Media Inquiries: Contact Dan Pouliot
About the author
A New Hampshire native, Dan Pouliot earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts from UNH, and his digital works are in multiple permanent collections. He is Vice-Chair of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project. His passion for positive thinking sets the stage for his debut young adult novel, Super Human, published by PortalStar Publishing. Dan describes Super Human as The Karate Kid meets Escape to Witch Mountain.
About Super Human
You can find Dan Pouliot on these platforms:
You started writing your first novel at the age of 50. What prompted you?
Here’s the long answer to a short question: I’ve had the writing itch as far back as high school when I created my own Dungeons and Dragons campaigns for my friends, but I saw writing as something I did just for fun. That I had so much fun creating worlds with adventures to be discovered should have been my clue.
Writing lets me express myself about whatever topic interests me, which is a good segue into what interests me, and that goes all the way back to my childhood.
My mom made an impression on me about things like ESP, life after death, and what New Agers would call manifesting, though that term didn’t exist in the ’70s. She would say something like, “we need a microwave oven,” then flip through the Montgomery Ward catalog, see one that cost $279, then go to bingo that night and win $279. She was a very lucky person that way. She won $2,500 once, then $10,000 another time. We were barely middle class. A lot of the nice things we had in our house was because of her luck.
We had a fluorescent light over the kitchen sink that was flaky. I would complain to her that it didn’t work. She told me all I had to do was ask the light nicely in my mind if it would turn on, and for her, it turned on. I have a scientific mind; it felt lazy to rule out the possibility that she was right just because we have no explanatory scientific framework for it.
She had a near-death experience before I was born. She told me she went to this beautiful world where beings told her Earth is a classroom. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect, it’s hard to overstate the impression that made on me. Was it all a figment of her imagination? With such a profound message, is it any less awesome if her own mind created that scene to deliver that message to her? Maybe our subconscious can generate profound visions to help us move towards a more graceful existence. I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters all that much which it is. Either way, it’s quite a story, and, now in my 50’s, Earth-is-a-classroom has become my North Star.
She also had plenty of esoteric books lying around the house. This was before the internet, so I would read whatever she had: Silva Mind Control Method by Jose Silva, Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain, The Roots of Consciousness by Jeffrey Mishlove, and I’m sure there were others. So, as a teen, I was learning some of the powers of the mind, and sure enough, they worked.
I learned how to lucid dream at the age of 16, and I was very good at it. I initiated my first Out of Body experience through a lucid dream. There … I’ve outed myself. But if you’ve met my publisher, Masheri Chappelle, you now understand why we get along so well. I also feel that there is more acceptance of these kinds of things than one might think, so I’m not going to worry about it.
Several people in my family, including me, saw UFOs in the ’60s and ’70s. Each person had a different story of a different encounter. I’ve also met many people who’ve had their own close encounters, and these are smart, serious, and, quite frankly, humble people who have nothing to gain by making up astounding ufo stories.
So, by the end of high school, I had three guilty pleasures: UFOs, Paranormal/ESP, and Psychology. I didn’t feel I could openly discuss the first two. When I started college, I set them aside, but they never stopped nagging at me. (I got my college degree in Fine Arts.)
I could go on, but I’ll cap it there and say that the nagging eventually boiled over. I knew I had to write something and wanted it to be the intersection of all three. Eventually, I found it with Super Human.
Don’t cap it there; say more.
Around 1992, one of my brother’s friends told me I should go to this New Age weekend workshop: Your Thoughts Create Your Reality and that sort of thing. I was just out of college and poor, so I could barely afford it. I think it was something like $115 for two days. And I had undiagnosed anxiety. My anxiety was on high alert and massively triggered Saturday. We had to do strange exercises with other people, and the instructor’s concepts were very confronting to me. I create my reality? It sounded like baloney. That night I was on the fence about whether to go back Sunday, and I think I was leaning towards not going back.
That night, I had the strangest dream in my life, if I could even call it a dream. I had just fallen asleep, then I was awake, but I wasn’t in my bed; I was nowhere. I had no body, I had no sense of space or time, and there was nothing to see but blackness, but it definitely wasn’t a dream; it was something else. And I heard voices. They were together as a group and talking about me. They were concerned that I wouldn’t go back. Then I heard one word: relax. I fell back asleep, woke the next morning, wondered what that was all about, and I went to the workshop.
