Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reading and Writing About Ghosts



I probably read at least four true ghost story books a year, sometimes (a lot) more, and sometimes less, depending on what I can find. I've been reading this material for so long that it can be difficult to find books with stories that I don't already know. For that reason, I now look for collections of tales shared by those who have experienced something paranormal, since those stories will be new to me.

Lately, though, I've been struggling to get through my beloved books, and I've been trying to figure out why. I think I might have an idea. If you have ever read any true ghost stories, you will know that they center around a place or an incident -- or even series of incidents-- that happened to someone. The story will include all the details that can make your hair stand on end or give you chills. That's the fun part! I think what's been on my mind is that most of these stories don't have any kind of resolution. Most of the time, no one ever finds out why this is happening. Why does this particular ghost haunt this place? Or person? Why does it disturb one special room, or do one specific action every night at ten o'clock? The details are always fascinating, but there are never, or rarely, any kind of explanation behind the haunting.

I think that may be why I write what I do: it lets me gather all the untidy and unexplained bits together and resolve them into one nice coherent story. By the time a reader finishes one of my books, if she or he doesn't understand the story behind the ghost, then I haven't done my job. 

I am currently reading a book of shared ghost stories that was put out by podcasters Tony and Jenny Brueski. Their podcast is called Real Ghost Stories Online and is centered around supernatural experiences that are called in by listeners. And the stories are both fascinating and frightening. But of course, for the majority of the tales, there is no explanation that can be shared. People move into houses and start experiencing unworldly occurrences, and who knows why that is happening?

The Dead Files, my favorite reality paranormal TV show, usually resolves the story, or at least a great deal of it, by the end. So did The Haunting of... with medium Kim Russo. And so did The Haunted Collector. Those shows are always at the top of my list and I think it's because they usually had some sort of conclusion. Don't get me wrong, though. I do still enjoy stories that investigate but do not present an explanation for what is going on in a haunted place. I liked Ghost Hunters and Celebrity Ghost Stories. I like Ghostly Encounters. And on a lighter note, I totally loved The Lowe Files! Those are sort of like "The-Journey-is-The-Point" kind of narratives and are fun in their own right. But I think that the ones that also have an explanation hit a different note with me, and so I go from "That was fun!" to "That was fun and really, really satisfying!" Since we're talking about the supernatural here, even I admit that sounds ridiculous, but there it is.

And so I guess I write my own stories so that there is a known beginning, middle, and end to the main haunting in my novel. (I qualify that because the ghost stories that my characters tell on Thursday night are closer to reality and frequently have no explanation.) But the novels I write will include a resolution to the ghost story. Cassie Valentine and Michael Penfield make sure of that.

And I guess that's the beauty of fiction. It lets me resolve, tidy, satisfy, and complete the story so that everyone goes away with a sense of completion. Unfortunately, life just isn't quite like that.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Do You Believe?

I once talked to a woman who told me that she had seen a leprechaun. She was from Scotland and was visiting Ireland when this happened. She said that she had just finished touring a particular site, although I can't remember if it was a castle or an historic home, and saw a leprechaun standing at the side of the path. She thought it was one of the most adorable little statues she had ever seen, but wondered why it was wearing a blue suit instead of the iconic green one that proper Irish leprechauns wear. And as she stood there staring at it, wondering about its clothing, it walked away and disappeared into the nearby underbrush. This woman was in healthcare. She did years of arduous and scientific study to achieve her position, and she was neither flighty nor prone to hallucinations. But she saw a leprechaun. And I believe her.

I believe there are all sorts of wonders on this planet that we don't know anything about, but sometimes are allowed to get a glimpse. And I feel sorry for all of those people who unhesitatingly snap that such things do not exist and that anyone who sees or experiences something like this is mistaken or crazy or both.

Someone once said to me rather wistfully that he wished he could expand his mind enough to shift his perspective, or something along those lines. I figured he meant he wished he could find it in himself to open up to things that were unexplained. I gather that means that he can't; that he has a knee-jerk response to anything out of the everyday that puts a kabosh on him being able to accept that it could be true. And I think that's amazingly sad. I would struggle to put a cap on my thinking like that. I must be like the Ghostbusters - "ready to believe." Maybe I'm super-gullible, but no one's ever sold me snake oil. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I don't think so. My degree was also heavily based in science. 

Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Of course, if you have a brain like Einstein's, you can say something like that and no one is going to call you a fool. At least, not to your face. But maybe he was on to something?

Because of what I do and where I tend to go, I usually am around people who believe what I believe, or are at least open-minded to the idea that leprechauns and other little people, Bigfoot and other types of creatures, ghosts and other sorts of paranormal beings, all exist. When I meet someone who can't even admit the possibility, I find it fascinating as much as I find it to be sad. Did they grow up in a family where talk about these kinds of things was squashed immediately? Did something happen to disillusion them so badly that any thing that can't be seen, touched, or otherwise tangibly experienced can't exist? Were they lied to so badly and repeatedly that they can't take someone else's word for it, even if that someone is a practicing dentist? (I knew a dentist who saw Bigfoot while out in Oregon.)

My father was a doctor and as hard-core a skeptic as you could find. I think he figured I was a little mad, but I always got good grades at school so that was okay. One day I asked him if he thought spontaneous human combustion was possible. I had just run into the concept and was freaking out internally at the thought. He asked me what it was and when I told him, he just said, "I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often" because medically speaking, it made sense to him. OH NO! That didn't ease my anxieties at all. On the other hand, it made me think he was a lot cooler than I had previously thought.

I'm not sure where skepticism comes from. It's almost like a skeptic is too afraid to try believing in something. Maybe they don't want others to think they're silly or unrealistic. Maybe they once believed in something that turned out not to be true, so they don't want to get fooled again. Maybe they don't want to appear too gullible, I don't know. I also don't know where my willingness to believe almost anything might exist comes from. Maybe I'm silly and unrealistic? But the view from behind my eyes allows a breadth and depth to my worldly landscape that is just so much more fun! So I guess I'd rather be flighty and silly than serious and so down-to-earth that I can't buy into the weird stuff. Besides, believing in all this is kind of part of my job description.

So how about you? Do you believe?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Brain Finds Stories for Idle Minds


I remember posting previously that when I’m not actively working on a book, my brain will start to come up with stories that play out while I dream. Since I’m currently between tales, I had one of those dreams the other night.

As with most dreams that fade after waking, the details are a bit fuzzy. But there are some things I remember clearly. For one thing, I dreamed I was spending time with a friend from my high school days. We were in town for someone’s wedding. Now, this particular friend happens to be gifted in that peculiar way that so many of my friends seem to be. In fact, there are times that she is flat-out scary. If I were to tell her that she ran the gamut from “psychic” to “psycho” she’d just laugh at me and probably agree.

So in my dream, she and I had gone for a jog. This is not something we’ve ever done, but it is in line with something we would have done at one point. And while we were running, she…disappeared. I mean, she simply vanished. She was about three strides ahead of me one moment, and the next she was nowhere to be found. My dream-self looked for her: checking ahead to see if she’d gone into sprint mode; looking down the next alley (we were city jogging in my dream) to see if she’d turned a corner; glancing behind to see if I had somehow passed her. But no, she wasn’t anywhere around me.

Then the scene completely switched and I was alone, in bed for the night. Something had awakened me from sleep and in the brief second from deep sleep to full wakefulness, I realized there was someone else in the room. Someone no longer of this world, so to speak. I was aware of it and it was aware of me. So I did what any normal person would do: I pulled the blankets up over my head and willed it to go away. It didn’t want to be ignored. I could hear it moving around on the other side of the bed, shifting things, knocking against the closet door, rustling alongside the mattress as if it were walking right up against the blankets. At one point, it even turned on the light and I could see brightness through the covers over my face, but I ignored that and at last, after a few more bangings and rustlings, it went away.

And all while this was going on, my dream-self was aware that I was dreaming and also aware that something in my real bedroom was making real noise and also flashed a light. The light can be explained, even in the real, wide-awake world. We charge our phones on a night-table that’s up against the wall and every time my husband gets an e-mail, which is frequently—even in the middle of the night, his phone screen lights up like a Hollywood premiere, so I imagine that is what I was seeing, whether awake or asleep. The noises, however, stand on their own.

I’m not surprised I would dream about a wedding even if it stayed in the background. That’s coming up in a future story. And I’m not really surprised I would dream about a nocturnal visitor from beyond the grave. They’re on my mind all the time anyway. I assume this is just my writing brain telling me to get out of holiday mode and get on with it, already. Lord knows the house has been telling me the same thing.

