Thursday, January 5, 2017

'Eleven Miles of Night': building the haunted road

My supernatural thriller Eleven Miles of Night employs the concept of the“haunted road”. This is the Shaman’s Highway, a reputedly haunted eleven-mile stretch of roadway in rural Ohio. 

Haunted roads figure prominently in urban legends throughout the world. They are usually small sections of a longer route; and the haunting is typically confined to a specific legend or apparition. 

I don’t have to go far from home to find examples of haunted roads: I live close to a haunted area of Ohio Pike known as Dead Man’s Curve. Along this semi-rural portion of Ohio State Route 125, late-night travelers report encounters with a ghostly hitchhiker. The hitchhiker is said to be quite aggressive—motorists claim that he fastens himself to the top of their vehicles, riding with them for several miles. 

Is the legend of Dead Man’s Curve true? I can’t say. I drive that section of Ohio Route 125 about once per month—almost always during the day—and I’ve never seen anything untoward. But you probably won’t catch me driving it between midnight and 1:00 a.m., when the phantom hitchhiker is said to be most active. 

Real or not, there is no shortage of haunted roads. Dig through the Internet, and you can find accounts of them in every U.S. state. 

With all these claims about haunted roads, you would think that they would be turning up frequently in supernatural fiction. To the best of my knowledge, though, there haven't been many novels written about haunted roads. (Stephen King has written two novels about haunted carsChristine and From a Buick 8—but not a single novel about a haunted road. Go figure!) 

In my analysis, the dearth of “haunted road” novels is attributable to the small scale of the story concepts that such novels would inevitably be based upon: Most garden-variety haunted road scenarios simply don’t support a novel. 

Spooky things are happening along a two-mile stretch of a sparsely populated and infrequently traveled road… Okay…That makes an interesting 700-word nonfiction article around Halloween; but you’ll need to do a lot of embellishing in order to get a novel out of that!

For a number of years, I kicked around the idea of writing a novel about the aforementioned Dead Man’s Curve on Ohio Pike. I considered a number of angles, none of which reached the critical mass that a novel needs. 

I may get around to writing a tale about Ohio Pike’s Dead Man’s Curve someday; but it will probably be a novella or a short story, rather than a novel. 

Even before I had fully conceived and named Eleven Miles of Night, I decided that the scope of my “haunted road” novel had to be bigger, badder, and scarier than a single-dimensional urban legend. 

Eleven Miles of Night originally started with a dream. About ten years ago I had a semi-nightmare about a forest filled with dark, lurking, shadows, and various winged creatures. (I suppose you could say this was a very “Lovecraftian” dream of mine.)

The dream fascinated me. I knew there was something I could do with this, but it needed more. For starters, I needed to nail my spooky dreamworld down to a specific setting—a real location.

Lo and behold, I had one that was immediately accessible. 

For about three years during the 1990s, I lived in the town of Wilmington, Ohio. Wilmington was a wonderful place for me, but there wasn't much in the way of weekend entertainment for the twentysomething single man I was then. As a result, I would usually drive to Cincinnati on Friday evening, and return to Wilmington late Sunday afternoon.  

One of the ways to drive to Cincinnati from Wilmington (there are several, but this isn't a travel guide) is to take Route 68 south to Route 32. 

Route 68 is a twisting rural road that cuts through open forest, farmland, and scattered settlements. Portions of the drive are lonely—and a little spooky at the wrong time of day. 

I combined my dream concept of the “haunted road” with my remembered travels down and up Route 68 twenty years ago. That gave me the Shaman’s Highway. (Yes, the town of Wagosh in the novel is loosely based on Wilmington, Ohio—though the town itself doesn't have a major role in the story.)

The Shaman’s Highway of the novel is a hotbed of paranormal activity. There isn't merely a single apparition—there are many of them, and they’re quite diverse. That fictional eleven-mile stretch of Route 68 is haunted by evil spirits, hellhounds, and the ghost of an eighteenth-century witch. 

Why is the Shaman’s Highway so haunted? The road was built atop an old Native American burial ground; and a group of devil worshipers reportedly conducted unspeakable rites there during the 1960s and 1970s. 

I knew right away that this was an idea that had legs: The Shaman’s Highway would be a super-charged paranormal environment, with an entire cast of horrors. 

Of course, the Shaman’s Highway is only one aspect of Eleven Miles of Night. I’ll explore the other elements of the book in future posts. 

(In the meantime, you can sample Eleven Miles of Night on,  or listen to my readings of the book on my YouTube channel.