M.D. Waters is the author of Archetype. She lives in Maryland with her family. Archetype, now available from Dutton Books, is her first novel. Its sequel, Prototype, will be published July 2014. An excerpt from Archetype is available at the bottom of this post.
The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.
M.D. Waters: An amnesiac pieces together her past from contradictory dreams.
TPP: What inspired you to write Archetype? Was it other books, movies, art?
M.D.: I was inspired by a lot of years listening to my dad’s conspiracy theories. His “What If” questions. Combine that with movie images I’ve never forgotten—Luke Skywalker in a tank of water from Empire Strikes Back, and women sleeping in a gym from the Handmaid’s Tale—and the world sort of built itself.
TPP: In the novel, Emma has dreams about her past life. How did you go about writing those dreams? How difficult is it to write them so your readers know that character is dreaming?
M.D.: I don’t have an answer for how I wrote about them because I didn’t really have a plan. The entire novel was written with very little thought about where to go next, and I sort of felt my way through the plot points I’d typically plot ahead of time. The only thing I made sure of was to make sure the three sets of sequences followed a timeline of events.
I wrote them in italics to separate them from the rest of the text, but I had audiobooks in mind while writing as well. So I made Emma respond to the dream in some way. In the beginning, they are actual dreams, so she’d wake up and react to them. Later, she has them while awake, so she’d trip or something of that nature in surprise.
TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
M.D.: A gasp, curse, and finally, a sigh of contentment. I just want readers to walk away having felt a fresh experience. If they then consider the deeper meanings within the pages (it’s different for everyone), then bonus. It wasn’t intentional, but I think about these things constantly; welcome to the inside of my head!
TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?
M.D.: I wish someone had pointed me in the direction of online writing workshops early on. There are a ton of great places, and they’re very affordable. I practically lived at Savvy Authors for a year prior to writing Archetype, and it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself.
TPP: Name five songs that could be included in a soundtrack to your book (can be songs that inspired portions of your writing).
M.D.: 1. For Emma by Bon Iver, 2. Lost In Paradise by Evanescence, 3. In the Dark by Flyleaf, 4. Without a Word by Birdy, and 5. Unfinished Memories by Eowyn.
For more information, visit M.D. Waters at her website.
Excerpt from Archetype reprinted by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © M.D. Waters, 2014.
My mind wakes, but the words essential to describe the stirring of my consciousness escape me.
White light fills my vision, blindingly bright, darkening my peripheral to pitch. I have no words for variations either, because while I understand shifts of color and luminescence in my surroundings, I cannot hold knowledge in my mind.
Voices articulate words—No, we don’t need her anymore. Put her with the others.—and I struggle to make sense of them to no avail. I know what they say is important. So important. Vital. Yet, all meaning flashes through the vast darkness of my mind, fleeting streaks of lightning. Alluring, coaxing, but gone before I can decipher patterns in the chaos.
Dust particles float in the air, a fluid, graceful contrast to the vibrating hum of the light hanging above me. The motes dance around my slim, pale fingers, escaping my grasp, frustratingly transitory like everything else I experience.
A hand pushes aside the sterile aluminum lamp seconds before a face appears. Gray eyes stare, unblinking, between a green cap and surgical mask. Cold fingers pry up the lid of one of my eyes. A pinprick of light forces tears. I squint and jerk my head, but the strong hand catches me around the forehead, fingers snagging on attached wires, and repeats the process on my other eye. I feebly bat his hand away.
The man leans straight-armed onto the table and stares at me. “Hm.”
“Hm, what?” This voice comes from a man out of my line of vision, but sounds very close.
The gray-eyed man lifts his head and pulls down the mask revealing a bulbous nose and pockmarked skin. Matching gray whiskers shade his upper lip. He glances between me and the man who has yet to show himself. “It’s too early to tell.”
“But . . .” The gray-haired man trails off and sighs. He scans me from head to toe, eyes narrowing. “But I think we have finally done it.”
A soft chuckle sounds behind me. “You, my old friend. You have finally done it.”
This gray man reaches for my face. I instinctively jerk my head away, but he only pulls colored wires off my forehead, gathering a group of them in his palm. “Only time will tell,” he says.
The moment drifts away as the words are absorbed into the vast space of my mind. By the time I think to be frustrated, it is too late. Nothing has meaning. Not time. Not words. Not the reason I am here.
I am simply skin, blood, and bone.
In the beginning of life.
The vibrant green leaves turn into shades of orange, red, and yellow. Sweltering heat becomes cool breezes through narrow slits in large, square windows.
With the passing of time comes a lasting comprehension of language, color, texture, and scents. He says I knew them all along, and what I have yet to learn, he will teach me. I think he will reward me one day if I can only get my lessons right. Except today he tells me something new and one word I do not understand.
“You are my wife,” he tells me.
I study his lips while they frame the words. He has a lovely mouth and I reach out to touch it often, but he never lets me. He says I must focus and one thing at a time.
“I am your wife,” I say carefully and the words sound right so I smile.
His head falls forward and broad shoulders lift with a heavy sigh. Dark hair spills forward, hiding his expression. He is upset with me but I do not understand why. I tell him what he asks of me and only that. Is this not what he wanted?
He lifts his head and eyes the color of seawater stare back at me. I know this color because it is in a large photograph in my room. They tell me the photograph is of the sea before, but they do not tell me before what.
“I do not understand,” I say.
He leans back in his chair and combs hair away from his face with long, slender fingers. The dark strands slick back and hold in their usual style. “You’re repeating my words only to please me.”
