Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ghosts, Steampunk and Nick Valentino

Hey, I'm stepping aside today to let fellow writer Nick Valentino have his say. Which is pretty dang interesting to someone like me!

Ghosts in Steampunk?

First off, a huge thank you to Ophelia for letting me come on and guest blog today.

Ah! A blog dear to my heart! When I first started writing I wrote horror. Well, I still do, but that’s on the back burner for a little while. Anyway I wrote an entire six hundred page manuscript about a little Japanese/American girl that has grand supernatural powers. One of her abilities was she could speak with the dead. As she grows up she can hear all the ghosts around her. It takes a while for her to be able to calm the thousands of voices in her head and block them out. I love everything that’s remotely spooky.

So it should come to no surprise that yes my Steampunk novel, Thomas Riley has ghosts in it as well. In the chapter “Phantoms”, Thomas has an artifact in his pocket that gets broken. The room gets frigid, and Thomas is surrounded by a horror show of solid but not quite alive people.

It seems a bit odd to inject the supernatural into a Steampunk story, but I see the genre of Steampunk as basically limitless. Try this link if you want to know the skinny on Steampunk.

Most of the time Steampunk is all about the human mind. It deals with engineering, science, invention, creativity and ingenuity but I just couldn’t keep away from having some elements of the supernatural in the novel. Maybe it’s my own fascination that I wanted my hardcore science based characters to deal with a few things that were a little out of their comfort zone. I wanted to see how they would react to seeing a ghost. Of course they’re pretty confused by the entire encounter, which is how any scientist would probably react.

I know this may all seem a little confusing, but imagine an action story, filled with Sky Pirates, a twenty year war, and two inventors fighting their way through enemy territory to save a woman’s soul and all of a sudden they have to deal with ghosts? If that interests you, here’s the blurb to wet your appetite some more.

For more than twenty years West Canvia and Lemuria have been at war. From the safety of his laboratory, weapons designer Thomas Riley has cleverly and proudly empowered the West Canvian forces. But when a risky alchemy experiment goes horribly wrong, Thomas and his wily assistant Cynthia Bassett are thrust onto the front lines of battle and forced into shaky alliances with murderous sky pirates in a deadly race to kidnap the only man who can undo the damage: the mad genius behind Lemuria's cunning armaments.

Find out more at:

You can purchase signed copies at:


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Haunted Weapons

The supernatural is all around us. Ubiquitous, I suppose.

Last weekend, I spent my time not chasing ghosts, but hanging out with sword fighters. I kid you not. I have a passion for the supernatural and I have a passion for the martial arts, Eastern martial arts during high school and college, Western martial arts as a, well, kind of grown-up. I am lucky enough to belong to a group called The Chicago Swordplay Guild and every two years, we host the Western Martial Arts Workshop, where for about four days and as many nights, all participants can learn about wielding swords (long swords, broad swords, single swords, rapiers), spears, pole arms, knives, and other fun things, mostly from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, but some from more modern times. Two years ago I had a class on knife throwing. It was awesome!

At any event, because I work at the hospitality desk, I get to meet and talk to any number of sword-happy people, and this weekend they came from three different continents and a bunch of different countries. So I talked to folks from Alaska, Canada, Finland, Australia, German, England, and New Zealand. How's that for an international community? It's amazing how much I could learn about different histories and cultures in just short conversations.

But lest you think I have departed from my usual topic, here's the corker. One of our guests comes from something called the Oakeshott Institute (check them out at, an organization devoted to documenting the sword. Two years ago, one of their officers, who always comes to WMAW, brought along some of Oakeshott's display items, including an ancient bronze weapon that was recovered from the bottom of a lake. It dated back to very, very long-ago Greece, and like other attendees, I was allowed to pull on a pair of latex gloves and try it on for size.

I realize that I am studying an art that entails how to cut, thrust into, slash, dismember, and even disembowel another person. That's what sword fighting entails. However, picking up a real weapon that had been used, and there was no doubt in my mind once I touched it that it had been used, gave me a chill that took some time to shake off. I kept thinking, this sword has taken someone's life. This sword has blood on it...

