Behind the Scenes: Agnews Insane Asylum​

The second piece in the story of how my new psychological suspense-ghost story-historical trilogy came into being started in 2010. (Read Part 1)

The company I worked for was acquired. With a change in my role, I was moved to the Sun Microsystems/Oracle campus in Santa Clara, California — formerly Agnews Developmental Center previously known as Agnews Insane Asylum.

The park-like setting, filled with palm trees and Mediterranean Revival buildings, captured my heart. I’ve loved Mediterranean/Spanish architecture since I was a child being fed a white-washed view of the California Missions. I’ve loved palm trees for an equally long time. I have no idea why.

Walking through the refurbished halls of the clock tower building, looking into the rafters of the auditorium with its dark wood floor that prevented me from ever slipping out of a large team meeting unnoticed, I felt like a child playing make-believe. I imagined the pleasure of living in a building with ancient wood floors, stucco exterior, and those iconic tile roofs.

Agnews Cathryn GrantWhen I heard there’d been reports of a ghost that haunted the clock tower, I wanted to leave my childish imagination behind and write a novel.

Those fascinating buildings simmered in the back of my mind right beside the Presidio of San Francisco.

I’ll admit, part of my fascination came from a life-long curiosity about madness. As a child, I devoured the story of Nellie Bly. Ms. Bly was a reporter who mimed what was then considered “mental illness” to get herself committed to a women’s asylum so she could write news articles about the dehumanizing conditions.

As an adult, this grew into an ongoing fascination with the line between sanity and madness. To me, it’s somewhat elusive.

The ideas simmered but nothing took shape. They appeared to be completely unrelated except for my interest in history. These two settings and their legends and mystique felt doomed to never seeing the light of day. A trilogy was a possible form, but there was no candidate for the third book, and no real story beyond the settings that captivated me.

UP NEXT: How the third setting appeared from the most unlikely source

Share your reaction