Posts Tagged ‘weird’

I can’t help myself sometimes.  Even when I think I’m in the middle of writing a “normal” story, the weird has a way of creeping in.  Most of the time, however, I invite it.

The challenge is to hit upon the right degree of creepy, the right disturbing element without going over the edge into cliché.  Modern readers are jaded.  You can’t creep them out with the sorts of horrors that worked for Poe.

Working on The Hornbeam Door, I knew all along that some of the action would take place in a small Kansas town an hour or so away from my invented/hybrid New Boston, Kansas.  I had assumed, however, that I’d just make up a town.  This town would be the site of a series of unnatural events that would disrupt everybody’s received notions about death and the afterlife.

I toyed with a number of ideas for why this particular town was the locus for this, as well as some possible early signs that all was not right in this town.  Certainly there are places long associated with the supernatural.  Rooms, houses, palaces, and even meadows deemed haunted or cursed, or otherwise imbued with the presence of some malevolent force.  I planned to create this myth from whole cloth.

Codell Methodist Church May 21, 1918

Codell Methodist Church May 21, 1918

Sometimes, the creepy just falls into your lap.  So it was with Codell, Kansas.

On May 20, 1916, a tornado struck  Codell, Kansas.

On May 20, 1917, a tornado struck Codell, Kansas.

On May 20, 1918, a tornado struck Codell, Kansas, killing ten people and destroying nearly every building in town.

For people who believe in the supernatural, it invites all manner of speculation.  A place marked for destruction?  An intended death that didn’t quite pan out the first two times?

I believe I’ve found my creepy little cursed town.

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Truth wasn’t always stranger than fiction.  Or at any rate, fiction wasn’t always required to be more believable than truth.  O. Henry and Guy de Maupassant were once allowed to tell stories with coincidences and turn-abouts that defy modern readers’ credulity.

Fiction has changed, but true life continues to deliver the goods.

A German couple, who discovered the husband was sterile, hired a neighbor to impregnate the wife.  Alas, after 6 months of valiant effort, the wife still wasn’t pregnant.  The couple demanded a refund, but the neighbor wanted to keep the money, as he had done the work promised–he’d tried to get the wife pregnant.

Now, why did the couple think the neighbor would be able to get the wife pregnant?  Because the neighbor had two kids with his own wife.  As a result of a lawsuit for breach of contract, this fact came out: the neighbor is also sterile, a fact he was unaware of.  Turns out, his wife had to contract with somebody else to get pregnant.

A turn-about worthy of O. Henry or Maupassant.  Imagine all the layers of such a story.  The thing I can’t help wondering is why the neighbor’s wife ever agreed to such a thing.  Didn’t she suspect that her own deception might be revealed when her husband failed to knock up the other woman?

Okay, okay, what am I saying?  That seems like a secondary consideration.  Why would she have ever given the okay for her husband to try to get somebody else’s wife pregnant?  Even knowing that he wouldn’t be able to, isn’t the trying part what usually puts a strain on marriages?  Was the money that good?  Or did she figure it was just fair for him to have a little side-action, since she’d had hers?

Here is where learning more about the actual situation probably wouldn’t help me understand any better.  What I need is a writer to turn this into a story that will help me understand.  How convenient.

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Arriving home from the library, I came to this realization: of the twelve books I’d picked out, ten of them were written around themes of Otherness.  Not surprisingly, nine of those ten were young adult books.  I don’t typically read that much YA, but I’ve come to the conclusion that my new writing project is likely to develop into a YA story.  To prevent its being written in a vacuum of glorious ignorance, I went browsing for some recent YA books.

The heros and heroines…they’re all Outsiders.  Either they’re losers, or oddballs, or they’re aliens, or supernatural creatures.  However they’ve arrived there, all these YA protagonists are standing on the outside looking in.

The question that has been nagging me since I made that realization is: who writes for the Insiders?  You know, the normal kids, the regular kids, the popular kids.  The kids who don’t sit alone at lunch.  The kids who always have a date to homecoming.  The kids who do well at sports and listen to Top 40 music.  Who writes books for them?  And what are those books?  Seriously, I want suggestions.  I have a burning curiosity to read these books and learn something about their authors.

I don’t want to make sweeping generalities about writers, but I have to admit that almost every writer I know is…a little odd.  Or off.  Or downright strange.  Many of us are introverts, which has turned us into observers.  Others of us see the world from such a skewed angle that we’re always writing in an attempt to document the discrepancies between our world and the world.

The problem is that because I was always an Outsider, perhaps I simply never noticed the books on the library shelves that were intended for the Insiders.  They were invisible to me.

capt_awesome1Trying to think of possible examples of Insider novels, all I can think of is television.  Star Trek in particular, which despite its massive geek following is all about Insidership.  Think of it–the Federation is this massive, wonderful, just, lawful, all-inclusive entity.  The pinnacle of happiness on The Enterprise is to belong.  So many story lines are devoted to that idea that I can’t cite them all.  Consider that in the original series, most of the episodes were about triumphing over some evil alien, or triumphing over a crew member who had “gone wrong,” and at the heart of the episodes was this familial bond that everyone had to embrace.  Or look at The Next Generation: Data trying to become human to belong.  Repeated on Voyager, with Seven of Nine.  The goal of the stories always seems to be to bring everyone together, to make everyone part of this big, inclusive club.  Yet they hated the Borg…

So tell me, in the YA field, who writes for the Insiders?

PS: And I have to add…what the hell gives with the Holodeck?  If my microwave malfunctioned, took over my house, and endangered my life, I would unplug it an throw it away.  And I was never as big a fan of Star Trek as I was of the brief-lived Firefly, something of a mirror image of Star Trek, where the Federation is an evil fascist entity and the scrappy but criminal crew of Serenity are the heroes.  An Outsider tale at its finest.

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