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Posts Tagged ‘Ghosts’

cf700a30f62287ca72ceb1211de418e6c3e5ed78-thumb October 31st has arrived in rural Maryland. It’s cool and clear with a bright blue October sky contrasting with the remaining orange and gold leaves on the trees in our woods. There are a few roses left on the briars and a hardy marigold still blooms. But mostly, the yard and woods are folding into the bare-branch, dead-looking garden days of late autumn.

Halloween, the time of trick-or-treating, costumes, and a thinning of the barriers between the living and the dead, is upon us. I will, per usual, hand out goodies to fairies, pirates, stormtroopers, wizards, and small witches. Luckily, one of my paintings was used on the October 2016 issue of Spaceports & Spidersilk and a hauntingly good Halloween story was published in the most recent issue of Unoriginal – A Science Fiction & Horror Magazine.

For those who’d like to visit spooky places, here’s a link to Haunted Places in Maryland. I’ve visited many of these locations, and felt appropriately “creeped out” – though a photographable ghost never manifested itself within camera range. Living so close to the Pennsylvania line, I’ve also visited a number of the locations which made it onto the Haunted Places in Pennsylvania list.

Spaceports and Spidersilk 10-14 But sometimes, the scariest experiences aren’t at famous locations, but happen in unplanned moments at random places. I can remember a long-ago attempt to scare others in which I hid in a cemetery that turned out to be quite frightening for me!

So whether you’re a fan of candy corn, haunted houses, ghostly encounters, or watching scary movies – have a Happy Halloween! (And enjoy last year’s cover of Spaceports & Spidersilk featuring one of my paintings with a few trick-or-treating dwarves).

 

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IMG_1833 Halloween, the day when ghostly and ghastly thoughts swirl about like an autumn wind, is 17 days away.  A week ago, October 7th, was the 166th anniversary of Poe’s death in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. So naturally, I chose an Edgar Allen Poe quote for today.

“The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins.” – Edgar Allan Poe in The Premature Burial.

What a perfect quote for this pre-Day of the Dead time. In the era of The Walking Dead, Ghost Hunters, Twilight, and other undead delights. For fans of the undead, two of my zombie-ghost tales are currently available in new books. “The Return of Gunnar Kettilson” can be found in the beautifully-bound Gothic fantasy collection, Chilling Ghost Short Stories from United Kingdom’s Flame Tree Publishing. And from the USA’s Alban Lake Publishing, Potter’s Field 5 – Tales from Unmarked Graves, contains my story “Snowbroth.” (Also available on Kindle).

For Poe fans, here are some other EA Poe quotes: 30 Thoughtful Quotes from Edgar Allan Poe.

And don’t forget, I’ll be at HallowRead October 23 presenting a workshop on Anthologies at 1 PM, and on October 24 I’ll be participating on various spooky, dark panels.  Plus, I’ll be happy to sell and/or sign my books and talk to fans of dark fantasy and horror.

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“A world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels and dreams, and a world in which there is hope.” – Neil Gaiman

And this is the kind of world Neil Gaiman sets his stories in — and the kind of world most speculative writers try to set the stories in. Me, included.

Neverwhere was the first Gaiman novel I read — I’ve been a fan of his writing ever since. Neverwhere is set in the subways and underground world of London. In my mind’s eye, I imagined all the stations mentioned and districts of London. I imagined the smells, sights, and sounds of the London, England above and below. I thought I heard the distinct British accent of the characters, also.

I had the good fortune to visit London this summer — using the subways (or The Tube, as most everyone I met referred to it) for transportation. London above and below was an experience I’ll not soon forget. And as good as my imagination is, I didn’t get the location of Neverwhere quite right.

Neil Gaiman does a great job of creating his Neverwhere world (complete with monsters, ghost, things that want to steal your heart, angels and dreams). And now, I’m re-reading the novel to add my experiences in the locations mentioned to the book experience.

That said, I think there might be room for me to use a few of the quirky things and people I saw in London above and below to create my own London story — with monsters, ghosts, angels, dreams…and hope.

