There’s nothing like doing a little research during the final phase of manuscript preparation. It can make you question your storytelling choices or laugh out loud.
I decided that I needed a little touch of oddball menace on page nine of my new Candy’s Monster — Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet — so I put a few “coffin corners” in the stairway of the old building where the story takes place.
I first heard about coffin corners when I worked in a 19th century house in Brooklyn. The building was rundown, but still charming. The little niches in the stairway walls were often filled with a statuette of a saint or an air a solid air freshener in the summer. One of my colleagues, still a good friend, explained that the strategically placed nooks made it possible for undertakers to carry coffins down the stairs. An empty coffin could be carried vertically, but after the wake that wasn’t an option.
I wrote the paragraph and added a couple more, filling the coffin corners with various items appropriate to the story. That’s when I started to drive myself a bit crazy. I looked up COFFIN CORNER and discovered it was an aviation term. I laughed and added THAT to the story, too.
Then I mentioned the coffin corners to my mother, who assured me that they were definitely all about carrying coffins down narrow stairways. That’s when it really got funny. I did a little more research and found a site debunking the very definition my mom assured me was correct. This site claimed that the so-called coffin corners were merely small decorative nooks intended for vases and little statues of saints in Victorian era buildings.
My head was spinning.
Of course the character in the book is constantly spinning stories in her head. I’m simply along for the ride.
An excerpt from Bram Stoker’s Summer Sublet — complete with a coffin corner …
On our way out I glanced at the coffin corner and saw that someone had left a crumbled pack of cigarettes in it. Propped up with a skull and cross bones, health-warning showing, it looked like something out of an anti-smoking ad campaign. But the smile on the skull was particularly curious. The eyeteeth were long and pointy — like vampire fangs. Since when were vampires on cigarette warning labels? I looked closer. Someone had carefully drawn the fangs in. It was sort of funny, but not really. I looked over my shoulder at Petrofsky’s door.