Thursday, May 30, 2019

And Your Choice Would Be...?

This topic looks like so much fun that I am going to post it on Facebook this Paranormal Monday, just to see what all of you have to say about it.

It starts with this basic question: If you had the chance to investigate and actually meet up with or run into "something weird" (assuming you might want to do so), what would it be?

I have lived in the realm of ghost stories for so long that looking for ghosts is probably not the answer I would give to that question. Partly because I research them to death (no pun intended. Well maybe...) and partly because I have finally seen them myself. They are no longer just mysterious knocks and other noises in the next room over, or footsteps in the hall, or things disappearing and reappearing for no apparent reason, or even that cold, tingly feeling you get in a seriously disturbed site. I have actually laid my pair of beadies on them, and I'm content. Ghosts and me, hey, we're buddies.

On the other hand, though, you all also know that I am enamored with cryptozoology. Strange creatures? Mysterious, should-be-extinct animals swimming around? Beings from folktales and myths that just might be real? Hey, I'm all about that. Well, maybe not UFO's so much. I already believe in them and I have seen one or two of those also, so they would not be my first answer to my posed question.

Bigfoot/Sasquatch/Yeti is interesting. I saw on a recent paranormal reality show that someone has actually collected DNA from a Bigfoot area and analysis showed something that wasn't recognized as from the known animal kingdom. That was fun! I think sooner or later, someone is going to wind up with proof. And I pray it isn't because some idiot shoots one to death. 

I'm also fascinated by the denizens of the deep: the Lock Ness monster; mermaids (I know they're out there somewhere); oversized squid and sharks, and believed-to-be-extinct serpents. But going after those requires being out at sea and I tend to get a little crazy if I'm on the water and can't see the shoreline. Just one of my little quirks, I guess.

So what does that leave me? Two that appeal to me at the moment.

One, I would love to see a real chupacabra. No kidding. The fuzzy pictures, the even fuzzier videos, and the photos of dead unidentified critters fascinate me. I have no idea why. I feel for the people who have lost livestock to some unexplained predator, and I realize that all the evidence tends to point to wolves and coyotes and wild dogs. But I keep thinking that the legend had been around for so long and is so ingrained in some regions that there must be some kernel of truth in there somewhere.

And two, I would love to see something from Fae, be it leprechaun, brownie, wight, little people, fairy, or tree spirit. I can't help thinking that when I'm out in the woods, there's something out there with me, something that's just a little otherworldly, and NOT something dead. Hey, even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had his interest in this particular topic. I know the pictures he fell in love with were fake, but I do think there are other beings than those on the physical plane inhabiting this planet with us. I wouldn't mind seeing one or two of them. Even just a glimpse.

So put on your thinking caps, folks, and figure out if you have an interest in seeing anything beyond run of the mill. Or beyond this dimension. And then hang onto your answers because I am opening this up for discussion on Monday, okay? Can't wait to read what you all have for me!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

About That Ending

Like so many of our friends, Jim watched Game of Thrones avidly. And, like so many of our friends, I did not. Apparently when the show ended last Sunday, viewers everywhere began to blow up, as in their heads were exploding. Although I didn't watch, Jim was good about sharing story lines and characters with me, so I always had at least an idea of what was going on. And since this show engendered such devotion, I guess it's not surprising that the opinions about how it should end would be legion. And very strong. I know there's a petition going around to have HBO re-do the entire season. I can understand disappointed fandom. But I also look at this from a writer's point of view.

There are times that a story can't end the way we (even the writers) want, no matter how hard we try. Speaking from experience, since I'm the sort of writer who has to have an ending in mind when I write a story, I do know the bitterness of having that ending in view, like dawn at the end of a very long night, and then realizing that my intended ending will not work, not after the turns the story has taken. It doesn't matter how hard I try to make it fit; even if I were to go back and rewrite some of the earlier parts of the story, the original ending is not going to work.

