Behind the Scenes Don't Date the Haunted

Behind the Scenes of “Don’t Date the Haunted,” Chapter 3

Who were the muses for Pansy’s roommates? Plus, an alternative intro to Hank and Theo!

While chapter 2 had the most additions, chapter 3 had some of the most alterations. When I first wrote the scenes of Pansy meeting her roommates, all ten of them were gathered in a circle and gave their introductions one after the other. It was absolutely terrible. There were too many characters all at once. To show empathy for the reader, Pansy also forgot their names before the circle was halfway through. Yeah, I’m also glad I found a better way to introduce them all.

If you remember from Chapter 2’s Behind the Scenes, Pansy originally had two extra roommates. I actually wanted Pansy to be one of thirteen (just because), but ten was already too many minor characters under the same roof.
One of the many reasons I wrote this whole book was to express the fun I had with my college roommates. I seriously won the lottery of awesome roommates. We shared countless inside jokes, wall quotes, and memories.

One roommate was my bridesmaid and is still my best friend. (“My name is Robyn, and I am awesome.”) She read “Don’t Date the Haunted” 2.5 times before it was published and came up with the title. The only issue with her reading the book was that she tried to predict which of Pansy’s roommates represented our real-life roommates.
As I told her many times, I’m telling you all now:

Emma and Marcellette are not based on anyone I know in real life.

As for the others, they all had muses who share LIMITED qualities. This was a book about poking fun of the stereotypes and tropes, so I simplified and exaggerated my awesome friends. (Except Tiffany’s muse was the Barbie doll.) Asher and Ruby very lightly represented my freshman roommates, Tracie and Deborah. Brooke and Heather actually share names with my senior-year roommates. I used their direct names because they were lovable main-ish characters and straight up good people. The two characters I cut were based off Chelsea (instead, I put a couple of her qualities in Brooke’s character), and Sydney White (yep, from the 2007 live-action Snow White with Amanda Bynes).

Between the third and fourth drafts, I wrote an alternate version to this chapter. This one alternate scene would have taken the place of Pansy’s roommate introductions, the International Club meeting, AND the game night hang out. The most obvious reason I didn’t use it is because I couldn’t find a reason to put Pansy on a horse. Also, as awesome as her stunt is, it was difficult to believe. Lastly, I needed to do a LOT more research on horses to satisfy all the horse lovers out there. So, it didn’t make the cut, but I’ll post it here as a special treat! I still think it might work better if the book was ever turned into a film, because it quickens the beginning set up and has a lot more action.

Also, this alternative would have cut Brooke’s character (which would have made me sad).

Without further ado, here is the unedited Alternate Intro to Hank and Theo

Enter the scene of Pansy, Heather, and Emma
walking to the campus horse stables, track, and grazing grounds.