I only mentioned the feeling I got to one or two other people at that time, but this past weekend, I brought it up with one of my instructors, and he said flatly, "That weapon was evil." He is not the sort of person who dips his toes much in my usual pond of interest, so I was surprised by that observation. He added, "That thing didn't kill just one person. It killed lots of people." Neither of us has any proof, but given the history and the provenance of the blade, I have no doubt he's right.

Next year, I get to go to the British Isles for an extended visit. Yes, we will tour castles, and yes, we will connect with some of our sword friends from that side of the ocean. Considering the long shadow an ancient Greek sword could cast -all the way to Wisconsin- I wonder what I'm going to run into there?

Check out the Chicago Swordplay Guild at
Check out my ghost stories at

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

And Now a Word from Our Sponsors

Normally this space is reserved for special guests. Dead ones. But today I want to announce a new source for all things e-short story! It's called Echelon Press Shorts and is devoted to folks who like getting sweet snacks of fiction and nonfiction, as well as diving into complete novels and nonfiction books. Check it out here:

Echelon Press Shorts launches officially today, and to celebrate the grand opening, is offering free downloads from various authors during this launch week. You'll also get a chance to meet some of the writers, with Regan Black, Mark Vun Kannon, Mary Welk, and Michelle Sonnier being featured first.

If you really like reading, please feel free to join the party this month. And if you really like reading about ghosts, well, please feel free to check out the site and look for mine, Hunting Spirits! Check out everyone else's work, too. I know there are other horror and supernatural stories there because a bunch of us at this site like scaring the living daylights out of each other and also innocent passersby who wander into our clutches. Come by and visit today!

(Oh, regarding the picture: I couldn't find anything that showed a ghost making an announcement. Go figure.)

Next up: transient hauntings.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do I Really Want to Know?

So what's your ultimate haunted house? Could it be Hill House as dreamed up by Shirley Jackson? How about Hell House from the movie of the same name, or maybe even the Overlook Hotel?

Here's mine: it's the house I grew up in on the north side of Chicago. If you had looked at it while my family lived there, you'd never have guessed it was haunted. My parents had terrific taste in decorating and the interior of the house was warmly furnished and inviting, with the deep blue carpeting and the furniture arranged to encourage conversation, whether from the depths of the sofas in the living room, or around the huge family table in the dining room. There was light, there was laughter, and there were lots of friendly people.

Unfortunately, there was also SOMETHING ELSE in that house and if I ever get the nerve up, I plan to research the history of the place and find out what went on there before we ever moved in. What could have happened there, to leave the echoes of a baby crying, of furniture moving in distant rooms, or the cold disturbances that swept past us all at will, caressing with chilly fingers and leaving goosebumps and an uneasy shudder or two in its wake? I have already made a couple of tentative forays into finding out who lived there and when and what happened to them. Given some time and some energy, I hope to unearth the entire story. After all, there's got to be some kind of reason for that bricked-up room in the garage...

Any how, let's you and me swap stories! You tell me about your haunted house, and I'll tell you a little bit about mine. But just a little. I know there's a huge, huge story in there someplace, and when I learn it, well, y'all will learn about it, too.

Be sure to order my new story "Hunting Spirits" at Quake!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I'm Baaaaccckkkk

So it turns out that while I was away from my blog station, no one filled in for me! No helpful elves or fairies, not even a (ha ha) ghost writer. But I haven't been idle on the ghost front while I was absent. During the past few months, my sister's house has been the scene of a fascinating haunting. And of course I'm not at liberty to discuss it, since it's neither my house nor my story, but heck, it could turn up disguised in a future novel.

I also took the official Ghost Tour in Door County, Wisconsin. They offer three of them at the moment, and I took the one centered around Fish Creek. There were at least two stories in this grouping that were disturbing enough to freak me out in the middle of the night and continue to haunt me for about a week. What fun!

Most of all, though, I took a little inventory of myself as a writer and decided that regarding the bottom line, ghost stories will always be my favorite. As if this were a shocking discovery! But all of us that write will venture into newer territories from time to time, try on something different for a change, and then realize we never really left where we started from. I remember a young man in my first writing for publication workshop. The workshop was being hosted by romance writers, a genre I don't read or write, but I wanted info on getting published and the presenting writers were extremely helpful. Especially to the young man who stood up and volunteered that he had gotten to page 40 in his romance manuscript and that was when the terrorists showed up. At which point they suggested that perhaps romance, big-paycheck genre it can be, was not his chosen area.

