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.”