That one word literally changed my life, because my wife and I spent seven years deeply involved in that community, and we were even trained as teachers. We were taught “how to uncover a person’s obstacles to success by listening to them”, and of course we can only do that if we’ve been through the process ourselves. I called it brutal introspection. It gave us a cognitive framework for how to approach our life goals and challenges.
I’ve had a more successful life than I had ever imagined I would, and I attribute my successes to that foundational work. I call it “New Age”, which can be a derogatory term to some, but what I find fascinating is that since then, positive psychology has started to use some of the very same core concepts I was taught, just with different terminology. For instance, New Age might say, “there are no mistakes, only growth opportunities.” Psychology uses the term Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset, but the mental postures of both are the same.
You can even find validation of New Age ideas in the CIA Reading Room. I’ll quote from Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer, Jr: “Perception … is a process of inference in which people construct their own version of reality on the basis of information provided through the five senses.”
Optical illusions are simple examples of how our brains don’t accurately perceive reality. Optical illusions work because they take advantage of our brains taking shortcuts to get from perception to meaning. One such shortcut is when we expect a thing to be the case, our brains focus our Attention on finding supporting evidence that, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it becomes blind to other evidence. There has been more than one “invisible gorilla” study demonstrating this effect. We can take advantage of this flaw in our brains by Expecting outcomes that we want; then, when evidence shows up in support of the outcomes we want, we’ve primed our brain to see it.
So, concepts I learned through New Age have gone mainstream.
If I had to boil it down, I might put it this way: at a very young age, we started telling ourselves stories to help us make sense of the world and to help keep us safe, and we called those stories the truth, but truth is slippery, especially coming from your toddler self. Set truth aside for a moment and ask yourself, “is this story facilitating, or debilitating?” If it’s the latter, it needs to change. Discarding and rewriting stories that have kept us safe can be terrifying.
Super Human is my attempt to play with these ideas in an adventure.
From 1970 to 1995, the government had a psychic spying program, often referred to as Project Stargate. The program got shut down, not because it wasn’t successful, but because top brass were uncomfortable having a psychic spying line item in their budget. That was good news for us, because the training manual got declassified, so everyone who was in the program was now free to teach the method to civilians. In 2012 I received some training in Controlled Remote Viewing, and wouldn’t you know it, it worked. Blew my mind. And it worked, over and over.
Remember how in college I felt I needed to set my interests aside? There was this voice in my head telling me that only fools believe in ESP and I didn’t want to out myself as a fool. My training gave me empirical evidence that forced me to come to terms with not only the reality of ESP, but that I had psychic abilities. That made it personal, but I still lived then and now in a world where if I tell someone I am psychic, they may look at me like I have two heads. That’s happened more than once, so I’m careful who I talk to. And, yes, I’m fully aware of the irony of outing myself publicly. Hopefully, I won’t get flamed for it online.
Right around the time my father died— I can’t remember if it was before or after— I was driving south on 95 and it had begun to snow, and there was a decent coating on the highway. I was in the passing lane and going faster than I had any business going. I felt the car start to glide on the snow, and slide to the left towards the median. I gently tapped the brakes and I could tell they woudn’t help. Same with the steering wheel. I was headed into a ditch at high speed in a matter of seconds and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. So I just accepted my situation. At that moment, I felt a distinct push on the car that put it back in the lane. I wondered if my tires had just fallen into a groove in the snow, but there were no grooves to speak of.
I have plenty more stories, but suffice it to say, I’ve had lots of experiences in life that I can’t explain with conventional means. The empirical evidence I received from my Remote Viewing training gave me the confidence I needed to write a supernatural ‘fiction’ (air quotes) story with fictionalized versions of things that actually happened to me. That’s why I call it air quotes ‘fiction’.
What were some of your influences in writing Super Human?
My favorite shows and movies in the ’70s were Star Trek and Star Wars. I loved how Lucas and Roddenberry always looked for the best in humanity. There’s great this connection between George Lucas and Joseph Campbell through The Hero’s Journey, which some have attributed to Star Wars’ success, which I’ll touch on in a bit. I also like the coming-of-age time period, which you see in movies like ET, The Karate Kid, Stand By Me, or TV like Stranger Things. I wanted to write something like those all put together: a hero element, a coming-of-age element, uncovering the best in us, an exciting adventure fraught with peril, and suitable for a YA audience.