I can't seem to write anything without a hint of the supernatural creeping in. So be it. I like my ghoulies and they like me.

At any event, I will do my best to keep this blog updated, at least on a weekly basis, perhaps more frequently as my life permits. Thanks for sticking around. And hey, if you ever want to share scary stories with someone, you know where to find me!

By the way, I have a new downloadable ghost story available. You can BUY IT NOW at

And if I somehow screwed up the link (par for the course, with me) you can also link to it from my web site,
(Thanks, Dash!)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

If It's Not Sold in Bookstores, Can I Call It a Book?

I have been AWOL from my own blog for some weeks now. My bad. Life has been a little insane lately. Still, in the midst of all the madness, a box of books turned up on my doorstep a few weeks ago and here is a little something about the contents of that box.

A few years ago, I was tapped to write an as-told-to book about ghosts around the Lake Michigan area. My editor assured me that all I needed to do was call some local libraries and maybe a bar or two, and people would be happy to share their stories with me. HA! Haunted people in the state of Michigan are among the most close-lipped types I have ever encountered. And I used to do call people routinely for ghost stories for an annual Halloween feature back when I did newspaper writing.

Luckily, there were some kinder folks at the Grand Haven Public Library who let me know that a woman on staff actually belongs to a ghost hunting-paranormal investigation group, and after I spoke with her, things brightened up considerably.

I finished the manuscript in record time, for me, and then settled in for the traditional months-to-years wait time for a published tome to appear. Some two years or so later, it's finally out. Now here's the punchline: this book cannot be purchased in a book store or even on line. Although it really does have an ISBN number, the publisher sells exclusively to tourist trap sites, so it will be available in gift boutiques, souvenir shops, ice cream parlors, apple houses, and the like all up and down the shoreline of Lake Michigan, from Grand Haven up to Traverse City. Even funnier, this publisher doesn't yet have a functioning web site.

Now, I really want people out there, even those of you who won't be trolling tourist spots in Michigan anytime real soon, to be able to buy the book, if you want it. And I also want you to want it.

So here is an opening line from one of the stories:

Jessie Lathrop once brought a ghost home with her from work.

Here's another:
Muskegon seems to be the site of haunted businesses.

You get the picture. Please get the book! Call Quixote Press at 800/571-2665 to place your order. I'll also have info up at my web site as soon as I get it to my web master!

Thanks, and remember while you're reading this, as well as the book - ghosts aren't just in Michigan...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shadows? Flickering candles? Moving statues? I must be in church!

What's the scariest place you knew when you were a kid? Some people will say the dentist's office, or the doctor's office, or the principal's office, or maybe the corner you had to pass on your way home where all the bigger, meaner kids hung out. I admit all of those places had their particular terrors, but probably one of the scariest places I knew when I was a kid was none other than the church I attended.

Before anyone starts questioning how I could be frightened in a house of worship, let me explain. I grew up on the North Side of Chicago and belonged to a Catholic parish that had a huge, old church. And I mean HUGE and OLD. The church was built in the very early 1900's (or was that late 1800's?) and was fashioned after a cathedral in Italy, so it had a cathedral-high ceiling, a row of statues down each side wall, three confessionals built conveniently into the shadows, three or four different stations for votive candles with kneelers in front of them, and an altar space that was probably the size of my current house. There was a first balcony in case the enormous first floor was packed to capacity, which happened for Midnight Mass at Christmas as well as the services during Holy Week, and above that was the second balcony where the pipe organ and the choir lived. And Lent, leading up to Holy Week, was the scariest time of all.

Why? Because by tradition, every statue in the church was covered in purple cloth, head to toe. Try sitting in a shadowy church with approximately twelve to eighteen statues, all life-sized, completely covered in purple. Sure, I knew that underneath this covering was the benevolent statue of St. Joseph, and under that one was the loving statue of Mary. On the other hand, cover them all in purple and all bets are off. If you stared at any one of them long enough, you were sure to see movement under that cloth. Maybe just a head turning slightly? Or a hand raising a little bit higher, just enough to tweak the cloth? Or a weight shift that would make the entire purple shroud twitch? And that was what those purple covers looked exactly like: shrouds.