Emma tossed her hair back into a quick ponytail. “I want to learn how to race.  I want to be the first woman to win the men’s competitions.”
I snorted to myself.  Did she really think she could master the sport of competitive racing without years of training?
Miss Appleton pursed her lips. “They do not allow women into the men’s competitions. That is why they are titled such.”
“Psh, sexists,” Emma scoffed. “I bet I could put my hair up and pretend to be a guy.  Then I’ll reveal myself when they hand me the trophy.”
The scenario seemed unlikely, though I wasn’t the one to burst someone’s bubble of imagination.  With no one to stop her, Emma rambled, “The hardest part would be hiding my shapely figure and dressing like a dude.  Then I bet I’d fall in love with one of the jocks, but I couldn’t tell him, and a girl might hit on me.  My reveal would be totally dramatic, and the man I love would be like, ‘Whatever you are, I love you back,’–OMG, I just planned the rest of my life.  Can we make this happen?”
Miss Appleton tapped her chin, like she actually considered the insanity.  “Where would you make your transformations?  In the men’s changing rooms you would risk your identity as you entered or left as a woman.  Perhaps at home, though you would risk rumors of a certain young man leaving our dormitory on a regular basis.”
The two Romantics continued to babble about the ridiculous possibilities while I stepped ahead to walk in front.  Most people would follow behind, but they were too distracted by their conversation to notice if I was abducted or attacked from behind.  I remained aloof of their discussion though. Pretending to be someone else sounded like a dumb way to make enemies.
Thankfully, the equestrian fields were near.  They were also massive.  The oval track was half a mile around, and five acres were dedicated to fields for grazing and practice.  The stables were large enough to hold a dozen horses, though only half of them were currently in use.  I fell behind again as we entered the stables.  The stench of hay and manure was pungent.
Horses.  Such weird creatures.  Magnificent and terrifying, it was a wonder of the world that some person in ancient history decided to climb on its back.  Sounds of snorts and restlessness bounced through the stables, like prisoners jeering guards for a chance to escape to the wilds.  These were supposed to be trained and tame, but I knew from experience that even humans could turn wild.
Miss Appleton shrieked, causing me to look around myself.  Seeing that she caught my attention, she stepped closer to me to conspire.  “See the cloak with the strong colors and emblem?  A lord or noble is here.  I wonder which one is he?”
Her hands quivered with excitement.  Or at least, I figured it was excitement.  Why did it matter if there was a noble here?  As a Contemporary of Horror, my knowledge about hierarchies and titles was limited to portrayals on TV and the news.  That left me worried if we were allowed to be here while people of “higher standing” occupied the stables.
While Miss Appleton sought the royal for swooning, I kept a look out to better avoid them.  There was a small group of people in rich clothing fawning over a massive steed.   I figured to steer away from them.  Instead, I approached two men who chatted amiably inside the stables.  One was large with dusty brown hair and eyes to match.  His shirtless body boasted the build of someone who worked hard on a ranch.  The other man was lean with dark brown hair and an easy smile.  He wore a loose white long-sleeve, dark blue tunic, and knee-high black boots.  All of which were dusty and flecked with dirt.
Miss Appleton approached them first and greeted them with a small dip of a curtsy.  “Young sirs, how do you do?”
They each responded with courteous nods.  The shirtless one said, “Dandy,” while the dark haired one said, “Fine.  May we assist you–?”
His question cut short as his eyes met mine.  He stared with such awe that I wondered what was wrong.  I checked behind myself to ensure I wasn’t blocking the real person of his interest.  No one there.
“Theo,” the shirtless man nudged the dazed one, “do you see what I see?”
The staring man named Theo broke his gaze from me and turned to his friend. “Sorry?  What do you see?”
“Three beautiful women in need of assistance,” he drawled with eyes only for Emma.
The dazed man gave the shirtless a disapproving frown. “Hank.”
“Don’cha worry,” Hank said, waving his hand at Theo while continuing to stare at Emma.  A sly grin raised one side of his mouth.  “You girls wanna ridin’ lesson?”
“Your accent,” Emma said.  “Are you from Western?”
“Born an’ raised.  I’ve been takin’ care of horses all my life.  Same with Theo here, but the horses did more of takin’ care of him.”  Hank teased him with another nudge in the ribs, breaking Theo’s stare in my direction again.
“What training do you have?” Theo asked.
Since I had no experience, I let Miss Appleton speak first.
“I know how to ride side-saddle, and have even driven the cart a few times.”
Hank sauntered up to the nearest beast and stroked its neck. “Well, it’s different bein’ on top of the horse.  They’re beautiful creatures that need to be touched with lovin’ and firm hands.”
What should have been innocent and instructive became sensual as Hank smoldered at Emma.  She swayed closer like a moth drawn to a light.
Hoping to break whatever spell he had on my hopeless roommate, I jumped in.  “Maybe I should go first.”
My relief in capturing Emma’s attention was brief.  Condemnation, what was I doing?
Theo stepped forward, a little too eager.  “May I assist you?  Miss–?”
“Finster,” I said.  “Pansy Finster.”
A smile began to raise his cheeks before he bent in a low bow. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Pansy.  Would you like some assistance?”
Not really, except, “I’ve never been on a horse.”
“I prefer to stand on my own two feet.”
He laughed, and something familiar stirred in me, but I couldn’t tell what.  “In that case,” he said, then drifted off to shuffle awkwardly.
Hank laughed and came to his rescue. “You’re too proper, Theo, let me handle this.  I’ll saddle up Miss Patches, and you can ride in front.”
For some reason, Theo squirmed, looking as uncomfortable as I felt about the arrangement.  “I can’t use my own horse?” I asked.
Hank opened his mouth to answer, but Theo cut him off, “She may, if we hold the reins.”
Hank shrugged, then handed the reins of Miss Patches to Theo.

