Author Flannery O'Conner once suggested that anyone who survives childhood has enough material in them to write for the rest of their life.
For Hotchkiss resident Sunshine Knight, that material began to flow eight years ago while on a solo trip through New England seeking inspiration for her first novel. Driving through the Vermont countryside she found a quaint town, its streets lined in Victorian-era houses that gave the town an other-world feel, "where the dead might co-mingle with the living." She imagined the inhabitants, what their lives might be like, and pondered "the side of people we don't see unless we get to know them."
By trip's end she had a story in her mind about a ghost, Bartholomew Ka (his name would come later), in life a controlling husband in a tumultuous marriage who commits suicide in the late 1800s to escape guilt over the death of his wife. For Ka, death is "as kind to me as life." He haunts the house he built, his "last true love," in the fictitious town of Stafford, Colo. He deeply despises and drives out every person who occupies the house over the decades, and in particular those who change the house, painting the banister pink and covering his beautiful floors in hideous red linoleum and orange shag carpet.
Knight recently self-published "The Devastation of Bartholomew Ka," the first of three books in the Ka series. A book reading and signing event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, at the Church of Art in Hotchkiss.
The book begins in 1978 when Samantha Blaine, a school teacher escaping the memory of her parents' sudden death and a painful past, takes a teaching job in Stafford. She buys Ka's house and hires a young craftsman, Alex Kearney, to restore it to its original beauty. Ka immediately tries to run her out, but she stands her ground while Alex, and his uncle, Brian, are fully aware of Ka and protect her from his dangerous antics.
Devastation isn't written in chapter format. Rather, it flips dialogues between "Sam" and "Barty" as they grapple with the people in their lives, with themselves, and with each other. Sam and Bart eventually form an unlikely, and for Ka, a very conditional friendship.
Knight is fan of the horror genre, and her story was inspired by Stephen King's "Bag of Bones," about a small town with immensely dark secrets. While some describe it as a "ghostly love story," she didn't see it as one and decided to write her own ghostly love story. While in New England she wrote the opening for the first book in her head and penned the final scene. All she needed to do was fill in the blanks.
The result is a Ka series. "I have a vision of what I want the series to be," she said. She originally considered writing a 10-book series, but didn't want to spend 10 years on one ghost. She plans to release book two of the trilogy, "The Possessions of Bartholomew Ka," in 2017. It sends Ka on a dark spiral following the devastation, and introduces new characters, including the heroine. She is based on a close friend who died of breast cancer recently at age 32. "I wanted her to be my heroine," says Knight.
Ka ultimately finds redemption in book three, which she imagines as a series of novellas.
Self-publishing allowed Knight complete creative control and for her son, artist Chris Allen, to create the cover art. "I'm so proud to be able to have him be a part of that," said Knight. She was also anxious to get the book out, and going through a publisher would take time. Just getting permission to use a copyrighted poem was going to take at least a year. Brandy Mustow wrote the intro poem, "Contradictions."
Knight and husband Steve Allen live in Hotchkiss where they are raising three sons. She grew up in the Denver metro area and knew early on she wanted to be a writer. She wrote her first book in sixth grade, started a novel in eighth grade and another in high school, but never finished them. In high school she also wrote "really terrible poetry, which nobody should ever read."
Writing the book has been a long process, and one she wondered at times if she'd finish it. While writing Devastation she dove into the creative writing process while earning a liberal arts degree from Colorado Mesa University. At school she discovered the Western Slope chapter of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. "That's where I learned a lot about craft," she said.
An excerpt from Devastation, written in the flash fiction genre, was published in The Write! On Anthology, a peer-judged collection of local works published annually by the Blue Sage Center for the Arts and Delta County Libraries. Flash fiction "is a really interesting style to write in, because you have to be really concise and compact. The words you choose have to have a lot of power behind them," said Knight.
Knight calls her first book "a starting point" that allows her to move on to the next book. She knows where she wants the series to go and needs to finish it, "because I have so much emotion wrapped up in it."