Monday, December 28, 2015

Ghosts in the (non-Grave)Yard


This morning, I was looking out the window in the kitchen and seeing the winter that El Nino has withheld from us for the past month or so. Not that I'm complaining about that, mind you. I don't mind that we've almost made it through December without needing to shovel, not at all. I didn't even mind that Christmas was not white this year. But today, we've got a winter storm going. Not tons of snow, no. This is nastier. This is freezing rain, sleet, slick streets, cold temperatures, and a wind that's gusting up strong enough to knock branches off our trees and pelt crystals of ice against the side of our house. Winter.

And I looked out over our yard, at the dormant leafless trees, the decaying skeletons of plants, the browning grass, and I wondered (being me) about ghosts. Which brought to mind a ghost story a good friend of mine once told me.

Like me, she once worked for her local paper. And like me, she did an annual ghost story feature around Halloween. She told me a story related to her by a homeowner in her town. Apparently, shortly after he purchased his house, he went out to mow the lawn, as any good homeowner does at the height of summer. And was pulled up short by a woman standing on the grass in his way. He looked around and noted that there were actually several people standing in different spots in his yard. They did not interact with him, they just stood there. I don't know if he decided to mow around her, or if he realized that he could actually mow through her, but the upshot of it was that he called his realtor. Who promptly informed him that his house had been built upon cemetery property.

Holy Poltergeist (the original)! Was this man's house built on Phase I? The place where they didn't move the graves, they only moved the headstones?

I realize as I type this out that I am missing details about the story that I would have loved. Did he decide to move immediately? Were the graves actually moved, and if so, why were all these people hanging about? How was it that he was able to see them when he mowed the lawn but didn't up until that point? 

Despite the lack of details that I have (or have retained), I like the story because it's so dang quirky and unsettling. I don't think I would enjoy looking out over my yard and seeing a bunch of silent staring strangers standing in various places on my property. And I am very grateful that when I looked out over my yard today, the only dead-looking things I saw were the trees and the plants.

So, winter or not, mowing the grass or not, I wonder if this man sees these dead people to this day? Or if he moved? And if there are new owners, do they see the same thing? Maybe this man was like my friend, Michael Penfield, and had the ability to see dead people. Whatever the case, I'm glad I live on old farmland and not an old cemetery.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Christmas Post (A Week Early)

Leave it to Charles Dickens to write a ghost story involving Christmas.

I have read winter ghost stories, some of them absolutely horrifying. A particular Japanese one that was included in my sister's Freshman Literature Anthology comes to mind. There is something really grisly and yet fascinating about a vengeful ghost in winter, leaving droplets of blood on the fresh snow after decapitating its victim. (I don't know the author, but if you're really interested, try looking for a pair of stories entitled respectively, "A Promise Kept" and "A Promise Broken." They had excellent translations, but I no longer have my sister's textbook so I can't give you more details than that.)

I've even written something that functions basically as a winter ghost story. It's title is Dead Voices and of course I encourage everyone and their brother to read it.

But an actual Christmas ghost story is a beast of a different color altogether. Christmas is the sweetest holiday on the calendar in most Western cultures, and somehow Santa Claus, Christmas trees, gingerbread men, and wrapped-and-ribboned presents don't match up very well with the spirits of the dead.

Or do they?

Dickens was probably right to cast his ghosts as teachers, some friendly, others not so much, but all of them working to save the soul of Ebenezer Scrooge. Along Scrooge's journey to salvation, there was room for pity and real poignancy, from the basis of Scrooge's turn for the miserly worst to the heart-wrenching tale of Tiny Tim. There are sad incidents, funny moments, scary vignettes, and at the end of it all, an ending far happier than should have been allowed and yet works so much better than any bleak or tragic denouement could ever. I have since read that Dickens was not all that nice a guy, but when it came to writing stories that could affect the coldest heart, the man was brilliant. Especially at Christmas time.

Where am I going with this? Dickens is certainly not the only one who has found sadness in the holiday season. He is not the only one to juxtapose hope with loss, and sadness with fierce joy. But he probably did it better than almost anyone. Certainly, he exceeds anyone I can think of, and it's because he was able to frame and then put into words the sadness, fear of loss, and hopeful joy that I think a great many of us feel around Christmas and the New Year. Fast away the old year passes indeed, taking with it all the sorrows and losses and joys we may have felt over those twelve months, and leaving us to face the unknown of the future. Scary stuff. But hopeful.

So at this time I would wish a happy, happy holiday to everyone who reads this blog and maybe even my books. I hope the New Year brings happiness, if 2015 was a difficult year, and I hope it brings even more joy if 2015 was not so bad after all. I wish you all health and fun and some really good stuff under the tree. And I wish you all peace.

"God bless us, every one."

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

OR Better Late Than Never

I forgot that yesterday was Monday. Seriously. I apologize for being a day late. Let's get to it.

I am currently on one of my writing breaks. This is not necessarily something that I choose to do, it just seems to happen after I've finished something. I know there are writers out there who finish a work and then go right onto the next with scarcely a break between. I can't do that, even when the books involve the same characters from one story to the next. In my particular case, this time, I am dealing with two completely different sets of characters and the writing hiatus has set in. Even though I don't want it.

Missing Persons, as noted in the last post, has hit the airwaves. I don't know if anyone will even notice it, but at least it's out there, and that is a good thing. But as soon as that happens, my mind goes completely off topic and things like baking cookies, knitting, and reading something -anything- pull my attention. 

I have been trying to focus on the next BPC book. After all, that's what I'm supposed to be doing And while I have written some scenes, including the beginning and the ending (note here: having an ending is crucial for me, long before I write the rest of the book, or I don't actually have a book unfolding in my head) but all the points between A and Z are currently eluding me except in bits and pieces.

And that means two things: my dreams are becoming weird and full of strange stories. That happens when I'm not writing. My dreams write for me and all of the tales they tell me are bizarre, some of them downright grotesque. Part muse and part conscience, I suppose. That little grown-up at the back of my head telling me to get to work.

The other thing? Well, that means my house starts to come to life. I can't win for losing, eh? If I write about ghosties, my house comes to life. If I STOP writing about them, my house comes to life, sort of goading me on. I suppose one could say that maybe my house just has a problem. But I'm reasonably sure that is not the case, here. The activity, the noise, is different depending on whether I am writing, or I am not writing when I should be. But all of it is noisy and all of it is difficult to ignore. Especially when Jim is out of town, but that's a whole 'nother issue.

So here I sit at my computer, wondering when inspiration will creep in and take over so that I can relax into a new story. Readers aren't the only ones who revel in the story unfolding itself, you know. This writer, at least, is always curious to see where her characters are going because what they come up with is so much more entertaining than anything I could dream up on my own. The Beatles are on my CD player (I don't have the ability to listen to vinyl in my office, yet), I've got my iced tea, and I'm poised to write.

Any time, Muse. Hello? Anyone out there? Wait, I'm home alone. No one answer that...

Monday, November 30, 2015

Missing Persons

I am stepping away -briefly!- from the ghosts and posting a commercial here. Sorry about that, but marketing is also a part of my job description. Not my favorite thing to do, but there it is. I have bills to pay!

I have just had Donnie Light, fellow writer, friend, and formatter extraordinaire, upload my FREE STORY, Missing Persons, to Smashwords. As far as I know, the format is compatible with just about any e-reader out there, and it's FREE! Did I mention that already? That the story is FREE?

BUT- there's a catch. Ahah, you're probably thinking, but hey, I'm trying to build a fan base here. So here's the catch: in order for Missing Persons to make sense, or even be of interest, you first need to read Saving Jake. Missing Persons is a shorter-than-book-length sequel. One reason it's free. The other reason is that my publisher for Saving Jake is no longer publishing fiction. Not much of it, anyhow, and certainly not a story that is not full-length novel material. So she and I agreed that I could write this up and post it for free.

So what I'm doing here, and will also shortly be posting on both FaceBook and Twitter, is asking you to read Saving Jake and then give a free story a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed with the book, and I certainly hope you won't be disappointed with the sequel. Jake and Corts will always hold a very special place in my writer's heart and I am hoping that you might find them to be fun, too. 

Saving Jake, by the way, is actually the third Brigeton Park Cemetery book I ever wrote. The first was Dead of Summer, which is how that excellent cemetery came into existence. I wrote another book called Ghostwalk that may appear in public at some point and is also centered not only on that cemetery, but also served as the introduction of The Poet's Corner Bookstore into my little universe. And then came Jake. I needed a cemetery for that story as well and thought, heck, I'll just use BPC. Why not? No one's ever going to read this thing anyway. And that's exactly the same reasoning I followed when I put BPC into Haunted...

But now there are a whole lot of people who have come to visit my universe and even more surprisingly, have asked for return trips. There is nothing else like that in this life for a writer. Truly. 

So I hope you make time to read about Jake, if you haven't already. Here's a well-known secret: I consider Saving Jake to be my unofficial autobiography. It doesn't include Cassie Valentine and Michael Penfield, but without Jake and best friend Corts, Cassie and Michael may never have found their way to my doorstep. 

And with that I close my invitation. Try saving Jake, and then add to the experience by going missing. I think you might like the adventures.

(By the way, artist and photographer Carmen Elliott did the cover art, as always. Isn't she amazing???)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Classes on the Dead

 One of my favorite things is paging through the continuing education offerings at our local community colleges and finding that they are offering a class about the paranormal. I think I mentioned that last year, I hauled Jim off to a two-part class taught by local (supernatural) Chicago historian, Ursula Bielski. She has a couple of books out if you want to know more about her: she wrote Chicago Haunts, More Chicago Haunts, and co-authored Graveyards of Chicago. Obviously, the woman and I have a lot in common. 

Just this past month, I signed up for a three-part class entitled "Ghosts and Spirit Entities," being presented at a nearby community college. I missed the first class because Jim and I were in Charleston -although we made up for it by taking a ghost tour- but I did attend the second and third classes. 

I kinda wished I had missed the second class instead of the first. Since our instructor, ghost hunter Mary Marshall, was talking about more than just ghosts, class two did quite a bit about demons and exorcisms. For me, that's the equivalent of saying "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto." I think I've mentioned, probably ad nauseum, that my preferred area of paranormal study is ghosts. Finito. Demons, possessions, and those kinds of stories fall outside my preferred comfort zone. Like by about three hundred light years. And I could never say that our instructor didn't come to class prepared to share information. She proceeded to share actual videos of the exorcisms in two particular case studies, neither of which had a happy ending, and I found myself thinking, "Where are Dean and Sam Winchester when I need them?"

The ghost stuff, however, was fun. She brought along EVP recordings and that is always interesting. She also talked about investigating and equipment and brain waves and basic physics (energy can neither be created nor destroyed) so that was informative.

She and I also swapped business cards, although I doubt I'll be doing any ghost hunting with her anytime in the near future. I don't do ghost hunts because I am, as previously noted, A COWARD. I deal with things in my own house and for me, that's plenty.

Still, the schedule for the upcoming semester at one of the colleges arrived in my mailbox the other day and of course I found myself perusing the paranormal offerings. This spring, that same instructor is offering a course on paranormal investigation complete with how to use ghost-hunting equipment, and a field trip. Hmmm.  I wonder when the conversational Spanish class is being offered?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Charleston is Haunted - Tours included

A couple of weeks ago, Jim and I, along with my sister and her husband, went down to Charleston, SC to spend about five days exploring.

Charleston is a beautiful city. It has kept its historic buildings intact, maintained some brick roads along with its slate sidewalks, and offers tantalizing glimpses of the ocean (as well as an amazing amount of humidity. That was probably the closest my Asian hair has ever gotten to a total frizz-out.) The houses are painted in pastel colors, and all of them have piazzas, Charleston-speak for balconies or porches that run the length of the structure in order to capture breezes from the ocean and keep the home interiors cool despite southern heat and ocean humidity. And homes there are built narrow and long for that reason. But Charleston is an old city, has a long and frequently violent history, and thus is abounding with haunts. 

As we always do when we go anywhere, we took a ghost tour. There are a ton of ghost tours to choose from in Charleston. There was one that bills itself as a ghost hunt and takes you through the Provost Dungeon, one of the old, old basement jails in the city. Since it also boasted, and I quote, "Murder, suicide, hanged pirates, voodoo curses, alleyway duels, dungeons and jails, and graveyards," all by candlelight, mind you, we took a pass on that one. It even states that it is an adults-only tour. I'm fascinated by ghosts, as you all know, but even I tend to want the PG-13 rating at most when I'm walking around haunted spaces. I'm a chicken.

There was the Ghostwalk tour that also toured the dungeon. What was it about that dungeon? Yes, at one time the British imprisoned signers of the Declaration of Independence within its confines, but the dungeon was also the site of numerous executions. Apparently even the tour guides don't like hanging around down there, so I'm pretty sure this cowardly tourist wasn't going to enjoy herself very much in that venue. Let's put it this way: I like a mild scare as much as the next ghost tourist, but if I'm too freaked out to be able to pay attention to the story being told to me, then I'm not getting my money's worth. I'm incredibly fainthearted, no? And a miser, apparently.

There were still more ghost tours being offered: ones that toured plantations, lots that focused on the old (and I mean OLD) cemeteries, and even a haunted pub crawl, I think. In the end we settled for a fairly short walking tour. This was a good idea since these tours happen in the dark of night and the streets and sidewalks in Charleston are designed to trip up and destroy a klutz like me.

Our tour guide led us to a haunted restaurant, a converted residence that features the ghost of one of the original spinster-sister owners. She's had her picture taken by a tourist. We went to a haunted hotel whose ghost, a woman from the 1800's, might be related to the huge earthquake that rocked the city back in 1886. We went to one of the oldest cemeteries in the city, where a photographer had snapped a picture just to use up the last of his film and captured the image of a woman kneeling and bent over a grave. The date the picture was taken was not the anniversary of the woman's death, but the anniversary of the baby she delivered stillborn before dying herself several days later. We saw that picture. We learned the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery: graveyards are built in connection with a church (churchyard is synonymous) and cemeteries have no church attachment at all. My husband asked me, "Did Neil Gaiman use the right word in his book title?" and I still haven't checked to see. He probably did, being Neil Gaiman.

There was a haunted alley, right behind our lodgings. Right after the tour I told the guide that we were staying in the place where he ended his tour and that we had heard it was haunted. Apparently, the honeymoon suite features a paranormal intrusion that was enough to send a couple on their way at one o'clock in the morning the first night of their stay. They couldn't even bring themselves to accept a substitute room; they just wanted OUT. What happened is that the fireplace turned itself on while they were in bed. The husband had no sooner turned off the gas and put out the fire when the taps in the bathroom turned themselves on. I hear it went back and forth with all sorts of things operating themselves for no reason in particular, and the couple finally had enough.

There apparently is also the ghost of a woman who walks the third floor of the place, and she looks short or incomplete because she's walking along the original floor which is a few feet lower than the present one. Luckily for us, we were on the second floor.

The tour guide told us he had heard stories about our resort, but maybe the place wasn't too keen on being part of an official tour. After all, while we were walking around the city in the dark, we ran into something like five other tour groups also walking around the city in the dark. And then there were the tours that used buses or vans, so probably by the end of it, Charleston nights are haunted more by tourists than ghosts.

But that's a bit harsh. Charleston is indeed a lovely old place, full of history and sad tales, tragedy and feats of heroism. I'm glad we had the opportunity to visit. I'm equally glad I didn't bring any "guests" home with me.

If you ever go, make sure you take a ghost tour. The history offered is great. But if you really want to know the history of the place, book a carriage tour with Classic Carriage Tours and try to get Mike as your guide. He was amazing, too.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Living Ghosts

A couple of weeks ago, Jim and I were having lunch with some friends and, since it was the day after Halloween, we got to talking about ghosts. Considering that these are friends of ours, I guess that's not such a strange thing to have happen.

And so we began swapping stories, and as frequently occurs, we started venturing past the traditional unexplained noises-and-apparition variety of story. First came the idea of being visited through a dream. I was happy to hear that at least one other person there felt that he had been visited by a deceased loved one in the guise of a dream. I have had the same experience, and when I awoke afterward, I've always felt that what happened to me wasn't so much a dream as it was an actual visit.

I don't imagine skeptical people will buy into that, but dreams that feel like visits don't evaporate like regular dreams. There is nothing strange or surreal about them, either. They pretty much involve having a conversation with the person in question and upon waking, the feeling is just like the person had stopped by for a chat and then left again. My father came to me like that twice. I remember both visits vividly and no one could ever convince me that he wasn't really there. The first happened about three days before he passed away, and the second was on the night of his passing. I have never doubted that he came to see me both times.

And then the conversation went just a little further into the strange when one of our friends said that he had seen ghosts of people who aren't dead. Okay, that statement needed some clarification. He proceeded to explain that one time he was sitting in his living room when he saw his wife go into the kitchen in her nightgown. The kitchen light never came on so he went in to see what she was doing in the dark. Of course, she wasn't in the kitchen and when he checked on her in the bedroom, she was sound asleep. He said that this had happened to him with one of his other friends, as well, when he spotted that person and then found out later that said person was asleep at the time of the sighting.

(I didn't think to ask if the person looked transparent at the time. I'll have to remember to do that.)

The only explanation that we could come up with was that the person was literally wandering out of the body while asleep. If that's the case, he said, then some of the apparitions we see may actually be living people, not dead.

I've had a couple of weeks to think about that and for some reason, the idea of seeing the spirits of the living freaks me out almost more than seeing that of the dead. I have no idea why. My sister once saw my brother and my father through the window of the front door, standing on the porch as if waiting for her to open the door. They would have been coming back from a dentist visit. The thing was, when she opened the door, they weren't there. When they did arrive home about fifteen minutes after she first saw them, she told me to open the door and let them in. She was still too weirded out to greet them herself. The even stranger thing about that, in retrospect, is that neither of them would have been asleep, not while driving home from the dentist. So maybe she saw their doppelgangers? But that's a whole 'nother paranormal topic!

At any event, the idea of a living ghost has been hanging around in my mind and I wonder if I can figure out something to do with it in a future story. For Cassie and Michael, tracking down a spirit who just happens to be that of a living person, well, that could lead to some interesting complications, no?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bleeding at My Keyboard

 Description Autumn trees in Dresden.jpg

Robert Frost once wrote, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." 

Today I'm going to talk about that, with only a glancing nod at ghosts because without emotions, no ghost story would survive.

I write about people who have lost someone. I write about dead people who have lost their way. I couch all of this in terms of frightening apparitions and uneasy situations, but the bottom line is that I write about loss. And for me, the underlying current in all of my stories has been the profound sadness and confusion that comes with losing a loved one. I sometimes can't help thinking that such sadness is at the heart of every true ghost story, even if the spirit comes back vengeful and wicked and seeking to do harm.

Due to my chosen topic, I confront the idea of losing a loved one on a regular basis. And to tell you the truth, that does impinge on my everyday life. I probably think about dying and death a lot more than I should, even given my job. It's necessary but really uncomfortable. Who wants to think about losing a best friend, or a child, or a spouse? Just the idea can sometimes be a spear to my heart, and the tears that come with that thought are very real.

But Frost is right.

Saving Jake, which is a Bridgeton Park Cemetery Book even though it doesn't feature the same characters as those in the official series, is a book that took me fourteen years to write. That's because the pain I was dealing with when putting that down on paper was sometimes so severe that I needed to stop writing. Like frequently. I got to the point where I wrote a completely separate book during those fourteen years, but that's a different story, pun intended. What you need to know is that although Saving Jake exorcised some of my demons for me, it also put me through the wringer.

Enter Cassie Valentine and Michael Penfield. In Haunted, both of them are dealing with very heavy-duty losses. And the cowardly author who was trying to tell their story was hiding from it. When I finished my first attempt at the book, I handed it over to my editor at the time (the one who published Saving Jake) and she returned it with the comment, "This book is missing something. You." 

Point taken. She was calling me out for trying to dodge the pain and she was right. When I had the courage to try again, I wrote the draft that eventually became Haunted. The tears Cassie cries for Daniel tore through me as well. I felt the dreadful howling absence in her life that resulted from Daniel's death. And I felt every tentative step she took in learning to trust love again in the form of Michael Penfield.

I realize now that writing means routinely hurting myself. I know how absurd that sounds, but it's true. And I think it's true for all the authors I consider my instructors. In fact, when one of them (New York Times bestsellers, all) puts out a book that doesn't include anything of the author, much like the original first draft my editor rejected, I believe it shows. Stephen King lost himself in substance abuse for a few years and at least as many bestsellers. That fact did not come out until years later, but it explained why I found some of his middle-of-career books unreadable. They were missing something. Him.

Sometimes the writer who directs my fingers, who whispers the stories in my ear as I sit at the keyboard, is in a lighter mood and those stories will be a bit less somber in tone, sunnier, probably funnier (at least, I hope my readers find the humorous bits I write to be funny). But alas, such stories will also include at least a thread of that sadness due to loss. They must. I write ghost stories.

And what does that say about those of us who read these kinds of work? Maybe that we grope for ways to cope with the stunning losses we must all experience in this life? Maybe that we hope there is more than just this life, as short and brutal as it can be at times? Maybe that ongoing search for some kind of assurance that death is not so final, so very cruel, is the basis for the entire industry of ghost and even horror stories. An industry that is basically one giant coping mechanism.

I have no answers. I just know that as I write my little books, even as I'm trying to herd in the story line for Cassie's and Michael's next adventure, that I need to let myself feel that familiar pain and loss. Without it, my books will have no soul. Hemingway said it best: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Art of a Scary Story

Tonight I have been invited to speak to a group of college students about writing horror stories. They are having Halloween doings, and in addition to having an art display of terrifying images (my own title for it), they decided to have someone who writes horror come in and give a talk.

