Research Notes · 03/08/2013

The Trajectory of Dreams

Our Research Notes series invites authors to describe their research for a recent book, with “research” defined as broadly as they like. This week, Nicole Wolverton shows us around the neighborhood of her novel The Trajectory Of Dreams, out now from Biting Duck Press.

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Around ten years ago my husband and I moved from the Fishtown section of Philadelphia to a tiny, quiet suburb. “It’s safer,” he said to me. “No more worrying about someone stealing the car or puking on the doorstep.” Right. I’m not so sure it’s really any safer… it just has the veneer of being less risky. And to be sure, the suburbs are where secrets go to hide.

The people who live on my street now are largely a mystery to me, more so than they were when I lived in the city. They could be doing anything in those big, old houses. They could be sociopaths or serial killers or be one crisis away from a psychotic break. At least when you live in the city, you expect it — but you generally see your neighbors. Not seeing them (or rarely seeing them) is something different, and it makes the whole experience more mysterious and sort of threatening. There’s an unknown to it, the sense that someone’s keeping secrets. The week my husband and I moved into our house, we found bags and bags of torn up, crusty lingerie hidden under the insulation in the attic. Later we found a strap-on harness minus the, er, equipment half-buried in a root cellar under the front porch. I’m not saying that people who wear lingerie and rock a strap-on are mentally unhinged, but all things considered… makes you wonder, no?

So I got to thinking about the people who used to own our house, which led to wondering about the people who live on our street. Is the woman across the street slashing the roses from the bush in her front lawn with a butcher knife practicing for something? Did the new couple who moved in down the street poison the Christmas cookies they dropped off? Are the couple who just came to my door with religious tracts secretly casing the joint for a home invasion?

When the idea for The Trajectory Of Dreams popped up in my head, it wasn’t because I was sure the lady next door had her late husband buried in the garden. It had more to do with obsessing about the Lisa Nowak incident (Remember that? The astronaut who drove across the country in car full of kidnapping supplies?). But my natural inclination to assign bizarre backstories to strangers did come in handy when I was developing the main character, Lela White. Lela has a mental disorder that makes her think breaking into the homes of astronauts keeps the space program safe from disaster. She believes that if she has to kill someone to ensure that safety, she’s doing the right thing. She’s competent, keeps her house up. She’d probably wave to you if you drove past her. But she’s dangerous. There are things going on behind closed doors.

For the most part, whether you live in the suburbs or the city there’s an unwillingness to notice anything hinky going on. You see it daily — you turn on the news, and the neighbor of the guy who blew up a building is saying, “Gee, he was always such a nice, quiet guy.” We want to believe everything’s cool, that nothing’s simmering below the surface. There’s a lot of research that went into The Trajectory of Dreams — psychology, sleep science, space science, Houston locations — but simply letting my overactive imagination get the best of me was the most useful.

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Nicole Wolverton lives in the Philadelphia burbs with her husband, two cats, and a dog. The Trajectory of Dreams (Bitingduck Press March 2013) is her first novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Five [Quarterly], and Penduline, among others. For further info, visit her website at www.nicolewolverton.com. She has never been tempted to break into an astronaut’s house, but she’s wondering if maybe you have.