Thursday, May 17, 2018

Going Back. Or Not.



I mentioned in last week's post that I really enjoyed the TV show "Celebrity Ghost Stories." I watched it faithfully until the network decided to cancel it (boo, hiss.) But during that time, I became hooked on its sister show, "The Haunting of..." starring Kim Russo.

Kim Russo describes herself as a psychic medium and I was able to see her in person (with Jim in tow, of course) at one of her presentations. She's funny and warm and very New York. I've learned a great deal by watching her. "The Haunting of..." featured Kim meeting up with one of the celebrities from "Celebrity Ghost Stories" at the place where said celebrity experienced her or his paranormal experience. She would walk through the site with the famous personality at her side, and discuss what that person experienced. And then she would talk about why it probably happened. Some of the stories were outright heartbreaking. When she worked with the late (great) Rowdy Roddy Piper, for instance, she determined that the haunting was being caused by a friend who had passed years before and was reaching out to let Mr. Piper know that he was watching out for him and for his family. This friend was someone who had helped the famous wrestler through some of the worst times of his life, and had passed away at a young age in a car accident.

There was also the rock star whose daughter came back to comfort him when his grief threatened to derail his entire life. She came to him on several occasions and stayed for a little while each time, to help him understand that she was still close to him.

Some of the entities, however, were less than benevolent, and Ms. Russo did help take care of the problem for several of her well-known clients.

The point of the show was to go back and confront personal fear from a specific incident, and to resolve it so that the person could move on. The part of that I find the most interesting is the idea of going back.

Would I? I think about the house I grew up in. I have tons of wonderful memories from that house since I lived in it from the age of three, got married in it, and moved out of it as a young wife and mother. On the other hand, while I was in college, I had recurring nightmares (I mean the kind that give you cold sweats) that I would wake up in an empty house to find a note from my parents explaining that they had retired to Spain and that the house was now mine. NOOOOOO! I seriously used to freak out at the idea: growing up there with my large, extended family was one thing. Living the rest of my life there? No, thank you.

So would I go back? If I had the opportunity to take Kim Russo into that house with me and say "This is where I felt that bony hand resting on the headboard of my bed one night" or "This is where we heard the baby crying" or "This is where the son of our dinner guests saw the old lady standing" or even "This is where my clairaudient friend heard those nightly footsteps originate before they climbed the stairs to the second floor and stopped outside my bedroom" (for the full story, scroll back and see blog post from April 26, 2018). Would I have the courage to hear the answers to my questions? Like why is there a bricked-up staircase and room in the coach house apartment in the garage? Or what is the malevolent-feeling presence that could drive everyone from a given room at random times? Or why did there seem to be a nightly haunting that started at about 10:30 every night and ended at around 1 a.m? Or who was the ghostly figure that both my husband and our cat saw at the bottom of the stairs one night?

Part of me would LOVE to have her walk through that house and explain everything. And part of me says, I'd really rather not know.

Weird things happened in my childhood home: objects disappearing and then coming back weeks later; disembodied voices; lights and radios going on by themselves; unexplained and loud noises in the middle of the night. There was a quality of strangeness to that house, and I always found it interesting when my childhood friend, who became a real estate agent, would call me up and say, "Hey, your house is back on the market again." That happened frequently after my mother sold the place and moved away.

If you've had a paranormal experience and had a chance to go back with a true psychic medium to find out what was really going on, would you do it?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Serial Haunters



A few years ago, I dragged Jim out to see a presentation being given by Jason Hawes and Steve Gonsalves of Ghost Hunters. Jim's a good sport about it and went along willingly. Little did he know this was to be the first of many such lectures, but more about those at a later date, perhaps.

At any event, Mr. Hawes and Mr. Gonsalves turned out to be very funny and entertaining, even while they were talking about investigating haunted houses and dark entities and frightening personal experiences. They showed film clips - including a spoof on Ghost Hunters as done by South Park - of various unexplained occurrences in their quest to document paranormal activities. They played recordings of EVP's (electronic voice phenomena), some of which were pretty chilling. And they spent a nice amount of time taking questions from the audience. In other words, it was a well-rounded, informative, and entertaining evening.

But there was one thing that Mr. Hawes talked about that stuck in my mind and still pops up from time to time. He said that during his travels all over the country to investigate the other-worldly and help people deal with frightening and possibly even malevolent forces, he ran across something that seemed to affect children from all parts of the U.S. It didn't matter what state or city these children came from, and it wasn't something that he started out looking for. But he said that a number of children that he interviewed, usually regarding the particular problem in their houses, all mentioned a particular ghost. The reason it struck him was that the description of this ghost was always the same. The children described it as male and then they would talk about the clothing he wore. And in instance after instance, in city after city, the descriptions were identical across the board.

