My Inspiration for Dream Wide Awake

Dream Wide Awake was inspired many years ago on a night I met fright. I was sleeping in the attic of my grandparent’s home—just like LeeLee in chapter three.

In a pitch-black hour, I awoke when someone grabbed my hand. My arm was wedged between the head board and mattress of my bed. I felt someone’s fingers slip into mine and when I opened my eyes, he didn’t let go.

I say “he” because I was sure I clasped hands with a devil. I didn’t see him, but could feel him with every inch of my three-year-old being. I screamed and my mother came and lifted me into her arms, pulling me from his grip. She said I was dreaming, but I knew better.

Fast forward fifty years. This single incident, still so alive in my memory, inspired Dream Wide Awake. The story is fiction, but the setting in chapter three is my grandparent’s attic. My own grandmother was bedridden as in the novel, my mother did have to help nurse her, and my parents, brother, and I moved into a makeshift apartment in her attic.

How impacting was that single incident of feeling someone’s grip in the night? Well, one, I have never once slept with a hand dangling over the side of the bed since, and two, it inspired a novel.

The novel

Dream Wide Awake is a paranormal thriller about a family of seers. And at the risk of having some people think I’m crazy and others ask what their future holds, I’ll admit I have had an occasional premonition. My most substantial one being a vague forewarning of 9/11.

For two months before the twin towers fell, I had visions that I was approaching a northeastern American city, near water, from a plane’s eye view. The image came (and there is no sane way to describe this) as a movie in my head. First, I was in the sky moving, and next, I was in a building and the gray floor boulders were buckling beneath me. The building was collapsing.

I kept notes of this vision on my big July desk calendar. Wouldn’t throw it out at the end of July or August because I was sure a building was going to fall. On September 11th when the first building collapsed, I dug my calendar out from under a myriad of paperwork, and there were my notes. All contained in the big box of the 11th of the month. I nearly passed out.

Hence my belief: premonitions can be real. Do I believe in psychics and mediums, too? Yes, to varying degrees.

As a freelance writer I once interviewed a true medium, Anne Gehman. Gehman participated alongside four other mediums in a University of Arizona professor’s afterlife experiments. (The Afterlife Experiments, Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of life After Death, by Gary E. Schwartz, Ph.D. with William. L. Simon.) She said clairvoyance was like playing the piano. Some people sat down and played naturally. Others, no matter how long they trained on the keys, would never make great pianists. But some who practiced long and hard? Did became proficient.

This made me wonder. Could children be trained to be psychic?

The notion

In Dream Wide Awake, three boys have been abducted in a small town. Mikala Daly, a six-year-old girl from a normal American family, is having visions of those boys, but her parents must hide her sixth-sense abilities because of a governmental program called Project Dream.

The backstory is that after 9/11, the CIA initiated an innovative national security test program. Twenty-five children were removed from reformatory facilities across the country and placed in Project Dream. The program’s purpose was to augment the adult remote-viewing program. Scientists believed children might be more easily trained and more successful in identifying threats to the American people and government through remote viewing.

When the project produces stunning results, they “recruit” seventy-five more children. Good kids without juvenile records. Children selected had two main characteristics: a sixth sense and physical superiority.

Mikala Daly’s aunt Rachel was one of the original Project Dream kids, and now no one in Mikala’s family will divulge Mikala’s gifts for fear the government will take her away to Project Dream, too. Unbelievable? (Let me remind you of the immigration debacle.)

This story is fiction, not a premonition—I think…

Author Links:

Author website www.cjzahner.com
Dream Wide Awake by CJ Zahner, Amazon http://bit.ly/AMDWACZ
Dream Wide Awake by CJ Zahner, Barnes & Noble http://bit.ly/BNDWA
Dream Wide Awake by CJ Zahner /, Kobo http://bit.ly/CZDWAk
The Suicide Gene by CJ Zahner, Amazon http://bit.ly/AMSGene
Follow CJ on goodreads at http://bit.ly/gCJZahner
Follow CJ on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/cjzahner/?hl=en
Follow CJ on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/authorcjzahner/
Follow CJ on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TweetyZ

