Patrick Carman credits his mother-in-law and a family vacation for inspiring his new novel "Skeleton Creek."
"She said 'Let's go to Sumpter,' " Carman said.
They did, and Carman spent most of the three days exploring the Sumpter Dredge.
"I was completely captivated by that thing," he said.
The 1,250-ton dredge was used to process gold-bearing gravel, and
before shutting down in 1954 it dug up more than $4 million worth of
gold. It's now the centerpiece of a state park.
As Carman toured the ancient wood structure, gloomy on even the brightest of days, an idea emerged for a ghost story.
That was three years ago. On Feb. 10, the product of that family vacation will be released.
And it's not your typical book because it includes both the written word and video footage.
Scholastic has tagged "Skeleton Creek" with the motto "Read it. Watch it. Live it."
"For years we've been trying to bridge this gap between reading and technology," Carman said. "This makes that line disappear."
The novel is a journal written by a teenager named Ryan. He's been in a horrible accident and is banned from communicating with his best friend, Sarah, his accomplice in mischief.
But the friends connect through e-mail. Ryan is a writer and Sarah is a filmmaker, so she makes videos and sends the Web site address and password to Ryan.
Every 20 pages or so, the reader puts the book down and enters the password to see the video, shot in a creepy Blair Witch-style. (But not too scary - the book is recommended for ages 10 and older.)
In this way the two continue researching the myth of Old Joe Bush, the ghost of the dredge.
Carman said the crew shot footage from dusk to dawn at the dredge to capture the eerie film sequences.
"We were up all night," he said. "There were a lot of bats in there - they'd do really low fly-bys. We had people on our crew who would not go in there alone."
This venture is one of the first of its kind in the world of books.
"Which is really scary," said Carman, who is the author of many books for young adults and children.
Many books now include companion Web sites with extra material, but these are a bonus rather than an essential part of the story.
He used all his advance money for the filming.
"That's not what you use an advance for - you use it for things like buying food," he joked.
For this project, he founded his own production company called PC Studio, and wrote his first script.
He then collaborated with Jeffrey Townsend, a scriptwriter, production and designer with 20 years experience in Hollywood.
Then came the search for Sarah, and Carman traveled to Los Angeles where a casting agent had rounded up 100 teenage girls.
They narrowed the group to two, but Carman still wasn't sure they'd found the right person. On a whim they held a casting call in Walla Walla, Wash., where he lives.
Amber Larsen showed up and they had Sarah.
"It is kind of a one-woman-show," Carman said of Sarah's scenes.
He said he designed the story so the reader decides what's real and what's not and if the narrator is trustworthy.
The book ends in a cliffhanger, but readers need not despair because the second and final book in the series comes out in September.
"A little six-month deep breath," Carman said.
Relief during that span comes online at www.skeletoncreekisreal.com where people can post ideas about the story and ruminate on the reality of the haunted dredge.
Carman declines to comment on his involvement with that site, but will say this:
"Go there between books. Whether I have anything to do with it is beside the point. It's where the story is unfolding, real or imagined."
And he hopes the story will spark enough interest that readers will make the trip to Sumpter, and see the dredge for themselves.
The possibility is real, and he mentions the new popularity of Forks, Wash., as an example because the town is the setting for the "Twilight" series that recently turned into a box office hit.
"Could Sumpter be the next Forks?" he said.
Carman grew up in Salem and graduated from Willamette University. He lived in Portland for a decade and worked in advertising, game design and technology.
After nine months in Montana, he and his family settled in Walla Walla.
"Along that journey there's been lots and lots of storytelling," he said. "Even as a kid I was telling yarns."
He credits his two daughters with helping him develop his novels, especially the Land of Elyon series.
"That all began from the stories I was telling them," he said.
His children's books about squirrels is set in Walla Walla's Elliot's Park, and came about when his youngest daughter suggested he write a story from the squirrel's perspective.