I like movies about heroes and superheroes, but they’re starting to get repetitive. I didn’t want just to make another superhero book. I wanted to redefine what makes a superhero: a super human. So I had to ask myself, what makes a human super, and could I write an exciting story where those things were the superpowers?
What authors do you enjoy reading?
Ironically, I haven’t read a lot of fiction as an adult. The most recent fiction I’ve read is Hugh Howey’s Wool series, which is now Silo on AppleTV+. Also, I read The Hobbit to my son when he was in elementary school. I might have enjoyed it more than he did.
When I was younger, I enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five), Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and perhaps most of all, Richard Back (Johnathan Livingston Seagull). Funny story, we had the album narration by Sir Richard Harris, who is most famously known for playing Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies. I would listen with headphones on and the lights out in my bedroom. His voice is just beautiful. Before there were audiobooks, there was that. You can listen to it on YouTube.
As an adult, I read a lot of non-fiction. Mental Radio by Upton Sinclair, The Reality of ESP by Russell Targ, The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt, and I’m reading Carl Jung’s autobiography, Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. These books have allowed me to ground my fiction in a layer of empirical evidence for the reality of supernatural experiences.
How do you develop your characters?
When I started writing I had no experience, and it quickly became clear I needed help. I hired a writing coach, Masheri Chappelle. She taught me how to develop characters. I was afraid to assign any characteristics to my characters that I would later regret, so I didn’t even know what they wore. So the first thing she had me do was go on a virtual shopping spree and find the wardrobe for each of my characters. That was fun and super helpful.
Next, I needed to figure out their personalities. I would write a scene, and Masheri would pull out a nugget. “Lily is the detective type,” she would say, which was helpful for me, and it helped me to start looking for those nuggets on my own. As I wrote the characters, they would tell me what kind of person they are, because they would be more inclined to do one thing than another, which spoke to their motivations.
I’m currently writing the second book in the series, and it includes an in-depth backstory of the villain from the first book. It’s been a wonderful experience as an author because I learn about the character as I go. He doesn’t start out villainous. He’s a confident boy who knows what he wants and speaks his mind, which gets him into trouble. Eventually the confidence collides with reality in some really tragic ways. It’s very satisfying for me as an author to learn how the villain I wrote became the villain he is. It’s one of those moments where, when you see it all unfold, you suddenly have compassion for him and can understand why he did all the despicable things he did in the first book.
Describe the plot.
Maybe five years before I came up with the full plot, I had a tiny dream. “Change purse” was all I remember. It was a double entendre … put something in, and when you pull it out, it’s changed. I thought that was a nice metaphor for our minds. It also reminds me of the quantum observer effect … observing a thing changes it. Mental effects like my mom’s luck and quantum observer effects rhymes, which I liked.
I used my mom’s near-death experience as a thought experiment: if so-called “higher beings” wanted to help make us better, how might they go about doing it?
Might they talk to us when we sleep, when we daydream? Or, to quote Billie Eilish, “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” I think it’s intellectually lazy to say that’s not a fair question.
If benevolent beings were trying to help us from a non-physical realm, would we trust them? Would we understand the message? Or would we twist it, debase it, weaponize it? That’s the premise of Super Human.
What is AIE?
AIE is Super Human’s version of The Force. They’re initials. They stand for … well, I won’t tell you what they stand for; you’ll have to read the book. But they’re mental habits. Habits that, when we start doing them just so, awaken our innate, dormant superpowers. And you can use them in pretty much any situation, not just to thwart impending doom; our day-to-day lives improve. I’ve even written a Guide for Teachers and Parents (it contains spoilers) because this book can be educational and inspiring for young people and would be a good addition to a classroom.
I think of Super Human as Escape to Witch Mountain meets The Karate Kid. Will Freeman is an anxious teen. His new friend Lily invites herself over one day … she’s clearly flirting, but Will’s either oblivious or too anxious to flirt back. They go treasure hunting in his attic. They find this strange object … Will’s mom tells them it’s a change purse that belonged to his father. He disappeared when Will was a toddler under strange circumstances. By seeming happenstance, they meet someone who says they knew his father and can explain the change purse. This meeting sets Will down a road of inner exploration, outer peril, and supernatural chaos. Lily gets kidnapped by sinister figures with advanced weaponry who are looking for the change purse. Will and his best friend Russell set out to rescue Lily; along the way, he learns what happened to his father.
