Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Some Thoughts on Music, Ghosts, and Writing

I like ghost stories. DUH. I like to read them. I also write them. But the interesting thing about writing, at least for me, is that the ghosts are not actually the vehicles for my story. According to my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the second definition of “vehicle” is how “…something, as thought, power, or information, or the like, is conveyed, transmitted, expressed, or achieved.” And while I dress up my stories with ghosts, the real story, in the end, is about the characters and how they react with each other as well as the supernatural.

When I wrote my first version of Haunted, my editor rejected it because she said that I was missing from the story. I knew what she meant. I had written a technically workable tale, but it didn’t have a heart. Mostly because I was trying to shield myself from being truly involved with my characters, which, if you’re writing fiction, is ridiculous. But many times, if you’re writing fiction, being involved with your characters fricking hurts. I was ducking the pain of that. (Coward.) And she called me on it.

So I rewrote the book, put my heart back into it, and she approved the final version. Then she told me to submit it to the New York houses. But that’s a different story.

The point is, I have no story if I don’t have the essential feelings of my characters fueling the entire book, and my shortcut for getting those essential feelings is music. I think I’ve mentioned before that everything I write has a soundtrack. It may be just one song. It may be an entire playlist. But my characters, the plot, certain scenes, entire stories, are anchored in music, because when I hear that particular song or theme, it takes me right into the universe of the book. It’s actually kind of a magical thing, but then I think music is a high form of magic.

I have also discovered that I can time-travel with music. Some songs can bring back particular people, conversations, settings, and experiences like nothing else. Mentally, I can usually remember things from my past fairly well. But if you play certain songs for me, then whoa. I’m gone. And I mean gone. There are times I can remember an instance when I was listening to that song, and I can tell you who I was with, what I was wearing, where we were, how old I was—any number of details. Some of the things that come back to me are so vivid, so strong, that I can’t help feeling that if I tried hard enough, I could step back twenty or more years.

But back to writing…

Michael Penfield has a theme song. Cassie and Michael have a theme song. Jake Holdridge and Philip Corts have a whole slew of them and sometimes when one of those songs comes on the radio, I think that I really owe them at least one more story. My editor told me that and I think she’s probably right. Just waiting for right adventure for them.

As for Cassie and Michael, well, I’m still working on book seven! I’ve been listening to music and playing with scenarios, and I hope that when this one comes out, it will break everyone’s heart just a little, the way it’s currently breaking mine. Because if I can do that, then I have properly used my story’s vehicle to convey exactly what essential feelings the music was conveying to me.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Can You Tell It's Haunted?

A few weeks ago, my good friend and fellow writer (who am I kidding? My good friend, fellow writer, and fairy godmother) posted a blog piece asking “how do you know when a place is haunted?” or an inquiry along that line. It’s a good question, especially if you’re the type who can walk into a new place and get that particular feeling. And so I think I have the same question she probably did (Terri, I’m totally stealing your blog topic idea!): What does it feel like to YOU when you walk into a place that’s somehow not quite, well, at peace? Somewhat disturbed? Or flat-out haunted?

Barring actually seeing an apparition, this is how it feels to me. It starts with a visceral reaction that immediately puts the sentence “I don’t want to be here” into my mind. Of course, rational thought takes over and the usual placating statements begin filtering through. “It’s fine. It’s a public place. There are tons of people here. It’s broad daylight. (Or if it’s night) There’s plenty of light here. Everyone seems to be okay. What have I got to be worried about?

Depending on the location, various things can be worrisome. The worst of it is that uneasy sensation in my gut that tells me that there’s something else around. Something probably not alive. Something that I may not be able to see, but that I can most definitely feel. I then start to worry that I might see something I don’t want to see. Or experience something that I really don’t want to experience.

I’ve had that sensation in a college dormitory room. I went on a writer’s retreat held at a local university and the dormitory was very uneasy. I admit I didn’t sleep a lot over those two nights. It didn’t help that my work in progress at the time was Haunted. But even earlier than that, I had a similar experience in a dormitory while attending a camp for high school yearbook staff. I had a really nasty nightmare every single night I was there.

Jim and I both had the sensation in a hotel in Dublin. The place was a reconverted office building and its halls were like a rabbit warren. I think our room was the farthest away from the elevator, at the end of a very long hall that included steps down and then up again, plus a double door held open by doorstops. Of course there were lights everywhere, but brother, was it ever dark.

We also had that sensation at a restaurant that has since closed. That particular location had been a property of Al Capone’s and had been a speakeasy as well as a place where he received and distributed illegal liquor. I’m not sure what went on there, but I don’t imagine it was all sweetness and light. The third floor, where the rooms for private parties were, and the first floor that housed the main restaurant and the bar, definitely had issues. The place was even written up in a book of local haunted venues.

