From Lab Mice to Memory Visits
My inspiration for The Memory Visit came from what I consider to be an unlikely place—a Smithsonian Magazine article about mice. The article described how scientists implanted false memories in the brains of mice which resulted in the mice fearfully reacting to stimuli that they’d never experienced before. Not only could scientists identify the brain cells involved in the encoding of a specific memory, but they could also alter that memory. The idea of this new technology blew me away, and I immediately wanted to apply it to humans. In fiction, of course.
The experiment brought to mind the movie, Total Recall, where people of means could pay to experience a vivid virtual reality through a brain probe. I must admit that some elements of this movie appear in The Memory Visit: the chair where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character gets strapped in, the helmet with the scary-looking prongs, the idea of living out a fantasy. I wanted my story to be different, however.
What if scientists weren’t implanting new memories like they did with mice in the lab and with the characters in the movie but, rather, were giving people the ability to experience an existing memory? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go back in time to relive a conversation with your beloved grandmother who passed or experience the thrill of your first kiss? It would be better than photographs, better than video. It would be like visiting a memory—living in it for a few minutes as if you were truly there—then exiting the memory without any consequences. I, who have a horrible memory, would pay money to visit my past in such a way.
Even though the technology sounded exciting to me, I still didn’t have my story. Who would want to read about a bunch of people reliving their glory days…unless, something could go wrong? Since a memory visit involved the brain, threats of addiction, brain damage, and insanity seemed likely. Once I put those perils in place, I had to give my characters a good reason to take a memory visit. With such horrific possibilities, why would someone risk it? I likened a memory visit to drug use, which could be just as self-destructive. I asked myself, why do certain people take mind-altering drugs when the consequences could be so dire?
A strong reason I came up with was escape—escape from stress, escape from pain, escape from boredom. I didn’t necessarily need a dystopian setting for my characters to desire an escape from their reality, but it helped. I wanted the characters’ world to be so bleak that they’d risk their mental health in order to leave that world if only for a few minutes. Therefore, I placed my story in a depressed society where most people struggled to eke out a living. I wanted the setting to be in North America and wondered, how might American society become like this? With the current political polarization in the nation, I was inspired to choose a second civil war.
The question remained, what caused the war? I relied on my obsession with water scarcity for the answer. I had been living in California since high school, and for many of those years, had been dealing with water conservation due to extended periods of drought. I watched Google Earth images showing large lakes shrinking into nothing. I read news articles about Cape Town running of water. I heard scientists explaining that water was becoming the world’s most valuable resource. In third-world countries, people were going to war over water. Why not in North America?
I imagined water scarcity and war happening close to home. I imagined who might suffer from it and who might profit from it. I imagined a privileged young woman, not much different from an ambitious young woman of today, wanting to make a change in her past and in her future. I named her Rain. She had a brother who died tragically. She suffered from survivor’s guilt and needed answers. In digging for those answers, she uncovered unspeakable corruption. Oh, and one more thing—Rain had a special talent that put her in more danger than any memory visit could elicit. Like a lab mouse, she was manipulated by powerful people. Unlike those helpless creatures in the lab, though, she attempted to create her own destiny.
Read more about Rain’s story in The Memory Visit and find out what happens when she dares to do the unimaginable.