Dark Shadows

A Halloween Story

Think about it. There are shadows, and then there are shadows. Each man, each woman, each child has their shadow, must have their shadow, must carry it with forbearance, with patience, without complaint. They are our companions whether we like it or not. And whether they like it or not.

You see, shadows are lost souls who serve time for past evils. They are chained to our bodies with invisible links. But there are those who resist their punishment, their purgatory. They are the restless ones. Shadows who won’t follow the rules. Shadows who won’t behave. Shadows who will do evil. And some of these shadows with sheer willpower break their chains and escape to go hunting.

Now I am not one to say that you have one of those shadows. But have you asked yourself, what is your shadow up to when it disappears? I don’t want to unnerve you, the Reader, but think about it. And keep watch. Keep very very close watch.

William Clarence Monroe had not thought much about his shadow. Though he had spent forty years, bearing the thing  around. Then he came to reside in the House.

William Clarence Monroe was a parapsychologist out to prove that the supernatural, that evil, that the occult did not exist. He was certain his investigations of the House would finally correct that misconception. When he told his colleagues of his plan, they urged him to stay away from the place. From the stories they had heard, it sent shivers down their spines. It had a history, a reputation for evil occurrences. No amount of pleading would stop William. He had a mission. He had a calling.

He would prove that things that go bump in the night are simply things that go bump in the night. There are no monsters under our beds, simply wooly boogers that make their way like tumbleweeds across a room and under the bed. They were not things to fear, rather things to laugh at. William never came across a thing or an event that could not be explained as a natural phenomenon. There was a logical explanation for the stories about the House.

The House stood on Spectre Hill, had stood there for over one hundred and fifty years. Some said it was cursed. All, who came to sleep within its walls, never left. At least, not alive. It was a dark and lonely house with vines and overgrowth covering its walls and hiding it from the road. Where there was not black, there was gray or a dark sickly green. It had no neighbors. It stood alone on that hill.

From time to time, people aways off in the town nearby would hear screams emanating from its halls. Some suggested that the House be torn down. Others said that it be best to leave well enough alone. Besides no one knew who owned the House. Perhaps the invisible inhabitants of the House were the proprietors.

William Clarence Monroe arrived at the front gate of the house early in the morning. The front door was unlocked. When he went to open it, he saw the head of Anubis, the Jackal God, carved into its wood. He stopped for a moment to study the carving and acknowledged that it was incredibly detailed.

He unloaded his equipment in the ballroom-sized room on the other side of the front door. He stood in the middle of the room and surveyed his surroundings. There were several sets of stairs leading to a second and a third story. From the ballroom, there were also three halls leading deeper into the House.

“Yes,” he said and smiled. “This should do. This should prove my premise. When I get through, maybe we can turn this place into a theme park. People do love scary things.”

He went to work wiring his wires. He plugged things into his generator that plug into generators. He set up his instruments. And he got ready for the night. He unpacked his food and ate his first day’s ration. He planned to stay for three days just to get a measure of the place.

Once he finished eating, William Clarence Monroe started exploring. He found a huge dining room, then a kitchen that was right out of the nineteenth century. Next he discovered a library with thousands of dusty volumes, tomes from bygone days that no longer existed anywhere else as far as William could tell. Some were books on the occult but not more than a small percentage. Many were books of biological science. Some works of cosmology. Nothing to make one suspect that the former residents were particularly interested in the occult or witchcraft or unlawful practices. Then he moved on to the second and third floor, counting fourteen bedrooms. Nothing out of the ordinary.

William made himself a large pot of coffee and settled in to wait through the night. The first night and the second day went by without incident. He monitored his instruments, taking the readings at random once an hour. All was quiet. All seemed peaceful, calm. Then he noticed that his shadow had disappeared. “Funny,” he said out loud, then went on to monitoring his instruments. The second night passed. He got his forty winks from time to time, then went back to his routine. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Early on the third day, William Clarence Monroe’s shadow returned. His instruments, at first, took notice, making small movements. Then other shadows. With each new shadow, the instruments moved a little more, then a little more. By dusk on the third day, the House was filled with dark silhouettes. The instruments were jumping. It was as if a seismograph was registering a ten-point earthquake. One instrument after another shut down from overload. William hurried from room to room, each room overflowing with shadows.

As he hurried, first his shadow, then the others made their way toward him, threatening. Then his hurrying turned into running. They were chasing him. Desperately he made for the front door. He turned the knob but the door wouldn’t open.  The shadows pushed him toward the Jackal head, carved into the wood of the door. The Jackal opened its mouth.

