How Dead Hand was written

Dead Hand is another book that was a long time between conception and completion. I don’t know when I started working on it, only that my earliest notes were typed, on the back of second-hand accordion computer paper, each 11×17 sheet (with perforations torn off) rolled into a wide-format typewriter, which had an 11-inch carriage That was back in the day when we had no money (sometimes literally), and lived in a double-wide, while Diane was working on her PhD, and I was just getting started as a writer. What I do know is that I had my extensive notes, sketches, floor-plans, character scenes, plot time-lines, maps and charts, and lots of other stuff in a manuscript box (white cardboard, designed to hold several hundred pages of type-script for submission to a publisher), and I took it with me when we moved to England in 1995.

It was, as you might guess, an ambitious project. I wanted a different kind of haunted house, so I put it in an upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, instead of in a decaying part of town, or lost in the woods, or on the top of a lonely hill. I didn’t want to create motives for people to make them want to go in (that would come about naturally later in the story), so I had the “hauntings,” strange phenomena of various kinds, none of them typically ghostly, leaking out of the house into the neighborhood. The neighbors didn’t go to the weirdness, the weirdness came to them. While I had individual stories, the over-all story wasn’t about individuals, but about how the whole neighborhood was affected, sometimes tragically, and about how they, and those who just passed through, reacted to the weirdness. There was an awful lot going on, plot-lines in parallel, or crossing, or merging, or simply neighborly, or having something about the house in common. Which is why it sat on a shelf until 1995.

About the only writing I did in England (being otherwise engaged in full-time household management, and being a father while Diane took over the reorganization of the British branch of her department after her company’s merger) was to go thorough those notes. There were fifty two viewpoint characters, ninety two scenes, I haven’t counted how many intertwingled plot lines. I decided to trim it back to the essentials, by taking out all scenes and characters which didn’t seem to move the primary plotline forward.

We came home in 1998, and I put it on a shelf in my office.

I decided to look at it again a few years later. I also decided to reinstate all those characters and scenes which I thad thought superfluous, and which I had not thrown away while in England, but had just put aside. Then I wrote a draft which included everything. Some characters had only one scene. Others several in scenes for separate plotlines. Still others had scenes in merging plotlines which ran through much of the over-all story.

And every character was real to me. Every one was a person. Sometimes my note for a scene read something like, “a teen-age girl is riding in the back seat, while coming back from a trip at night, when she sees the blue lights flying around the house.” Or, “the burglar knows the house is empty, but when he sees the first phenomena, he changes his mind.” Something like that. But both characters, with one scene only, became real on the first draft, and it was the same with all the other characters and scenes. I was in the throes of constant inspiration.

And some of those characters which I had set aside proved to be crucial to the development of the story, especially two girls, twelve and thirteen, who went exploring the river behind the house. They provided me, at the last minute, with a perfect ending. Without any of those characters — the little girls, the tramp, the burglars, the lovers, the teens exploring an empty house — without them there would have been no book.

It took a while to write that long first draft. It was not a rough, but a real first draft. I don’t have it any more. I put it aside to ripen, ferment, mature while I went on to other things. Then in 2007 I did a second draft. Then other drafts, other projects, and in 2016, it was finally published. I like it a lot.

And the cover, by Darcy, is the best.