Just a couple of weeks ago, I finalized and published my second book, titled Grymwyck–A PhotoNovel in Portions–Portion One: Arrival. This work is styled somewhat in the same format as Dot’s Journey, except that it is more of a full-fledged novella with photographs.
The Grymwyck project has been in progress for about three years. It all began when I bought a dollhouse…something I’d wanted since I was a kid…go figure. This particular dollhouse had belonged to a local lady who had decorated it in the style of a cutesy Victorian townhouse, with dainty little flowerboxes and a coat of mauve paint. All of that went immediately when I began to work my personal brand of morbid magic on it. I repainted it a stone gray, and drew on crumbling bricks to give it an aged, disrepaired look. The flower boxes stayed, but I ripped out the dainty little flowers and replaced them with Spanish moss, which hung down to give the house a neglected and unkempt appearance.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend toward the Gothic, the macabre, the Hitchcockian and Tim Burtonesque in my artwork and writing. This dollhouse became a showcase for all my unique talents in representing decayed splendor and gone-to-seed elegance.
In creating inhabitants for Grymwyck, via the wonderful product Sculpy-3, I did some deep thinking. Who would live in a dark, gloomy mausoleum of a manse like this if they didn’t have to? And the question immediately followed–what if they did have to? And why?
The answers to these questions eventually led me to develop the ten main characters for what has become an ongoing “photonovel”, a serialized story a la the cult 1960s television series Dark Shadows. Sinister family secrets…ominous characters…Gothic locations…they were all staples of that show, and they are all here, too.
These people I sculpted and painted became the cast, and Grymwyck was the set. And with my digital camera, I shot the “pilot” episode which was then fashioned into Arrival, the first book in the Grymwyck series, published through lulu.com and available for review and purchase on my storefront at right.
Prior to beginning the actual writing of Arrival, I painstakingly built character profiles of all the ten main players, and then created a lengthy backstory for them–everything that had happened to the people associated with the Grymwyck mansion for the past thirty years and beyond. This was an invaluable investment of time, because, as any decent writer will tell you; when you know where you’ve been, you know where you’re going. I had to know what had happened in my characters’ pasts to know what their futures held.
Numerous questions and doubts plagued me as I began writing the first book…would I be able to sustain interest in the project over a period of what might be as long as a decade, until all the installments were written and the full story of Grymwyck was told? Could I keep all the threads of the story straight, and refrain from contradicting myself over time? Did I have enough plot to spread out over as many as nine installments? (Although it appears that there will more likely be about six.)
The answer to all these questions has been a fairly confident “I think so”, even though I have never attempted an anthology project like this before. I have already experienced how my creativity has been stretched and how I have elected to choose paths as a writer that I have never yet traveled. For instance, two of the main characters in Grymwyck are adolescents. I’ve never written anything but adults until now, and so the prospect of entering into the juvenile mind has intrigued me. Also, Grymwyck deals fairly significantly with elements of the supernatural, something else that I haven’t included in my writing since childhood. So this has proved an excellent broadening exercise for me.
The story of Grymwyck begins with the arrival of young Belinda Nathan, who is pretty much alone in the world after the untimely death of her parents, at the melancholy and foreboding Grymwyck estate to interview for a position as personal secretary to Grymwyck’s mysterious matriarch, Margaret Holloway Wetherby. Prior to this, Belinda becomes acquainted with Margaret’s eccentric family…her depressive brother, Job…her put-upon son, Lucas…his alcoholic wife, Katherine…their sheltered and precocious children, Amelia and Thaddeus…the deeply spiritual and proper Cousin Grace Moreland…the hostile servants, Clive and Jane. Belinda is not expected by anyone at Grymwyck except Margaret herself…and the sinister housekeeper, Jane. Her reception by Katherine Wetherby is not very welcoming, to say the least, and Lucas, while friendly enough to the girl, hits the ceiling when his daughter, Amelia, mentions Margaret’s former secretary, Jennifer Bowers, who apparently “didn’t work out”. Hmmm…
Belinda herself is a young woman riddled with self-doubts and dragging quite a load of personal baggage. Having grown up in the shadow of a severely critical and demanding mother, she questions herself constantly, and compulsively second-guesses the motives behind the words and deeds of others. Confronted with the various tensions and hostilities of Grymwyck’s residents, Belinda resolves to leave as soon as possible, job or no job…but all that changes after she meets Margaret Holloway Wetherby herself, who lives in a distant attic bedroom and never comes downstairs to mingle with the family…
In addition to writing graphic novels and their like, I am a playwright. In fact, I have more experience writing for the stage than in any other format. This particular writing “season” actually began with a play, titled Oz After Midnight. (Yes, last year was really spent with Dorothy and Toto.)
