One final blast of Blatant Self-Promotion for Bury Me in Shadows. (Or is it?)
And I thank you, Constant Reader, for your patience while I do this. Soon we’ll be back to our normal daily programming only; and there will be no more of those navel-gazing posts about writing this book; just navel-gazing posts about whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, I guess.
(Warning: I will be having to do more Blatant Self-Promotion in and around January when #shedeservedit drops. You’ve been warned!)
The first line of the first draft of Bury Me in Shadows was “My mother ruined my life the summer before my senior year of high school.” I liked this opening line, as it seemed a good place to start; for me, it should have struck the interest of the reader: who is this speaking? Surely this is an exaggeration? What did she do?
The problem was—and I can be horribly stubborn when it comes to these sorts of things—that I loved that opening line and tried to keep it even after I realized it wouldn’t work, and didn’t on several levels; it implies, very strongly, that this story is being told in flashback—the entire sentence makes it sound like he’s looking back and remembering that summer from a vantage point in the future—and that wasn’t what I wanted with the story. It even set the wrong tone. In my original vision of the story, my Jake had gotten a summer job at a fast food place in his suburb of Chicago, mainly because he has a huge crush on a guy who works there. His mother sending him away for the summer ruins his plans to get close to Hunter (who still appears in the book, but very briefly), and then he meets a love interest in Alabama while he’s dealing with all the family secrets and what may or not be a haunting of some sort. Originally, Jake was very well-balanced and smart; his mother has always treated him like an adult so he’s more mature than most seventeen-year-old’s, but still has that strong narcissistic streak that so many teenagers share (I’ll never forget Nancy Garden—angel that she was—telling me, when asked for advice, “Just remember that for teenagers everything is the end of the world.”). But…would she send a seventeen-year-old down there? And once I realized that the moonshiners in the holler over the ridge would probably now also have a meth lab (or replaced the still with one), I thought, there’s no way this intelligent, capable, and successful woman would send a teenager down there on his own for the summer and I realized I needed to shift his age, make him older; it also eliminated the need for him to be picked up at the Birmingham airport or borrow a car from his uncle. I also realized if Jake were older, he could be in college in New Orleans—where he would, of course, have a car—and could just drive up there. And as the story continued to flesh out in my head as I conceptualized it and started writing, I began to understand how dangerous it was at the Donelson place; and given the reasons why Glynis has kept her son away from where she grew up, she would have to be completely reassured that she wasn’t putting her son in any danger.
Which led me into a deep dive into who Jake was a character—and he was not the confident, borderline-cocky openly gay high school senior whom I’d envisioned originally. I also needed a reason why Glynis would decide to send her son there for the summer, when she’s clearly kept him away for most of his life. That meant he would have to do something—I wasn’t sure what it was yet, but there had to be something—and I already had her working in Los Angeles for the summer so she couldn’t take him with her or keep an eye on him at their home in Chicago. I debated: a car accident, or an accident of some sort? And then it hit me right between the eyes: he’s the son of a very successful, kind of cold mother; he’s openly gay and went to a private Catholic school in Chicago; and his mother has been married multiple times. He doesn’t feel at home with his father’s second family in the suburbs, so he always feels out of place, with the inherent insecurities and self-doubt and self-loathing that comes with that. Shy and nervous and not sure of himself, he would be easy prey for a narcissistic gay, who would see in him a ‘project’: “let’s teach Jake how to be a gay man!’ And, of course Jake falls for the guy, who is completely the wrong person for him, and the more the guy pulls away the harder he clings, until the guy finally has enough and pulls away. This causes Jake to spiral, badly, mixing drugs and alcohol and who knows what else as he goes on a three day binge, most of which he doesn’t remember, and he ends up in the hospital after collapsing on the dance floor of a gay bar at four in the morning. The hospital contacts his mother, she tells them he tried to kill himself in high school, and he gets put on a 72 psychiatric hold. It is then she comes up with the great idea of what to do with him for the summer: her mother is dying, and the house is full of junk. Someone from the family should be there, and since he is there, he can start doing an inventory of everything in the house, getting it ready to be cleared out once the old woman does finally die. Jake doesn’t really like the idea but Glynis gives him no choice; and he is off to summer in glorious Corinth County, Alabama.
Of course, once he arrives there, he starts having strange memories, weird feelings, and seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing. Having just overdosed, naturally he isn’t certain he can completely trust his own brain; has he somehow fucked up his brain function? But the longer he stays there, the more certain he becomes that what he is experiencing is actually real; and that’s even more disturbing than thinking his brain has rewired. There are a LOT of family secrets and dysfunction to uncover, and of course, there’s that family of criminals with a meth lab just over the ridge, and those archaeologists digging out at the ruins of the old Blackwood Hall; and all those terrible family secrets start coming out…which puts his own life at risk.
If you do decide to take a chance and read Bury Me in Shadows, I hope you enjoy it. It was fun to write–once I figured out how to fix all the problems–and I hope it’s fun for you to read.