My wife and I were driving down a shady residential lane in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, one summer day a few years ago when she gestured at a nicely restored old colonial house. As we passed, she said, “I know the man who bought that house. He says it’s haunted.” Oh, really? “Yes. And they told him it was once a brothel.”
This was a few years ago. I was shopping my first novel, Smashed, and also looking for a new project. By the time we got out of the car, I had my title: Ghost Hampton.
A college professor of mine once told us English majors that you only title your work after you’ve written it -- so you know what it’s about. But now it was too late. I was in love with my title and would have to work backwards! Soon enough, I had a climax in mind: a troubled man trapped in an old house with some vicious, deadly supernatural being.
How trapped? Well his wheelchair battery had given out.
What’s he doing in a wheelchair? …Have to get back to you on that.
Where are his friends? He has none.
Family? Just an estranged daughter who wants nothing to do with him.
How did he get in this house? Uhmm…
Why does he have no friends? Err…
I had plenty of work ahead of me. For one thing, I had to move my setting away from the village where my wife and I have a little summer place. Bridgehampton looked good – situated in the middle of the posh Hamptons, but a place with lots of history and a surprisingly small off-season population of 3,000 locals. I’d need to fictionalize the place while creating a memorable cast of year-round characters. And I needed an “inciting incident.”
For my protagonist Lyle Hall and me, that incident coalesced around perhaps Bridgehampton’s most noteworthy landmark: its century-old memorial to those who lost their lives in America’s wars. The big old block of granite, which is real, stands in the middle of the village’s main intersection. That’s what Lyle Hall plows into, driving his Hummer too fast and trying to avoid a sweet old lady who’s blundered into his path. She does not survive. Lyle does, just barely, and when he emerges from coma we see he’s become a pariah in the eyes of an unsympathetic local population. And there’s something more: He can now hear and see disturbing things no one else can. Like the strange whispers that emanate from an abandoned old mansion known to all as “Old Vic.” The whisperers want Lyle Hall.