And then Mr. Hawes said that at some point, he wanted to look into this particular phenomenon, because what he was hearing -and documenting- seemed to be a particular entity that was literally criss-crossing the country and appearing to different children.

We all pretty much know what a serial killer is. So could there be such a thing as a serial haunter? An entity that chooses its intended "hauntee" (always a child) and then pops in to freak them out? I don't remember Mr. Hawes suggesting that this apparition did more than show up, but I don't think the children felt it to be a comfortable presence. That said, could this thing be targeting a specific type of child? Certainly, one who is sensitive enough to see it, but maybe something else? Again, Mr. Hawes didn't specify. He did say he wanted to keep some details to himself because he was working on this as a long-term project. So maybe there were some common denominators that he never mentioned.
The more I think about this, the more disturbing it gets.

So let's get to something a little closer to home. Some years ago, I was watching an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories. Anyone remember that one? I loved that show! Anyway, the celebrity story being presented that night was told by Carnie Wilson, of Wilson-Phillips fame. Apparently, when Carnie moved into her first apartment, she did not want to sleep alone on her first night in a new place, so she invited her sister, Wendy, to join her. During the middle of the night, Carnie woke up to see a tall, thin man standing in her doorway. She described him as having a long coat, almost like a frock coat, and a tall hat, and he was looking at her. So she did what most of us would do: she pulled the covers over her head. After waiting for a few minutes, she peeped out from under the covers, and there he was, standing beside the bed and bending over to look at her. (I would have had a heart attack on the spot, but Carnie Wilson was young and in good health when this happened.)

She told Wendy about it the next day, telling her sister that she had had a very strange dream and then describing this nocturnal visitor in detail. And Wendy said, "Oh, yeah, he's been following me around for a while." To which Carnie understandably replied, "And you didn't think to TELL me about that???" 

The story is pretty creepy. Who wants to wake up in the middle of the night and see an apparition, first in the doorway, and then bending over your bed to look at you? (I think she said she pulled the covers right back over her head and somehow eventually fell asleep again. I applaud her for being able to do that!)

Here's where it gets creepier. My nephew's wife woke up one night to see a tall, thin man in a long coat and a tall hat, standing in the doorway of their bedroom and did exactly what Carnie Wilson did: she pulled the covers over her head. And when she peeked out, there he was, bending over the bed, looking down at her. After admitting she let out a little shriek, she pulled the covers back over herself, and moved closer to her sleeping husband, eventually falling asleep again. (I applaud her as well.)

Now, I had heard my niece-in-law's story at least a year, or year and a half, before I ever saw Carnie Wilson's Celebrity Ghost Story. Our family experience happened in Illinois. Carnie Wilson's happened in California. 

Again, an entity who criss-crosses the country and pops in on young women? Could there be such a thing as a serial haunter?

Oh, the story ideas that gives me...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Tales From the (Ghost) Front



I know I always tell people that when I write, I seem to wake up and/or attract other-worldly presences. They walk up and down the hall, knock on the walls, make sounds like they are shifting furniture around (even though nothing is ever out of place), and occasionally make such a ruckus that it sounds like something has fallen off a shelf and crashed to the floor. While I can't exactly ignore this stuff -more like I just don't look- I have gotten to the point where I don't give it any attention other than acknowledging that I just heard a noise, and now it's time to go back to writing.

Until the past few weeks.

I mentioned somewhere, I'm not sure if it was here or on my Facebook posts, that the other week, both my daughter and I heard the sounds of a little kid running up and down the hall. Without there being a little kid actually doing so. Well, that was maybe the kick-off moment. Maybe we shouldn't have given him any attention? Then again, maybe this isn't him.

Lately, the noises in my house are getting louder, more frequent, and uncomfortably closer. Most of the time, my writing visitors are down the hall. Or maybe around the corner. Just someplace at a distance where I would probably need to get up and take a loo, if I wanted to ascertain whether a book or a vase has actually fallen off a shelf. Not so much, these days. Tuesday and yesterday while I was writing, I was treated to banging and knocking and other loud, intrusive noises that were at most about six feet away from where I sit. All I would have had to do was turn my head to see what was happening. If there was anything to see.

