I'm not that smart.
It bothers me. Being smart enough to know you're not that smart is probably the unkindest cut. It's like being able to quote from the passage that uses the words "the unkindest cut" but not being smart enough to make it up.
My big ambition as a writer is to writer a ghost story. A ghost story is a very, very delicate thing.
Susan Hill's novel, The Woman in Black, although it has a decidedly Victorian twist that is not to everyone's taste, is so superb because it doesn't have blood dripping down the walls or hidden rooms. The scariest thing is a messy room with a rocking chair in it. But the elements of a ghost story -- utter isolation, pure and cold fear, a legacy of grief and vengeance -- these Hill nailed like Tiger Woods with a putt. It's impeccable.
I have a great setup for a ghost story: A year ago, in the woods on Cape Cod, a woman was walking along the path when she came upon a piano. The piano was not snow-covered. The piano stool was drawn up in the position it might be if someone were seated at it to play. There were no footprints in the snow, nor were there drag marks. It was a pretty good piano and it was in tune. No one has ever figured out how it got there or what the point of the prank, if this was a prank, was.
I'm obsessed with the piano in the woods.
But ... what the heck? This is where the not-that-smart part comes in.
Does a ghost play the piano? (OOOH! Scary and original. No one tell Vincent Price or he'll haunt me!)
Is the ghost longing for the piano? Does the piano play by itself? Only at certain times? Was it left for someone who tried to separate the ghost from the piano? As what? A warning? Of what? The proclivity to play Fur Elise fifty times without cease? Was the original owner of the piano a prodigy who now hides in the woods because of a dark secret? Involving piano wire?
You see my problem.
This just gets worse.
It's the same with the idea I had about something you inhaled that allowed you to see the ghosts all around you: I was sitting in an audience when a guy onstage said he had that very idea. I don't know if he ever wrote the book, but clearly he was confident.
I have only a couple of minor rules for my ghost story -- should I ever write it. It will not be about a young couple with a daughter and two cute younger kids who move into a beautiful old house that's been on the market for years ... There will be no librarian who knows the whole story, nor ancient gardener, nor local potion maven, caretaker, retired physican, last descendent of a crazy family or former police chief. NOBODY will know the whole story. EVER. People will not put on robes before going downstairs to look for the puzzling source of the sound of a child sobbing. Peole will not go downstairs to investigate AT ALL. They will either scream for everyone else in the house or take a sleep aid and cover their heads with the comforter. Not every 17-year-old who has sex will be killed. Gentle husbands, darling little girls and sweet sons will not go bonkers because of the house's influence. No ghost hunters will be summoned. At the first sign of ectoplasm, everyone including the parakeet will beat feet to the local Red Roof Inn and the care will start on the first try. If there's a snowstorm or a hurricane preventing that and hauntings are going on all over the place, people will crowd into one bed in one room with a string of garlic, a rosary and a mezzuzah, Bruce Springsteen on the CD player and all the lights on.
You see? Doesn't leave much.
Causes Jacquelyn Mitchard Supports
National MS Society, Women Against MS, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, One Writer's Place