Thursday, March 22, 2018

Desperately In Need of a Scary Story?

 I read about ghosts. I write about ghosts. I apparently have a bit of an obsession about them. And in this blog I try to share stories. However, even I, the sort of crazy person who says to perfect strangers "Tell me a ghost story" will occasionally run out of fresh tales. So then what?

I have two plans of action for such a dilemma: 1. Books, and 2. TV.

And that, folks, is where I am today (and likely to be some time in the future, as well.) So today I will resort to my all-time favorite paranormal reality TV show - The Dead Files.

If you haven't seen this show, you're missing something. No one else has paired up a physical medium with a retired NY homicide detective (who would think of something like that?) And no one else conducts investigations like these two. The premise is that someone is having paranormal difficulties and so Amy Allan (the medium) and Steve DiSchiavi (the retired police detective) will investigate the situation, each in her or his individual manner. Amy will take a walk through the house, picking up on what or who is there. Steve will interview the residents or owners, then do historical research including interviews with local historians, law enforcement personnel, and genealogists. Then they get back together with the people who are having the problems, explain what they have found, and tell them what to do to resolve the situation and reclaim their peace and serenity.  (The only other problem-solving show I've ever seen was probably The Haunted Collector with John Zaffis. Believe me, he'll turn up here again at some point.)

In all the time that I have watched this show, I have seen Mr. DiSchiavi uncover murders, suicides, massacres, accidents, almost anything that could cause a tragedy and a psychic disturbance. And I have seen Ms. Allan come up with ghosts, poltergeists, PK manifestations, demons, curses, and really unsettling entities that she explains "were never human." YIKES.

Here's an example: on one show, an entire family was experiencing apparitions, unexplained noises, feelings of being watched, and constant nightmares, among other things. Ms. Allan told them what she had found on her walk, and Mr. DiSchiavi backed up her findings with his research. THEN she said something like "But the other thing going on is that your children are experiencing alien abduction, and I can't help with that." Um... Uhhh...

My sister, who thinks Communion is one of the scariest movies she has ever seen, would have been running for the hills, at that point. Seriously? Alien abduction? But Ms. Allan has talked about aliens in more than one episode and she's not necessarily talking about beings that hover over the house in spaceships and zap sleeping humans into their labs. Frequently she'll mention that "alien" can mean a being from another dimension. Some poor folks seem to have portals to other dimensions in their backyards. Or their basements. Or their upstairs hallway between two bedrooms. YIKES again.

I realize that for complete skeptics and other non-believers, this is probably heading off into the territory known as madness or nonsense or fantasy. That's their prerogative.

But I also know that The Dead Files frequently goes back to the places they were called to (this version of the show is called The Dead Files: Revisited) to see how things have been resolved or changed if the clients followed Amy's advice. Lots of times there is a really happy ending, but not always. Sometimes, the family or owners will have been told to move away, and so there can be no follow-up at the original site of investigation.

I suggest that if you're ever looking for a scary story, like I frequently am, that you give this show a try. I'm not trying to write an ad for them, either. I'm just saying that as far as freaky tales go, they have some of the best  I've ever seen.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

New Appliances, Recent Upgrades, and Oh, Yeah, a Ghost

 Home, Sea, Coast, Scotland, Lost Places

I think there are some jobs that would make a person more likely to run into ghosts. If you're following my Facebook page, then you'll know I recently posted about a doctor who collected stories of the strange and paranormal from other doctors.** Since they frequently deal with life-and-death situations, I guess it wouldn't be much of a surprise that doctors would run into ghosts from time to time. The stories featured in the aforementioned collection are amazing.

I know that the police run into that, too. I read a whole book about that and will post it on Facebook in the near future.

But what about less obvious jobs that might bring one into contact with the unknown? Hotel workers, for instance? There are any number of haunted hotels in any given city. Or how about home re-modelers? Paranormal aficionados all know that renovating a home can bring things back to life. It's almost a given in a house with a history. And then there's the real estate agents themselves.

