Both NIGHT MUSIC and LADY M have protagonists who are having trouble sleeping. They’re both emotionally haunted, and they either suffer from sleeplessness or they’re tormented by nightmares, which lead to hallucinations and/or make them more vulnerable to being literally haunted.
What’s interesting is that I myself slept so well while I was writing both of these books. But earlier in the year, when I was struggling to write a lighthearted romantic comedy, I once literally woke up screaming in the middle of the night! What does this say about me? Perhaps it means that on some level I’m more at peace when I’m exploring the dark side of myself and life and humanity than when I’m trying to manufacture cute-meet and happily-ever-after scenarios that don’t acknowledge the depth and complexity of people and relationships. This is not to say that I don’t love rom coms and making people laugh, but I do have a somewhat newfound respect for darker books and movies and the people who create and read and watch them. As Stephen King says in his book DANSE MACABRE: “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
While researching LADY M, I read quite a bit about psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of the Shadow. According to Jung, the shadow is the dark side of a personality, the aspects of the self that the ego does not accept as a part of itself, and therefore projects an irrational disdain for these qualities in another person. Mary Ready in LADY M is profoundly out of touch with her shadow self. She projects her denied worst qualities onto her professional rival Ava, and projects her perceived best qualities onto the character of Lady Macbeth. But her shadow will not be ignored. Bruce Shackleton says in “Meeting the Shadow at Work”: “we need the shadow, in which we can hide our negative and destructive drives, even our weaknesses and inferior abilities. But the danger arises when we push too much of ourselves away too deeply. If an individual’s work shadow becomes impermeable, inflexible, and dense, it can become destructive and take on a life of its own.”
For Marianne Wood in NIGHT MUSIC, everything that she is afraid of in herself and in her daughter is manifested in paranormal problems. The manor’s elderly English caretaker Helen is to some extent afraid of her underdeveloped psychic powers, but it may be that resistance and lack of development that causes her to have nightmares and headaches.
Maybe if these women read or wrote suspenseful supernatural stories they’d sleep better at night, who knows!
The painting is of actress Sarah Siddons as Lady Macbeth in The Sleepwalking Scene in Macbeth by Henry Pierce Bone (1779-1885).
Thanks for reading. Sleep well.
Like most people in the English-speaking world, I first read Shakespeare’s Macbeth for high school English class. English was my favorite class and Macbeth was my favorite text to study. Of course, I loved Romeo & Juliet, but Macbeth had so much more for me to sink my nerdy teeth into. I did a creative video project with my friends, instead of writing an essay about the play (thanks, Mrs. Beckett!). It included a music video of me and my girlfriends lip-syncing to the “Ghostbusters” theme song—an All-Female-GHOSTBUSTERS that was way ahead of its time!
When I was in college, one of my Theater teachers told me about The Curse of the Scottish Play. She herself was of Scottish heritage, and refused to say the word “Macbeth” when she was inside a theater. I didn’t look into it then, but I never forgot about it and never said the word when I was inside a theatre myself—just in case.
Much can be Googled about The Curse of the Scottish Play, and it seems to come up in every interview with an actor or actress who plays a part in the stage or movie versions. I wrote a bit about the curse in LADY M . In short: In the theater world there’s a widespread belief that the play Macbeth is cursed because there have been so many accidents and even deaths associated with productions of the play, dating back to the first performance. In one version of the legend, the actor playing Lady Macbeth died either the night before or during the opening night performance. In another version, an actor died because someone accidentally used a real dagger instead of a prop. According to the superstition, one must never say the word “Macbeth” out loud inside a theatre, unless it’s during a performance of the play. If someone does say it, the remedy is to leave the theatre, speak a line from another Shakespeare play (usually Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream), then turn around three times, spit, and swear. Then they have to wait until they’re invited back inside the theatre.
So that is why it is referred to as “The Scottish Play,” because it takes place in Scotland. There are many theories as to why the play may be cursed, one of them being that Shakespeare angered real witches by including genuine incantations in the Weird Sisters scenes. Two more rational explanations are provided: 1) much of the play takes place at night, so the stage is dimly lit, and there are battle and murder scenes. 2) Macbeth is often staged by struggling theater companies last minute in order to make money because the play is usually a box office success—so members of the company are panicked, there’s little time for rehearsal, and many opportunities for accidents.
