Dead Works is a psychological ghost story is about a teenager in therapy because he is seeing ghosts. I realize this sentence makes it sound like the movie The Sixth Sense, but the plot is considerably different. My professional life as a professor and a psychologist contributed a chunk of the source material. The psychologist character is a graduate student in counseling psychology who was working on his PhD. The young therapist is doing his practicum placement at the university counseling center and he is assigned a teenage client who is seeing ‘things’. I regularly teach a Practicum course where the students are being supervised while they provide therapy. Much of the context for the novel takes place within the counseling relationship between the teen and the student therapist, the story is told from the graduate student’s point of view. The book was a lot of fun to write.
The original intent of DW was to describe a ghost hunting expedition in a local that does not go according to plan. I had the basic outline in my head, including a shocking ending – well, which seemed shocking at the time I thought of it. One of the characters had a backstory that involved him seeing a therapist when he was a child – in part due to his paranormal experiences (that is, seeing ghosts). I became increasingly interested in this detail to the point that this plot line took over and became the entire focus of Dead Works.
Once I gave in to the urge to make this episode a book in itself, I had to flesh out the story. I knew almost immediately that the bulk of the story had to take place within the context of therapy sessions. Now, conducting therapy is both a humbling and a challenging endeavor. The work can be exciting and interesting, especially for the client and therapist. But to a casual observer, or a reader, the process of therapy may often be as exciting as watching paint dry. Therefore, the dilemma involved finding a way to be accurate and authentic in describing the process, but not necessarily factual. Factually presenting therapy would drive most readers to boredom. I ended up only illustrating the plot-relevant portions of the therapy and not writing about the mundane stuff.
In addition to the “editing job” on the counseling exchanges, I also decided to provide some backdrop to the two main characters: Eric, the grad student psychologist-in-training and Greg, the teenage client. The vast majority of the story is told from Eric’s point of view. About 60% of the time he is in sessions with Greg. Eric’s remaining time is with friends and in class. Eric also needed a complex past for him to handle Greg’s difficult case – so this is covered at length.
The only time the point of view switches to Greg is during some of his counseling sessions. I decided that having him exclusively narrate his ghostly experiences ran the risk of emotionally distancing the impact of these events for the reader. So, to shake things up, the perspective often shifted to Greg as he is relating his accounts. This doesn’t occur all of the time, but enough to provide variety. I think it works well.
More to talk about in future blogs: skepticism, what therapy is like, impact of abuse, and who knows what else.