Author Note on Requiem

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First published in Darkness Within #2, October 1999

REQUIEM was inspired by "true" ghost stories that some bookseller colleagues of mine and I were talking about between serving customers and shelving books at the Coles at St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa.

We began talking about haunted places, when one of my colleagues recounted a tale of a haunted mirrored bureau or cabinet. Apparently, strange things happened when the antique was moved into someone's home and then one family member wouldn't return to the room the bureau was in because when she looked into the mirror she'd seen the reflection of this little girl dressed in Victorian clothes looking back.

The tale, while giving me chills, also called further concepts and questions to mind. The first was that objects, not just houses could be haunted. The second was the idea of a haunted mirror showing an image of the ghost haunting it. So what if the mirror could also reveal other ghosts? And what if those ghosts had all been thrust together by a collector who collects haunted objects?

I began drafting up what I imagined would be a man who would do such a thing. He was elite, French, rich and eclectic - he was a loner who lived off of his parent's wealth in a large mansion by himself. He was paranoid about the outside world, yet fascinated by the supernatural.

Suddenly, I'd found an easy way to isolate my main character - a malfunctioning "black market" security system. After all, the common problem with many ghost stories is not having a clear answer as to why the character doesn't just leave when signs of the ghost first show up? In this case, Peter wanted to see the ghosts - but I had to be able to explain why, after he is frustrated with the endless quarrelling of the ghosts, he didn't just leave? His aversion to the outside world might be enough, but it certainly didn't satisfy me. I considered developing his aversion of people and the outside world into a full-blown phobia, but that would have changed the entire opening sequence. So a little illegally developed security system seemed to fit the bill.

A few years later, and shortly after this tale was published, I went out to dinner with a friend, Peter Halasz, who I'd met in one of the local science fiction circles. Peter is a voracious reader and a collector of Canadian speculative work. I knew he must be extremely well read because he had actually heard of me - it's not as if my writing was in easy-to-find publications.

Most of my stories at that point had appeared in smaller press U.S. publications that couldn't be found on magazine stands in Canada; they could only be found in specialty shops or ordered direct from the publisher. Apart from being well read and thus having a discerning nature about quality writing and stories, Peter is difficult to impress. He is known for his extremely frank and honest nature, which is one of the things that I respect him for. He won't say that something I wrote was good or enjoyable if he didn't actually believe so just to be nice or pad a writer's ego. He doesn't waste time playing those games.

Maybe other writers don't like that quality in a person, preferring to have their ego stroked, but I find Peter's honesty refreshing. If Peter does offer praise, you know it's not being given lightly and it therefore has much more meaning. I get enough of the "oh, it was nice" about my writing and I'd much rather have an in-depth conversation about why the writing didn't work, why it sucked or how it failed the reader in some way than any hollow praise.

(Of course, an in depth: "Here's what I loved and found fascinating about your writing" is a much-preferred alternative, but one has to be realistic while being hopeful).

During our discussion, Peter did praise my ability to tell a story - my pace, timing and, in general, my readable style. In a nutshell, he said I was a good storyteller; but I wasn't a great writer. He illustrated his point by showing me where my writing got lazy, where I didn't pick the best possible way of describing something, or if I simply cheated by filling scenes with stereotypical or ill researched details.

Again, I have to express that while hearing such frankness was not entirely pleasant, I was delighted that Peter was willing to take the time to walk through the story with me, and ecstatic that he cared enough to peel down to the really stinky part of the onion all for the benefit of helping me become a better writer.

One of the first issues that Peter pointed out was the way I'd described the auctioneer. I'd never been to a "gentleman's auction" and seen the way that such an event was carried out. Instead, I inserted the stereotypical country auctioneer often seen in television and movies.

Peter had me corned. Yes, I had taken a shortcut in research and thus began the story with a blatant error. When including this tale in this collection, I considered changing that detail, but I ended up keeping it out of "poetic licence." Although I was technically incorrect, I liked the way I had described the auctioneer's spiel, and since it was such a short scene, I wondered if the average reader wouldn't catch the detail. Maybe it's my impression of our media-based society and the easy lies that television and movies immerse us in that we accept unquestioningly, but I thought I'd try to get away with it again. Besides, there is also the thought that I should be as true to the originally published work as possible.

While I did re-edit some of the sloppy wording and original phrase choices I'd used in the original version of this story, I did purposely leave a few of the gaffs Peter had pointed out in there for similar reasons that I justified to myself. Peter, I hope you understand. In any case, I'm sure we will have a fruitful and interesting discussion about it one day.


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