Monday, February 27, 2012

Fraidy Cat: A true ghost tale

As the author of the paranormal suspense novel Shepherd’s Fall, it is probably no surprise that I like ghost stories. I have always loved them since I was a small boy. In a 2005 Gallop poll 32% of all Americans stated that they believe in ghosts. While this is a large percentage of the population, I am always amazed at the number of people who, when they learn that I write in this genre, have personal ghost stories they want to share. For me it is always a treat because I love to hear them.

While I have no way to verify this, the original teller of this tale assured me it was a true story of a dearly departed pet.

Karen (not her real name) is a long time friend of the family. Although people like to share their experiences with me, some are still reluctant to have their name tied to the experience if it is published for the world read. Although 32 % say they believe, many stories are still met with skepticism.

A few years ago one of Karen’s pet cats died of old age in her basement. Karen, a true animal lover, mourned for her lost pet but moved on with her life. That is to say, she didn’t become fixated on the dead cat because she had several others, and a dog.

A short time later, Karen was in her living room watching TV when out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of a gray cat crossing the living room. The movement startled her, but when she turned and looked directly at the space where moments before she had seen the movement, the space was empty.

Like most people who experience something they can’t explain, she dismissed it, until it happened again, several times.

At this point she told her husband, Ralph (also not his real name.), about spotting this gray cat strolling across their living room. Of course their pet cat had been orange not gray, but whenever she spotted this apparition, it was a translucent gray.

Ralph apparently fell outside the 32%. Or at least, if he wanted to believe, simple never saw the cat himself. For most of us, seeing is a good start at believing. Until, one evening when Karen was in the living room, and Ralph entered from the kitchen. He froze in his tracks and asked Karen if she had just seen the phantom cat.

She had and was excited that he had also witnessed the spectral pussy cat.

But he hadn’t. What he had seen was their dog, which was lying on the floor next to Karen. The dog had slowly turned his head from one doorway in the room to the other one at the far wall like he was watching something move across the floor.

Although Ralph never saw the cat himself, he will concede that it sure looked like the dog had.

Karen experienced these events several times over the next few years. However after they remodeled their living room, putting down a new carpet and painting the walls and trim, she never saw the fantastical feline again.

Moore, D. W. (2005). Three in four americans believe in paranormal. Retrieved from

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Book Signing

Meeting a published author is always a treat. Today I went to Tina Crone and Susan Kelley’s (Susan Gourley) book signing at the MIDTOWN SCHOLAR BOOKSTORE, 1302 North Third St. Harrisburg. And although I know both these talented authors, it was still a delight to see them meeting and greeting old and new fans of their work.

Before I talk about the book signing, I want to comment on the MIDTOWN SCHOLAR BOOKSTORE. I stepped through the front door, and found the shop filled with people. There was a band playing music, people sitting at tables enjoying coffee and other delicious looking treats, and customers perusing the shelves. Brick and mortar stores that continue to create an environment that unites readers and writers in such a vibrant way will always draw an audience. I must say, I have visited this store a few times and always enjoy the large selection of used and new books and the excellent atmosphere.

Now back to the book signing: I purchased a copy of Susan’s novel The Keepers of Sulbreth, book one in the Futhark Chronicles. It is available in paperback and also e-book; look for it if you couldn’t make it to the signing today. Just reading the first page, I’m hooked.

I also picked up a copy of Tina Crone’s Speculative Journeys. I can highly recommend this collection of Tina’s short stories because I have read several of them. Go now, run don’t walk, and purchase a copy. Tina creates excellent speculative fiction that will take you to distant moons, the back street of dystopian societies, and even the grave. Keep an eye on this up-and-coming author.

In this age of drastically shifting distribution channels for publication, it still all comes down to one reader connecting with one author’s words. That is when the magic of literature occurs. Both these authors will transport you to amazing new places through their work. For me it was once again a thrill to meet someone who creates that magic.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Attic Door

Inevitably when I write a story small fragments from my life seep into the work. Sometimes the fiction grows more real in my memory than the original event. I suppose that is unavoidable considering the amount of time spent redrafting and polishing a story. In my mind, I live with the work of fiction far longer than thinking about actual memories.

In Shepherd’s Fall, Will Shepherd is disturbed to find the attic door in his old house repeatedly ajar, even after he has locked it. This is a small touch that adds uncertainty, and ups the creepiness of his situation, and its significance is later revealed in the novel.

However, this piece of fiction shares origins with one of my earliest and still favorite ghost stories.

Two of my uncles on my dad’s side of the family, Joe and Charlie would often tell this story when the family got to together for parties and reunions. I always loved when this story would come up, although Uncle Joe and Charlie told us many other stories that would have us howling with laughter, as they both are very gifted story tellers, this was their ghost story.

Apparently my dad’s family moved around and lived in many different homes over the years. In fact they lived in a former funeral home at one point, although this story took place in another location—an old home that had formerly been an inn.