In the town nearby, they heard a scream. The scream sent shivers down the townies’ spines. The pastor of the First Church dropped to his knees, supplicating his God to save him from the hell he knew he deserved. The mayor of the town turned to his son and said, “Oh, it’s just the House. Never go near it. As long as you stay within the borders of the town, you will be safe.” Parents hushed their children and told them that it was the Boogeyman. “Be good or he will get you.” Some of the older folks recalled the last scream they heard.

A uniformed police officer daily passed the green Ford parked on the street in front of the House. One Wednesday afternoon he pulled up behind the car. He had not noticed before that there was no tag on the Ford. He got out and checked out the car. The car had not moved for some time. He radioed in for a tow truck to haul the vehicle away. Several months later, it went on auction to raise money for the elementary school.

William Clarence Monroe was not missed. None of his colleagues seemed to recall where he had gone. He had no close friends, and he was without family. In his fanaticism for his mission to disprove ghosts and the occult, he kept others at a distance. When he didn’t show up for his next round of classes, his department head at the college decided that, for whatever reason, Professor Monroe would not return to teach.

Think about it. There are your shadows, and then there are your shadows.

Surviving Nanowrimo # 8: Write your story


Take a look at the top 10 books on Google list of bestselling fiction for 2020  What do you see?

I am looking at the October 11th list. I see romance, literary, coming-of-age, historical, dystopian, suspense, horror, fantasy, and humor. If you go back and look at the lists for other years, you would probably find different categories. One thing is for sure. No category dominates over a period of years. Some are old pros at the bestseller lists; some newbies. And some of these were written by pantsers, some by plotters.

What is this telling you and me? That anything we want to write has the possibility of having a readership. The important thing is that the story has well-drawn-out characters who have a story to tell.

There is one thing I would say. Usually, but not always, the novels on the list are not the writer’s first novel. Some write ten, fifteen, twenty novels before they get lucky. Be prepared to be in for the long haul and even if you don’t make it to the bestseller list, there’ll be readers who can’t wait for your next one.

Once you’ve finished your first nanowrimo novel, edit it through three or four edits till you’ve dressed it up in its Sunday best. Have some other people read it and give you feedback. Then send it out to agents or publish it on Amazon’s kindle. Once that’s done, start on your next novel.

So write what you want to write. Fall in love with your characters. But not so much you won’t be able to send them through hell. And have a hell of a good time doing it.


This is very important. When the novel is finished, I take some time off from the book. Maybe a month. Maybe two months. I go write another novel. After a while, I go back to your novel and read it straight through. The first thing I realize is that your novel is crap. But I don’t give up on it. All first drafts are.

So what do I do then? Now it’s time to outline the novel. I use a book like Save the Cat Writes a Novel. Why do I need a guide? Because I may have left out some essential things.

I am working on a noir novel called The Man Without a Tie. Using Jessica Brody’s book, I realized I had not introduced the antagonist early enough.

Once I have done the outline, I re-write the novel based on the outline. That’s the second draft. A third draft is to correct grammar, take out stuff and add stuff. A fourth draft is to spiff up the novel in its Sunday best. Then I turn it over to a Beta Reader for feedback.

But this is my process. If you have a process, use it. If not, try this one.


One of the most important thing I have learned, writing this blog: My job is not to save the world. My job is to entertain the reader. If I am not entertaining the reader, I probably will not have readers. Advise is cheap. There is so much of it out there in the world you can get it at bargain basement prices. Or not pay for it at all.

If I can bring a little joy, laughter or tears to my audience, I’ve done my job as a creative artist. Don’t believe me about this. Look at the most popular writer in the English language, Shakespeare. It’s been over four hundred years since he died and he is still selling. His plays are performed all over the world.


I have read hundreds of books on writing. From this experience, I have learned a great deal. But after a while, they begin to repeat themselves. So I am going to suggest ten that I’ve found very useful:

1.Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury
2.This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley
3.Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody
4.The Weekend Novelist: Learn to Write a Novel in 52 Weeks by Robert Ray and Bret Norris
5.Mastery by Robert Greene
6.Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing
7.The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway
8.What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
9.Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
10.On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King


This is my eighth post on the Nanowrimo experience. These insights have come from participating six times. Each time has taught me a little more about how to write a novel.

It’s my hope these insights have helped. If they didn’t, it’s okay. The important thing is to encourage you to get out there and write that novel in November. You never know. It might end up on the bestselller list.

