A little work on introducing a character I’ve been thinking about for a while, who would be introduced not in Ghostlight, but it’s sequel (though he is mentioned in Ghostlight a few times). I tried keeping spoilers about Ghostlight’s ending vague enough as to be nonexistent.
I live with ghosts in my everyday life, witnessed more than one impossible murders firsthand, was a murder suspect myself and get dark looks if not outright threats to my personal safety every day at school. Just to give some context when I say that what I saw upon opening the door on an afternoon in late April was the last possible thing I could have expected. Read more
The novel I’m working on, Ghostlight, is very clearly in the Young Adult Paranormal (YAP) genre. Bette is 17, a high school senior, as are her friends, and there are ghosts. Bam, YA, done. See also such series as The Vampire Diaries, Harry Potter, Twilight, the list goes on.
But she’s also a character I can easily see in what’s come to be called the Urban Fantasy (UF) genre: Bette in her 20’s, in a city somewhere, doing some manner of paranormal-related work, be it a professional ghost hunter, a PI, a journalist with a secret, and so on. In a number of ways, the story I’m writing is Bette’s origin story, her first adventure into the paranormal, the point at which her life changes, the events that set her on a certain path. See also such series as The Dresden Files, Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood, Mercy Thompson, Greywalker–the list, again, goes on.
What I’m writing for Bette now is the kind of story that the Urban Fantasy novels will often mention in passing, but don’t usually go into details on. Those novels largely skip ahead to when the character is established in their weird world; whereas for the YAP novels, this is the story that they cover, how it started, how the character went from normal to paranormal, how that world got weird in the first place. While both types have their similarities and differences, there’s one big difference I’m seeing right now: the YAP novels tend to be contained by a set number of books, usually a trilogy, while the UF novels are much more open-ended.
I can see Bette’s story being contained, spanning 3 or 4 books and then ending there, with the future becoming a big blank slate. But I can also see it continuing on, her growing up and finding a new place in the world, her being not just the YAP heroine, but the UF one as well.
As far as I know, this isn’t something that’s been done before, a Young Adult character/series developing into an adult-focused Urban Fantasy series. I can certainly see why, there are plenty of reasons for it. Who do you market the books to, those books generally (or at least often) have a very different tone and subject matter, there’s no ‘transitional’ genre out there for this. It’s the reason why TV shows about high schoolers rarely manage to survive when those characters go to college. You’ve got characters you like, a setting you like, actors you like, and the reality is that most people don’t all stick around in the same town they grew up in when they go to school.
But, I can also see reasons why it could possibly work. For one thing, your readers are growing up, why not a character who grows up with them? As well, a book series doesn’t face the same issues of having to always be tied to one place, certain characters, certain actors. It’s easier to change those up in a book than in a TV show. And while one may say there’s no transitional, I’d argue that YA is the transitional genre. Some very real and meaningful events, thoughts, and conflicts can and often do come up in YA. Death, love, broken hearts, hardships, prejudice, poverty, family issues — all of these frequently come up in YA and are explored and dealt with in thoughtful, satisfying, and mature ways.
It might be challenging — and, of course, this is all assuming I finish this book, get it published, and have enough success to keep doing more featuring Bette — but I do think it’s possible. I’d like to approach the whole idea thinking it’s possible, and that because whatever adventure Bette has now may end, it doesn’t mean she can’t have more of them later in life.
Let’s be honest, if JK Rowling decided to write books about Harry Potter’s adventures as an Auror, who wouldn’t want to read that? It would be awesome! (No, I’m not saying I’m the next JK Rowling, as awesome as that also would be. But HP is a series that had many mature themes for what was a “kid’s” book, so it well illustrates my point here.)
Going out of order with my photo challenge catch-ups, I know. 🙂 But it’s the holidays, and for me holidays means family, and one of my missed photo challenges over at DP was Family. At first I was browsing looking for your average family photo–not a posed one, because as nice as those can be, they aren’t the real everyday truth of a family. Those pictures are the unexpected ones, or the ones taken on any old weekday. But in my search, I found this photo by yi-ching lin tagged for the “Family” photo challenge and I kinda love it.(I’m unable to insert the image directly in this post, so I highly recommend you go there and check it out. Yi-Ching has a lot of great photos on his/her blog, in fact!)
It’s a more morose take on the idea, yes, but it instantly brought Ghostlight to mind. A big part of Bette’s life is that her brother is dead and she doesn’t know why, and her family has been falling apart ever since. I’ve been itching to write the next section, and after seeing this picture it struck me: this girl is seeing ghosts, new murders have striking similarities to Graham’s mysterious death, why hasn’t she gone to visit grave yet in this story exactly? Duh!
