Wednesday, February 1

The Housekeeper's Son: The Making of a Novel

Since when I was a child, I've always been fascinated by the supernatural. I love ghost stories, horror movies, and gloomy weathers. I remember believing that I was Damien (after watching The Omen) in grade school, standing on the balcony of the second floor in my school, looking down at all the kids, feeling like I owned them. Creepy, right? Well, that explains how I garnered the title of "School Nightmare." I held it quite proudly, thinking that I was untouchable. The school bullies actually started to avoid me--and I thought my evil powers from the dark side had prevailed--because they knew something was not quite right with me upstairs. Whenever they approached me with their pulled up sleeves and their propped up collars (this was the 80's, mind you), I'd stare at them with pure intensity. In my mind, I was trying to control them; I feared no one. In their minds, I was quite the loony, and no one messed with the loony! Looking back, I wish none of that had ever happened.

Fast forward a few more years. Now, I was quite the teenager, with teenage angst and determination. But the dark side still lingered. Slasher movies started trending and I was caught right in the middle. I imagined myself solving crimes, puzzling together murder mysteries. I was intrigued by the news--the ones that involved deaths by the plenty. There was this incident that involved a man who'd chopped off his wife and children, put them in a pot, and made a nice pot of curry with them. He owned a restaurant, and that day, the food was particularly good. It was a sad piece of news, but an outstanding one. Imagine the headlines: "Man Made Curry Out of Wife and Children." Not in the food and dining section of the newspaper, but the front page. That was a thrill to me. And I pursued my interest in the red and gory.

Then I grew up, quite quickly, too. I learned of more important things--hard work, friendship, and the importance of academia. I fell in love with the English word. My fixation now was literature and mastering the language both in writing and speech. I joined the local Toasmasters organization, subscribed to Reader's Digest, and started reading every book written by Enid Blyton. And when the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series came out, I bought them all. I went to every book fair I could, pestered my parents into spending money on magazines, books, newspapers, and such. My obsession in books became my pastime and my only form of solace in difficult times. But still, I found myself perusing the shelves of bookstores for the ultimate ghost story. Real ones, dark ones, scary ones.

I wrote my first book at the age of 16. I didn't know what I was doing at that time, I just wrote. And my stories were more bleak than bright. It was like Angela's Ashes times a thousand. The difference was Frank McCourt wrote with a heart, and I wrote with  . . . well, an inexperienced mind and a novice's pen. Which wasn't any good. While I recognized my limitations, I never gave up writing. I never stopped. If anything, my passion to create and write my own stories propelled me to read much more than I thought I was able to. In college, the night before my Victorian Literature finals, I forsook my studies and picked up Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. I finished it in one night and went to face my finals the next morning feeling dazed, tired--I hadn't slept all night--but completely inspired. And that was when I knew what I was born to do--write. Because books made me happy.

As the years passed, I fell in love, got married, found a job, started my career, and became a father. And this was the time when I was most inspired to write. I started to revisit my years growing up, those stupid moments when innocence and ignorance took charge, and found something from every obsession in my life--the ghosts, the murders, the blood, the mystery, the darkness, the gloom--that I could use in my book. (Given my very bleak obsession, I am quite the happy one, really. My obsession is my interest, not my character.) But even with all those wonderful elements, I am still lacking some heart. There was no substance for a story about ghosts or dark things. There was no reason to read it, or love it.

And then came my wife, the mother of my child. As I saw her care for our son, nurture him, and how she held his hands and conversed with him, I was prompted to look at my own childhood when my mother did the same. I remembered the nights when I cuddled under the blankets with her--my brother and I would beg her for stories from her own childhood, which she was always so glad to share--the times when she dressed my wounds after I fell, the stormy nights when I sought her for comfort and protection, the days when we laughed together like friends of times past. There was no horror or darkness in these moments. The only hint of gloom was the vulnerability of a human life and my fear of loss and dying. One day, our loved ones will leave us, and the only things that remain will be the memories of a time long gone. Happier times. Good times. And that fear--that one day all that I had ever loved would be taken from me--was all it took for me to write The Housekeeper's Son. It begs the question: "How far would you go to love someone?"

The answer lies in The Housekeeper's Son.

The Housekeeper's Son, my debut novel, will be available where books are sold May 19, 2012.