A Little Background

This marketing crash course has been a week’s worth of interesting. The prompt generator is … well, it’s not reeeeealy set up for what I need to do. It’s geared more towards business applications, I think, which makes for some interesting prompts.

So after a couple of false starts (“What are some tips for saving time with ghosts?” “What is the #1 WordPress plugin for ghosts?” “Which tasks should be outsourced when it comes to ghosts?”), I finally landed on “How long did it take to get where you are with ghosts?”

Well, I figured THIS was a question I could take a stab at answering with a straight face. So here goes.

I blame my dad for starting me down this dark path. JK, I’m really super glad I grew up with a dad who loved to tell ghost stories. I grew up in the Chicago area, and so did Dad, so he was the one who passed down all the local Chicago ghost lore to me. I grew up enthralled with tales of the monks of Saint James-the-Sag, the screaming mummy of the Field Museum, and all the lovely spots on Archer Avenue. (He never mentioned the Grimes sisters case, though. Dunno if he wasn’t familiar with it, or if he wanted to shield me from that particular ugliness.)

Growing up steeped in ghost stories was wonderful, but I reached my adult years believing that ghosts were something that happened to other people. I didn’t grow up in a “haunted” house, so I figured that ghost stories were something I could enjoy, but at arm’s length. I started writing horror fiction, keeping the monsters safely on the page.

In 2009, though, I got a very interesting phone call — at work. My coworker came up to me and said, “Hey, I took a phone message for you. It was a publisher. I put the message in your mailbox in the staff room.” I almost thought she was pulling my leg, but sure enough, there was a pink phone message slip in my inbox. I called the 800 number on the paper, and got Bruce Carlson of Quixote Press.

Turns out Bruce was a publisher of true ghost story collections, and he had tapped me to write a book called Ghosts of the Illinois River. I couldn’t believe my luck; here I was, a struggling fiction writer, being asked — no, invited! — to write a collection of true ghost stories, about the river that flowed almost through my own backyard. It was a childhood dream come true.

While doing the research for that first nonfiction book, I started going along on investigations with different groups. That, in turn, led to the Lights Out podcast, and all those wonderful true experiences people have so graciously shared with me. But first, foremost, and always, it has been the writing of stories that has driven me forward. Ghosts of the Illinois River led directly to Fractured Spirits: Hauntings at the Peoria State Hospital, which led in turn to 44 Years in Darkness. Now I’m working on Spirits of Christmas, and I am happy as a pig in … well, I’m exceptionally satisfied with the path my writing career has taken.

And it all started with my dad telling ghost stories around the supper table.

Marketing Challenge Continued

Okay, okay, yes, I suq. I was supposed to be doing a whole week’s worth of blah blah marketing things, buuuuut I work full-time, so, that didn’t happen this week.

But I had fun looking at the writing prompts. The second prompt was “What’s your favorite book about ghosts?”

Well, I thought at first that would be a pop fly, an easy question to answer. My favorite book about ghosts? Pfft — all of them! I’ve been reading true ghost story books, and filling my porous little brain with ghost stories, ever since I was a little kid. When our cousins would make a summer visit down from Madison, Wisconsin, as soon as we giggled over my cousin Karl’s latest batch of dirty jokes, we’d get down to the serious business … scaring each other silly with ghost stories. I read (and loved) them all: The Thing at the Foot of the Bed, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, all the lovely dark books the library and Scholastic Magazine had to offer.

But then I grew up, and Scholastic Magazine just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Luckily, I have met and become friends with many wonderful authors of ghost stories. So I can, with complete confidence, recommend books by Troy Taylor, Michael Kleen, Dale Kaczmarek, Jamie Davis, David Youngquist, Ursula Bielski — because I KNOW these people. I know their integrity. And I know that if their name is on the cover of a book, what’s inside those covers is going to be a great story.

And then — and then! — I discover new authors day by day. (That’s the totally awesome part of working at a library. I’m surrounded by books. Plus they PAY me to be there!) I recently discovered a new author (well, new to me), Stephen Lancaster.

I’ve been reading ghost tales for YEARS. And nothing has spooked me more than Stephen Lancaster’s writing. If you’re looking for good spooky stories, his books fill that craving admirably. And if you’re a paranormal investigator yourself, or if you just believe solidly in supernatural phenomena, then Lancaster’s books are a real treat. They’ll either have you cowering in bed with the covers pulled up over your head, or yelling out loud, “DANG, I wish I could go ghost hunting with this guy!” There was a bit in his second book, Dark Spirits, where I actually yelped out loud with surprise and terrified delight. Marvelous stuff!

I’m pleased to say that Lancaster has a new book coming out in April 2018. It’ll be called Norman: The Doll Who Needed to be Locked Away. (Now, how could I possibly resist a title like that? I ask you…) And for fans of Lights Out, be on the lookout for an episode early next year where Stephen and I will be talking ghosts, paranormal investigation, and hopefully, this doll Norman!