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Charles Dickens is author of several books of which I’ve always been a fan.  “The Adventures of Oliver Twist,” “Great Expectations,” “Tale of Two Cities,” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield” are among my favorites. That said, it is a scrap of a book, “A Christmas Carol,” from which I pull today’s quotes.

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is more than a ghost tale (though there are ghosts), more than a family drama (though there is family drama), and more than a period piece (though the tale does give a glimpse into historical London). For me, it’s the ultimate story of redemption – of a seemingly hopeless cause who not only sees the light, but after his Christmas Eve adventure, Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

I love Dickens’ description of that Christmas Eve long ago – one which actually fits the weather here at Woods Edge this Christmas Eve: “The City clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already; it had not been light all day; and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms.”

But I suppose the quote I like best for today, one which works as both a promise for me to keep the kindness of Christmas year-round and a wish for you to do the same: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach…A Merry Christmas to everybody! A Happy New Year to all the world.”

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794 Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays. Even as a child, it seemed the world was awash in magic and mystery on October 31. Here’s a hodge-podge of Halloweenie treats for my readers to enjoy:

The link to a FREE Day of the Dead story.

A link to an article about creepy (and probably haunted) homes.

A link to some witch costume update ideas.

A link to an article about ghost towns.

IMG_2395 And last, but not least, a marvelous Edgar Allan Poe quote: “Dim vales- and shadowy floods-/ And cloudy-looking woods,/ Whose forms we can’t discover/ For the tears that drip all over!/ Huge moons there wax and wane-/ Again- again- again-/ Every moment of the night-/ Forever changing places-/ And they put out the star-light/ With the breath from their pale faces…”

Have a marvoulous, magical, mysterious Halloween – Vonnie

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IMG_1803 On this dreary October day, what better quote than this ghost, spirit, and zombie friendly one from the master of the macabre: “The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” – Edgar Allan Poe

Though there will always be doubting Thomases and Thomasinas, ghostly sightings, unexplained occurrences, and haunted places are a part of our culture. Cemeteries in particular can feel rather spooky. I came across two sites which list haunted cemeteries: America’s Most Haunted Cemeteries and Most Haunted Cemeteries. (And it’s no surprise to find Poe’s gravesite on one of the lists).

Though I personally find cemeteries quite comforting, and have picniced with family members amongst the tombstones, this is not the case for many people. And it should not be the case for visitors to the graveyard in my Halloween story, “Bad Moon Rising,” from my science fiction/ fantasy/ ghost tale collection, Owl Light. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story. (FYI, it gets spookier by the end – including murder and ghosts).

Bad Moon Rising

‘Darleen glanced at the clock hanging over the cash register. It was four minutes after eleven, and the last customer of the evening was still perched on a swivel stool at the luncheon counter eating a slice of pumpkin pie. She finished sopping up the coffee, cider, and cola puddles from the tabletop of the diner booth nearest the door and pulled down the window shades hiding from view the jack-o-lantern, bat, black cat, and owl cut-outs stuck on the storefront glass. Then, she walked in back of the luncheon counter, and slid her pencil and order pad onto the top shelf beside the bins containing extra sugar and artificial sweetener packets. Her feet hurt.

“Thanks,” said the elderly customer as he pushed the empty plate towards her. “That was real good.”

“You’re welcome, Mr. Sudduth. See you tomorrow night.”

“Right, tomorrow night,” the old man replied as he buttoned up his sweater, shuffled out the front door of Raleigh’s Delight.

Darleen took off her apron and hung it up on a peg. She checked her make-up in the shiny chrome of the carbonated beverage dispenser. She liked to look at herself in the chrome – the faint crows-feet around her eyes weren’t visible. The mirrors in the ladies’ room made her look thirty. But why shouldn’t they? She was thirty-six.

She pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen, hollered, “Stan. Everybody’s out. I’m leaving.”

She spotted the diner’s owner, Stan Raleigh, scrubbing the griddle. Darleen liked the fact he didn’t just hire school kids to do all the dirty work. He pitched in, did some of the messy chores, too.

Stan looked up from the greasy slab of steel. “Register closed down?”

