Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Deadly Light – Outline

 What follows in this entry is the outline I used while working on Deadly Light this November. At some points I made changes to the outline as the story evolved during writing. In other places I left the original notes even though they don’t match the final version.

Obviously some serious spoilers here, so you might want to read the book before digging in.


A novel about things definitely not quite right in a small Midwestern university town.

When they were in fifth grade, Ben Whittaker and Rachel Rosen encountered something evil in the basement of their school. Released into the world, the darkness pursues them through high school and into young adulthood.

Dramatis personae

The heroes

Ben Whittaker
            Mom is a student
            Dad is head research librarian

Rachel Rosen (Isaacs? in the manuscript)
            Mom is a history professor
            Dad is freelance tech writer

Danny Cranmer (Miller in the manuscript)
            Mom is a housewife
            Dad works at the fertilizer plant

Donald Burns (Crenshaw in the manuscript)
            Mom works at a laundry
            Dad is dead (industrial accident at the plant)

The helpers

Bonnie Saxon
            Fifth grade teacher

The villains

Ludislaw “Lonny” Dubowsky
            Fifth grade bully

Jacob Johanssen
            The janitor, proud owner of the spanking machine

The neutrals

Mathias “The Dingleberry” Blevins
Principal Gardner

The town of Summer Falls, Kansas
            Home of Fort Benteen State University
            Historic home of William “Deadeye Bill” Cavanaugh
            And thus the Deadeye Days festival every fall
            The place has an ANFA Fertilizer Plant

Part One – The Spanking Machine

As this will be the third goddamn time I’ve written this story, the plot by now should be fairly familiar

Thought – introduce the Wild West character, something like Wild Bill. An evergreen that the kids watch, squeaky clean Western hero contrasted with the plaques downtown about all the people he shot. Historical record later turns out the reveal that Town was the only place he ever had a reputation for killing people

Star Wars hits theaters on May 25, 1977, which was definitely the end of our fifth grade year.

Part Two – Childish Things

This follows the characters from part one into high school, where fate mixes them up in different ways but the darkness they invoked as children comes back for another stab at them

This time Rachel is the protagonist, Ben the lead helper

Our characters:

Rachel Rosen, member of the Jocks (girls auxiliary). Focuses heavily on basketball performance and schoolwork

Ben Whittaker, member of the debate team

Anna Szewc (pronounced “chef”), Ben’s debate partner. Also in the early stages of dating

Danny Cranmer, on the football team but not exactly the star, plenty talented but not popular with the coach or other players because outside of sports he’s got the punk rock artist thing going

Donald Burns, straight up stoner, inhabitant of shop classes


Janice Collins, physics teacher – Rachel’s favorite, they identify with each other because they’re both women interested in science. Rae feels comfortable asking Miss Collins physics questions, even weird ones related to the problem

Bernice Stewart, newspaper reporter – As a reporter for the Summer Falls newspaper, Bea keeps an eye on the town and notices when things go amiss.


Jacob Johanssen – Turns out the grumpy old janitor used to be a science teacher at the high school (Collins was one of his students). He had some kind of problem (details fuzzy) and had to move to a different job. Now he’s obsessed with tracking down the Rip that was released when the Spanking Machine vanished.

Richie Dean – Early in this section we learn from Danny that Richie talks to his dead brother’s ghost. The problem turns out to be much worse than that.

