And we’ll make it to Wednesday.
So, in less than one week Bury Me in Shadows will officially be out into the world. I’m not sure which book of mine this is—somewhere between thirty-five and forty, I think; I am so tired of counting and I inevitably forget something—and I suppose I should qualify that by book I mean novel; there are also twenty-two anthologies, and I am working on the twenty-third, Land of 10000 Crimes,even as we speak. So, in all, there are close to sixty books with either my name, or that of a pseudonym, on the spine; not bad for the last twenty years.
That said, I should probably talk a bit about Bury Me in Shadows, so you, my very dear Constant Reader, can decide whether or not you wish to bite on this opportunity to read it or not. As I have mentioned before, this story began as a short story called “Ruins” that I wrote while I was in college, on an IBM Selectric with corrective ribbon; remember those? I still have the original draft I typed…(sidebar: I hated typewriters, and freely admit that had computers not evolved and become common place, I’d still be a wannabe writer and unpublished)…but anyway, as I said the other day, I always knew there was more story there than could be contained in a short story, so I put it aside and figured I’d eventually come back to it at some point when I had the time and mind-space to turn it into a novel. It was always there in the back of my head—maybe this year I’ll do the Alabama ghost story—and I’m not sure what finally drove it to the forefront of my mind to start writing the book; I know it happened sometime after the pandemic shutdown, and I had a deadline in January of this year to get it finished. (My memory has become so terribly faulty, you see.)
I really like my main character, Jake Chapman—I know, I know, I always like my main characters, and they usually, inevitably, always have a lot of similarities to each other, in temperament and attitude and intelligence; what differentiates them all is their back stories. When I originally started writing this as a book, Jake was still in high school, attending a fictional Chicago Catholic high school, with plans to work at the school pool over the summer because a boy he had a huge crush on was also going to be working there. (Actually, scratch that; it originally was set in a suburb and he had gotten a job at a fast food place for the summer to be closer to his crush; how could I forget that? And then I moved him into the city when I couldn’t get that story to work; I kept the suburban component but for his father’s second family) Originally I had him flying to Birmingham from Chicago, and being picked up at the airport by Kelly (another one of the characters)…but those original chapters felt very fake to me or something. It just didn’t work. It felt very much like something I had read before many times, and while I originally made Jake very strong and secure in who he is, I also thought it might not work—he needed to have insecurities, he needed to have flaws. And while I know things have changed, I still think an openly gay kid at a Jesuit high school, even in Chicago, would have issues…but am willing to admit I could be wrong about that. But my Jake does, so there.
So, I decided to advance his age a bit and have him attending Tulane here in New Orleans, and I needed a stronger trigger for his mother to send him to Alabama for the summer—especially given her feelings about her past and her family and its history. And that, I realized, was what I needed to establish with the back story; if she kept him away from there since he was a child, why would she send him there now? He couldn’t be a well-adjusted young man, completely secure in himself and his sexuality…and then he started forming in my head. He doesn’t remember his parents being married; they divorced when he was too young to remember. He doesn’t fit into his father’s second family and their suburban life. His mother has been through several husbands—including the most recent, whom she is shedding as the book opens, and he is much younger, a tennis pro. His mother is the only real stability in his life, and she, as a hugely successful lawyer who also teaches law, wouldn’t be around very much. He loves his mother, admires and respects her, but also doesn’t feel as close to her as he thinks he should. Then being a lonely out gay kid at the Catholic school, socially awkward because he isn’t used to having friends, becomes the lonely gay kid at Tulane—shy and awkward and not sure how to meet someone, make friends, even how to be gay. (And yes, I am aware of the Internet and apps and so forth so he could easily educate himself that way, even have encounters with strangers…I do address this a little bit; he does use apps to get laid, but always feels cheap and empty when it’s over.) At Tulane he gets picked up by a gay guy at a party, and lonely, he latches onto him (Tradd) and thinks they have more of a relationship than they really do; it makes him very unhappy and miserable, and one final fight between them with Tradd walking out on him sends Jake out drinking and doing drugs on a binge that ends, finally, with him collapsing in a gay bar and being rushed to the hospital. His mother’s concerns about him—he tried suicide in high school—is what overrides her aversion to Alabama and her home place, and she decides to send him there for the summer. His grandmother has come home from the hospital to die in her own bed—she’s had a massive series of strokes and is bedridden, mostly—and his mother, Glynis, figures someone from the family should be there in the house with her. A distant relative, an orphan named Kelly, who is a senior in high school, has been living there since his own mother died the previous year; Glynis doesn’t quite trust the kid, and once the old woman dies—well, there needs to be an inventory of everything in the house done, so why not pay Jake to do that while spending the summer there?
That, to me, was a much more interesting back story and set up for the book, and so when I started working on it in earnest, that was what I went with.
So, we have a young man who has spent most of his life in cities—Chicago and New Orleans—coming to rural Alabama for the summer. He has faint memories of his grandmother and the old house; the ruins of the original plantation house are still on the property, but over the years as the family lost their money and had to begin selling off all the land, the woods have grown back up so the ruins are actually hidden from the road and from the main house by trees. Jake is recovering from a broken heart and from an overdose.
I like the set-up, and it worked, at least for me, in terms of writing the story. As I said, I really became vested in Jake; I wanted to get to the root of who he is, the traumas he’s endured, and wanted him to learn things about himself now that he has the distance from his life to reexamine the things that have held him back from becoming the best Jake he can be. I really wanted to show his emotional growth and development over the course of the summer.
I guess we’ll see how well I succeeded, won’t we?
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone.