Thursday, November 15, 2012

Calling Forth the Restless

In my newest book, Haunted, there is a scene in which one of the characters remarks that reading or talking about ghosts will attract them to you. I hadn't been thinking about that consciously when May Parrish, my character, opened up her mouth and made that particular proclamation, but since it wound up on paper the thought must have been in me somewhere. I didn't give that specific bit of dialogue much attention until quite a bit later. And now I wonder what I was trying to tell myself.

Nonbelievers will assure me that the reason I hear more things happening in other parts of my house when I'm the only one home is that I am focusing more than usual on hearing creaks, thuds, thumps, and other disturbances. So of course, they explain, I will hear every single one of those noises, though I might not have noticed them otherwise. I suppose that is as good an explanation as any. Maybe it explains why, when I am tucked away in my office writing a ghost story, I always hear random rustlings, squeaks, and assorted sounds that pop off spontaneously and sporadically as I work. Some of these can be quite obnoxious: a heavy thud like someone dropping a cinder block in the other room, or maybe a series of creaks that suggest someone is approaching me from the other end of the house. Most of the time, if I'm working on a story, I try to ignore it. Most of the time, though, because I am working on a story, I wind up looking away from my monitor and glancing out the office door. There is never anyone there, but frequently the noises continue. And then I'll yell something like "Knock it off!" and things will quite down.

When I did newspaper writing some years ago, I had the happy annual assignment of collecting and writing up true ghost stories for the Halloween issue of the paper. I only worked on those stories during the day (while the kids were in school), and I have never forgotten the afternoon I was typing away merrily only to hear a loud bang against the inner wall of the garage, which was connected to our house. It was loud and violent enough to shake the shelf in the adjacent powder room and make the little items on it vibrate against the glass. Naturally when I got up to check, nothing had fallen over or tumbled down anywhere in the garage or in the house. I stopped writing immediately and finished the article when the whole family was home again, and the heck with the kids being in school while I worked.

This whole topic got me thinking: are there certain things that do invite restless spirits? I have a daughter who has always been uneasy around wind chimes because when she was a child she believed -and shared with me- that they attract ghosts. I have always loved wind chimes myself, but I must admit that since she told me that, I always hear an undercurrent of loss or sadness or something even more unsettling coasting along on the pleasant tinkling of the small metal chimes that I have hanging just outside my front door. If my daughter is correct, I must be a bit insane to hang these things so close to the entrance of my house.

And what about music? I know music inspires a whole range of emotions in me and I wonder sometimes if music can't attract a ghost or two. It's so tightly wound into the fabric of an era, surely a Benny Goodman album or some Scott Joplin ragtime could conjure up a nostalgic spirit.

I am writing this in broad daylight with a Depeche Mode song playing on the radio and the sunlight shining on the trees outside my window, but I know later I'm going to go home and transcribe this onto my blog. I wonder how I'll feel about the topic tonight when my grandson has gone to sleep and I'm alone because Jim is out of town again? For the sake of a sleeping child, a sharp Knock it off! is probably preferable than a scream, don't you think?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Haunted Lecture

 A few months ago, I wrote about the possibility of individual things being haunted, as opposed to actually having a haunted house. And I think I mentioned the name John Zaffis.

John Zaffis has a TV show on SyFy, for those who aren't familiar with his name, and it's called "The Haunted Collector." The show is about Mr. Zaffis's travels around the country to help people who are having, for want of a better phrase, paranormal problems. Mr. Zaffis and his team of investigators will go to the person's residence or place of business and try to determine if the problems his client is experiencing are related to items within the location. To date, he and his colleagues have rooted out weapons used to commit murder, jewelry that still had the spirit attached to it, animal bones, and at least one cursed object. And that's just a short list. Once a disturbed/disturbing object is identified, Mr. Zaffis will usually remove it and bring it back to his haunted museum, where it will be safely stored in a sort of privately owned Warehouse 13, speaking of the SyFy channel.

A few weeks ago, while life was truly insane, my husband and I took an evening off to go see Mr. Zaffis lecture at a local community college. What an engaging evening! First of all, it was a chance to see a noted paranormal investigator tell his stories in person. Secondly, what an audience! But first things first. Mr. Zaffis had an entire PowerPoint slide show with topics like ghosts and spirits, or demonology. For a supernatural fanatic like me, this was hitting the mother lode. Toward the end of his presentation, though, just when he got to the topic of demonic possession, the computer went berserk and zipped through the remaining pictures like a cheetah on steroids -but with less grace and more disturbing images- terminating the slide show in a most unceremonious fashion until the process stopped at his icon-filled desktop. Mr. Zaffis seemed about as startled as the rest of us and asked if the college had a ghost. I suppose this might have been staged, but anyone who could see the bewildered expression on the gentleman's face, and I could, would say otherwise. So the bad news was that we never got to see the whole show.

The good news is that he then devoted himself to a solid hour of Q & A from the audience. Did I say something about the audience earlier? There were any number of ghost hunters and paranormal investigators sitting in that lecture center, and all of them had a question. Quite a few people seemed to be looking for personal help. And then there were all the questions about the TV show itself. Mr. Zaffis explained the difference between what he really does and what is allowed on the television screen. He has his frustrations ("They won't let me show the kind of precautions I take whenever I remove one of those objects and store it away") but he is also happy to share his knowledge to those interested in picking his brain.

I don't get to see his program as often as I would like anymore, but I was thrilled to have a chance to see the man in real life. He's funny and down-to-earth, and I did find myself lying awake later that night, mulling over some of his more frightening tales. A bit afraid to open my eyes in the dark? Check. Very uneasy about wandering down the hall to use the bathroom at two in the morning? Check. Sleep a long time coming with all those weird noises originating in a spot just left and a little behind my side of the bed? Check. I must have had a great time!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Well, Where Have I Been???

And I was doing so well! I actually had a weekly post up for several months in a row and then life happened.