Excerpt from Dream Wide Awake, Chapter 1, Jack:

She was quiet, still, her expression soft. Lip relaxed against lip. Then her eyes opened.
“He can see me.”
At first, because of her casualness, he thought he’d surely heard her wrong. “Who can see you?”
“The bad man.”
His calmness faded to confusion. He tightened his eyebrows. Premonitions, they called these episodes. His wife experienced them, now his daughter. But they were never interactive.
“What do you mean he can see you?”
“He said my name. He has a guide.”
“A guide?”
“You know, Daddy, someone who shows him movies. He knows who I am.”
“No, Mikala, the bad man does not know who you are.”
“Yes, he does, Daddy.” For the first time, he heard panic in her voice. “That’s the reason he is at Danny’s house.”
A creak in the floor behind him grabbed his attention, and he turned his head. Lisa darted from the bedroom, ripped Mikala from his arms, and handed him something in her place.
“I told you not to allow this. I said you were playing with fire.”
“Lisa, she’s wrong. He can’t see her.”
“Yes, he can, Daddy.”
“No, he can’t, Mikala.” He lowered his voice to sound stern.
“Yes—yes he can. He’s with Danny right now. Run Daddy. Get Danny!”
“Go.” Lisa screamed so loud one of the boys in the next room woke crying.
Jack looked down at his lap—at the ratty sneakers Lisa had placed there. For the moment it took him to put them on, he wondered if he should run or drive the block and a half to his sister’s house. He decided, descended the stairs, and bounded out the front door bare-chested, leaving Lisa behind switching on lights and talking into the scanner. She would call for a cruiser to go to Janice’s house, to her own house. But Mikala was wrong about Danny. She had to be. He was going to be in a heap of trouble with the chief later.
He ran down the driveway and disappeared into the black night within seconds. His legs turned over like an Olympic sprinter’s, his breath labored, and sweat beaded on his upper lip. He rounded Third Street and nearly slipped in the wet grass on Nevada Drive but caught himself. He saw her house in the distance. Janice, four months separated from her husband, was alone there with her son. Alone like the others. Three single mothers of three abducted little boys.
His mind raced. The police would be at his house in two minutes. At Janice’s in three. They protected each other’s families.
When he was four houses away, he began screaming his sister’s name. Trying to scare anyone off. Make the bad man drop the child? Leave without the child? He didn’t know why he screamed. By the time his feet hit her driveway her light had turned on. The front bedroom window opened.
“Jack?” Janice’s voice slithered through the screen.
He passed her window and ran toward the back of the house, toward Danny’s room. He could see broken glass on the ground shimmering with the reflection of a street light. Dear God, no, he thought. It couldn’t be. These abductions could not have hit his family.
“Danny,” he yelled.
When he reached his nephew’s window, the whites of Danny’s two little eyes glowed in the dark room. He was there. Standing. Looking out the bare, open window back at him. Waiting.
“Hi, Uncle Jack,” Danny said, his little face peeking over the window ledge, his stuffed bear, Tony, nudged under his chin.
Jack leaned hands on house and huffed, trying to catch his breath. Trying to decipher Danny was okay. Alive. Mikala was wrong.
“Thank God, thank God,” he uttered out loud. When he caught his breath, he gazed up at his nephew.
That’s when horror seized him. Above Danny’s little face, secured on the broken glass, a scribbling on Christian stationary paralyzed him. It was the abductor’s fourth message, but the first to make Jack’s blood circulate like an electrical current. The words he read flowed over his lips in a whisper, expelled with terrifying breath.
“One mulligan for Mikala.”
______________________________________

Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake. She is also, very much, a dreamer. Follower Zahner at http://www.cjzahner.com, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, goodreads, and Bookbub.

Advertisements

The Flagship City Book Fest & Little Pink Miracles

Do you believe in little pink miracles? The simple kind? I do…my belief was inspired by an innocent, little message from Diana…

The Flagship Fest

The first of, what I hope to be, many Flagship City Book Fests was held on September 28th and 29th, 2018. The event, hosted by the Erie Downtown Development Corporation, brought authors, readers, and book store owners together on a stretch of road in the four-hundred block of State Street. During the festival, customers paged through books, children gathered on the steps of the Erie Art Museum for activities, Mayor Schember  stopped by, and readers relaxed in comfy chairs of an outdoor makeshift reading room.