What’s most interesting to me, in the context of my book, is how people respond to the idea of this curse. One character is dismissive and believes that curses have no power if you don’t believe in them. One character believes it’s the idea of the curse itself that becomes a mental or emotional burden. The protagonist, Mary Ready, is somehow a brilliant actress who is quite unaware of her own true motivations and is unable to admit her own mental or emotional burdens, so she readily latches onto the idea that bad things happen to her or around her because of the curse…Of course, there’s also a ghost, but that’s not the subject of this blog post…
Below is the painting Macbeth and Banquo Meeting the Three Witches on the Heath by Théodore Chassériau, circa 1855.
Thanks for reading!
Below, I'm including an excerpt from my latest book LADY M, which is available HERE. This excerpt picks up around where the Look Inside the Book sample leaves off on Amazon.
Above, is some evocative artwork by 19th century painter Gustave Moreau called Study for Lady Macbeth.
Cate placed two decks of Tarot cards, face-down in front of Mary. “I use the Tarot cards as a tool for the reading. There are many ways to do a Tarot spread. I have my own. I also read palms and faces. I’m also a medium. Shuffle both decks of cards—one deck at a time, until it feels right to you. Concentrate on transferring your energy to the cards.”
Mary carefully shuffled each deck of cards. They were larger than playing cards, so it was awkward and she fumbled a bit. She continued shuffling until she had gotten good at it, until she felt good about it, then set each deck back down exactly where Cate had placed them.
“Go ahead and choose one card from the Major Arcana. This deck here. The card you pick will represent what shapes your personality now. Leave it face down.”
Mary carefully selected one card, trying to let her instincts guide her.
“Now choose three cards from the Minor Arcana. These will represent your past, present and future. Concentrate on a specific question while choosing.”
Mary paused to pick a specific question, the way she’d pause before making a wish and blowing out candles on a birthday cake. It was all for show. It was always the same question, always the same wish. She selected three cards from the second deck. She hesitated on the third one, put a card back and selected a different one. She didn’t look up at Cate. She had a feeling she was being judged. When she was done, Mary sat on her hands, to keep them from shaking.
Cate nodded, took a deep breath, rubbed her hands together and said, “Let’s see what we have here...” She turned the first card over. The image on the card was of a burning tower that’s been struck by lightning. The crown that was atop the tower had been knocked off, and two people—a man and a woman—were falling, headfirst, ejected violently from the tower to the ground. Balls of fire rained down on them.
This did not look good to Mary.
“The Tower of Destruction,” Cate said, no indication of judgment in her voice. “Change is coming. This is a time of great turmoil and transformation for you. Have you been having trouble sleeping?”
“Yes.” Mary had made up her mind to be stoic, so as not to give the psychic too many unconscious clues.
Cate stroked the card with her index finger, then tapped on it. “You’ve suffered a loss.”
Mary looked down, not wanting to encourage this woman to continue on with this topic.
Cate stared at the card and continued on with it nonetheless. “A terrible loss that shook you to your core. The Tower represents how you’ve been dealing with the loss. See the lightning bolt here? This is the upheaval that signifies the death of one era and the birth of a new one. This is not a bad thing, necessarily, don’t worry. With destruction comes creation You see, these people who’ve fallen from the tower? They’re being liberated from their dark isolated dwelling. They felt protected inside their tower, they retreated there. It took an Act of God to shake them out of their zombie-like existence. The lightning illuminates things for them. They may think, as they’re falling, that their world is being destroyed, but there’s a wisdom beyond their knowing. The foundation has been shaken. It’s a wake-up call. I love this card, it’s an important card.”
Mary didn’t see how any of this had to do with her and her question.
Cate could see that Mary had grown restless and was not as interested in the symbolism of the Tarot as she herself was. She sighed. “What’s your question?”
Mary did not hesitate to answer. “Will I ever be the star of a Broadway play?”