For added flavor, I’m throwing in some elements of this picture I mentioned a few weeks ago by three sticks of watusi.
Family & Hidden
Mist still hung heavy in the air; it hadn’t burned off with the morning, instead choosing to hang around for the whole day. But really, how much more fitting could it get? Halloween was a few days away, there were unsolved murders, I was seeing ghosts, and now I was standing in front of a cemetery gate. A chill mist that felt like it was sinking into my skin and weighing down my bones would’ve only been more appropriate if I were also in London.
I stepped closer, curling my fingers around the cold iron bars on the gate. I wanted to go in, to visit Graham’s grave…to answer the question I’d had in the back of my mind since this began. Would his ghost be there? I just wasn’t sure what answer I wanted. If he was there–and, presuming ghosts could also be seen in the daylight, another answer I didn’t yet have–it would mean getting the answers I’d wanted for three years. But if he wasn’t, then there was no telling what that meant. Maybe he was gone on to his afterlife. Or, more likely from how he’d died, his ghost, his soul, was somewhere else altogether.
Only one way to find out, Lauden. No more stalling.
Letting go of the iron gate, my last refuge, I stepped into the fog of the graveyard. The temperature dropped around me and I knew that even if ghosts weren’t visible, they were still here. The mist obscured what might be real, or imagined, or spectral at first, but a few feet further revealed the outlines of colorless people, lurking about their graves, watching my approach with sad confusion. I don’t think they knew I saw them, and that was fine with me. After trying to sort out so many ghosts at the tree the other night, the chill in the air as they clustered around me, I was happy to let these ones think I was just like any other mourner. But I did study them out of the corner of my eyes as I passed.
They were less clearly defined than the ghosts I’d seen at night, and most of them were sulking in a solitary fashion, even if they had neighbors. One set of graves, a trio of them in fact, provided a different tableau altogether. A husband, wife, and child, buried together and now haunting their plot together. The couple held hands while the child ghost talk excitedly to them about the other ghosts and people he’d seen visiting the cemetery.
What kept all of them here? Had they been murdered like the ghosts at the tree, and that was why they lingered? Was there some other family member they were waiting for? Or did they even know? Hell, there were enough things I’d done without really knowing the reasons, especially in the last few days. I hadn’t yet seen much reason why death should be any different; if anything, the ghosts I’d met were even more out of it than the living.
That thought brought me to a halt. What if Graham’s ghost was here–and what if he was as lost as the Lantern Man’s victims? Graham had been sharp in life, very intelligent and even craftier than any of us knew. I’d prepared myself for the thought of his ghost existing here, but not for the idea that if he was, he may be very different from the brother I had known. Three years is a long time, and what kind of company did ghosts make? Shreds and shadows of the living, cut off from what they knew, unable to move on. Unable to move at all past a certain point, depending on what anchored them here. What’s his mind, his memory, his fire–whatever you might call it for a ghost–was as much a shadow as the rest of him?
I didn’t try to peer through the mists at the ghosts around me as I turned and hurried out of the cemetery. Some answers I really wasn’t ready for.
Possibility. I like this challenge topic–it’s open-ended, non-literal (I was about to say non-linear, which it may also be, but I’m not entirely sure of that), and I can’t wait to see what else people come up with.
But I write these shorts based on what the images inspire in me, not necessarily what the theme inspires in me. Two images put Ghostlight back in my mind, no doubt because they both have forests in them. One was the image in the DP post:
This started me off thinking about Bette’s story (and that I’ve been neglecting it, but there are reasons for that)–the thick forest, the green and natural beauty, and the secrets and dangers it’s hiding.
The second is this image by Northern Narratives. Rainbows are always pretty, but with a story of ghosts and murder on my mind, this one jumped in as a juxtaposition to horror instead of a symbol of hope. Or maybe it is a symbol, and Bette just doesn’t know it yet.
This scene would happen at the end of Ghostlight, and I’ve intentionally left what just happened very vague. So if you’re confused, well, you should be! Spoilers!
Rain and fog still hung in the air when dawn began to break. As I finally pulled myself away from the grisly scene, leaving behind the bodies, the sword, and some piece of myself, I didn’t need help finding my way out of the woods. Whose knowledge was that?