I left a gap here because this was the unsolvable issue with this scene. Pansy wouldn’t have mounted. She would have broken away and convinced Heather and Emma to return home with her. I hoped to solve this issue later (if I liked the scene enough to keep), so I kept writing, assuming she was on the horse by herself with Theo and Hank beside for instructions.

“Now give her a friendly kick.  Not too hard.”
I lifted my feet slightly then pinched them back.
“Harder than that,” Theo chuckled.  “Horses can sense your fear, and they will not listen to a master whom lacks confidence.”
I raised my feet again, then felt the horse shift.  Like something pinched its buttocks, the horse flinched and tensed its muscles, starting in the hind quarters, then waving upward until I felt it in its neck.
That was the only warning I had.
The reins seemed too flimsy and loose for support.  I lunged myself around the horse’s neck as it reared on its hind legs.  Then it bolted.
“Curses,” Theo swore.
My horse ran and gained speed like a freight train.  I dared a glance back at my friends, already too far away, as Theo threw himself onto a horse with swift grace.  He commanded his horse and charged after me.  I buried my face into my horse’s neck until a voice startled me.
“Fine day for a ride?” Theo grinned at me, a little worried and unsure.  His horse was neck to neck with mine.
I stared at him like a loon.  Hank came up on my other flank, swinging a lasso.  Seriously. A lasso.  I felt like I was in a movie playing Cowboys and Indians.
“Hank!  Stow it!” Theo shouted at his friend.  “The risk is too great with her on the back.”
I squeezed my eyes tight as our horses reached the edge of the field.  My horse turned away from Theo’s to ride the perimeter.  He cursed again as his horse fell behind.  It was another couple seconds before he was beside me again.
“Miss Patches will calm down as you will, now talk to me, Miss Pansy.  What of your family?  Will you tell me about them?”
There was no way I could talk casually during this ride on the crazy train. I shouted over the thundering hooves, “They’re dead!”
“Excuse me?”
Yeah, I doubted that was the response he expected.  He probably expected some story about my brother pushing me on a swing-set.  No, that wasn’t my life.  “My dad got drunk and killed my mom!  Then he shot himself from the regret!”
“Are you serious?”
I was surprised by the pain in his voice, though it was nothing to match my own.
“Then Oz died two years ago, and I still don’t know how!  Then Sean–“
“Forgive me,” he said in a rush, “forget I asked.  Please, just relax your grip on the horse.”
Lost in my painful past, I subconsciously gripped the horse’s neck more firmly.  “I can’t, I’ll fall off!”
“I promise, you will not.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” I mumbled, quoting my brother.  What would Oz do?  He would escape.  Theo was still talking, trying to calm down me or the horse.  Neither of us listened.  I shuffled my feet out of their holders, but pinched the horse’s sides with my knees.  Next I slid my hands down the horse’s neck to hold my saddle.
“Miss Pansy!  What are you doing!?”
“I’m getting off this crazy animal.”
“Hold on, the worst is over!  Let Miss Patches run her course, and she will eventually slow!”
I didn’t want to wait for “eventually.” I steadied my feet in a solid crouch on the saddle.
“Miss Pansy!  Are you mad!?”
I measured the rhythm of the horse’s movements, the bouncing up and down.  Up-down-up-down–jump!
My legs sprang from my crouch with the extra bounce of the horse.  It was easier than jumping off the napper-van from my youth.
With a harsh bend, I swung into a backflip, angling and preparing my feet for landing as I’ve done many times before.  The dirt ground was more solid and less even than the pool or trampoline I used for practice. My ankle twisted and landed me on my bottom.
If you fall down, get back up.
I rolled to my feet and dashed back to the stables.  Emma met me ten feet away.
“What.  Was.  That!?”
Miss Appleton likewise stared at me in astonishment.  “Did you jump off that horse?”
“Yes,” I muttered, and quickly ducked through the fence to put a barrier between myself and the animals.
Emma gaped like I’d won the lottery. “That was awesome!  Can you teach me to do that!?”
“I’m never getting on a horse again,” I said.  I gripped the rails to steady my shaking, and began a breathing exercise.
The men were on their way back, the crazed horse trotted between them in a noose held by Hank.  Theo rushed his horse ahead to stop suddenly in front of me, kicking dust up to my knees.
“Was this a set-up?” he demanded.
“How many times have you practiced with that horse?” he asked.  “You had us worried over nothing?”
To my surprise, Miss Appleton defended me.  “Miss Finster only arrived from Horror today.  This was our first time meeting these horses.”
“Horror?” Theo blinked and stared at me, even more confused.  “I suppose that explains your accent, though not your ability to master such a stunt on your first try.”
I held back my scoff.  My accent?  He spoke like a Regent from another world.
“That was my first and last time on a horse,” I confirmed.  “But when I was 12, I had to jump from a car on a freeway as it drove me to a human trafficking site.  I broke my leg that time, so I’ve practiced in case I had to escape a high-speed vehicle again.  Looks like I did.”
Silent stares.
Hank was the first to break into laughter. “The first thin’ to learn about ridin’ a horse is how to fall.  Girl, you got it nailed!”
Theo’s temper simmered, but he mumbled to the side, “The jump was an unnecessary hazard to herself and the horse.  If she waited just a minute longer, then Miss Patches would have calmed enough for a secure dismount.”
His bitterness in my escape route made me defensive.  I survived, didn’t I?  Was that not a success?  “You didn’t say a ‘minute,’ you said ‘eventually.’  I didn’t want to be stuck on that mustang until nightfall.  And who’s to say your method was better than mine?”
Theo’s mouth twitched into a smirk.  “Allow me to introduce myself properly.”  He swung off his horse with such ease my stomach twisted with jealousy.  Two steps took him to the lord’s cloak, which he promptly swept onto his shoulders.  Miss Appleton gasped with a small hiccup.  Theo then lowered himself into a gallant bow, throwing his cloak in such a way that it miraculously stayed above the ground.
“Lord Theodor Fromm, The Trusted, of Margen, second son of Duke Konrad Fromm, The Horse, of Margen: Fairy, Fantasy.”
He raised himself to meet my eyes with a well deserved smirk.  I clamped my mouth shut from biting back.  I was already made a fool here.  No dignity could be regained by mocking his title of “The Trusted.”  It confirmed that I definitely would not trust him.
My tongue was unschooled as I snipped, “Then excuse the orphaned peasant who’s only trying to survive.”  I turned my heel and marched back to my apartment alone.

