get away from me. I can’t.
When I was three years old, I had a paranormal experience with a black devil. (This is the basis for Chapter Three in my novel, Dream Wide Awake.) When I was thirteen, I thought bad spirits were going to infuse their ectoplasm into me and take over my body. For years I couldn’t walk into a funeral home without shaking because I felt like the person in the casket was, somehow, still in the room.
And when I turned thirty? I said, “Well, if mental illness hasn’t surfaced in me by now, it never will.”
These are some of the events in my life that led to my belief in the paranormal, which inadvertently led to my Novel, Dream Wide Awake. (Read an excerptand/or purchase on Amazon.) But truthfully, I’m an extremely logical person. So, from a young age, I thought something was terribly wrong with my brain. I could feel spirits, ghosts, energy, whatever you’d like to call the phenomenon, but because I could not see anything with my eyes, logically, I concluded I had a wild imagination.
Learning the secret
I learned the secret early on: don’t talk about the wild imagination.
When I was thirteen years old, I scared the daylight out of my cousin, Jane, while we babysat. I walked into a house and felt like something or some spirit would overtake my soul. I told my cousin I was afraid I was going to turn into someone else. (I know you remember this, Jane. Believe me, I was frightened, too.)
Shortly thereafter, my mother told me I had to stop talking about “this thing,” or I was going to end up in a mental ward. So, I did. I stopped talking about it for thirty years.
Ignoring the movies
There is no way to make this sound sane. I had to force myself to ignore the movies in my head: A bank teller’s grandmother standing behind her waving her arms. Ignore. My friend’s mother hovering over her at the hospital church mass. Look away. The spirit floating above the gravestone. Leave. The military guy lingering behind a mother who innocently came to my front door to sign her child up for soccer. Don’t tell her.
I remember when that soccer mom left, I leaned my back against the door, slid to the floor, and cried, saying, “I’m crazy.”
But I wasn’t crazy.
The premonition that changed my thinking
I’m not sure why I had the 9/11 premonition. I was never able to see the vision clearly enough to gather what exactly would happen. And even if I had, what would I have done? The only thing I know is if I hadn’t had the vision of being inside one of those World Trade Center buildings when they began to fall, I might still to this day think I was crazy.
The vision began two months before the tragedy. The first time I recorded anything, I wrote notes in the July 11th box of my desk calendar.
In the first half of this “movie in my head,” I floated toward a city. I realized, months later, I was seeing this from a plane’s view. I was in Northeastern America floating above pine trees and approaching water. I thought I was near a Great Lake in upper-state New York. I mistakenly wrote Huron for Lake Ontario, because I am geographically challenged.
I also wrote tall building and sm city for small city. Later I crossed out small and wrote med for medium. Later still, I put a question mark after med, because with each vision, I came closer to the city and saw its size. I wrote 27 F for the 27th floor, but I remember thinking, no, 72nd floor. (I never wrote that down.)
In the second half of this vision, I was at my desk, working, and the building began to move. The first time I had the vision, I thought an earthquake rocked City Hall. The room swayed. I glanced down and saw huge gray floor boulders buckling beneath me. The entire building was collapsing.
That was it. I had this vision three days in a row, and then weekly once or twice for the next two months. I was always at my desk at work, and it was always morning. I wrote before noon, 10:14, and 10:16, but never wrote any more times because I always experienced this vision between 10 and 10:30.
Keeping the calendar
At the end of July, I told myself I would keep the calendar one more month. I was sure a building would collapse.
At the end of August, I attended a training in Washington DC in a building about one mile from the pentagon. The class was in the basement and the entire time I thought, “I hope this isn’t the building that’s going to collapse, because if it is, I’m dead.”
On September 1, I couldn’t throw the calendar away. I said if a building didn’t collapse by September, 30th, I’d toss it then. (That calendar is pictured in the cover of this article.)
On the morning of 9/11, a co-worker mentioned two planes had hit the World Trade Center. Our director moved his television into our office reception area, so people could watch throughout the morning.
Around 10 am, a coworker walked by my cubicle, announcing one of the buildings had collapsed. I asked if people had still been inside and he said yes. I was mortified. I returned to my desk, thinking about those people. Then I realized—I was sitting in the exact place where I’d had those premonitions.
I went out to the reception area where people had gathered to watch, and said, “I know you guys are going to think I’m crazy, but I’ve had this premonition of a building collapsing for two months. What time did this happen?” Someone said it began at 8:30 and I said that made me feel a bit better, because I always had the vision of the building falling between 10 and 10:30. That’s when our secretary, Sharon, said the building collapsed at 10.
I was so upset, I rushed to the ladies’ room and splashed water on my face. By the time I returned, the second building had collapsed.
Sharon asked if I was all right, and I said she must think I was crazy. Then I remembered my notes. Frantically, I pushed my work aside and exposed the desk calendar, still flaunting July. I showed her and she said nothing.
“I know. My notes don’t really do justice to what I saw,” I said.
“Oh, I believe you,” she replied. “Look where you kept your notes.”
All of the notes I took were inside the box marked 11.
I’ve had other movies in my head—crazy movies. But I’ll leave those for another day.
For now, I’ll just say that since 9/11, I pay attention to the things I see. I don’t believe in coincidences and so I’m sure that 2001 vision served some purpose. I’m not completely sure what that was. The vision didn’t seem to help anyone—except maybe me.
I no longer believe I’m crazy
Cyndie Zahner is the author of Dream Wide Awake, a paranormal novel that is totally fiction, but has been inspired by her own experiences. This is the first in a series of blogs about her inspiration behind the novel. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, LinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon.