Okay, I’ve been procrastinating like nobody’s business, so I’m not going to tell you about. Instead I’m going to go back to the actual editing of my novel. I’ll be back soon with a cool new blog post, but until then, keep writing.
Last week I posted the preview of my novel, The Forgiving. If you missed it, I added a link at the top of the page. Thanks to everyone who read it. I received some amazing feedback.
I also added a bit to my About Me page. I’ll probably be adding more to it in the future, but for now, I should explain my picture. It’s a self-portrait I did in college. On my chest are the words “Brief Pose.”
Brief Pose is a fictional clothing company in a script I wrote by the same name, a script I worked on for a long time and with which I finally won a screenplay contest.
Here is the long logline: After a traumatized loner loses his best friend to a car accident, he retreats into a fantasy reality based on a clothing catalog. But when he discovers his coworkers are also going insane, he must confront the terrifying possibility that the catalog causes terminal madness.
Despite the win, the project never got any traction and so I decided to focus on novel writing and self-publication.
Which brings us to Self Write. Maybe Brief Pose will have a life as a novel. Who knows?
Here is the last part. Once again, it’s not fully edited, so if you spot any errors, be sure to comment. So without further ado, part four of chapter one of The Forgiving. (click for part 1)
“Little girl!” the first figure said in a hoarse voice that seemed to cross an impossible distance to reach Molly’s ears.
Still panicked, she pulled and squirmed. She tried to get her head back through the gate, but her ears caught on the bars. Despite the pain, she kept pulling and finally freed herself just as the two figures reached the edge of the light.
The street lamp illuminated the first figure’s bloodstained clothes, but the light ended at the shoulders and didn’t reveal a face. The second figure hung back in the darkness, almost invisible.
Her ears burned from being pulled through the bars. “Are, are you a ghost?” she stammered, afraid the things had no substance and would pass through the gate and steal her away.
“Ghosts are make-believe, sweetie.” A blood-caked hand reached further into the light and pointed. “Right over there, hanging on that tree…”
Molly looked over to the gnarled cheery tree by the wall. On the backside, a key hung high on an iron spike.
“There’s a key. All you have to do is get that key and you can free us.”
Molly shook her head. Human body odor wafted from the other side of the gate and concealed something even fouler underneath. She put her hand to her nose to ward off the stench. She didn’t think ghosts would smell.
“No-no-no, be a good girl. Molly, you’re a good girl, aren’t you?”
I am a good girl, she thought. “Do you have Dolly? I lost her. I lost Dolly to the House.”
The blood-caked hand reached back, and for a moment, because of the light and shadows, the figure looked as if it had no arms and no head. Then the reaching hand pulled out a lost corn-husk doll from the darkness.
Molly gasped. “You have her!”
The husk dress was slightly flattened, but with primping, it could be restored to its original shape.
Molly glanced around (no one was watching) and then cautiously crept up to the gate. She reached through the bars. “She’s mine!”
The blood caked hand held Dolly out, but not far enough so Molly could reach it.
“First, the key.”
Tears pricked the little girl’s eyes. She nodded.
She rushed over to the cherry tree. She stretched on her tippy-toes. She was growing fast (her mother always said so), but still wasn’t tall enough to reach the key. It was just too high.
She squatted and grabbed a stick from the ground. She used it to knock the key off the spike. “Take that!”
She didn’t see where the key landed—the fat, knotted trunk of the cherry tree blocked the light from the street lamps—and so she searched blindly through the decaying leaves, careful not to dirty her nightgown. Mother can’t know I’ve been outside! she thought, not realizing she’d already gotten grease across her chest and back when she’d tried to squeeze through the bars.
On the ground in the dark she felt sticks, more leaves, roots, cheery pits, a tiny slug (Ew!), and there, in her cold fingers, the key. “Yes!” With the key, she rushed back over to the gate, and then stopped a few feet short, seeing the dark figures afresh. They were frightening. They were dirty. They made it hard to breathe.
