Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 – Another Year of Writing

In 2017, I set the goal for myself of publishing two Bridgeton Park Cemetery books in one year. This may not sound like a huge accomplishment compared to the most productive writers I know and know of: Stephen King, Megg Jensen, Mark Dawson, my own good friend Terri Reid. But for me that was a huge, huge accomplishment, seeing as how it used to take me about three years to finish one book. I know, I know; prolific is not my middle name.

So I did it. I wrote and released two books in 2017. And in 2018, I found myself to be completely wordless. As in, the reservoir was temporarily empty. I am blown away by writers who can put work out as rapidly as they do. I am not among their number. After I finish a novel, I normally need some time to recover. “Some time” can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. I just need that much time to recharge. I guess it takes that long to replenish the part of me that goes into writing the book because I do use up some of me with every book I write. I wish it was as easily replaced as electrolytes, but whatever it is, it isn’t. Easily replaced, that is.

Thus, my BPC entry for 2018 was mondo late. There is no other way to put it. Originally I meant to have it out in May because then I figured I’d get that second book out in October, just like in 2017. Not so much. Then I thought I’d make it by July. Nope. And then I began to realize, this thing won’t be ready until Halloween and if I make that, it’ll be a small miracle. I was lucky: I got my miracle, and She Weeps saw the light of day in October.

Maybe what helped was co-authoring a book with Terri. Our little tome, Ghosts, Graves, and Groves went live in September and I think having a book out with my name on it, even though it wouldn’t have happened without Terri, took some of the pressure off me. It let me relax just a little bit and once that happened, writing the last third of She Weeps came a bit easier. Because while the writing can come very easily, there are also times when putting down each word is like extracting my own teeth with a pair of pliers: great effort and a lot of pain.

So now I am looking into the open expanse of 2019 and wondering what that will bring. I have the beginnings of Cassie’s and Michael’s next adventure. I also have the beginnings for another book, one I’ve had in my head for a long time (read: years) and am beginning to wonder if I should actually commit to writing. If I do that, this would be another two-book year. But with two different sets of characters. I wonder if that will make the process different for me. Maybe less taxing? Maybe more so? I guess I won’t know about that unless I try.

So in the meantime, I need to clear my office, clear my head, and find more writing music. Because January is about to hit and when it does, I hope to look at that blank screen and find the opening words for my next written offering.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Ghosts Among the Preparations

Christmas season is in full swing, and that means I'm in my usual near-crazy mode. I shouldn't be. I wrote out and sent our Christmas cards last week, baked and mailed cookies to out-of-state relatives this past Monday, just about finished Christmas shopping except for those last-minute things that pop up, and arranged to have all teacher presents dropped off today while I'm at work. So far, so good.

But I'm still almost-frantic.

That comes, no doubt, from the constant worry that I've forgotten something. You'd think that after all these years of family Christmases, I'd either 1) have my routine totally down-pat, or 2) have a master list that I can use to check things off upon completion. The answer to that is two-fold: Nope, and HA HA HA! That's way too organized for me. Maybe I secretly enjoy living with stress, I'm not sure.

However, one thing I have noticed is that despite my oven-hovering behavior, my rushing out the door to cram a few hours' worth of errand-running into one hour, and my packing boxes seemingly from here to eternity, the other residential occupants of this place have not ceased their bids for attention. I have noticed that despite the fact that I'm currently not writing -not beyond a few notes for future work, or some time spent developing story lines- these pesky phantoms are still banging their way down the hall, knocking on walls, and in one case, STILL hanging out in my laundry room by the garage door. You'd think they'd take a holiday break, or something, but no. I guess maybe they don't take breaks on the other side?

My grandson is still complaining about being disturbed not only in his bedroom, now, but also in the bathroom when he's taking a shower. When he has the door closed and I walk past, he'll sometimes call out "hello" so that he can make sure it's just me walking down the hall, because he knows I'll answer him.

My daughter just mentioned that "there's something really nasty back in the laundry room" the other night.

And at least one of my personal items has disappeared. I'm still waiting for it to come back.

Sometimes I wonder if Shirley Jackson ever had this kind of stuff going on while she was working on things like The Haunting of Hill House or even We Have Always Lived in the Castle. There's no use wondering about Stephen King because he's come right out and said that his house is haunted. Ditto for Terri Reid. But did H.P. Lovecraft deal with this stuff? Did Edgar Allen Poe? Heck, did either Charlotte or Emily Bronte have this going on?

I have two more cookie recipes to bake before Christmas actually arrives. I have a gift card to download. And I have a whole slew of presents to wrap, so even though I'm pretty much on schedule, I'm not done with my holiday preparations yet. And clearly our other-worldly guests don't much care whether I'm doing Christmas tasks or writing a ghost story, at least, not right now. I suppose I don't really mind that much -why should December be any different from the other calendar months?

But I sure wouldn't mind if one of them would gift me with a fantastic story idea: a terrific little Merry Christmas! from the other side.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Is That a Ghost I Smell?

There are such things as clairvoyance, the ability to see, and clairaudience, the ability to hear...ghosts. To put it another way, the ability to perceive the supernatural whether through sight or sound: two ways to connect with beings from another dimension. But I sometimes wonder, is there such a thing as clairolfactance? (I've just coined that non-word and am already wondering if the maker of Clairol hair products had the idea of their product being clear-smelling when they chose that name.) But back to the topic: I mean for the term clairolfactance to indicate the ability to smell the paranormal.

Sounds wonky, right?

But if you read enough about the paranormal, you know that some hauntings include smells as part of the experience. I'm currently reading a book about real-life hauntings and one location includes a centuries-old ship that now serves as a museum. In the galley, a place where no one has done any kind of cooking for literally hundreds of years, visitors are frequently greeted with the smell of freshly-baked bread. As paranormal experiences go, that doesn't sound too bad.

Then there are the haunted hotels where overnight guests will sometimes smell traces left by former, and now-deceased, fellow guests. These smells run the gamut from cigar and pipe smoke to fresh flowers, and all the way through women's perfume. 

But then there are the smells that no one ever wants to run into because they signal the presence of malevolence, malice, and possibly just plain evil. Those are smells like rotting meat, rotten eggs, sewage, and sulfur. Demonologists will talk about smelling something foul when they run into a negative or downright evil entity of some kind. 

In my brushes with the supernatural, I have never encountered a particular smell and I hope it stays that way. I don't even care if it's a benevolent smell like fresh bread or lilacs; I would rather not run into that particular type of haunting. And I can't even tell you why.

Maybe it's the fact that as far as hearing things goes, I've almost (ALMOST) gotten used to that. Yesterday while I was getting things done around the house, I couldn't believe how much I was hearing from the other rooms, or down the hall. There was so knocking, banging, shifting, rustling, and other hard-to-ignore sounds that I was amazed that I wasn't sitting at the keyboard writing a ghost scene with Cassie and Michael. Perhaps that was someone telling me to sit down at the keyboard and write a scene or two. Then again, maybe it's just because of the nature of our hallway. 

When it comes to seeing, the two phantoms I glimpsed during the summer of 2017 would have been enough for me, but there are other presences that pop up at the edge of my vision, from the lady out in the front yard going around the corner of the house, to the one who hangs around in my laundry room by the garage door (Why? I ask myself. I can't imagine hanging around someone's garage door, but then I haven't had occasion to haunt anyone so I can't guess at the logic behind that kind of behavior.) So, no, I"m not as acclimated to seeing these things as I am to hearing then. If you can get acclimated to that sort of thing.

But smelling something that shouldn't be there? Somehow that seems more "wrong" than visits that involve my sense of sight or hearing.

Anyone who's read Stephen King's The Shining will remember that Hallorann would smell oranges before he had one of his clairvoyant events. Maybe for some folks, clairolfactance is a real thing, their own particular hallmark and entryway to the generally inaccessible. But no thank you, I'd rather not experience that myself.

On the other hand, when it comes to the other senses? Tasting something paranormal? Can't even imagine what that would be about. The sense of touch, though --  I know people have been touched, stroked, even slapped or scratched. Hmm. Maybe smelling something unseen (as opposed to being touched by something unseen) isn't so bad after all.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Toys Are ScarierThan Almost Anything

‘Tis the season for toy shopping, so of course I thought, how do toys and ghosts connect? Fabulously, it turns out.

For one thing, there was once a haunted Toys R Us location. I don’t remember what city it was in, but I do remember that the haunting was a TV story at one point. Employees were uncomfortable in certain aisles, and the toys themselves would move when the store was closed and deserted, as shown on security camera footage. I think it’s probably tough to haunt a store during the madness that is Christmas shopping. After all, who could overcome the noise, the aggressiveness, and the extended hours? Even the living have trouble coping with that.

On the other hand, the toys that are in your house and hanging around your children’s play areas and bedrooms? Those are another thing altogether.

When my grandson was a really little guy, he received a Tickle Me Elmo for Christmas. I don’t know if they’re still around but if they’re not, it’s probably because they’re possessed. This thing used to laugh and giggle its little heart out at about one in the morning when it was sitting by itself in a mound of other toys. It’s not like my grandson had it in bed with him and accidentally jiggled it into activity. No, this thing was on its own, among other “inanimate” toys, and would party away in the dark hours. My daughter wound up shoving it into a bag and hiding it in the closet, and we’d still hear it chuckling and carrying on from within its dark and hidden confined. YIKES.

