Whereof what’s past is prologue,
what to come in yours and my discharge.
No story really starts at the beginning.
We always come to a tale medias in res. Events always influence subsequent events. A contrived backstory is like those one-dimensional facades of a western town that you see in an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. And to predetermine a character’s personality traits in advance of the actual telling of the story seems to me the literary equivalent of putting cut-out clothes on a paper doll.
Just like the people we meet, fictional characters have stories unknown to us, stories that have shaped their lives, influenced their decisions, and made them the people they are. The more complete biographies of our fictional characters are not revealed until we get to know these individuals better, through a willingness to listen, a certain relinquishing of control, and a lot of rewriting. To tap a well, you’ve got to drill deep.
Consequently, once a writer has allowed a story to unfurl, he is inevitably left with a bounty of discovered personality traits and untold tales; which is exactly where I found myself after the completion of ECHO LAKE.
Rhea Sinclair’s Diary is a key part of that novel, even though the diary plays in only one scene and a single passage is quoted. The lives of two of the supporting cast are bound by the contents of the gilt-edged journal, and the life of the 12 year-old protagonist will never be the same because of it. More importantly, the contents of the diary presage events that happen in ECHO LAKE, 30 years after the diary was written.
Gripped by curiosity, I decided to do a bit of literary archeology to see what lies inside the red-leather bound book, how it affected the lives of the people around it, then serially post the pages.
Here is where we begin…
Halloween, 1932: a lavish costume ball at the Echo Lake Grand Hotel, hosted by self-styled Scottish mystic Gareth Tavish, who in reality is nothing more than a Depression era rum-runner and ersatz spiritualist. His list of clients consists of the rich and infamous from Midwestern cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland—which is not far from his base of operations, the Echo Lake Spiritualist Camp.
As a climax to the festivities, Tavish concocted a raffle whereby the winners will attend a midnight seance at his private, subterranean spirit room. The group is comprised of US Senator Blake Watson, high-society minx Dinah Shivington, Cleveland mobster Sam Garibaldi, and Rhea Sinclair, wife of millionaire playboy, Kendree Sinclair. The winners assemble, depart the hotel ballroom shortly before midnight, and make the short walk to Gareth’s residence, a yellow house nestled among the cluster of summer cottages across Echo Lake Road.
During the post-midnight debauchery at the Grand Hotel ballroom, one of the seance attendees suddenly reappears in the midst of the revelers: Rhea Sinclair, in a state of catatonia, the sleeves of her costume gown in tatters, hair in wild disarray, her chin and lips smeared and crusted with rivulets of blood.
A subsequent search at the yellow house finds the others slaughtered in their seats at the pentacle-shaped table where the seance was held. Three are dead from gunshot wounds; Tavish is slumped in his chair, his throat torn open.
Upon the orders of her father, wealthy Cleveland industrialist John Drummond, who is intent on squelching any whiff of scandal, Rhea is whisked away and placed in isolation at the nearby Sterns-Carson Sanitarium. In the ensuing days, her incarceration takes on the aspect of a nightmare, a florid dream that envelopes Rhea and all those around her.
I invite you to join me here, and together we will watch each chapter of The Raven Chronicles unfold.
(Chapters are stored chronologically in ARCHIVES.)
©2011 j.edwardfitzgerald all rights reserved