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.