Island Beneath the Sea . After four years of historical research, the story truly began to take shape only after the main character came to her in a dream. Allende says the idea of writing a historic novel is to, "have the research and don't show it." Her research focuses on the details of how people lived rather than the major events history books record.
After the research was complete, the protagonist appeared to Allende with a voice and a name, and the story flowed from there. "Before I have the voice of the protagonist in my head I can't write the book," Allende says.
I have to admit, I'm a little envious that she was inspired in a dream. So far my attempts to dream about my story have been fruitless. My husband read recently that eating sugar before sleeping can result in nightmares and suggested I might benefit from a couple cookies before bedtime. (As if I needed a justifiable reason to eat his specialty, chocolate-chocolate chip.) I downed the cookies dutifully and proceeded to have a nightmare-filled night just as he'd promised. I dreamed a sweet kitten tried to eat my thumb. Later, I was in a flock of people in a clearing surrounded by corn fields and soybeans, and we were being shot at by a man on a plateau while some of his "bad guy" buddies blended in to spy on us, lest we try to escape. And the last nightmare took me back to my days as a bank teller. I'd forgotten I was supposed to open the bank, then forgot the alarm's security code, then forgot how to sign on to the computers--one panic-inducing brain fart after another until I woke, still stymied and panicked.
Still, if he's willing to bake the cookies, I'm willing to try again.
Here's the Allende interview if you'd like to watch it.