Genre Talk

Oh Death, Where Are Thy Tracks?

Hello Paranormal Unbounders! I’m pleased to welcome KM Tolan back to the Paranormal Unbound blog today. KM has a few things to say about a writer’s take on death. Take it away, KM! …

Hi folks, KM Tolan here to talk about that shadow lurking in the corner of many paranormal novels – the Great Beyond. Sure, sure, half the fun is getting there, often courtesy of tearing teeth and other grave delights. Lets, uh, step around the goo and consider what’s next, though. Said character is corpus, and for many writers that’s pretty much the end of it. Oh, you might get ye olde bright light, but the author’s job is over with that dearly departed.

image, Tracks Book coverOr not. A least not in my case when I had to take a character over to the other side and back again. The rules for writing a given scene won’t care a whit if you’re now heaven bound. You have to ground your character and give them orientation. You have to present a stage a reader can relate to. Finally, and this was most important for me, the “other side” needed to align itself with the story. In my case, this was a story about hobos and trains. This was my fantasy novel “Tracks”.

Heaven had to be a real place for me, and fortunately I wasn’t without some tidbits of research. Hobos had a term for dying, it seems. They called it “taking the Westbound”. Add to that the hobo euphemism for heaven – the “Rock Candy Mountain”. Even had a song made about it, but I digress. I had a train and a…candy mountain. Yeah. Lots to go on, there.

The transition to heaven ought to be interesting and not some tunnel o’ light or escorting angels. I had a train to catch, and the first thing coming to mind was a good ol’ fashioned ghost train. Didn’t take too much research before I heard about this blue light floating down the tracks. Supposedly it was the railroad lamp of a conductor who perished along with the Number 9 when it went off the Bostonian Bridge back in the 1800’s. I had my ideal Westbound. Even better, I had a bridge to span the gap between this life and the next.

Now about that mountain. Crystalline structures glinting in the sunlight. Beautiful landscapes and rainbow colors. This was the Rock Candy Mountain for real, and of course it had certain magical properties useful to my story. I now had an actual world to move my character around in, and a conveyance with its own ghostly past. I added in rules and ritual (a lot harder going back down those tracks than up them) and dealt with the arrival at the Westbound as a quiet interlude after the storm. Oh, and give the train’s engine a steam whistle that will send shivers down your back late at night.

There are two forces at work here for me as a writer when it comes to portraying the hereafter. One is to provide a setting that can both test my character and make him grow. The other is to keep the reader entertained while on solid footing. I want them to feel the chill, the unworldly, and the beauty of a heaven as seen through the romance of hobo eyes.

The point here is that it’s often more fun to step through that light and keep walking rather than stop at the threshold. Heaven can be what your characters want it to be. Research when appropriate, and be assured that inspiration will follow. Don’t forget that every land has its rules and limitations, Even up there (or down there for that matter). Take some of the sting out of death – or inject the venom deeper. Your choice.

— KM Tolan

About TRACKS
image, Tracks Book coverVincent’s sister is swept away by a steam locomotive riding rails that vanish along with her. Ten years later he rediscovers those tracks, and heads down them to bring her back.
Ever look out a train car’s window and think the world rushing by isn’t yours? Welcome to Hobohemia, where hobo kings vie with rail barons over the value of the human spirit, and steam engines still ply the living rails. Vincent arrives searching for his long lost sister, but quickly finds himself immersed in a battle to stop the Erie Railroad from unleashing a horror that will see the end of hobo jungles and craftsmen alike.

Amazon | Celia’s Review

About KM Tolan:
I’m a software engineer working here in Austin, Texas. I was born and raised near Port Huron Michigan, and entered the US Air Force first as a soldier (Security Police) where I saw combat first hand. After that, I moved on to airborne electronics and finally out into the private world again where a string of events saw me with a lovely wife, two kids, and a career in programming that I continue to enjoy. So what made me a writer? As a kid, I consumed libraries of any SF or Fantasy I could find. This continued on with paperbacks, and I finally decided that I could channel a rampant case of day dreaming into something constructive. I learned the basics (it’s not all art, you know) and began the long journey toward publication.

Learn more about KM from his Q&A with Celia on Paranormal Unbound –>

Connect with K. M. Tolan
Website | Facebook

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