Luckily, my name is not Michael Penfield, nor do I have his ability to see the dead at the drop of a hat. Or anything else that might be falling to the ground. I have looked, once or twice, to see who's making a racket so close to my chair (always to my left and maybe just a little bit behind me, so that I really would need to turn my head to check things out) and of course, I don't see anything. But sometimes I feel it.

I've probably mentioned before that my younger daughter once told a psychic about our house and asked what was going on in it. At that time, our dog would sometimes bark at the front door when no one was there. (Great stuff when Jim was out of town.) Our doorbell would ring, but it was always kind of a strange ring: a little weak, as if whoever or whatever was pushing the button couldn't quite push it hard enough to achieve the full effect. Lights would sometimes be on when they shouldn't have been. Things like that. The psychic told our daughter that our house wasn't haunted, exactly, but it was sort of a way-station. A place where spirits passed through. Why that would be, I don't know, but my older daughter confirmed that by remarking that there were always strange (and dead) people walking down our main hall. 

I believe it. Our main hall attracts some weird feelings at either, and sometimes both, end/s, whether at the laundry/utility room at one end, or at the opposite side of the house where the bedrooms are. There are times that I hate walking down my hall because it doesn't feel quite right.

But I also agree that we don't seem to have a permanent resident from the other world, so I guess that's a plus. Maybe. It's nice not to worry about always having something here. On the other hand, we never know what will turn up if someone decides to pass through. If there are portals in certain places, I'd guess that maybe our house is a connection between them. 

So as I finish this blog piece and get ready to post and announce it, I am also bracing for afterward, when I open my document and resume work on book 6. Because we all know what's going to happen when I do.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Clairaudience - It's a Thing



When I was growing up, I had a really good friend who was/is an artist. She's the ultimate foundation of every artistic character I have ever written in my books, and I learned a great deal about art and the minds of artists during our long-running friendship. 

She knew my house had issues. Okay, that's a euphemism. She knew my house was fricking haunted. Undaunted, she stayed overnight frequently and at one point, during our college years, moved in for a few weeks due to circumstances. She told me, after she moved back out, that she didn't sleep much while she was there. My bedroom was on the second floor, just to the left of the top of the staircase. At night, while I was out like the proverbial light, she said that she would hear the basement door almost directly my room swing open, and then she would hear footsteps that came from the basement stairs, walked through the hall to the staircase leading to the second floor, climbed those stairs, and then arrived right outside my bedroom, where they would STOP. She assured me that I slept through this every night, and she heard it just about every night. One time when she felt that whatever was out there was trying to enter my room, she woke me up and heard me say, "It's okay. Just go back to sleep." And so she did. The only problem is that she found out later, while talking about to me, that I had 1) never heard her call my name that night and 2) never woke up to say any such thing to reassure her. WEIRD.

When we got to college, she started at the same university in Chicago that I did, but eventually went out to school in California for a degree in art. And she told me that the apartment she rented "had issues." (We know all about those.) She heard voices. Now, before you decide this was schizophrenia or anything related to psychosis, let me assure you that her mental health was just fine. But she did hear voices. They called her name. They had conversations in the next room that she could only just hear. They freaked her out. And that was when she introduced me to the concept of having clairaudience. "It's like clairvoyance, but with hearing instead of sight," she explained.

If you Google "clairaudience" or "clairaudient", you will find a whole slew of articles that come up on the topic. Some of them include indicators that you might have the ability. For instance, talking to yourself is a big indicator. So is having a deep connection to music. And so is hearing footsteps and knockings and things like that around your house. Hmmm. All three of those fit me pretty well. I just never thought of myself as having that ability. And thank God I don't hear someone calling my name, because that would be about my limit. Yes, I survived seeing a dead Union soldier, and yes, I deal with the noises and restlessness in the house when I'm working on my books. But having someone call my name would result in me pulling a J.K. Rowling and writing the rest of my work at a crowded coffee shop in braod daylight. Seriously.

There are noises around my house that I can't explain. Even Jim has heard them. My daughter and I (she of the clairvoyance, when it comes to dead people) frequently hear the same thing, like the footsteps of a child running through the house when there was no child around to do so. There were also noises in the house where I grew up; those were a given. Whether or not I would attribute clairaudient  ability to myself, well, the jury is still out on that.

I'd put the links to some of those relevant articles into this blog, but I haven't learned how to do that yet on Blogger. (Can we say "Techno-doof"?) But if you go and read any of them, you might be surprised at how many of the signs and symptoms of clairaudient ability fit you, too. 

