Family and friends had been chatting over appetizers for more than an hour when I realized I’d forgotten to put the turkey in the oven. I spent the rest of the dream out and about in ever more ludicrous attempts to avert a Thanksgiving disaster. After waking up, I lay abed for minutes trying to come up with a solution. Knowing it was only a dream couldn’t stop my mind from racing.
Reason may grasp a change as soon as it happens, but emotions take time to clear the system. Danger averted can leave you still shivering with fright. I once read a theory that humor lies in the disconnect between what you know after the joke reaches its punchline and the lingering sensation of what you were led to expect.
Perhaps this is why emotion is at the core of the narratives that stick with us, fact or fiction. Though I grew up on Sherlock Holmes’s intellectual feats, the mysteries that draw me now have characters I care about, not just puzzles to solve. As a writer, the challenge is not just to weave a story line but to engage the reader’s emotions. How to make that happen is something I’m still trying to learn.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.