Every so often, Cassandra King and her husband Pat Conroy vacation in Highlands, a small town in the North Carolina mountains.
About two summers ago, King was there alone amid the isolation of the mountains. The Beaufort author arrived a few weeks ahead of her husband to work on her new novel. It was a story about a woman, the new wife of a popular newscaster as she tries to fit into his social circle.
An interesting premise, she thought, but it needed a hook.
As she was strolling the gardens around the house to organize her thoughts, she stumbled over something -- a grave. It was the former owner's.
Her novel started to come together.
"Moonrise" is set to be released Sept. 1. It tells the story of Helen, the new bride, who is haunted figuratively and, possibly, literally by her husband's late wife, Rosalyn, a popular figure in the community.
As it so happens, King was also rereading "Rebecca" that summer, one of her favorite books of her youth. The Daphne du Maurier novel, which Alfred Hitchcock made into a movie, tells a similar story of a young bride married to a recent widower.
King had initially thought about trying out a modern re-telling of the novel, but felt that could be too limiting. It contains none of the humor or Southern quirkiness that her other novels are known for. So she used it more as an inspiration.
"Rebecca" is a gothic novel, a mix of horror and romance. The horror is rooted in the building of suspense and a general sense of foreboding. "Moonrise" is done in the same vein. King found it challenging to infuse elements of horror without overtly turning it into a ghost story. She was reminded of her childhood stays at her grandfather's house that were met with a giddy sort of mystery. She had heard the house was haunted and certain elements matched up -- the faint tapping that sounded like their great-grandfather walking with a cane, the piano notes that'd ring out in the still of the night. But was it really a ghost, or just the housecat on a midnight jaunt? She never really found out for sure. That same sense of unknown is in the book.
"I had to make everything plausible," she said. "It had to be a suggestion of haunting."
Many of King's novels explore the bonds of friendship among women. "Moonrise" is a darker take on that, a cast populated with "mean girls" as some have noted, King said.
"It's a departure, but one that most people experience," she said. "There can be a dark side of friendship."
Like the young bride in her favorite book, King has been in a similar position before. When she married Conroy 15 years ago she was his third wife. She came in with the uncertainty of how she would be received. Would she be liked? Would she fit in?
As it turned out, she was well received, and, thankfully, they've avoid any hauntings -- either real or perceived.