When they moved into this particular home, there was one bedroom on the second floor that my grandmother told the children not to use. Since there were seven children in the family at the time, (my dad hadn’t been born yet,) this seemed like a strange instruction.

My uncles decided that it was silly to waste this space, (and being strong willed boys apparently ignored their mother’s instructions,) so they moved their beds in claiming it for their own.

That night as they lay there in their beds in their newly claimed moonlit room, the attic door swung open. I could always hear the hinges screeching at this point in the story and see the old wooden door swing open with nothing but darkness beyond.

At first they thought it was just wind, so they closed the door and returned to their beds. Then the door swung open again. It was an old building, so they assumed the latch didn’t catch.

This time they slammed the door shut and locked it. Trying several times to be certain the door was secure. When the door flew open the third time, they beat a hasty retreat.

The next morning they moved their beds out of that room and no one occupied it for the remainder of time the family lived in the house.

This was only the first of other strange occurrences in the house.

There were holes in the stairs that went to the second floor. My Grandmother would try to cover them up with oil cloth, but no matter what she used to fasten the material to the back of the stairs, it would come undone.

My uncles claimed these were bullet holes from a shooting that had taken place when the property served as an inn that had been a stagecoach stop. As a small boy I always pictured a Clint Eastwood style old west shoot out. Perhaps the dead gunlingers reenacted their final battle causing my Grandmother's attempts to block and hide the holes to fail.

On another occasion, my grandmother and aunt were in the kitchen shelling peas one night. The rest of the family was upstairs asleep, loud crashes exploded in the living room. When my grandmother and aunt investigated, they found the living room furniture overturned.

According to my uncles, the family didn’t stay too long after that.

Years later when I was about ten, a large group of my family members returned to visit the place. A young couple now owned the old house and they were renovating it. When asked, they said they hadn’t experienced anything strange.

Although I had heard these stories many times growing up, at the last family reunion where all my aunts and uncles were still alive, my Aunt Jane revealed another incident that even my Uncles Joe and Charlie had never heard.

On the day the family moved out of the house, Aunt Jane and my grandfather were in the basement packing some things. My grandfather had found a loose board, (although I always see this in my mind as a plank on the floor, it may have been in the wall. Unfortunately my Aunt is now gone so I have no way to be certain,) when he lifted the board, all the blood drained from his face. My Aunt didn’t get a look at what was inside, because he slammed the board back into place and hustled Aunt Jane out of the basement.

My Grandfather passed away a month before I was born, so I will never know what he had seen. But my family swears they lived in a true haunted house, and this story definitely influenced who I am as a writer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Write From the Gut

At the recent Writer’s Digest Conference in New York on January 21st, one of the editors in the editor’s panel (unfortunately, I cannot give credit where due, because my memory fails me on her name.) suggested to the gathered assembly of writers, that in order to connect with an agent, editor, and reading audience they should write from the gut.
At first glance this sounds simplistic. But as I thought about this later, I realized that so often we (as authors,) get so caught up in all the trappings of creating the technically correct story that has active voice, strong character development, and a dynamic plot that we pray will sweep our audience away, we forget about the passion that drove us to create the story in the first place.
By the ninth or fiftieth draft we are so caught up in polishing that the second guessing begins; maybe the story starts too slow, or… fill in the blank, that we forget what our gut told us in the first place. The passion and instinct that drove us to tell the story is lost under a list of do’s and don’ts and we undermine our own story telling instincts.

Like the old saying goes: no guts no glory, so the moral is write with passion, write with faith, and write the story the way your guts tell you to.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ghost Stories

I have always loved ghost stories. So it was inevitable that my first novel Shepherd’s Fall fit into the genre of paranormal suspense.
Sage advice always recommends that writers write about what they know. Although I have never encountered a spectral apparition, I have talked to many others who have strange and scary tales of the supernatural. As a child I would thrill to stories from my uncles about their experiences living in a haunted house. (More to come about this in a future post.)
From early childhood, I remember racing home to watch Dark Shadows after school. And although Barnabas Collins was my favorite character, it was the ghost of his little sister Sarah that first attracted my attention.
And then there was my favorite Don Knots movie The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. I loved the pipe organ and the creepy old mansion.
Of course Stephen King and Peter Straub both contributed to my education with The Shining and Ghost Story.

I’m not sure why I’ve always been fascinated with these earth bound spirits. Partially I’m sure it’s the fear of their unknown nature and maybe because of all the things that go bump in the night they are difficult to defeat, and then there is a terrifying possibility of becoming one. It is a particularly horrific thought that we might end up trapped in some sort of limbo, unable to enact any real impact on our surroundings, stuck re-living the same days over and over, wait, that sounds like some of my previous work experience.

At any rate, I collected many tales from individuals who swear they are true. I’m sure all this crept into my subconscious mind while I labored away at the keyboard to create Shepherd’s Fall. And while I don’t know any ghosts, I do know ghost stories.