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One of my heroes, Stephen King, once wrote something to the effect that a great pleasure of his was having the opportunity to scare the living daylights (I believe he used a slightly less-polite term) out of his readers. Having been a horror movie aficionado from an early age, he surely realized what he wanted to be able to do with his work even when he was just scribbling stories as a kid.

I wrote my first full-length novel in high school. Oh, I had played around with short stories to start with in grade school, tried for an honest-to-God murder mystery in eighth grade that amounted to 40 pages, typed, at one-and-a-half space between lines, with no margins to speak of because I didn’t know any better, but was a whole lot of fun to put down on paper.

And then I decided to try a full-length kids’ novel. I wasn’t influenced by S.E. Hinton, which may have been a good thing. She might have given me a bout of paralysis, having published successfully at such a young age. But I was heavily influenced at the time by John Knowles, Rudyard Kipling, and Alexandre Dumas. I didn’t worry about them – two of them were already gone from the world, and the other was an adult so there would never be any connection between us.

Clearly, I have never been a fast writer. The book took me three years to produce before it spent my senior year of high school being passed around by my classmates until it wound up in someone’s trunk and I had to track it down. I never came up with a proper title for it; still couldn’t even if I tried today. But I learned a lot while working on it. The story revolved around two friends, two boys in high school, and the evolution of these original characters laid the groundwork for my other two guys, Philip Corts and Jake Holdridge.

And I also learned what one of my writing goals was: I wanted to write something good enough, or at least touching enough, to make a reader cry.

And I had success with my first try. That would be my sister, who always read everything I wrote before anyone else. She cried when she read it and, as strange as it may sound, I was thrilled. To put this in perspective, my sister has a very soft heart and will weep at TV ads if they’re done the right way. But I still considered this a big win and I knew from then on, I’d want to be able to write stories that would have that effect on every reader.

I highly doubt that anyone can write a story that will affect every reader the same way, i.e., draw each and every reader’s tears. Well, there’s Bambi. But that aside, I knew what I wanted to be able to do. I wanted that to be my power of the pen: to make readers cry.

And then I had to figure out how to make a reader cry while reading a book about the paranormal, an even trickier goal since I knew I wanted to write ghost stories. But I believed it could be done. And actually, I believe I may have done it at least one or two times. I had someone who was not my sister tell me that Saving Jake made her tear up in at least two different places. I’ve had people tell me that certain scenes out of the Bridgeton Park Cemetery Series have made them shed a few tears. To tell the truth, I’ve even cried a bit while writing some of those scenes. I know you’ve already seen the Robert Frost quote I love, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

On a related note, the first time I saw the movie "Romancing the Stone," I was struck by the scene where Joan Armstrong (played so well by Kathleen Turner) hands her latest manuscript over to her editor and says “Read it and weep. I always do.” Whoever wrote that part got it absolutely right. I like to think I’m in good company.

Stephen King and I don’t have goals so very different from each other. He wants to scare. I want to draw tears. In the end, we’re both just working to make readers care enough about our characters that we provoke a desired response. I know for sure he’s got it down. I’m still working on it, and I’m okay with that.
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Sometimes when I’m trying to get a story going, I’ll pick an object that in itself is not scary, but for some reason is a good jumping point for a scary tale. A mirror is a good example. So is a window, a doll, or a gravestone. On a slightly lesser scale but also good for potential goosebumps is a door, or a candle.

Those are things that can be seen and touched. Then there are the things that can be heard: footsteps, a creaky door, a growl, a scream. All of these can also be good for generating a chill or two.

But sometimes, even using something from my “A list” —take a doll, for instance— I can’t find the scare to write about. Okay, Ophelia,I say to myself. What can be scary about a doll? Well, perhaps it can move: open and close its eyes, turn its head, change its pleasant plastic expression to something nasty and malevolent. Or maybe it can really move, like jump off the shelf and walk over to me. YIKES. That is a terrifying thought. But terrifying as it can be, that’s still not a story. It’s just a thought.

Trying to put that thought into context, into an actual tale, can be both tricky and frustrating. I’ve had occasion to be working on stories about various disturbing items, but my brain is tired and lately, after finishing a story, I’ll look at it and think—well, I’ll be polite here and not include what I actually think. But it can be very discouraging.

If one thinks about dolls and scary stories, one begins to realize that there isn’t much that hasn’t already been done. Chucky and Annabelle come readily to mind. Then there’s the clown doll in Poltergeist. Some of you reading this will no doubt remember Chatty Kathy from The Twilight Zone, who for my generation, is probably the mother of all scary dolls. Even the X Files covered this with an episode written by none other than Stephen King himself.