Jim and I were talking to a real estate agent we know just the other week, and when he asked me what I write about -and I told him I write ghost stories- he said, "Did I ever tell you about that one house?" 

That brought my full attention around pretty fast. "No," I said. "What house?"

He then told us about a house on a busy street that he knew. Apparently, the son of the owners was killed on the street right in front of the place, and now haunts it. "He shows up in various places," our friend said. "The new owners talk about him being there all the time. They don't know what to do about it."

"He probably doesn't know he's dead," I suggested. If the young man died suddenly in front of his home, he might have no idea that he "crossed over" and is currently continuing to live his life as he knew it. Except that he's not alive anymore, at least, not physically.

Our friend, who probably doesn't think about this kind of thing very often, shrugged and nodded at the same time. "And there's another place, too," he said.

I couldn't believe it. "You know of another haunted house?"
 "In this case, it wasn't the son, but the mother who died. She was an older lady. And now the people living there say they see her shadow around the house, all the time."

We all thought about that for a while. 

"I guess they don't know how to get rid of her, either," he said.

I had used the idea of a real estate agent running into a haunted house in my last book. Touching Shadow, Stealing Light, so it was very cool to run into a similar situation in person.

This was just a chance conversational topic that came up when we were all together, but I wonder if there's a way I can bribe him to tell me more stories. Maybe a nice dinner? Maybe a fancy lunch? He's been in the business for well over forty years, he must have more stories than the two little ones he shared. Maybe, if he ever has to list a house he thinks may be haunted, I can get him to give me a showing, just for the heck of it. 

And then maybe he's got some stories on the aftermath of selling a haunted house. I've seen stories in the papers about people who wanted to get out of a house sale after finding out their new digs were haunted. I've seen stories about whether or not an owner has to divulge that their listed house is disturbed. I'd sure love to get his take on all of that. In forty-plus years, I bet he's got a back log of bizarre stories. I'll have to see if I can get him to share some of that...

** Physicians' Untold Stories, Scott Kolbaba, MD

Thursday, March 8, 2018


I was going to blog about the paranormal, as always, but instead, let me introduce you to my brother-in-law, Paul.

My husband Jim is eight years younger than his next sibling, and that would be Paul. I first met this older brother back in 1976, I think. At that time, Jim and I were getting serious with our relationship, and though there was all kinds of family craziness around us then, Paul did tell me the first time we met face-to-face that he liked me.

After Jim and I married and started our own family, Paul and his wife Jan (and daughter Michelle) were very good to us. They babysat for us, they invited us to family dinner every Christmas Eve, including a church service for the holiday, had us over for various dinners, volunteered Michelle to hang out with our children, the whole bit. They lived a few 'burbs over and we were all busy, but we got together several times a year. And every year when I sent out our kids' school photos, Jan displayed them on the frame of her mirror.

I guess we can stray a little into the paranormal here. Jim told me that Paul had, well, a bit of the shine, as Stephen King would put it. Jim told me that he once took a deck of cards and played the "what card am I holding?" game with Paul, and that his brother named each card correctly for about five or six cards in a row before stopping. That's against the odds entirely, so I I think Jim is right about that shine. Besides, his brother was always extraordinarily lucky at casinos!

Michelle grew up, got married, and moved to North Carolina with her husband and daughter. Jan, being the devoted grandmother that she is, decided that she and Paul would move to North Carolina too, since they were retired and wanted to be close. After that, our visits became a lot less frequent, but we were in touch. We called, we exchanged cards, we emailed, we even visited on occasion.They all came back for my daughter Kelsey's wedding some years ago.

So this morning, Jim got the phone call letting him know that Paul had passed away in his sleep last night. Although he had been struggling with health issues for some time, his death was still unexpected. I'm writing this in a bit of a fog, actually, because it seems very odd to have this person missing, to have this sudden hole in the fabric of my life. And of course my thoughts center on Jan and Michelle, and on Jim and his other siblings. I lost a brother a while ago. There's nothing that ever fills that gap, nothing that ever smooths over the loss of that part of childhood.

