Dead Like Huh?

I was cleaning off my desktop computer, trying to sort things into folders so I could find them, and then I printed out everything in the AKMG folder so I could see if the different things I’d written were making any sense. One file that ended up in there was called “Ghosts” so I opened it and found two pieces of scenes–not scenes, just fragments that I’d written down so I wouldn’t lose them–that I have no recollection of writing. I mean, i think I wrote them down so I wouldn’t lose them, they sound like me, especially the last piece, but I not only do not recall having written them, I have no recollection of what I thought the story was going to be. They’re pretty old; the heroine thinks Buffy is still on Tuesday nights and her husband is named Cal (I changed it to Richard to avoid confusion now, so that came before Bet Me which I wrote in 2003. And it’s written in first person which is not like me. But very weird to read something you wrote that you can’t remember ever reading before. Or, disconcertingly, how you thought was going to end. I can’t even tell what the story is going to be about.

See if you can figure it out:

Hi. I’m dead.

That’s me down there in that car. The one with the really high safety rating and the deployed air bag. Really pisses me off.

I realize I had to go sometime. Sometime in the far distant future, when Richard and I had a kid or two, had survived the mid-life crisis affair he was definitely going to have, had paid off the house we were going to get and the kids’ college loans and bail money. After we’d retired someplace nice and warm, like say, Paris, and I’d buried Richard because women live longer than men, and had a passionate affair with a younger man of sixty. And then one beautiful French morning, I’d wake up dead. At like ninety.

Instead here I am at thirty-five with my face stuffed in an air bag. Or rather there I am.

The thing is, I did everything right. I bought the safe car. I never drove drunk. I did not hit the deer. (And I’d like to take this moment to address the apologists for the deer. I know what you’re going to say, I was in his space, the highway cut through his natural habitat, but I’m telling you now that I-75 went in forty years ago and I don’t think deer live that long, so the highway was there first, not the deer. And I still saved its damn life. Or I would have if the semi that was trying to pass me hadn’t take it out. The whole thing is just a mess.) And when I swerved to avoid the deer, I swerved off road so as not to endanger the deer-killing semi driver behind me. I even managed to miss most of the embankment. My air-bag deployed. I should still be alive. And then I have a fucking heart attack at thirty-five.

And to top it all off, it turns out that death is just as annoying as life.
Because here I am, stuck as ever. I’m expecting a transition here, maybe Death will show up and talk to me in all caps, or maybe an angel who looks like Buck Henry, I’ll even take that guy in the black cloak with the scythe who plays chess and twister. Or, and this would be really great, a woman in black cloak who plays pool. Maybe that’s why I’m still here. Maybe I’ve been chosen to be the new Death, the one who plays pool with newly departed, and I’m just waiting for my cue. I’m really not expecting God because we haven’t spoken much since catechism, but I thought there’d be some kind of organization here. Someone showing up with some kind of dearly departed multiple choice, like a banquet dinner card, the afterlife version of Beef, Chicken, Fish or Vegetarian. Maybe harps, opera, pop, or country. Or NBC, PBS, HBO, or Fox. A Cosmo quiz for the hereafter. Choose Your Own Paradise.

I don’t think it’s arrogant of me to assume it’s Paradise. I swerved to save the damn deer, didn’t I? PETA should be scheduling a wake for me.
But what I’m really hoping is that I’m not attached to that body down there, the one the paramedics are trying so hard on (okay, I feel bad about that, it’s a lost cause, guys, I can tell that from up here, but I appreciate the effort, really), that I’m not going to have to follow it to the morgue and the autopsy (bleah) and then hang around the cemetery for the rest of eternity, watching people forget to put flowers on my grave. I should have told Richard to cremate me. At least my ashes might have gone interesting places. I wonder if that’s why people bury the dead, so they’ll stay in one place and not go roaming around. Put a nice big rock on top of them to seal the deal.