The Rip – In this part of the book we start to get more of an idea what we’re up against. Johanssen describes it as “a rip in the universe.” It’s sort of the non-Euclidian geometry of energy, an imbalance that – in its current, weakened capacity – is capable of causing mental illness in individuals who’ve come too close to it, but not much more. The worst part is … it’s sentient (though we may not find that out for sure until Act Three)


Phone call - Thursday, Oct. 7, 1982
establishes changes between Rachel and Ben
introduces Anna (Ben’s girlfriend)
reveals that Rachel’s parents are divorced
mention that she needs to get to bed because of upcoming King Henry Night

Rachel attends football game – Friday, Oct. 8
Observations about Danny that establish his character
Richie sitting by himself, acting odd

King Henry Night – Friday into Saturday morning
            The Outsiders gather for a game of pool
            Donald character development
Also theme of the re-emergence of the threat
            Richie Dean talks to his brother’s ghost
            Conversation between Rachel and Ben about fifth grade
            Confronting the sensed presence in the box
            Discussion of Rae’s decision to crank up the volume
            Discussion of Johanssen and Richie Dean
Johanssen lurking about afterward

Discussion with Linda Collins – Tuesday, Oct. 12
            Monday Columbus Day, giving Rae the long weekend to obsess
            EB Film – Introducing Atoms
            Rachel asks questions about things disappearing completely
            From a physics point of view
            Also the bending of space, like in Dr. Who’s TARDIS
            Question about non-Euclidian geometry brings up Johanssen
            He taught math and science in high school / Collins was a student
            Moved to grade school janitor after teaching unorthodox theory to classes

Hallway encounter with Richie Dean
            “You were there.”

Prelude to Deadeye Days – Thursday, Oct. 14
            Working on downtown decorations (team assignment)
            Paired up with Anna, so they get to interact
            Anna notes the coach’s language about teams
            Danny interrupts, takes her on tour of downtown
            They look at all the plaques where Deadeye Bill killed someone
            Conclusion: he wasn’t a hero as much as he was a serial killer
            Also legend of Hangman’s Bridge / evil spot
            Rachel stops by her old spot under the bridge, senses something cold, dark
            Notes the presence of a dead refrigerator

Deadeye Days – Friday, Oct 15
            Starts in Rachel’s house
            Her mom is concerned about her lack of enthusiasm / appetite
            Rachel opts not to tell her about Danny’s revelation
            Description of downtown, with festival booths and the like
            Rachel sees Ben and Anna, buys soda and brings it to them
            Remembering that Anna loves Diet Coke, which was new in 82
            B and A wander off toward the rides in a nearby parking lot
            Rachel stays to listen to the band
            Johanssen shows up with a shotgun
            “You were there!”
            Shot (wounded) by sheriff while attempting to attack Rachel
            That night Rachel can’t sleep
            Notes that Johanssen couldn’t have known who was “there”

Bea Stewart comes sniffing – Saturday, Oct. 16
            Bea shows up
            News focus
                        Whether or not to cancel festival
Sheriff wounding rather than killing
            Asks Rachel about Johanssen
            Interview heats up when Bea starts to suspect that Rachel is hiding something
            Rae’s mom throws her out

“Accident” at school – Monday, Oct. 18
            Class disturbed by sirens outside the school
            Someone’s taken out on a gurney
            And someone else is led to the sheriff’s car in handcuffs
            Screaming all the way

Meeting of the original four – Tuesday, Oct. 19
            Plus Anna gets dragged into it (initially tough sell with Danny)
            Turns out she already has a short version from Ben
            Everyone brought up to speed
            Details of the shop class incident
            In shop class, Richie almost kills/maims Donald
            Says he wants to partner up, so teacher agrees (Donald’s usual partner is out)
            Then tries to drag Donald’s arm into a table saw
            Arrested, as he’s being dragged away Ritchie shouts “He was there!”
            Observation: it’s an odd thing for Ritchie to say, because Donald wasn’t there
            Rachel tells about her hallway brush with Ritchie
            And she gets into the theory about how the thing escaped

Rachel and Ben / Anna seek out Bea – Wednesday, Oct. 20
            The tale of something like this happening before, back in the 30s
            Decision to sneak into Johanssen’s hospital room

The hospital room – Thursday, Oct. 21
            Bea dressed as nun, Rae as candy striper
            Johanssen heavily sedated, still shows some agitation about Rae
            Who leaves Bea alone with him
            And gets roped into some job because she looks like a volunteer
            Doesn’t reveal much, but the clues lead to stuff in his house