My other daughter, who sadly lost her best friend from childhood during the month of December, also experienced the undisturbed-but-talking-anyway toy. Her son had received an interactive device that said certain phrases and played little bits of song, and this too would sing and talk when no one else was around. She would hear it from the kitchen as a song started up, or it began to chatter. One afternoon, just on impulse, she called out her friend’s name and asked her to stop. The toy promptly answered, “I love you!” and went silent.

Longer ago, there was a toy called “Speak and Spell.” Anyone remember those? I recall a stand-up comic referring to it as “Spell and Speak With the Devil” because it would begin spelling random words during the night.

Some people say that these things are activated by a truck rumbling by in the distance, or by some kind of radio signal the toys mysteriously pick up, whether from a neighbor’s baby monitor or someone’s garage-door opener. I suppose that’s possible. But I can’t help feeling if that’s what’s going on, the activity should happen with a great deal more frequency, and not so often in the dead of night, “dead” being the operative word here.

And then there’s the dolls. I won’t even start on those except to say that I’ve been in stores that carry not only dolls, but clown dolls. I have to ask: Why???

Toys are meant to entertain and teach the young and the innocent among us, so it’s a bit ironic to me that at the same time, toys can be scary in their own right. On the other hand, when it comes to paranormal and unexplained things, kids can be far scarier than the toys…

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Museum Displays - And Then Some

Anyone who has ever felt just the slightest tingle of uneasiness while touring a museum, raise your hand. Okay, let's talk about that.

While I was at the Psychic and Paranormal Expo with my fellow writer (and ghost hunter) Sylvia Shults, I asked her what was on her bucket list of places to investigate. After all, I had just put up a blog post about my own bucket list so I was curious about hers. To my surprise, she named two local Chicago museums: The Museum of Science and Industry, and The Field Museum of Natural History.
I've been to both but had a membership to the Field for some years, so I'm more familiar with that one. 

The Museum of Science and Industry houses a coal mine that can be toured, a German U-boat from WWII, and an old train car. All three of them have been noted as at least disturbed, if not all the way haunted. Having visited both the coal mine and the U-boat, I can understand why. 

But the Field Museum, at least to me, would win a hands down contest between the two for "Eeriest Public Place Frequented by Visitors and Tourists." The Field not only has extensive fossil collections -hey, it has Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found, as well as its new Titanosaurus that dwarfs pretty much everything else on the first floor,- it also has a large Egyptian display in the basement, and halls and halls filled with the personal belongings of various groups of indigenous people from all the populated continents. With dioramas.

I am fascinated by those displays. I always have been. As a kid I loved to look at the beaded buffalo garments from the Plains nations here in North America, or the utensils and weapons from different peoples in Africa. As I grew more educated, I began to wonder how early collectors got their hands on so many of these items which were surely prized by the people who had made them. And as I started paying more attention to atmosphere, or ambiance, or whatever the correct term may be, I began to feel things through the display glass. I wondered about the woman who had painstakingly beaded that buffalo hide, or the man who had wielded that cruel-looking cudgel. And I wondered what became of all of them, that their possessions should end up on display in a city so far away from where they had lived.

Now, when Jim and I take the grandkids to the museum, we tour through those displays so that the children can look at all of these artifacts the way we had once done. But we never linger. Jim and I both feel a bit of uneasiness there, and my sensitive grandchildren either pick up on that, or are experiencing their own feelings of...what? Disturbance? Edginess? Maybe even lingering residual anger or grief? As goofy as it may sound, I get the sense that everything in those cases may be displayed sensibly -even scientifically- but despite the glass that encompasses them, there is still an energy or an aura emanating from them that hearkens back to their places, and people, of origin.

I had an English professor who traveled extensively through the Outback in Australia and she told me one time that when you were exploring various locations with your guide, and were told that certain places were not to be walked through casually or even entered at all, you paid attention. She said that you could feel something in those places, something that didn't lend itself to touching or measuring or examination, but that was there nonetheless.

One time when Jim and I, along with my sister and her husband, took a tour through an ancient archeological site in New Mexico, the guide told us that where we stood had once been a place of worship. He was careful to greet whatever spirits resided there on our behalf, and also to thank them for allowing us to have visited when it was time to leave. He was serious. And the space itself was rife with an undercurrent of energy or force. Whatever was there, it felt sentient.