Interestingly enough, though, I have never had that feeling in a hospital, even though I know hospitals rank as some of the most haunted places possible, even those that are still open for business. I have a friend who has seen dead people in the parking lot outside a hospital close to his house. I had a friend who was an ER nurse who spoke about changes in the ward when someone passed away during her shift. But despite the fact that I’ve been in all kinds of hospitals for a variety of reasons, I’ve never sensed the paranormal at any of them and I have no idea why. Now that I’ve written this, though, I bet I’ll run into it big-time next time I have to go to a hospital for whatever reason.

Sometimes I don’t mind feeling the sensations that go along with running into something not quite of this world: that prickly sensation along the spine and neck, the sudden chill, the uneasiness and the certainty that something is watching me. It’s good research for me, right??? But I’d love to know how others experience it. And if we tend to all feel it the same way, I also love to know why that is.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Additonal Tales from the Front Hall

I know it has been a while since I wrote about some of the weird things that go on in my house. Don’t think that things have gone quiet here. They haven’t. I just think it makes for a better piece if I have more than one incident to talk about (unless, as sometimes happens, that one incident turns out to be a biggie. Like having a dead Union soldier follow one home from Gettysburg. But that story’s already been told.) What I have today is a short list of strange things.

First of all, I think I’ve mentioned that both my grandson and my daughter have been seeing cats in the house. We haven’t had a living cat in the house for about seven years or so; seeing cats in the kitchen, or in the living room is thus always of interest to me. I’ve never seen one myself, but my grandson actually jumped when he felt one brush up against his leg. He described it as orange and said it startled him while he was picking up his backpack from the floor. My daughter has seen two different cats, both black, neither of which were ever ours. She says one of them follows her into the kitchen and watches while she finishes off her coffee and takes her vitamins.

Now, I had forgotten about the cats until the other night when I got up in the dark hours to use the bathroom. I was washing my hands when I heard a gentle ka-thump out in the hall. I was tired and thought I would just ignore it, which I did. I didn’t remember about the cats until the following morning, when I realized that the sound I heard was identical to what it sounds like when a cat would jump off the counter onto our hardwood floor. Hmmm.

I have also seen a couple of strange beings. There is a white figure that parks itself in the hall at night between my grandson’s and my daughter’s closed bedroom doors. I see that one when I use the bathroom, also. I never focus on it; I want to be able to get back to sleep, you know. But it’s there and it’s all white and it looks like a female. It has very long hair, and fairly bony fingers. Beyond that, I really couldn’t tell you much.

I have also seen a child going into the bathroom. That happened one night while I was in front of the TV and got up to get something from the kitchen. I don’t know if the child was a boy or a girl: I only caught a glimpse of a small body turning in at the bathroom door and disappearing. And yes, it was actually shorter than my grandson. Besides, I know it wasn’t him because he was busy with a video game in his bedroom at the time. That was an unusual sighting for me, not because I saw it at all, but because it was a child. I’ve never seen anyone like that before.

My daughter has given me the unsettling news that frequently when she passes my bedroom, she sees a figure sitting on the bed. I don’t know if this person is male or female, either. I’m not sure my daughter knows. She just says that whoever it is sits in such a way that it actually blocks out the illuminated numbers on my bedroom clock. And she does see this figure during the day. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since our bedroom is at the end of THE hall. Anything traveling in a straight line from our laundry room will wind up in our bedroom. What a comforting thought!

Still, I do not sense anything malevolent in our house. If there really are beings coming and going, none of them hit me with a negative or fearful feeling, beyond being a bit startled when someone turns up. At the risk of sounding like a complete maniac, I will admit that sometimes when I leave the house I ask whoever is around to keep an eye on it and protect it from break-ins and fires. I guess that makes me sound like a crazy person, but I figure there’s no harm in asking.

Here’s the last of the strange things. On our grandson’s last day of school before Christmas break, he was scheduled to arrive home at noon. I work a partial day on Friday and wouldn’t get home ahead of him so I asked my daughter if she could arrange her schedule in order to be home when he arrived. Unbeknownst to me, after I left for work, something came up for her, job-wise. But after she left the house, she started obsessing about the fact that she had locked the front door. What if her son got home earlier than she did? Maybe she should go back and unlock the door so he could get in, on the chance she might run late? But no, in the end she just assured herself that she could get home before his bus dropped him off. She was wrong. She ran late, and even though she was racing to get back in time, she knew he would already be there. Worrying about him standing out on the front step, cold, possibly frightened, wondering where everyone was, she finally arrived home and pulled into the driveway.

When she got to the front door, it was slightly ajar, and when she stepped in, she saw his backpack in its usual spot and his jacket thrown over it. “Are you home?” she called out to him.

“Yeah,” he said. “But Grandma isn’t.”

She knew she had locked the door (we have a deadbolt); she had been thinking about it all day. So how did he get in? When she asked him, he told her it wasn’t a problem. The door was unlocked…

I have repeatedly thanked whoever is in the house for looking after my little guy that day.

(Picture borrowed from the Internet. )