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...