Thursday, December 27, 2007

There'll be scary ghost stories . . .

{Photos by rocketlass.}
Chapter 1: Arrival at Raven House
Chapter 2: The Tall Ghost
Chapter 3: Settling In
Chapter 4: The Slamming Door
Chapter 5: A Strange Dream
Chapter 6: Mysterious Lights and a Warning
Chapter 7: Looking for Clues
Chapter 8: A Visitor in the Night
Chapter 9: Trespasser!
Chapter 10: The Old Locket
Chapter 11: An Accidental Discovery
Chapter 12: A Haunting Tune
Chapter 13: A Long Way Down
Chapter 14: The Invisible Hand
Chapter 15: Raven Cottage
Chapter 16: Return of the Mysterious Lights
Chapter 17: A Key
Chapter 18: Inside the Locked Room
Chapter 19: Do We Have to Have Dinner?
Chapter 20: An Exercise in Cartography
Chapter 21: Lost and Found
Chapter 22: The Adventures of an Epicure
Chapter 23: The Better Part of Valor
Chapter 24: Captured!
Chapter 25: A History Lesson
Chapter 26: Back to Raven House
Chapter 27: Two Birthday Parties
That's the table of contents for The Mystery at Raven House, the novel that Rocketlass and I have been writing for our nine-year-old nephew for Christmas. In years past, we've collaborated on a pair of picture books and a board game as gifts for him, but this is by far the most ambitious and extended story we've told.

In the novel, our nephew encounters some ghostly happenings while on vacation with his sister and his grandparents. I wrote a draft in early December, attempting to hew fairly closely to the style of the couple of godawful Goosebumps novels I checked out from my local library. Yet despite my satisfaction at putting together a coherent plot for the first time in my writing life, on the whole I knew the manuscript was at best fair. I instantly could tell that this just wasn't my form; writing each sentence felt like a brief but intense wrestling match, with my only goal being to lose in an unremarkable fashion.

So about four days before Christmas Rocketlass started work on a thorough revision. As she reads a fair amount of children's literature, she's much more adept at capturing the right tone, and her revision has done wonders--it's starting to resemble a real book.

But you've probably noticed some worrisome verb tense tension in the above description: "have been working on," "started work on," "starting to." As in, Christmas was two days ago and our revised manuscript currently stops after the seventh chapter. So did we disappoint our nephew on Christmas morning?

Would we do that? At the minutes ticked away late last week, I hit upon the brilliant idea of serial publication. What worked for Dickens and Trollope--or more recently for Stephen King and Michael Connelly--could surely work for us! We quickly laid out and printed the table of contents and the first six chapters, clapped them in an old wooden hollow book that we for some reason had lying around, and presented it to my nephew on Christmas accompanied by a promise that the mailman would bring him one additional chapter per week for twenty-one weeks.

To our surprise, he was really excited. In the past, we've given our gifts knowing that they were unlikely to compete with the allure of Star Wars Monopoly and Captain Jack Sparrow, and we've not been wrong. That's fine--while we've always hoped he'd enjoy our gifts, we've crafted them knowing that he's more likely to appreciate them when he's older. But this time was different. On opening the box, Carson immediately began reading, and when he got to the end of Chapter 1--
Grandpa turned the big key in the door and pushed it open. They all peered in. Then Grandma gasped and Ainsley screamed . . . there, just inside the door, stood a big white ghost!
--he visibly jumped. Soon after, he turned to us, wide-eyed, and said, "I'm going to go in the other room and read this right now!"

And he did. Here's hoping Rocketlass's inventiveness and ability to think like a nine-year-old hold up for twenty-one more chapters. In six months I'll be sure to report back to you what our nephew thinks of the project once he's turned the last page.

No comments:

Post a Comment