Post “break in” conversation with Bea – Saturday, Oct. 23
            The notebooks, which explain a little
            “A rip in the fabric of the universe”
            One of the notebooks is missing

Taking the physics questions to Collins – Tuesday, Oct. 25
            Rachel loaned her the notebooks the day before
            Some trouble accepting
            Discussion of rebuilding the Punitator

The school shooting – Wednesday, Oct. 27
            Ritchie shoots up the place
            Ben saved by being out sick
            Donald figures it out, sees Ritchie in the hallway
warns Danny and Rachel; they hide
Sheriff (called by Donald) shoots Ritchie
            But Collins and Anna are killed
            Ritchie is captured by the cops
            Screams that he wanted to kill himself but “the job isn’t done”
            Out on the front lawn, Drexel: “Winged another one.”

The aftermath – Saturday, October 30
            At Anna’s funeral
            Bea discovers that Ritchie had a list
            All the names on it (including her own) were people who knew about the Rip

Part Three – Homecoming

December, senior year of college. Protagonists called back by the death of Donald. Story is told alternating between Rachel and Ben’s perspectives. Relationship with lead support renews, and together they face a final showdown with the rotten core of their home town.

Ben comes home (Ben) – Thursday, December 17, 1987
            Driving home from CU Boulder
            Stuck in a motel when snow closes the interstate
            Mental illness revealed – claustrophobia (feeling surrounded by snow)
            Also sleeping with the lights on
            Ponders coming back, the fear early on that the Rip would get him
            Still a feeling of unease

Rachel comes home (Rachel) – Friday, December 18
            Stays with her mother
            Who is alcoholic and distant / suffering from extreme loneliness
            Art History professor Mom has taken down all of the art from the walls
            Dad’s space downstairs is still there
            Mental illness revealed – obsession with re-trapping the Rip

Funeral (Ben) – Saturday, December 19
            At least brief coverage of the funeral
            Danny low humming “I Am Chicken Man”
            Ben’s family attends / little brother Mikey has become a surly teen
            Visits Anna’s grave

A visit to the local tattoo shop for memorial ink (Ben cont’d)
            Shop is downtown where a barber shop used to be
            More detailed description of how Donald met his end
            “Industrial accident” – he sawed his own arm off
            Tattooist is unnaturally surly (Danny: “He isn’t usually like that”)
            Will do a tattoo only for Danny
            Danny moans about how Donald was a better friend than they were
                        Even knew which classes they were in before the shooting started
            Danny’s too far gone (drug addiction, grief and panic) to be of much help
            Revelation that his dad killed himself
            Giving up on Danny and retiring to Lindy’s to work things out
            Gossip from Sarah Kensington

A visit to Bea (Rachel) – Sunday, December 20
            Who is retired and lives quite a distance out of town
            Sign on her mailbox says “Bernice Stewart” / Rachel thought it was Beatrice
            Says she’s “fearful of what the town is becoming”
            The Rip killed her husband in an effort clearly designed to kill her
            Mentions that Deadeye Bill had no history of violence outside Summer Falls
            Putting the pieces together
            Rachel thinks she’s re-created the Punitator
            But is afraid to try it out, figuring they’ll get only one shot
            And according to her calculations, the energy to fuel it will be hard to find

A visit to Johanssen (Ben) – Monday, December 21
            The trick of getting in to see a patient at Larned State Hospital
            Johanssen agrees to meet only after he finds out who they are
            Conversation with doctor about secretly monitoring the meeting
            He was keeping it as a pet
            It doesn’t feed on fear
            Putting chickens, pigs, dog in didn’t do anything
            So there’s something about humans
            Ominous warning, J’s sense that the Rip was driven mad by confinement
            Uses subtle workings of the brain to cause mental illness
            And uses that to manipulate victims to ensure its own security
            It moves in time as well as space (five year intervals)
            It’s sentient (made the Punitator disappear, targets specific people)
            Suddenly turns paranoid about being recorded and clams up
Encountering Richie
                        Surprisingly no violent reaction
                        Drugs? Removal from the influence of the Rip?

