Jolene: Behind the Story

The idea of Jolene actually came to me when I was in high school, in history class. My teacher Rob Coddington was telling us how when he was in college, he and his roommates had a ghost in their house; one that would mess with the tv and the lights. He might have even said that the ghost's name was Jolene. I forget; I'll have to ask him. I thought that it was a cool premise: to actually know the ghost that was in your house; to be on a first name basis with the ghost, and have it be fun at first, and then have it turn sinister towards the end. (Which never happened to Mr. Coddington; he had just told us the story in passing, planting the seeds in my head for a dark ghost story). I think I pictured the scene of the stereo exploding while I was in that class.

When I was living on my own after high school, living in a house on Richard Ave with three friends with names strikingly similar to the ones in the story, I adapted the ghost concept to our own lives. Any time something strange happened (which was really, really infrequent), I'd say that it was the ghost of the house, that it was Jolene. And my roommate Ben -- or Bill, in all my writings -- started saying that Jolene would come into his room, that she stayed in there, and she wanted to fuck him. He was kidding, of course.

Ben really did have a big bubble form above his bed, though, dripping water down from the ceiling. And he and I really did take mushrooms and ascend a harrowing and treacherous mountain top, both of us having vomited. The scene in the restaurant of me seeing the ghost of Terry Sweeney, and the crowd of ghosts at the bar, was true as well. I love Dolly Parton, that's true. The toilet paper conversation, and the infamous Blake's Lotaburger/ In N Out debate happened in real life. I like the dialogue throughout the story: some of it was conversations that I would have liked to have had with my friends, and some of it was actual conversations that didn't make it into my other writings for one reason or another. I got to talk about my fascination with Italian grindhouse horror, which is something I had wanted to integrate into my writing.

It took me eight days to write Jolene; I just wrote pieces of the story at random, scattered and non-linear, and originally I had assigned the chapter titles just to keep track of what was where, so I wouldn't get lost with all these dream sequences and strange occurrences. I didn't intend to have the chapters sectioned out like that, with mostly one word titles, but I liked it. It added to the tension of the story. 

The Dolly Parton song itself is very beautiful; There's a version that's been slowed down to 33 rpm (I added a link to it). It's haunting, beautiful, dark. If the story were a movie, the song would be the ending credits roll as the lead character drives through the New Mexico desert, the sun setting, until the car disappears from view.

(Spoiler alert!)

In the story, I knew that Billy had to die. I didn't know how until I wrote it out, and Joshua's death was a surprise to me. Never seeing Jacob again was painful in both the book and in real life, because he was such a good friend. I could easily find some symbolism or metaphors throughout the book, but really I just wrote and went along for the ride. This story was fun; it kept me up at night, working it all out.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

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