I’m working on three things right now: a couple of short stories and my absurdly ambitious and almost certainly doomed novel. One of the shorts is very much in the MR James vein, the other a moodier piece that ties into a Lovecraft story. The novel might charitably be compared to Stephen King’s It, insofar as it is a stupidly long tale of supernatural huggermugger set in a crumbling New England mill town, albeit one on the cusp of a minor economic revival.
It’s this mill town that’s throwing up some hurdles for me to clear. For one thing, I’ve had to create the topography of the whole damn city (it’s not so loosely based on where I grew up, but to the best of my knowledge, Holyoke doesn’t have the monumental skeleton of a not exactly dead god-thing under it). For another, I’ve had to create more than four centuries of history for the place. Now, I love my worldbuilding as much as the next genre fan, but I have reached the conclusion that I am going to have to learn how to write in a convincing 17th century voice in order to stick the landing on one particularly vital plot thread. You see, the first European family to settle this area is going to have a particularly bad time of things, and the lone survivor is going to end up doing the Tyburn jig on a gallows in Windsor, Connecticut in 1631, and I want to include letters, journal entries, and a trial transcript for all that. And so, I am about to learn a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff so I can tell a silly story about monsters.
But here’s the thing: while I’m not totally jazzed about having to put in this work instead of just being able to plow ahead with the actual writing (although I’m outlining the story beats, lines of dialog, and all the other bits and parts I can lay out right now), I love reading this stuff when other people do it. I’m on record (as much as this place counts as the record) as loving the history of Derry bits of It more than the main plot. In fact, my favorite part of almost every horror novel I’ve ever read is the chapter, somewhere around the 60% mark, where the town librarian, or the occult researcher, or the old priest, or whomever, spells out the true history of the place and the supernatural beastie/curse that haunts it. Whether it’s the backstory on Hill House or the nature of the book Wilbur Whateley dies trying to steal, that’s where the hook catches and I’m caught on the line, ready to be reeled in, gaffed, and gutted.
So how about you? What’s your favorite bit of worldbuilding or backstory?