“Hurry!” said the figure holding the doll.
Molly looked down at the key in her hand and gripped it tight. She looked up and down the deserted street. She started to tremble. “If mother sees me…” She resisted the urge to wipe her dirty hands on her clothes. She felt cold, as if the night air had just dropped twenty degrees.
The doll tilted from side to side as if giving Molly a quizzical look. The bloody fingertips that animated Dolly had stained the doll’s delicate husk dress.
“Just a bit further. Your dolly needs you.”
Molly hoped the blood would come out of Dolly’s dress with just water, but she’d still love the doll either way.
There was no time to waste, she decided. She knew her vigilant mother sometimes checked in on her in the middle of the night to whisper a prayer, “Keep my baby safe,” and maybe to straighten the quilt. If Molly didn’t return soon, she might be missed. In fact, her mother could already be searching the house or charging down the street, angry with Molly for being a disobedient child.
Molly need not have worried. At that moment, her mother slept, dreaming of the end of the world.
The two figures behind the bars were just dark forms in dirty clothes. No rattling chains, no shrieking, no ghostly glow. Their eyes didn’t burn red in the dark. They weren’t monsters, Molly decided. They were just people who wanted free from Jacobi House. Who was she to keep them locked in?
With renewed determination, she stepped forward with the key outstretched, ready to make a trade.
Here is the next part. Once again, it’s not fully edited, so if you spot any errors, be sure to comment. So without further ado, part three of chapter one of The Forgiving. (click for part 1)
In the blustering wind outside the window, Molly held tightly to the top rung of an emergency fire escape ladder.
Dear God, she thought, why didn’t he stop me?
If she fell, she was sure she’d break all her bones.
A twelve-foot stone wall separated her house from Jacobi House, and when she looked over her shoulder, she saw over the wall, through razor wire, to an upper-story wall and a gabled roof.
In the daytime, she could see a row of barred, upper-story windows, but now it was just a dark mass against clouds lit by Portland’s city lights.
She started her descent, staring at each ladder-rung instead of the yard below.
At about halfway down, an anguished scream sent a chill down her spine. She listened. She thought it might be a woman, but knew some men, when truly terrified, sounded like women, and so wasn’t sure. The scream cut off.
“Molly!” It was Alex, leaning out the window. “I’ll pray for you.” He pulled back inside and left the window open for her unlikely return.
She continued down to the yard.
God will protect me, she said to herself in blind faith.
Her bare foot touched down on cool grass. If she was quick, she wouldn’t need shoes.
She followed along Jacobi House’s surrounding wall, the wall towering taller than it had ever towered before, and her hand traced its rough stones as her feet stepped through fallen leaves. As a game, she and her brother often dared each other to touch the wall, but tonight that transgression was nothing, because far worse was still to come; she was going to slip through the gate and search the grounds of Jacobi House to find what she’d lost.
Be brave, she told herself. Be brave!
She stepped lightly; sticks and rocks stabbed at her soles, and when the pain was too sharp, she quickly hopped to the other foot.
She reached the east edge of her family’s property, to the sidewalk and Ferry Street. No one drove this dead end street at night—a drop-off down to Sellwood Park and the Willamette River created a series of dead ends that stymied any through traffic—but there were street lamps that lit the way with a pale, sickly light.
She continued around the corner onto the sidewalk. Up ahead, past Jacobi House’s outer wall, a metal railing and a warning sign stopped cars from plummeting down into the park hundreds of feet below. Jacobi House was the last house before the drop-off, and from the sidewalk (and also from the river bank down below), the surrounding wall made the Jacobi estate look like a windowless warehouse perched on the bluff. She followed the wall, touching each street lamp post for comfort, until she reached a gravel driveway and a massive iron gate secured with a chain and padlock that blocked the way into the grounds. A two hundred year-old black cherry tree stood next to the gate like a sentry standing guard.
A century ago, the tree wept blood at the witching hour. Its tears had long since dried up, though; even a tree can only weep for so long.
