Tag Archives: psychological

The world of “Billy’s Bones” – a tour through Tom’s house

BillysBones_FessendenAs some of you may already know, I based a number of elements in my psychological mystery novel Billy’s Bones upon my real life.  There is no specific person in my life who inspired Kevin, though I know many people who are a bit like him in one way or another, including a friend who works as a handyman.  Alas, I am disturbingly like Tom.  I don’t look like him, but I often think like him (well, a combination of him and Jeremy from my novel Murderous Requiem).

The setting though—particularly Tom’s house—was based very much on my real house.  One of my friends told me she had trouble reading the novel, because she knew the setting too well and she prefers to let her imagination create it.  So if you have vivid images in your mind about the setting of Billy’s Bones, you might want to skip these pictures.  But for those of you who are curious….

The house sits at the end of a long driveway, far enough out in the country that we have no streetlights, though still close enough to the highway that we can get to the hospital if we need to. It resembles the Escape Room in Minneapolis because of its size and maze-like layout. Unfortunately, my husband didn’t feel comfortable posting a picture of the outside of the house, since it would be easy to drive around our small town with a photo and figure out where we live.  This post is basically going out to the entire Internet, after all.  But I can post some pics of the inside and pertinent areas.

007We do have a flock of about 20 wild turkeys that wander through the yard almost daily and they can get in the way when we drive in and try to park.  They aren’t afraid of us.  They just casually saunter out of the path of the car and glare at us for disturbing them.  Deer show up occasionally, too, but not as much since we got the dog.

IMG_0382I won’t show you every room in the house, but here are a couple, as they looked when we moved in and as Tom saw them.  The first is the stove room.  You can see the spiral staircase leading down into the basement.  Like Shadow, our dog was too afraid to go down those stairs, so we didn’t have to block it off when he decided it was fun to run down into the basement.  We did have to put up a child gate in front of the other basement stairs until he outgrew that phase.
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And here’s the living room, where Tom and Kevin had to sit on the floor to use the laptop.
IMG_0391Probably the biggest difference between the novel and reality, is that I extended the back deck quite a bit in the novel, so it would be large enough to hold the hot tub. Unlike Tom, we do have neighbors, but in some directions the forest extends all the way to state park land, and you could easily get lost in it.  I know—I once spent a half hour wandering around in it, chasing after our dog, when he broke free of his harness.  Fortunately, we both found our way back home.
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The real hot tub is off a side deck. When we turned the thing on and discovered it was dead (the original is in this picture), we couldn’t find anyone willing to repair it.  It was as badly cobbled together as I described in the novel, and not particularly safe.  So eventually  we replaced it.

2013-10-25_13-15-55_848And this appropriately creepy picture (taken with my cellphone, since a certain pooch ate our digital camera), is The Well, as seen through the trees in back of the house.  No, not the one at the end of the novel, but the cement one behind Tom’s house, where Kevin damaged his hand.

008Last but not least, this is Kumar the Mighty Duck Hunter, the inspiration for Shadow.  He’s still just a few years old and full of energy.  He doesn’t normally have demonic glowing eyes.  He did have a terror of stairs when we first got him, and yes we had to carry all 75 pounds of him up and down for a while, but he’s over that now.

He does still prefer to communicate with people through his stuffed ducks.

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New cover for “Billy’s Bones”!

BillysBones_FessendenI just received the cover design for my upcoming psychological drama, Billy’s Bones!

The cover is by Lou Harper and I love it!

We went through several variations, some of which might have been terrific for a lighter novel.  Unfortunately, this is a fairly dark book, with Kevin tormented by repressed memories that break through in his nightmares and cause him to have panic attacks in certain situations—memories of abuse in his childhood.

One thing I insisted upon was the dog.  Shadow is based upon my own black Lab, Kumar, who went through a period of adjustment when we got him home from the shelter—getting over an irrational fear of going up and down stairs and peeing on boxes indoors.  In the novel, Shadow’s adventures parallel what Kevin is going through to be with Tom.

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Just finished “Billy’s Bones”

I finally finished the contemporary psychological drama I’ve been calling Billy’s Bones (awful, awful title!) and several friends are reading it to tell me if it’s any good.  I’m really not sure.  I like the first half, but it gets very grim in the second half.  Ever read the beginning of Alice Sebold‘s The Lovely Bones?  That’s about the level of grim I’m talking about.  To a lesser extent it resembles the revelation of Tom’s repressed memories of “Callanwolde” in The Prince of Tides (considerably toned down in the film version).  Not exactly what most people expect in a romance novel.

I should have seen it coming, of course.  I came up with this plot centered around repressed memories of sexual abuse and murder, and then when I came to the part where the repressed memories begin to surface, I thought, “I could have the character tell the story to his therapist or his lover (who is actually the viewpoint character), but it would be far more dramatic to show it in a flashback!”

Yeah, great idea.

Except that I soon realized that what I was writing was too horrific to describe in any kind of detail.  There’s a reason that I tend to use crimes against children to represent evil in my novels:  I find them absolutely horrifying.  I don’t think I’m alone in this.  So there’s a fine line between being boring by not dramatizing it and showing too much by dramatizing it.  It wasn’t my intention to write a horror novel.

So I wrote the scene out, but didn’t go into graphic detail.  We’ll see what my friends say, when they read it.

The other potential problem is that my viewpoint character (Tom) almost disappeared in the last quarter of the novel, as Kevin works with the police to piece things together.  I had to go back and make sure he said something now and then to remind readers that he was still there.  I don’t know if that worked.  We’ll see.

What all of this demonstrates is that I can’t write in a vacuum — at least, not all of the time.  While I’m working on the first draft, I don’t let anyone look at it.  I generally have a sense of whether it’s good or not and I like to think I’m a fairly good storyteller.  At that stage, I don’t want people injecting their opinions.  But as soon as that first draft is done, I lose the confidence I had while writing.  Sometimes my ego is too fragile for criticism for a week or so, as my husband has learned, but fairly soon after the first draft is done, I need feedback to tell me if the story came out any good or if it should be scrapped.

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Getting Depressed For Fun and Profit

Well, not very depressed.  More like the kind of delicious depression we settle into when we watch a movie like Brokeback Mountain or read a book like A Separate Peace.

With the first edits done on Saturn in Retrograde, I’ve begun another project, tentatively called Billy’s Bones.  (Not a great title, so I’ll probably change it.)   Like By That Sin Fell the Angels, which I can’t wait to begin editing, this is a contemporary, and I’m going for a stark, realistic feel.  Unlike By That Sin…, it’s a romance, so I’m hoping it will appeal to a wider audience.

Billy’s Bones is about a psychologist (Tom) and the suicidal patient (Kevin) he treats at the beginning of the novel.  Kevin bails on the counseling, when things get too intense for him, but Tom meets up with him again years later, after buying a house in the country and discovering that Kevin is one of his neighbors.  The two begin to fall in love (of course), but Kevin is haunted by repressed memories of a tragic series of events in his childhood and he can never be happy until the secret he’s buried is uncovered.

I won’t give specifics about the Deep Dark Secret, but really there aren’t a lot of childhood traumas to choose from in a story like this.  We’re pretty much stuck with sexual abuse, physical violence in various forms, or traumatic events such as car accidents or fires.

As much as I love fantasy and science fiction, there’s something immensely satisfying about delving deep into the psyches of ordinary people who just happen to be screwed up.  Not screwed up to the point of being serial killers (I went through a phase of loving serial killer books and films in college, and I’m pretty much done with that), but screwed up in a way that a lot of people are.  Just magnify it a bit.

 

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