Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Haunted Writer

Creativity is such a weird, unpredictable thing.

Why does a song or staring up at the stars spark that creative impulse? The urge to create...something. Why do ideas lose energy? Why do we wake up in the middle of the night with a bit of dialog or the solution to a plot point?

Why ask why?

Anyway, I've been working on Ill Met By Moonlight. I'm enjoying it, I'm making progress...it's slow going because it's painstaking work. I have to constantly check my facts (I almost goofed on a Batman reference the other day). And even more important than the facts: getting the right feel, the right mood, the right voice, the right mindset. Historical fiction is a genre that attracts, even breeds pedants. Writers who will sacrifice plot and character for a chance to show off how much they know about buttons or legal procedures in the 1700s. I don't want to be that writer.

So I'm enjoying the work, enjoying the story, I'm immersed in the period...and suddenly, without warning, into my head pops the idea for a short series of spooky, contemporary novellas.

Huh? Where did that come from? I have no notion, but there it is. Four interconnected novellas following the course of one year in a man's life. Spooky and funny. That was my idea -- and it's not so easy to be funny and spooky because humor undercuts spookiness and spooky...well, it's just hard to write genuinely spooky stuff.

The Haunted...Museum. Hm. No. The Haunted Heart.

Yes. That's it. A man inherits the contents of a creepy, oddball museum. It is his job to catalog and sell the items. But not all the items are that easy to catalog -- or get rid of.

So suddenly I'm working on two stories at once. In the morning I'm working on my spooky contemporary. And in the afternoon I'm working on Ill Met By Moonlight.

Here's a taste of the story that came out of nowhere.

The Haunted Heart: Winter



I didn’t see him see until it was too late.

Even if I had seen him, I’m not sure it would have made a difference. My only thought was getting downstairs and out the front door as fast as possible. It turned out the fastest means was crashing headlong into someone bigger, and letting his momentum send us both hurtling down the staircase.

My…er…companion yelled and cursed all the way down the first flight. Well, in fairness it was one long yelp and a prolonged curse. “Yooouuu’ve gotta be fu-uh-uh-uh-uh-cking kid-ding me!

We landed in a tangle of limbs on the dusty and none-too-plushy carpet. My elbow whanged one final time into the balusters and my head banged down on the floor. I saw stars. Or maybe that was just the dust, which had probably crystallized with age.

“What the hell was that?” moaned someone from the ether.

Good. Question.

What the hell had that been? It sure wasn’t a trick of the light. Though I’d done my best to tell myself that’s exactly what it was – and had kept telling myself that right up until the moment the figure in the mirror had tried to reach through the glass and touch me.

“Sorry about that,” I mumbled. His bare foot was planted in my gut, and I couldn’t blame him when he dug his toes in for leverage before lifting off me. “Oof!”

“What do you think you’re doing running down the stairs in the dark, in the middle of the night?”

I groped for the railing and pulled myself painfully into a sitting position. “I…thought someone was in my room.” Lying was second nature to me by now, but that was a stupid lie. I knew it, the instant the words left my mouth.

404-A – What was his name? Something Murdoch – got to his knees and gaped at me in the dingy light. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“I am saying so.”

We both turned to stare up at the wide open door leading into my rooms. My lamp-lit and noticeably silent rooms.

We looked at each other.

404-A was older than me, bigger than me, shaggier than me. He had a beard and shoulder length black hair. His eyes were dark and sort of hollow looking – that was probably the lack of sleep. He looked like those old posters for Serpico, but he wasn’t a cop. He was a writer of some kind.

And a lousy guitarist. Then again, I wasn’t anyone’s ideal neighbor either. As indicated by current events.

“You think someone’s up there?” He asked me slowly, skeptically.

I weighed a possible visit from the local fuzz, and opted for resident whacko.

“I did. But…maybe I was wrong.”

“Maybe? Maybe? Why don’t we find out?” He was on his feet now, yanking his red plaid flannel bathrobe shut and retying it with a couple of hard, businesslike tugs that vaguely suggested a wish to throttle something. Without waiting to see if I was following or not, he stomped up the flight of stairs. Guiltily, I noticed he was limping.

It was actually amazing either of us hadn’t been seriously injured or even killed in that fall.

“Coming?” he threw over his shoulder.

“Uh…”

He muttered something, and not pausing for an answer, disappeared through the doorway.