“Yeah. I closed it before Mr. Suddamendala left. Tape’s in the drawer.”

“Thanks. Have a good night,” called Stan from the sink as he sudsed up a scrub brush. “Don’t forget to lock the door on the way out, especially tonight.”

“No problem. But there shouldn’t be any trouble, by now the trick-or-treaters are all in bed,” Darleen responded as she reached under the luncheon counter and grabbed her pocketbook.

Darleen walked out of Raleigh’s Delight, slammed the front door. Slamming wasn’t optional. The door never locked if you closed it gentle-like. She jiggled the handle, just to double-check. It was locked. She nodded at the cardboard skeleton jitterbugging on the other side of the door’s glass pane, then, turned and tugged the rubberband out of her hair. She wore her hair tied back when waitressing, but when not at work, she loved the silky way it felt against her neck.

Darleen hurried down the sidewalk, smiling at the full moon that hung like a dinner plate on the wall of night. The 11:20 bus should be by any minute, and she was eager to get home. She popped a piece of chewing gum in her mouth and looked at her watch: 11:21 pm. She wondered where the bus was.

Tonight, she needed to be home on time – she was expecting company. Plus, she’d forgotten to refill her ferret’s bowl of dried kibbles. Not that the ferret was thin. Darleen suspected she had one of the few fat ferrets in the world. Still, she worried that Claude might get into more trouble than usual if she was late coming home.

She heard the grinding of gears as the bus driver down-sifted at the stop before hers. She spit out her gum, wrapped it in a tissue, tossed it into a nearby trashcan, unwrapped a second piece, put the new gum in her mouth, and slid its wrapper into her uniform’s pocket. Two pieces of gum would normally be excessive, but minty-fresh breath was extra important tonight…’ (I’m sure you can guess – her “company” will be of the undead sort!)

HallowRead 2014 poster2 Looking for something fun and spooky to do this weekend? Attend HallowRead. Make sure to stop by and say, “Hi,” to me on Sat. October 25th. I’ll sign my books, plus have a few to sell. Cant’ make it but you’d like to read more of my fiction? Here’s my Amazon author page.

And for fellow Walking Dead fans, I couldn’t resist adding another zombie link. Based on this article, living in the Baltimore area, I’m “up-the-creek-without-a-paddle” when the Zombie Apocalypse comes.

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HallowRead 2014 Poster Many of us have been to “Haunted Houses” at fairs, carnivals or Disney World. For those of you who like Disney’s Haunted Manison, here’s a link to some cool facts about the ride.

And here’s a link to a few real haunted houses.

Better yet, visit this year’s HallowRead and visit some haunts on the ghost tour. I’ll be there on Sat., Oct. 25th on panels, etc.

I couldn’t resist adding a bit of haunt to the home at the center of “Bells,” the final story in Owl Light, my collection of dark speculative stories. In truth, some of the haunted bits included in the tale are taken from my personal experiences. Here’s the beginning of “Bells” for your reading pleasure:

Bells

‘The hundred and fifty-year-old Crosby family farmhouse on the corner of Park and Millstone Streets was cluttered with the dead. What should have been gray-toned or sepia photos of Melinda’s ancestors peered from shelves, tabletops, curio cabinets, and almost every available inch of wall space. But the pictures of the deceased had not been left in their original neutral tones — in an attempt to add life to the images, her Great-Aunt Vivian had garishly tinted the people’s faces, clothing, and surroundings with photographic oil paints. But by blessing men, women, and children with red lips, rosy cheeks, and brilliant irises, Aunt Viv had given everyone in the pictures the same unnatural appearance that was found on corpses at an open-casket viewing.

The room in the house on the corner of Park and Millstone where Melinda always stayed when she came to visit, had belonged to Aunt Vivian’s mother, Isabelle Worthington. Mel glanced at her Great-Grandmother Belle’s augmented photo on the marble dresser top. She shuddered. If she braided her waist-length coppery hair and pinned it to the top of her head in a bun, Mel would have been a dead-ringer for the long-gone Isabelle.

She touched the elaborately filigreed frame. Mel could almost hear her great aunt promising in her most wishful voice, “The dead are only separated from us by the sheerest gauze.”

Mel pressed her lips together, lifted her gaze from her great-grandmother’s picture, leaned forward, and checked her mascara for smudging in the wavy glass mirror. Standing behind her and just to the left, Mel thought she glimpsed the blurred image of Isabelle Worthington. She gasped, turned around. There was no one there but the bed draped in a shooting star quilt made by Belle, golden oak furniture laden with Belle’s carefully preserved belongings, the ever-present photographs, and a profusion of evergreen branchlets tucked here and there around the room.

Melinda stepped over to the window, watched the snowflakes sail down to the sea of white that covered the lawn, the sidewalks, and the cemetery across the street. Considering the weather, it was lucky most of her mother’s family still resided in the same town where their parents and their parents’ parents had lived, died, and were buried. Other than Mel and her sister and parents, everyone coming tonight for Christmas dinner could walk home if need be. She pulled the lace curtains together as far as possible trying to shut out the wintry scene below. But there was a bundle of greens tied together with red ribbon and bells dangling from the center of the rod, so not only didn’t the curtains close all the way, but her effort at privacy set off a metallic jingling.

 small owl light Shaking her head, Mel crossed the room to the bed, closed her suitcase, then strolled into the hallway. After a quick turn to the right, she descended the winding stairs to the main floor. The ghosts seemed to press less closely there, or so she thought, until a chill brushed past her on its way downstairs…’

Like what you’re reading? You can check out Owl Light and my other books on Amazon.

Last, but certainly not least, an update to yesterday’s Zombie post for you Walking Dead fans — I found a link to a zombie-proof cabin.which just might get you through the Zombie Apocalypse.

Only a few more days til HallowRead, then less than a week until Halloween — it’s my favorite time of the year!

 

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I’ve finally written a back cover blurb for, Owl Light, my upcoming collection of speculative tales. (Audible sigh of relief!)

I readily admit, I hate to write cover blurbs.  I’m never certain which 5 to 10 word summery per story will make readers want to pick up my book. Not to mention which tales to summarize. I also know many review and interview sites will use the cover blurb to introduce me and  to publicize the book. And I know the blurb needs to be brief (but not too brief).

 So how do I go about writing a blurb? In the case of Owl Light, I wrote a phrase about each tale in the collection. Then, I picked the 7 story descriptions I liked the best. After rearranging a couple of the phrases so they didn’t all start with “A,” I added an introductory sentence which  both mentions the book’s name and gives a 7 word summary of the entire collection.

Next, I wrote a concluding paragraph that invites readers into the world of Owl Light, making sure to mention the book’s name. This is important, since I want readers to remember the title. By the way, the very last sentence of the blurb is a bit of a challenge to readers in the form of a warning.

Though not written specifically for the Young Adult market, Owl Light is YA-friendly. I don’t mention that in the blurb, but my choice of language and the tone of the paragraphs implies PG or PG-13 content.

Did I write a successful cover blurb? Only time will tell! My editor needs to approve it, and my readers will have to let me know if it “works” for them. The blurb is printed below. Does it make you want to read Owl Light?

“In Owl Light, mystery and magic are close at hand. A deer hunter encounters the Daughter of Winter. Ghosts join a holiday celebration. A clockwork owl is the key to preventing murder. A gravedigger unearths a vengeful trow. To save the woman he loves, a dwarf strikes a bargain with faeryfolk. A sideshow attraction wishes to be normal with unexpected results. And an anthropologist must choose between her modern world and an ancient culture.

These stories and more dare the reader to step into Owl Light, where early stars flicker, owls wake from slumber, and shadows appear where shadows ought not be. But be warned, Owl Light dims to darkness, dreams change to nightmares, and dawn is more distant than you know.”

Cold Moon Press is hoping to have Owl Light available by Halloween 2012 – which is most appropriate since one of the tales is a Day of the Dead story (or actually, a Night of the Dead story).

Update: Owl Light is now available from Amazon.