First, I accidentally got an almost full-time job as a medical assistant. Seeing as how I spent two-plus years of my life attending classes for this, not to mention getting certified in the field as well as in phlebotomy, getting a job as a medical assistant seemed like a good idea. But it sure takes up a lot of time.

Then there was the whole book thing. After lots and lots of discussion, coaching, advising, and more discussion with friends, with writers experienced at this, with my hubby, with anyone walking down the street willing to listen to a somewhat neurotic writer, I finally decided to self-publish my work. Hence, the picture at the top of this post. It's currently available as an e-book at Amazon. I soon hope to have it available in print, as well. Anyone who doesn't think self-publishing a book for the first time is not a lot of effort or doesn't take very long has clearly never tried it. Or is about twenty times more technically-minded than I am. I have hope for my own learning curve the next time around, and if not, there's always hubby.

That said, most writers I know who are self-publishing their work follow a fairly grueling schedule when it comes to output. Terri Reid puts these things out about every three or four months. I opted for every six months. Since I write ghost stories for the most part, releasing one around Halloween seemed like a good idea. And six months from that is April or thereabouts. I am currently trying not to panic.

At any event, thank you to everyone who has stopped by. This is an unusual post for me: most of the time I try to throw something paranormal into this space and hope to do so for next week's edition. So happy you came by to read this, though, and hope to see you next week with something more in line with a blog titled "Ubiquitous Ghosts"!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thank You, Peggy!

Thank God for fellow author Peggy Tibbetts (Letters from Juniper, Pvt. Liberty Striker). Those of us on this blog know who she is, and I was lucky enough to get her to review Saving Jake for me. Then I got even luckier when she read my next manuscript. She actually liked it, even though it needed all kinds of work, and offered to publish it at Sisterhood Publications, her current literary home. I was astonished. At the time I was in the depths of the I-have-no-talent and writing-is-just-a-pipe-dream nightmare I seem to subject myself to on a fairly routine basis. I don't know why, but this particular bout was the worst I've suffered in years. Enter Peggy.

She took the time to do an in-depth critique of my manuscript. (I admit it: I didn't look at it for weeks because I was terrified to find out what she really thought of it. I'm a coward!) And when I finally got past all of my own angst, I took her words to heart and made all sorts of corrections and revisions to get a final draft.

And then I flew in the face of all logic and decided to try self-publishing this thing myself on Amazon. Insane, or what? I had a legitimate offer from a fellow writer and here I was turning it down. One reason is that my fiction and Peggy's are not exactly cut from the same bolt of cloth. We both write YA and that's about it. I went onto the Sisterhood Publications website and was awed by the subject matter they house. They call it "edgy" fiction and it certainly is. Anyone who has read Pvt. Liberty Striker will know exactly what I mean.

Like Peggy, I will glean subject matter from current headlines, but then I go away and fabricate a ghost story out of it. My work reflects the way I see the world. I like to think it's scary when I need it to be, but it is not edgy. Not like the work I saw at Sisterhood. So I decided to give e-books a try independently. And Peggy, being the very gracious lady she is, gave me a huge hug by e-mail and wished me the best. (Talk about your class acts.)

So I hope to launch my newest novel very soon. The title is Haunted, it is a ghost story/murder mystery, and I hope people who read it will like it. I followed a lot of Peggy's suggestions and stubbornly left other areas untouched, but the book is all the stronger for her input, that's for sure. My goal is to upload it some time next week, just in time for the Halloween season, but life has gotten in the way yet again and I might be a bit delayed. But I learned something else from Peggy: don't give up (ya big wimp). Yes, the little aside is mine, but it was probably on her mind, too!

So thank you, Peggy. Let's see what happens next.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

For this blog piece, I'm trying something new. I'm starting from a picture and seeing what happens when I look at it and start composing. 

This being the start of autumn, the picture being black and white, my chosen creative genre being what it is, I would say the road could easily look haunted. Dense trees on either side. A curve that blinds the driver or hiker from clearly seeing what is up ahead. The possibility of strange rustlings in the underbrush -surely small animals or even a deer, but maybe other noises that are not so easily explained? The muted light could suggest either thick forest foliage or perhaps a day drawing to a close and the onset of twilight: that time of shadows and the slow hushing of day. A time when the total dark of night is approaching. 

I could let my imagination really fly and add a cemetery to the right just at the bend, an old one with weather-eroded headstones, full of gothic carvings like full-body angels with sightless eyes, or granite cherubs that seem to shift as they perch at the top of a mausoleum.

But that would draw away from the road itself, and roads are on my mind today. Who doesn't have an affinity for starting off on a personal adventure, packing up the car and hitting the road on some five-state journey to a known destination, but with a gazillion points unknown in between?

 J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, "The road goes ever, ever on."  David Byrne wrote (and sang) "We're on the road to nowhere." Robert Frost wrote about "The Road Not Taken." Jack Kerouac wrote "On the Road." Above is a picture, taken by the very talented photographer and artist Carmen Elliott, of one of my all-time favorite roads way up in Gills Rock, Door County, Wisconsin. She shot it in color, too, but I really like this black and white version. It lends to the mystery. And the art.

But back to the roads themselves. They offer escape, they offer mystery and adventure, sometimes they even symbolize the close of one of life's chapters, as in reaching the end of the road. 

Roads in general seem to be embedded into human consciousness as both mystery and solution. I love my road up in Door County. Going there mentally, even for a short while, is a solution to the pressures of my day. But I also have a hankering for the haunted roads, too. Maybe more on that later.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Little Psychics, Little Seers

 Last week, I wrote about ghostly children and how frightening they can be. This week, I decided to concentrate on equally frightening children: the ones who are very much alive and can see things that most of us adults can't.