I would have not chosen myself for the honors. I am beyond flattered because I love being invited to talk to a group of students about what I do. Who doesn't like bending someone's ear about what they love doing? And being invited to do it is like a treat. So of course I said "yes" when the invitation came and I have been rubbing my hands gleefully about it ever since.

But I still would not have chosen myself for tonight's activities. I write ghost stories. And yes, I realize that a lot of ghost stories qualify as horror. Flat-out horror. There are the horror stories of vengeful or malicious spirits that definitely fall into that category, from Freddy Krueger to whatever-that-was in the film "The Conjuring." Anything having to do with demonic possession wins the title of "horror" in my opinion. And ghost stories by certain writers qualify without a doubt (think Stephen King and Shirley Jackson). But my stories are pretty much on the mild side. I have the reviews to prove it! 

Also, the spirits in my story very rarely try to kill someone, unless it's incidental. That did happen on one occasion in my Bridgeton Park Cemetery series, and although the action was malevolent, the spirit itself was not a hunter. It did not set out to destroy anyone in its path. What happened to my character was simply that paths were crossed and there was a disagreement. (I am trying not to spoil the story for anyone who might not yet have read the book!) 

Oh, and I guess I did have a malevolent spirit that DID try to kill people. That would be in my short story, Hunting Spirits.

But for the most part, my books aim more at the glancing-over-your-shoulder, did-anyone-else-hear-that? kind of tale. I want people to feel a bit uneasy, maybe sometimes a little spooked. But my goal has never been to terrify my readers, and Stephen King has flatly stated that he  works to do just that. I'd say he succeeds, but that's a Captain Obvious statement.

So tonight I will talk about writing scary tales, structure, opening lines (crucial for every writer, not just horror writers), elements universal to tales of horror, and things like themes and motifs. I also plan to include a section on publishing, and other post-writing details. And I'm looking forward to all of it.

Sometimes when I do these, I get ideas for future stories. There are times students share ghost stories with me. Other times, ideas pop in just from the setting (who was the student in the back row, dressed in the fashion of another era, that never said a word, that no one else in the room recognized, and who disappeared without a trace? And why would he come to a workshop on writing stories about the dead...?) 

Writers work primarily in solitude so getting out and talking to other like minds is crucial. Exchanging ideas, listening to other points of view, getting asked questions that make me think about the whole process -  all of it gets me out of the single-person-working-in-a-room mindset. I can't wait to see what the students come up with for me tonight.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Losing My Protection


With all due respect to REM, I haven't quite lost my religion. It just morphed. I have, however, lost my protection. Twice. And that has been on my mind for the past week.

As I noted in my last post, my husband and I went on a ghost tour with some of our friends (like the notable Terri Reid and spouse, and the notable Donnie Light and spouse). Now, I also posted waaaayyy long ago about a different friend who wanted to give me something to help defend myself. And she gave me a St. Benedict medal. I put a picture of it on the page; some of you might remember that post.

At any event, I had that medal for years and I wore it everywhere. It seems St. Benedict (and his medal) protect the wearer from dark and nefarious entities, and I figure, given my chosen profession, my typical subject matter, and my penchant for taking ghost tours, wearing the medal just seems like a good idea.

About two years ago, that medal left me. It was somewhere up in Door County, and losing it broke my heart. Not just for the protection, but because it had been a present from a friend. So I set about trying to find a replacement. For some odd reason, at the time I went searching for it online, all I could find were either very expensive models, or medallions that were not made to be worn on a chain. That was fine. I got myself a St. Benedict medallion and carried it in my pocket.

I know I had it on the ghost tour. I know this because I always check. The next morning, however, St. Benedict was not in his usual spot. Now, I have a place on my nightstand where he lives, and I always put it there, except for the times I accidentally forget him in my jeans pocket. So when I didn't see him on the nightstand, I searched my jeans. And he wasn't there. I searched every pocket I had on me the night before: fleece sweatshirt, jacket. No Benedict. I even had Terri Reid searching her house and her car. No luck.

St. Benedict has left me again. I think perhaps he might run across someone who he thinks needs him more than I might at the moment, and so we part ways. He's done it twice and that's fine. I hope he is being helpful somewhere. But then I'm at a loss again.

I have ordered yet another St. Benedict, and this time, I did find a medal to wear on a chain around my neck. It's due to arrive soon and I hope it does. I feel kinda funny without him around. On the other hand, I really hope third time is the charm and that this one will stay with me a lot longer than the other two.

I'd really appreciate the protection.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ghost Tours of Galena

Last Saturday, Jim and I got to hang around with incredible writer Terri Reid and her husband, Richard, as well as incredible writer/formatter Donnie Light and his wife, Barb, and one of our activities was going on a ghost tour in Galena, Illinois.

I have never been to Galena before, even though I've lived in Illinois all of my life. (Kind of like I've never been to most of the tourist sites in Chicago.) At any event, I was surprised by 1) how old the city actually is and 2) how much it reminded me of Savanna, Georgia. Galena, like Savanna, is built on levels, so sometimes traversing from one street to another means taking flights of stairs to another level. Streets run up- and downhill and some intersections resemble the switchbacks on hiking trails despite the asphalt and concrete. 

The tour, one of several offered by Amelia's Tours, was a bus tour that included use of an EMF meter, dowsing rods, a Rem pod, and a ghost box. Sites included an old cemetery that is haunted by a cloaked woman with glowing red eyes, drive-bys of at least two businesses that were former funeral parlors and are now eateries, the oldest still-in-business hotel in the state of Illinois, and a community center, among a slew of others. 

We stopped at the cemetery and made contact with the spirit of a woman who told us, through yes-and-no questions answered by dowsing rod, that she was buried there with her children. She was between the ages of 30 and 40 and we got the sense that she had died during a cholera or other epidemic. She did tell us that the cloaked woman with the red eyes was not only present, but that this red-eyed woman was not a friendly spirit. We left pretty shortly after that. 

But the best stop was haunted Ryan Mansion. The mansion was built in 1884 (or thereabouts) and after being recently uninhabited for a year and a half while owned by the bank, was finally sold to a family brave enough to want to live in a haunted house. The tour guide told us that the real estate agents had a hard time showing the place due to the hauntings. One agent who was touching up her makeup in a mirror there before her next client meeting, had looked down to take and respond to a text message, only to look up and find someone in the mirror staring back at her. She left and never took the meeting.

Doors open on their own, the piano in the formal parlor plays itself during the night, apparitions appear. While we were there, the tour guide did not only communicate with the dowsing rods. The EMF meter indicated that there was a disturbance in the electromagnetic field close to a door leading to the servant's hall (close to where I was standing, I might add). This was the door that would swing open by itself. It opened for the new lady of the house shortly after she moved in, and she took it as a welcome, indicating that the spirits there were happy that she had moved into the property. The owner's nine-year-old daughter stopped in front of the door and said, "You opened for my mom. Open for me." The door obliged. 

Since we got the EMF disturbance, the tour guide also set up the Rem pod and invited the spirit to touch it. And it did it twice while being asked to do so. The ghost box, a device that scans radio signals and allows spirit energy to form words from random radio broadcasts, spit out a few answers, but they were not very clear.

