I’ve been thinking about this Sue Allen project all wrong. I’ve been thinking of her as a witch, using her mediumship as a way to interact with familiar spirits, like, say, The Thing.
But, no. She and Ben would be ghost hunters. She’s the medium. He’s the do-hickey makers. Sue’s brother-in-law, Edmund Baxter, is the skeptic (which I’m kind of equating with The Guy Who Knows How the World Works) who becomes a true believer after his own encounter. And then Sue’s sister, Edmund’s wife, who is the second of Sue’s sisters he married, which is cool because he is the second Baxter brother she’s married. I’m not sure what her role is, exactly. Possibly just useful pragmatist.
In real life Edmund and Ben died within a month of each other back in the summer of 1910.
I still think I want my fake Overton in there. But here’s the thing that I am waffling back and forth over. It seems obvious that I need a fake Overton for a villain, if I want to have an Overton, because I’m not writing a straight-up fictional biography of anyone and it seems like it would be unfair to a lot of folks in town who are related into the Overtons to say “And this ancestor I picked at random is actually an evil jerk!”
But is it really fair then to say to the Baxters and the Perkinses and the Allens, “And these ancestors of yours I picked are actually their own Scooby gang!”?
And yet, it seems like, if you don’t use their real names, then you’re not doing your part to add to the legend, you know? The second The Bell Witch is The Smith Witch and it takes place in Bates, Tennessee, not Adams, then a lot fewer people remember the Bells or the witch. It becomes a folktale, not a legend.
I didn’t fret this much over A City of Ghosts. I don’t know why. Maybe I should have. But it seems to me that, if it were immediately obvious, with just a wink and a nod, that I was talking about the Boyles, but I meant the Allens, that’d be one thing. But these are folks whose status as great occultists has pretty much faded from our collective memories as a city. Then it seems like part of the fun is to say, “Yeah, I made this up, but these were real people and their lives were interesting and worth learning about.” It’s a way to keep people a vital part of the community, even a hundred years after their deaths.
But is it also rude? And is it being rude a reason not to do it anyway?
I’m not sure.