But it helps to write about it, so thank you for bearing with me. When I think of Paul, I will always think of his really mischievous smile, his laugh, and his sense of humor. He was one in a million and I'm lucky to have had him in my life.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Ouija? NoNo

Image result for ouija board images 

Have you ever played around with a Ouija board? At a friend's house? During a slumber party? At a casual get-together? Ouija boards, or spirit boards, sometimes make their appearance at social gatherings when people are 1) curious, 2) bored, 3) drinking a little too much, 4) any combination or all of the above.

When we were kids, my sister had one. I don't know why. I don't think she bought it. I think she got it as a present. My question now would be "And why did that seem like a good present for a seventh grader?" But at that time, I think they were marketed by a major game company and sold as toys. YIKES.

Being curious about all things supernatural, it was just a matter of time before I decided to start playing around with the board, too. I think my sister and I did a few sessions, the giggly kind where you ask about boys, and love, and the future, and boys, and love. 

Later on, I tried a session with my best friend from school, and that is what got me RIGHT OFF of ever using one again. We were playing at my house during summer vacation between sixth and seventh grade and got it into our heads to give the old spirit board a try. And, as expected, we asked about boys and love. Then we started asking other kinds of questions about our futures and the answers started getting a little, well, snarky. After a while, they seemed to be sliding right into hostile territory. Our questions were receiving mean, snippy little answers, like you might get from the mean kids in your classroom, except these seemed even darker then that.

So then I got the brilliant idea of asking who was answering our questions. And the planchette spelled out B-E-E-L-Z-E before I snatched my hands away from that smoothly-gliding piece of plastic as if I'd been burned. My friend looked at me in surprise. "What's wrong?" she asked. "What's it spelling?"

"You don't know?" I couldn't believe she didn't. I was already packing up the board and the planchette into the box, fastening it shut and thinking I would never touch it again.

"Who is that?" she asked.

I put the board away and dragged her outside into the afternoon sunshine before answering. (I had to bring her outside to answer her: we were in THAT house, the haunted house of my childhood.)

She never really understood why that bothered me so much. I don't think I really understood exactly how disturbing that whole incident was until I experienced The Exorcist, both the book and the movie, some years later. Can we say Captain Howdy?

So now I do not go anywhere near those things. When my children were little I absolutely forbade either of them having one in the house and as far as I know, neither of them ever dabbled in exploring that particular activity. At least, not when they were still young girls under my roof. And now, as adults, both of them understand where I'm coming from.

As Aldous Huxley once put it, "There are things known and there are things unknown and in between are the doors (of perception)." I think there are portals between this world and others, and as far as I'm concerned, a Quija board is a huge, honking portal into dimensions I'd rather leave alone.

Have you every played with a Quija board?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Flipping the Switch

 Image result for bachelors grove cemetery

Bachelors Grove Cemetery is located in Midlothian, Illinois, a far southwest suburb of Chicago. It has a reputation of being one of the most haunted sites in the Chicagoland area, and there are numerous stories about it, including a really strange one about a phantom house that is sometimes glimpsed from among the trees.

I had the chance to visit the cemetery when I was taking a class on the paranormal at the local community college. Unfortunately for me, the class was taught by a skeptic, with a capital S, and so his entire class framework was that no topic he covered in class, be it ghosts, UFOs, or monsters,was actually real, and that there were always scientific ways to debunk anything that even smelled of a haunting or other paranormal activity. Bummer for me! Nevertheless, we were invited as a class on a weekend field trip to visit Bachelor Grove Cemetery. And since I had never been, I made the drive out on a gorgeous, sunny Sunday morning.

As far as historical sites go, this cemetery did not disappoint. The tombstones were old, some were beginning to lean, some were nearly smothered in vegetation, and some were missing altogether. Names and dates engraved on the stones weren't always legible. The whole area felt old and isolated, despite the fact that we were just a short walk away from an intersection of fairly busy streets. The trees surrounding the plots were tall and at full foliage, and they cut off any sense of the urban reality all around us.

