I’m not yet done writing the first draft of SHADA, but last night I passed a significant benchmark.
You see, for a long time, I’ve been describing SHADA, the first installment in the EMBER series, in this shorthand way: “It’s like Stephen King’s ‘The Body’ with a female cast.”
Now, I don’t mean that I’m templating King’s plot precisely, or that it follows his novel on a stroke-by-stroke basis. I only mean that it’s of a similar spirit; in his tale, four boys go hiking and camping on the final summer before they enter high school and grow apart, with the goal of seeing their first dead body.
In SHADA, I spin the tale of four girls who go hiking and camping in the final summer of their shared friendship. One of the girls is a year older, and another, a year younger, but two of them, including Ember, are in their final summer before high school. Their goal isn’t to see a dead body, but they do have a similarly dark goal… which I won’t reveal here just yet.
I’ve been having fun writing SHADA so far, telling a generous tale and building out the lives of these four girls. And even though I am not following “The Body” as a strict template, I’ve been feeling like SHADA has been lacking … something. Last night, I finally reached the point where I realized what it was.
At one point in THE BODY, the boys gather around a campfire and writer-to-be Gordie LaChance spins a tale of his own creation, the funny and yet very gross fable called, “The Revenge of Lard-Ass Hogan.” While some have claimed the story is an example of King trying to wedge a tale he wrote when he was younger into another work, I don’t agree; the Lard-Ass story matches the tone and themes of “The Body” and tells us something about Gordie himself. Also, it’s exactly the sort of funny, gross-out tale a group of young boys might enjoy on a dark night gathered around a campfire.
As I reached that “gathered around a campfire” moment in my story, I knew my four girls needed a similar moment. They didn’t needs a tale like Lard-Ass Hogan’s, but they needed a story to tell.
Without planning, I began writing and the elements of just the right sort of tale for SHADA began to form in my mind. Before I started, I had already written for a couple hours (and close to 1,500 words), but I knew if I called it a night at that point, the moment would slip away from me.
So I began writing.
There was a mythology of Hope, WI, that I wanted to build out, revolving around a landmark that plays a key role in both SHADA, and the first long novel in the EMBER series, EMBER. That bit of mythology revolves around the Elk Ridge River Bridge.
At some point in the past, at least fifty years ago, a kid used the bridge as a diving area into the river, and died in one fateful dive. I had settled into the idea that this was just a parent’s tale, a way to get their kids to stay off the bridge and not engaging in the risky activity of diving off it, since the river, like most rivers, has shallow spots and then a drop-off into the deep, where a dive from that height would be safe.
But I began asking myself: what if there was a kid who’d died jumping off the Elk Ridge River Bridge? What would make him do such a thing? And how would his tale be told and retold so that, by the time my girls gather round the campfire to spin it again fifty or sixty years later, it has the feel of a campfire tale, and not the sad reality of a decades-old news headline?
Thus was born, in the wee hours of this very day, “The Legend of Abe Windler.”
I won’t go into the nature of Abe’s tale, here, but it’s a fascinating and tragic tale that fills out SHADA just right, and gives my work in progress that necessary “Revenge of Lard-Ass Hogan” moment, while still maintaining my tale’s own unique identity and tone.
By the way: my Abe Windler tale added about 2,000 words to my word count, putting SHADA well into the 19,000-word length region and allowing me to see the 20,000-word benchmark nearby. That’s significant, because once my short novel has reached 20,000 words, I can just relax and know that it’ll be “long enough.” For pacing reasons, I’m now relatively sure SHADA will end up reaching closer to 30,000 words than 25,000. Too much tale left to tell.
But if you’re interested to read more about the Legend of Abe Windler now, good. Look for SHADA, coming soon to an e-Reader near you, later this summer!
(In the words of Bugs Bunny, “Aren’t I a stinker?”)