Scenes and dialogue have been coming to me so I guess I’d better make a start very soon. Otherwise the dreams will keep coming. And I can’t even talk about my last waking dream this morning…

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 – Another Year of Writing


In 2017, I set the goal for myself of publishing two Bridgeton Park Cemetery books in one year. This may not sound like a huge accomplishment compared to the most productive writers I know and know of: Stephen King, Megg Jensen, Mark Dawson, my own good friend Terri Reid. But for me that was a huge, huge accomplishment, seeing as how it used to take me about three years to finish one book. I know, I know; prolific is not my middle name.

So I did it. I wrote and released two books in 2017. And in 2018, I found myself to be completely wordless. As in, the reservoir was temporarily empty. I am blown away by writers who can put work out as rapidly as they do. I am not among their number. After I finish a novel, I normally need some time to recover. “Some time” can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. I just need that much time to recharge. I guess it takes that long to replenish the part of me that goes into writing the book because I do use up some of me with every book I write. I wish it was as easily replaced as electrolytes, but whatever it is, it isn’t. Easily replaced, that is.

Thus, my BPC entry for 2018 was mondo late. There is no other way to put it. Originally I meant to have it out in May because then I figured I’d get that second book out in October, just like in 2017. Not so much. Then I thought I’d make it by July. Nope. And then I began to realize, this thing won’t be ready until Halloween and if I make that, it’ll be a small miracle. I was lucky: I got my miracle, and She Weeps saw the light of day in October.

Maybe what helped was co-authoring a book with Terri. Our little tome, Ghosts, Graves, and Groves went live in September and I think having a book out with my name on it, even though it wouldn’t have happened without Terri, took some of the pressure off me. It let me relax just a little bit and once that happened, writing the last third of She Weeps came a bit easier. Because while the writing can come very easily, there are also times when putting down each word is like extracting my own teeth with a pair of pliers: great effort and a lot of pain.

So now I am looking into the open expanse of 2019 and wondering what that will bring. I have the beginnings of Cassie’s and Michael’s next adventure. I also have the beginnings for another book, one I’ve had in my head for a long time (read: years) and am beginning to wonder if I should actually commit to writing. If I do that, this would be another two-book year. But with two different sets of characters. I wonder if that will make the process different for me. Maybe less taxing? Maybe more so? I guess I won’t know about that unless I try.

So in the meantime, I need to clear my office, clear my head, and find more writing music. Because January is about to hit and when it does, I hope to look at that blank screen and find the opening words for my next written offering.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ghosts Among the Preparations

Christmas season is in full swing, and that means I'm in my usual near-crazy mode. I shouldn't be. I wrote out and sent our Christmas cards last week, baked and mailed cookies to out-of-state relatives this past Monday, just about finished Christmas shopping except for those last-minute things that pop up, and arranged to have all teacher presents dropped off today while I'm at work. So far, so good.

But I'm still almost-frantic.

That comes, no doubt, from the constant worry that I've forgotten something. You'd think that after all these years of family Christmases, I'd either 1) have my routine totally down-pat, or 2) have a master list that I can use to check things off upon completion. The answer to that is two-fold: Nope, and HA HA HA! That's way too organized for me. Maybe I secretly enjoy living with stress, I'm not sure.

However, one thing I have noticed is that despite my oven-hovering behavior, my rushing out the door to cram a few hours' worth of errand-running into one hour, and my packing boxes seemingly from here to eternity, the other residential occupants of this place have not ceased their bids for attention. I have noticed that despite the fact that I'm currently not writing -not beyond a few notes for future work, or some time spent developing story lines- these pesky phantoms are still banging their way down the hall, knocking on walls, and in one case, STILL hanging out in my laundry room by the garage door. You'd think they'd take a holiday break, or something, but no. I guess maybe they don't take breaks on the other side?

My grandson is still complaining about being disturbed not only in his bedroom, now, but also in the bathroom when he's taking a shower. When he has the door closed and I walk past, he'll sometimes call out "hello" so that he can make sure it's just me walking down the hall, because he knows I'll answer him.

My daughter just mentioned that "there's something really nasty back in the laundry room" the other night.