Game of Thrones had an amazing set-up so I suppose the ending must have seemed, what? Anti-climatic? Skewed the wrong way? As in, what the what? How did that person end up on the throne? Why didn't that person kill this person? Are you serious -that's how that character's story ends? The Internet outcry about this has been loud and sonorous. But I also know that the people doing the show were working beyond the source material, since George R. R. Martin is approximately two books (I think that's what I read) behind the TV series. He may have tipped the writers off to major plot points, but bottom line, those writers were working on their own. Not an easy thing to do when the canon is incomplete and fiercely loved all over the world. (No pressure, there...)

Also, I was thinking that the idea of HBO redoing an entire season is impractical, to say the least. For starters, think of the  budget. Just for the costumes and the special effects, they must have been spending gazillions of dollars already. Add into that the salaries of the entire crew, the production staff, the post-production staff, and the stellar cast, and the reality of the expenses needed for such an undertaking should already be overwhelming.

And then there's the staff and the cast. This was shot a year or so ago wasn't it? Haven't all these people already moved on to other roles? What are the odds of getting every single one of them back again  to do another season? I think I remember Kit Harrington saying that he was very much done with playing Jon Snow. I can't blame any of them. They've been doing this for about ten years now, haven't they? At least two of the actors have come out and said that the idea of a re-do is crazy. They're sorry that fans didn't like how it ended, but it ended.

(Avengers: Endgame also concluded a long story arc this year, and fans have been flocking to it in droves, repeatedly. I can't say I'm happy about how everyone wound up in the final scenes, but it was an ending and it was what the writers had in mind, so I accept that and move on. As they say, "end of story.")

I can't help wondering if some of the dissatisfaction at the GOT ending could be helped if everyone wrote their own conclusions according to their own private specifications. But since Mr. Martin doesn't allow fan-fic of his world, then any fan-written ending would have to stay VERY private. As in, don't share this with ANYONE.

Maybe if I had been as zealously involved with the show as all of the disappointed viewers, I would feel the same way. Maybe. But as a writer, I know what it's like to try to make my ending work, even though deep inside I know it doesn't. In the end, the story has to dictate how it ends.

I know lots of people, including many of my friends, won't agree with me, and that's okay. Any story that can generate the kind of passion and the kind of outcry we're seeing for Game of Thrones? Well, the TV storytellers may not have nailed the ending to everyone's satisfaction, but I'd say they must have been doing something right.

And hey, this is just my take on it. Feel free to disagree but please don't come after me with dragons...

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Roads Not Taken

Robert Frost was a genius. I know that's a given, but when I read his work, I'm always blown away. His poem "The Road Not Taken" is short, amazing, and has an accuracy that makes my heart hurt. I wish I'd thought of that, the writer in me says.

The poem discusses the narrator's quandary at coming to the joining of two paths and trying to decide which way to take. As the great man himself states in the last verse:

"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

Killer. I really wish I had thought of that.

Since we all know he's not talking only about choosing one path over another in the strictly physical sense, I'm tempted to chime in here (with apologies to Mr. Frost) and say that maybe writers do what we do so that we can cheat and take all sorts of paths.

I will never be a psychic medium. For that, I am eternally grateful! Still, what would it be like? What would it be like to learn the actual and hidden stories of those who have passed on long before I was even born? What would it be like to be able to see the shades and remnants of those souls who are long gone but are not yet at rest? And what would it be like to be able to help someone trapped in that situation? Cassie Valentine and Michael Penfield let me try that on for size.

What's it like to pick up an object and be able to discern who has owned it, and what their lives were like? How does it feel to lock into someone else's memories, even if that person was someone I never knew? And what's it like to quietly share some of that ability but never speak of it? Philip Corts and Jake Holdridge have given me those experiences.

My characters expand my world-view and insights, even if I have never experienced any of their adventures in my own life. They give me a story, somehow, and since I get to tell it, I get to make it my own and see what they see, even feel what they are feeling 

Would that I could do that with all sorts of genres. I believe writers are given a certain range. Some people, like Michael Crichton, have a range that goes all over the world and all over any number of subjects. After all, he wrote about dinosaurs, apes, Vikings, time travel, robotic cowboys, infectious disease, and corporate espionage. And I know that doesn't include everything he explored. The man was a rainbow of subjects. Unfortunately for me, I know I don't have Mr. Crichton's no-holds-barred range.