Which would not be Richard’s way at all, so maybe he’ll cremate me on his own, scatter my ashes somewhere nice. Of course, his idea of someplace nice and my idea are not going to be the same. I’m going to end up in at urn on the trophy shelf down at the pool hall or sitting by the TV where I can watch ESPN all day and night. Except Richard’s more thoughtful than that. He’ll put Buffy on for me every Tuesday. And he likes HGTV, especially the building shows so he can yell, “No, no,” at the screen when they’re not doing it right. I love watching HGTV with Richard.

Well, I loved watching it, anyway.

What the hell is taking them so long? I’m dead, guys. Oh, they know that now. Sorry, didn’t mean to take it on you. Must be hell, trying to save people too damn dumb to stay on the road. When my work day goes badly, somebody goes home with a bad report card. When their day goes badly, somebody goes to the morgue in a bag. Really sorry, guys. Thanks for the effort. Really.

God, death sucks.


Here’s something interesting: I love the way food smells. I’m not hungry for it, exactly, but I really enjoyed that dinner. And what I’m wondering is, if I enjoyed that dinner, or if the smell of that dinner reminded me of meals I really did eat, that the smell releases the memory. In which case, all those people who stayed on macrobiotic diets are in hell. I’m telling you now, people, eat well and savor the food. Build up those memory banks. You don’t want to die with nothing but microwaved pizza and sensible salads in your eternal pantry. The next time somebody offers you a fabulous dessert and you start counting calories, remember this:

You’re eating for the afterlife.

Huh. The things you find when you clean.

66 thoughts on “Dead Like Huh?

  1. Huh. Jenny was writing paranormal before paranormal was cool. I think that’s a song.
    As to what the story is going to be about? No clue, but I’d like to read it.


  2. Now I’m intrigued and definitely want to know more. Does this mean the more you eat the more you remember? Is she supposed to do something? Solve mysteries/right wrongs for people still on earth? The apologies to the paramedics sound like something you’d write. I’m annoyed that we won’t get more but enjoyed it anyway. Thanks!


  3. Wow, such a clear voice. She had me hooked.
    I look back on things and sometimes wonder what I was like when I wrote it, because I wouldn’t have picked it out as my writing today.


  4. I don’t know what it was supposed to be about but I absolutely think you should follow her around awhile. It’s bound to be interesting!


  5. Jenny, this sounds a lot like Brenda’s outtake for AATHM, the one that you wrote to give Bob a feel for the character. So maybe that’s what it is, a bio of sorts so you would remember who this character was and why you want to write this story.


  6. I forgot to make my guess. I had two thoughts, one, she would be revived, which I dismissed while I read it, and two, that she might watch her husband fall in love again. Maybe she’d even have an opinion on the romance and push him toward the righ woman, after she worked through letting him go.


  7. I don’t know what it was originally supposed to be, but I love her attitude and voice. She would be great in an updated “Heaven Can Wait”/”Here Comes Mr. Jordan” type story with a female lead. However, I’m not sure if she should be the person who died before her time, OR the Mr. Jordan character who has to straighten out the case of the person who died too soon.


  8. Sounds like a good way to get to know your characters before you write the book. And to think twice before swerving those minivans with the rollover problem just to avoid woodland creatures.


  9. You don’t remember writing it? Perhaps someone who IS dead wrote it, using your computer, because she admires your style.


  10. Food, natch.

    What will she say about sex?

    Enjoy it now, make good memories for the afterlife?

    Sex scenes with a ghost? A la Ghost? Or her memories intertwining with what she’s observing?

    Could be interesting…


  11. I’m not sure why you hate writing in first person. You have the voice for it.

    As to what the story may be about a woman who dies and realizes all the things she shoulda, coulda, wouldas in her life. But unless she gets reincarnated I’m not sure what would be the point of looking at your life in retrospect.

    Also maybe this story never got the right amount of crunch and that’s why you can’t remember writing it. Or alcohol was involved that’s been known to wipe memories of certain events.


  12. “Eat well and savor the food. Build up those memory banks.”

    God, even your outtakes are fantastic! And these are words that apply to all of life’s experiences.