He turns his head and squints into the sun shining through the windows. With an elbow propped on the chair’s arm, he raises a hand to his chin and massages his jaw.
Leaning forward, I attempt to catch his gaze with my own. “This is what you wanted,” I whisper.
Those beautiful eyes turn my way and he stops rubbing his chin, still saying nothing. He only watches me in agonizing silence. Then, abruptly, he stands and buttons the front of his suit jacket. It is dark blue today. I like this color on him.
Bending over me, he presses a whisper soft kiss to my temple. “One day you will say it and believe it.”
He leaves the room and now I understand. I must learn about this word “wife.”
We spend day after endless day in this lounge, and I think I finally understand. “You are my husband, Declan Burke. I am your wife, Emma. We were married in a small ceremony with only our closest friends atop our mountain.”
His smile, after so many weeks of frowns, warms my heart and brings a flutter to my stomach. He has an amazing smile. When he smiles, his cheeks crease deeply around the corners of full lips.
This particular smile brings a gleam to the sea in his eyes. “Yes, Emma, that’s right. You were absolutely beautiful.”
He reaches forward, carefully, and slides loose strands of my hair behind my ear. A tingle follows the trail of his fingers across my skin. I want more. Have wanted more than these fleeting touches.
“Do I frighten you?” I ask.
He chuckles and leans away, draping both arms over the top of the beige couch with red accent pillows. His fingertips dip into the beam of sun from the large windows. “No. Should you?”
I match him gaze for unblinking gaze. A smile twitches the corners of his lips and I cannot imagine why he finds this amusing. Is not a husband supposed to touch his wife? Am I not allowed to touch him in return?
I pull my feet up into my chair and twist to prop my elbow over the cushioned back. With my free hand, I pick at an imperfection of thread in the knee of my white scrub pants. “Is touching forbidden?” I ask him, casually raising my gaze to peer at him through my eyelashes.
I am learning about these rules, which they say are for my safety. Some I do not understand. Why should I not leave my room after seven each night? I want to see the stars. Need to see the stars. They pull at the core of me for reasons I cannot explain.
“I don’t want to rush you,” he says. While the amusement still tugs on his lips, he averts his eyes.
Rush me, I want to tell him, but do not. He knows what is best for me, but I believe I am ready for this step. No, I know I am.
Unfolding myself, I stand and hold out a hand. “I would like to see the gardens. And I wish for you to hold my hand while we walk.”
He watches our hands meet, his twice the size of mine, and barely a shade darker. Olive toned he calls it. He says when I am in the sun more, my skin becomes golden and rich in color, but for now, my skin is dull by comparison.
We leave the lounge where we meet every day, entering a sterile white hallway. The only color comes from a wall of paintings with random splashes of color. Declan calls it art but the canvases look as if a child was set loose with a paintbrush. On more than one occasion, the idea that I could have done far better flits through my mind.
Opposite the wall of paintings, sunlight glares at us through large, square windows, but no worse than in the lounge where the rays reflect off car windows in the parking lot. A rectangular lot cluttered with the same cars, day in and day out. Parked in the same exact places. Nothing changes in the surrounding manicured lawns sprouting trees and perfectly square hedges. Only the changing colors of the season. From my vantage point fifteen stories up, in this U-shaped building, these colors are my only proof that time passes at all.
We enter the enclosed garden area with exotic flora and a great domed roof with only a tease of sunlight through opaque windows. The space is heaven in shades of every color imaginable. The men in blue lab coats leave us to our walk without interruption. No one looks us in the eye and I wonder why, but do not ask.
I wonder if I am scarred from the accident. Declan assures me I worry needlessly, but I have yet to see my reflection for myself. I only catch the short, angled tips of straight dark brown hair when it falls forward. I cannot recall my appearance at all, actually, so it pleases me to know this much.
“You’re in a better mood today,” Declan says mildly, which is saying something for a man with such a deep voice. “No nightmares last night?”
I shake my head. “Only good dreams last night. I think.” I chuckle and pull close to him, hugging his arm. My hands wrap around a tight bicep. The top of my head just reaches his shoulder. Touching him like this, being this close, brings a warm sensation to my chest. “They must have been if I do not remember, yes?”
“Yes, I should think so.”
“Maybe I have seen the last of them.”
He kisses the top of my head. “We can only hope.”
I float upright in a tank full of water. The occasional bubble sneaks past me and pops just above my head but I cannot move my head to follow it.
I cannot blink.
I can only float and watch the world around me go on as if I do not exist. People come and go in silence, never staying long. They speak in whispered tones, leaving me to guess at their conversations. Any attentions they pay me are with furtive glances.
The room is pale gray with cracks snaking up walls into the ceiling. Unevenly stacked boxes rest in the middle of a tiled floor heavily decorated with black scuff marks. Tables topped with laptop computers line the outer walls of the large space. A monitor nearby beep . . . beep . . . beeps. Another, separate monitor beepbeepbeeps a quicker rhythm.
A woman, thin and tall, wearing a dark-green jumpsuit under a white lab coat, checks the monitors regularly. Everyone calls her Sonya or Doctor Toro. She is dark-skinned with hair cut nearly to her scalp. Like the others, she rarely looks at me. She watches the monitors and occasionally she watches . . .
He sits in a folding chair at an angle to my tube of water, head bent forward, elbows resting on his knees. I cannot see his face. Layers of dark blond waves curl to his chin.
“Noah,” the woman says. “You should get some rest.”
The man does not turn around, but lifts his gaze to where I float helplessly in a tank of water I cannot escape. And I want to escape. I need to escape. But he will not let me out.
He never lets me out.