Sunday, January 1, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: The Year in Ghosts

First of all - Merry New Year, y'all.

Second of all: Why aren't there more New Year stories? Is it just that most of us experience it as an extension of the big solstice celebrations? The only New Year story I can think of is Dickens's The Chimes, which is considered one of his "Christmas Books." There's a New Year's chapter in one of the Mary Poppins books in which book characters come out of their books in "the crack" between the first and last strokes of midnight at New Year's. That's it as far as I can think off the top of my had.

Yet there's lots of potential in the New Year. First, as expressed in the Mary Poppins incident, it's a liminal time - a time of transition when the barriers between worlds are thin. Ghosts, UFOs, monsters, fey, angels, demons - they should all be out in force. Second, it's a time we have invested with an arbitrary meaning, a time to start over, make new resolutions (which we don't expect to keep), tackle our lives anew, as if we mean it this time, instead of dealing with it in the half-baked way we've been doing; a time for looking back and forward, self-assessment, and self-improvement. In other words, of interior conflict.

But mostly - New Year's is a dangerous holiday. Drinking, illegal fireworks, celebratory firing of shotguns into the air (but the bullets have to come down) - this is a night when lives are likely to be changed in a literal, and unwelcome, way. Need a character dead, paralyzed, blinded, riddled with guilt? Here's your big chance to have somebody say "Hold my champagne and watch this," or a bullet fall out of the blackness from no apparent source, or a car come careening out of nowhere, and your audience will buy it.

I have a little idea about this. A story cycle - I tried to do this as twelve flash fictions, as an exercise in forcing myself to be brief (you can see how well that worked, huh?) or a novel in 12 chapters. The wife/mother is killed in an accident on New Year's Eve, and she is the viewpoint character. The opening sequence would be her bustling around her house trying to get things in shape after the New Year's celebration, and gradually realizing that she's dead. Each subsequent sequence would show her, and her family's, adjustment to this gross disruption of the natural order. Her husband gets depressed; one kid takes on too much responsibility; one acts out; she tries to intervene, with mixed success. One kid goes to college. One kid becomes obsessed with proving that Mom is (or isn't) still around. The cat can always see her, but doesn't always care.

The trickiest part (apart from my complete failure to write short) is how to give the viewpoint character agency and still let the family go through its stages of grief and finally, on the anniversary of her death on New Year's Eve, reach the point where she can let go of them and they can let go of her. We can't deal with anybody else's grief for them, much as we sometimes want to; and dead people can no longer solve problems.

But that's why the POV character is the mother. Mothers, more than any other class of people, have to perfect the art of influencing their loved ones for their good without dominating or controlling them. Which is pretty much all the ghost can be allowed to do. For this story's purposes, the mother is the ideal protagonist.

I'm not a mother and feel this disqualifies me from doing this sequence as more than an exercise.

Or maybe that's an excuse because I don't want to go through the emotional arc of a mother's death until the world forces it upon me.

Anyway, it's outside my genre. Writing YA and juvenile literature from the POV of a middle-aged woman is problematic at best, pointless at worst.

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