Mirrors are terrifying because everyone who has any kind of affinity for the paranormal is convinced that sooner or later, they will look into a mirror and see someone else looking back at them, whether a reflection of someone looking over their shoulder, or perhaps a face in the mirror itself. And there’s the whole Bloody Mary urban legend thing, as well. It didn’t help that Victorian people insisted on covering all the mirrors when someone died, one explanation being that they didn’t want the dead person’s spirit to get trapped in the mirror. There’s a cheerful thought. J.K. Rowling put a nicer spin on the subject by creating the Mirror of Erised, but even that was still both eerie and at times, in the books, disturbing.

And then there’s windows. Saki covered that topic in an unusual way with his “The Open Window.” I love that story. And I think I recently brought up the old book/movie The Sentinel that features a blind priest sitting at the window. People see all manner of frightening faces peering at them through windows, whether from the outside looking in or vice versa.

So I struggle to find a way to tell a scary story about such everyday objects that hasn’t already been told, and about a hundred times better than anything I could write myself. On the other hand, conventional wisdom says that there are only seven (or is that 36? I can never remember) basic plots possible and that all stories fall into one of those categories. It boils down to how the tale is told.

When a really good scare occurs to me, whether about a doll, a window, a door, or maybe a disembodied scream, I fall in love with the idea and the words appear on my screen by magic. But sometimes the scare just isn’t there. Then I go find comfort in someone else’s tales until I find a way to frighten myself anew.
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Just this morning my grandson was putting on his shoes, getting ready so that I could take him to summer camp, when he stood up and jumped a little, brushing his hand next to the side of his calf. "Oh!" he said.

"What?" I asked. I thought maybe a mosquito had bitten him. We have renegade mosquitoes that sneak into our house and munch on us when we least suspect it.

"I thought I saw a cat," he said. He looked embarrassed.

And I felt that funny twinge I sometimes get when he tells me what he sees. For one thing, this grandson is THE grandson, the one who saw the boy in his bedroom by his rocking horse so many years ago. The one who told me the previous owners to this house were dead. The one who saw the foot emerging from the laundry room that night.

Just out of curiosity I asked, "What color was it?"

"What color was what?" His eleven-year old brain had already moved onto more interesting topics.

"The cat you saw. What color was it?"

"Oh." Again he looked embarrassed. "It was orange."

I thought about that. Just the other week, his mother (she who sees dead people) asked me if I had seen a cat hanging around the house. Now, just to be clear, we don't have pets. None. Nada. I was a zookeeper while my kids were growing up. At different times, sometimes simultaneously, we went through three parakeets, one parrot, two guinea pigs, two dogs, three cats, two iguanas, a box turtle, and an ant farm. As far as animals go, I'm done. But if it came to having a pet these days, it would most definitely not be a cat, since my grandson is very allergic to them and has borderline asthma. So no cats in the house.

When I asked my daughter for more information about the cat she was seeing, she said that it was definitely in the house, not outside, and that it was black. "Sometimes it follows me down the hall to the refrigerator," she explained. "Sometimes it just sits there and looks at me."

We had two different black cats pass through this house so I asked if it looked like either Willie or Orion, but she said no. 

So. A black cat in the house except we don't have cats. Before I had time to think about that much, she volunteered that when it comes to our hall, it isn't just dead people who walk through the house from our utility room. She mentioned that "other things" come through as well.

Other things? Not something I really wanted to hear, but she was quick to reassure me that none of them seemed evil or malevolent. Just different. 

When Amy Allen, on The Dead Files, talks about beings that come in from other dimensions, they never sound like a good thing. But I have to admit that even with my lesser sensitivity I've never felt anything particularly negative or dark come strolling down that hall, either.

I guess if we can have dead people and unidentifiable beings coming through our house, a few animals here and there wouldn't be so out of line. So why not a cat, whether black or orange? What the heck. A cat is a cat. 

Even if it's dead.
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The first places people seem to think of as being haunted are castles in Europe. After that, hospitals, prisons, facilities for the mentally ill, hotels, and schools seem to follow, not necessarily in that order. I have been in any number of hotels that are reputed to be haunted and never felt a thing. On the other hand, I've also been in a number of places that aren't necessarily known for being paranormally disturbed, and felt plenty. Except for one hotel, all of them were schools.

The one hotel was in Ireland. Makes sense, right? Ireland is famous for its otherworldly inhabitants, from leprechauns and other fae entities, to all sorts of ghosts and spirits. During our trip to the Emerald Isle, Jim and I had a room in a hotel in Dublin that was uneasy. The room was comfortable enough: nice beds, clean washroom, homey furniture. But it was at the end of a very long hall -and I mean long, like the length of two office buildings put together- and as far away from the stairs and exit as would be humanly possible. And that was the interesting thing about this hotel. It was a converted office building. Or maybe buildings .I know that not only was the hall a long walk from the stairwell, it had double doors closing off the part of the corridor that held our room. Hmm. I might have said it was just me, but Jim felt it, too, and his thoughts aren't constantly straying to the supernatural like mine are.

