Monday, March 28, 2016

And the Research Continues!

1.  Women in White: The Haunting of Northeast Florida, Elizabeth Randall

2.  Ghost Hunting in Michigan, Bradley P. Mikulka

3.  Haunted Philadelphia, Darcy Oordt

4. Oval Office Occult: True Stories of White House Weirdness, Brian M. Thomsen

5. The Spectral Tide: True Ghost Stories of the U.S. Navy, Eric Mills

6. There's More to Life Than This, Theresa Caputo

What do these six titles have in common? They all arrived on my doorstep late last week as part of my ongoing research. I would guess the titles are self-explanatory, although I will comment on two of them. Number Four isn't a patch on how scary things could get in the Oval Office depending on what happens in November, AND Number Six is because I'm a fan. But you all knew that!

Fortunately, Jim has grown accustomed to me acquiring boxes of true ghost stories that arrive at our house more frequently that he would probably like to acknowledge. But hey, stories like that inspire the writer in me and also kick off ideas in my imagination. I never plagiarize: I may get the germ of an idea for a new novel off of one incident in an entire ghost story. And some stories are very common so they are beyond plagiarism; they're just a retelling of a story that everyone already knows (for example, the hitchhiking ghost.) It's in the retelling of a common story that the artistry is revealed.

As it is, I can't wait to dive into my latest collection, but I still have to finish and return my current library books so the new books are waiting in a patient stack where my in-progress reading resides. But I do pick them up and thumb through them occasionally.

When these books arrived, of course the vendor included a list of "You Might Also Be Interested In..." books. Some of them look like possibilities (Ghosts: An Exploration of the Spirit World, from Apparitions to Haunted Places, Paul Roland) while quite a few of them are right out, so to speak (Ouija Answer Book and The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook are good examples.) Also, no demon encyclopedias for me! Ghosts alone are just fine, thank you.

This will be a short entry, sorry about that, but I have two writing projects weighing pretty heavily on me right now and I had better get going on them. Deadlines are hard taskmasters, no? But I did want to say that since I enjoy swapping ghost stories with people, if anyone out there would like to suggest book titles that might be fun, please feel free to contact me. My website takes email! I do already have about seven feet or so of shelf-space devoted to books of true ghost stories so if you make a suggestion, I might already have the book. But that would only prove that great minds think alike.

Also, if you would like to know where I find the books I order, email me for the vendor name and I'll be happy to pass that along to you. It's a fun place and I LOVE getting their catalogs probably as much as they LOVE getting my orders.

See you next week - hopefully with ghost story in hand...

Monday, March 14, 2016

Favorite Haunts

Mountain Forest Hills Background

When I was in grade school, Scholastic Books put out an amazing collection of ghost stories. First of all, yes, Scholastic Books has been around that long. And secondly, yes, I have been collecting ghost story books for that long. To get back to the point, I still remember the cover of that paperback book. It showed a forest in darkness and over the black tree tops was a ghostly, veiled moon that cast doubtful light over the scene. The words "Ghost Stories" were written in puffy, smoky white cursive across the darkness. I still remember that because even then I was into cover art,  I guess.

One of the stories in that book concerned the ghost of a young pioneer girl who had died along the Oregon Trail. The story took place some where in the Midwest/West, where there were caves not far from the original wagon train routes. The setting was either a state or national park, and the heroine of the story was a local high school girl who was volunteering as a trail guide for the summer. At some point, someone on staff told her to be on the lookout for the pioneer girl; apparently the ghost appeared as dusk was heading toward darkness and could be spotted easily because her dress and her bonnet -along with the strings- glowed against the dark of oncoming night.

Of course, our protagonist is caught out on the trail near the caves at just that time and sees this pioneer ghost coming towards her, with the glowing dress that moved in the wind, and the bonnet strings that trailed behind her, each with their own particular illumination.

I have never forgotten the description of that scene. For one thing, however the writer phrased it, the image I got from those descriptive paragraphs has remained with me for decades.

For the other, however, I always wondered -and still do- why a ghost would choose to haunt such a lonely and secluded spot. Was it by choice? Was she doomed to walk that path for some reason unknown to the living? As an older, more experienced ghost aficionado, I also ask, was she just a residual haunting?