The instructor gave us a short tour, including the gravestone where the famous picture at the top of this post  was taken. He reminded us that the picture is a hoax since the spectral figure's shadow can be seen (can it?), and then let us wander freely where we wanted to go. I did that, and found that the cemetery is quite benevolent in the daytime. The sun was high and bright, and all the shrubs and flowering plants that were growing wild seemed free and undisturbed, like one might find on any other patch of uncultivated land in a prairie state.

But then I thought about how the place would look in darkest night, and all sense of peace and harmony vanished, like flipping a switch. Being out there in the dark with nothing more than a flashlight or a lantern would not be something I'd sign up for with enthusiasm. Ghost story reader? That's me. Active investigator? I don't think so.

And then I thought, why is it that some places become disturbed as if by a flip of a switch? The house where I grew up was exactly like that. My sister and I could be playing in the basement for hours, and then all of a sudden, something in the air would change. We would look at each other and then beat a hasty retreat for the first floor. And the basement wasn't the only room that had that kind of split personality. The sun room had it, as did the attic, and even the living room on occasion. What was wandering our house that would leave us in peace for an allotted period of time, then make its presence known with such cold malevolence that we knew there suddenly wasn't enough room for all of us in that space? What could obliterate so much of the cheer and the harmony in a given area that we would feel driven to leave?

Those experiences have led me to examine new places that I visit with a particular line of questions. What would this place look like -feel like- in the dark? What would it be like to stand here at night, with no lights on? Sometimes the answer is benevolent and peaceful and I know there would be no change regardless of sunset. But other places? Others respond to me with a cold touch, even in broad daylight, and let me know that when the dark comes, that switch does indeed get flipped. And that I would not like to be there.

And I always wonder, when that happens...why is that? And also, would I really want to know?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Borrowing from Reality

Shortly after Saving Jake was released, I started getting questions from readers -some of whom I knew, some I didn't- about whether or not I had the same ability as Philip Corts, my main character. Philip Corts has the extraordinary ability to obtain information about someone by touching or holding an object that belonged to the person in question. The name for that ability is psychometry. It's an ability that has fascinated me for a long time and though I don't know anyone who can do it, I just tried to put myself into the head of someone who could. I must have done a reasonably good job because so many people asked me if I could do the same things that my character did. I can't and am actually glad I can't. I think getting images and pictures off something I touched would drive me a little crazy. 

No the reality that shows up in Saving Jake is not psychometry but is all about shipwrecks and Door County, as pointed out in a previous blog post.

But some of the fears and experiences and scenes in the Brigdeton Park Cemetery books are indeed borrowed from reality. For example, in the first book, Haunted, there is a scene where Cassie pulls open her bedroom door only to be confronted by the ghost of a dead young man who then comes into her bedroom as she backs away from him. Now that scene is quite a bit more drastic than my everyday life, but for years after moving into our current house, I would hesitate every time I opened the bathroom door upon finishing my morning or night routine. I can't tell you why, except that I always had the strongest feeling that there was someone waiting for me right outside that door. Someone dead.

If there was, I never saw him or her. And I can't tell you why I felt that, but I could never shake the feeling. Even when ghosts were the furthest thing from my mind, as soon as I touched that knob and turned it to open the door, that dread would overtake me. Always.

And then there is a scene in book three, Drawing Vengeance, where Cassie dreams she meets up with the ghost from an earlier book in an empty banquet hall. The ghost is sitting at a table under the only light in an otherwise darkened room, waiting for her. This is an adaptation from a dream I once had. Some years ago, I was obsessed (and I mean obsessed) with a particular historical figure, and I must have read about twenty biographies about the man, all in a row. I don't know why, and I don't know where that initial fascination sprang from, but I binge-read everything I could find on him until I got to the point where I wasn't learning anything new from each successive book. And about that time, I dreamed about him. I walked into a darkened room with a stage at one end, where he stood under the only light that was turned on in the entire venue. I don't know where we were or why we were there, I just knew I wanted to walk up to him so I could finally meet him. He was looking down and I'll never forget how that light made his fair hair almost dazzling. He was dressed entirely in black, an amazing contrast to his hair, and he raised his head when I reached him. He looked me straight in the eye and said, simply, "Don't get too close." 

