Article published on May 10, 2016.
Tim Baker reflects on the dream start to this debut thriller, FEVER CITY, in which a frantic search for a kidnapped child collides with a plot to kill JFK . . .
It’s the kind of thing you’d see in a movie and never believe: a writer who suddenly wakes up at four o’clock in the morning, leaps out of bed and starts pounding away at the keyboard, a mixture of inspiration and disbelief on his face.
But it actually happened to me.
Everyone has heard about the power of dreams, but is that how people really write books? As anyone can tell you, the problem with dreams is their lack of narrative direction – what we may as well call plot. Sequences begin and end in mid-action. Time lines jump, locales shift, points of view switch. Crazy things happen without explanation or logic.
I don’t know about other authors, but dreams have always played a vital part in my writing; but usually as an inspirational starting point. A vivid setting, or a mood or image from a dream is usually the trigger that sets me off on a new work. But the importance of dreaming was ramped up to a whole new level for me one cold winter’s morning in January 2011.
At that time I had been grappling with two different ideas for what I hoped would be my debut novel. One concerned the kidnapping of a millionaire’s only child. And the other concerned a plot to assassinate President Kennedy.
I instinctively suspected that the two stories were somehow linked, but just couldn’t find the connection. The more I consciously thought about it, the more it eluded me. I was on the point of accepting that they were two distinct stories and trying to decide which one to pursue first when I had the dream that changed everything.
It was a vivid dream unlike any I’d ever experienced before. It was like watching a live performance unfolding in front of me. I was most definitely a spectator, not a participant.
In my dream I wanted to start writing down everything I was seeing, but I feared this would disturb the ‘performance’, so I tried to memorize everything that I could. The landscape, the light, the characters; the mood.
Throughout the experience, I was conscious that it was all a dream and was afraid that I was going to wake up. But I was also aware that it was something more than a dream – it was a key. But to what?
When I did wake up, I literally leapt out of bed, in a state of awareness, urgency and energy and opened my computer. I didn’t feel the cold, or hear the wind driving against the windows. I was already back in the landscape and time I had just left – New Mexico in 1964.
Although I touch type, I had trouble keeping up with the memories of my dream, which were so vivid it was almost as if the words were being narrated to me. I didn’t have time to even think about what I was writing, I just kept hammering away until well after dawn.
I waited a couple of hours until I mustered up the courage to re-read what I had written. I was stunned at the dramatic coherence of the first and third chapters. They were propulsive, violent and gripping.
Most incredible of all, they provided the introduction to the theme that would link the story of the kidnapping to the plot to kill JFK.
The second chapter was incoherent and downright bizarre. It made no sense at all – a typical dream. I tossed it. It didn’t matter. In fact it made the other two chapters seem all the more authentic. I had the key to my thriller – the opening. All I had to do was finish it . . .
About the book
In 1960s Los Angeles PI Nick Alston is summoned to investigate the disappearance of the son of millionaire Rex Bannister, but he quickly discovers that what appears to be a kidnapping is something far more malevolent. In 1964 Hastings, a mob hit man, becomes entangled in a dark web when he’s tasked with assassinating the president in Dallas. Fifty years later, both of their stories are be resurrected by a dogged young journalist attempting to debunk the wild conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassinations, only to discover to his dismay and his jeopardy that the truth behind it may be darker than any of his source’s crackpot imaginings. A kaleidoscopic trip through Mad Men-era classic noir, Tim Baker’s Fever City builds something fascinating and contemporary from a skeleton that’s pure pulp. Full of witty dialogue, sharply drawn characters, and skillful pacing, it’s an irrepressible crime novel guaranteed to surprise and delight.
About the author
Born in Sydney, Tim Baker has lived in Italy and Spain before moving to France, where he current resides. His short fiction has appeared in books published by Random House and William Collins, his nonfiction in books published by Penguin, Time Out, and Facts on File. Fever City is his first novel.
Fever City by Tim Baker, published by Europa Editions on 10 May, 2016 (U.S.) and by Faber & Faber on 21 January, 2016 (U.K.)
Follow Tim on Twitter @ TimBakerWrites
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