She peered through the bars. (The stones of the gravel driveway under her feet felt smoother than she expected.) A street lamp behind her cast light a few yards into an empty courtyard, and past that, the dark form of Jacobi House, a cross between a two-story hotel and a Gothic Revival church, loomed in the moonlight. Her mother had forbid her from entering this place, but her mother had forbid everything.
Despite the warm night, the iron bars were cold to the touch. And oily. They left grease on Molly’s fingers as if she’d been eating her mother’s fried chicken. Climbing over the gate was impossible because of the grease and so Molly tried to squeeze between the bars. She got her arm and shoulder through, and then her head. She kept pushing forward. The bars felt like they were tightening around her torso like a snare.
Two dark figures advanced toward her in the courtyard’s shadows. The first figure held a bloody hacksaw, used exclusively to cut off the heads of children, and the second figure held a pair of sheering scissors the length of Molly’s forearm. They hid their weapons behind their backs as they crept through the dead grass.
Molly didn’t see the weapons, but saw the dark forms advance. They weren’t threatening in size, but they moved with stealth, like shadows come alive.
She cried out and tried to pull back, but was stuck between the bars.
She whimpered with a hushed cry. They’d have her.
As promised, here is the next part. Once again, it’s not fully edited, so if you spot any errors, be sure to comment. So without further ado, part two of chapter one of The Forgiving. (click for part 1)
Next door to Jacobi House stood the smaller, less remarkable, Stonecipher House. After the railway had connected Portland to the other side of the Willamette River in the early 1900’s, the Stonecipher tradesmen, mostly carpenters, built their beautiful, blue and white Victorian Revival next door for the same reason lighthouse keepers build family lodging near lighthouses; the Stonecipher men took shifts in Jacobi House (fixing plumbing, replacing rot and rust, minding the electric, remodeling whole rooms), but needed housing for their women and children that wasn’t so harsh and unforgiving.
Stonecipher House had passed down through the generations, along with the care-taking of Jacobi House, until there were only three Stoneciphers left: a mother and her two children.
On the second floor of Stonecipher House, in an austere bedroom, five-year-old Molly Stonecipher pretended to sleep.
On the wall above her headboard hung an oak crucifix carved by a Muslim slave during the Middle Ages. A realistic Jesus Christ, in striking sorrow and agony, watched over Molly in her bed. Lashes crisscrossed his emaciated abdomen and obvious ribcage, and blood rivulets were craved on his face, streaming from his thorn crown. At the cross’s base, below the corpus, a skull and crossbones referred to the original name of Calvary: the Place of the Skull.
Under Christ’s watchful eye, under a quilt made from rent dresses, Molly bided her time, her slight body trembling with anticipation.
She wasn’t the only Stonecipher awake. Down the hall, Alexander, her older brother by a year, ran water into a glass in a bathroom sink.
A naked light bulb, screwed in beside a medicine cabinet, gave off harsh light and heat, and Alex repeatedly glanced at the intense filament and then watched the spot in his vision fade. How long before the spot would become permanent on his retina? Maybe then the darkness would stay away.
He poured the water down the sink and refilled the glass. He didn’t want to go back to bed; he’d just have another nightmare: a black terror-void, fangs and hissing. His dry tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. The dreamed rope burns still stung his wrists.
He ran his wrists one at a time under cold water. It helped, a little.
Molly, thinking everyone finally asleep, opened her eyes and folded back the quilt their mother had made. It was time.
Without a sound, she slipped out of bed. Her heavy nightgown reached down to the tops of her feet. It was too dark to see anything besides the square of her window, but she knew her room well.
With purpose, she tiptoed across a hardwood floor.
She climbed onto a child’s desk in front of the window.
She pulled open the window. It slid up easily this time—she had forced it open earlier that day to let in fresh air—and just like before, thieving wind rushed in. The air felt unnaturally warm for a night this late in September, balmy like an exhaled breath. It swirled the room, creaked her door open to the light of the hall, and revealed Alex on his way back to bed.