There is a reality show that runs on A & E TV called "Psychic Kids." It follows two or three youngsters, anywhere from age 11 through 17, over the course of a weekend as they try to come to grips with their ability to see dead people. They work with a professional psychic, a certified counselor, and with their parents, to learn about what they are seeing, why, and how to control it so that they no longer need to fear running into all the spirits who are hanging about. The ones that most of us do not see.

The majority of people I know would dismiss the topic of this show as so much nonsense: ghosts don't exist, all these kids have over-active imaginations, I can't see it so there must be nothing to see, there is a reasonable explanation for everything that happens to these children.

And that's a really easy attitude to have until you find yourself in the company of a child who does see something, who will not be talked out of what he or she can see, who is too young to make up some of the details that come up -or even understand them, who tells the same story consistently over and over again.

I know a little guy, three years old when this first started happening, who would flee to the nearest grown-up in terror, saying over and over again that "the big boy is coming." I never found out who or what "the big boy" was, but this child was clearly panicked whenever he saw this entity. I was there for some of these events and it always brought goose-bumps up on my arms and the back of my neck. Were there any frightening "big boys" on the children's shows he was watching? His regimen at the time was Sesame Street and Super Why, so I don't think so. Could he have been bullied at day care? Also possible, but he was in a class made up exclusively of three-year old children, none of whom were much bigger than he was, if at all, so I don't think that was the root of this. This was a child who, from babyhood, would smile and babble at something just above and behind me when I changed his diaper, who once corrected me for not saying good-night to "the boy by the [rocking] horse," who had an entire conversation with an empty chair at my mother's one afternoon, ending with "Do you want a kiss?" and kissing the side of the chair before making his way back to his toys.

I have no doubt, when I look into those great, big, beautiful blue eyes that he is talking to someone he sees as clearly as he sees me. I also do not correct him, or tell him no one is there, or make him feel as if I don't believe him. I think he has a gift and far be it from me to be the one to destroy it. 

Already, some months later and now four years old, he has stopped fearing the Big Boy. But I do catch him, sometimes, clearly listening to someone I can't see or hear. But I don't disturb him. Interrupting conversations is just rude.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Little Monsters, Little Wraiths

Children are not inherently frightening. Beyond noise levels that some people don't tolerate well, or maybe a mess that looks like a violent crime scene, children really aren't all that scary. Maybe that's why they make particularly creepy wraiths and monsters?

I was thinking about this as I drove back from daycare this morning: I love the sound of children playing in summer -the shouts, the laughter, the noise of hurrying feet and the occasional wail when someone's knee hits the sidewalk, or little hands slip off the monkey bars. There's something both refreshing and reassuring about kids in summer. Maybe it's half-nostalgia and half-hope for the future. 

Children's laughter and voices where they don't belong, however, are entirely different matters.

In the house where I grew up on the north side of Chicago, my sister and I frequently heard children's voices. We'd hear singing. We'd hear conversation. The only problem is that we were the only kids in that house, we were older than the voices we were hearing, and we usually heard these sounds coming from an empty room. And believe me, there's nothing like a baby crying in the middle of the night to keep you awake: especially when there's no baby in the house and the cries are coming from somewhere in your own room. Did I mention that my sister and I shared a bedroom that once upon a time was the home's nursery? I still get a little bit of a chill when I think about some of those experiences.

Maybe it's the idea that death during childhood is unnatural. I know the idea of losing a child is a nightmare like no other I can imagine, as a parent or as a grandparent. The thought of a sweet, bright youngster being taken before reaching adulthood, before fulfilling all the potential in those shining, innocent eyes, is too dark to even contemplate. So maybe the wrongness of a child's death is what makes the idea of a child's ghost more, for lack of a better word, haunting.

And I know it's not just me. Hollywood has had a busy time with dead children, from "The Innocents" back in the days of black and white, to "The Other" as well as George C. Scott's classic movie about a dead child's vengeance, "The Changeling." (Try watching that one alone at night - I dare you!) Sometimes movie makers take it a step farther and turn children into complete monsters. "Village of the Damned" comes to mind, even though the late Christopher Reeve, discussing the remake he participated in, remarked that it was hard to act frightened of his little costars when the cameras were running because they were as cute as puppies. 

Nevertheless, there is something just a little bit more chilling about a child ghost, and I'm still trying to figure out the why's and wherefore's of it. Maybe thinking about it more will give me a better handle on it. Or even better, the idea for a book.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


A writer friend of mine who publishes under the name Scarlett Dean had a book out several years ago titled Unfinished Business. The premise is that objects can be haunted and that anyone who brings such an object into his or her home also brings along the spirit attached to it.

Apparently, for those of us who are open to the concepts of the supernatural, this is more than just a premise. John Zaffis, for instance, a paranormal investigator, has his own TV series called "Haunted Collector," a show that deals with disturbed objects and the folks who are being disturbed by them. Just recently, I saw a special entitled "Possessed Possessions" that was rather like a haunted Antiques Road Show, except it was on board the very haunted Queen Mary and the evaluations were not for current worth, but for current supernatural manifestations. People brought in their auction-bought antique dolls, inherited porcelain tea cups, life-size wax statues of Rudolph Valentino, and even a 19th century Colt once owned by a Texas Ranger. The psychics and other investigators would give a reading on each object and then ask the owners questions to ascertain the accuracy of their readings. 

The one question they never asked was "And why exactly did you feel the need to have this in your house?" I can understand inherited items. I don't get purchasing something as creepy as an antique doll that you subsequently relegate to the storage facility because you don't want to have the thing anywhere near you.

Of course, I am being far too harsh. There are a number of resale and thrift shops around my house, and one day, I became enamored of a set of nesting porcelain bowls. They were a beautiful peach color with decorative green leaf work on one side, and they were both stunning and useful. My husband bought them for me as a surprise present and I was thrilled with them. Until I got them into my kitchen.

For about, oh, 10 years or so, these beautiful bowls have been languishing in a cabinet just to the right of the kitchen sink. I don't know why I've never used them other than the fact that they make me uneasy. They are as striking as they ever were, but if I never bring them out to look at them again, that's fine. So why did they seem so beautiful but also so ordinary at the store and not in my house? I have no idea. 

