Writing fiction is an exercise in balance; you balance taking ideas from your imagination with the real world in order to create something believable. It doesn’t matter if you write crime fiction or paranormal romances or science fiction, there has to be enough of ‘real life’ in there to make the story believable to your readers.
In the case of CEMETERY CLUB, a novel about supernatural creatures living beneath an abandoned mental hospital, I was able to base portions of the book on real events and places in my hometown.
From the early 1900s until the 1990s, there was a state-run facility in our town for individuals of all ages and sexes who suffered from a variety of mental and physical illnesses. Like a large number of similar facilities, it was originally designed to provide a positive residence for people who couldn’t be cared for at home or who didn’t have homes. Unfortunately, as so often happens, good intentions fell victim to overcrowding, poor planning, lack of funds, and greedy administrators. And, as we all know, when that happens, bad things follow.
In the case of this facility, that began in the 1930s and 1940s when some of the doctors decided to use patients as experimental subjects. At first, the experiments involved shock therapy and lobotomies. In the 1950s, the programs expanded to include the testing of polio vaccines. More than a few patients died or suffered horribly from these treatments.
In the 1970s, an expose revealed massive overcrowding, with children sleeping in the equivalent of office cubicles, 50 and 60 to a room. Abuse by sadistic or just plain uneducated orderlies was also rampant, and patients were often sprayed with fire hoses rather than bathed. Not to mention the beatings and tauntings and lack of care that also occurred. The expose led to public outcry for reform, and over the years things grew better, but ultimately the facility began to shut down buildings and relocate residents elsewhere. By the late 1990s, all the buildings were empty.
And that’s where the real story begins.
The buildings, which number more than fifty and encompass hundreds of acres, soon fell to ruin. Local youths broke windows and ransacked offices and treatment rooms, destroying or stealing anything of value. As with so many state facilities that close down, everything had been left behind – furniture, patient files, medical equipment, even personal belongings. At the same time, the once-magnificent stone block constructions quickly deteriorated. Trees and ivy grew around the walls, weeds and grass gave lawns a wild look, and animals took up residence inside.
Naturally, the decrepit buildings and lurid history soon led to rumors of ghosts. Urban explorers joined the delinquent contingency and began detailed, careful looting of the buildings, making off with priceless doors, mirrors, and chandeliers, some of them dating back to before 1920. By the time I got around to exploring these buildings, there wasn’t much left. However, I did see enough to get a feel for what the place. I laid inside the storage units in the old morgue. I stood in the room where the electroshock therapy occurred. I looked at dental records and visited the cramped quarters where residents once were confined for days or weeks at a time. I searched through boxes of yellowed patient files, reading descriptions of ‘feeble-minded idiots’ who were regularly raped and abused, both at home and at the facility, and I imagined how terrible their lives must have been.
I also explored the hidden tunnels that lead from one building to the next, maintenance access ways where plumbing and electrical work were done. I stood in the deep basements and peered through holes into walled off rooms, wondering why those rooms had been boarded up, and what terrible things might have taken place inside them. I imagined the screams and weeping that must have echoed through the hallways at night, and if there was any truth to the theory that buildings can soak in the misery of their inhabitants, then it was almost a certainty that the buildings I walked through were haunted, if only by memories.
It was during one of those visits that I got the idea for CEMETERY CLUB, an idea based on the negative energies of places like that taking on metaphysical form and gaining power. From that point, it was just a matter of researching the history of the place a little more and then adding in some historical ‘facts’ about the town itself, thereby creating a place steeped in darkness going back all the way to the first settlers.
JG Faherty has had a varied background that includes working as a laboratory manager, accident scene photographer, zoo keeper, research scientist, and resume writer. Growing up in the haunted Hudson Valley region of New York, some of his favorite playgrounds were abandoned houses and Revolutionary War cemeteries. His hobbies include urban exploring, photography, exotic animal rehabilitation, and playing the guitar. 2012 will see three new books published, CEMETERY CLUB, THE COLD SPOT, and HE WAITS. His past novels include CARNIVAL OF FEAR and GHOSTS OF CORONADO BAY.