Book ideas come from all kinds of places
My novel, Remember the Moon began from a seed of an idea I had about a dead man’s conversation with his alive wife through a psychic.
My life, basically. Or my dead husband’s, whichever way you want to think about it.
I thought it would be funny to have the psychic talking in cryptic symbols — roses, rings, colors that are meant to contain profound messages to us living, while the dead husband is up there pulling out his (proverbial) hair because all he wants is for the psychic to speak clearly so he can tell his wife something important like “buy Apple stock.”
Instead, the wife gets “did your husband like apples?” and the wife exclaims “Yes, they were his favorite fruit!” and is deliriously happy.
Not that I wanted to make fun of psychics, it’s just that in all my experience of trying to speak to my dead husband through one, I always thought he would be frustrated at the lack of complexity and detail of what was being conveyed.
My husband, Arron was a man who thrived on words and loved twisting them into knots, saying them backward, reading mirrored words as easily and as quickly as most people read the regular way.
Remember The Moon began in a coffee shop when a psychic found me and approached me based on a vision she’d been given from my dead husband to go to that coffee shop and find me. When she walked in, she said she immediately recognized me from his vision and approached me.
Still safely encased in my many years of magical grief thinking, I thought nothing of sitting down beside her and hearing what she had to say. This, despite a strange episode only weeks before when a woman had emailed me telling me that my husband had returned from the dead in the form of a puppy that she wanted me to have. The puppy incident did not end well.
Basically, I had become a psychic/afterlife target practice, but I just sort of rolled along with it all. Little did I know at the time that it would eventually coalesce into a fictional novel.
All this to say that after the divine coffee shop meeting, I more or less commandeered Lisa Fox for many hours of readings, but rather than the usual psychic-client arrangement where the psychic is a conduit/spokesperson for the dead, I wanted our sessions to work the other way around. I wanted to do the asking. Doesn’t it make more sense for the living to do the question asking?
I had many questions: “What do you do all day?” “Were you sad to die and leave us?” “Do you go to school?” “Should I do things for you here in this life?”
My notes from Lisa’s sessions are copious. I typed as she spoke. Discussions included the levels of “awareness” in the afterlife, a soul’s purpose, what my husband’s job was in the afterlife, the idea that everything in life has a consequence in the afterlife, what happens to “bad” souls (particularly Osama bin Lauden — we had a reading the day after he was killed), among a host of other things. It was an amazing experience for both Lisa and me.
A lot of our sessions became the backdrop of my protagonist’s afterlife “world.”
For instance, for the “Do you go to school?” question, came the answer:
It’s like photosynthesis. No classrooms. There are levels and colours. They move up and its very gentle and more joy to each level as spirits move up and more peace and they get to see more of themselves. And the actions from their lifetime. Our actions and the consequences to those actions played out before us.
In the book, I morphed this idea into a sort of “Karate school” idea of getting different colored belts with each level you reach. Which then morphed again into more of an afterlife university (Afterlife U?).
I also put my protagonist, Jay into therapy, for which he was not very pleased. Throughout the book, he sort of drops into scenes from his life to reconcile himself to some of the mistakes he made while he was alive.
My kids were part of one or two of the sessions that also made their way into the book. During one session, my son was having a particularly difficult time at school. He was overly anxious and insecure. Lisa gave him a direct message from his dad. This is what I typed:
Lisa/Arron: You need to get a better attitude about school. Listen to your mom a little more. Remember she is doing it without me and that is pretty hard sometimes. How’s my Bone Man? [Arron’s nickname for my son].
My son: Was he happy to die?
Lisa/Arron: Course not.
My son: Was he happy to get out of the building?
Lisa/Arron: I was relieved. It took us time to realize where we were. We knew we were going to die. I didn’t feel a thing, so don’t worry. I was glad it was over. It’s so different over here, it doesn’t really matter anymore. We are still growing, changing. I don’t have a body. I am still working to be a better person in a way, but I have a lot of work to do over here. They keep us busy over here.
My son: Is there anything he wanted to say to us before he goes?
Lisa/Arron: I love you, of course. I miss you, but I know you are going to be fine. Don’t doubt yourself so much. Don’t be afraid to take the chances, the risks. Move forward, never backward. Don’t be fearful, trust in yourself in your gut, not just in your good brains.
The next day, my son, whose hair had grown into a ten-year-old’s skateboarder’s mop, hiding his face, asked to have his hair cut. I cringed as the hairdresser lopped off huge chunks of hair, as this was a kid who would be in hysterics if his haircut was even a 1/4 inch too short. But when he swung out of that chair, he was a different kid. On the way home in the car, he told me that it was because of what the psychic said about not being fearful and trusting himself that gave him the courage to cut his hair.
That haircut scene made it into Remember the Moon, much more memoir than fiction.
Many of the thoughts and ideas about the afterlife that I riff on in the book were gleaned from a variety of other sources as well: psychics Sylvia Brown and James Van Praag, Journey of Souls, Many Lives, Many Masters, Entangled Minds, among others.
But a curious thing happened as I wrote my novel: my fascination with psychics wore off. I’m not sure why exactly. Perhaps in writing that scene with the husband and wife trying to communicate through the psychic, I saw comedy where I had not seen it before. Or maybe I saw my own desperation during that time, a time when I was so longing for a magical connection with my husband.
I see now it was like grasping a blade of grass in an effort to keep from falling. And yet, in its own magical way, that blade of grass did keep me from falling.
It gave me hope that connection and communication with the dead might be possible, that magic was possible, that really, anything was possible.
Of course, magic did happen and continues to happen. Remember The Moon is proof of that.
Abigail Carter was an ex-pat Canadian living in New Jersey with her husband and two young children when her husband died in the attack on the twin towers on 9/11. She wrote The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation as a form of catharsis after her husband’s death, chosen by The Globe and Mail as one of the 100 Most Notable Books of 2008 and long-listed for the B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, Canada’s largest Non-Fiction prize. Her novel, Remember the Moon was published in 2014. Her work has also appeared in SELF magazine, Reader’s Digest Canada, MSN.com, Huffington Post, and MORE.com and on her site, abigailcarter.com. Abigail is now working on another novel about widowed people.