Surviving Nanowrimo # 7: Round and Flat Characters

Years ago the novelist and critic E. M. Forster stated in his Aspects of the Novel that there were two kinds of characters. Round characters are those that were multi-dimensional and complex. The kind that lead a reader to believe a character is realistic. Round characters are usually the major characters of a novel, unless the novel is a comedy.

Flat characters are those that are one-dimensional and simple. The are usually the walk-on characters who have only a few scenes. Characters like the cop that gives out a ticket or the cook in a restaurant.

Anne Tyler proved that this didn’t necessary need to be. A walk-on character could be just as round as a major character. In The Accidental Tourist, she has a waitress serve Macon Leary, the protagonist. In just a paragraph, the waitress is as alive as any round character in the novel. The fact that I find her memorable years after reading the novel proves that.

When writing a novel, try to see the walk-ons as real people with real lives. The novel may be the protagonist’s movie. But the walk-on sees themselves in their own movie intersecting with the protagonist’s movie. Sometimes the walk-on becomes so memorable that the novelist feels they have to write a novel for that character.

So give your walk-ons a chance to shine. They won’t let you down.

Surviving Nanowrimo # 6: An ensemble of characters

Years ago I remember seeing Bob Newhart on the Tonight Show. At that time, Newhart had a very popular tv show called “The Bob Newhart Show.” Johnny Carson, the host, asked Newhart, “Why do all the supporting actors get the best jokes?” Newhart answered, “But I get the credit.”

Years later I read a story about Jason Alexander, the actor who played George on Seinfeld. He was told that he would not be needed for an episode of Seinfeld. At that, he went to Jerry and said, “If I am not going to be needed for all the episodes, I am going to leave the show.” Seinfeld agreed and Jason stayed with the show.

Those two stories made me come to a conclusion. All the successful-and lasting-situation comedies had one thing in common. They were ensemble pieces. In other words, these sitcoms had a regular group of characters supporting the star. But the star didn’t do all the jokes. The jokes were equally distributed among the group.

From the very beginning, this principal has held true: The Lucille Ball Show, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Show, Laverne and Shirley, Seinfeld, Friends. On and on it goes. Occasionally a show where the star gets all the jokes is put on. It doesn’t last.

How does this apply to a novel? A novel is an ensemble of characters, each with her own role. Just because the sidekick is playing second-fiddle doesn’t mean she should have second-fiddle dialogue.

Here’s some ways for the reader to remember the supporting characters. Neil Gaiman suggests that each character should have their own sound, their own dialogue. And maybe while writing that character, give them a theme song. They do this in the movies.

Neil Gaiman also suggests that the writer might want to give each character a funny hat. Now, he isn’t suggesting the writer be literal. It is a way to make characters memorable. Like she always wears purple because she thinks she’s a royal. He has tattoos up the bazooka. Her hair could literally be a bee’s nest. His nose is so long everybody calls him Schnoz. (For a private eye, that might be a great name.)

Another thing to keep in mind: don’t give several characters names that begin with the same letter. How memorable would my characters in “Chad and the Surfboard” be if I started their names with a c?
Chad, protagonist
Chris, ex
Carol, best friend
Conor, the man who saves her from the sea
Callan, the gang lord

Not very. And if they live in a town that begins with a c like Calgary, I’ll be in real trouble.

Surviving Nanowrimo # 5: The Devil Made Me Do It

Today we’re going to talk conflict. You see, there is no such thing as a story or a hero or a protagonist without conflict. One thing to remember when writing a story: Really bad things happen to really good characters. The more a hero has to overcome the more the reader likes the character.

Consider that there are five types of conflict:
1.Man against man. Harry Potter and Game of Thrones are examples.
2.Man against nature. “To Build a Fire” by Jack London and the movie, “The Day After Tomorrow.”
3.Man against society. 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale
4.Man against self. Hamlet
5.Man against technology. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Terminator

It’s obvious that “Chad and the Surfboard” has a human vs. human conflict scheme. In the novel, there are several villains. The ex-boyfriend chief among them. After doing the draft, it’s obvious to me that I need to flush him out more. But that is what you learn with first drafts, what I need more of and what I need less of.

One thing to keep in mind: a villain or an antagonist is human. They do not judge their actions as bad. In their mind, their actions are for the good as they see it.

And, in some cases, they won’t even understand why they did such a thing. That’s when they will laugh and say, “The Devil made me do it.” And maybe they’re right.

When creating the antagonist, try to let a little of the antagonist’s good creep in.

Just like the hero of the story, they want something. Usually something that opposes what the hero wants.

And don’t forget. The villain might just be the devil.  Who wants the hero’s soul. You never know.