Relics from the Past: Ghosts and Haunted Houses

I just got a short story published in a local online journal, Hamlit. It’s actually a story I wrote several years ago, before my daughter was born and I still lived in DC. My life was a lot different back then.

I wrote it for a class on Ghost Stories that I took at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda. It’s more of a thought experiment than a story. I re-imagined my honeymoon as if it were populated by ghosts.

The story is set in Saguenay, a beautifully remote part of Quebec where I went for my actual honeymoon. The amalgamation of cultures, the stark beauty of the fjords, the weird art installations (for more see: Wikipedia) all had an otherworldly feel to them.

This was written during a phase where I was particularly interested in domestic horror: haunted houses, invaded bodies, suffocating marriages. And especially, the idea of secret lives: Who lived in your house before you did? Who was your partner before you knew them? Who were your parents before you were born? Or even, what parts of you remain hidden from your own view?

I even started writing a NaNo novel around these sorts of themes: A pregnant woman finds a pair of children’s shoes buried in the fireplace of the old victorian home she and her husband recently moved into. She becomes convinced that the house is haunted, marred by some unspeakable event. Then I got pregnant and never finished it. 

Still today, the symbolism of the haunted house fascinates me. So do ghosts. Sometimes I feel like we live in a world made of ghosts. Trauma is a kind of ghost. Family secrets are a kind of ghost. Even my stories become ghosts.

Why I’m Writing a Romance Novel

I’ve been busy all November working on my NaNoWriMo project. I’ve decided to move away from what I normally write (a subgenre I like to call “Domestic Horror” or “Horror of the Everyday,” with its dark brooding imagery and existential questions, like how do we know anyone, really? How safe are we in our homes, with our loved ones?).

So, this November, I wrote a romance novel (!!!). Prior to this project, I hadn’t read any romances, at least not in the genre-specific way that a Romance novel typically suggests, so that was a challenge. But I binged read as much as I could, a sort of Romance 101. There are some really interesting things that the genre has going for it–at least as I see it, from an outsider’s perspective. It’s a rather reviled genre and one that is primarily populated by women writers and readers. Consequence? Ha. It’s also a genre that, historically (though I’m sure not wholly), has played fast and loose with problematic tropes, like rape, stalking, and general disregard for consent. Yet, many of the modern romances I’ve read over the past month seem to turn these tropes on their head, albeit in sometimes subtle ways. By being woman-centric, these stories offer a vital space for the female perspective, one that is routinely minimized or stamped out altogether in common discourse. 

I think it’s important to have space for women to explore topics like sexuality, fantasy, and societal roles and expectations. Today, romance as a genre runs the gamut across all spectrums, in terms of sexuality, gender roles, and graphic content. The genre is increasingly diversifying. Ultimately, the one consistent thing about romance is: these are books about relationships and sexuality. Two subjects I am very much interested in. I grew up in the age of the heyday of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Internet pornography was exploding on the internet. I got my cues on what it means to be a woman from an unabashedly male lens. It’s limiting and it’s inauthentic. Could romance novels have offered a window into a different reality, a more nuanced and expansive one? I hope so.

Writing Routines, Odd Research, and NaNo Update

First update of the week! I got a little behind this weekend on my word count, not really by doing anything fancy, but just throwing away the little bit of routine I have during the weekday does make for more of a challenge. I finally just got caught up today and am days away from making it halfway through!

As for my story, I’m essentially in the same boat I was before. Very little plot. It almost seems like I am writing the backstory for my characters, like the actual action starts long after the parts that I’m writing. Does anyone else do this? While definitely not a useless exercise, it’s a little discouraging. If the whole month goes by and I haven’t made any progress in terms of plot, then I suppose I will try my hand at outlining a plot in great detail and see how that shapes up. But no time to think about that until November is through!

Also since I made it back on track with my word count, I have some spare time to do my favorite thing: Wikipedia research! Look what I’ve found: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Hazzard. Linda Hazzard started a sanatorium in a small town in Washington State where people from all over would go for her fasting remedies. She went to prison after over 10 people died in her care, due to starvation, over a period of four years. This has sparked a bit of inspiration regarding alternative medicine and quack doctors. An interesting read and definitely relevant today.

My story is set in a sort of alternative wellness center in middle-of-nowhere Washington, so this’ll be good inspiration.

I’ve also been on the NaNoWriMo subreddit, which has had some interested conversations that I hope to later turn into posts, such as revision plans after November, time management (e.g., what to do when you fall behind), and how to schedule the time to write, for example, with a toddler. Stay tuned for future posts!

Nano: Eventual update

Despite all odds, I’ve been keeping up with my word count. I’m now at 13K and counting! Though my story is in tragic shape, the actual part about putting the words on paper (normally very hard!) is coming much easier than usual. So I suppose I can’t complain…but I’m going to anyway.

My story itself is a mess. It’s just a collection of shorter stories about a variety of women and their various problems (all could be individual stand-alone stories in the own right, if I wasn’t so set on something else). As of yet, they are not related, so I need to think of a way to connect the stories (you know, a plot or whatever). Ugh. I am so worried that I am going to get to the end of November with 50,000 words, and think, “what the hell was I doing?” Well, too late now.

Today I wrote a little piece that was basically this retelling of a kabuki play that I learned about on NHK’s Kabuki Kool.  (By the way, one of my favorite shows). It’s called the Zen Substitute, I think, and it really resonated with me because it concerns deceptions, broken promises, promiscuity, and all sorts of fun relationship stuff. But mostly, it struck me because the husband never calls his wife by her name, he calls her this not-so-flattering pet name, “the mountain god.” Actually, it sounds kind of flattering, but I think he’s basically saying she is terrifying. And he goes to great lengths to avoid her wrath. It doesn’t stop him from keeping a mistress, but, whatever. I’m not completely sure why that stuck with me, but it did. Something about how female rage can be elevated into a sort of godlike status, almost mythic proportions. I want to make strong female characters in my story, but I also want them to have depth. Through their own shortcomings, through their own missteps and failings, they emerge into their full, dangerous potential. That’s the gist of what I’m going for, at least.  More on mountain gods later, I’m sure!