If anyone hears of a haunted Antiques Road Show turning up in the Chicago area some time in the near future, let me know, okay?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Simon Says: Read Reid Now

Normally, I fall in love with a writer's books and then work on meeting that writer, at a signing or a convention or maybe just through an exchange of letters. This time around, though, I met the writer and then fell in love with her work.

Back in June, I wrote a little column about venturing into self-publishing with e-books, and I mentioned this writer by name: Terri Reid. Well, I finally had a chance to try one of her books and to say that I devoured them would be inaccurate only because the word "devour" doesn't really cover how quickly I jetted through her entire series. So far. I don't normally do this, but I'm going to use this space for my review of book 7 in her Mary O'Reilly series. And if you do what the title of this post says and read her work, I dare you to disagree with me! (This review is also online at Amazon, as is a much clearer picture of the cover artwork.)

Product Details

Secret Hollows, Terri Reid

Reviewed by Ophelia Julien

Secret Hollows, Aching Hearts

There was no accident or whimsy on my part when I chose to review book seven in Terri Reid’s Mary O’Reilly series instead of any of the earlier ones. I read the entire series in a sort of mad marathon over the course of two and a half days, and I see that I am not the only one who felt the need to comment on this one. Except for the first book, Loose Ends, Secret Hollows has engendered the most reviews. There are good reasons for this.

Ms. Reid is a skillful story teller and the Mary O’Reilly series shows that to the best effect with plot threads that begin in one book, get picked up in another, and are resolved in yet one more, all while new threads are introduced at the same time to keep readers coming back for the next installment . In that regard, Ms. Reid is, I must say, a very talented but evil little minx. There is no leaving this series once hooked. The characters become good friends and the world of Freeport, Illinois becomes a great place to hang out and solve murder mysteries.

Because these are paranormal mysteries, there are always ghosts involved. I have long held the belief that everyone has a ghost story, and it is this premise that makes the Mary O’Reilly books work. As opposed to some small-town murder series where one begins to wonder if half of the town is seriously engaged in bumping off the other half, one citizen at a time, the murders presented here are connected to cold cases as well as to murders that have been incorrectly solved. It is great fun to follow Mary and her companions, both living and dead, as they sort through clues, deal with danger, and still have time and energy to work on affairs of the heart.

Secret Hollows, however, is the heart-breaker of the bunch. Any serial killer who targets children deserves any and every hell the victims’ parents can dream up and dish out. The murders in this story are doubly moving because the reader is given the opportunity to know these young and innocent victims as real children whose lives were taken by a monster. And just to add to the poignancy, a story arc that began a few books back reaches its inevitable happy-but-so sad resolution here. I knew it was coming; I was just hoping it wouldn’t.

Don’t wait. Treat yourself to these books yesterday. I only reviewed number seven, but do not skip the first six because 1) you need the background to appreciate the depth of this particular story, and 2) the whole series is one helluva a ride.

Ms. Reid just got herself a new fan-girl.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ghostlore and the Sea

I have a fascination with shipwrecks, particularly on the Great Lakes. I don't know why that is, but both the research and the recreational reading I have done on the subject gave rise to a large part of my book Saving Jake. 

One can't read about shipwrecks without wandering into the territory of haunted or even ghost ships. And boy howdy, as they say, are there ever a slew of those. Haunted ships are a popular topic, and they turn up on my reality ghost story shows all the time. Last week, the National Geographic network did a special about that very subject and led with a piece on the the Queen Mary, probably the mother of all famous haunted ships. Docked in California, the Queen Mary offers ghost tours and boasts the spirits of a little girl who plays and laughs in the swimming pool area, a bride who wanders certain corridors and vanishes through locked doors, and a departed seaman who knocks his wrench against the walls of the ship's lower confines.

Google "Haunted Ships" plus "World War II," and see what pops up. Some of them are now museums. Not all of them are American. And I'd sure like to get to a bunch of them.

Ghost or spectral ships, though, are the ships that still sail the oceans, crewed by the dead, and sometimes harbingers of evil tidings. Thanks to "Pirates of the Caribbean," it is difficult to talk of ships "crewed by the damned" without starting to giggle. But there are quite a few ghost ships out there, not just The Flying Dutchman.

And then there are the derelicts, ships found drifting at sea that are perfectly fine except that there is not a living soul on board when they are found. The Mary Celeste is easily the most famous of these, and though there are some solid workable theories about exactly what happened to the crew, the captain, and the captain's wife and baby, the story has no definite ending.

Still, it's the drowned ships, the rusting or rotting hulls, the splintered masts, the scattering of cargo and debris lying in wait hundreds of feet below the waves, that always catch my imagination. Even if there is no tale of ghosts attached to a particular wreck, there is a combination of tragedy, sudden horrific death, and the echoes of despair that would make "haunted" an apt word to describe any of these ruined vessels. 

On the Great Lakes, a large number of shipwrecks occurred during the autumn months, and as summer winds to a close and the time of brilliant dying leaves, spectral trees, storms of rain and wind, approaches, I'll be thinking of those ships that have gone down, some of them very close to my favorite spot in Door County, Wisconsin. Buried at sea, forgotten, decaying slowly in the cold waters, sure. But at rest? I wonder.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

There is a scientific name for nearly every phobia that can be imagined, and some that can't. Fear of the dark is called nyctophobia, and everything that I have read about it states the same thing: all children go through a stage of it. If a child doesn't outgrow the fear, or learn to cope with it, a full-blown phobia in adulthood is possible. But isn't there some kind of in-between status?

I don't have a phobia of the dark, but I am definitely afraid of it. I don't mind admitting that. I know people who are afraid of spiders, or water, or snakes, or bees or any number of things out there. One of my pet fears happens to be the dark.

