Yes, having sent a story out last night — the final, much-reworked product of what was once known as “The Crystal Methuselah” and which is now known as “Cai and her Ten Thousand Husbands” — I’ve thrown aside all plans and provisional notions, including my plan for a second Machines of Death story — to draft, in a whirlwind, the first half of a new ghost story.
I didn’t get to it until sometime after midnight, mind, and I’d spent hours cleaning, tidying, rearranging furniture to ease things in the next week, as Lime may have to crash here while we apartment-hunt… depending on what happens with my recently-screwed-up housing situation.
Anyway, it’s yet another tale set in Korea, another ghost story in Korea, in fact (that makes 3 so far including my novel draft), and it’s probably at its roots inspired by the experience I’ve had going to my office late at night — there’s a boiler room in which the light is always left on, over in an adjacent building, and even knowing it’s a boiler room, I get creeped out whenever I go past it, because the light in there is always on. Always.
Anyway, the interesting thing I’ve noticed is that there are a few places in which ghost stories — and especially Korean ghost stories — seem to take place. One of them is in the domestic sphere, which is natural: ghost stories have been taking place in uncomfortable, dark, or otherwise unheimliche homes for ages now. (Freud’s got some ideas as to why, in an essay of his on the unheimliche, which was one of the few things written by the man that I actually found worthwhile.) For reasons similar to Freud’s, it’s not surprising that another popular setting for Korean ghost stories is the high school, especially — and tellingly — the girl’s high school. The famous, and to me mostly enjoyable series “Yeogo goedam” (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 are listed on IMDB: I’ve seen them all, and saw part 1 at what I think was its North American premiere, at the FantAsia festival in Montreal many years ago. The director was even there, and seemed most proud of the one thing I didn’t like, the bit where the walls bled.)
Anyway, as I say, high school and the home seem to be the primary places where ghost stories in Korea are told. I don’t actually know of any that are told in any place other than that. And me being the kind of person I am, I decided I wanted to set a ghost story in someplace other than that.
What’s the least haunted place in life? Well, the interesting thing is that places are also easily connected to stages in life. The stage of life that high school is connected to most clearly is obvious — the pressures of that time are enough grist for a million horror stories, much moreso in Korea than in any middle-class North American high school, I’d imagine. (Inner city schools are probably a different story.) And if you look at the kinds of characters that feature centrally in domestic horror stories in Korea, you find it’s often adult women of marriageable age — especially those who are in-between roles, halfway out of the home and halfway in it, and whose marriages are far from perfect — and children.
What seems to me the least likely place for a ghost story? Why, the cheery, friendly, relaxed, party-like-it’s-1999 atmosphere of the freshman university student… especially the sort who, in some minor university in the countryside, is there not to study, but to network, date, and have fun after the drudgery of high school is finished. And most especially the non-studious Japanese-haired boys smoking out by the soccer field, and the pretty, thoughtless freshman girls in their miniskirts, wearing their indefatigable smiles, for whom life is a series of coffee appointments, soju parties, dates, and somewhat resented class-attendance obligations. Can I render such a straightforward, sunlight-and-soju-drenched world as that frightening?
Well, I’m not Geoff Ryman, so I’m not going to make this one a sunny, cheery ghost story. I actually read his story while listening to The Decemberists, if that tells you anything. Well, and I myself listened to the endlessly cheery stylings of DeliSpice’s 2nd album as I drafted the first half of this story. But I’ll have to dig out something a little darker, because everything’s all started to come back to haunt my protagonist.
I’ve hit almost 2400 words tonight, and I have a pretty clear idea of where this is all headed, which is cool. IT doesn’t often happen that I know my destination from the start, but a lot of this story burst into my head, fully formed. I think I’ll watch that old Yeogo Geodam 3 DVD that I’d had sitting on my shelf, and keep my eyes peeled for things to avoid.
I shall, however, have to promise myself to draft my next few stories in settings outside of Asia. Not everything I’ve written lately is set here, but most of what I’ve sent out has been.
By the way, for those wondering, yes, that picture is mine. I don’t mean to say anything bad about the girl in the photo, of course. She could be an excellent student. But the slogan on her T-shirt makes an appearance in my story, worn by a character who is very much not a good student. I’ve always thought this was a neat picture, for something I snapped without looking through the viewfinder.