    I was going through my computer, getting ready to polish something for NaNoWriMo (but I’m starting with babysteps so I’m polishing a short story). My second big problem is getting stuff from the long-hand first draft into the computer, so I ran into a lot of fragments — and things I’d forgotten I’d written. As you know, it’s eerie to find things you’d forgotten you’d written. But what’s damn frustrating is finding something *great* and not knowing how the damn thing ends — not even knowing where your past self was going with the stupid thing. “I coulda been a contender, if only I’d finish these darn things!!!”

    Anyway, I found the handwritten (thankfully finished) drafts to some of those fragments, so I can see if I’m a contender, or a daydreamer.


  13. That was enticing. I’ve recently read Amanda Ashby’s YOU HAD ME AT HALO (NAL) and it starts similarly to your piece, except at the funeral (and she sure doesn’t like the dress she’s been put in!) I really wanted to read more. Maybe if you check a few more files your subconscious has hidden the rest of that book somewhere else? Or maybe it’s hidden a collection of various themes to be compiled as short-short stories?

    I kinda like the reincarnation theme. The chance to have another go at getting it right, living that long-lived-retired-in-France-with-her-toy-boy dream (or its equivalent.) Let’s face it, she knows Richard is going to cheat on her at some stage, maybe she even sees his mistress at her funeral? Whatever you decide, I think it’s definitely worth developing.


  14. I think it would be a perfect opening for a near death experience story. She could wake up in the ICU smelling food and then think, “F***, I’m not dead, I can’t even do that right.” And there’s boring old Richard sitting there reading his magazine and she thinks I gotta get out of here and it’s the catalyst for starting a whole new life. Or not.


  15. I thought maybe it was a murder mystery but she says she had a heart attack. I suppose somebody could have poisoned her. But if that’s the first thing I think of, that’s too obvious.

    I have absolutely NO idea where I was going with that. But I like the food thing, too. So I ate peanut butter cup ice cream today.


  16. Gosh, Jenny, maybe you should finish it so you can find out who did it. Then you can write yourself a fan letter and point out all the reasons why it should really be Colonel Mustard in the music room with a candlestick.


  17. (-: I don’t know whether to groan in jealousy at the peanut butter cup ice cream, or go find some really fresh and decadent sushi. (-: I’ll build up my memory banks and go with what I’ve got.

    BTW, I really like Terry Prachett’s idea that ideas are particles flying through space, just looking for fertile ground to nest and breed in. It kind of explains why this unformed little bit blooms like all get out, and then suddenly dies on the stem.


  18. Put a nice big rock on top of them to seal the deal.

    Interesting. That’s exactly what Mare did to Xan’s dust, dropping the Great Big Rock on top of Xan to hold her for a while.


  19. I don’t understand why she’s so insouciant about being dead. Unless she’s in shock, or hallucinating from awesome pain meds, or dreamed up this whole thing while taking lessons in transcendental meditation with peyote.


  20. I like it. But it freaks me out a little, since I felt like having a heart attack tonight when I was driving home and just managed to stop in time for six deer to cross in front of me. They were very pretty, and I felt bad for them, but I’d be really pissed if I died just because their mothers never taught them to llok both ways before crossing the street and to avoid the bright, shiny lights.


  21. I like it. I also think maybe she is supposed to help someone. I thought of Truly, Madly, Deeply where Alan Rickman’s character comes back from the dead to help is girlriend get over his death. Maybe she will help her husband move on with his life. But I think you would have to telescope time a bit so more time has passed for him than for her.
    Thanks for sharing it. It was fun.


  22. I have no idea why she was so chipper about being dead. I have no idea about any of it.

    My first drafts are almost always incoherent and this isn’t even a full scene. I think the voice probably showed up in my head one night and I wrote it down and that was that.


  23. Chipperness (or at least not registering complete dismay and panic) at one’s own demise is a common literary device. Pratchett explains it away by saying since the bits with hormones are gone, so is the panic — all the spirit is left to deal with is pure analysis.

    (-: Although, looking deeper into that theory, it doesn’t explain vengeful ghosts very well.

    Just a thought.