At least one article that I read about this assured me that it's not really the dark that I fear, it's what the dark could be concealing. Hmm, yes, there's a thought. And thanks for planting that into the old brainbox, as well. Dark can conceal any number of things: a vampire, a ghost, a zombie, a monster, a stalker, a serial killer, so fearing what is concealed by it makes a great deal of sense. And I also freely admit that I fear all of the above.

But my basic issue is really with darkness. With the absence of light. In my case, with the absence of a great deal of my sight. And I know it's not just the shadows in my unlighted home, that may or may not be concealing something or someone harmful, that weigh on me. It's also the dark of night when I'm driving through it, especially on a highway. Oh, yes, there's the possibility that someone might not see my car and thus involve me in an accident. There's the possibility of a sleep-deprived driver losing control and taking me out with him. But I find that when I drive those dark expressways at night, I feel like I'm driving through an overturned bowl that some unseen giant has plonked down over my immediate environment. Or like I'm making my way through some endless tunnel with no end in sight. And I admit that when those thoughts cross my mind, my breath catches just a little and I need to start giving myself little speeches of encouragement.

I know I don't have the classic phobia: I am capable of functioning at night and sometimes, especially after another 100-degree, full-sun kind of summer day, I enjoy the cool and restful evening. But I enjoy it better if there are lots of stars in the sky, and I'm standing in my yard, not far from my door and the lights in my kitchen and living room.

As a child, I would accept an adult's "Don't be afraid of the dark" with a quavery "okay" and an attempt to figure out how not to be. As an adult, I would probably just say "Easier said than done." Nyctophobia is only one word for fear of the dark. There are at least three others. Is that like the Inuit having more than one word for "snow" or some Eastern European cultures having more than one word for "vampire"? Clearly the human race needed more than one word to label my particular fear. I guess that means I'm not alone in the dark.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lonely Little Stand-Alone in a Serial World

Last year, I came up with a short piece for the Young Adult Authors You've Never Heard Of blog about how I didn't write a series but instead focused on stand-alone books, and at the time I was beginning to wonder if that was such a wise thing to do. After all, if a reader likes your work and really likes your characters, it would make sense to continue with that particular universe and that particular population. 

But I have never had a series in mind when I wrote my manuscripts. It's almost as if my characters had the one story to tell, and after having told it, went off on vacation to Patagonia or other parts unknown to me. I can find them if I want to, I suppose, but really they seem to be quite finished with me. Yet, more and more successful writers that I know keep dropping broad hints to me that a series would probably be a better product. I must admit I'm hooked on some series myself. And yet. And yet?

The only series I've ever had in mind is the usual detective kind. I don't think there's any mystery reader on the planet who doesn't carry around his or her own series internally, whether the protagonist is a cop, a detective, a moonlighter, a novelist, or a spiritualist of some kind, and since I'm a mystery reader of the first order, I certainly have a sleuth of my own currently renting space in my attic. I think a murder mystery could be fun to write. I think that all of us who read mystery stories probably would love to write them, too.

But when it comes to my YA supernatural stuff, a series never crossed my mind. UNTIL. I realized a few weeks ago that when I first started writing my little ghost story books, one of the most important settings was a place called Bridgeton Park Cemetery. When I wrote my second YA book, Saving Jake, I threw Bridgeton Park Cemetery into the story just as a private joke for myself. I didn't figure Jake was going to see the light of day anyhow. But he did. My next manuscript is awaiting my corrections and rewrites, and there is actually a wonderful place in the story to include Bridgeton Park Cemetery. I think I will.

Does it make sense to have a series that continues with a place -in my case, a cemetery- instead of with the characters? A friend of mine who is a professor of literature told me that William Faulkner centered a number of stories around a particular location. Stephen King, the King himself, set so many stories in Castle Rock that I can't even remember all of them. Not that I could compare myself to Faulkner or King, but I keep thinking that having a sense of place might give a reader continuity as nicely as a more traditional person-oriented series. It would not be like seeing the same characters book after book, but it would certainly expand the universe of every book I write that is built around that graveyard. And it would suggest that these characters could very well run into one another - or even know each other.

My still-to-be revised manuscript could use a sequel, I've been told, so I guess I would have to work up another story around Bridgeton Park. But as someone who spends free time visiting cemeteries, that probably wouldn't be much of a stretch.

Anyone else out there know of a series based on place rather than on people?

[This piece is also at Young Adult Authors You've Never Heard Of:]

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In the Spirit of Education

There is currently a new ghost series on TV, this one called "School Spirits." I was wondering when someone was going to get around to covering haunted colleges since there seem to be so many of them. I was also wondering WHY there are so many of them.  In my 12 feet or so of shelf space devoted to ghost stories and haunted locations, I would guess there are almost as many collegiate hauntings described as there are castles and churches.

Personally, I once spent a retreat on a college campus in what was a disturbed, if not disturbing, dormitory. The room was perfectly fine: desk with lamp, bed, closet space, even a sink. The atmosphere in the room itself, however, was both watchful and waiting. I didn't sleep much there, those two nights. The hall outside the room was even worse. There was no bathroom attached to the bedroom and anyone needing to shower or use the facility had a long walk to get to it. The best part was creeping, speed-walking, or outright running past the back of the building's chapel, full of wonderful shadows that mercifully stayed put when I zipped through them en route to the lavatory. Whoever designed the path we used to answer the call of nature had a warped sense of humor.

Even my high school had some issues. The school was built in two parts: an older section that had been the original school, and the newer add-on that came about as enrollment increased. The older section, with its wrought-iron fence and gothic design (all-girls' Catholic high school) should have been the scary part, but it wasn't. The new side of the school with its modern tiling and squared-off rooms was the area that filled itself with unexplained noises and shufflings when students stayed late for extra-curricular activities like sports or rehearsals. 