Being a brand-new author, I gratefully participated. As a tool to draw readers to my little Cyndie and Mayor Schmberspace in the Erie writing world, I raffled off my books to someone who stopped by to sign my list.

A few hours into the festival, I received a Facebook message from Diana.

Diana and I grew up in the same Parade Street Boulevard neighborhood and had reconnected on Facebook. She wanted a chance to win my novels, but she couldn’t come. She had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to undergo treatment.

Little Pink Miracles

I only had to think for a moment before deciding to open the raffle to my online followers. I posted a message on Facebook stating if people were unable to come to the Flagship City Fest, they could simply message me their name and telephone number, and I would sign them up. A few people took me up on the offer. Diana was one of them.

I’m sure the reason I did not draw the name of the person who won my novels on Sunday, as I promised I would do, was a simple little “pink” miracle. On Monday, October 1st, I remembered the raffle, hurried to my laptop, and brought up a number through a random-number generator program. The number 33 appeared on my laptop.  I ran my finger down the raffle list to number 33.  And the name Diana Dodson Bool smiled up at me.

You may say, ah, coincidence. I don’t. Not only was October 1st the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was also Diana’s first day of breast cancer radiation therapy.

Diana

Growing up, Diana lived in the house next door. She walked me to kindergarten and helped my mother with my birthday parties. Four years my senior, I remember her as the nicest “older” kid in the neighborhood. She was kind, sweet, and always looking after the younger kids.

Fast forward fifteen years and Diana became a teacher. (No surprise there.) She worked in this capacity for a total of thirty-two years, the last twenty at Rolling Ridge Elementary School, before retiring seven years ago. Then, this past August, Diana received the bad news; she had breast cancer.

She said she surprised herself with a calmness that she can only attribute to her faith.  “I am a Christian, and I know God was with me.  I have an inner peace like I’ve never quite felt before.  To this day, I still have not cried,” she said.

During Diana’s first visit with her surgeon, Dr. Engel, he told her, “You’re not going to die from this.”

For Diana, those words were comforting. “I thought, okay, well let’s get on with this then.” Although she does admit that, at home, when her husband asked if he could get her anything, “I thought for a minute and then answered, ‘a scotch and water and chocolate chip cookies.’”

With this, Diana laughs, and as she does, I remember that boisterous laugh from childhood—from Diana, strong, sweet, optimistic Diana—now a grown woman whom I’m beginning to realize is the type of woman who is sure to weather most any storm.

The SAVI Brachytherapy treatment

Diana’s three choices included a lumpectomy, breast reduction, or a mastectomy. She elected the lumpectomy and because she did, she was a candidate to receive the SAVI Breast brachytherapy. Typically, radiation includes five or more weeks of five-day-a-week radiation treatments. With SAVI brachytherapy, SAVI catheters deliver radiation to the lumpectomy site.  That treatment occurred in a much shorter time frame–two times a day for five consecutive days.

After several doctor appointments, screenings, and consults, Bool was determined to be a viable candidate.

“I was so fortunate to qualify,” she said. “I still can’t believe how blessed I am.”

In this procedure, a tiny radiation seed travels through each catheter to deliver a precise dose of radiation, customized for the exact size, shape or location of the tumor cavity.  (https://www.ciannamedical.com/savi/how-it-works/)

Rather than the burning sensation that sometimes accompanies radiation to the outside of a woman’s body, Diana said the SAVI therapy produced no pain. She attributes some of the painlessness of the procedure to the care of her doctors and clinicians who continually made sure she was comfortable.

The people who matter

Diana said the loving support of her daughters, Katie and Meghan, and her husband, Chuck, have helped her through this period in her life, and she believes her six-month-old granddaughter, Samantha, Dianas granddaughterwas the best medicine ever. She’s sure they are a part of the reason she’s come through this so positively.  She feels blessed to have them, and other family and friends who delivered flowers and meals, in her life. She also said there were a myriad of medical professionals who were encouraging.