Ryan Mansion was the last stop on the tour and it would have been a hard one to top. From the original furnishings that still grace the first floor (since the house is occupied, tours are restricted to the first floor) to the modern dress-form mannequins that display period clothing, the house is an elegant nineteenth century example of upper-class living that is like a Hollywood movie come to life. With ghosts.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Like Dr. Evil Says

 Dr. Evil - Super villain Wiki

I want to watch a ghost story.

I want to see a really good ghost story movie because I haven't seen one in a long, long time. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that all the scary movies I have watched lately have been horror/demon type stories, as opposed to horror/haunting stories. I probably missed something, but I feel like the last true ghost story I watched was The Others, and that goes back fourteen (count 'em) years already. 

There have been a couple I watched that came from Japan, The Grudge being the most notable. But even that, disturbing as it was, rated more on my horror scale than on my ghost story scale. My favorite haunted house/ghost story movies are still The Haunting (the 1963 version, done in black and white and starring Julie Harris), The Changeling (1980, with George C. Scott), and probably The Sixth Sense (no notes needed). I like these films, these stories, because they are purely about ghosts, and not always malevolent ones. I don't cotton to the movies where the spirits in the story are beyond vengeful. I don't like slasher films made out of ghosts. I admit Nightmare on Elm Street is hair-raising, but it's still not my idea of the ideal ghost story. Maybe people think ghost stories just for the sake of the hauntings are boring?

So lately, I have been confining my ghost story viewing to things like Ghost Hunters and The Dead Files with occasional forays into A Haunting, Paranormal Witness, Paranormal Survivor, an occasional Haunted Highway, and when I can find one that I haven't already seen, Haunted History. Sometimes SyFy will do me a huge favor and repeat an old Haunted Collector, but for the most part, I'm in a ghost desert here. Cue to Dr. Evil imploring, "Throw me a bone, people." There's just not enough of the good ghost stuff out there.

The spark of hope lies in the fact that we are now in October, and programming will set its sights on appropriate Halloween fare. So more of my favorite shows are coming back this month: Supernatural and Grimm being the headliners. I love me some Winchester and Castiel stories, but boy, I wish they'd do one that was just a stand-alone ghost story, because the only other show that did such high-quality stand-alone ghost stories was The X-Files (golem, anyone?)

(Maybe that's not quite accurate. There was a short-lived British series on ABC back in the late Sixties called Journey to the Unknown that featured one-hour long supernatural stories each Thursday, and they grew progressively more frightening each week. Try watching that and going to sleep in a haunted house afterward! But boy, they were amazing and imaginative and truly scary and I miss that.)

Still, the old hope springs eternal. I am hoping that this month will bring me some good, chilling stuff having to do with haunted houses, or visitations, or apparitions in the mirror, or unexplained appearances on security cameras. My writing self lives for that stuff. I'll have to start looking for the paranormal offerings and specials that I hope will be coming up as we get closer to Halloween. I hope.

Throw me a bone, people.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ghosts of Autumn

A writer friend of mine once contacted me about a story he was working on that entailed a haunting in summertime. He told me that he only ever associated ghosts with one season, and that was autumn. So I proceeded to remind him that there are ghosts that haunt in the summer, and chill unsuspecting bystanders with sudden drops of temperature, or screams and wails that can be heard above the white noise of air-conditioning or window fans. There are specters that turn up in the winter, coming forth as discrete white shapes from banks of snow, or stalking through the formerly cozy family room with the blazing fireplace and all the antiques from estate sales that crowd the mantel. And of course there are spring phantoms: young teenage lovers that died tragically coming home from prom, or the blurred voices that are carried along the winds of a sudden, violent thunderstorm that bruises the skies in black and gray and shakes the windows with its sheer force. 

He found a way to write a summer haunting.

Ghosts are year-round, no doubt to those of us who believe they exist. But still, my friend had a point. There is something particularly spectral about autumn. Sure, it's the fact that there are more hours of darkness than light. There are the beautiful leaves that fall from the trees, only to turn brown and brittle, leaving skeletal branches to withdraw their vibrancy in the face of oncoming winter. There's that holiday devoted entirely to candy, costumes, and chills, all fun and games but with roots in some fairly frightening beliefs.

And then there's just that feel of autumn. Believers in the paranormal/supernatural/otherworldly/unseen dimension also believe that for whatever reason, the "veil between worlds" is thinner in autumn. Somewhere back in our cultural traditions, there is the age-old concept that Fall is the time when we of the living can more easily find and reach out to those who no longer walk the earth in physical form. And they can more easily find and reach out to us.

We are living in a very scientific age. Nearly everything on the physical plane that can be analyzed and explained has been, even if we may not know the last detail of every single mechanism. Yet. We know that trees go dormant during the cold months. We know that leaves turn color because they stop producing chlorophyll. We know the days are shorter because of where our planet is in relation to the sun. All of it has been explained by science and none of it is a surprise any longer.

And yet...there is an intangible something about autumn. 

Lots of us writers, especially those of us who write with one foot in the other world, so to speak, feel unusually inspired by the early darkness and the growing chills. We listen to Fall winds that whistle through cracks in the window and blow the hapless leaves down the gutters and across the streets, and we feel the stories begin to grow inside of us. We sniff the fires being started in countless fireplaces and conjure up memories of walking home from school, from work, from the bus stop or the train station in a time of growing shadows and early night, and images of other worlds and snatches of dialogue between characters who only exist within us urge us to our pens and pads and keyboards.

Maybe it's true of all creative people. Maybe every art has its own season. But for me, Fall is claimed by the writers. Fall is for those of us who sense the souls who have gone on ahead and yet still linger behind to tell their dark tales. So as much as I miss the long days of summer, the sunsets that come hours after dinner and the sunrises that greet me before I even stumble into the bathroom to brush my teeth, there is that part of me that always welcomes the coming season of short days and long, long nights. 

There is a part of me that will always welcome the ghosts of autumn.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Company You Keep

The other Saturday, I got to participate in a town festival in central Illinois, where I sold books and met folks. Here is the thing: I have a sign that lists the price of $8 for any of my books, plus an optional, quick, free palm reading for anyone who buys a book. This has been my practice for years, in homage to the character of Naomi, Nick Borja's cousin, who is featured reading Michael Penfield's palms in Haunted

The reactions I get to this little perk are everything from outright disapproval and almost visible repulsion to "Could you read my friend's palm, too?" All of them make me laugh. But what really drove the point home to me was when I spent a Saturday selling books and reading palms at a Psychic and Paranormal Expo. I sold more books and read more palms at the Expo than I ever have before or since. And the conversations were amazing. 

Let me backtrack a bit. For some years, I was on the board and planning committee of the Love Is Murder (now called LimCom) mystery writer's/reader's conference. One of the funniest aspects about that conference is that the setting allows complete freedom to talk about murder and all its grisly details. Walking down the hall, you can hear sentences like "I just need to know how to kill him off slowly enough so that he has time to say a few things before he dies" and "Does anyone know how to poison someone so that they die instantly?" and "But that kind of round would leave an exit wound the size of Manhattan" and "I don't think you can strangle someone with piano wire and not draw blood." Talk like that, while walking down the street, would probably raise eyebrows, if not result in a call to the cops. But at that particular conference, talk like that was the norm. We even imported extraordinary ER doc William Ernoehazy, MD to address concerns and answer questions exactly like those listed above. (Dr. Bill, as we all call him, is also a Navy Vet, martial artist, and sharpshooter, so he's unusually qualified for the interests at LimCom.)

