10 A Ghost Story
Over winter holiday I wrote a new book: a ghost story.
I had never written one before, nor had I thought ever to write one. I’ve read a fair number of them, but don’t especially like the genre.
If you’ve heard of ghostly possession: this was a case of story possession.
On a fall evening, around midnight, I was standing in our sunroom (which also makes a very nice moonroom) looking outside. The light was a strange silvery-white, the ground was beginning to frost over, and the moon hung lopsided over the fir trees.
Over the south fence crept the ghost. It dropped down beside the garden and began looking around and sniffing.
I don’t think it saw me, but it sensed my presence. I hunched down by the sofa to get a good look at it without giving too clear a view of myself.
The neighbors’ dog barked. It barked again, and then it howled. With two steps and a leap the ghost had disappeared over the west fence.
The image of the ghost took me back to a nightmare I had in childhood. I must have been five or six years old at the time, and I woke up frozen and shaking from that dream. I wonder if Mary Shelley felt that way when the monstrous image first struck her imagination.
Then the story hit me with as much surprise as had the vision of the ghost. The story came nearly whole, minus only historical details, in an instant, and it insisted that I write it.
I held it off until after Christmas, when I had the opportunity to work, and then I could hold it off no longer. I didn’t want to write that story, but it wanted to be written.
The research and outline took two days.
The story took twenty-two days and 64,000 words. Not a long story, but long enough–long enough.
I took three more days to edit it and make sure I felt comfortable with it.
I thought of Horace’s entreaty that the poet should put a new poem away for nine years before showing it publicly.
Then I shrugged off Horace and sent the manuscript to an editor who had asked me to send my next book when I had it ready.
I don’t know if that editor will take it. I hope so. I hate the process of sending, rejection, sending, rejection, sending, rejecting . . . sending, half-hearted acceptance. You know what goes in the ellipsis.
I’ve heard and read accounts of writers completing books in unbelievably short periods of time. I’ve written one in a summer or in a sabbatical semester. But this one dashed ahead at a nearly unearthly speed. I held on and typed as quickly as I could.
I told a couple friends what had happened. One said, “Don’t send it out yet. Keeping reworking it, or even put it away for a while, and then go back to it. You don’t want to feel embarrassed later about having sent out something unfinished.
But it does feel finished. I told the whole story as well as I can, I think.
The other friend said, “Don’t worry. This one will do well. When they come that quickly and naturally, that will be your best work. If not this editor, the next editor will take it.”
I don’t know. Who does?
By the way: the two friends weren’t named Justinus and Placebo.
I do wish you that experience. To be taken over by a story that so eagerly wants you to tell it is a very strange and interesting experience. Perhaps you’ve had it already. It’s much easier and pleasanter than having to grind out and work up every small plot detail from scratch. But I hope for you it’s something less unsettling than a ghost story.
Unless, unlike me, you really like ghost stories. In that case: have a good scare!