“My family physician, Dr. Debra Radder, is an angel. She is the one who reminded me I was behind in my mammograms,” she said. Other medical personnel in the community who went above and beyond were the radiologist, Dr. Thomas, the Regional Cancer Center’s Medical Oncologist and Radiation Oncologist, the nurses and technicians at the various health facilities, the home health care worker, and her surgeon, Dr. Engel.

“Dr. Engel spent an hour and a half with us at my first appointment,” she said. “Everyone treated me like I was their only patient.”

And while Bool is realistic, her positivity is hard to combat.  “Yes, it could come back,” she said. “But breast cancer is not usually a death sentence. Women have to remember that.” What she wants to relay to other women is: “You have to be good to yourselves. Don’t be afraid. Schedule that mammogram. And remain positive.”

Bool refuses to bring her family and friends down.  “This has to be a positive experience. If I can show other people how wonderful the medical personnel in Erie were and how a good attitude helps, then maybe women will be less afraid.”

Positive words of encouragement from a woman who used to hold my hand when I crossed the street. Her love, strength, and kindness are still apparent.

And what about the festival

So, back to the festival. Was the first annual Flagship City Fest a success?  It was for me—in so many ways. Flagship Book Fest 2018

________________________________________

Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is an author of The Suicide Gene and Dream Wide Awake, of which Diana Dodson Bool is currently reading. Follower Zahner on her website at www.cjzahner.com, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, goodreads and Bookbub.

Dash Queen Fetish

I have a dash fetish. I am the dashes-create-tell-all-adjectives queen.

My addiction began while writing reality recaps for my daughter’s website, athletchic.com. Jessie, my daughter, asked me to admit I was addicted to The Bachelor and begin blogging recaps about the show. Athletchic.com readers were asking for them, and Jessie dedicated her Monday evenings to blogging about the Kardashians. So could I write it?

Admitting I watched The Bachelor was no easy feat. I was working in the business world and hoping my co-workers didn’t get wind of it. My dash-queen qualities began surfacing slowly. First I mentioned Shower-shy Brit—a bachelorette noted for not taking showers. Then came What’s-her-name Megan whose name the Bachelor could never remember. It advanced to Love-my-widow-story Kelsey about a girl who (it almost appeared) relished recanting her widow story. Then it peaked. I reached the dash-queen apex when my fingers typed Pick-me-pick-me-I’m-a-virgin Ashley for a girl who constantly flaunted her virginity hoping to persuade the Bachelor to pick her. It was there in print before I knew it. I had sunk to a new low. Six dashes. Is there a linguistic chastisement for using that many dashes?

Now my real-world diction mingles with my blog-world diction. It is a thoughtless diction that was accidentally catapulted by addiction. Yet, in the blogging world, readers loved it. Compliments flowed and followers multiplied. They couldn’t get enough of the dash-queen’s adjectives.

So now I read and reread, watch and re-watch Write 101x’s adjective lectures to right my wrong. Bad habits are hard to break. But I must change my ways and refocus as I enter back into the literary atmosphere.

Let my love-my-dashes-more-than-conventional-adjectives ways cease to exist. Well, at least Tuesday through Sunday.

 

Saturday Morning Runs

Saturday Morning Flights

From the sky it looks like a puzzle piece, Presque Isle. The sort of piece that finds your hand first because it’s the most colorful, most distinguishable. It’s the one you want to begin with, fit the other pieces around. From high above, its jagged edges disappear into the blue water, and its magnificent green hues mix with soil brown and take your breath away.

There is so much to love about Presque Isle.

A bald eagle took my breath away there once as he soared along the shores of the bay. Three of us were lucky enough to witness his wide wings slowly and gracefully, rising and falling in flight. He was there and gone in an instant—a small, blessed piece added to each of our puzzles on a near-perfect morning.

I’ve logged over thirty years of Saturday mornings in the same manner. Running. Mostly on that little strip of land jutting into Lake Erie called Presque Isle State Park. And usually with my best running buddy, Robin. Runners have come and gone over the years, but Robin and I remain—a little slower, a little wiser, and, more profoundly, a little closer to gathering up all of our journey’s puzzle pieces and heading home.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” At a stone’s throw from sixty, I know the importance of the journey.