What I'm driving at is that since I write paranormal/supernatural ghost-obsessed stories, my kindred audience, so to speak, would be present at something like the Expo. I've never before had so many people come up to me out of the blue and start telling me ghost stories and sharing other paranormal experiences. I've never before had a woman buy my book, bring back a daughter and buy another book, then bring back yet another daughter and buy a book so that all three of them could have their palms read. That was awesome! That's where a young man told me all about so that I could see who died in the house I grew up in - the haunted one. It's also where I could read someone's palm and talk about past lives without raising so much as one hair of an eyebrow. It was the most fun book-signing I have ever done in my life.

The town fair, much like the literary fest I'll be attending next month, draws a more diverse crowd, a lot of whom are earnest church-goers and who find my interests and palm-reading offer to be a bit beyond the pale. Maybe a few steps closer to eternal damnation, I'm not sure. I will sell a book or two at one of these things. When I sell a book, I consider that to be a victory and my day there is complete. I mostly go to meet other writers and exchange ideas. (I collect people as well as books, but that's another topic.)

Going to all of these events has afforded me the opportunity to people watch, talk to those who are so inclined to talk about my pet subject matter, and sell a book or two. At any event, I get invited to fairs and festivals and I pack up my books and go, and I enjoy myself.

But dang, when it comes to meeting and greeting the public, I gotta find me another paranormal expo!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Can Death Make Love Scary?

My father passed away back in the '80's. I was already married and the mother of two children when this happened, so I was blessed to have had both of my parents well into my adult life. There were a lot of relatives and close family friends who were in and out of the house, so my mother, although dealing with a dreadful loss, was not without companionship, and we all enjoyed the visiting.

One of my aunts, and I use that term in the traditional Filipino way, knowing that we weren't necessarily related (or maybe distantly) but were as close as family, was a crazy-funny lady who also happened to be completely superstitious. She confided into another one of my aunts that she was afraid to go upstairs or anywhere in the house alone for fear of running into my father's ghost.

Huh. It was the first time I'd ever heard an adult express something that sounded like a childhood fear, but she was perfectly serious. And the thought moved into my head and stayed there.

Life being what it is, I have had more losses since my father passed: relatives, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends. And with every one of them, I have wondered about running into that deceased person's spirit, whether walking down the hall or waiting for me in the living room. Most of the time, the thought is actually kind of comforting, as I guess it would be. What wouldn't we give, sometimes, to run into someone we love very much just one more time? 

On the other hand, there is always the unsettling aspect of meeting up with someone that I know is not supposed to be there. I remind myself that most of the people I fear running into the most - those that I don't know very well- would have little reason to drop in on me, any more than they would have when they were alive. They would be the folks that I knew but only saw on certain occasions, or only because they knew me through a mutual friend.

Still, every time I lose another person to the other side, I do wonder about seeing them again. I guess, given my job, that's not surprising.

The ones who have crossed over and have come back to visit have been very kind and come to me in dreams. Maybe that's why so many of my characters have that experience. Those are the dreams that I don't consider to be dreams: I consider them to be actual visits. Especially in view of the nature of some of those dreams, and specifically when they occurred. Some of them were fond last visits, others were more like someone checking in. I cherish all of them.

Because of the nature of my job, I probably have an obsession with death that borders on the morbid. Or maybe it's because of the nature of my job and the thread of sadness/depression that seems to go hand in hand with being a writer. Whatever the cause, someone I know recently went from this side of life's equation to the other, and so I found myself wondering, yet again, what it would be like to run into that person now. Still, we were never close so why would I even rate a visit? And that's the way it should be. There are so many others who would need that appearance; it would be wasted on me, a mere acquaintance.

And then I find myself wondering -when it's my turn to cross over, will I come back to visit? And if I do, will I frighten the person I've come back to see? Although I can think of a few people I'd love to scare the bejesus out of, for the most part I'd rather do the gentle visit thing. I wouldn't want my death to make my love into something scary.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Favorite Haunts

Some years ago, I tried writing a story that did not contain anything paranormal in it, and failed miserably. It was about that time that I finally, totally realized that I write ghost stories. Or stories with weird things in them. And I can't seem to write anything that is paranormal-free. I guess that's fine, since I can't seem to live my life paranormal-free either. Nonbelievers will (and have) told me that my experiences are all in my head and that I find what I find because I'm looking for it. Can I turn that around and say that they''ll never find what I do because they're not looking for it? But that's another discussion.

As it is, I started thinking about when I wasn't writing as a vocation (like during my childhood, although I started writing my first ghost story novel in third or fourth grade) and when I was as likely to read a book about the supernatural as I was to write one. And I also started thinking about what kind of book would have drawn me to it. I realize that for me, setting was a huge part of it, and that remains true to this day.

First and foremost, I liked haunted living spaces: old houses with creaky floors and a fireplace; cozy, overstuffed chairs close to the hearth, and candlesticks on the mantle. The beds in the isolated bedrooms would have been four-posters and there would have been enough ancestral portraits along the walls to be just a wee bit disturbing. Floors would have been hardwood with worn, Persian carpet-type runners, and lots of the windows would have been mullioned. As for the ghost, I would have been as content with a white lady holding a candle as with a small child in a nightshirt or a tragic pair of lovers, all broken-hearted and (depending on how old I was when I read the story) with varying degrees of sobbing or wailing, even blood-soaked appearances.

I liked haunted castles filled with ghostly lords and ladies, spectral cats, dark shadowy figures and white misty ones as well.

I liked ghosts with messages, spirits who could not rest until they conveyed some bit of forgotten family history to a generations-later descendant, or showed the way to a buried treasure. Or an unknown burial site. Either was perfectly acceptable.

I like the whole feel of the Victorian Sherlock Holmes era, even though Mr. Holmes would not have believed in ghosts and would have gone to great lengths to explain any haunting he ran into. For Americans, perhaps, England has the best fogs, the best gore-filled history, the richest possibility of a full-blown, no-holds-barred, in-your-face haunting. At least, it always has for me.

But now when I read ghost stories, most of them in nonfiction collections, I'm as excited to learn the history behind the haunting as I am to learn the details of the apparition and its appearances. Lately, I'm really looking into ghost stories centered in Illinois, particularly the Chicago area. I have a bunch of books I've already read, and a handful more to get to, and I am happy as a clam. English ghost stories are still a treat, but there is always the aspect that the haunting is thousands of miles away and related to a history that is centuries old. Hauntings close to home are a little more difficult to dismiss because, well, they're close to home. So while they might not include castles or ghostly lords and ladies, maybe I'm content with home-grown wraiths if just for the chance of running into one of them. Outside the pages of the book. 

Um, did anyone else hear that?

Monday, August 31, 2015

And Yet More Visitors

Image result for house images clip art

There are two things to know when reading this post: 1) my grandson sees ghosts (all of you who have been reading this blog regularly already know about that, several times over, probably!) and 2) after living here for the past 21 years, Jim and I are finally doing some needed renovations to our house.

Okay, let's take it from the second statement. Our house was built in 1960 or so, and is very tired in some places. We have done a little here and there to update it. We took out all the carpet and put in hardwood everywhere in 2006. We have changed window treatments. We converted a bedroom into an office. We replaced the front door after suffering a break-in. We even had the entire kitchen remodeled last year -- so long to scarred formica counters and scary linoleum flooring! This year, we are going to enclose the screened-in porch to make a new office, and give the current office to our grandson as his very own bedroom.

