A number of years ago, one of my writer friends mentioned a story concept that she wanted to share with me. She wondered what would come of a Lovecraft-inspired horror story in which the protagonist was a high school girl who had just recently moved to a new town. I immediately latched onto the idea. We spent a few hours bouncing ideas back and forth, and at the end of our brainstorm session I asked whether she would like to collaborate with me on the project. She said yes.
I started writing material for the story, occasionally ignoring school work that I really should have been doing at the time. I soon had a great deal of (questionably valuable) material to share with her, but she’d fallen into a work-hole and been unable to claw her way out. She ceded the project to me, though we continued to share our thoughts on it.
Fast forward a few years: after finishing my thesis, graduating, and getting back into the swing of writing for a while, I dust off my old drafts of this nascent YA horror novel and get some other people to take a look. The drafts are, to put it figuratively, mostly made of poo. I’m now aware of the fact that I have little idea of how to write a teenaged female narrator, which makes looking at my past struggles all the more painful. But there are some pieces that seem like they still hold some value. The concept and the basic story beats still seem basically solid, and the story clearly has an excellent ramp up to the climax. Now the time has come to strip the piece down to its bare bones and tinker with it for a while. Oh, and write a variety of new attempts at a teenaged female narrator, while reading as many pieces with teenaged female narrators as I can (preferably from the right genres).
In case you’re wondering where this is going, yes, I’ve got some material to share with you today.
Now, I won’t be sharing any actual text today; I’ll save that for Wednesday or next week. But I thought I should walk you through the outline as it exists now, making allowances for its mutable state. This could all still change, but I like how the current form allows for a quick jaunt down paranoia lane, with a hard turn onto preemptive retaliation street. It seems appropriate for a horror story with a proactive protagonist.
Amanda Greaves is a perpetual new kid. Her family moves every year or two, and she has never been able to keep her old friends for very long. Last time she thought that her family might finally be settling down, but her father has once again proven her wrong. He’s been hired to work as a consultant at a mine outside of Loneliness, Pennsylvania, and he’s dragged the whole family along with him yet again. So it is that Junior year starts with yet another series of awkward introductions, but this time Amanda is stuck in an insular crowd of small-town kids, not so much intentionally ostracized as sticking out like a sore thumb. The whole town strikes her as old and oddly creepy, but her parents ascribe her complaints to the pressures of yet another move.
Over the course of the fall this feeling of alienation fades, though it never truly disappears. It helps that Amanda has found a small group of peers to call her friends, and has started dating one of the better liked boys of the school. She’s also thrown herself into art and shop projects in order to give herself something to do in the otherwise dull and isolated town. But her world is set upside down on the winter solstice, when she observes the ritual sacrifice of her art teacher led by none other than the school’s principal, with what looks like the whole town as a masked audience. Suddenly, there’s no clear way to tell who might be one of those who watched her favorite teacher get murdered, and there’s no way to convince her family that they could all be in tremendous danger without the risk of them blabbing to one of the murderers. The only person that she can go to for help is the questionably reliable shop teacher, who’s been left a drunken wreck after the death of his boyfriend, the art teacher.
Amanda knows that there’s no way to convince her parents to leave, and her brash investigation reveals that until recently she was supposed to be sacrificed instead of the art teacher. Knowing that she and her family are all in danger, Amanda sets out to destroy the murder cult before the murder cult can destroy her.
Not to spoil anything, but there’s a reason why the working title is currently Last Days of Loneliness.
I know that there are still issues that I need to deal with for consistency’s sake. One of the details that has been giving me trouble is the question of why Mr. Felber, the shop teacher, would ever have come back to Loneliness. At the moment, his backstory includes leaving town years ago to join the Navy, knowing about the cult and not particularly caring for it. Maybe he was an only child and came back to take care of parents? Maybe he suffered some sort of financial collapse and had to move back to live with family, despite the fact that he was terrified of the cult that he knew existed in the town? Or maybe he never left town at all, and I should just rewrite his background again. I could also fix things by having someone else who knew about the town and cult’s history, but I’m not sure who that could be if I also want Amanda to have history and trust with them.
The first time I tried writing this, I really followed Lovecraft’s lead and had Amanda go digging into local library records. I still like the idea, but having someone else to talk to about the problem (and someone else that she can trust to work with) makes a huge difference to the pacing and decision-making towards the end of the story. It makes way more sense with Mr. Felber the shop teacher still being an available resource for Amanda, for all the problems that this also creates.
Does this seem at all interesting to you? Would you want to read this story? What do you think of it so far?