Incident at Rachel’s house (Rachel) – Tuesday, December 22
            Rachel wakes up late
            Jeep’s gone
            Reveals location of the fifth, missing notebook
            It’s in his old desk in the elementary school
            Breaking in to the boarded up elementary school to get the notebook
            Back at the house, Jeep is back
Finds mom dead, apparent suicide
            Enormity of the situation (and her role in it) comes crashing in
            Spawns major obsessive incident
            Begins to furiously study the notebook

Incident at Ben’s house (Ben)
            Mikey does something horrible at dinner, injures himself and/or parent
            Requiring trip to local hospital / Ben drives Mikey / “You were there”
            Where there’s an unusually large crowd of victims in the ER waiting room
            People from all sides, university and townie
            Ben calls Rachel, has to leave (family angry)

Danny attempts to blow up the fertilizer plant (Rachel)
            Ben arrives, Rachel fills him in
            Revelation that the Punitator box reflected Rip energy into the circuits
            Making the Rip the power source for its own prison
            They need beryllium, which they don’t have
            Ben posits the theory that its years in solitary drove it insane / Prof. Rosenberg
            While Ben and Rachel are trying to make a plan, Danny calls
            Tells Rachel and Ben, tries to enlist their aid
            Is seen by a “possessed” townie, hangs up

The whole town goes insane (Ben)
            Car rammed by “drunk” Coach Drexel, who menaces them and verbally attacks
            Sheriff shows up and shoots the coach without provocation
            “Didn’t wing ‘em that time!”
            Rachel does a Razzie-worthy acting job, which Bell buys
                        So he gives them a ride back to her house for another vehicle

Downtown (Rachel)
            Crossing town square to get to the fertilizer plant, Egg breaks down
            Townspeople acting strangely
                        Tattoo guy dead / church lady inking herself
                        Old history teacher in a robe and then naked
            Presence is faintly visible, like heat waves off asphalt only much sharper
            Street lights blow / Ben feels phobia coming on / Rachel has flashlight
            Walking past Hangman’s Bridge on the way to the plant
                        A cluster of townsfolk, some of whom appear to be armed
                        Lit by lanterns
                        Old woman with a baseball bat

At the fertilizer plant (Ben)
            Danny’s making a mix of ammonium nitrate and oil
            Danny talked down / rescued by Rachel and Ben
            Who explain the situation to him

Denouement - getting to Hangman’s bridge to use the Punitator (Rachel and Ben both)
            Using Danny’s mix to start a fire to drive off the guards
            The “sharp heat wave” ripples from elsewhere are a huge swell here
            Each wave brings a new tide of each mental illness
            Emanating from the box, obviously the abandoned Punitator
            Rachel overcome with illusion of drowning
            Ben overcome with illusion of darkness closing in
            Danny manages to grab the device, trigger it, drop it in the box
            Its death agony rips him apart, leaving nothing but his legs

Repairing the damage
            Rachel and Ben meet under Hangman’s Bridge
            Why had it hidden in the only thing that could kill it?
                        Ben suggests the physics explanation
                        Rachel supplies the psychological

Adjustments to part one
            Switch meat processing plant to fertilizer plant
                        A la West Fertilizer Company
                        Downsizing in part one
                        Closes around time of part two
                        Abandoned (and potentially dangerous) in part three
            Add a scene where Rachel is reading under Hangman’s Bridge
                        Comfort and aloneness
                        Something (not a storm drain) where the Rip can hide later
                        Mom’s warning about the dangerous bridge
            Make sure the university / townie split gets at least mentioned

Adjustments to part two
            Cut the pool game scene waaaay back
            Re-read the rest of it looking for cuts in prep for Nov. 1

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