Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Marina Cohen. Take it away, Marina!
I began writing the first draft of this novel so long ago, its working title was Frozen. Well, we all know what happened to that title, thank you very much Disney! I’d go through several more titles before settling on Shadow Grave. Let me tell you a little about the inspirations for this novel.
Decades ago, I read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. This brilliant novel lives up to its title in so many ways as, once read, its story and characters remain with you forever. The novel gave me not only great pleasure but left me with large questions to ponder. And it was in my ponderings that the first seed of Shadow Grave was planted.
I love poetry. It’s a personal experience—one to which you bring your own feelings and interpretations. In Frost’s famous work, The Road Not Taken, did he intend there to be a right path, a better path? Most believe so, however, the way I see it, there is no right way and no wrong way. Life is an infinite series of choices that ultimately bring us to the same place: onward. And so, the second seed for my novel was sown.
Good writers write what they are passionate about. It’s only natural then, that as a writer of creepy stories, they are my passion. Growing up, I delighted in the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley, and H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. I was fascinated with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos—the idea that there are things which lie beyond our human perception of reality. What did Lovecraft mean when he wrote That is not dead which can eternal lie…? This line would become an integral part of my story.
Of course, writers cannot sit around merely pondering life’s great mysteries. We must pay the bills, right? And so, while writing a work-for-hire non-fiction book on deserts, I came across this bizarrely cute, almost miraculous, and virtually indestructible little creature—the tardigrade. They can survive for decades without water or food. They can survive extreme temperatures, radiation, pressure equal to that of the deepest part of the ocean, and even the vacuum of space. Tardigrades will survive cataclysmic events that could wipe out most other species on this planet. Hmmm….yet another seed…
It would not be, however, until the fifth seed was planted in my imagination, all the shoots growing, intertwining, becoming one, that I’d be ready to write—and this seed was the town my novel is set in: Livermore. While engaging in one of my favourite pastimes— researching real-life ghost towns—I came across this gem of a place—its remnants still hidden in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Though little is left of the structures that were once a vibrant little logging town, it had a rich history—with one particularly creepy fact that made me sit bolt upright and I knew this was it. I was ready.
Though I have borrowed bits and pieces of the real town—its history, geography, a slightly altered name or two—Shadow Grave is wholly a work of fiction. Its inhabitants and the town are how I imagine them to have been—almost mythical.
I include much of this information in an Author’s Note—even an image of the real town of Livermore that was a definite inspiration.
I always say that great horror must satisfy beyond its capacity to scare—it must be a metaphor for the fears and horrors of everyday life. And so, what I did not include in my Author’s Note was the sixth and final seed—one I could not bear to write about at the time.
When my dear aunt was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer I was devastated. She was the last of my father’s side of the family—the teller of tales and the keeper of secrets. With no spouse or children, I was her closest family and I knew this would be a path she and I would walk together. Unfortunately, Cancer is no “road less travelled” to which all too many can attest, and for us, it was a painful path, filled with agonizing sorrow, and an utter sense of helplessness. When my aunt and I arrived at the crossroads, the point our paths would diverge, for now, I was forever changed. And this is what would become the emotional heart of my novel, the emotional journey of my 12-year-old character, Arlo.
I hope you’ll pick up a copy of Shadow Grave and find in it much more than a few chills and scares. It is my hope you’ll find in it a tiny seed you can ponder long after the last page is turned.