I mean, I wish I had it in me to travel even more paths than the ones I am lucky enough to explore. I wish I were the kind of writer who could create a James Bond-type thriller. How cool would it be, to be able to walk the path of a trained and lethal good guy who can dispense with the bad guys and save the world? I wish I could walk the dark and mean streets as a detective who figures out how to catch a human predator and bring him or her to justice. Or deal with that predator myself. And while I am not a huge fan of sword and sorcery, I am a huge fan of swords and would LOVE to be able to tell a tale with those in the mix. Sigh. I've always wanted to be able to choreograph and write a really, really good sword fight. Maybe someday.

In the meantime, I do not mean to sound ungrateful. I am very thankful to walk the haunted paths that I do, and even more grateful that there are readers out there who like to take that walk with me. No writer can really ask for more than that. Well, we could but then maybe what we're wishing for just isn't included in the paths we take. 

And that does make all the difference.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Ghost Conventions - They're a Thing

For the past several years, my ghost-hunting/writer friend Sylvia Shults has been doing a presentation or two at the Psychic and Paranormal Expo out in either western Illinois or Iowa, and she has graciously invited me to tag along to share her vendor table and sell books. The Expo feels like coming home! There are aisles and aisles of vendors for Tarot card readings, mediums, crystals, art, jewelry, natural health and beauty products, angel readings, Reiki treatments, and all sorts of things that would drive the average skeptic screaming from the room but are a lot of fun for the rest of us. The best thing is eavesdropping on people talking about dead relatives visiting, auras, bad energy in their houses, and other topics that pull my focus as soon as I hear certain words. Like “ghost” or “medium.” People who stop at our table frequently will share a ghost story or strange experience with us, and that’s just awesome.

However, much as I love this Expo, I have realized there are conventions and conferences devoted strictly to the supernatural, and boy, would I love to go to one of those. (Bucket list, anyone?)

There’s a huge one in Sault Ste. Marie every year, and it costs megabucks and sells out in a flash. It’s already sold out for 2019 (it’s happening August 22-24) but I can understand why. In addition to presentations on things like paranormal investigation, psychic abilities, demonology, and UFOlogy, they have big-name guests. And I do mean big names: The Dead Files’ own Amy Allen; Ghost Hunters Grant Wilson, Steve Gonsalves, and Dave Tango; ex-Ghost Hunters turned Kindred Spirits Amy Bruni and Adam Berry; my favorite collector John Zaffis and his “tech guy” Brian Cano; even psychic Chip Coffey. And that’s just page one of their listings. Would I love to go to that? In a heartbeat.

There’s also something called The Horror Expo-Ireland and that sounds pretty amazing itself. Going to Ireland would be a dream. Going to Ireland and also attending The Horror Expo might sound like a nightmare, but it’s even dreamier for me. They last held it on Halloween, 2018, and I can’t find a listing for 2019 anywhere. But I did sign up for their updates, so we’ll see if I hear anything and I’ll be sure to share, in case any of you are wandering across the pond at an opportune time.

The closest I’ve ever gotten to a straight-up ghost convention was about six years ago. Sylvia was again doing a presentation and also helping out with a paranormal investigation down in Okawville, Illinois. Yes, that’s a real place. Everyone who signed up for her talk and for the investigation got to stay on-site of the event, which was taking place in the Original Springs Mineral Spa & Hotel. The hotel dates back to the nineteenth century and is haunted, so everyone joining in the fun got to stay overnight, eat one of the hotel’s famous fried-chicken dinners, and would then be equipped with investigative devices like EMF detectors. I’m sure someone had a spirit box or Ovilus as well.

Jim and I spent the night BEFORE the event (we were actually on our way to Springfield by way of Breese to take a look at the famous Cholera Cross), but we got to see Sylvia speak. Sorry to say we missed the chicken dinner!