Renovating the porch and making it into more living space has entailed hiring a contractor, getting a building permit, and then setting up really frightening things like "demolition" and "excavation." I leave that to Jim, the engineer, and our contractor, who seems amazingly excited about the job, bless his heart.

But the other day while I was cooking dinner, my grandson slid into the kitchen in his stocking feet on our nice, new floors and said to me, "Who used to live here?" And the conversation went like this:

Me: Do you mean who used to live in this house before we did?

Grandson: Yes.

Me: A very nice couple (and I gave him names). They moved to the East Coast when we bought the house from them.

Grandson: (nodding) They're dead.

Me: What did you say?

Grandson: They're dead.

Me: How do you know that?

Grandson: (sly smile) I just do. 

As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the previous owners had gone on to their rest. They were retired and elderly when we bought this house and they were going back to where they had originally started out. Jim also told me, when I related this peculiar exchange to him, that the wife had cancer when we met her. I didn't know that. It just hit me as a little strange that a seven-year old boy, whose current obsessions are Minecraft, dinosaurs, and Legos, would be interested in who owned our house before we did.

So perhaps all that they say about renovations stirring things up is true. Or perhaps they just dropped by to see what we've done with the old place, and my grandson ran into them. They would have all liked each other: the man was very grandfatherly, and his wife was a retired teacher and had once decorated our utility room with cheerful little mushroom stickers. 

I hope they like what we're doing with their place. Since my grandson didn't seem particularly alarmed by them -didn't come running to me the way he did once upon a time when "the big boy was coming"- I'm going to assume that they approve. They had loved this house when they were here. And now that we're here, we love it, too.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Superstition and Rot

On a recent trip to Vancouver, my sister found a book that she picked up and gave to me as a present. It's called A Dictionary of Superstitions and is edited by Iona Opie and Moira Tatem (great names! I couldn't have invented better!) And it's fascinating.

I am casually reading through it at odd moments for weird story suggestions, something I seek very frequently, and came across an entry called CLOTHES of the dead. ("Clothes" has no less than six entries, including CLOTHES first time worn and CLOTHES inside out, among others). Naturally, any phrase including the word "dead" is going to catch my eye, so I read the the paragraph. The entry included the observation by a woman back in 1925 who noted that some linens that had been left to her by a lady had rotted away "fretting for their owner." Two particular things about this notation struck me, hard.

First of all, the idea of inanimate objects "fretting" for something is absolutely terrific. Especially expressed by someone other than me! I have a tendency to think every thing has feelings. To see this idea espoused by someone from another time and culture felt great.

But the second notion was the more forceful: the idea of rotting away. "Rot" is something closely associated with death. It catches the morbid fancy of a lot of us - the idea of someone's corpse decaying in the coffin. We write and read about it (see Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, etc.). We sing about it (anywhere from John Brown's Body to The Hearse Song.) We put it into movies and television - and WHY are zombies so popular right now? We are both fascinated and horrified by the rotting process that accompanies physical death.

Stephen King once said that when he felt he couldn't frighten his readers with the more subtle kinds of scary images (although I believe he does that extremely well), he wasn't above "going for the gross-out." He does that extremely well, also, as readers of IT, The Stand, and oh, yes, Misery, will know. Graphic novels, horror comic books, even the annual Halloween Haunted Houses make use of the whole rotting-body concept. After all, there are so many ways to play with that.

As a writer, I think about it from time to time. When Michael Penfield sees his dead people, so far, he has only been aware that they are dead. Sometimes, he is unfortunate enough to see them as they were at the moment of death, but not always. Frequently they look like anyone else, just a bit transparent, and usually from another era. But I wonder if his luck is about to change...

That said, I do prefer the more, well, aesthetically-pleasing haunt, myself. The misty figure, the shadow that is darker than night, the presence that is all cold air and a clammy touch. Maybe I'll get all the way to rotting corpses one of these books. But not yet. There are currently so many examples of decaying dead people all over the mass media that I think I'm okay hanging back with my wispy phantoms. But hey, please do let me know if you think otherwise!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Is It Just Me, or...

 Image result for clip art ghost boy

As I frequently mention, when I write, my house goes crazy. Here is an instance of craziness in my house when I wasn't writing.

My daughter and her son live with us. My grandson is seven years old, bright, funny, and cute, with huge sleepy eyes and a sweet voice that to me, is unmistakable. Usually. Also, my husband gets up for work around five, and I get up with him to give him some kind of breakfast and then pull his lunch together. We've been doing this for the past 38 years, so it's nothing new. However, since I work at home, after he leaves and I've finished my morning routine, I will sometimes tumble back into bed to either "rest my eyes" or, more likely, obsess about what's coming down the pipes at me for the day. Sometimes my grandson gets himself out of bed, and joins me in my room.

Last week, I was on my bed contemplating a story line when I heard a crashing noise from my daughter's room. I figured that my grandson had slid himself out of his bed and would soon be popping in on me. Sure enough, I heard the padding footsteps of a kid who sleeps in socks.. Then I heard my daughter's bedroom door open, and I heard him come toward my room. We have hardwood floors, so his steps make a pretty distinct sound. Instead of coming in, though, I heard him turn down the hall. I could hear his sweet, little voice talking a mile a minute, so I figured he was probably looking for his grandpa in case the man was still home. He didn't come back right away, and I thought he might have gone to the bathroom. I returned to my story line.

He didn't come back five minutes later, either. That was strange. After reflecting on that, I went looking for him. Sometimes he uses the powder room at the other end of the house. But no, he wasn't there. Not in the kitchen, or the living room, or the full bathroom. So I opened his door very quietly and...he was still in bed.

That was a bit of a shock. I KNOW I heard him get up. I KNOW I heard those footsteps, and I know FOR CERTAIN that I heard that little voice. Except it wasn't my grandson.

I wasn't frightened by it. I wasn't even really weirded out. Okay, maybe a little. More than that, though, I wondered exactly who or what I did hear, because I know I heard someone. And I know I wasn't asleep and dreaming.

The Grand Central Station house strikes again - I guess someone was passing through. Whoever it was, he sounded very young. I sure hope he found his way to wherever he was going.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Ghost Inside

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This post will have less to do with the paranormal and more to do with life and friendship. I'm not all about dead people, you know.

I knew a girl once who was one of the saddest people I've ever met. She came from a childhood that she didn't discuss much; I gathered from little details that it wasn't very happy. She was creative and funny and quiet and after striking up a tentative friendship with her (the tentative part being on her side) I began to gather that she was a combination of black sheep/wrinkled pea in her family. Her background was conservative, to put it mildly. And she was the oldest child in a family of divorce, so responsibility settled early on her young shoulders.

She was brilliant, creative, and overwhelmingly shy, so she didn't make friends easily. High school was rougher on her than it should have been, and I always felt bad about that. Some of us (I'm waving my arms wildly, shouting "Over here!") adopt an attitude of "You think I'm weird? I'll show you weird" and wear the label proudly. She never did that though, opting instead for silence and near invisibility. It was not easy to convince her that I genuinely wanted to become friends.

