on May 14, 2014
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Basia wakes up in an abandoned insane asylum and has no idea why she is there, or why the doors and windows are barred shut, trapping her inside. As she searches for a way out, she finds the asylum’s files – including her own, though she does not remember being diagnosed and admitted. Are the ghosts that haunt her real or imagined? Will she escape in time to find the truth, and confront the doctor who left her there? Or will she die, trapped, alone, and confused?
Burning Darkness is one of those story ideas that hit me like a ton of bricks. I was driving to a concert my friend’s band, Sinfinis, was playing, listening to their first album – The Edge of the Knife – on the way. The song “Perfect Surface” came on. The first line of the song is, “I don’t want to wake up. I don’t want to wake up.” BAM! Ideas started racing through my head!
What if I wrote a story about a girl who was trapped in an abandoned insane asylum? The story would start with Basia waking up, somehow knowing it would be better if she didn’t, and fighting to stay in peaceful sleep. But she does wake up, and discovers the doors and windows are all barred shut, trapping her inside. The story would show her trying to escape, and having to figure out why she was there in the first place – for she doesn’t remember ever being admitted to a mental institution.
I’m a huge fan of the musician Emilie Autumn, whose songs are often about mental illness and asylums. The aesthetic of her live shows was another influence on Burning Darkness. I wanted the dark, mysterious, creepy asylum feel in my novel. So I added a mysterious voice that Basia hears, though she isn’t sure if it’s real or just in her head. The reader spends a large chunk of the novel wondering the same.
I first tried to write Burning Darkness for National Novel Writing Month in 2010. I got about 30,000 words into the story before I couldn’t stand to write another word. You see, at the time, I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of a fire that had occurred in my apartment building the first week of November. I was determined not to allow that to get the best of me, so kept trying to write. I wasn’t focused enough, however, and the story turned into something awful that I never wanted to look at again. So I threw in the towel.
I still wanted to write this story, though. It stayed in the back of my head for another two years, and I tried again to write it for National Novel Writing Month in 2012. This time, I planned it out. I wrote a loose outline. I knew the characters. I knew the beginning, middle, and end of the story. I wouldn’t be as easily derailed this time.
By the end of November, I had a completed story that I was somewhat happy with. I set it aside to finish editing my first published novel, Divided, and didn’t think about it for almost another year, but I knew I wanted to polish it up and publish it.
Finally, at the end of 2013, I got back to Burning Darkness. I went through all the usual steps (beta readers, editing, etc) of publishing a novel. I had great feedback from my editor. Despite this, I was unsure whether the story was any good or not. I didn’t feel like it was creepy enough. I was marketing it as a psychological thriller, but wasn’t sure if there was enough “psychological” or “thriller” elements in the story. I was scared the book would be a total flop. This is the most self-doubt I’ve ever experienced with a book (so far.)
My first reader said it was very creepy and had a Stephen King vibe to it – was that what I was going for? YES! I exclaimed. Yes it was! Another reader said the same. I started to feel better about the creepy factor of the book.
Then I got an Amazon review that said, “I REALLY DON’T KNOW HOW TO RATE THIS BOOK BECAUSE IT SCARED THE SH– OUT OF ME IT IS SO MIND BENDING AND DARK.”
My job is complete.