More Lights Out Goodness!

There’s more podcasty yumminess that’s fresh just for you on iHeart Radio and other venues. (I think we may now be on iTunes, too.) So if you’re into it, go check out the latest episodes, including an interview with horror writers Tamara Thorne and Alistair Cross, what it’s like to live in a haunted house, and the 2016 Halloween show. Enjoy!

 

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Now available on iHeart Radio

Monday, Yay!

I am on the first day of a “marketing challenge”. I signed up to get five posts this week, one a day, giving me marketing prompts. It’s kind of fun, so far–of course, I’m only one day in!

The program is neat, in that you can keep hitting the “refresh” button until you get a prompt that resonates with you. The first one I got had something to do with, I dunno, pimping a consulting business. Which is SO not what I do. I do me, and I don’t presume to tell other folks what to do, unless they ask really nicely.

But the second prompt made much more sense. It was, “What is your background with XXXX?”

Okay, now THAT I can work with. It may come as a surprise to people, but I did not grow up in a haunted house. I don’t see dead people (much as sometimes I’d like to). Someone could be following me, carrying their own severed head, and I’d be completely oblivious.

My personal draw to ghosts is this: I have always adored true ghost stories. It’s that delicious combination of history, real people, and the unknown that melts my butter every single time. I love the power of story, and I truly believe, with all my being, that telling ghost stories is the oldest and purest form of storytelling there is. Humans have that unique gift of wondering what comes after death, for ourselves and for the ones we love. We’ve been sharing those ideas around campfires for millenia.

THAT is why I write these books.

In other news, I spent much of this weekend typing, and Spirits of Christmas is now up to 33,000 words typed. I have loads more to type, and SCHLOADS more to write. But it’ll get done. I’m working on it for you guys, because I love you, and I want you to have the Best Christmas Ever.

Stay tuned for more posts this week!

Lights Out: Table Tipping

Oh, those crazy Victorians! Always with their seances, and their creepy spirit photography, and their table tipping. Yes, it’s a thing. Just like putting your fingers on the planchette of a Ouija board, it is possible to make a table move (okay, a small table, but still) just by putting your fingertips on it and concentrating really hard. There’s some help involved from the spirit world, of course, because it’s the Victorians we’re talking about here. Listen in as your hostess with the mostest ghosties helps lift a table … with her fingertips.

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Now available on iHeart Radio

Small World

The place: work. The time: last Friday, about twenty minutes before I was done for the day.

A patron came up to me as I was pulling books from the New Shelf, right as you come in the front door of the library. He caught my eye, and held out a book of mine. He’d bought it on Amazon, and wanted me to sign it for him.

Now that, to me, would have been a good story right there. But wait–it gets better.

It turns out that that very book–an older version of a collection of short stories (Voices in an Empty Room, as opposed to The Dark at the Heart of the Diamond, which came out a few years later and had twice as many stories in it), had actually come off of the library’s shelves. OUR library’s shelves.

The patron sheepishly pointed out our barcode in the front cover of the book. “I don’t want you to think I stole it off the shelf!” he said. I could clearly see the red Discard stamp on top of the book, so I wasn’t worried. But I thought it was funny that the book made its way from our shelf, to the book sale when it was discarded, to someone snapping it up, to someone ELSE buying that copy on Amazon.

I always threaten to sign my books “To the lucky eBay winner…” I guess this time it really would have been prescient of me to do just that! No, for reals, I signed it to the patron, and thanked him for sharing the story.

New Book News!

Why, yes, I’m working on a new book.

And it’s going quite well, thanks for asking.

As a matter of fact, I had another author offer to write a foreword for it. Which is super cool.

I relax by reading. I read omnivorously and voraciously. Just last night, I read all five books in the children’s series Phoebe and Her Unicorn (think a middle-grade Calvin and Hobbes), a book on paranormal investigation called Ghostly Tales, and finished up a YA novel called Such a Good Girl.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a really wonderful book on paranormal investigation by an author named Stephen Lancaster. His first book was True Casefiles of a Paranormal Investigator, and I just devoured it. There was a story in that book–in the first chapter, as a matter of fact–that captured my attention immediately. Not only was it a real doozy of a terrifying true story, it happened in December.

Now, any author who can tell me a true ghost story I haven’t heard before is aces in my book. And speaking of my book, if you haven’t yet heard, it’s going to be about haunted Christmas … and there’s a whole section in it about true stories that happen in December.

It took a bit of digging, but I found contact info for Stephen Lancaster, and I wrote to him. I told him how much I enjoyed his book, and asked very politely for permission to share his December story in my own book. He was very gracious, and wrote back nearly immediately.

Long story short: not only did he give me permission to share his story (yay!), he also offered to write the foreword to Spirits of Christmas.