  24. You know, I think it kind of sounds like the backstory/beginning of this character’s tale in a Dreamland part of a caper book.


  25. I’m with you inkgirl – peanut butter cup ice-cream.
    I can’t get my head around forgetting about something like that, probably because I’ve done it myself. I was looking through some old files last year and I had an A5 note from Harl UK saying thanks for your submission entitled Loves Me, Loves Me Not. We’ll get back to you in due course.
    WTF? Cant find a record of it anywhere. Must have just been a syn – hope to god it wasn’t a partial cos it’s gone, gone, gone.
    Maybe I truly am shizo and its not the muse? It makes me sick just thinking about it.
    So, peanut butter cup ice-cream….


  26. It is nice sometimes to find stuff like that and truly have the distance (since you have no recollection of writing it) to really look at it. Although if you don’t know what you were going to do with it, it can be frustrating too.


  27. you can tell the scene takes place in the states because it involves a deer. in canada it would have been a moose. (there are lots of stories of collisions where the car is totalled but the moose walked away.)

    who’s buck henry?


  28. Definitely an interesting character. What kind of a story arc can a dead person have? I was always under the impression that death ended the arc. Or maybe not.

    Here’s the thing, though. If she’s dead, she has no body. If she has no body, she can’t have sex. A Crusie book without sex is like getting a ordering a hot fudge sundae, and discovering when it arrived at your table that they were short on ingredients in the kitchen and there’s no cherry on top. It would still be delicious, but somehow not as satisfying.

    Maybe she’s a secondary character, and someone living she leaves behind is the protagonist, and this character manages to somehow influence events from the great beyond? Not her husband, though, she doesn’t seem to like him very much.

    And of course, if she’s influencing things from the great beyond, there are others doing the same for the antagonist. What’s worse, if she pisses them off she’ll still have to deal with them for all eternity. That’s even worse than in-laws.

    This is interesting.

    More, please. 🙂


  29. I think the tone fits fine. She’s dead. What can she do about it? Panic involves adrenaline and a body, which she hasn’t got. Shock, similarly, is a physical reaction. I think matter-of-fact, but a bit puzzled or pissed, works nicely.

    First question would be is she going to stay dead or is she getting back in a body (hers or someone elses)?

    If she’s staying dead, then what’s her interaction with the living? Is she able to communicate? Is she solving a puzzle? Falling in love again? Looking after loved ones?

    Could be fun.


  30. This is Chris Merrill’s favorite topic.

    If she’s dead, no thought process, no moving around, no volition, she can’t be a character because she’s, uh, dead.

    But if she’s still in there pitching, thinking, acting, having an impact on the plot, well, then, death is no barrier to character-hood.

    Whereas if the character is alive but has no interesting thought process, doesn’t act, has no impact on the plot, well, that character can go, alive or not.


  31. It was a really great voice. I already want to know more about her, because I feel like we could be really good friends if we met. : D

    Yeah, you don’t know where she’s going and it doesn’t give any direction. But maybe she’s there to help the heroine, and along the way she finds out why she’s still here. Who knows. I liked her. And I like food.


  32. I really like stories of the dead, and here are some arcs:

    dead person dies, seeks vengeance on murderer, achieves it and goes to heaven or Beyond.

    Character has died long ago, is haunting a place, and trying to complete an obsession from life (finding a hidden treasure, providing for children, etc.). Obsession resolved, ghost goes.

    Character has an on-going commitment to help people left on earth, so each arc involves the living person’s problem, build-up and resolution. Great frame for a series.

    Death is one way to end an arc, but it’s not necessarily the end. (-: Kind of like marriage, or having children. Some people extend their arcs beyond the “happily ever after.”


  33. Revenge story. Maybe she goes back and shoves the deer off the embankment. And calls 1-800-howsmydriving to report the semi.


  34. Ghost semi?

    I’m already writing ghosts in AKMG. I do two in a row and suddenly Crusies will not just have to have a snarky heroine, a dog, and some junk food to keep me from having things thrown at my head, I’ll have to include the undead, too.

    BTW, no dogs in AKMG. Because there aren’t any, that’s why.