And all of this leads me back to my original question. Why are places of education so frequently haunted? Do that many students commit suicide? Were there murders on campus in days gone by that have since been forgotten? Or is it just that the buildings soak up all of the adolescent and post-adolescent emotion and anguish that goes hand-in-hand with scholastic rites of passage, replaying those feelings for those sensitive enough to notice them?

I don't know the answer to this. All I know is that I have been to some scary buildings in my time and quite a few of them involve education.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Late Thoughts on the Late, Great Richard Crowe

When we stopped subscribing to a printed newspaper, I realized I was going to lose touch with local news. But it still came as a bit of a shock when I learned, over a month late, that one of my favorite Chicago icons, Richard Crowe, had passed away June 6, 2012.

For anyone not from the immediate area, Richard Crowe was the very first Chicago ghost entrepreneur. He started doing Chicago Supernatural Tours back in 1973 and I must admit I took my first tour with him a year later. At that time, the idea of getting on a bus for a four-hour ride while the man at the front regaled us with stories of ghosts related to Chicago's frequently bloody past as we toured the city was mind-boggling. This was a grown-up doing a bus tour for no other reason than to share ghost stories. I was on board in more ways than one.

My second tour with Mr. Crowe was years later, and by then he offered the option of a midnight ghost story cruise. My younger daughter and her best friend accompanied my husband and me as we gazed at Chicago buildings from the river and the lake, and heard tales of what went on in these particular haunts. Ghost stories told under dark Chicago skies in an open boat are weirdly atmospheric. And a lot of fun. 

A few years ago, my daughter and I took what would be, sadly, our last tour with our favorite guide. By now, Mr. Crowe had added eateries and late-night shopping to his tour as we stopped at favorite locales like The Billygoat Tavern and Chinatown. I won a prize on that tour for knowing that Ira Levin was the author of Rosemary's Baby.

Recently, I heard that some folks actually left his tours mid-route because they were disappointed. I've always wondered if they expected him to conjure up a spirit while he was speaking. Having been on ghost tours in different locations, including York, England, I can guarantee that no ghost-tour guide promises a supernatural experience. They do, however, offer a wealth of local history and usually quite a bit of entertainment. Rumor has it that Stephen King himself took a Richard Crowe ghost tour.

I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Crowe on those tours. I also met him at a signing where he autographed a copy of his book Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural for me. He was a friendly, warm giant of a man with a great voice for telling tales and a dry sense of humor. His love of his home town was evident in every story he told. And I doubt that any historical haunting in the Second City got by him. How fitting it is that he is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, home to Resurrection Mary, one of Chicago's most famous spirits and a mainstay of Chicago Supernatural Tours.

I will miss Mr. Crowe's annual Halloween visits on both radio and television talk shows, and his interviews with various newspapers. But I'm glad I had the chance to have met and talked with him. He's an integral part of the fabric that weaves my writing career together.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Just Passing Through

I grew up in a haunted house, so I know what that feels like. I knew what places in the house were always disturbed or disturbing, I knew what time the "nightly haunt" would start and stop, I knew when that one particular thing entered the room and it was time to leave. In other words, at my old house, despite being unknown, the haunting was a known quantity. (Love those paranormal oxymorons!)

The house I live in now is another matter. It's not haunted. It's more like Grand Central Station. Let me backtrack. Some years ago, a woman I know who is a very talented card reader, mentioned the fact that sometimes, spirits or entities may just "pass through" one's house. It's a concept that has always stuck with me, and it goes a long way in explaining some of the things around here. Some people may say it's all in my head anyhow, but I don't think so. And I'm not the only one who feels these things.

Sometimes our doorbell rings, for no reason. Sometimes our dog would go to the front door and bark his deepest, hackles raised, ears at full-mast, full-throated bark at something we never saw. Sometimes I hear someone walking down my hall even though I know I'm home alone. One time, our home-alone younger daughter came home to find the place ablaze with lights, including the garage, at one o'clock in the morning, even though she was the only one in residence at the time. And I'm not even going to detail what my four-year old grandson comes up with around here. As I type this, I just heard something shift out there in the living room, which is around the corner and down the hall from my office. Love that, when I'm home alone.

In my most recent manuscript, the one I'm about to revise, I have a character who observes that reading about ghosts, or talking about them, tends to attract them. "Like it or not," she says, "they'll all come to you."

Maybe it's not such a surprise I wrote that particular scenario in this house. Maybe I should have that character add that even though spirits might be attracted, maybe they're also just passing through.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, USA!

Finding a way to incorporate ghosts into the celebration of our country's birthday can be a stretch, even for someone like me. I was going to do a piece about all the ghosts from that period that haunt Philadelphia, and according to Dennis William Hauck's Haunted Places (The National Directory), there are quite a lot of them, from a headless Revolutionary War soldier who gallops down Allen's Lane with his severed head next to his saddle to the consortium of spirits who haunt General Wayne Inn. There are a lot of other haunted locations in between. And we probably don't even need to discuss how many historical figures are apparently running rampant in Washington, D.C. long after the end of their living years.

But maybe just for today, I'll write about the 4th of July instead. I asked my husband what he thinks of when I say "4th of July" and his response was "fireworks." We have some standing traditions that no one even questions anymore when it comes to the 4th: fireworks, barbecues, apple pie, watermelon. I think my favorite is fireworks.

My family takes a trip north to Door County and enjoys the fireworks display at Gills Rock, a village at the tip of the peninsula. The Gills Rock fireworks show has become more and more popular over the years, and includes a band, food and drinnk vendors, and the venerated tradition of parking your lawn chair or blanket in the parking lot or along the dock hours before the show will be held, because Gills Rock's fireworks are done over the water, fired off from a barge that is the property of a long-established family.

When the sun goes down over Green Bay and the first rocket shoots up, something like a sigh of both expectation and contentment runs through the crowd. Showers of blue and silver, white and red, orange and green light up the night sky, and when the weather is particularly clear, we can see answering cascades of fiery colored sparks from towns far across the water.