There was something weird about my high school. Any of my fellow alumnae reading this blog may or may not agree with me (and I'll be curious to know!) but I would swear there was something lurking on the second floor of the new addition. It wasn't the old building that felt disturbed, it was the new wing. I used to stay late after school was dismissed when I was working on the yearbook my junior and senior years, and although the yearbook/newspaper office was in the old building, I was forever winding up in the new wing for one thing or another, and I didn't enjoy that. There was always a feeling of something following me, and walking faster to get away from it made things worse. Then it felt like being chased. And see, even though I've ALWAYS loved a good ghost story, I certainly wasn't roving my high school looking for spirits. But there was something about that floor.

Then there was the workshop I attended at Northern Illinois University one summer. I was only there for four nights or so, but it was enough to make me feel like there was something wrong with my room. For one thing, I had a nightmare every night I was there, and that's unusual for me. I dream every night and know it, and I remember the really bad ones. But they tend to be few in number per year, and that summer I had four nights in a row of bad dreams. Also, something in the corner of the room made inexplicable clicking noises as soon as I turned out the light. 

Anyone from Illinois know Dominican University? I went to a weekend writing event there and while I like the grounds of the university, and while the writing workshops themselves were great, the dormitory was old and creepy. During the day it was clean and airy and efficient: the building was designed in another time and the rooms were almost like monastic cells, each of them containing a narrow bed, a desk, and a chair. Mine also had a sink. But for the showers and the toilets, I had to walk down the hall to an intersecting corridor that overlooked a chapel, and then into another hall that led to the women's bathroom facility. Getting up to use the restroom in the middle of the night was a trip. Nothing like walking through a hall overlooking a chapel in midnight darkness -moving statues, anyone? YIKES. I had two nights there and that was plenty. It did remind me, though, of the feeling I am always trying to convey when I write a paranormal scene.

Frustrating as it may be, I never did find out backstories on any of these locations: not the hotel in Ireland, nor any of the schools that succeeded in freaking me out at the time I was there. I'd love to know more, but having neither Michael Penfield's nor Cassie Valentine's abilities, I guess I will just remember them as items on my list of weird experiences.

I don't go looking for ghosts, and I don't think they come looking for me. I guess we just run into each other from time to time.
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I read and (try to) write scary stories. I'm very specific about what I like to read, and what I'm trying to do with my own work. I want a good, scary, even creepy, ghost story with a reasonable amount of chills and if possible, a nice ending. And there are ghost stories out there besides mine that have nice endings, so I know it's not just me.

Horror stories, on the other hand, sometimes include something I refer to as the "ick" factor. What is that, you might ask? Let me explain it this way. Have you ever read a story or a novel, be it supernatural, horror, murder mystery, thriller, or other suspenseful fiction, that hit you in a way that made you wish that your brain could take a shower? That would be the ick factor.

There are writers who have made entire careers out of it. Read enough Edgar Allen Poe and you'll be wishing for an industrial-strength brain laundromat. I know, because I've done it: that is, read an entire collection of Poe without interruption. Nothing like reading hours of him nonstop to get that cringe-y feeling around the edges of the mind. Or maybe even dead center.

Maybe a more correct way of saying it is to call these stories as "disturbing." I'm sure everyone reading this post has hit one, two, or lots more of those sorts of tales during your reading adventures. For a real novel-length experience, Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home comes to mind. I know people who absolutely love the book, and on the surface, why not? It's set in New England in the fall and full of festivals, pumpkins, scarecrows, and straw. Very atmospheric. Until it all goes really wrong for the protagonist and I mean WRONG. I guess I shouldn't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet and would like to, but let's just say the book put me right off of small town living for years. Maybe even still. There are times Jim and I are on a road trip and when we drive through certain towns, I think of Harvest Home.

Hannibal Lector, on the other hand, made me want to scrub my brain with Pine Sol. I know people who love him as a character, too. I watched the movie Manhunter (the original with William Peterson and Brian Cox) and that was enough for me. I tried reading Red Dragon and gave it up pretty early into it. I didn't like having Dr. Lector hanging around in my brain, lurking around the corners of my thoughts and popping up unexpectedly in nasty ways.

