Remember that old saw about necessity being the mother of invention? Well, it’s true, at least in my case.
Last year, as I was gearing up to start a new book, two of our four indoor-only cats disappeared. The two who managed to pull a Houdini act were both eleven years old at the time, seniors with no concept of how to handle themselves in the big, bad world out there.
My husband and I spent two weeks in absolute hell, searching for Meerclar (Luna made it home after two days and I managed to catch her), setting out humane traps and checking them every hour on the hour all night long, every night, to no avail. One night—two weeks to the day she’d vanished—the doorbell rang. Samwise (yes, that’s his real name) looked at me sadly and said, “Maybe it’s Meerclar.” I was on the phone at the time so he went to answer the door. The next thing I knew, he was yelling, “I think it’s Meerclar!”
Well, he wouldn’t joke about something like that so I promptly hung up on my friend and raced to the front door. There stood our neighbor, holding a large dog carrier. I glanced inside and there was one thin, scared looking black kitty. Could it be Meerclar? We’d learned all too well that all black cats really *do* look alike. Then, she warbled out a meow and I knew it was her—I recognized that scratchy voice. Bless his heart, our neighbor had seen me running up and down the street over and over again, sobbing as I called for her, and when he caught sight of a black cat that seemed a little too skittish, he and his friend managed to catch her.
We took Meerclar to the emergency clinic and she was fine—needed sub-q fluids and a lot of food, love, and care, but they scanned and her microchip proved it was really her, though she was five pounds skinnier, and we brought her home for a big happy reunion. End of story. Or so I thought.
By that time, my editor was expecting a synopsis on her desk within a day or so. I’d put off writing it while falling apart over the cats and now I had to scramble to make up for lost time. The only thing I knew about the impending book was that I wanted the action to take place in the remains of a house hidden beneath a field of brambles. Years ago I lived in another city where there was a corner lot filled with blackberry vines that had totally taken over. They were so thick and tall that it would be suicide to try and wade through them, and I remember the day when someone bought the land and started clearing them out. Lo and behold, a house emerged from beneath the berry patch—a small house, but a house nonetheless. I was amazed and the image of the hidden house had stayed with me for all those years. So when I first started thinking about writing A Harvest of Bones—the fourth in my Chintz ‘n China Series—I kept coming back to that image.
I knew my basic setting, but I still needed the story to go along with it. My mind kept coming back to our cats who had gone missing, and I started to think about my main character—Emerald—and how she and her family would feel if their beloved cat Samantha disappeared. So—missing cat, house under brambles, what ties them together?
The night before the synopsis was due, as I sat there frantically trying to think up the actual storyline, I found myself staring at a beautiful print I’d purchased. A print of a painting called Autumn Leaves by Diane Romanello, it’s a mystical scene depicting an leaf cluttered path across a still pond, leading to an autumn woodland beyond. As I sat there, looking at the painting, the words to Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott began to run through my head.
“There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.”
And the autumn path, the bramble covered house, the poem, the missing cat, all began to merge into a kaleidoscope in my mind as the story began to unfold.
As I watched the film playing in my head, I saw that the story would surround a tragic, ghostly love story that ended in a mysterious death fifty years in the past. As the brambles were torn aside on the lot next to Emerald’s house, a basement would emerge from a house long ago burned down. The revealing of the basement began to play itself out in the bigger concepts of uncovering hidden secrets, of dislodging the dead from an uneasy slumber. And what better time of year to have this happen than autumn—specifically Halloween, which happened to be Emerald’s birthday?
I also knew that the ghost of a cat would be involved too—not Emerald’s missing Samantha, but Mab, a calico who had belonged to the long dead but never resting Brigit, whose skeleton Emerald finds lodged inside an ancient yew tree.
However, I still needed something more to tie the events of the past to those of the present. I laid out the synopsis for my husband and he suggested that I bind the destiny of the two cats together. One’s fate would rest on the other’s…Mab’s ghost from fifty years ago and Samantha, her mirror from the present.
While Emerald searched for Samantha, Brigit would search for her missing Mab. The two women—one in the mortal realm, the other in the spirit—would be facing the same loss, even as Emerald was trying to solve the riddle of Brigit’s mysterious death so long ago.
Throw in legends from Brigit’s family involving will o’ the wisps and faeries that make their way to the present, add in Emerald’s fears about her own love life, and the discovery of who Brigit’s mysterious lover from the past had been, and in the space of an hour, I had created a rich, gothic mystery that compelled me like no other book I’ve written. Something clicked, and I knew this one would be special.
At midnight, I wrote up the synopsis and emailed it to my editor. The next morning, she called and we tweaked the ending just a bit, and bingo—I was ready to go. My fear and panic from when our cats had been missing, the glimpse of a bramble shrouded house, a painting of an autumn path, and a classic poem all wove together to form the foundation for A Harvest of Bones.
Although I love all the books I’ve written, I think A Harvest of Bones will remain my favorite for a long time. It still haunts me, and it marked a turning point in my writing for me on an internal level.
To read more about Yasmine Galenorn visit her website.