The display doesn't last much longer than half an hour, if even that. For a fireworks fiend like me, there is no such thing as a 4th of July fireworks show going on too long. But for those thirty minutes or so, everyone sitting there in the summer night is united in good cheer and cameraderie, slapping at mosquitoes, letting the little ones nestle in our laps, oooh-ing each new explosion of light and applauding like mad at the finale. Celebrations don't get much better than that.

Happy Birthday, USA.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ghosts for All Seasons

Some time ago, a fellow writer of paranormal stories for the young, Jimmy Gordon, asked me about ghosts and hauntings during the summer time. (Jimmy is professionally known as J.D. Gordon and his latest book, Field of Screams, is available at Amazon. Check it out!) Jimmy's work in progress at the time involved a ghost in summertime. And he was struggling with it.

To Jimmy, ghosts properly belonged in autumn. That makes sense. All you really have to do to conjure up a mental ghost in the autumn is pay attention to the skeletal tree branches, the dead leaves that sweep down the street sometimes without any breeze to be noted, the harvest moon up in the sky that is bright enough to cause shadows on the earth below, and then remember that dark is going to creep up on us hours earlier than it did just a month or so ago. Autumn is a good season for every paranormal critter, come to think of it. Even vampires seem more likely under that harvest moon, when the cold draft of air rattling the window might be the wind. Or not.

So I reminded my friend and colleague that ghosts can be equally frightening any time of year. Winter is not far behind autumn for a good seasonal haunt. Christmas notwithstanding, the short cold days and long colder nights, a chill up the back for no apparent reason, tombstones frozen with snow that may only be blanketing what waits beneath - ah, yes, winter is also a dandy time for a haunting.

But what about spring? What about that glorious time of year when the weather begins to warm and the new leaves, joyous and bright green, are popping free along every branch and the first of the really colorful flowers raise their heads for the return of longer days? How can anyone possibly find a ghost in that kind of environment? Oh, easy-peasy. Think of all the home renovations that start up in the spring: new kitchens, knocking out a wall to create more space, enclosing a porch to add living area - and then think of all the unseen denizens in those homes who have been content with the status quo and are suddenly ensconced in change and renovation. More than one haunting has been kicked off when the new owners of a house decide to make some drastic changes.

And summer? No problem whatsoever. In summer, people stay up late into the night, looking up at the stars and lingering over drinks and conversation on the patio. And what was that we just heard in the house? You know, up on the second floor in the bedroom - when everyone is outside? Is it a bold but clumsy burglar, or is it something else? I had an experience that verged on poltergeist activity that lasted through almost an entire summer, once. But that is a completely different story!

So yes, hauntings can and do occur in every season. And it is up to those of us who chronicle such events to keep in mind that there is no season at all during the course of a year that is ghost-free. I kinda like that.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Bit of a Departure

I am contemplating publishing a book on Amazon. There. I said it and there's no taking it back.

As you can already see, this blog will not be about  my usual beloved ghosts but about something that's been on my mind for several months now. I was lucky enough to meet up with two writers last Monday, Debbie Deutsch, and the uber-successful Terri Reid. If you don't believe me about Terri, go look her up on Amazon. And then read her. And you'll know what I'm talking about.

Considering the fact that I have already had a couple of books published in the traditional way, small press but traditional, one would not think that deciding to go the Amazon route would be any more frightening than collecting rejection slips like mosquito bites in summer, and then after a little bit of rest, sending one's work out to get kicked back one more time.

So here's what's scary. If I do this, that work will be just me. No publishing company to shield me (hey, I wrote it but THEY decided it was worth publishing. And that cover art was THEIR idea). No named editor to hide behind (I know some editors personally who would probably help me out whether as a favor or as a barter). No industry-employed copy editor to take one last look at the work before I get the galleys. No, sir, this would all be on me. That's scary.

I have stories in my head all the time. Lately I have been lazy and averse to writing them out because 1) life has been extremely challenging these past few years and 2) I'm usually too tired and freaked-out to write anything. Notice how this blog went without entries for two years?

But here it is, time to make my decision. Stick with the usual stream of rejections until I feel to crushed to try anymore (or at least for another few years) OR pull up my socks and send out my work to stand on its own. Sink or swim. Fight or flight.

If anyone out there reads this, please leave me a comment on your thoughts. I'd sure love to know what someone else thinks about this particular topic. Oh, and no worries. Next week I'll be back to the supernatural stuff.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Other Dead Meat


I've already covered my preference for ghosts over vampires, so let's talk about zombies.

Zombies were the one monster that could -and did- cause me nightmares in my childhood. When I was a kid, there were certain network shows that consisted of grade-B movies, mostly sci-fi or horror. My older brother and sister were really into these shows, so while I got my share of Garfield Goose and Captain Kangaroo after school, I also got a healthy helping of The Early Show or Science Fiction Theater. The Early Show, especially, with its logo of a cheeping bird (presumably the early bird), presented movies like "The H-Man," "Zombies of Mora Tau," and "Creature with the Atom Brain." Some of these movies were American, some of them were foreign, and all of them were cheesy and done in black and white. But they were enough to scare the bejesus out of me.

"The H-Man" featured people literally dissolving out of their clothes. If I remember correctly, one lady bought it in the lounge area of the women's rest room. All they found were her high heels, her purse, and her little cocktail dress. I was too terrified to use public bathrooms for months.

But the other two movies mentioned, "Zombies of Mora Tau" and "Creature with the Atom Brain," are true zombie flicks. There is something frankly horrifying about a recently-dead human being coming after you with unwavering persistence, despite where you go or try to hide. I've never liked being chased, not even in a game of tag. The idea of being chased by something that is not quite dead should have been enough to send me to therapy as an adult. And to make matters worse, of course these things always had mangled facial features and body parts that were decaying away from them. (When Stephen King said "I'm coming for you, but I'm coming very slowly because little bits of me keep falling off" he about summed it all up in a nutshell.)