Why? Because instead of substance abuse or other self-destructive behavior, she found her escape in books. Just like me. I like ghost stories and mysteries. She liked fantasy and sometimes science fiction. So we started swapping books and became comrades in literature. We shared stories. We shared some confidences. We even spent a few months writing to each other, but that didn't last. Life went on and we both became too busy.

The last time I saw her, she was holding herself together after some dreadful emotional wounding that she would not discuss, and she was disappearing around the edges. More and more of her slipped away and I didn't know how to help her, so I just waited, hoping that she would talk to me at some point. But she didn't.

With someone like that, I could almost see the ghost inside. I am not saying that she died and became one. I am also not suggesting that when she slips off this mortal coil, she will become one. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, not the bleak existence of being a trapped, unhappy spirit  doomed to wander the paths she once knew until she finds her own way to the light. And yet, when I think about her, I see all the earmarks of what some people would call characteristic of spirits who hang around: an unhappy life, trauma, sadness, loneliness. The cherry on the ghost cake, of course, is the tragic or violent demise and I hope I never hear that an ending like that is the ending of this girl's story. 

I tend to think that a ghost, at least the way I view it, is the remaining intelligence of someone who once was in physical form, and who has not figured out a way to cross over to where he or she needs to be. Someone who is baffled by life, whether by difficult circumstances, tragic events, or trauma, might have a difficult time finding a way out of the not-quite-afterlife dilemma. I think about this girl often and hope that will never be the case for her.

And then I sometimes wonder - if enough compassion, enough empathy, enough encouragement, is shared with a person who is struggling so hard in this life, is it possible to prevent someone from becoming a ghost in the first place?

Monday, August 3, 2015

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I made a new friend at British Fest last month and we have become penpals, because both of us enjoy letters that come via the Post Office. I like email for speed and convenience. I like texting for even speedier convenience. But for an actual long-distance conversation, I am still very much a fan of the written letter. I have to type mine because my penmanship has devolved into random squiggles. My friend,  however, has a collection of antique fountain pens and a cursive hand that is just absolutely gorgeous.

His name is David and we wound up talking to each other when we were seated at the same table for dinner on the last night of the Fest. It turns out that he and his wife (also a very charming person) are from Parkersburg, West Virginia. And I said to him, "Parkersburg? The place that had the flood?" Although they assured me that Parkesrburg has had more than one flood, I told them that I was referring to one that happened early in the 1900's and was caused by the collapse and rupture of two water towers. It happened at night (doesn't it always?) and sent literally millions of gallons of water running downhill into the town. Houses were flooded and then washed away with no warning, and people died, drowned, in that dark and unexpected flash flood.

David knew about that and said that he actually had a couple of antique postcards that depicted the event.

And then I fessed up and said that I knew about it from watching a ghost story show. True that - it was featured on an episode of The Dead Files

And then we started talking about ghosts. 

Segue to my receiving his first letter last week. Not only was it awesome to get some handwritten mail, but he had included a personal ghost story in the letter! I was thrilled. As he put it, it was a "little story." It involved being in an abandoned hospital/asylum -with permission- and taking photographs. He said that at one point as he was climbing the stairs, carefully, to the third floor, he dropped his lens cap and heard it bounce a few times on the steps below him before settling somewhere. Since his hands were full of equipment, he figured he would finish climbing the stairs, set his things down, and then go looking for his lens cap. And when he went down to do so, he found the cap sitting on one of the newel posts, as it would have been had someone picked it up and set it there for him to find. Of course, no one else was in the building. And he had heard it bouncing around, so he doubts it bounced up to a newel post and parked itself there. He called out "Thank you!" and proceeded to take his pictures. (Brave man; I might have left!)

So indeed, it is a little story. But I think sometimes the little ones are the best. Just some little detail that can't quite be explained away, and yet there it is. And to me, those are the ones that are always indicative of a true haunting: the items that go missing and can't be found no matter how hard they are searched for, only for them to turn up in a very obvious place weeks later (been there, done that); the door that opens for you when your hands are full and you can't figure out how you're going to get all your stuff into the house; the reaction the cat or the dog has to something you can't see; the reaction your baby or small child has to something you can't see; the remote control car or the vocalizing toy that starts itself up out of nowhere, with no one anywhere near the controls, frequently in the middle of the night. I have a feeling we've all of us experienced this kind of thing. And it's always just enough to cause a chill, or a quick minute of goosebumps. Little hauntings. Subtle. But definitely there.

The other day I was home alone and trying to read something when the washing machine reached the absolutely noisiest and most disturbing point in its cycle. And then the laundry room door closed itself while I was at the other end of the house, effectively muffling the noise. I heard the door shut and went to check; yup, it was closed.

Okay. Uh, thanks. Whoever you are. Come back when the rest of the family is here, okay?

Monday, July 27, 2015

And the Winner Is...

Image result for book title image

Those of you who follow me on FaceBook know that I have been having a battle with my muse, trying to come up with a title for my now completed manuscript. If you read Bridgeton Park Cemetery Books, I hope you'll be happy to know that Book 3 is soon to be released. But trying to come up with a name for this puppy almost took me to the mat.

Normally, I don't have that much of a fight for a title. The story suggests the title, most of the time. It did for Haunted. It most certainly did for Dead Voices. Even Dead of Summer was a gimme. But Book 3 was a fight and a half. It was even worse than trying to find a title for Saving Jake.

A little bit about that: Saving Jake was written under the working title Ultimate Magic. If you haven't read the book -or even if you have and have since (understandably) forgotten- "ultimate magic" is a direct quote from one of my main characters, and it seemed to me a good choice for a title. Especially since the two running motifs in that novel are magic and shipwrecks. The editor who accepted the manuscript, however, had other ideas. She told me, and I admit that she is right, that if I used the word "magic" in the title, it would suggest that the story had more to do with the fantasy and perhaps sword-and-sorcery worlds than it did with the paranormal. I had to concede that point. Thus began something like a three-week struggle to name the work, and in the end, the only thing we could all agree on was Saving Jake. I needed a while for that to grow on me, but now it's fine and makes all the sense in the world. And I am now more careful about the word "magic."

For my newest Bridgeton Park book, however, the discussion involved my three beta readers as well as myself, and all of us agreed on only one point: if I titled it aptly, I would also give away the whole story. No matter what combination of certain words and phrases I concocted, all of them led to a conclusion that would spoil the story for anyone who chose to read it. So we brainstormed and discussed, and suggested and discussed, and discussed and discussed. And finally, out of desperation, I looked at one of them and said, Drawing Vengeance. And that was it.

So the newest book, hopefully available early next month, is called Drawing Vengeance. I wish I could include a picture of the cover art. Carmen Elliott, the wonderfully talented woman who does all of my covers, has come up with another spectacular image for this one. But I have a feeling she's still tweaking it, even though I've already seen and agreed to it, and so I guess the first place it will show up, besides Amazon, is when I announce the release on FaceBook, or email certain parties that the Kindle version is available. (Print always takes just a wee bit longer, but I'll announce that, too.)

The story picks up where Dead Voices left off, so if you are one of the folks who was ready to strike me with a blunt object after reading the end of Book 2, you will be glad to know that various situations are dealt with in this volume. That does not mean that Book 3 doesn't leave it's own loose ends at the close, however. Hey, this is a series! I want readers to come back, right?

At any event, thank all of you for your patience. I hope the book meets and even surpasses your own hopes and expectations. And I guess it's time to turn my attention to Book 4, huh?