Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ghost Conference, Anyone?

Some years ago, and for quite a while, I was lucky enough to be involved in the organizing and running of a mystery readers/writers conference called Love is Murder. The conference happened every February in the Chicago area, and included panels and workshops all having to do with the creating of mysteries and thrillers, although we weren’t genre exclusive and also invited sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural, YA, and even non-fiction writers to come and participate. There were agents and editors so writers could pitch their manuscripts (quite a few book contracts came out of LIM). There were experts in related fields like forensics, polygraph tests, weapons both modern and historical, and the FBI. And through it all, I got to meet and greet so many authors including such big names as David Morrell, Anne Perry, Barry Eisler, J.K. Konrath, Charlotte Haines, William Kent Kruger, Walter Mosley, Steve Berry, and Lee Child. And that was just some of them (all of whom, by the way, are very lovely people). I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity.

So I was thinking, if I could design a ghost/paranormal conference, how would it look? Like the writing conferences, we’d need speakers. So there would be whatever big names in the field that we could get. Ghost hunters (actual Ghost Hunters if we could pull it off), paranormal investigators, researchers, anyone and everyone dealing with documentation, verification, and problem solving in the world of the supernatural.

We’d need panel discussions. I could see topics starting with the basic haunted house and ranging all the way through monster sightings and cryptids, demonology, tools of the trade, history and cross-cultural information on the paranormal, Spiritualism as a religion, haunted items, and supernatural legends, for starters.

We could even have experts on hand to talk to people having paranormal problems.

Of course we’d have to have some demonstrations. A room for people to learn about the Oculus, the ghost box, EMF detectors, infrared cameras, Mel meters, and the best recorders possible for capturing EVP’s.

And vendors? How can you have a conference without the people who sell tee-shirts and souvenirs? And in this case, probably also candles, sage, salt, iron, holy water (is it okay to sell that?). reference books, fiction books, guide books, maps of haunted and supernatural sites, related movies and documentaries, and probably all of the equipment being demonstrated as listed above.

Love is Murder provided meals. We could maybe provide dinners and let everyone handle breakfast and lunch on their own, with either food vendors on site, or by picking a conference location close to local eateries.

For me, though, the highlight would be the room, or rooms, where there could be round-table discussions and sharing of experiences and personal ghost stories among those who would just like to talk to other like-minded people. I think that is where I would spend the majority of my time. I’m curious enough about ghost-hunting equipment, but don’t feel the need to do investigations myself. I’d attend lectures and panel discussion that were interesting to me and not so likely to freak me out, especially when I got back home. I’d probably buy a tee-shirt, or maybe a candle. But stories are what fascinate me the most and I think I would be content and happy just to sit in a room and listen to others share their stories.

What do you think? If someone threw a ghost conference, would you go?

(By the way, the Midwest’s Biggest Paranormal Convention is held every August in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and it does indeed have all of the above. Well, it has the names and the celebrities and things like that. I should attend and see if they have a room for people to share their ghost stories. I’d be thrilled with that…)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Excuse Me, Are You Reading YOU?

Stephen King once mentioned that sometimes when he’s out getting a cup of coffee and reading a book while he enjoys some leisure time, people are apt to come up and say “I thought you’d be reading one of your own works.” He said he generally replies, “No, because I know how all they turn out at the end.” Good answer.

I would never do it in public, for fear of being thought self-centered, egotistical, or a braggart (all of which may be true but I don’t feel like having that pointed out to me), but I do reread my own work. Sometimes I reread past Bridgeton Park Cemetery books just to get a feel for the voice I use when writing those stories. That may sound insane: after all, it’s my voice. On the other hand, I try to write with a slightly different “accent” when I write other work. I hope there’s a difference in feel between my BPC books and my Corts-Holdridge books (Saving Jake and Missing Persons). I also hope there’s a different feel between my fiction and my non-fiction. I hope. I don’t know that there is. After all, it’s just me sitting at the keyboard.

Maybe it’s a trick of memory, or maybe it’s a streak of insecurity (which I realize could lead very easily to being self-centered, egotistical, and a braggart), but there are times that I need to reread past work because what I’m producing at the moment doesn’t ring exactly true. I don’t worry that my readers might think I have someone ghost-writing my work. I can’t pay for that, and besides, who’d want to?? But I will go over what is currently in my work-in-progress file and realize that the feel of it is a bit off, like a piano that’s just a little bit out of tune. So then I go back to my previous published work to get back to the original, true melody of my characters and their world, if that makes any sense.

I am in awe of those writers who produce book after book in a series and all of it feels cut from the same cloth. That’s amazing. And also a comfort, like a familiar face in a mob of strangers, or curling up in your own bed after having been away for a period of time. I know when I pick up those books, Reacher, God bless him, will always be Reacher. Likewise for Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers and A.X.L. Pendergast. (Cotton Malone and the whole Sigma crew, as well.) That kind of a consistency is an art-form in itself.

My ultimate goal is to imitate my author-heroes, and keep my characters as consistent to themselves as possible, so that my books can be a comfortable and familiar-enough place my readers will want to return to again and again. Without going back and re-tuning my pitch from time to time, I don’t think that will happen.

I wonder if Lee Child re-reads himself. Or does he have a beta reader, an agent, or editor who will say something like, “That doesn’t sound enough like Reacher”? The idea is almost inconceivable to me: the Reacher books are sooo consistent it’s mind-boggling. So are the others that I read. And I think they are all writing far more complex stories than I am. Wow, how do they do that?

Sustaining that consistency has got to be a little bit of a struggle. Over time, our feelings about things may change. Events and incidents and losses happen throughout our lives and surely that can alter our worldviews, maybe enough to affect what we choose to write about, and how we do it. And yet, every series I have listed above has been going on for years and years. Their authors—and their characters—somehow keep plugging along in their own wonderful ways.

I’m oly working on only book seven of my own series, and my characters are young. They are going to grow and change and encounter major upheavals in the course of their adventures. I hope that somehow, though, regardless of what may come, they’ll still be the people that first started out on this journey. And for that, I guess I’m going to have to keep rereading myself.

But still only in private.