And that thirteen-mile stretch of road on Presque Isle State Park has been a big part of mine. Its contour is flat and lazy. Yet, there are times, bone-chilling mornings, when its frost and ice-bending trees hide the beauty within its edges, when woods and wildlife cower, but somehow I appreciate even its worst days with Robin and Heather and Carol and Laura and Jan at my side. Good friends and encouraging words firm up the slickest footing and most treacherous terrain. As we talk on those days when our breath fades into the air like puffs of icy powder floating away, we slip in and out of each other’s lives and forget the biting cold. Even in life’s most wickedly cold hours, the pieces snap warmly into place.

I buried a child on a cold February day. An infant. A little girl with a full head of hair that would be flowing over her shoulders by now if she had lived. For a long time afterwards it was hard to run at that park, nearly impossible to see its beauty. Yet every Saturday, my friends showed up and ran beside me, their shoulders so close to mine I could feel their warmth, their strength. They would not let me fall.

Life is precious. It’s sad to think of death on land so alive, and yet death, too, is a part of the journey.

So, occasionally when I run at Presque Isle, I reflect on my little angel or on other loved ones who have journeyed home, and my thoughts sometimes settle on a June Saturday in 2015. I began that morning as usual, congregating with other runners, leaning against my car, texting late friends, “Are you coming?” The mood was light. The conversation, jocular. I didn’t know my path was about to cross Death’s path once again. That Death would swoop down in front of me and claim another mother’s child.

He was seventeen years old, and seventeen is so much a child to someone finishing her sixth decade. My running buddies and I first saw him at the mouth of the Peninsula. A car sped by. He was a passenger inside. I don’t recall the exact time or the temperature or his face, but I remember the air was thick that morning. One runner mentioned the car’s erratic ride, but we began our run with hardly a thought of it. We were a mile or two down the road when we heard the crash, a half mile from the accident when the metallic smoke singed our nostrils.

A few minutes later, the scene was horrifically upon us. There was a cyclist standing near the car and two hunters came toward us, herding us away, saying we didn’t want to see inside. I remember the quiet anguish of the air. The stillness that fell on life. I will never forget that scene—that moment in time when the boy’s journey ended, when his path crossed other paths for the last time. A senseless car accident, metal against tree, and he was gone—a mere memory, one small but much-loved piece forever clicked into eternity’s puzzle.

I think of him whenever I pass his resting place. Pray for his family. Pray for my own children and my friends’ children, because on that little patch of road, I watched every mother’s fear come to life. I was ashamed that I knew her grief before she did. Hated that, really. His last piece falling to complete strangers.

Yet, one never knows how many lives they have touched until that final piece finds its place. I still take in the beauty of Presque Isle State Park, but I treasure the people who run beside me a little more now because of that child. He taught me that life is fleeting and that every encounter I have, no matter how brief, fits finely together with the others and shapes me.

Next Saturday, Robin and I will probably meet at Presque Isle. On that path of profound beauty, we’ll run alongside each other, placing one foot in front of the other until we finish our journey. We will talk about our families and the places we have been or the people we have met and the pieces we’ve gathered, because, like Hemingway, we know the journey is more important than the end.

And if our run becomes taxing and our legs heavy, we can remember that day we saw the eagle. Watched as his massive wings floated up and down in splendor. Took in his beauty as he sailed along the parkway. We can recall his flight toward the sky as he glided upward, soared, ascended like an angel flying home, and then gazed down at us as we journeyed up and down and over and around on winding path.

Yes, from above, the path looks unfettered and the journey amazingly clear, and Presque Isle, like a beautiful puzzle piece embedded in stark, jagged blue—and in me.

Cyndie Zahner is a freelance writer at www.athletchic.com and www.cyndiezahner.com. Follow her on Instagram at athletchicz or on Twitter @Tweetyz.

Saturday Morning Flights was originally written in 2013 and then updated on April 20, 2017.