Monday, May 2, 2011

Story Notes - The Curse of Scattershale Gulch

Yesterday's posting was a very short excerpt from "The Curse of Scattershale Gulch." Here is how that story came about:

ABOUT EIGHT OR nine years ago, I saw a posting for an anthology looking for mystery stories with a ghost element. That sounded like a promising theme and I cast about for an idea for, oh, maybe three seconds before I thought about Mick and Casey.

Now, it's true that the Mick and Casey Mysteries are all straight forward mysteries. No supernatural elements at all -- because after all, supernatural elements are a cheat when it comes to a whodunnit. I have to admit, though, that there is a certain element of Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew about Mick and Casey.

Furthermore, Dame Agatha herself liked a good ghost story, and certainly ghosts and mysteries have gone together since the first ghost story. In some ways, I think the modern cozy mystery really has more in common with gothic ghost stories than with any other kid of story. Most ghost stories are actually mysteries. How often does the plot of an old-fashioned ghost story involve solving the riddle of the ghost's murder or mysterious death? Or resolving some long standing injustice?

And many non-supernatural mysteries have elements of a ghost story. The theme of seeking justice for the dead, or being haunted by memories. That's often what a straight mystery or crime story is about. (For instance, LAURA, Otto Preminger's 1944 Noir movie, in which the hard-boiled Dana Andrews is haunted by the portrait of the woman whose murder he is investigating.)

But to take this back to Scooby Doo.... The bad thing about Scooby Doo is that the mysterious elements always turned out to be a hoax, just some old crank in a monster costume trying to trick people. That's fine for a bit of black-out comedy, but you lose something with that kind of a story.

Even when there is no magic in a story, and a ghost or a lurking evil is merely a symbol, there is still the magic of the mind. That need for justice haunts us for real, a fear of evil calls to us to defend ourselves. Those themes have resonance and no matter whether the story has real ghosts or not, the story has to take those themes seriously.

At the same time, if you do have real magic and a real ghost, you have to take the factual mystery seriously as well. The ghost is a character, and its identity, motives and actions are in question as much as anyone else.

Those two elements were the driving forces for me in writing this story -- Murder will out, but a puzzle is still a puzzle, and everyone's a suspect.

The Curse of Scattershale Gulch wound up too long for the anthology. I edited it to the bone, but only ruined the story in the process, so I threw that version away. I never found a market for the longer version.

I do know though, that I enjoyed mixing genres, and I'd love to do more "seasonal" writing for Mick and Casey. Sure I'd like to do another Halloween story, but I think next I might try a Christmas story -- "Six-Gun Santa" in which Mick has to stand in for the jolly old elf when a crazy old drunk calls Santa out for a shoot out. There are orphans to save and a mystery to solve, if Mick can talk his way out of getting shot....


The Curse of Scattershale Gulch is an 8500 word novelette, available for just 99 cents at Amazon's Kindle Store, as well as Kindle UK. Smashwords has multiple formats for all kinds of e-readers -- including just reading it right there on their site. (It should be available on Apple's iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble's Nook store within a week or so.)

No comments: