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.