Ghost Time, the first novel of the Saccades trilogy, is about a fifteen-year-old girl named Thea Denny, who lives in an unnamed town in upstate New York, about three hours north of New York City. She’s in tenth grade, a high school sophomore who lives with her mother in a small two-bedroom apartment, and though their relationship is often strained by financial difficulties, most of their problems are due to the fact that Thea is fifteen, and her mother is her mother. As for her father, Thea hasn’t spoken to the man in several years, since her parents divorced. He’s not in the picture, literally, because Thea cut him out of all their family photos, after he left her mother for another woman. So that’s her home and home life, basically.
As far as describing Thea, well, she’s brilliant, for one thing. Not that her grades would show it—no, her grades definitely don’t reflect her intelligence. But still, the girl’s whip smart, she’s got a wicked sense of humor, and she’s an incredible artist, who loves high art and street art equally. Goya and Gerhard Richter; Jessica Hess and Chris Stain: same difference. Unfortunately, beyond her sixth-period art classes, Thea hates every minute of every day of school. On the bright side, she’s madly in love with her boyfriend, Cam, who is the first boyfriend she’s ever had.
As for Cam, he’s eighteen, a senior who transferred to their school at the beginning of the year, and the passion Thea feels for photography and illustration, Cam feels for math and computers. Born in 1991, '92, the idea that it’s geeks, not the meek, who shall inherit the earth, is his birthright. Needless to say, Cam is very intelligent, not to mention a very pretty boy. So much so that Thea can’t help smiling, simply saying his name out loud, so, of course, she does her best not to speak his name, certainly not in her mother’s presence. The thing about Cam is that he is the first person who has ever made Thea feel beautiful, talented, special, funny. He really gets her and no one else ever has, not even close. And you don’t have to be fifteen to appreciate how that feels.
So they meet in September, and by spring, they know each other well enough to finish each other’s sentences. They spend all their time together; they live on the Internet; they’re insatiable downloaders of music, videos, movies and games, pirated or otherwise. In fact, the two like to think of themselves as the Bonnie and Clyde of image banks, and together, using their cache of jpegs and a hardcover spiral notebook, they collaborate in creating their own private world of photographs, drawings, writing, screenplays, inside jokes. Really, the two share everything, and they’re inseparable.
Then, one afternoon in April 2009, leaving Thea’s house after school, just as he’s about to get in his car, Cam calls after her, and jokingly, teasing Thea about her name, he asks, "What if God was a teenage girl?" And with that, Thea’s whole world starts falling apart. For starters, Cam disappears the next day. A local police detective named Knox is assigned to the case, and then, a few days later, the FBI step in, repeatedly pulling Thea out of class to question her. Which she wouldn’t mind one bit, were it not for the fact that she takes an immediate and intense disliking to the FBI agent assigned to Cam’s case, a guy named Foley. Thea makes no effort to hide her hatred for man, for many reasons, not the least of which is because Foley claims that not only is Cam not who she thinks he is, worse, he insists that Cam has been lying to Thea from the day they met.
So, day after day, class after class, Thea’s life is turned upside down and inside out. Within a weeks’ time, Thea’s medical history is revealed; a sex tape of Thea and Cam appears on the Internet; then, when a graphic video involving a fifteen-year-old minor goes viral, the story becomes national news. Not surprisingly, reporters begin circling, and lawyers come calling. In less than a month after Cam’s disappearance, Thea’s sanity is alternately questioned and pushed to the brink.
In contrast, she finds great comfort—or at least some reassurance in the presence of Detective Knox, who, turns out, has a daughter Thea’s age, Melody. Soon enough, the two girls become best friends, even though Thea is the only person in the world who can actually speak to Melody for reasons that are slowly revealed, once Thea gives Melody a spiral notebook. The reason Thea gives Melody this book is so that the girls can create and share a world of their own, but also because Thea believes if a picture can speak a thousand words, maybe they can give Melody a voice that others can hear, too.
Meanwhile, many fantastic events occur in Thea’s life, any of which may or may not be explained, like, for instance, all her digital files, all the pictures and videos of her and Cam, begin decaying. Call it magical virtual realism, deus ex Macintosh, but much of this book deals with the intersections of adolescence and technology, for better or worse. And because I hoped to draw the most informed and realistic portrait of an artist as a teenage girl possible, I wanted to find a way to connect with visual artists, particularly teenagers, in the writing process.
So I started by reaching out to young artists I came across on the Internet whose work inspired me, and I wrote and asked if they would like to work with me. Having shared the book’s premise, what I asked, specifically, of each artist was that they choose a series of eight of their images and create a playlist of eight songs that I could work with. Provided with those playlists and photo series, every day for eight days, I began the workday by posting one song, and a few hours later, I posted the accompanying image. Then I would spend the rest of my day writing a "sketch," letting that song and image lead my imagination wherever it may, and at the end of each day, I posted that sketch—complete with typos and grammatical mistakes, I’m afraid. But still, directly inspired by these artists, the Saccades blog became my sketchbook.
You could call Ghost Time "young adult," and a "paranormal romance," and of course it is, but really, I hope it defies both definitions. For me, it’s a book about first love, about loving somebody with all your heart, with complete abandon, and at the very moment that this brilliant girl, Thea Denny, risks everything for true love, the boy of her dreams disappears. Vanishes in thin air. And she’s left alone, reeling, haunted by questions. What happened to him? Who was this boy? What was true? Was it all a lie, everything he said? Did he love her? Did she make him up? Is she crazy? And, of course, "What if God was a teenage girl?" These are the questions that will guide this story, questions about art, technology, creativity, faith—struggling to believe the best of someone you love, when confronted with their worst. And a few other eternal themes, like grief, heartbreak, and high school. Please stay tuned.