Monday, July 25, 2016

Branson, Mo Has One Ghost Tour

 Old Cemetery - Cemeteries & Graveyards Photo (722641) - Fanpop

Continuing on the theme of taking a ghost tour every time I go somewhere new, something I wrote about last week, I thought I would talk about my latest adventure. And that would be in Branson, Missouri.

I have probably been a bit spoiled by my recent experiences. In the past two years, Jim and I have visited four cities down south: Williamsburg, VA; Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and Gatlinburg, TN. We took a ghost tour in every one of them, and the thing was, we had to decide which ghost tour to take, not necessarily an easy thing to do based on Internet descriptions and some reviews. But we managed.

Cut to Branson, Missouri. We were there last week for a family vacation, and of course we needed to take a ghost tour. We figured, Missouri, that's the South, right? Why, yes it is. But multiple ghost tours? Needing to make a selection from a list of many? Not so much.

The first morning we were there, we went to the reception desk at our lodgings and asked the nice woman behind the counter for information on a Branson ghost tour. She sort of looked at us and blinked, maybe wondering if we were dangerous as well as crazy. But then she said that she didn't know of one, but we should talk to the gentleman at the other desk, since he knew more about events and excursions in the town. So we walked over to his desk, asked him the same question, and pretty much got the same reaction. He mentioned Eureka Springs, an old town over in Arkansas that is both gorgeous and boasts a very haunted hotel. We had already been to Eureka Springs many years ago, and even visited that hotel, although we hadn't taken the official ghost tour. It might not have existed yet at that time. Nevertheless, this was a short vacation we were on and we didn't have a full day -and night- to travel across state lines looking for spectres.

So he obligingly Googled ghost hunts in Branson for us and came up with one result. We took the phone number and thanked him with appreciation, but as we walked away from the desk, even Jim thought that was odd. "One?" he said to me. "Just one?"

Yup. To its credit, the founder of the tour and his wife have been doing supernatural investigations for years and were even featured once on the paranormal series A Haunting. (I used to watch those until it got to the point where I realized I had seen every episode. Maybe they're making new ones; I haven't looked into that yet.) Our tour guide began the evening by playing a little bit of the show so that we could see the expertise of the tour company owners. During the course of the evening, he also mentioned that his boss gets called out for supernatural problems on a regular basis. So yes, Branson is indeed haunted.

And well it should be. It was founded before the Civil War and withstood that conflict, but not without loss. After the War, the town was besieged with crime and violence, and the posse organized to restore order soon expanded into a mob that began to commit the very crimes they had once promised to stop. The gang was called the Bald Knobbers and before they were through, numbered as many as 1000 members. Although their violent acts drew national attention, they weren't disbanded until 1899 after their founder was assassinated. (The man who did the killing was tried and found not guilty by reason of self-defense.)

With that kind of history, there should have been a mob of ghosts hanging around on every street corner. Maybe there were but I never saw them because I didn't bring Cassie and Michael along with me. We took pictures and listened to stories. We saw enlargements of some of the pictures taken on that tour that were sent in by participants, and a few of them were seriously disturbing. One showed a woman sitting on the steps to a church, and the picture  included a very large shadowy figure standing just to her left.  A picture taken of a wall just adjacent to the church (that had been demolished earlier on the day that we took the tour) showed the silhouette of a young boy, purportedly the murdered son of a woman who was also murdered by the same serial killer. (The killer was caught in Texas, tried there for a similar murder, and executed. They say he confessed to about twenty murders all across the country. His story dates back to the later years of the twentieth century, so fairly recent history, compared to other parts of the town.)

The cemetery close to the heart of the city is a one-acre plot that was established by a very successful businessman back in the late 1800's. It is no longer an active cemetery (I use that term to mean a cemetery where people can still buy plots at this time; in the other sense of the word, it is quite active) and now is almost inaccessible thanks to some teenage vandals who went in one night and vandalized the graves of some of Branson's wealthier past citizens, including the man who founded the city himself. But you can take pictures through the wrought iron fence. I didn't; there was too strong a feeling around the area and I didn't want to have anything like that on my phone. (This is a trait I share with one of my Bridgeton Park Cemetery characters, by the way.) Our tour guide also mentioned that the cemetery had flooded early in the 1900's and tombstones and grave markers were washed away or destroyed. He showed us a large area of ground within that fenced-in acre that is filled with unmarked graves, although historians are working to restore identities to the dead who rest there.

