The story behind Cemetery Girl by Charlaine Harris

I never talk about ideas I’m mulling over for a book. So it is really amazing that I found myself telling Christopher Golden about an idea I’d had, one I really found interesting, while we were sitting (maybe in a bar?) at Dragon Con, an amazing fantasy convention held in Atlanta, Georgia, every year. Chris and I, though friendly and with many mutual friends, did not know each other very well at the time, which makes it all the more peculiar that I would tell him about something so private.

“I’ve got this picture of this girl who’s living in a cemetery,” I told Chris. “She’s camping in a mausoleum or raised tomb, and she steals items to make it into a home. I’m not sure how she got there, but she doesn’t have any memory.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with images in my head. They didn’t seem to parse out to a full-length novel, they didn’t seem to compress into a short story. Yet I hate to let an idea that’s caught my imagination go free.

I’d forgotten all about my conversation with Chris until I got an email with him a few weeks later. I don’t have the email in front of me, but as I remember it, Chris said, “I’ve been thinking about that idea you had. I think it would make a great graphic novel.”

I was really startled, since that thought had never crossed my mind. For one thing, I wasn’t much of a graphic novel reader, and for another, I had no idea of the format of writing such a thing. How did you find an artist? How many pages should it be? But I reasoned that the idea had seemed so natural to Chris because he’s written everything, and he’s read hundreds of graphic novels. Maybe I could write one if he showed me the ropes. In fact, maybe if he collaborated with me?

I’d never tried to work with another writer. I was full of worries. What if we hated each other after we made the attempt? How would we work out the logistics, since we’re separated geographically by well over a thousand miles? What if I couldn’t learn the ropes? What if no publisher was interested?

Of course, two of those worries were just silly. With the internet, geographic distance is a non-issue, and as it turned out, Penguin (my publisher, and sometimes Chris’s) was very interested since it was starting its own graphic novel line, Inked.

The process of learning how to write a graphic novel was the bumpiest part, and I’m sure Chris wanted to throw up his hands in exasperation many a time. Finally, he wrote: You can’t write what Dan can’t draw. I thought that over, and it was like the proverbial lightbulb went off over my head.  After that, we went along much better, though I still don’t stop to smell the roses. I’m always hustling through the action, when slower would be better. But eventually, I hope, I’ll get that down, too. Chris has been a great teacher.

I hope readers enjoy the fruit of our collaboration as much as I have enjoyed learning something new. The story extended and altered in unexpected ways, and Dunhill Cemetery has become another place I visit in my imagination to see how its inhabitants are getting along.

Charlaine Harris
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