So there I would sit in the church during Lent, doing my best to focus on the Mass and keeping watch on every statue out of the corner of my eye. There! I know that moved! I saw it! And the cloth is
still moving...

Yeah, the church could be pretty frightening. I knew it for sure when I went up to the second balcony with a friend of mine who was learning to play the pipe organ and needed to practice after school. We were the only ones in that cavernous, dark, shrouded-statue space and while her practice went great, no one ever could explain to us how it should happen that when she and I were going down the old wooden staircase on our way out of the building, that organ should suddenly start to play itself in the dark. Even though we had switched it off. Even though no one else was there.

That church scared the daylights out of me, but you know what? When I go into the bright, light-filled modern churches out here in the suburbs of Chicago, I find myself thinking that it just doesn't feel the same without all the dark corners and the shadowy side aisles. And none of them ever seem to have a pipe organ.

Be sure to order my new story "Hunting Spirits" at Quake!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Can't You Just Meet Me in the Living Room?

A chill blows across the back of your neck. The hair on your scalp stands up. Goose bumps rise of their own accord down your arms as you glance uneasily over your shoulder. Anyone who has ever felt a PRESENCE crowding into a room that is cool, dark, and previously empty is familiar with this creepy, crawly sensation. And here's how it can only get worse.

What is the one room where we value our privacy more than any other? Easy question, right? The bathroom. No one wants to feel invaded while brushing teeth, standing under a glorious spray of hot water, or toweling a wet head of hair. Bathroom time is alone time when we are under no other scrutiny but our own. Being joined by something otherworldly during toiletry time goes beyond unnerving.

Does anyone besides me have that occasional reluctance to look in the mirror after rinsing off your face and toweling dry? I have a certain instinctual fear that one night, I will look into the mirror and see not only my own face, but the face of someone else. Someone standing just behind me. Someone who won't actually be there when I whirl around.

Does anyone besides me have that slight moment of hesitation before turning the bathroom doorknob and stepping into the hall, utterly clueless about who –or what– might be lurking on the other side of the door, waiting silently for me to come face to dead face?

Hauntings in bathrooms have been featured in scary stories, from the nasty scene in the old movie "The Legend of Hell House" to the particularly disturbing bathtub ghoul in the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining.

Even ghost tours include haunted bathrooms. The Chicago area boasts more than one pub with a problem bathroom. Or if historic sites are more your cup of tea, I dare you (triple dog dare you!) to check out the Ladies Room in the Visitors' Center at Fort Riley, Kansas.

Bathroom hauntings are particularly disturbing because of the element of vulnerability. Completely undressed and dripping wet are not how most of us would choose to confront something truly scary.

Perhaps I come by my bathroom anxiety honestly. The bathroom in my childhood home was so disturbed that one of my best gal pals never spent the night at my house again after one attempt at it. "It was like someone was following me around the whole time," she complained. "Especially in the bathroom."

I guess if I could ask one question of those denizens on the other side of the veil, it might be "Couldn't you haunt me anywhere else than the bathroom? A little privacy, please."

So hey, happy showering tonight! And if you don't believe in ghosts, well, Alfred Hitchcock has you covered in the movie "Psycho."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Scary Things, Part 1

Granted, the topic of this blog is ghosts, and the idea that they are everywhere and anywhere. For instance, as I sit alone in my office writing this, if I were to look over my shoulder just now…

Okay, you get the point. However, there are lots of other scary things on this planet and in addition to ghosts, "scary things" will be the sub-topic of this blog. That said, let's explore other scary things starting today with, say, shape-shifters. Is it me, or do they also seem to be, well, nearly as universal as ghosts? The Navajo have their skinwalkers, and the Lakota hold that there are those among them who can drop their human appearance and transform into perhaps a wolf or a hawk. Traditional vampire lore from Eastern Europe alleges that the vampire can change into a bat, a wolf, or even smoke, at will. A few centuries ago, Western Europeans worried that witches could turn into cats, and let us not forget the heavyweight of all shape-shifters: the werewolf.