So, if you do Google the topic and read the articles, and if those indicators match up with you, come back and let me know, and we can swap stories!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Any and All Errors in This Book Are Mine and Mine Alone


Even though I write fiction, I still need to do some research for my books because I don't want to make the kinds of mistakes in my work that would jar a reader out of the story and make them, well, distrust me. Forever. Have you ever had that happen? You're happily reading along in a book, turning the pages, enjoying the tale, and all of a sudden the author includes a detail that is just WRONG. And you know it's wrong. And you wonder why that writer didn't know it was wrong. And then it colors the rest of the book (assuming you finish reading it) as well as how you look at that writer for the rest of your reading life. 

That has happened to me on an occasion or two. One particular writer made a mistake that I read waaaay back in 1978, and to this day, I still think of this author as "The one who got that one detail really, really wrong." I know that's horribly judgmental and I hope I never have that effect on a reader. And in an effort to forestall that, I do research.

Now, my kind of research does include what you might think of when I say the word "research". Dead Voices required me to find out about the cholera outbreaks in the Midwest during the 1800's. It also led me to ask a doctor I was working with at the time about the disease itself -how it killed, what the person would look like in death-  which I can tell you, earned me some strange looks.

Fortunately, strange looks don't bother me. Like the slightly suspicious look I got from my dentist when I asked about identifying a body from dental records. The information he gave me after he got past his initial reaction is invaluable. Or the one I received from a pharmacist, married to a friend, when I asked about possible poisons that would leave absolutely no trace. And he did answer the question.

I have interviewed a police sketch artist, two weapons (guns) experts, a retired deputy federal marshall, a staff member at an adoption agency, a minister ("Do you allow suicides to be buried in your churchyard?"), several artists, two museum curators, a cemetery secretary, two mediums, a ghost hunter, a bridge expert, a police detective, an ER doctor, a bed and breakfast owner, a nutritionist,  and a nurse. I always gather a ton of information because I never know what exact details I will need as each of my stories progress, and it's always better to have more than not enough.

To this end, I am constantly on the look-out for people whose knowledge and expertise I might need at a later date. I "collected" my anatomy and physiology teacher back when I was studying to become a medical assistant. I know more martial artists, both Eastern and Western, than you can shake a stick at. Whatever that means. I know a professional musician, a tarot card reader, several professors in various disciplines, a landscaper, a home remodeler or two, data analysts, hotel and hospitality professionals, two real estate agents, a couple of accountants, an astrologer, two psychics, and a bunch of writers and artists. 

But I wouldn't mind finding a lawyer or two, a firefighter, science teachers at different levels of education, and probably a cab driver.

I realize this must sound strange, but when I write a character who is in a line of work I have never tried myself, I  need details. Details can make or break a story. And details can derail a writer-reader relationship, as mentioned before.

So I guess if I ever post to Facebook, now that I post regularly, that I am looking for an expert who happens to be you, please don't be shy in stepping forward. I can't afford to pay you for your time, but you will ALWAYS get an acknowledgment at the front of my book and also, you'll know you helped this writer get the details right. Or as right as I can make them. As always, any and all errors in my books are mine and mine alone.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Attracting the Dead

Years ago when my older daughter was in grade school, she asked me not to get a wind chime for the front of the house.I have always loved the sound of wind chimes, so when I asked her why not, she said, "They attract ghosts."

That was unsettling. And I didn't get the wind chimes.

Now that she's an adult (who admittedly sees dead people and has, since she was a little tyke), I have actually hung a wind chime close to my front door. It's a tiny metal thing, with a tiny gargoyle sitting on top of it. It's been out there long enough to have developed a nice patina, and the small musical notes that chime when the wind moves its little metal rods always sound cheerful and sunny, even in terrible weather.

But I find myself thinking, does it attract ghosts? Our house, apparently some kind of way station on an avenue for the departed, seems to do that on its own. The fact that I sit here and write ghost stories only adds to the footsteps, bangings, thumps, and thuds we experience here routinely. But still, are there things that attract spirit attention?

Would certain activities bring you to the notice of someone dead? Cooking a particular aromatic food, for instance? Or listening to a particular type of music? Or even a particular song? 

How about certain items? John Zaffis did a whole show centered on the premise that objects can hold spirit attachment. Personal items, sure. But also items involved in tragic or violent episodes. Back when Jim and I were still active in the Chicago Swordplay Guild, we had the opportunity to both see and handle part of a historical sword collection, one of which was a blade that was dated to the time of the ancient Greeks. It was the only blade I tried picking up, with gloved hands, and the impact I felt when I held it was both strong and disturbing. The first thing that popped into my head was that this piece of metal had taken life. The second was that I needed to put it down immediately. 