It was fun watching everyone growing more and more excited as the time of the investigation drew closer. This was an enthusiastic bunch, primed for anything paranormal and gleeful with anticipation. I almost envied that. Almost: still not ready to go on a ghost hunt myself!

If that was just a small taste of the excitement generated at a ghost convention, I really want to go. I’ve done Comic Con and seen what those passionate about Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Game of Thrones can come up with in their native stomping grounds. They were a lot of fun, too. But I sure would love the opportunity to compare and contrast those super-fans with the followers of the paranormal.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Nonfiction Book I Almost Wrote

Way back in the nineties, I was getting ready to write a nonfiction book. At the time, none of my novels were going anywhere, and someone had told me it was easier to get a nonfiction work published than to find a publishing house for fiction. I don’t know if that’s true, and I’m sure nonfiction workers will probably be happy to enlighten me, but that was the wisdom I had heard and I so wanted a work in print that I figured I’d take a shot at nonfiction.

I just needed to do some research. I started at the library, and in the days before widespread Internet use, I contacted a reference librarian who was happy to put together some information for me. My topic? How many writers vs. how many artists (fine arts) could she find who had chosen suicide? I know this sounds like a pretty grim topic, but I was curious. And she, being a very skilled and experienced reference librarian, didn’t even sound surprised when I told her what I was looking for. She didn’t disappoint, either. She came back with the two lists. The artist list had two names on it, one of whom was Van Gogh. The other was an architect and I’m sorry to say that the name was not familiar to me.

The writers’ list, however? Over thirty. She came up with the ones we all know about: Hemingway and Plath, for instance. And then she gave me names of writers I never knew had met death by their own hand, like Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian.) I was expecting the list of writers to be longer, but I wasn’t expecting the number of names that I got.

Most writers I know are given to bouts of self-doubt and low spells. It’s not easy to work alone all the time, and rejections don’t make the road any smoother. That said, I decided to go to step two of my research.

Now, step two depended on questionnaires I was sending out to every writer I knew, published or not, and the thrust of my questions had to do with self-esteem (generally low) and depression. My working title for my book was I Know Why Writers Kill Themselves, and I was going to do an anecdotal study on the working minds of those who like to tell stories. Was everyone as susceptible to those low spells as I am?  For me, there is something really depressing about self-doubt and writers’ block that positively delves into my soul and makes facing the computer, the typewriter, or even a notebook and a pen, the equivalent of marching up Mt. Everest in shorts and flip-flops. Was I the only one?

I had the idea that I wasn't. Probably the very best example I have EVER seen of writers’ doubt and block was in the movie “Adaptation”, about screenwriter and source adapter Charlie Kaufman. If you haven’t seen it yet and you write, you need to take a look at it. In fact, while Jim was watching the scene where Mr. Kaufman was referring to himself as “fat, bald, repulsive Charlie Kaufman,” he leaned over to me and whispered, “You’re not like that, are you?” and I just said, “You have no idea.”

At any event, most of the responses I got back on my questionnaires referred to deep depression, therapy, medication, and for lack of a better word, the abyss. I only got two questionnaires back where the respondents told me they never felt this kind of depression. Interestingly enough, both of them wrote nonfiction, and both of them began writing as adults. The rest of us hopeless mopes had all started writing stories in childhood. Significant? The nonfiction vs. fiction, and beginning to write as a child vs. as an adult? I don’t know. But it’s interesting.

The face of writing and publishing has changed since I first started working on that project. For one thing, self-publishing is a route available to everyone, so if we choose not to do the rounds of rejections first from agents and then from editors, we can still get a book online and into print. That helps. (Although there’s always those bad reviews…)

But don’t kid yourself. I’ll bet you almost every fiction writer out there, whether self- or traditionally-published, has those same demons, just hiding themselves under different taglines like “You’re not good enough” and “You have no talent” and “If you were a better writer, you’d sell more,” and the king of all demons – “You should just quit.”

Happily, most writers can ignore this stuff and continue to produce their stories. Me, too. But there are times…