Oh, my sweet, ugly duckling On Hallowed Lanes.
You were partially good. The basic idea of Brianna and Garrett taking a road trip together sans ghosts (kind of) was a fun idea for a novella that both unfortunately ballooned out unnecessarily and never found its way until the very last few chapters.
I liked the actual road trip part of you. Thanks to friends from Canada like Andy Shelgrove, whop provided me with an awesome, exhaustively-researched theoretical list of must-see places around Alberta, I had a great selection of places Brianna and Garrett would go on their month long vacation.
I loved, absolutely loved, researching those towns, cities, and parks, and then implementing minutia into the novel. Even if I’ve never been to Canada, there was a coolness to being able to watch Point A to Point B videos on Youtube and being absolutely certain I had the lanes of traffic right, or what the wilderness or plains looked like. In a very fun way, On Hallowed Lanes was a road trip from the comfort of my office chair.
I looked up scores of restaurants, hotels, city parks, local tourist sites, and shopping centers. Dozens of places I’d love to visit myself someday got mentions. It was a joy to write about all these places, about their journey through Alberta and the British Columbia.
And it was a joy too to write about Garrett and Brianna’s conflict. For the first time since Shifting Furies, we see them arguing – real arguing, relationship arguing – as the honeymoon, both literally and metaphorically, comes to an end. They wind up stronger for it, despite having shouted the truth of their darkest, angriest feelings at one another.
That last bit, that was the main thrust of the “monster” plot, which turned out kinda cool and might see the light in a future novel. The gist is that a powerful teenage empathic vampire of sorts (she feeds off others emotions) is rendered comatose in an accident. Her body winds up in the hands of the Not Right Man, a jarringly disgusting taxidermist who has, through alchemy, kept the young woman alive as he poses her body in his basement for the use of his small town’s sickos.
None of that is revealed until the final few chapters. The Not Right Man barely gets a mention at all, actually – he’s in a total of three scenes, which ended up being a surprisingly decent decision. The focus on the monster end of things became the young woman’s spirit, which has been caught in limbo here on Earth – and which has lost its mind. Still in control over her powers, she murders those she deems guilty, and latches onto Garrett Moranis instinctively both because of his guilt and his sight.
In essence, she is slowly feeding on both Garrett and Brianna throughout their road trip, leaving their emotions raw and unchecked. In fits of rage at two points, they admit their worst feelings about each other, nearly dying as the teenager ghost thing feeds on their rage and anger and guilt before Garrett realizes what’s happening.
All that made for a pretty decent plot, all told, with another “monster” people could empathize with when the truth is revealed and a true monster behind the scenes.
Half of the plot was also Garrett Moranis relating a story about how he obtained a gold cross in his safe. It was meant to be a warming story, told in broad tall tale strokes throughout the book only to reveal a much more boring truth at the end. If I had kept it grounded, it might have worked, but it torpedoed the novel in a hurry.
The idea is that Garrett is roped into helping an aging woman steal a book from a rich man’s library during a fundraiser. This escalates into an Ocean’s Eleven type break from the fundraiser’s security room, escalating into a pursuit (as Garrett drunkenly adds more and more to the story) by robots, snipers, and dozens of corrupt police officers.
The one thing I’ve found with the Rankin Flats novels is that the more absurd they get, the more I struggle writing them. For books about monsters and guys who see ghosts, the best moments are the simple ones about love, brotherhood, and the cost of doing the right thing. In that regard, writing the chapters about the gold cross became a slog. I had no fun writing them and it showed on the page. It wouldn’t have been much of a problem if these chapters were isolated – simply cutting them out and replacing them with the eventual truth would have been easy (which was that Garrett saw an elderly woman pickpocketing things from a fundraiser, caught her doing it, was accused of it himself, and took the blame to let her escape, since she was clearly suffering from a mental fugue – and that when he eventually returned to his hotel, he found both a wallet the woman had stolen from him as well as a gold cross).
Instead, though, this is a story Garrett and Brianna actively talk about throughout their road trip. I’ll maybe someday go back and do a thorough edit to the story, and reduce it to the novella it was originally meant to be, but the task is, frankly, not worth the effort. If I ever develop a rabid fanbase who adore the Rankin Flats novels so much they demand it, sure, I guess. It’s really not a bad novel at heart. It’s just riddled with problems.
I’m happy to say that certain elements wind up in other stories. In particular, I managed to salvage what is probably the best single section in the entire series for a flashback scene in Plague of Life. I’ve also posted snippets from it elsewhere on this blog, portions of the novel I don’t want to sink into nothingness.
So goodbye, On Hallowed Lanes. You were a great idea, and I’m sorry I couldn’t do you justice.
Tomorrow, we get into the meat of the most currently published novel in the series, Smyle. And whoooo boy, are we gonna get dark. Stay tuned, and be sure to look out for Plague of Life, coming the 21st (barring any problems).