Every day until The Madness Underneath comes out, I’m going to POST A LITTLE POST about the book, about the writing of it, about London, about WHATEVER you want to know. (Leave your questions in the ASK box or on Twitter.)
The Name of the Star was not my first book with paranormal elements—that was Devilish, a book in which demons are unleashed in a Catholic girls’ school. (Basically, my own high school, just with a few details changed.) And one of the issues you run into with paranormal stories has to do with what I like to call the acceptance curve.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say that in a story someone finds out that she is dating a vampire (I AM NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT TWILIGHT, IT HAPPENS QUITE A LOT THESE DAYS). Once you’ve hit that point, where the character says, “Vampires are real?” you have a problem. Because I think that would kind of make your head explode? But it wouldn’t be much of a story if the character then just climbed into a box and rocked back and forth for three hundred pages. You gotta get on with things. So the solution may be a tight acceptance curve. Vampires are real? ACCEPTED. MOVING ON. I’m a wizard and going to magic school? ACCEPTED. MOVING ON. I’m a girl on a picnic and I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole to Wonderland? ACCEPTED. MOVING ON.
You get my point, I hope.
And this is hardly a new problem. Ghoulies and beasties of all sorts have been in stories for MANY THOUSANDS OF YEARS. It helped that for MANY THOUSANDS OF YEARS people thought ghoulies and beasties were real. These days, we tend not to believe in the existence of vampires, werewolves, fairies, mermaids, Roman and Greek gods, and the like. There are always exceptions, but this is generally true. Ghosts, however, are a totally different ball of beastie. Many people believe in ghosts. They’re the one paranormal creature that really have some traction in everyday life. In fact, many people take it as read that ghosts are real and they see them all the time.*
Because ghosts are on a different kind of playing field, I was able to skip over some of the “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TELLING ME?” part of the story—but I didn’t want to skip it entirely. Because I want that. I feel its absence in many books. I WANT PEOPLE TO BE MORE SURPRISED. I want to see more of an impact sometimes.
So, in The Name of the Star (this is not a spoiler, it’s on the back of the book), Rory finds out that ghosts are real and she can see them. I tried to have that realization roll over her a few times. I wanted to extend her acceptance curve a bit. I wanted there to be a bit more, “Wait, what? Ghosts? WHAT?” What happens to her mind when the initial shock wears off?
Rory finds out about the sight in Name of the Star. (Art by Cassandra Jean.)
Well, there was a way of doing this—in the Name of the Star (extremely mild spoiler) Rory gets hurt. Her life is endangered. This was a shock to her system I wasn’t prepared to roll by. I could roll the shocks up into a ball and make her DEAL WITH IT. And when The Madness Underneath starts, Rory is dealing with all of this—the attack, the fallout, and the knowledge of what she is, what she can do. What she knows exists. She’s in therapy. Her behavior is erratic. At times, she makes what might be considered some wild decisions. But she’s in a strange place, and she’s trying to find her way out. Sometimes you need to get weird. And sometimes you just need to FEEL IT.
Jazza takes Rory to revisit the scene of her attack in The Madness Underneath.
And you can get better. You can take things on the chin and move on. I don’t like my books to contain INTENTIONAL MESSAGES, but this might be one. Life is going to deliver shocks. It just is. Shocks are normal. The ghoulies and beasties that pop up in stories are shocks to the system—but the characters move on. They have adventures that incorporate this NEW INFORMATION. They accept change. I mean, if you fall down a trap door and suddenly you’re battling a six-headed slobberknorf with a sword that’s just appeared in your hand—DON’T ASK QUESTIONS. (Unless it’s funny to make characters stop and ask questions. Sometimes that is funny.)
There’s no right way to write a story like this, with the beasties. It’s just something to think about. And this was my way of telling you that at the start of Madness, Rory’s not just okay with everything. But she’s in fighting form. And she’ll have to be, because from here on in, it only gets weirder.
* After writing a ghost book, many people asked me if I believe in ghosts. I don’t. But I find ghost stories interesting, and ghost hunting shows hilarious. I can, and do, go on and on about ghost hunting shows.