It's been pretty quiet around here...
Being a writer means sinking down deep into a world inside your head, and letting strangers take over your brain, leaving little time for outward pursuits, like social media. I've been in the depths of a dark and eerie book for the last couple of years, so obviously blog posts have not been at the top of my To Do list. But I'm dropping in now to update my book status from "It's Complicated" to "Serious Relationship." Here's an update on my latest project:
A few Octobers ago, my partner G and I took a road trip to Sleepy Hollow, New York. Unsurprisingly, we got a late start on departure day, which meant that the latter half of our first day of driving was done in the pitch black of the Adirondack Mountains with no wifi. What better way to start a Halloweenie road trip to see the Headless Horseman than to get lost in the darkness of a strange land?
That night, we arrived late to our hotel in Saratoga Springs, but not too late for dinner and smoky cocktails at Hamlet & Ghost and then a walk around town in the dark. We passed by the Batcheller Mansion Inn, which G told me is the most haunted hotel in New York State; when he asked if I wanted to stay there, I firmly screamed NO THANK YOU.
That late night walk found its way into pages of the book that was forming in my mind at the time. Before we'd left for that trip, G had told me a story about a couple he'd known when he was in high school who went missing, and how much it had affected everyone in the town he grew up in. Obviously, I found the story fascinating, and when I started reading more about it, I fell down a rabbit hole of missing person stories, true crime, and the supernatural. For my first book, BLACK CHUCK, I listened to a steady diet of punk and shoegaze songs non-stop, to stay in that world while I was writing. With this new book, my soundtrack turned out to be podcasts: Serial, True North True Crime, Astonishing Legends, Unexplained Mysteries, and so many more — plus, my very favourite by far: Andrew Tate's Let's Not Meet (Hey Y'all to the LNM Creeps!).
When we got to Sleepy Hollow, G and I were both struck by the strange meshing of real history and pure story there. The town where Washington Irving's 200 year old Legend of Sleepy Hollow takes place is older than America itself, and yet Sleepy Hollow has only officially gone by that name since the 90's. I also loved that witchcraft and occult stores, horror stories and legends all sat comfortably side-by-side with family-filled pizza shops, post offices, and breakfast diners—the SH high school varsity football team is called The Horsemen, and their mascot is, you guessed it, a headless horseman.
Needless to say, I fell in love with Sleepy Hollow. But it also got me thinking about the underbellies of tourist towns everywhere, and all the darkness behind the curtain. What could happen behind the curtain of a Halloween town, where darkness is embraced? What kind of horrible stuff happens in a town made of monsters? While the town in my book isn't Sleepy Hollow—it's a composite of many places all mashed into one—the story certainly started there.
When we got home, I dove into writing this new book. Set in a fictional Halloween town, it lifts the curtain on the real horror that lies beneath the spooky spectacle. It's about the real monsters living in a place built on fake ones. And each time I added something to the story that I thought, "Oh man, no one is going to believe this could happen" I found a podcast where that very thing did happen—lemme tell ya, real people are pretty damn scary. So, I say this book is based on real events, because it is—although not all of them happened to the same person. And I say it's based on real places, but the town of Rode's Neck River exists entirely in my head, alongside all the rest of my nightmares.
If you like Courtney Summers, Lauren Oliver, Stephanie Kuehn, and Claire Legrand, you'll probably like this book. It's also got a dash of Shirley Jackson's Hangsaman, which is loosely based on the real, 1946 disappearance of Paula Jean Welden, from a place now called The Bennington Triangle. Hangsaman really informed how I treated the truer parts of this story—I took the inspiration, then dipped it in fiction. Other ‘if you like, then you’ll loves’ for this book include Twin Peaks, witchcraft & tarot, and Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, because why not jam all those good things into one book??
More than anything, though, this new book is about liminal spaces. Those thin places where fact & fiction, festival & funeral, light & dark, real & unreal all exist side by side, stuck to each other like shadows. It starts and ends in the midnight hours just after an infamous Halloween carnival, and everything in between is both true and false, like images in a funhouse mirror. I hope you get a chance to read it!
In the mean time, here are some snapshots from our journey into the dark...