I came up out of that dream like I was breaking the surface of a dark pond, seeking light and gasping for breath. I didn't read anything more about him for close to twenty years, after being warned off like that. I still have no idea what that dream meant, and it still has the same effect on me if I think about it too much. Cassie's experience in that dark room might have been slightly more benevolent than mine!

Lastly, the use of memento mori pictures in book five, Touching Shadow, Stealing Light, was something I needed to get out of my system. I found a site that featured nothing but pictures that included at least one dead person in the shot, or maybe just that one dead person in a portrait, and I actually bookmarked this thing on my computer. After Jim had such a visceral reaction to looking at them ("That's enough of that," he said after the first five) I started getting weirded out by the pictures myself. In fact, my whole office started feeling like I had a crowd of dead people waiting for me every time I came back to my computer. I deleted the site and that was the end of that. But I put the concept of photos of the dead into book five. As well as a crowd of dead people.

There are times I wish I could ask writers I admire, and whose works I love, what was behind certain images or scenes or other attributes in their books. Were they writing about fears that they may have always had? Was that character someone he or she knew in real life, or maybe a composite of several people? Was that amazingly frightening or amazingly poignant scene based on something that really happeend?

Tell you what: if you read me and you EVER have a question about where someone or something in my book came from, write to me and I'll tell you. I can't get many of those answers from most writers that I read, but I would certainly give my answers to anyone who might ask me!

Thursday, February 8, 2018

They See Dead People

One of the coolest things I get to do with my job is interview interesting people, and what I learn shows up in my books. I'm careful to research certain details when I write because I know that nothing is as annoying as finding a mistake in a novel when it relates to a subject I know something about. (I've never quite forgiven a particular author for her use of the misnomer "judo chop.") Details, right or wrong, can strengthen or derail an author's credibility. So I find people to talk to.

Some of the people I talk to see the dead. I ask them lots of questions because what Michael Penfield is able to see, or what Cassie Valentine is able to glean from the departed, is crucial to my stories. Since I like tales that have to do with the paranormal, this is one of the more enjoyable aspects of my work. On the other hand, it can be a little unsettling.

One gentleman I know was driving to his lady friend's house one night and as he was pulling into her driveway in back, he noticed that she was standing on her back porch, clad in a long, white nightgown. I'm sure I hardly need to continue this story but here it is for your verification. He got out of the car and she was no longer on the porch so he went around to the front door, the path he usually took when he arrived. She let him in and he looked at her. "What happened to the white nightgown?" he asked.

"What white nightgown?" She was bewildered.

"The one you were wearing when you were standing out on the back porch a minute ago."

She looked at him like he had sprouted another pair of ears. "It's winter. Why would I be standing on my back porch in a white nightgown?" Because, of course, she hadn't been.

I have to admit that I am glad I don't have the ability to see random ghosts. I don't know that I would handle it as gracefully as my friends. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't, given what happened over the summer! But they seem to take it very much in stride.

Another gentleman I know joined me for a book signing in my home town, since he is also a writer. After our three-hour stint of meeting people and selling our wares, I walked with him to the parking lot behind the store and asked him about seeing dead people. He told me it was something he has always been able to do. He didn't always like it, but there it is. He explained how he sees entities in people's houses, or in random buildings. He even explained that ghosts don't always appear the way one might expect. "There's a house down the street from me that's haunted by a young girl, maybe seven or eight years of age. But I know that she was in her nineties when she died. She just likes to project that image of herself." I had never heard of such a thing before that conversation, but have since run into that aspect of a haunting at various locations; he was just the first person to tell me that such a thing might happen.

We chatted a little longer and then decided we should part ways, since he had about a two-hour drive to get home from the bookstore. But he stopped for one last moment and said to me, just before he left, "You know, there's a dead guy watching us from a window in that building across the street." Then he grinned at me and went to his car.

I looked at the building in question and I didn't see a thing, but I would never look at it the same way again.

But...round about that time, Michael Penfield gained his ability to see the dead.