I wrote Crystal Grove in the spring of 2020, during the most restrictive part of the lockdown in the US. In my sunroom, I watched the first morning rays catch and disperse in crystals dangling from trees. It got me thinking about a family with crystals hanging in their yard. One of my quarantine habits was an evening walk around the neighborhood, and toward the end of that walk I’d pass a ramshackle house with a large yard, complete with an old doghouse slowly collapsing in their backyard.
These two ideas formed the skeleton of a story. An evil house that rattles the crystals, or something like that. My wife’s quarantine hobby is getting deeper into Reiki. So the idea progressed to a dark, Reiki power effecting women in the neighborhood. Write what you know.
I finished about forty-five thousand words back in September. It needed editing before I could share it with anyone. But I didn’t want to work with it… it seemed broken. This nameless issue I had with the piece hung over me, and blocked me from moving forward with any writing projects.
Reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman showed me what was wrong. First, I didn’t even know what genre the story was; it wasn’t horror or magic, nor realistic narrative either. So what was it? Gaiman’s work is the closest comparison—magical realism. Not magical, with ancient characters based on myths and old stories, something more mystical. And, while reading Ocean, I figured out what else the quarantine had injected into my story.
My piece was depressing. I tried to make it realistic, a husband and wife arguing and mis-communicating and yelling at their kids. And then coming together to solve the problem. But, instead, it read like the husband and wife were angry and hated their kids and each other. Misery jumped off the page.
I wasn’t upset or mad at my family during the early days of COVID-19. But the fear, bitterness, and general unhappiness of the moment seeped into the piece, a glimpse into an unhappy home, rather than a peek into the life of a regular suburban family.
So I started a rewrite. And it feels much better. I went for a lighter feel and didn’t worry about realism. It’s a far cry from what Gaiman can do with his prose, to create that magical feel, but his influence pulled me out of the darkness.