During Jim's studies in Native American culture, we met a woman who sold art, jewelry, and blankets from the Southwest nations. She also sold kachina dolls, figures representing different deities from the Hopi culture. Her particular figures stood twelve to fourteen inches in height and were clothed in proper traditional regalia. We admired them and talked to her about her store, and offhandedly she mentioned that when she closed her shop at night and put the dolls back into their glass cabinets, that she never shut the doors on those cabinets.

We were surprised. "Aren't you worried about people breaking in and stealing them?" I asked.

"Not really," was her reply. "And closing them in like that is a mistake." She went on to mention that the energy in the dolls, even though they were reproductions, was enough to have shattered glass. From the inside of the cases. "After that happened, I don't close the doors anymore," she said. "And I no longer have that kind of problem."

So I guess I can understand my friend wanting to investigate the Field Museum. Something is present in and around those display cases. I can't tell you why the glass has never shattered in those museum displays. Although to tell you the truth, I also can't tell you for a fact that it has never happened.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Should a Cowardly Ghost Fanatic Have a Bucket List?

Everybody knows about bucket lists. I don't actually have one pertaining to my life in general, but I have a two-item list pertaining to all things weird and supernatural. You'd think they would be visits to haunted sites, right? Uh, no, actually, they're not.

Even though I read and write about ghosts constantly, I do not have a list of haunted places that I feel a driving need to see. For one thing, some of the most haunted places on the planet include mental institutions, prisons, and places where something really bad happened. Let's go over that list.

1. Mental institutions. Think Transallegheny Lunatic Asylum, purportedly one of the most haunted places in the country. People lived in abject misery there, were tortured in place of actual treatment, and then died, only to be buried on the grounds of this nightmare facility. I doubt very much that anyone or anything haunting the place is going to be either chipper or welcoming. I have a hard enough time with the "neutral" types that walk through my house. Do I really want to run into the spirit of someone who was unwell and then tormented for the rest of his or her life? I don't think so.

2. Prisons. Think either Alcatraz or the haunted Old Charleston Jail in South Carolina. Like their brethren in the mental institutions, these people were also incarcerated and treated very badly. Some of them, in Charleston, were executed there. So what we would have are beings who were probably pretty dark and disturbed to begin with, who then went on to live their lives in a pretty dark and disturbed place. And again, some of those lives ended very badly. I know I don't want to run into a deceased murderer who is still hacked-off at the world and likely to take that out on anyone who passes by. No thank you.

3. Places where something really bad happened. My friend, writer and ghost hunter Sylvia Shults not only spends a lot of time hanging out in the abandoned Peoria Mental Hospital (she wrote a book about it called Fractured Spirits) and doing paranormal investigations got herself. She also got over to the Lizzie Borden House to investigate there. She was so excited when she told me about it. I was so serious when I told her she was crazy. I've heard some of the audiotapes from that night. YIKES. Interestingly, the Lizzie Borden House is a bed and breakfast. You can pay to spend the night there. Someone would have to pay me to spend the night there. There's also the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa in case someone in the Midwest is really jones-ing for a site that involved grisly murder. And that murder was never solved so I doubt that any spirit around the entire area is very peaceful. Having been on several ghost tours in Chicago, I've been to the location of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and also to the alley where John Dillinger met his demise. Neither place is remarkable on casual inspection, but I wouldn't hang around there after dark for several reasons, and at least one of them is the paranormal aspect of those sites.

My friend Terri Reid and I took a ghost tour once and she was disappointed that "nothing happened." I think that was her way of saying that the haunted places we went to were less active than her own house. That's one difference between Terri and me: I like listening to the history and the ghost stories about a haunted place. She wants to experience things first-hand. I always think no, no, stories alone are good. Stories are enough for me. She might actually prefer an investigation, and considering what her house is like, I guess her idea of paranormal has a much higher threshold than mine.

So what two places would a cowardly ghost fanatic have on her bucket list? 

1. The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. I think it was the first of its kind, although when I researched "cryptozoology museum" other listings popped up in Maryland, North Carolina, and London. There was even a "cryptozoology-museum-near-me" option. Wow! I think my list just got longer!

2. Ghost lights. I write that without a specific place in mind because I don't care if I go to Marfa, Texas, Brown Mountain in North Carolina, or up near Paulding, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula. I'd just like to see actual ghost lights. Once.

I guess I wouldn't mind seeing a Sasquatch out in the Pacific Northwest, either, And maybe the Mothman Museum. So there are tentative third and fourth items.

There's the bucket list of a ghost fanatic who is not in a hurry to see another ghost. None of these have anything to do with hauntings, unless the ghost lights do. But all of them have to do with the weird. I can handle that.