I admit I waited.

He couldn’t fail to see the mirror first thing. It was as tall as I was, oval, mounted on an ornate ormolu frame. It stood propped against a Chinese black lacquer curio cabinet. The slight angle created the effect of walking up a slanted floor to peer into its silvered surface.

A draft whispered against the back of my neck. I shivered. This old Victorian monstrosity was full of drafts. Drafts and dust. And shadows and creaks. All of them harmless. I shivered again.

 Footsteps squeaked overhead. “You can come in now. There’s nobody up here,” 404-A called at last.

I let out a long breath and jogged up the stairs. The elfin faces carved in the black walnut railing winked and smirked at me as I passed.

I reached the top landing and walked into the jumble sale of my living room. My gaze fell on the mirror first thing, but the surface showed only me, tall and skinny and pale in my Woody Woodpecker boxers. My hair looked like Woody’s too, only blond, not red. Definitely standing on end, whatever the color.

“I guess I dreamed…it,” I said by way of apology.

“First time living alone?” 404-A asked dryly. He was standing right beside the mirror, his own reflection off to the side.

“Ha,” I said. “Hardly.” But come to think of it, he was right. I’d lived at home until college and then after college, I’d lived with Alan. This was my first time completely on my own. “Anyway, sorry about dragging you out of bed and knocking you down the stairs. Are you sure you’re okay?”

I’m fine.” He continued to eye me in a way that seemed a bit clinical.  

Yeah. I got the message. Maybe I had dreamed it. What a relief to realize it was just a nightmare.

If only I slept.

“Come to think of it, you were already on your way up here,” I remembered.

He said bluntly, “I was going to ask you to stop pacing up and down all night. The floorboards creak.”

Oh.  My face warmed at this rude but effective reminder that I wasn’t alone in the world. Not even this dusty and dimly lit corner of the world. “Sorry.” To be honest, I forgot he was even in the building most of the time. He was pretty quiet, other than the occasional fit of guitar picking, and it was just the two of us here at 404 Pitch Pine Lane. It was a big, ramshackle house, and we were neither of us the sociable type.

 I glanced at the mirror again. Just me and the edge of my neighbor’s plaid bathrobe in its shining surface. The reflection of the ceiling chandelier blazed like a sunspot in the center, obliterating most of us and the room we stood in.

I looked more closely. Had something moved in the very back of the reverse room?

404-A glanced down at the mirror and then back at me. He said, “I have to work tomorrow.”

“Sure. I didn’t realize you could hear me.”

He unbent enough to say, “I mostly can’t. Only the floorboards. Mostly at night.”

“I’ll make sure to pace in the other room.”

“Great.” He pushed away from the cabinet and headed for the door. “I’ll let you get back to it.”

His reflection crossed the mirror’s surface, large bare feet, ragged Levi’s beneath the hem of the bathrobe.

“Night,” I said absently. I remembered to ask, “What’s your name again?”

“Murdoch. Kirk Murdoch.”

“Right. Night, Kirk.”

“Goodnight, Flynn.”

I watched the mirrored reflection of the door closing quietly behind him.

66 comments:

  1. Hooked! Want to read it like now. :D

    So, who was in the mirror?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Iz too skeery to even talk about!!! ;-D

      Delete
  2. i love it...now i'm going to think about this until the books are released...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope so! It's early to pull down the dust sheet, but...I wanted to share. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

      Delete
  3. Think aloud some more, I love this!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm with Calathea. I love the excerpt. Need any proof readers? Brit checks? :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-D Now why didn't I set it in a dusty little corner of Britain!

      Delete
  5. Funny and spooky. The tone is already set in this excerpt. Looking forward to these!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad! I was shooting for that old movie feel of chills and spills. Literally with the spills. ;-D

      Delete
  6. You, my dear, are a superstar! This sounds funny as hell! Welcome back!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-D It's kind of writing itself, this one.

      Delete
  7. Love the setting!!! Not enough can be said of the spookiness of old museums. I happen to work in one part-time and I'm still not used to it :S
    - Juthi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I agree. I love these kinds of settings, and I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time.