And there is the crux of it, for me. I have a hard enough time reading stories like that. The idea of writing a story like that is entirely beyond my boundaries. Writing for me -and I'm sure it's true for all writers- means living with my characters, frequently on a twenty-four-seven basis. Would I want someone like Lector on my mind twenty-four-seven? There is no way I could do that. No way I would want to do that. So I can't write stories with an ick factor. I just can't.

Stephen King skirts the edge of it very well. He once said that if he couldn't scare his readers, he would be fine hitting them with "the gross-out." And yes, he certainly does that from time to time. (Short story "The Mangler" comes to mind.) Yet even with that kind of gore, to me he still manages to avoid that level of disturbing that makes me cringe and slink away. I don't know how he does it, but he does.

I can't imagine, and I'm really not interested in trying, writing an entire novel around a thoroughly reprehensible, repulsive character or situation. I hand it to those authors who can because it brings a quality to their writing that I can never have. On the other hand, I sometimes wonder what is going through their heads at any given moment. I trust I would not pick any of those writers for trying a Vulcan mind-meld. No thank you.

Maybe you are the kind of reader who doesn't mind, or even likes, that certain quality in your fiction. Your taste is a wider palette than mine will ever be and that's probably a good thing. I just know I can't do it myself, because disturbing stays with you forever, whether as a reader or a writer. 

And that's not just in straight paranormal or even horror.

Deliverance, anyone?
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Today I'm departing from the paranormal to wax nostalgic. I'm actually a very nostalgic person and get everything from homesick to downright sad about some things that used to be and aren't any longer. Maybe, as counselors say, I have "trouble with transitioning," a bit of a struggle letting go of the old and going on with the new. Maybe it's because I have this weird memory function that holds onto details and colors and sounds from my past (ask me the name of every grade school and high school teacher I've ever had and I already know I can name them all.) So sometimes I do miss things that most people probably don't even think about any longer.

Today I'm missing phone books. Yup, good, old-fashioned, thick-as-a-brick phone books. It occurred to me a few minutes ago that the information I was seeking on the Internet about my particular financial institution (i.e., what time does it open today?) I would at one time have sought by using the phone book. In the old days, I would have called and gotten a voice mail message telling me they weren't open yet and then listing their hours. In the VERY old days, I would have gotten no answer at all and thus would know that the place was still closed. And then I would have been calling back until someone picked  up on the other end and I would know they were (finally) open for business. Anyone else remember doing that?

Remember when there were actual phone books in actual phone booths? Even in The Terminator, a movie from not that long ago, Arnold Schwartzenegger's terrifying mechanical killer found all the Sarah Connors listed in a phone book and ripped that page out for reference. It's been a long time, but I think that phone book was in a phone booth.

But phone books - huge, honking things, if you lived in Chicago - could be incredibly versatile. I knew someone who killed cockroaches by dropping her phone book on them. Well, actually I don't know if the phone book was enough to kill the things, or if it just stunned them enough that she could take proper aim with her heavily-shod foot. I don't normally kill things like beetles or spiders myself, but I could definitely see dropping a phone book on a cockroach.

They functioned very well as doorstops and paper weights.

I remember that when the new books arrived, I would take the old one and put it in my car for easy reference, in the days before cellphones. It was great for looking up restaurants, spur of the moment.

In grade school, did anyone else ever try looking up their teachers? Just for the heck of it?

And remember entertainers who could memorize pages of a phone book and then spit the information out on demand? I mean, who can do that kind of thing???

But one of the things I miss the most about the big White Pages was having the handiest resource around for character names. Last names, sometimes first names -it was a five-pound list of names, something that every writer needs to be able to come up with, and so frequently needs help doing. Sometimes I went through all the names under a specific letter just for fun, to see what came up. I think "Johnson," "Smith," and "Jones" literally had pages of listings. But if I needed an Irish-sounding name, I knew where to look (see: "Mc"). Ditto for German (try under "Sch-"). 

Street names were also presented in copious lists, and that was sooo helpful.

I liked the Yellow Pages because they suggested possible occupations or career paths for characters. Or, when I was writing as a kid, occupations or career paths for my characters' parents. And some of the ads were just interesting. In the days before clip-art it was fun to look at carefully drawn ants in the exterminator ads, or the happy, smiling heads that might frame an ad for carpet cleaning.

These days out here in my suburb, we still get local phone books delivered, but all of them are pretty small and they're actually sad-looking things. I guess someone still prints them for people like me who are nostalgic, or for people older than me who really don't like looking up things online or on their phones. But these new books are not as much fun. I do miss the old ones and wish I had hung onto at least one copy of the White Pages, but in a moment of responsibility, I recycled the last of them. I was being green and doing the right thing for the planet. 

But dang it.

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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!
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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...
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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.


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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.

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