Ordinarily, stories about shape-shifters don't bother me. They seem like pure entertainment, the fun kind with a good scare and a jolt or two tossed into the mix. And then a friend sent me a link to a site, unfortunately no longer available, that was predominantly about first-hand experiences with shape-shifters. After perusing first-hand accounts of the thing that made its way into a camper's tent without opening any of the zippers, or the thing that sat up in the branches of a tree over a campfire, perched like a huge bird but speaking in a guttural human voice, or the dead thing on the side of the road that couldn't be identified as anything in particular– Yeah, after reading a number of those late into the night I will admit I turned off the computer, made sure all the doors were locked (a futile activity, it seemed at the time), and hid under my blankets until I fell asleep, and then my dreams were weird and disturbing. And suddenly shape-shifter stories were a heck of a lot scarier.

On the face of it, I think the concept of shape-shifting might be a little tougher to swallow than that of ghosts. After all, it's hard to imagine life going on without us being aware of it somehow. It's hard to imagine that someone who is vibrant and intelligent and alive can't continue to exist after the body has stopped functioning, so perhaps a belief in ghosts makes a bit more sense than the idea of a person turning himself or herself into an animal. On the other hand, the next time you have eye contact with a wild animal –that crow that stares down at you with that beady intelligent eye, or, if you live in a neighborhood like mine, that urban coyote that is somehow not as shy or retiring as most coyotes are– maybe the possibility will cross your mind for a split second. Humans turn into animals? Of course not. Preposterous. Still, the way that hawk looked at me before it alighted on that branch–

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Phone Calls from the Dead

Phone Calls from the Dead

My father, God bless him, passed away in April of 1986. My siblings and I were all lucky enough to be adults by the time this happened, but you never really outgrow your parents, do you? My oldest brother had an interesting relationship with our father, something that ranged from amicable to volatile with stops in between. Nevertheless, my father's death was very hard on my brother. Likewise, I know my father always worried about my older brother.

I suppose none of us were totally surprised when my brother, starting a new job some time after my dad passed away, came to work and was handed a message slip from the switchboard: "Your father called." My brother reread the message a few times, then went to the operator and asked her about it. She told him the call came in a few minutes earlier, and that the caller simply said, "Just tell him his father called."

Of course, the first person he talked to about this was my mother. My mother, practical as always, just asked "Are you about to do something stupid?"

The story is kind of a joke within my family because it underscores the relationship between my brother and my father. On the other hand, it also brings up one of my favorite kinds of ghost stories, and that is the phone call from beyond the grave. Have you heard descriptions of this phenomena? About the phone that rings, but there is something quiet or shortened about the ring? About the caller's voice itself, and how it can sound far away or faint, although unmistakable? Or how about the static that fills the line, and then the abrupt end to the call, usually with a heavy silence?

This is the one kind of story that is deficient in my collection. Anyone got one to share?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Won't you come and haunt my blog?

Dry, brittle leaves skittering across the sidewalks, torn and scattered by a cool October wind. Full moon trapped in bare branches that twist in anguish against a night sky. Iron-gated cemetery filled with shadows upon shadows and only an occasional glimpse of a softly glowing tombstone. Footsteps in the night, creaking doors, and a swift, silent movement caught only by the corner of the eye.

If goosebumps, prickling at the back of your neck, and a decided uneasiness at entering a dark room appeal to you, you're in the right place! Welcome to Ubiquitous Ghosts, a blog devoted to the paranormal, the strange, the unexplained, and writing about all of them.

You see, I write ghost stories. I collect ghost stories. Heck, I've lived ghost stories. I grew up in a haunted house, an experience –or should I say a collection of experiences?– that definitely changed my outlook on life and provided me with a permanent interest in that twilight area beyond the grave.

I've read other blogs about the supernatural, from skinwalkers to ghosts, from monsters to psychic experiences, and now it's time for me to jump into the arena and tell a tale or two of my own. Maybe you've got a story you'd like to share? I'd love to hear it. Then we can revel in glancing over our shoulders and turning on lights against the darkness because, after all, ghosts are indeed ubiquitous.