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On Memory and Fiction: Part Six

(Read Part Five here.)

Katherine Neville is the bestselling author of The Eight, which has been selling steadily for the last 20 years. There aren't many authors who discover they've written a classic in their lifetime, but Neville has. The Fire, her fourth novel and long awaited sequel to The Eight, takes place from 1822 to the present.

MJR: Reading your work, I often get the feeling you're not inventing the story as much as retelling it. Almost as if you are remembering it, which is a great feat. How do you accomplish that?

Neville: "Re-membering" just means putting the pieces back together. There are lots of ways to remember our planet's past, other than just stuffing a bunch of googled encyclopedia "factoids" into our heads, as so many history courses often encourage or even seem to require.

For me, one of the most interesting ways of remembering is personified in one of my characters from The Eight — the heroine Mireille's little son, Charlot, who reappears in The Fire as a grown man. In the earlier book, he was described as a child prophet who was born being able to "remember the future" — a mental phenomenon that many famous seers, it seems, have also possessed from early childhood. Just as a really good history book or novel makes you feel you were really there in the past — Charlot also has the experience of feeling he has already experienced events that have not yet come to pass.

Well, as it turns out — strange as it seems — we all inexplicably possess this kind of "second sight" or "sixth sense" to some degree. I've lived for many years with a world-famous brain scientist, Karl Pribram, and I've seen many brain experiments in his lab and others, where they have demonstrated that perfectly ordinary people, like you and me, with no training or any special kind of sensitivity, have this ability to know just before a random stimulus is about to come their way — like a tap on the hand, for instance — and that over and over, it's been recorded electronically that there's a surge in our frontal lobes shortly before something is about to happen — regardless of how randomly and unpredictably these stimuli may be coming in.

We don't have a scientific explanation for how this occurs. But who cares how or why it works? It seems to me that if we all possess an important skill like this, instead of trying to find out why or how, we should try to figure out how to develop it for the betterment of our own lives and life on the planet.

In fact, when it comes to my own writing, I try to do exactly that: I usually feel there's something wrong with my book if this synchronicity thing isn't happening on a pretty frequent basis — like books falling at my feet, open to the right page, that will tell me just what I need to know next to move the plot. In fact, if this isn't happening fairly regularly, I can't finish writing the book at all.

I'm going to have to invoke Yogi Berra here, when he said: "It's deja vu all over again."

Many people might automatically assume that the only explanation for that was that they'd been there before in a prior "lifetime." Hindus and Buddhists would certainly support that concept. Others think that it's cellular memory, part of our genetic code — or channeling the dead, or something else. It's an experience we've all had, but which nobody to my knowledge has ever convincingly explained.

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Visit M. J. Rose at her website ( or read her daily blog ( on reincarnation facts, philosophy, and curiosities. Her most recent novel, The Memorist, is an Indie Next pick.

Books mentioned in this post

M. J. Rose is the author of The Memorist

One Response to "On Memory and Fiction: Part Six"

    Nome November 13th, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    Nice to read this article !


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