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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Wash Book Release! - How the Pieces Came Together

Well, here it is, at least in ebook form.  My new novel, The Wash, is now available exclusively through Amazon and I couldn't be more excited to share it.  If you're not an ebook person, no worries.  The physical copy will be available by the end of the month and I'll definitely announce that here as well.

You know, one of the things I'm most fascinated by is "the story behind the story".  I love reading about what inspired an artist to create a song, a director/writer to produce a movie or an author to create a novel.  That's probably why I read so many musician biographies.  For me, that moment of inspiration is my favorite part of the creative process.  When it hits I get obsessive about capturing whatever it is that's lit a fire under me.

My novel, The Wash, is a horror novel about a small town in Utah, where a few ne'er do wells have woken up something very old and evil. The pieces that led up to it rolled around in my head for over a year before I had the urge to put fingers to keyboard and when I did, I thought I was writing just another short story. Boy, was I wrong!  Here's how the pieces came together.

About ten years ago or so, my wife, daughter and I met up with my parents in Utah.  They'd rented a timeshare up on Brian Head, a popular ski resort.  Now, I should tell you up front, my wife and I have skied fewer times than you can count on one hand and my parents rented this place in early April.  Our thinking was it would be spring and we'd visit some national parks and see more of the country.  However, when we got there we found the resort was still open and there was a ton of snow on the ground at that elevation.  Even at the base of the mountain there were patches here and there and a very large lake near Panguitch was still iced over. 

My wife and I did end up skiing one day but mostly our entire group did exactly what we planned.  We all got in a car and explored the area as thoroughly as possible.  Every day we headed off in a new direction.  I was absolutely captivated by the beauty and also by how remote some of the places we visited were.  Heading down the side of the mountain towards Panguitch, we found that if we turned left when we got to the highway, we could drive for miles and miles and only see a random store or farm here and there.  Otherwise, it was just empty land for as far as the eye could see.  

At one point, we stopped at a small store that was literally the only structure within view.  I went inside to get coffee and the cashier talked to me for probably ten minutes.  It was obvious she was grateful that someone had stopped.  I remember thinking to myself, "What would happen if someone walked in and robbed this place? Who would come out to help?  Where is the local police station?"

Those are all thoughts that go through the mind of someone who lives in a big city and is suddenly in a rural area.  When I lived in small towns in Florida, I never thought about that.  That store and the memory of that small conversation over a cup of burned coffee became the seed for the town of Ogden Wash in my novel.  I didn't know it at the time though. I didn't even really have a plot in mind, just a location.

A few days later we were leaving to go back to California and we went down the other side of the mountain from Panguitch.  Passing through a small town, I caught a glimpse of a cemetery that was one of the most beautiful I'd seen.  I'm not really a cemetery guy either.  I don't do headstone rubbings or anything like that.  However, this place was small and had a stone wall that stood about four feet high and went around the entire plot of land.  There was an iron gate in the front. From the size of the markers I could tell they were old and obviously dedicated to people who had helped found the town. For whatever reason it stuck in my head, but at this point I still didn't have a story in mind. I just had a picture in my head of this quaint cemetery and wondered if anyone was still being buried there or if it was full.

When we got back from that vacation, I picked up the book Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer.  If you haven't read anything by him before, you're truly missing out.  He's hands down one of my favorite authors and this book was fascinating.  It is a nonfiction account of the history of the Mormon faith.  In it, Krakauer discusses faith in general and explores all the different facets of Mormonism.  He explores the fringe sects who broke away from the church for one reason or another and he discusses the main body of the church and how they have evolved over the years.  His tone is always respectful, even when he's digging into unsavory topics.  I didn't know it at the time, but I'd met one of my most mysterious and conflicted characters somewhere in those pages.

Fast forward to a year or so later when I received a disc from Netflix in the mail.  The movie was a relatively obscure horror title from 1973 called The Iron Rose. It's by a French director named Jean Rollin whose work I'd never really explored but his films had been recommended to me by another writer who did movie reviews on a site I wrote for at the time.  In the movie, a young couple on a late night walk wander into a large cemetery and then realize that they can't find their way out.  No matter what they do, they can't seem to escape the place.  It's pretty low budget, but has a creepy atmosphere and a pretty dark ending.  It stuck with me and I started getting this idea for a short story.

I wanted to write about a cemetery that was alive.  It was a place that had been used a century before and it craved the attention it received with each memorial service but now it was full.  No one came around anymore and it was hungry for bodies. Immediately, I thought of that small cemetery in Utah with it's stone wall, tall headstones and iron gate.

The very next morning, I sat down at my computer and started trying to get the story out of my head.  The more I typed, the further away the ending seemed to get.  My character, Robert Jiminez, was leaving work late at night.  He was heading home and it was bitterly cold.  He was on a bike but the tires had gone flat and he was half-walking, half-running in order to make it to the cemetery wall.  There, he could duck out of the wind and try to warm up before the last mile or so to his house.  Robert passed the convenience store I'd been to.  He passed a used car lot owned by some guy named Anderson who he didn't know a lot about other than he and his family were Mormon and lived just outside of town.  I'd gotten Robert about halfway to the cemetery when something happened and my fingers typed some words I hadn't intended.  Instead of making it to the graveyard, Robert tripped over a body in the road.

I stopped writing right there.  I didn't know what to do.  I liked what I'd written but didn't know where it was going anymore.  I mulled it over for a week and the next Sunday, I picked up the narrative with Robert tangled up in his bicycle and the body laying next to him. Instead of finding a resolution, Robert kept getting more wrapped up in a mystery that I didn't even know was unfolding in this town until I wrote it.  I met his friends, Javier Quintana and J.B. Youngblood.  They seemed like cool people.  I met Bethany Ann, who owned that convenience store and I met Phillip Anderson who ran that car lot.  All of them met Ruth Biden who was more or less modeled after my own grandmother and who was just as headstrong and feisty when she had to be (or sometimes just when she felt like it).  The further I dug, the more my characters introduced me to other residents of Ogden Wash and over time, some of them started changing.  People I initially liked became despicable. Others died horrible deaths that I never set out to give them, but sometimes you have to do what's right for the story. 

That initial tale of Robert's trip home ended up being the middle of a much larger story.  It's still in the finished book, but the hungry cemetery is gone and replaced by something even older, meaner and more deadly. 

I've never gone back to actually visit that part of Utah again, but the town of Ogden Wash was very real to me when I was writing that book and in some ways it still is.  There came a point when I realized this whole other world in my head needed to be mapped out, so I did.  I drew out the entire town, placed that convenience store and the used car lot on the edge, made sure that my character's houses and places of business were noted and placed that damned "Old Ogden Wash" ghost town way out on the perimeter. There's a big piece of me that hopes one day I'll drive that highway and find there's a real Ogden Wash just like in my book. I just hope to visit before the nasty stuff starts.   

I hope you check out The Wash, but more importantly I hope you enjoy it.  Even if you don't, please take five minutes and leave a quick review on Amazon.  Your feedback allows me an opportunity to get this book out to a wider audience of people and really, that's what is important to me.  

I wrote The Wash because I had a tale to tell and to completely mangle a Kevn Kinney lyric, 'a story never shared is not a story at all'.

Thanks for reading this very long post.  I promise to get back to horror movies, music and/or stupid jokes next time around.


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