Cate nodded her head slightly, as if she expected this. She turned over the next card. “Seven of Cups. You have a vivid imagination. You’re a dreamer. The cups represent emotions. The contents of the cups—temptations. You’ll have a decision to make. Out of the blue.” She considered something for a moment, before saying: “You need to make sure you’re seeing the big picture. You’ve been feeling overwhelmed, yes?”
“Hmmm. Something’s been holding you back. I’m getting the strong presence of a woman. A woman with a great deal of power over you.”
Ava. Bloody Ava. She would show up in my card reading. Always the scene-stealer. “I wouldn’t say she has power over me. We’ve always been up for the same parts ever since acting school. She’s a professional rival, that’s all.”
The cat in Mary’s lap suddenly looked up at some unseen thing and stared at it, its furry body rigid and still.
“Not her.” Cate’s voice was tense. “Something else.” She was trying to concentrate on the card, though clearly distracted.
“Ava’s the one who’s in the way, it’s always her. She’s wretched. She’s vain and arrogant and completely selfish and blatantly ambitious and callous. ”
“It’s not her.”
The cat jumped off of Mary’s lap, it’s claws dug through the fabric of her jeans and into her flesh, stinging her. She flinched. The cat sat erect on the floor and stared up—at what, Mary had no idea. She had an uneasy feeling, as if a door had swung open and cold air rushed in. But no door to the room had opened.
I am so excited to share the description and cover of my next book! It's called LADY M. It will be available on Amazon very soon. This one was so much fun to write and really interesting to research. I'll write more about that later.
BOOK DESCRIPTION: “Something wicked this way comes…”
Brilliant, ambitious and troubled young actress Mary Ready is the understudy for Lady Macbeth in an acclaimed staging of MACBETH on Broadway. One week before the show closes, she visits a psychic for a reading and is told: “You will be queen.” Mary seizes an opportunity to ensure that this prediction comes true, but fate takes it one step further.
Things quickly unravel as she is convinced that she is cursed, and the ghost of the rival actress she’s replaced is haunting her. The nightmare of her offstage life becomes stranger and more unbearable than the macabre Shakespeare tragedy she’s obsessed with.
Backstage drama becomes a gripping and entertaining supernatural psychological horror story in LADY M.
Thought I’d mention why I decided to write NIGHT MUSIC. I’m a Led Zeppelin fan. I also like a lot of Fleetwood Mac songs, and the Seventies vibe in general. Several years ago, I came across an article about how Zeppelin had holed up in a manor in rural England called Headley Grange, to work on several of their albums—to get away from distractions and really focus their creativity and energy. They recorded John Bonham’s drums for “When the Levee Breaks” in the echo-ey stairwell there. Jimmy Page had mentioned in interviews that he believed Headley Grange was haunted. Fleetwood Mac also recorded there.
I thought it would be so cool to see a movie or read a book about a band (as a band-family, instead of the usual literal family) in a haunted house. Especially since I’d read theories about how ghosts can gather energy from electronic devices and from people’s emotions, in order to manifest themselves. I thought—what if it’s a band like Fleetwood Mac that has some behind the scenes relationship drama, and all of that intense passionate energy combined with all of the energy and vibrations from their instruments and equipment stirred up a vengeful spirit! And then I waited and wrote a bunch of family comedies and wondered why no one else had made that movie or written that book, and then I finally decided to write it myself.
It eventually became clear that there needed to be a child in the haunted house, because all of my favorite ghost stories involve children. And you can’t write about a Seventies rock band in a haunted house without being influenced by the fact that Jimmy Page was obsessed with occultist Aleister Crawley…
The above photo of Headley Grange is from rockandrollgps.com
And here is a link to photos of Alder Manor in Yonkers, N.Y. It’s the inspiration for Heywood Manor in NIGHT MUSIC. www.scoutingny.com/the-clue-mansionin-yonkers/
I will be posting about my next book very soon! Thanks for reading.
From the introduction to my copy of THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE--modern master of horror Guillermo del Toro writes with astonishing insight and articulation about the classic books
in the horror genre.