As far as tours go, Branson's ghost tour wasn't as polished as some we have been on. Our tour guide was admittedly new - he had only been on the job for two months, but what he lacked in experience, he made up for in enthusiasm and honest belief. (He did mention that he was a skeptic until he met his boss. Then things changed.) But as far as an eeriness factor goes, Branson was probably the creepiest one we've ever done. 

There is something unsettled in that land, something uneasy and dark. Maybe it's the history. Maybe it's the nature of the spirits that tend to hang around that particular town. I'm not sure what it was, but I came away with the very strong sense that quite a number of Branson's dead do not rest in peace.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Notes from a Ghost Tour

Every time I go someplace new, I try to take a ghost tour. Luckily, Jim is always willing to do that with me. He likes the history he learns that provides the background to most of the hauntings. And while he's savoring history and I've savoring the ghost part, I'm also taking notes. Looking back over some of them is both evocative and eyebrow-raising. Sometimes I remember exactly what I meant, and other times, well, I don't know.

For instance, I have notes about forensic students using dowsing rods at a body farm at the University of Tennessee. After finding sites of buried bodies, apparently the students willing to use dowsing rods to answer simple yes and no questions were 95% accurate in determining the body's gender, whether the head lay in the direction of North, South, East, or West, and whether the body was that of a child or an adult. The reason the tour guide (this was for haunted Gatlinburg) brought this up is that there is currently a trend in using dowsing rods to communicate with the dead.

Something I saw done live on a ghost tour in Galena, Illinois. (More on that a little later).

But back to Gatlinburg: the guide told us stories about one of the big hotels down the street from us. He did mention something that stuck in my head: "Not everyone knows about these events because not all incidents make the papers." I will find a way to use that in one of my books one day.

As for the dowsing rods in Galena, well, the tour guide for that particular trip also had an EMF (electromagnetic field) indicator and a ghost box (a contraption that picks up radio waves and is meant to give ghosts a way to communicate by picking out random words over the airwaves and spitting them out.) I know a ghost hunter who got a pretty solid "Get Out" on one of those things. They make me nervous.

On the tour in Williamsburg, our guide told us the story of a woman named Lady Skipworth who killed herself in the house of George Wythe. (George Wythe was the first Virginian to sign the Declaration of Independence, by the way). Supposedly there is the ghost of a woman spotted in the third-floor bedroom. Our guide then added that he has seen the ghost of a woman on the porch of the Wythe house, and that she backs up and disappears through the door.

And then there was Savannah, Georgia. Savannah was the first and probably only place where people discuss ghosts the same way they discuss the weather. Jim and I sat down to a wonderful Southern lunch at a restaurant in Savannah and when we mentioned we were taking the ghost tour that evening, he was prompt with a "You should get a lot out of that. You know that hotel in the next block? That place is haunted. I saw a woman on the staircase, there." And then he asked us if we needed hot sauce, ketchup, or anything else. No one in Savannah even bats an eyelid when you say you are looking for ghosts. They're more likely to direct you to the nearest haunted spot they know. Which could very easily be where you're standing and having the conversation. Savannah is a giant burial ground, from the Native Americans who were there first, to the sad mass graves of the plantation slaves, and then the dead from the wars that happened in the area, both Revolutionary and Civil.

The ghost tour through Charleston was interesting because the last story involved the inn where we had our rooms. Fortunately, we weren't on the right floor to run into the ghost. On the other hand, it was a little unsettling to find out that our temporary domicile was included on an actual ghost tour. I would have expected that in Savannah. But then Charleston is not that far away from Georgia.

This summer, we will be taking another family trip, this time to Missouri. And of course we will take a ghost tour. Just can't wait to see what kind of stories we get on that one.

Monday, July 11, 2016

On Reviewing Reviews - Like Attracts Like

I read my reviews. Maybe I shouldn't - I know authors who don't- but I do. I read all of them. When I'm feeling particularly cowardly, I have Jim read the new ones first. He'll either tell me it's a good one and have me read it right away, or he'll say, "You might want to read this one later," at which point I'll know I got a negative one. Some negative reviews can be helpful if the reviewer bothers to explain what he or she didn't like about my work. Some of them are what I call "drive-by" wherein the reviewer makes a statement like "This was bad" with no other explanation. At any event, I am lucky to have mostly positive reviews, and the really good ones light up my day.

A recent review, however, brought up a point that I had heard once before and I figured since I can't have a face-to-face with that reviewer, I would address the topic here.

The book in question is Haunted, book one of the Bridgeton Park Cemetery Series. What this reviewer wrote, and what one other person once said to me, is that he or she had a difficult time accepting that all the characters in my book believe in the paranormal. I guess that's a valid concern, although Haunted does feature Cassie's mother trying desperately not to accept the paranormal. (But perhaps that means she does believe in it after all?)

There are a few reasons that basically all the characters in Haunted believe in the supernatural.

For one thing, the people I spend the most time with day-to-day all believe in the supernatural. In my life, I have met folks who don't and have told me as much, but we didn't get into any long, drawn-out discussions about whether or not the supernatural exists. They have their views, I have mine, and that was the end of it. But those people are not in the majority in my life. Everyone I interact with on a daily basis believes in ghosts, or at least entertains the possibility. So it was not a stretch for me to come up with a whole group of characters who also believe. Besides, the story opens in a store where the owner and his staff not only believe in the paranormal, but enjoy stories about ghosts on a weekly basis. With one resident skeptic.

Secondly, since the whole series is about ghosts and ghost stories, it would be difficult to have a many non-believers hanging around Cassie, Michael, and their friends. Basically, my characters exist to deal with the paranormal: those who don't believe in it wouldn't hang round any of the group for very long because it would drive them nuts. Or so I figure. That is why (SPOILER ALERT FOR BOOKS 2 AND 3) Mark's skepticism has to come to the fore early on in the series.

Last but very definitely not least, is the aspect of plot and pacing. Having the nonbeliever bring up issues during the course of the action is a commonly used trope in stories that deal with the supernatural or the fantastic, and it is a trope that drives me absolutely insane. I feel like the Resident Skeptic and his or her issues, used as a way to set the pace of a story, actually slow down the action. Unless a writer is going for a Scooby-Doo ending, wherein the paranormal doesn't exist, having the Resident Skeptic along to scoff, disagree, or throw a wrench in the works, derails the plot. As a reader, if I'm reading a book about ghosts, as a believer the last thing I want to run into is the one person who "doesn't believe in all this stuff." I almost feel like the only role that character has in the story, sadly enough, is to play the part of an obstacle to the protagonist as a way for the writer to achieve pacing. That is just my (unlearned) opinion, of course, but the Resident Skeptic is not likely to show up in any of my work as a plot device very soon.

And my hero, Stephen King, doesn't do much with Resident Skeptics, either. People in his worlds don't tend to deny what's happening or demand scientific proof: they're too busy dealing with the paranormal mess that's being thrown at them. And that's the point of the ride.

So while I have read this review with respect and feel that the reviewer has raised a valid point, this is my three-point answer. I think there are actually quite a few people out there who believe in the supernatural or are at least open to it, but who may not come right out and say it. There must be. Nothing else could explain the sales of someone like Stephen King, or my good friend and fairy godmother Terri Reid, or even my own scaled-down undertakings. Readers want to be swept along with the "what if?" premise of the book and not spend a lot of time and energy on a "that's not possible because it doesn't exist" facet of the story.

It that makes me a poorer writer, I apologize. But I can't apologize for writing the kind of story that I prefer, the kinds of story that I would seek out as a reader, the kind of story wherein the characters don't even question what is happening; they just know they must deal with it. I DO believe in all of this paranormal stuff and so do the people in my life. As for my work, the occasional skeptic may come and go throughout the course of my series, but I doubt any of them will be taking up long-term residence in my writing world.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Ghosts Don't Do Statistics

I am sitting in my office, looking out at a sunny street, shadows from a sun that is high in the summer sky since it's just past noon, watching small insects zig and zag just past my window. There is a breeze blowing, and the trees are nodding with it, looking languid and almost sleepy. It's July and it's time for watermelon, fireworks, and scorching hot beaches.

And I wonder to myself, is there a haunting going on somewhere else in the world? 

There are no statistics for hauntings, although I think they would be interesting to compile if there was only a way to do it. Can you imagine? According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014, worldwide 361,481 babies were born per day, working out to 251 per minute on the planet. According to the New York Daily News, in 2013, Ford sold almost 2.5 million vehicles. That works out to roughly 6,849 vehicles sold per day, or 4.8 per minute. (I love statistics like this! They're so much fun to try to imagine!) 

However, there are no fun statistics about hauntings per day, anywhere in the world, at least, not on record that I could find. I know. I Googled it. I did find lists of purportedly haunted places around the globe, some of which are new to me (which is as much fun as statistics! Wow! A new place to read about!). But no one has ever tried to count how many times someone ran into an apparition at, say, Gettysburg. Or London Tower. Or Waverly Hills Sanitorium. And what a pity.

I have no idea how anyone could keep track of this, although I know that a lot of historic sites conduct ghost tours and are used to people talking about apparitions and disturbances. I have actually been in places where they have log books so that visitors can record their own paranormal experiences. But as far as I know, no one has ever decided to organize the data in any particular way. I wish they would.

I would love to see an article or book that reels off stats like "There are 8.5 ghostly visitations per day at Little Big Horn," or "The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum clocks in at the most haunted site in the U.S.: 8 to 10 sightings per minute!" Would that make you more likely to run in for a visit, or run in the other direction? I must admit that which way I turned would depend on what time of day or night it was, and who was with me. I love ghost stories, but I'm a paranormal coward underneath it all. Really.

Still, there are such things as hauntings on a schedule. A friend told me about an apartment in Chicago where the bedroom door would shut itself every night at ten o'clock. He could have set his watch to it. And the time he experimented by having the door already closed at that particular hour, the door opened itself, and then shut. That's a well-regulated haunting.

The house I grew up with had it's own witching or dark hours, as it were. They started at ten-thirty every night and ended at one in the morning. I know because I clocked the disturbances while I was up studying, trying desperately to ignore what was going on and failing pretty miserably. It's not easy to study for tests or write papers when you realize you're not alone and that something or someone unseen is very busy around you while you're trying to work. Chairs shifting, floorboards creaking, and just for fun, the occasional loud BANG! that makes it sound like someone shoved a dresser over onto its side. But like that apartment my friend had, I could have set my watch to the activity in my house, also.

But schedules are not stats and I'd so love to know if there is any site anywhere that compiles this kind of information. So if anyone out there knows of paranormal statistics along this line, I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment, or hit my email off of my website. I'd swap you a story for your information!

Friday, July 1, 2016

And Now a Word From My Sponsor: Me

 I know that Friday is not my usual blog day, and don't worry. There should be my regular post come Monday morning. BUT I had to announce that I have a new story out and it is now available at Kindle World!!!!

A short time ago, my friend and fairy godmother, Terri Reid, told me that Amazon was giving her Mary O' Reilly series its own World, and then asked if I would like to help launch it by contributing a Mary O' Reilly fan-fic. Would I like to contribute? DUH.

Fan-fic, as those of us who are into it know, consists of stories written and posted by rabid fans who can't wait for the author's next work. Or who had a story they wanted to tell using someone's else's characters because the story is so suited to them. Fan-fic readers are a community of people who are, well, obsessed with a particular author's universe. (World? Sometimes its a whole universe, honest.) And I have long dabbled in the art of writing works that concern someone else's creation. Because when I like something, I am an uber-fan-girl. I'm sure I'm not the only out there.

So a couple of months and some twenty-eight thousand words after Terri first contacted me, my story has popped into life in the Kindle World collection, along those of five other seed authors whose work is also available. 

My story is called A Scattering of Bones and concerns Mary O' Reilly, Bradley Alden, two ghosts who are afraid to talk to the police, and a jumble of bones in an unmarked grave. 

You can find this story either by going to the Kindle Worlds store (look under "New and Popular") or by looking under my name on Amazon. It's short, as all of them are, so knock yourself out! Terri just released Frayed Edges - maybe these will help tide you over until the next genuine Mary O' Reilly story becomes available!

And please, if you read my story (any story of mine) and like what you find, please, please, please leave a review at Amazon. I'd be indebted.