Many thanks to E. B. Davis for inviting me to talk about the genesis of my short story, “Disco Donna,” published this month in the Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays anthology.
So, where did Disco Donna come from?
Urban legends fascinate me. Not so much the ones about albino alligators in the sewers of New York City as much as tales of vanishing hitchhikers or haunted Lovers Lanes. These stories often reflect the preoccupations and fears of those living where the events reportedly took place.
One aspect of urban legends that especially intrigues is the associated phenomena of legend tripping. Did your teenage self – on a dare – ever go to a supposedly haunted house or cave where doomed lovers died, or an unholy rite occurred, or a monster lurked? If you did, you, my friend, legend tripped.
Teens in my area go to the Bunny Man Bridge, site of the urban legend of Fairfax County, Virginia, the Bunny Man. Years ago – no one is exactly sure when – an escapee from an asylum (naturally), wearing a bunny suit, menaced parking kids with a machete on the isolated, lonely roads near an abandoned railroad bridge. The usual stew of insanity, fear, death, sex, and a machete for good measure make this an enduring tale, and teens still dare each other to visit the creepy bridge.
At the same time I was mulling over story ideas, some friends and I were talking about reputations. Do teens worry about their reputation anymore? I flashed back to long ago high school days when many girls (sign of the times – it was usually only girls) had a “bad reputation” due to their dating history.
That’s when beautiful, wild Disco Donna Demonte danced—to a Bee Gees tune—onto the page. Fictional Donna is a high school student in the seventies, bad rep, too hot to care, discovered murdered in her bed the morning after Halloween. She had been strangled and is clutching a single, red rose. Rumors swirl about the killer: Could it have been the high school football captain? Devil worshippers? The ever reliable escapee from an insane asylum? As years pass and her murderer is never found, kids from the town dare each other to visit the abandoned house where Disco Donna was murdered.
Flash forward to the present day, to some high school girls in a vintage clothing store trying to decide what to be for Halloween. One girl decides to dress as the town’s most famous citizen—Disco Donna. That innocent decision sets in motion events that finally unmask Disco Donna’s killer.
Hope you enjoy the story. Just remember to put some Donna Summer on the stereo, lock the door, and read with the lights on.
I am grateful to the wonderful editors of the anthology: Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews (not a model for Disco Donna!) and Marcia Talley. These brilliant criminal minds were there when I needed them to fill plot holes, polish prose, and vanquish tense shifts. A million thanks, ladies.
Do you have a favorite urban legend? Did you ever legend trip?