I did have nightmares after "Zombies of Mora Tau." And those guys moved liked dead geezers. Nowadays, zombies can move at cheetah-speed, scale walls, leap like Superman, and come at you from the ceiling if need be. Despite this, somehow they are not as frightening to me as those old dead guys who couldn't shuffle more than a foot per second. Those older zombies seemed more dogged, inevitable, and contentious than their speedier counterparts, though I have no idea why.

Zombies. No one wants to become one, and no one wants to be near one. In other words, can't live with them, can't necessarily kill them.

That is why despite so many of my friends and relatives preparing for the zombie apocalypse (something they all assure me is imminent) by sharing information, detailed anecdotes, and books filled with anti-zombie wisdom, I'm still clinging to my ghost stories. Call it denial. Call it tunnel vision. Call it what you will - I prefer my dead to be corpse-free. Is that so much to ask?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Collecting Ghost Stories

Collecting Ghost Stories

Everyone who knows me, knows I collect ghost stories. I don't just watch the programs on cable, I actually clip news articles about haunted places (the month of October always sees a whole slew of these in the newspaper). And when I do a school visit or a signing, I invariably ask people to share a true ghost story with me. Some of the tales they have me told still make my hair stand on end.
Last week, my husband and I were vacationing up in Door County, Wisconsin for the Memorial Day weekend. We stopped in at Grandma Tommy's Country Store just out of curiosity and were greeted with the customary and wonderful display of cherries (dried, frozen, chocolate covered), cheese, jams, honey, fudge, gift baskets, tee shirts, and the usual sundry items that make tourist shopping so much fun. I wandered back to the book rack that held the cookbooks, local guides, and gift books, and was pleasantly startled to find a copy of my own Ghosts of Lake Michigan sitting on the top of the rack.
Jim, my husband, who is well aware of how much publicizing I need to do and how much I actually don't, literally grabbed the book in one hand, my arm in the other, and propelled me up to the cash register to ask if she wanted me to sign the copy they had. The young girl behind the register introduced us to her mother, the store owner, and that very nice lady, my husband, and I had a terrific conversation about the store, about her choice of books (she's going to order more of mine! Yay!), and best of all, about ghosts.
While we were standing there, she proceeded to tell us two ghost stories, one of them involving Grandma Tommy's Country Store itself. She confided that she doesn't normally talk so openly about this sort of thing so that people won't think she's crazy, but given the subject matter of my book, she had no problem sharing her stories with me.
I not only collect ghost stories, I remember who told me the stories, and where we were at the time. Against the backdrop of all the true experiences I've heard, this one will always be a standout.
By the way, if any of you read the blog for Young Adult Authors No One Has Heard Of, you might have already seen this post. Apologies. I blog there once a month, and I guess for that one time a month, Ubiquitous Ghosts will carry the same story. But just once a month!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I Prefer to Tell My Ghost Stories

As a writer of paranormal fiction, I frequently do what I like to call "research." Sometimes, it's sitting around watching cable TV shows about ghosts, monsters, and psychics, and other times it's rooting around the Internet to see what I can scare up, so to speak. Yesterday I searched for paranormal organizations in Illinois. I found a fantastic website that listed and linked to all the paranormal organizations in my home state. We apparently have 125 of them. One hundred and twenty-five. At the end of that rather extensive list, the site obligingly followed up with a second list of organizations that are active in Illinois even though their home bases are in other states. After scrolling down for several minutes, I decided not to even try counting their total number.

But back to Illinois. One hundred and twenty-five. That's a lot of groups. That's an awful lot of groups.

Being a fiction writer, I started wondering other things about this listing. Do two groups ever stumble over each other at the same investigative site? Better yet, do ghosts stumble over each other trying to keep up with all these groups? Talk about not resting in peace! There may be ghosts that can't even hang out in their favorite abandoned mansion without being disturbed by yet another investigation. And even better than that, is it possible that any of these organizations has a member who is actually no longer breathing?

I sound as if I am mocking paranormal investigation and that is something I certainly would never do. I know I don't have the moxie to go into a reputedly haunted building after dark and look for the things that are going bump in the night. I know. I was invited and I turned it down. (Can we say chicken?)

Still, I am fascinated by the stories that are compiled by groups like this and by the history they unearth while researching hauntings. People who investigate help people who write. Like me.

I currently have a manuscript that involves a group of people who tell ghost stories every Thursday night. A friend of mine who read the book thinks I should have this group of characters branch out into actual investigations, but I don't know if that will ever happen. After all, that would entail research on the part of the author, like a hands-on experience in paranormal investigation. Um, I think my characters will stick to telling stories!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nothing Like a Short (?) Break

Seeing as how it has been over two (two, gasp!) years since I last posted here, and seeing as how I get daily reports on how this website is doing --there are still people visiting this!!!-- I figured I'd better make an appearance and put in something new.

Life has been kind of crazy, but two years later I have become a certified phlebotomist and medical assistant, picked up a crazy sort of addiction to all the paranormal TV shows on cable (Ghost Hunters, Psychic Kids, Psychic Investigators, Haunted History, My Ghostly Encounter, Celebrity Ghost Stories, etc.), started reviewing books for Windy City Review/Chicago Writers Association, and inflamed my posterior tibialis tendon for about the umpteenth time resulting in the required brace. Oh, and as can be seen above, had the cover of my book redone. Isn't that gorgeous???

I have also learned that if I don't write regularly enough, my writing muscles atrophy. To that end, I will try to be a more disciplined blogger and get going on any of the three unfinished manuscripts I have surrounding me.

Two questions for my readers at large, though:
1) Anyone know a medical practice looking for a part-time medical assistant in the Chicago area?
2) Anyone know how to screen comments for this blog? I don't mind the valid ones but the things that turn up in Asian characters or the Cyrillic alphabet drive me nuts!