It all started with this:
Wait… actually, it all started with THIS:
I’m an unabashed Disney Junkie, and one of my absolute favorite rides is the Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris: it combines the classic Disney Haunted Mansion vibe with a great western feel. And the worldbuilding! The backstory about the failing mining town of Thunder Mesa and its malevolent founder Henry Ravenswood adds so much to the experience.
So when I had a notion (inspired by a very bizarre dream involving the phrase “you may now bite the bride”) about a wild west vampire, I knew I wanted to lean into that Phantom Manor aesthetic. A quick glance through my Disney art books revealed that the Phantom Manor was based in large part off the Second Empire style of the Fourth Ward School in Virginia City, Nevada.
I had a setting!
Now, I knew literally nothing about the Silver Rush or even boom towns in the most abstract terms. While I’m sure I had heard the phrase “Comstock Lode” before, it had never caught my interest. But soon I was wading through websites and ransacking the shelves at my local university library, ordering books and pouring over Google Maps terrain images. It was the wildest self-taught crash course I’d ever embarked on, and I was hooked.
Most of A Ghost Town Vampire was already written before I got my chance to visit the Comstock in the flesh, but being there and feeling the environment added a last-minute richness to my descriptions that I never could have managed working off photos alone. And of course, among all my other sight-seeing, I had to pay a pilgrimage to the Fourth Ward School.
Imagine if the Disney Imagineers hadn’t mentioned their inspiration for old Phantom Manor!