  35. The semi gets off scot-free? Where’s the emotional justice in that? It should be doomed to an eternity of road safety classes.


  36. Cats, maybe? Undead snarky cats who eat junk food and throw the wrappers at your head in a silent demand for more? And who do ride-alongs in semis? It could work.


  37. Speaking of ghosts, Jenny, how’s AKMG coming along? We’d love to read more Argh posts on that wip, like you did for Zelda and Mare. 😉


  38. It’s fun to find old stuff you write. At the time it may not be very inspiring but later on it can be a great source of inspiration. I like what I read and hope you continue with the story.


  39. You might want to check Marian Keyes’ “No Dress Rehearsal” because it has the same topic: a woman who can’t really accept that she is dead (also died in an accident).


  40. Okay, wait a minute, I think RfP is on to something here. There’s this dead woman, and she’s accompanied by this ghost semi as she travels through . . .

    Hmmm. This could take some work. But I see otherworldly weigh stations, definitely.


  41. Otherworldly truck stops and Krispy Kreme shops…. A whole otherworldly travel industry populated by those who failed to “share the road” in life. That’s a decent mythology of death–getting stuck eternally in transit. I wonder if Charon ever had to take a semi over the River Styx….


  42. Jenny said…
    “There’s this dead woman, and she’s accompanied by this ghost semi as she travels through . . .

    Hmmm. This could take some work. But I see otherworldly weigh stations, definitely.”

    There you go. Graphic novel in collaboration with Neil Gaiman. It’s the otherworldly weigh stations that made me think of that. Seriously. ;+)


  43. I don’t see why a ghostly character can’t be very similar to how they are in life – at least at first. Lois McMaster Bujold has dead characters who are very much in shock at first and gradually gain awareness and volition in the short term, but fade away over time, with no interactions or matter to feed them. I think wailing ghosts are the ones who fix on one thing and can’t let go of it and move on. Whatever moving on might entail (peaceful dissolution, union with the universe, heaven, ghost semis).

    If I’m going through eternity, though, I’d want something more stylish than a semi, and if all my baggage is incorporeal, I don’t see why I can’t have a roadster.


  44. I would have her think she’s dead, when she is actually only in a coma hidden in a dark cave by a madman. And there is one guy who can, not only see her, but feel her as well. They fight, explore the “murder” to find her husband’s mistresses boyfriend did it to make her happy so she would leave the husband (he’s a little nutso and a friend of the family, kind of a sleeper character) and eventually fall in love, have raunchy ghost sex and discover where the nutcase has hidden her body to reunite her with her body. But when they try to reunite her with her body, they can’t and she discovers along the way that the only way she can get her body back is to take charge of her life and stop letting people walk all over her.
    OK, I’m done now.


  45. Clarification here –
    The would-be killer is the boyfriend of the husband’s mistress. The husband doesn’t know about him, but he knows about the husband and hates his guts. The mistress is basically stringing him along to get him to kill the wife, because she knows he is insane and would do it for her.
    Okay, I really am done now.


  46. Hi Jenny, just discovered your site(s) thanks to Making Light linking to your Glittery HooHa post; I can’t begin to tell you how much that made me laugh. I hope someone writes the paper for the Pop Culture conference! I’ve greatly enjoyed your books, and am looking forward to reading here as well.

    As for this post, dead woman accompanied by ghost semi … RfP’s A whole otherworldly travel industry populated by those who failed to “share the road” in life … sounds like a (post)modern version of purgatory to me. So why is she not in Paradise, after she swerved for the deer and all? There’s your arc – the answer to that, and whatever it takes to resolve it.

    This sounds too good not to work with – if you don’t want ghosts in two different books, maybe you could work her into your current one? Or just have a separate branch of paraCrusienormal books …


  47. Best story I have read about ghost driving. Even though I can’t say I love it. When I read this thread, I remembered this story. I could of course not remember the title or the author – but I tell you every now and again when my driving is getting agressive, I remember this story and slow down. That’s how badly it scared me.

    But that’s why geeks invented Google.



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