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: obscurekidslitauthors@blogspot.com]