The following would have been added to the cathedral date:

Theodor meandered his way over to me. “Miss Pansy.  Forgive me for my misunderstanding at the stables.  I thought you a damsel in distress, then you most expertly removed yourself.  I felt deceived and spoke harshly.”
“I’m sorry I made you worry, but if there’s one thing I can do, it’s take care of myself.”
I made to walk away, but he grabbed my wrist to keep me. “Please.”
He snapped his hand back like I’d burned him.  Then why did my skin still tingle where he’d touched me?
“Miss Pansy, I have seen the worst in some people–” I mindfully doubted he saw worse than I had “–who deceive for attention or to accomplish their own goals of wickedness.  An honest woman is hard to find, and I hope we may learn to trust each other.”
He seemed sincere.  I replied with a small nod.  “Trust comes with time and experience.”
His mouth quirked into a smile. “Then I look forward to sharing more time and experiences with you.  In the meantime, I do not suggest you try horseback riding again without supervision, regardless of your impressive dismounting.”
I shrugged. “This date thing is supposed to be pretty harmless.”  But somehow I knew the disasters were only beginning.

While I enjoyed the action and cutting to the chase (literally), I couldn’t make it work. Let me know your thoughts and impressions in the comments section, then join me next week for chapter 4’s behind the scenes intro to Brooke, Hank, and Theodor!

2 replies on “Behind the Scenes of “Don’t Date the Haunted,” Chapter 3”

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