And at least one of my personal items has disappeared. I'm still waiting for it to come back.

Sometimes I wonder if Shirley Jackson ever had this kind of stuff going on while she was working on things like The Haunting of Hill House or even We Have Always Lived in the Castle. There's no use wondering about Stephen King because he's come right out and said that his house is haunted. Ditto for Terri Reid. But did H.P. Lovecraft deal with this stuff? Did Edgar Allen Poe? Heck, did either Charlotte or Emily Bronte have this going on?

I have two more cookie recipes to bake before Christmas actually arrives. I have a gift card to download. And I have a whole slew of presents to wrap, so even though I'm pretty much on schedule, I'm not done with my holiday preparations yet. And clearly our other-worldly guests don't much care whether I'm doing Christmas tasks or writing a ghost story, at least, not right now. I suppose I don't really mind that much -why should December be any different from the other calendar months?

But I sure wouldn't mind if one of them would gift me with a fantastic story idea: a terrific little Merry Christmas! from the other side.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Is That a Ghost I Smell?

There are such things as clairvoyance, the ability to see, and clairaudience, the ability to hear...ghosts. To put it another way, the ability to perceive the supernatural whether through sight or sound: two ways to connect with beings from another dimension. But I sometimes wonder, is there such a thing as clairolfactance? (I've just coined that non-word and am already wondering if the maker of Clairol hair products had the idea of their product being clear-smelling when they chose that name.) But back to the topic: I mean for the term clairolfactance to indicate the ability to smell the paranormal.

Sounds wonky, right?

But if you read enough about the paranormal, you know that some hauntings include smells as part of the experience. I'm currently reading a book about real-life hauntings and one location includes a centuries-old ship that now serves as a museum. In the galley, a place where no one has done any kind of cooking for literally hundreds of years, visitors are frequently greeted with the smell of freshly-baked bread. As paranormal experiences go, that doesn't sound too bad.

Then there are the haunted hotels where overnight guests will sometimes smell traces left by former, and now-deceased, fellow guests. These smells run the gamut from cigar and pipe smoke to fresh flowers, and all the way through women's perfume. 

But then there are the smells that no one ever wants to run into because they signal the presence of malevolence, malice, and possibly just plain evil. Those are smells like rotting meat, rotten eggs, sewage, and sulfur. Demonologists will talk about smelling something foul when they run into a negative or downright evil entity of some kind. 

In my brushes with the supernatural, I have never encountered a particular smell and I hope it stays that way. I don't even care if it's a benevolent smell like fresh bread or lilacs; I would rather not run into that particular type of haunting. And I can't even tell you why.

Maybe it's the fact that as far as hearing things goes, I've almost (ALMOST) gotten used to that. Yesterday while I was getting things done around the house, I couldn't believe how much I was hearing from the other rooms, or down the hall. There was so knocking, banging, shifting, rustling, and other hard-to-ignore sounds that I was amazed that I wasn't sitting at the keyboard writing a ghost scene with Cassie and Michael. Perhaps that was someone telling me to sit down at the keyboard and write a scene or two. Then again, maybe it's just because of the nature of our hallway. 

When it comes to seeing, the two phantoms I glimpsed during the summer of 2017 would have been enough for me, but there are other presences that pop up at the edge of my vision, from the lady out in the front yard going around the corner of the house, to the one who hangs around in my laundry room by the garage door (Why? I ask myself. I can't imagine hanging around someone's garage door, but then I haven't had occasion to haunt anyone so I can't guess at the logic behind that kind of behavior.) So, no, I"m not as acclimated to seeing these things as I am to hearing then. If you can get acclimated to that sort of thing.

But smelling something that shouldn't be there? Somehow that seems more "wrong" than visits that involve my sense of sight or hearing.

Anyone who's read Stephen King's The Shining will remember that Hallorann would smell oranges before he had one of his clairvoyant events. Maybe for some folks, clairolfactance is a real thing, their own particular hallmark and entryway to the generally inaccessible. But no thank you, I'd rather not experience that myself.

On the other hand, when it comes to the other senses? Tasting something paranormal? Can't even imagine what that would be about. The sense of touch, though --  I know people have been touched, stroked, even slapped or scratched. Hmm. Maybe smelling something unseen (as opposed to being touched by something unseen) isn't so bad after all.