Eternal Roses

I intentionally freaked myself out tonight.

My son had a HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2 party at the YMCA tonight. Five uninterrupted child-free hours, which any parent (particularly a single parent) will tell you is worth its weight in gold-pressed latinum. While I was tempted to a) be social or b) spoil myself, I knew the only way I was ever going to move forward with the YELLOW ROSES project was to take advantage of this time. The next step required a marathon session.

So the binder, the notebook, two reference books I haven't finished and my index cards took over a corner table at Sacred Grounds, my favorite coffeeshop. How funny is it that as I walked up to the counter, the barista said, "Cheese quesadilla, no salsa, extra sour cream, right?" I'm getting predictable in my old age.

Stoked on unlimited caffeine, I finished THE GHOST HUNTER'S HANDBOOK and set to the real task: outlining. Each scene in the first draft got an index card with summary. Then I laid them out on the table, as seen here.

(I think I might have gone a bit overboard. Still, it worked.)

To my surprise, I didn't really need to shuffle the plot too much. As I began adding the new scenes, I found they leavened the passage of time between the flashbacks and provided much-needed balance to the angst without the massive restructuring I thought would be needed. I know the final story will bear little resemblence to the outline, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the problems were to fix. (I will regret saying that, won't I?)

It was also my first read-through since I finished the first draft in February. I'd forgotten how much of it was my head back then, the things I was wrestling with inside. But what I wrote was more honest, more intense than anything I've written before. Writers bleed onto the page, and I was bleeding plenty. Maybe I'll feel differently when I see the finalfinal of ABADDON, maybe it's even more intense, but I wrote that so frakking long ago I barely remember what happens. Fire? What fire?

At any rate, I spent five straight hours immersed in ghost stories and my ghost-infested Illinois river town. Then I wrapped up my stuff and fled, just as the wonderful music Sacred Grounds usually plays was invaded by Michael Jackson. Shudder.

But on the way to pick up my son, I detoured on instinct to the old cemetery on the edge of town. I was shooting* in that cemetery a few years ago when I saw a military grave on the edge of the property, right where the trees came almost up to the road. Nothing unusual about it, except it was off by itself, with nothing else around it. The only grave on that side of the road. And it was an old grave, decades older than the graves nearest it. When that soldier was buried in the mid-twenties, the nearest graves were halfway up the hill. His grave inspired YELLOW ROSES.

So I drove through the cemetery at night. I hadn't been alone in a cemetery at night in at least a decade. I kind of felt I needed to, maybe just to get a sense of it, maybe stop by his grave and pay my respects.

Maybe it's because my imagination was running to the creepy tonight, or maybe it's just because that cemetery is a frakking creepy place, but I scared the hell out of myself. It's a dark cemetery, no lights visible from the street thanks to that enormous hill. They're old graves, monuments to the dead, none of those modern pressed-granite flatstones that take all the mystery out of the mausoleum.

It was like a scene from a horror movie, my headlights reflecting only the stones, utter blackness beyond them. Anything could be out there. Anything at all. And it felt as though something was.

I suddenly imagined my car running out of gas, stalling at the bottom of the hill. That was a real possibility the last time I was there, since I was driving my old Deathmobile - wait, that's not funny anymore - but my Toyota was perfectly capable of handling it, right?

The grave wasn't there.

Okay, I'll eat that when I come back in the daytime and find that he's right where he's supposed to be, but I swear as I drove along the bottom of the hill, his grave wasn't there. I wasn't stopping - by now I had thoroughly freaked myself out and nothing would have gotten me out of my car. No such thing as ghosts, mind you. But my car was nice and safe. There have been changes - they're cutting down more trees, making more space, and there are other graves on the far side of the road now. But I swear his grave was under that big tree, and it wasn't there. Did they move him? Why would they move him? I must have just missed it.

There was a large branch across the road past the place where his grave should have been. I drove right over it. Only after did I think, "What if I'd gotten stuck on the branch? What if I had to turn around?"

I followed the road back up, and I imagined that the road was changing, doubling back on itself, not letting me out. All in my head, mind you, but it needs to be here because it's going to be in the book.

This is what it means to be a horror writer. We come up with the stuff that scares the bejesus out of us and write it down quickly, before it fades like an ordinary nightmare would, so we can scare the hell out of you, too. It's not that we horror writers are any more twisted or freaky than your ordinary human (okay, not much). We just write down the nightmares before they fade.

It's either going to be the biggest waste of time since SANCTUARY, or it's going to be the best thing I've ever written. Too bad it's going to take the rest of the year, but if it's good enough to catch on at a real horror press... it'll be worth it.

And yeah, I'm going to go back and find his grave. I'm sure it's there. I just need to look for it in the daylight.

* Shooting with a camera, smartasses. I like to take pictures of old cemeteries. What are you looking at?


  1. I appreciate the look at how you do your rewrites. I actually found it very helpful.

    That's creepy about the grave. And what will you do if it's still not there when you go back in the daytime? Perhaps "someone" is pushing you to write this story. :-)

  2. Anonymous7:07 AM

    I volunteer to read the next draft!

    And, ahem, but Sanctuary was NOT a waste of time. You just need to get a publisher to look at it.

    So there.

  3. Tongfengdemao: This is actually the most extensive, structured rewrite I've done. But then YR needs a more extensive rewrite than anything I've done before. Usually I simply start from the beginning and rewrite according to notes in the margins, but YR needed a lot more than that. I may keep this index card idea for the future, though - it really helped me see where the problems were.

    SarahSanford: Yeah, well, we'll see about that. :)


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