Wednesday, December 4, 2019

What I Write


One of my favorite Stephen King anecdotes was the one about the time a woman asked him, in a pretty condescending tone, why he wrote horror stories. His answer was, “What makes you think I have a choice?” I love that because it helps me feel better!

Years ago when I was first embarking on my public writing journey, as in announcing to my family that I was now writing young adult fiction, my father’s reply was “Why can’t you write like Saul Bellow?” First of all, I should have expected that kind of response, knowing my father! My second thought was, “Well, I’ve never read Saul Bellow.” I realize I may be missing a large part of my literary education by never having read him, but there it is. I guess in the end, once school lets out permanently (and we lose “required reading” lists), we read what we like. As they say, so many books, so little time.

But my father’s question has stayed with me since he asked it, and I frequently ask myself something close to the same thing. How is it that I write Young Adult novels about ghosts? How is it that I write Young Adult anything? What happened to me and my writing ability, that I never figured out how to produce some sort of Great American Novel for grown-ups? You know, the kind of book that will be taught in school or in college, and make it onto the greatest-books-of-all-time lists. Why don’t I produce that kind of important work?

Why, indeed. And should it matter?

When I was a kid, books basically saved my life. Well, books and the Beatles. But since there’s no rock and roll talent hidden within me, I started writing. As a child writer, I naturally wrote about children. My Bic pen and I wrote about children and ghosts, children and mysteries, and children and fantasy. As I got older, my characters got older. In high school and college, my stories involved characters who would have been my peer group. Then I grew up and found out that my characters still involved high school or college kids. What? What happened? I spent—and do spend—most of my time reading mysteries. Adult mysteries. So how is it that when I sit down at the keyboard with a story in my head, my characters are all youngsters with dreams in their hearts and the kind of hopes that sometimes diminish as we get older? Am I trying to hang onto my younger years? I sincerely hope not! I wouldn’t go back to those times for a trillion bucks. But somehow my writing lingers there.

Back when I was trying to market my work as a YA writer, my book sales were, oh, close to imaginary. I didn’t have a clue, and since I wasn’t with one of the big New York houses, I really didn’t have a chance with most bookstores. Then, years later, along came Terri Reid and self-publishing and all of a sudden, I had readers! A lot of that was due to Terri telling her readers about me, which is a favor I can never repay, and I am forever grateful. All of a sudden I had people actually writing to me and asking when the next book was coming out, and that is something that I never expected to have happen. EVER. And funnily enough, even though I still think of my work as Young Adult, the people buying the books are more in my own personal demographic. How cool is that???

And so I don’t write like Saul Bellow, and I know I never will. (I can know that even if I’ve never read him. I know I’m not writing what anyone could call “literature.”) But I write what I can write and much to my surprise, I have readers. I am considering branching out to a more adult series in addition to my Bridgeton Park Cemetery books because I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a murder mystery. Just what the world needs –another mystery book writer! HA! But I may do it—just to do it—and if my sales never go above, say four books sold in one year, well at least I tried it!

I sometimes do wish I had been born with whatever it is that produces real literature, but I wasn’t. My particular toolbox is in a different department, and that’s okay. At least I have a toolbox!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

I Don't Just Collect Ghost Stories

Upfront Disclosure: This post is not about the supernatural, at least not in the usual sense. 

But my habit of collecting recipes does seem to border on the un-natural.

I don't cook for fun. I don't find it relaxing like some, or challenging, like others. I do it to feed my family and that's basically about it. Jim is the one who really likes cooking. As do my kids. But me? Not so much.

So I don't necessarily understand the weird compulsion I have to collect recipes. Let's start with cookbooks. The other year, I gave away at least a full two foot of bookshelf space of cookbooks. I don't know how I acquired so many of them -I suspect some of them were gifts- but I went through the entire collection carefully and culled out the ones I knew I would never use. Like the entire tome of baked potato variations. Or the one of soups with the kind of ingredients I knew my picky eaters would never deign to even taste. 

I also had about a gazillion cookie cookbooks. I understand why I had those. I am a bona fide cookie freak and all of the books I gave away had beautiful, glossy pictures of treats that in the end, I would never have had the energy or ambition to bake. Giving away all of those gorgeous books was easy once I figured out that I didn't WANT to make them; I wanted someone to make them FOR me so I could just eat them. That said, I think I do still have a good five or more cookie cookbooks on my shelf, but in my defense, I bake at least one recipe out of each of them on a semi-regular basis.

But that's just the cookbooks. I also have printouts of recipes from the Internet in a file folder that is getting dangerously overstuffed. I should probably go over all of those, too, because I know that some of the recipes I printed out on the spur of the moment aren't going to sound great the next time I take a look at them. I'm not sure why that happens: why one day a particular slow-cooker chicken recipe I run across will sound terrific, and then the next time I look at it, I think Seriously? I was going to make that?

Then there are recipes that I've clipped out of magazines and newspapers (back in the day of actual printed newspaper subscriptions. I still miss that, but that's a whole different story.) Some of them are quite yellowed and brittle and probably date back over thirty years. And I still haven't made most of them Maybe not any of them. And I actually have a cardboard shirt box stuffed with newspaper and magazine recipes. And that's still not all.
Way back in my more ambitious days, I actually started a kind of scrapbook for my collection, where I taped recipes photocopied from friends, or actually hand-written when I didn't have a way to get a photocopy of the original. Talk about devotion. I'm not certain how many of those I actually made, either. Except for the chocolate zucchini bread. That one was definitely a winner!

I also have clipped recipes crammed into the covers and slipped between pages of practically every cookbook I own. The slow cooker book has got a few stuffed inside the front cover. And my favorite cookie cookbook? As if the recipes in the book itself weren't enough, I am probably breaking the binding with a handful of papers detailing how to make kolachkis, oatmeal scotchies, Swedish oatmeal cookies, and roll-and-cut Christmas cookies. (I probably have eight to ten different versions of those alone. 

So no, I don't just collect ghost stories. I collect ways and means to make delicious dinners and desserts, breads and cookies, crock pot meals and casseroles.This may not be paranormal, but the collection is truly monstrous.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Scary Things in the House: Update


From time to time I like to share with you the things that have been popping up in our home. I’ve told you about the noises that start up when I write my ghost stories. I’ve shared tales about (dead) people my grandson apparently sees from time to time. And I’ve mentioned that since going to Gettysburg (thanks, Gettysburg) I’ve been seeing things that I never used to see. I was fine before that happened, but alas, things changed.

One night a few weeks ago I was heading toward my bedroom. My grandson was already in bed, and the door to his room was shut. Out of habit, I turned my head in that direction as I was about to enter my own room and was startled to see a large, white, being (not sure of gender) standing in front of his door. Fortunately (or not) it was looking in my direction, and not his. I kind of looked at it, ignored it, and went into my room. And I was happy not to see it again when I came back out.

There was also this “thing” hanging from the ceiling in the front hall. I don’t quite know how to describe it, but I was not happy to see it. My daughter once mentioned seeing an apparition of some kind that was hanging down from the living room ceiling. I’ve only heard about apparitions that hang from the ceiling on The Dead Files, and since I’m no Amy Allen, I’m not necessarily prepared for this kind of haunting.

But despite these things, the house has been relatively quiet. Except for the one thing that probably scares me more than the two listed above put together: there’s a creature in our garage.

We had snow here the other day, like so many other parts of the country, and my daughter, who was home for once, decided to be kind and shovel the driveway for us while my husband and I were at work. So she opened the garage door, took out the shovel, and cleared the entire space, which was a wonderful surprise when I got back.

However, that afternoon when I needed something in the garage, I heard a loud rustling noise from the corner by the automatic door. Hmm. That didn’t sound good. So I did what I usually do: I got what I needed, turned out the light, and shut the door. Later that night when I went back to get something out of our second freezer, I was not happy to find a bucket and a box knocked down into the middle of the path. (Our garage is frighteningly cluttered and currently has only a narrow path from front to back, but that’s another story.) I put the items back, but thought again that something had stolen in out of the cold and was exploring our space. I mentioned it to Jim who answered with his characteristic “Uh huh” while he was watching his show, and that was that.

But this morning, the Christmas tree stand was on the floor in the middle of the path. Now, I know that was something that got knocked down. And although I haven’t heard the same rustling sound again, I just KNOW there is something we didn’t invite hanging out in our garage. I know it’s not mice: we’ve had them before and they don’t knock down large objects. I know it’s not a skunk. We’d have figured that out pretty quickly. Raccoon? Aren’t they supposed to be hibernating by now? Squirrel? I can’t believe I wouldn’t have seen the hyper little thing scampering around at some point.

So Jim says he has a “plan” to drive this thing back out into the wild. I say good luck with that, because the temperature outside is holding fast to below freezing and I can imagine this thing just burrowing in deeper so it can stay inside. Still, I hope whatever he’s got in mind works, because I’d probably rather deal with a hanging apparition that just, well, hangs around, than with some destructive little beast that’s loose in our garage.

Looking forward to him carrying out his plan.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Family Historian - And Then Some


Most close families have a family historian. I meant that informally, although I’m sure there are families out there who have someone who has set about chronicling the family history on one side, or maybe even both. I’ve seen classes at community colleges that teach people how to interview their family elders so as to get the kind of information they want. Then they can write up the stories and have them published in a limited edition to be distributed at the holidays. I’ve even seen classes where the family stories are interwoven with handed-down recipes. That’s a great idea because nothing speaks to memory like food! At least, that’s true for me. Especially the scents and aromas that go with particular dishes and treats.

I, on the other hand, would like to archive something different. Never mind the skeletons in the closet, I want to write up ghost stories that my relatives either experienced or heard about. For me, that would be right up there with a family cook/history book.

I’ve already heard quite a few of them, and I’m glad I did because some of those relatives have since passed away. But I remember their ghost and paranormal stories. One involved a shape-shifter. Another was about a time-of-death visit from a favorite uncle. (Come to think of it, I may have one of those myself. I’ll have to ponder on that.) And then there was the one that involved a legendary Chicago-area haunting. That was from my older brother and it was a good one.

But except for the story from my brother, I’ve never written up any of these and I think sometimes that maybe I should. I consider my sister and my younger daughter to be the keepers of the recipes. Both of them are very skilled in the kitchen and while I do make a few of my mother’s dishes, I don’t go at it with the gusto and courage they both exhibit. And I’m always happy to eat what they come up with because they both sure come close to what my mother (a veritable genius at both the stove and the oven) concocted over the years.

I could, however, wax very enthusiastic about family ghost stories: tales having to do with weird phone calls, or mysterious voices, or the sweet old lady by the fireplace who wasn’t really there. Maybe even a doppelganger. As I sit here and write this, more and more tales that I’ve heard from siblings, uncles, aunts, friends of the family, daughters, and cousins, come to the fore. Maybe I’ve already collected more of these accounts than I ever realized. Hmm.

I could see collecting histories and recipes to hand out to the relatives for Christmas. But a volume of family ghost stories? We don’t get together at Halloween. But maybe such a book would be as suitable for Christmas as the recipes. After all, Christmas was when the Victorians told their scary tales around the fire. But I guess if I were to do it, no one would actually be surprised, seeing as how the book would come from me.

It’s a little too late this year to do this for Christmas, 2019. But 2020 or even 2021? I wonder…