      Delete
  8. Spooky, is finding the listing for the Haunted Heart series on your works page early this morning, posting about it on the fb fan page, (because I thought I was all sorts of unobservant and missed something everyone else must know about) and then coming home and finding this! You've already scared me! ;D

    Truly, such a great story already. And this, this is marvelous: "The elfin faces carved in the black walnut railing winked and smirked at me as I passed."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See, I like to keep you on your toes! :-D

      Delete
  9. I'm awfully bad with anything even slightly horrorish, but if this will get too scary for me I'll just think about those Woody Woodpecker boxers — and all will be okay. :-D

    Anyway, I loved it. You rock.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Woody Woodpecker shorts are indeed a jolt back to sanity. :-D

      Delete
  10. It's raining excerpts, yay!

    Thank you, you non-productive-fellow! ;-)

    Ciao

    Antonella

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All this skipping around seems to be producing something!

      Delete
  11. I don't think I should have read this last thing at night ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL. Be glad it wasn't Chapter 2! ;-D

      Delete
  12. What fun! I'm thinking Topper meets the Ghost and Mrs. Muir. You can get great pleasure writing it and WE can have great fun reading it. I love a good, wickedly funny ghost story. Can't do gruesome, but fun. I'm thinking Cary Grant and Rex Harrison and George Sanders (with a bit of Abbott & Costello mixed in).

    Isn't it terrific, though probably a bit disconcerting, just writing something that just pours out?

    Looking forward!

    Thanks Josh. This is much better than the blog that was yanked.

    P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's exactly what I'm going for. That kind of kooky, light-hearted, but occasionally genuinely frightening story.

      Delete
    2. Love it!

      Have you every read Molly Harper or Molly Harper White? She writes of vamps and werewolves with a few ghosts kicked in.

      There are hilarious!

      Delete
    3. Oops! I meant "They are hilarious!"

      Delete
    4. No. I have to check her out.

      Delete
  13. Ah. So getting it right in Historical Fiction is "showing off." Interesing, Josh. *grin*


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now, I didn't say that. That is not something I would say. Or think.

      I do think there is a certain personality type that relies on miniscule and often irrelevant details in the hope that focusing on these things will allow them to skate over weaknesses of plot and character.

      Delete
  14. Mr. L,

    If anyone can pull off a spooky and humorous story that would be you. I luv the little snippet that you shared with us and look forward to the collection coming out. Have a great summer.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope so. I have to say I am a big chicken and can't work on this at night. Such is the power of an overactive imagination. ;-)

      Delete
    2. No way, Mr. L. You're like the Agatha Christie and Stephen King of m/m writing. Pah, I don't believe it for a second from the author who gave us "The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks", "The Dark Wood", and what about the ebook cover for "I Spy Something Wicked"? The clown with that expression!!! Cowering. Riiiiiiight. ;-) I bet nights are when you do your best work to get those spooky, creepy scenes just right as you type away while your SO is conveniently sleeping soundly nearby within grabbing distance just in case you scare yourself. You are way too funny, Mr. L. 8-) Keep up the good work. Looking forward to the new stuff you are going to have out.

      Delete
    3. Ha! I'm a fraidy cat for sure.

      As long as you keep reading, I'll likely keep writing. :-)

      Delete
  15. Spooky funny. Looking forward to this (and to Ill Met By Moonlight too, of course).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. It's a lot of fun writing this one.

      Although to be honest, I'm enjoying writing everything at the moment.

      Delete
  16. Funny and spooky, one of those perfect combinations :-) i love it! now i cannot wait to see what happens! what's in chapter 2?? what's in the creepy mirror? the woody woodpecker brings back memories, haven't thought of him in quite a while. I love the setting and the atmosphere too! so many things can happen in that setting :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, KC! It's a relief to toggle between a very intense, demanding story to something light and funny and easy.

      Delete
  17. No no no no noooo!!! I refuse to read them now. I just wanna see the complete one!!!! I want them now now now!!!

    (See, you made me threw a tantrum... :P )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was more frightening than the thing in the mirror! ;-P

      Delete
  18. Something else to look forward to!? Yay! Like everyone else Iloved the excerpt. I like the cconcept of the 4 interconnected novellas too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh good! I don't know if it's really that different in concept from any other series, but it feels different. At least as I conceive of it. It may not be that different in practice.

      Delete
  19. So pleased you are enjoying writing these novellas, Josh. Your enthusiasm shines through. I like the seasonal idea, and of course when complete these four stories would make a great print book, right? :)

    As for your historical accuracy — always spot on, yet never intrusive. In other words, perfect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very kindly, Susan. History is one of my passions, but I have to fight the temptation of info dump just like everyone else in that genre. It's hard. You do all that research, you know all that stuff, it's just natural to want to share it.