Lit by the hall light and still crouched on her desk, she looked back at him. There he stood in his starched PJs, holding a glass of water, with an expression she couldn’t read. Would he tell Mother?
“Are you running away?” he whispered.
The weeks following their father’s death, Alex often felt like running away; he imagined stuffing his backpack with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and running north as far as Washington, maybe even further. Father had been the only air in the suffocating house. Without him, the walls closed in. The ceiling of religion came down until the only thing to do was to crawl. Then Alex started first grade and life became bearable again. He now suffered through the nights knowing relief would soon come in the mornings. He understood if his sister, who never left the house, who never talked with anyone outside the family, also wanted escape.
He was wrong. She never dreamed of escape, never even thought it existed. For her, this wasn’t a night for running away; this was a night for confronting the nightmare that had stood next door to them all their lives. At five years old, she had already had enough of Jacobi House.
She shook her head. “I lost her. To the House.” She always called it the House. Their mother called it Jacobi House and sometimes the House of Skulls.
What a horrible place to be lost, he thought, but who was his sister talking about? She didn’t have friends, and their mother was sound asleep in her own bed downstairs.
Molly didn’t explain, instead she awkwardly backed off the desk and out the window into the night. He did nothing to stop her. He felt everything was too late, as if this had all played out before and would play out again.
Over the next few days I’m going to be releasing, in sections, the first chapter of The Forgiving on my blog. It’s not fully edited, so if you spot any errors, be sure to comment. So without further ado, part one of chapter one of The Forgiving.
Written by Wesley McCraw
Jacobi House stood in the night just like any other house. True, not all houses have a twelve-foot high wall to keep things out and to keep things in, but some do. Some have walls higher. Not all houses have a cellar with a secret, but cellars hold secrets. Some hide bodies, some hide monsters unholy, some hide sex slaves, while a family man walks above. And not all houses hide from God. But there were other houses in God’s blind spot, even whole city blocks.
Jacobi House was just a house made of wood and nails, pipe and brick, not unlike a human body is made of flesh and bone, blood and spit. Both rise from dust. Both will return to dust, eventually.
Its sprawling two-stories perched high on a bluff on the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon, a city on the I-5 corridor known for sex trafficking, cults, and haunted buildings. Evil had walked its halls, but the house itself wasn’t evil in any of its parts. Its foundation didn’t disturb any burial plots, American Indian or otherwise, and its architectural design wasn’t a demonic summoning glyph, though these theories had been bandied about each time the house had been partially torn down and rebuilt. Jacobi House was just like any other house.
Save for one thing.
Jacobi House needed forgiveness. And it would have forgiveness, hell or high heaven.
I am finding the hardest part of rewriting The Forgiving is perfecting the point of view (POV).
Most modern novels are first person or third person. The POV for my horror novel The Forgiving is an omniscient POV that dips into third person. This gives me a lot of power to tell my story (I am a god!), but also means I have to be very careful about head hopping.
Head hopping is when a writer changes perspectives from one character to another in the same scene. Example: Dick thought this about Jane, and Jane thought that about Dick. It can confuse and take the reader out of the story. (Who should I identify with? Whose story is this? I can’t keep everyone’s motives straight!) Even effective omniscient POV runs the risk of distancing the reader from the action.
An example of an effective use of omniscient POV is Savages by Don Winslow. Don kicks this POVs ass by having a very strong narrative voice.
If I could, I would use third person exclusively, but it just wouldn’t work. The Forgiving is about three people experiencing a haunted house together, with no lead character. Savages is also about three characters, with no lead. With both stories, it can’t be about the perspective of one person; it has to be about the story of these three people together.
On the plus side, once the reader cares about all three characters, they are in for one wild ride.
Don Winslow did it; now I just have to get it to work too.
Progress: At just over 41,000 words, the first draft of The Forgiving is finished! Editing is well underway.