Sometimes an entire book lands in your head in one daydreaming session. And sometimes a book comes together in pieces, over years and snippets written in your idea notebook. Clarity was the former. The Dead and Buried was the latter.
I always wanted to write a haunted house book. I’ve loved the genre since I was a little girl and it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite novels of all time are ghost classics. But the genre has been done to death. I didn’t want to rewrite the same story that had already been done. So I waited for inspiration, for a fresh spin. And it came to me in three parts.
1. One day I read an article in the real estate section about “stigmatized properties” (a.k.a. murder houses) and how they can be a bargain for families looking to trade up to a nice town or that dream house they always wanted. And I thought THERE IT IS. That fresh spin. My haunted house is not a traditional 100 year-old drafty monster. It’s a benevolent looking McMansion on a typical suburban street. And the ghost? She’ll be a fresh one. Someone who continues to affect the lives of the townspeople.
So now I had my house, but I still didn’t have a main character I wanted to play with.
2. Apart from any supernatural ideas, I’d also been interested in writing about, in a subtle way, the theme of educational inequality (resources in rich towns vs. poor towns) and the immense amount of competitive pressure many students find themselves under. Teen readers are very concerned about grades, homework, and college, but you don’t often find mention of this in paranormals. I wanted to include these themes in a book, but in an organic way. Not just plopped in for the sake of it.
One day, I was lunching with a friend. She grew up in a very rural area with a graduating high school class of under thirty kids. She’s brilliant and school was easy for her. Then she headed off to a highly competitive college where everyone was smart and driven like her, and it was a shock to the system. I thought…wow, creating a character with that background could help me play around with those ideas I wanted to include. But in what kind of book?
And then I thought…the ghost book.
My main character could be a fish out of water, taken from a town where school was easy to her and placed in a highly competitive high school full of academic pressures. How would her family afford to uproot themselves and move to this wealthy suburb? By purchasing a murder house, of course. One where the Queen Bee of the high school lived until her untimely death last year. And my little fish out of water, Jade, now finds herself in the dead girl’s house and school, surrounded by the dead girl’s old friends…and boyfriend.
3. The last piece was essential. I needed my main character’s motivation. Why would she care about this ghost girl? Why risk her life to investigate her death?
What happens on page 127 (my favorite scene in the book) was inspired by a real-life middle of the night scare with my son. I can’t go into details because it would spoil what I consider a big turning point in the book. But when it happened in real life, it had a non-supernatural reason. (After you read the scene, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.) Nonetheless, it FREAKED ME OUT. But a writer’s mind always plays the “what if” game. So I thought…what if it hadn’t been [harmless thing it really was]…what if it had been [thing that happens on page 127]?
And then I had my motivation.
Three ideas, spread across months of time, finally clicked together to create The Dead and Buried. So when people ask me how I came up with the book, I say, “It’s kind of a long story.” Sometimes you just have to wait for things to come together.