I do not boast having the ability of psychometry that my character, Philip Corts, has. I can't pick up a necklace, a watch, a scarf, or even a blade and tell you details about its owner. But at that moment, I knew for sure that that particular sword had been used in battle, and that it had bloodletting in its history. I asked the curator who was with the collection if it was possible that the sword had seen war, and he thought it not only possible, but extremely likely. I believed him.

That's also the reason I'm not wild about antique shopping.

But in the instance of the sword, that is more about spirit attachment than it is spirit attraction. I don't know if objects can pull in the deceased, but I know that people can. I have heard more than one medium say that the dead view a person with that kind of psychic ability as a beacon of light, and flock to that light. That's why children with the ability get visitors in their bedrooms late at night. And that's why adults who are using that talent are sometimes visited by spirits connected to a particular property before the medium even knows that he or she is going to be asked to investigate the place. Sometimes days or weeks in advance of the investigation. Someone with that kind of psychic ability can't help it; he or she will attract the dead.

So I am sitting here in my office, writing this at my desk and glancing around at what I have that could gain the attention of someone who is no longer in corporeal form. I have an antique writing desk in here, so there's that. I have several candles, although none of them are lit as of yet. (Didn't I hear candles also attract spirit? Isn't that why they use them at seances?) And then there's me, writing about this chosen topic. Already there are noises and disturbances in the hall beyond the kitchen. I know they're just waiting for me to resume work on the book...

On a related note, it's almost the time of year for us to go back north and reopen our three-season cabin, as winter draws (hopefully) to a close. Up north, there is a shop in town that specializes in wind chimes. They must have ten to fifteen of them hanging on their porch, and three times that number of wind chimes available within the store itself. I've been looking at those wind chimes for a few years now, and maybe this season, I'll bring a new one home to keep my gargoyle company. And if it should attract more ghosts? Well, at this point I ask myself the question: Given this house, and given my job, will it really make that much of a difference?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

And Yet Another Haunted Hotel

The St. James Hotel in Cimarron, NM is one of the more famous haunted hotels in the U.S. Its history dates back to the 1800's, and it is steeped in Wild West lore and legend, for such legendaries as Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, Jesse James, and Doc Holiday were known to have lodged there. It is also steeped in late nineteenth-century Wild West Violence.

From the twenty-two bullet holes that are still lodged in the three-inch wooden overlay above the bar's ceiling, to the ghostly perfume of the hotel founder's wife, the St. James is a hotbed of paranormal activity. It has been investigated and featured on Ghost Adventures as well as The Haunted Collector. The hotel boasts at least one room that is kept closed off to everyone, from staff to guests. And it has a ghostly cowboy who can only be seen in the mirror behind the bar.

Jim and I have friends who spent the night there, and while their experience isn't hair-raising or blood-curdling, it is definitely eerie.

Our friends are both musicians: she is a retired music teacher, he is a professional musician and producer who still travels for gigs and performances. Such was the reason for their journey to the St. James Hotel; he and his colleagues were booked to do a show there.

They had both heard that the place was haunted. She was more excited about it than he was, so while he went up to bed late that night, following the concert, she stayed downstairs and spent some time in the lobby and the bar, hoping to catch something paranormal in nature. When nothing happened for her and the hour was getting to be too late, she gave up and went to bed.

The next morning, she got up earlier than her husband and went downstairs to have breakfast, leaving him to sleep in as he usually does after a show. And that's how she missed the incident, and he had the experience she had been hoping for.

How aware he was that his wife had gotten up and left the room, I don't know. What he did tell me, however, is that he was awakened to someone knocking sharply on the bedroom door. It took him a little bit to realize what had disturbed his sleep, but the knocking came again, and he heard a voice calling out his name. So he got up, stumbled over to the door, and opened it, only to find no one there. He looked up and down the hall, left and right, and verified that nope, no one was anywhere near his room.

Confused and maybe a little annoyed at having to get up, he got dressed and went downstairs to find his wife. She was enjoying her breakfast when he came up to her and asked what she wanted. She looked at him in surprise and confusion. No, she told him. I don't need anything. And I didn't come and knock on the door. I've been down here eating. Her answer left him both astounded and perplexed.

This happened a while ago, but he can still hear what he heard that morning at the St. James Hotel: the knock, the voice. He thought it was one thing to find out that no one was waiting for him in the hall. That was strange. But I think what bothers him the most is that whoever, or whatever, stopped outside his hotel room, it knew him by name.