And that leads me to the question, if you could haunt anyplace in the world, where would it be? Would you stay in the same place? I have it on good authority that ghosts can haunt more than one place if there were several meaningful locations during their lives. Or would you maybe haunt a person instead?

My brother, who passed away at a younger age than he should have, was a great fan of books and movies. He left us before the last Harry Potter film hit the screens. He didn't live to see The Hobbit as brought to the big screen by Peter Jackson. And he has missed all of the amazing Marvel Comic adaptations from the earliest Captain America through Deadpool. He would have loved all of them.

But there are times I wonder if he isn't tagging along with me or his adult children when we go to see one of those films. Sometimes I get the sense that he pops into those movie theaters with us and enjoys the show much as he would have in physical form, except, of course, no popcorn or chocolate.

But I can't help thinking, maybe that's the way to haunt, if you're going to do it. Not just places special to the heart (find me in Door County frequently!) but also with the people and activities who were the most important in your life. If it's doable, I plan to pop into my children's and grandchildren's lives long after I'm gone. Not to frighten -they shouldn't even know I'm there- but just to check in. To see how they're doing. To see what they get up to as adults and as parents and grandparents themselves.

I guess if a place is magical enough, a person might want to come back and visit. Would that pioneer girl really have chosen to hang around a dusty, old road when she could be visiting with descendants? Or maybe spending time (if there is such a thing in the afterlife) with the people she had known and loved through the years of her short life? When I'm gone, I suppose a "sensitive" might feel my presence along Highway 42 or along the shoreline in Door County from time to time. I really do love it there. But I really do love my kids and grandkids, too, so maybe it's a safer bet to look for me to be visiting them just a little bit more often. Not to scare. Just to check in.

Monday, March 7, 2016

This Writer Needs Peeps

 Just JoeP: I Heart Smart People

I am a writer who needs people. I would love more readers for this blog, for instance, but that's not the thrust of this post and besides, no need for whining, eh?

But I do need people and in this case, I mean people who are experts or at least very, very knowledgeable about a particular subject. I wind up doing research with every book I write, sometimes a little bit, sometimes quite a lot. In fact, I do research on any topic that interests me and sometimes that leads to the book itself (see Saving Jake and shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, or Dead Voices and cholera outbreaks in the US during the 19th century.) Nonetheless, no one can know everything, and while libraries and the Internet are both very nice, there is nothing like talking to a living, breathing expert.

And hopefully those experts will enjoy talking to writers. We can come up with questions that are real humdingers. I called up a random minister one time -got his name from a phone book- to ask him if a person who committed suicide could be buried in a church graveyard. Turns out the answer was yes, and I was glad to hear it. I asked my dentist about identifying bodies through dental records and once we got past the "Are-you-up-to-something-I-don't-want-to-know-about?" stage, we had a really interesting conversation. There is a lot that has to be in place to identify a body that way and one day I may use that information. I got a pharmacist I knew at one point to explain to me how a person could be poisoned and have no trace of that poison in his bloodstream. And I spoke to a nice lady at an adoption agency when I was trying to figure out Steve Crawford's early childhood experience (see Haunted.)

As it is, I am blessed with knowing people in all sorts of fields. My own background gives me access to medical expertise and some working knowledge of sign language interpreting and the Deaf community. I am surrounded by sword-and knife experts, back from when I was studying the same. And I have studied martial arts in the past, so I have that in a very accessible place as well. To make up for what I don't have in my own tool bag, I "collect" people.

So far I have collected a specialist in human anatomy and physiology, a retired federal deputy  marshal, a nice range of artists and computer experts - a few of them one and the same, a professional musician and producer, a film score composer, a movie screenplay writer and producer, a ghost hunter or two, a tarot card expert, and my own personal favorite engineer. 

That leaves a WHOLE BUNCH of areas whose experts I will need to locate when and if the need arises. To that end, if you are one of the handful of readers who actually read this blog on a regular basis, and you have an area or more of in-depth knowledge in anything I have NOT mentioned above, and you would like to find your name in my acknowledgments (if you look at the acknowledgments at the beginning of all my books, you will see what I mean), please email me through my web site ( or contact me via Facebook. I'd love to hear from you.

At the moment, I need someone who has a degree in history and is currently making a living in that area. Any takers?