Pasadena author Caitlin McKenna finds inspiration in REM
By Karen Apostolina 03/13/2008
It all started as a dream - or maybe a nightmare. Caitlin McKenna woke one morning in her Pasadena bedroom and, instead of heading for the breakfast table, grabbed her journal and started frantically writing down everything she could recall from the very vivid, very complex dream she'd just had. Thirty-seven pages later she had the rough draft of "Logging Off," a tale of utopia gone bad, starring corrupted computers, egotistical robots, and the humans who must battle them before the world dissolves into a smoldering heap of scrap metal. But wait - it's a love story too!
"That's how everything comes to me: in dreams," says McKenna, nibbling on a sandwich at the Tea Rose Garden in Old Pasadena. She says her dreams are always very detailed and structured, with a beginning, middle and end. She also seems to think that this sort of thing - the downloading of fully formed novels and screenplays while sleeping - happens to everyone. She earnestly explains that everyone has this ability; it simply has to be developed and most of us just don't use it.
"Use it or lose it" is a main theme in "Logging Off," in which characters have become so dependent on technology that they lose the ability to think for themselves. This idea of computers vs. humans isn't new, but McKenna's book explores the themes within the context of a love story, creating a new genre she likes to call "sci-fi lite."
Writing outside of conventional boundaries appeals to McKenna, even though it presents some marketing challenges. Her first book, "Going Irish," was based on her earlier experiences as an actress. McKenna was having difficulty getting work, so she went to Ireland to learn an authentic accent; when she came back, she changed her name and her hair color and was working within a week. "Going Irish" was well received, but no one was sure how to market it, so McKenna set it aside and started writing screenplays.
Her tendency to write action scenarios earned her a writing job on the 2006 movie "Backlash." But after having one of her screenplay ideas ripped off by a major studio, McKenna turned to novel writing instead.
The main character in "Logging Off," Britannia, is one of an experimental breed of humans genetically engineered without intuition. In this sleek, futuristic world, everything is scanned, monitored and administered automatically, so Central, the world government, deems intuition unnecessary. But without it, some pesky humans start developing psychic powers - another problem for those in charge.
"That idea is something I'd been thinking about - how society has evolved," says McKenna, who also works as a voice actor. "I work on ‘Lost' and I ask myself: Who knows how to start a fire anymore? Who could actually survive a day, a week on a desert island?"
McKenna's not a technophobe, but she does have concerns about our dependency level.
"I do believe we are butting up against technology," says McKenna. "I just walked over here and the three people in front of me were all on cell phones. They were together as a group, but they were all doing their own thing. It seems that the world is becoming smaller, but we are becoming more isolated."
This, she believes, is why she was given the dream - to send a message that people need to wake up a little bit.
One of her challenges was keeping up with the technology she was writing about. From the time she started the book in 1999 until "Logging Off" was published just over a year ago, McKenna had to keep revising and updating. Her "Walkabout"
characters were originally identified by the sound of a modem screeching, which is not a sound we hear anymore. She also introduced Sweetbots (a robotic vacuum) long before the Roomba hit stores.
"When I was a teenager, I used to have precognitive dreams that would come true 48 hours after I had them," says McKenna. "They were mainly benign, boyfriend breakups or pop quizzes that I could study for. Silly stuff. But then, right before college, I was dating a guy and I had no idea that his father had cancer ... I dreamt that his father died. When I called him and told him, he got really angry ... 48 hours later, he called me and told me he (his father) had died." McKenna says that whatever psychic sensitivity she had shut down after that experience. "I couldn't handle it emotionally. I stopped having those dreams ... until now."
Sort of makes you want to read the book.
"Logging Off" is available at Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. To find out more about Caitlin McKenna visit www.caitlinmckenna.com.