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 Ghostly folklore, legends, and family stories are fertile soil for growing fiction of spirits, specters, the dead and undead. An example of this is my short story Bells.

Step one, start with what you’re familiar with by recalling and jotting down memories. For me, I remember seeing (for a split second) my great-great-grandmother beside me in the wavy mirror of my great-aunt’s home.

Great Aunt Georgie lived in a small town in western New York state known for its lake-effect snows. But it wasn’t the winter I recalled. For the first 20 years of my life, my family and I spent the Fourth of July in Phelps, NY at a family reunion with dozens of assorted cousins. And I remembered the leather strap of bells attached to the front door handle that clanged every time the door was opened or closed.

Step two, look at family memorabilia and photo albums. I leafed through an old album and spotted a sepia-toned picture of my Great Aunt June and Great Uncle Clifford. Then, I returned to step one and wrote down down a sleigh ride story Uncle Clifford had told me.

Step three, add some facts to root your fiction in reality. Mentioning actual locations, traditions, regional or national events, or historical figures all work well. Aunt Georgie’s house was located on the corner of Park Street and another road, and Oaks Corners wasn’t too far away. My father-in-law did indeed drill holes in his family’s Christmas tree’s trunk and filled-in the bare spots with whatever greenery was handy to create a fuller tree. And train gardens (HO, N Gauge, and American Flyer) are a part of my family’s traditions.

Step four, mix it up! Use your imagination to scramble facts and make-believe. In truth, Aunt June out-lived my great uncle by 15 years.

Step five, identify your theme and use your writing skills to gently shape the story. Re-order, tweak, polish, trim, expand – whatever is needed in the writing to make the tale flow smoothly from beginning to end.

So writers, use these steps to compose a ghostly story. Readers, try to figure out where the truth exists in some of your favorite ghost tales.

As for me, I followed these same steps when creating my zombie love story: The Return of Gunnar Kettilson due to appear shortly in Cemetery Moon magazine. But I’ll leave you guessing as to which parts are memory, which are folklore, which are fact, and which are make-believe.

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 As I sit with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit open on my lap, I’m thankful for the wonderful speculative fiction that I read as a child. It was those books from long ago that stirred my imagination and inspired me to write stories.

I still have a stack of 10-page fairytale booklets, published by The Platt & Munk Co., Inc. in the early 1930s, given to me 1 at a time for “something to look at” when my parents visited with an elderly friend on the other side of Baltimore.

Before I entered kindergarten, I’d taught myself to read during those visits using Cinderella, Chicken Little, Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Tom Thumb. And who knows, maybe the seed for the precocious opossum in Assassins formed as I read Platt & Munk’s Puss in Boots.

Three of my favorite books when I was a second grader were Ruth Stiles Gannett’s My Father’s Dragon series. In her tales, right under the noses of people in the “real world” lived a family of blue and yellow dragons. I had such vivid memories of the beautifully-colored dragons. I didn’t realize until I bought a copy of the books years later as an adult that the pictures were rendered in pencil. The stunning hues of the dragon family had been imagined by me. And dragons remain one of my favorite things to draw and write about.

Perhaps the most serendipitous introduction I had as a preteen student to the world of magic and folklore came from the librarian at Perry Hall Elementary. In the fifth grade, I’d rush through my regular classwork, and then, ask to go to the library to help put books back on the shelves. By the end of the year, not only did I know the Dewey Decimal System quite well, but the librarian gifted me with 2 slightly damaged books.

The first gift book was Lupe de Osma’s The Witches’ Ride and Other Tales from Costa Rica. I was immediately infatuated with the ghosts, witches, fairies, and other magical beings written about in that book. The beginnings of Bells? The second gift book was about prehistoric creatures that never existed. Among the critters written about were mermaids. The beginnings of Sideshow by the Sea?

Writers tend to write about what they know. What I’ve known since toddlerhood was fairy tales, folktales, myths, legends, and magical creatures introduced to me by books.

Still an avid reader, I gravitate to work by Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles de Lint. It’s the fantastical and sometimes dark worlds created by these writers that draws me in. And as a writer, I strive to create my own darkly magical worlds for my readers to enjoy.

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