I wrote it right before I began work on Dot’s Journey, and it is a more literal re-imagining of the Oz fable, with Dorothy Gale presented this time as a depressed teenager with a deep love for old movies which was instilled in her by her recently deceased mother. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, concerned for Dorothy, take her to a Dr. Osborne for psychiatric evaluation. The smooth-talking physician soon convinces them to leave their niece in his care…especially as in this version, the elder Gales are wealthy. A kidnapping and ransom plot evolves…just as a twister drops, sweeping Dorothy (and her adopted Japanese brother, Toto–don’t you love it?) away to an Oz threatened by civil war and terrorism. The story takes off in its familiar direction from there, except, as in the case of Dot’s Journey, the companions that Dorothy meets on her journey to meet the elusive Count Oz (who arrived out of the air just as she did, many years ago) are all human…a very intelligent hobo who seeks a college education…a generous young man whose heart has been broken by the disappearance of his beloved…a mother-dominated motel keeper with no backbone.
Somehow, in a crazy way, according to those who’ve read it so far, all of this works really well. The familiar story is peppered with cameo appearances by the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age, and at the climax, the Wicked Witch of the West (dubbed Lavinia Vylecroft) hypnotizes Dorothy into believing that she is a movie star. It all makes sense in the telling. 😉 I illustrated the script of Oz After Midnight in the same manner that I did Dot’s Journey and Grymwyck; my first attempt at the medium. The finished result, a “Play with Pictures”, is something of a hybrid between a novel, a play and a graphic novel; a format all my own. It’s a lot of fun and just as entertaining to read as it probably would be to see performed…but I am waiting until the play gets a production before I publish it, as nothing polishes a playscript like a full-scale mounting.
The same is true of my very first play, which I have finally submitted, along with Oz After Midnight, for local production. Originally titled Confined, I worked on this play for over twelve years; the process served as a kind of Playwriting 101 for me…and 200 and 300 and so forth, as my writing grew more polished and the story gained more depth and believability. I recently reworked this script for about the seven hundred and eighty-fifth time, and rechristened it Below The Surface. The story tells of the Donovans, a wealthy and affluent family with more than their share of skeletons in the closet, who are paid a visit by one Richard Latimer, a young man with romantic designs on the oldest of the two Donovan daughters, Clarissa. During his visit, another character winds up dead and Richard finds himself framed for the killing by the autocratic and devious Mr. Donovan, Clarissa’s father, who, along with her hostile mother, will seemingly stop at nothing to prevent any relationship from developing between Richard and Clarissa. A subplot concerns the recent return by Clarissa’s younger sister, Lydia, from a mental institution. Think you’ve got it figured out? I doubt you do. I probably worked harder on Below The Surface than I ever did on anything else I’ve ever written, and that is at least partly because I did not know who the characters were when I started writing. I found out over the next twelve years; an exercise in sustaining interest in a project if ever there was one. I’m still interested in these people and their story…and I feel that audiences would be, too. As it is, I illustrated the script with fragmentary photographs of hands…eyes…speaking mouths…which lend a striking and appropriately mysterious effect to the dark and intense storyline. I’m proud of Below The Surface, even in its present form. It’s very readable, and I daresay it would be very watchable, as well. Again, I won’t be publishing this one in book form until it gets a production…hopefully soon.
And that brings us to the final project in this first “season” of what I think of as my earnest efforts at writing. I wrote this play, The House Down The Lane, three years ago. It is a melodramatic thriller, my favorite genre, and it turned out fairly well, but I was never happy with the middle section, which was comprised mainly of lengthy monologues. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, though, and so I left it alone. Recently, I came back to it, determined to rework it as I had Below The Surface, and I am just beginning that process now. I will be illustrating the script as I did the other two, and have the miniature “set” and “characters” ready. The story centers around the attractive and wealthy Priscilla Herrington, who, after being stranded with her best friend, Ardis Montgomery, by car trouble one stormy night, seeks shelter at an apparently deserted ramshackle house down a nearby lane, natch. The house, according to Ardis, has quite a reputation, as the family who once inhabited it, the Velmoores, was murdered by burglars thirty years ago…all except for one; the wife and mother, who managed to gun down the burglars, but not in time to save her family. Before long, Ardis vanishes in the clutch of a fearsome creature who pops out of a cabinet, and Priscilla is confronted with a shotgun by none other than the surviving member of the Velmoore clan…the formidable Widow Velmoore herself. The plot thickens as the Widow Velmoore’s servants and family members appear, and become very unsettled when they learn that Priscilla’s husband is Dr. Colin Herrington, the head physician at the local looney bin, Warwick Psychiatric Home…and this is just the beginning.
As with my other work, I have quite an affection for The House Down The Lane, and I look forward to seeing it in a better, more fully-realized version; perhaps, in the future, mounted on the stage. But for now, I intend to make the script as entertaining and readable as possible, complete with photos of a “production” in miniature, to be published after being given a production for real.
I will post frequent updates, and photos, on my progress.