In college, George Lucas read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. George was struck by how societies create heroes through storytelling and how those hero stories inform the moral fabric of society. He wanted to make a story like that, and that’s what undergirds Star Wars, and arguably it’s what made it such a phenomenal success.
Star Wars works as well as it does partly because The Force is a narrative that, even if not literally true, it feels true enough on some level. We’ve all experienced the smoothness of being in a flow state just like Luke. Lucas balances the story and the allegory so it doesn’t feel preachy: you can enjoy the adventure … dogfights in space with a big dog for a copilot … without needing to be invested in any underlying message. I wanted Super Human to strike that same balance. The reader can enjoy the story simply as an exciting thrill ride, or, if they want, they can get more out of it, which I hope they do.
Joseph Campbell would say we tell ourselves stories for a number of reasons, to make sense of the world, and to give us comfort. I wanted to write a story that does what the greatest stories do: give us the courage to do and say those things that are most likely to yield the best outcomes for us and those around us. What surprised me was in the process of figuring out the details of the story, I had to go through the process in myself. I had to figure out what stops me from being my better self and what my better self even is. I have a long way to go, but I find the writing helpful on a personal level.
How has it been received so far?
I want to share some of my favorite reviews. What I hope you take away from them is what I tried to convey is resonating with readers on both the story level and on that other level:
“BEST BOOK I’VE READ all year.
I’ve worked with a lot of new authors. Of all the new authors’ books I’ve read, this one is the best.
Bravo.” —Belinda M., Author
“Well done, sir, well done. You’ve written a really good story that’s gotten me thinking about how we view the world.” —Robin B., Editor
“This entertaining drama could almost double as a how-to for developing psychic powers and a meditation practice.” — R.W.W. Greene, Author
“Super Human is a unique version of what it could look like to have a superpower in the real world.”
—Eric Demarest, Author
How did you learn to write?
There are two editions of this book. The first edition I wrote with no training and self-published in 2017. I took it very seriously; I’m swinging for the bleachers. It didn’t take me long to figure out from the tepid reviews from friends and family that it wasn’t as fantastic as I imagined it to be. Compliments are free; a solid critique costs.
I needed help, so I joined New Hampshire Writers’ Project. When I learned the Chair, Masheri Chappelle, was an Intuitive, I sought her out and asked if she could help, and she agreed I could hire her as my Story Guide. Because of her, I learned a good story can be killed by death-by-a-thousand-cuts because the author didn’t know the craft.
We began meeting on Saturdays, and she told me we were throwing out the first edition and starting from scratch. We spent 60 Saturdays together, and over that time, she taught me the craft of writing. There were sessions where she would throw out entire pages. It was tough, but it was exactly what I needed. After about six months, I started to get it and I started throwing out scenes before I even sent them to her. But even up to the last pages, she taught me how to create a compelling story: things like character development, setting a scene, transitioning out of a scene, pacing, and when and how to ratchet up the intensity. The second edition bears little resemblance to the first edition. There’s a depth to the second edition that I was striving for in the first edition but failed. I’m so proud of it, and the reviews above are for the second edition and are genuine praise from authors and editors.
Super Human is a series, and, at fifty thousand words, I’m about halfway into the first draft of Book Two. The working title is Super Human: Out of Time. Book One was only sixty-seven thousand words; I was just getting warmed up. Book Two expands on the world in exciting ways that even I didn’t expect. I don’t want to give away too much but I can give you a taste of the opening scene. By the way, both books are written in three parts. Anyway, the opening scene of Book Two is set in Albany, New York, in the late 1800s. It’s All Hallows Eve, and a mother drags her twelve year old son to a late night seance in the basement of the community theater. Well, the seance goes badly sideways, and it’s utter chaos. The mother is mortified, and the boy can’t get enough of it. That sets the stage for Part I.
When can readers expect Book Two?
It takes me about two years to write a book, so I’m hoping Book Two will be in readers’ hands before the end of 2024.