This wasn’t right. I was leaving alone, leaving alive, and both of those things surprised me. There was no dread this time that something or someone was after me, chasing me and trying to make sure I never left. There was no one left to chase me; not that I could ever truly be free of what had happened. But when the tree line came clear before me, when I heard the sounds of early morning cars and trucks on the highway, I knew exactly where I was. This is where Graham tried to escape. Pulling himself on the ground by his hands, with some fatal wound, until someone stole everything that remained and left him there, dead. Who had killed my brother, I still didn’t know, even after all this, but I knew without a doubt that he had been killed, and how, and why. Someone took his life because of what he could, and however long it took me, I was going to find out who had done it and make them pay. I had no choice. He was my brother, and now that I was a ghostlighter, too, I might be next.
But today, I wasn’t Graham, and my life wasn’t going to end here. Step by bloody step, on my feet, walking away from the dark of the forest and the circle of ghosts, I stepped out of the trees and squinted into the early morning light. A rainbow was arcing across the sky above them. After what had happened, what I’d seen, what I’d done and what I’d failed to do, I was the only one to walk away with my life and be greeted by a goddamn rainbow.
I fell to the ground in tears until a passing car finally noticed the rain-soaked, blood-covered girl on the side of the road and stopped to call 911.
After writing a piece from the point-of-view of Bette’s mother at her son’s funeral, I got interested in seeing what else had happened there for the remaining members of the Lauden family. So here’s Bette’s point of view on that day; I tried writing it in 3rd person to match Miriam’s piece, but it turns out I’m far too used to writing in first person for Bette. So here’s what happened to her that day.
Someone is saying sad things about Graham, and nice things about death. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
I’ve been staring at my feet since we sat down. I’ve only worn these shoes once before, to the 8th grade Spring dance. I went with Jesse, Harvey and Chase, all of us together. No dates. We danced, talked, jumped around to the fast songs and sang at the top of our lungs with everyone else. There’s a scuff mark across the top of the left shoe where Harvey stepped on me at some point. I would’ve tried to get rid of it before the funeral, but I kind of forgot about things like shoes until I remembered I needed to put them on this morning.
Everyone starts singing in a mumbled, disorganized, and toneless way. It’s awful. Graham wasn’t a musician, but he liked music, fun music, pop songs that he’d dance around his room too, singing under his breath. He would hate this. He’d look at me and roll his eyes and we’d both smile.
I smile now, until I see the coffin sitting a few feet in front of me. Why is the family seated closest to the coffin? I want nothing to do with it. I want to be as far away from this as possible. We should be sitting in the back. Then I wouldn’t have to look at this, knowing my brother is inside and that he’s never coming out again. It’s like the shittest game of hide and seek in the world. He isn’t hiding and I’m not seeking, but here we are. Something in my chest is surging up, swelling with wretchedness and spilling out onto my face through my eyes. He will never smile or laugh or play any kind of game.
And I don’t even really know why. He’s just…gone and everything is empty where he used to be, places I can see and places I can only feel.
They are lowering the coffin into the ground, and when I close my eyes, I can feel the walls closing in around me. The small tight dark space that he’s been given, and now everything outside of that closed off as well, deep inside the ground, swallowed whole by it. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. Everything’s spinning and pressing in and he isn’t moving and I can’t breathe….
A few minutes later, I learn that I threw up, and then passed out. Everyone’s looking at me. I look at the hole in the ground. I can’t see the coffin anymore, and my dad helps me into my seat. I shake quietly, inside, and don’t look up again.
There’s a reception afterward. Why do they call it that? That’s a word for weddings, for happy things, for a family that’s growing not one that’s shrinking. This is just…depression, served with food. I didn’t eat. I had water and then sat down on a padded bench outside the bathrooms by myself until Jesse sits down next to me.
“How’s your stomach?” he asks.
He moves over and puts an arm around my shoulders. This is how we sat on the couch a few days ago, when no one else was home. We were about to kiss. We look at each other now and I feel a pull to move closer, to touch his lips with mine. He feels it, too, I can tell. The look he has now is the one he had then.
“Bette…” he says quietly, a voice, a word, meant only for me. I start to close my eyes and lean…
But I see the coffin again, the pit dug in the dirt, and my stomach rolls and my eyes snap open. Jesse hasn’t noticed. He isn’t looking. And if I kiss him now, I’ll always think of my dead brother when I kiss him. “I can’t.”
I stand up and walk away, crying for Graham, for myself, for Jesse, for small tight dark spaces in the ground from which there is no escape. I don’t look back.