      The fact that only other fanatics of a particular time period will give a damn is hard to accept. ;-D

      Delete
  20. Oh, please don't be 'that writer'. I had to give up one series because the author was obviously enamored by the research and wrote a doorstopper that completely slowed down everything in the book. I skipped huge chunks of writing just to get to the main characters. Yes, some details set the period and tone, but you have to know when to say 'when.'

    But about your excerpt: I like some humor with my things-that-go-bump-in-the-night so these sound perfect--but it's going to be so hard to wait! [You're such a tease.]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been reading a lot of mainstream historicals lately, and it's impossible to get away from the feeling that so many books are being padded with lots of mildly interesting facts that ultimately slow the action and distract from the character arc.

      I AM a tease. I know. I'm that little annoying kid that used to jump out behind the drapes and go BOO! :-D

      Delete
  21. Ooooh, a new pic at the top of the page! You're an optimist. :D I like the summery look and feel. I wish I could be there (and not in this late-november weather we have here).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am definitely being optimistic with that photo!

      Delete
    2. Maybe I should have written "an optimist about the summer" because where I live after a short visit of spring we fell straight back into winter... ;)

      Delete
    3. Oh wow. Yes, optimism is definitely the way to go — I, too, love the beach pic. Makes me want to run straight into that ocean (and not into the one near me in reality). You don't mind if Calathea and I borrow your summery dream beach for a while?

      Delete
    4. The same thing happened here. We went from sum-sum-summertime to temperaturs in the low sixties.

      I think it *might* be warming up again now, though.

      Delete
  22. Christie,
    I can almost name the writer you were refering to (but then there are certainly more than a few of them). I also recently gave up reading the eighth book of a series I dealy loved on my Kindle, opting for a book from the library so that I could more quickly flip through the chunks of stagnant details I had absolutely no interest in knowing. It felt sad to have to give up on a good writer, but what can I say?

    Another kind of writer I cannot bear to read is the kind who wins once with a certain formulae and then plays too safe to move on to another. I know creativity is a rare talent, but repeating the same storyline just isn't going to help.

    That's why I enjoy reading JL's stories so much. I like both the variety in the ways the stories are told, and the different lengths. No need to stretch a story unnecessarily just to make it a bit longer, right? And like others, really looking forward to reading these interconnected novellas.

    Happy writing!

    Savanna

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Savanna.

      Yes, that's a good point. And it's tough because I think all writers have certain favorite dynamics and motifs we return to again and again. And there are only so many viable building blocks for effective storytelling. But even so, every story should not be the same. That would surely be dull for the writer too!

      Delete
  23. Replies
    1. I'm toying with an experiment on this one -- I'm not quite sure yet, but I may make it available on Wattpad for readers to read each installment. Not sure though.

      Delete
  24. Oh, this is going to be SO much fun! *smiles happily* Waiting for all of the new books feels like being a little kid again, waiting for Christmas! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-D

      And you've all been such good, patient little boys and girls!

      Delete
  25. MMmm, tasty! I'll definitely be picking it up when your release it. Heck, even if you serialized it on your website and then released it in final compendium form.


    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Mirrors at night rate number one on my list of creepiest things. Despite that slight issue, this will be on my Kindle as soon as it's released.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I know I'm the 60th or so commenter, but I feel compelled to add in my gushing fangirl praise for the spooky fun excerpt. Can't wait to read 'The Haunted Heart' and I'm in love with the serial novella idea. Then again, I'm pretty much in love with everything you do!

    Okay, fangirl gushing is now over. At least until your next post. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 6th or 60th, I'm always happy to hear someone's looking forward to my stories! Thank you. :-)

      Delete
  28. ANNOUNCEMENT!

    Strange Fortune sneaked into Audible yesterday. Just found it this a.m.

    Thought some of your Audible "readers" would like to know.
    Pen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! It's live. Or maybe it's Memorex. But either way, it's available on Audible.com now. Thanks, Pen. ;-)

      Delete
  29. So, I'm almost finished reading 'Winter' and am very sad because I don't know how long I'll have to wait for more of the story. Are there still plans of releasing the next instalment? When? TAKE MY MONEY!!

    ReplyDelete