Is “Romantic Horror” oil and water? Or bacon and eggs? This post last ran in 2015.
My ghost story/horror novel, The Burning Ground, contains enough juicy, gory, creepy scenes to satisfy the horror purist. But the story is also about relationships—in particular the relationship between three seriously diverse characters: a former major league ballplayer, a woman with a tortured past, and a lonely ten-year-old boy. More about them shortly.
OH, MY LOVE, MY DARLING…
Romance in ghost stories is nothing new. I mean, who wasn’t moved—often to tears—by scenes in Ghost, one of the most popular movies of the nineties? Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore—Unchained Melody? Oh, man…yeah, you’re right, my softer side is showing. But honestly, that was an awesome film.
Or more recently, how about the popular Twilight series, both books and film? Without the romantic element we would have yet another vampire/werewolf story—and how many of those have been done since the dawn of time?
I wrote my first horror novel, The Well, during my gore-splattering sword & sorcery/sword & planet period, and it shows. Not much romance in this one as a family struggles to prevent the emergence of a demon from an old well on their property. Still, it’s a pretty good story, and Bantam Books thought enough of it to publish The Well in the early nineties. I have since reissued it as The Modoc Well.
IT’S A CHALLENGE BRINGING CHARACTERS TOGETHER
Demon Shadows, my second horror novel, was my initial attempt at a romantic element. The protagonists, Gail Farringer and Paul Fleming, meet at an artists’ and writers’ colony in the high Sierras, where the descendants of a Donner-like party continue to repay an ancient debt—in blood, of course. Paul’s “baggage” is minimal: he’s a bestselling novelist dealing with writer’s block following a divorce. Gail, on the other hand, is seriously messed up. I loved the challenge of bringing these two together. The formula must’ve worked, because Bantam Books sold about 30,000 copies of it before they stopped sending me royalty statements. I also reissued Demon Shadows a while back.
In my ghost story, Fire Dance, Mark Alderson is a Richard Kimble-like fugitive tending bar in a small desert town, and Tracy Russell is a single mom whose ex-husband abandoned her and her young son after gambling away everything they owned. Here were two people with serious issues of trust. Bringing them together amid the backdrop of wandering spirits trapped there since the nineteenth century—one of them quite evil—was another challenge. A great deal of positive feedback—much of it from female readers—tells me that I must have pulled it off.
RAISING THE “BAGGAGE” BAR
So when I wrote The Burning Ground a few years ago I decided, with regard to a romantic element, to raise the bar, both in the number of characters and the degree of “baggage” that they brought to the table. Barry Cordell had been a star pitcher for the San Francisco Giants before being struck in the face by a line drive. His physical injuries healed, but the fear of standing on the mound forced him from the game. Now an embittered man, he has come to the small Sierra Nevada town of Lodestar for the solitude of hiking and camping in the surrounding foothills.
Dana Bowen is Lodestar’s librarian. A decade earlier, while in college, Dana was gang-raped by three men, who left her for dead. Now distant from everyone, including her family, she merely exists.
Billy Grider’s mother left Lodestar shortly after giving birth to him. He has been raised by an old, spinsterish aunt, and to a lesser degree by his father, Ray Grider, one of the town’s most distasteful lowlifes. Ray is a “thief of time,” a grave robber who desecrates Indian burial grounds to dig up artifacts for wealthy collectors. With a family such as this, and hardly any other kids in the small town, Billy’s life is one of loneliness.
So, did I pull it off, or what? I’ll let my readers be the judges of that. One thing I’ll say is that this story seemed to write itself, and I had a ball going along for the ride. Whether blood and gore or a romantic “people story” is your game, you’ll find that The Burning Ground has something for everyone.