So come November, you guys are in for a treat. The new book will have a thoughtful  foreword written by a fellow investigator, a real professional in the field. (He has a new book himself, that will be released in April 2018, about–get this–a haunted doll. I’m hoping he’ll agree to a guest appearance on Lights Out, so look for that in the future too.) I’m pleased to take Stephen up on his offer, and I think you’ll find it a good addition to the book.

Now I’m off to write some more!

Campfire Dinner

Ah, summer! Time for dinner and a cold cider around the campfire. Or the fire pit, if you don’t have a huge yard.

The first sandwich was on soft 12-grain bread, smeared with spready port-wine cheese, with ham tucked inside.

For dessert, there was Camembert cheese slices inside Hawaiian bread, with fig jam on one side and a little smear of red pepper jelly on the other.

And grapes on the side, because even I can’t justify cherry hard cider as being in the Fruit & Vegetable group.

CampfireDinner

Lights Out!

It’s time for another episode of Lights Out, your virtual campfire. I’ve got something really awesome planned for you guys this time!

Come along on an investigation of the Borden House, in Fall River, Massachusetts. On August 4, 1892, Abby and Andrew Borden were brutally murdered in their own home, by someone wielding a hatchet. That someone may have been Lizzie Borden, Andrew’s younger daughter. Let’s see what the spirits have to say about it!

https://youtu.be/4KzW6wNHt1U

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Now available on iHeart Radio

Lights Out!

Thanks for joining me for another episode of Lights Out. We’re going to have a blast with this one. Listen in on a conversation with Aaron G. Thompson and Nick Simons, members of the paranormal investigating team Ghost Crier.  Find out why Aaron likes the Spiritus app so much! https://youtu.be/NiiWc3UztYo

 

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Now available on iHeart Radio

Thoughts on Neighbors

“If you think about something more than three times a week, you have to write about it.” — Louis CK

So something happened the other day, and I’ve been mulling it over long enough that I think I should post about it.

Readers of this blog will recall that our neighbors … well, they don’t think too highly of us, to put it mildly. I honestly have no idea why. (I wish she’d talk to me like an adult instead of just screaming or muttering under her breath; maybe I could try to fix whatever it is she’s been mad about for the past eleven years.) Anyway, I was sitting on the porch a few weeks ago (middle of May; prom season), when a car pulled up in front of the neighbors’ house. I was reading a book, and the dog was out on the porch with me. We were enjoying the late afternoon sunshine.

A moment after the car door shut, I heard a glorious voice say, “Well, look at you–aren’t you just gorgeous!” The voice was filled with love and pride and warmth, and I looked up from my book with a sense of pleasure. I honestly thought that whoever had gotten out of the car had looked over at my porch, had seen my dog, and was gushing over her. (She’s a Husky, and she is, I’ll admit, quite pretty.)

But I was completely and utterly wrong. When I looked up from my book, a smile already coming to my lips, I realized that the young woman who had gotten out of the car was Belinda’s granddaughter, all dressed up for prom. And she did look stunning in an emerald-green gown.

It was Belinda–the neighbor who hates everyone in this house–who was speaking to her granddaughter with such love and admiration. I did not recognize her voice … it was the first time I had ever heard her speak without screaming. (At me or at someone in my house.) I took one last look at Belinda, hugging the radiant girl in the beautiful dress, and I turned and went into the house. And I felt a bit sad, because I know that Belinda will never speak to me in that kind, happy, friendly tone.

Lights Out!

And it’s time for another episode of Lights Out, your virtual campfire. I hope you all brought s’mores fixings, because I could really murder some marshmallow right now.

This episode of Lights Out centers on Native American spirits. The peoples of the First Nations have a rich culture of folklore and supernatural stories. Join me for a taste of this fascinating heritage. https://youtu.be/wrDVI7yYBUg

 

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Now available on iHeart Radio

Lights Out News!

Okay, so you know how at the beginning of the year I said I would soon have a very special surprise for each and every single one of you? Well, here it is, because I just can’t wait any longer.

Lights Out is available on iHeart Radio! (It’s also, I think, on places like Spotify and, I’m told, a podcast app called Overcast. I’m such a technotard that I’m honestly not sure how it all went through, but I’m so glad it did, despite my best efforts.) I am the first to admit that I am NOT technically savvy at all. But just for you guys, I finally found a way to get Lights Out up somewhere else other than just my websites. I won’t bore you with details, but I will say that I am super stoked about Lights Out being available in more places than just YouTube. Hopefully I am able to make people happy with this news.

I do have to say that the monthly fee I sprang for turned out to be a shockingly small amount of data, so it will take me a while to get all of the back episodes up and running. But everything SHOULD be caught up by the end of this summer. Plus I’ll be posting one new episode a month, plus catching up on older stuff. So if you start following Lights Out on iHeart Radio instead of on YouTube, you WILL get new content along with older episodes.

So! This is just the latest facet of an ongoing effort to bring you all the best in true ghost stories. If you’re on iHeart Radio or Overcast, you can now get another podcast fix with Lights Out. And if you’re not yet a subscriber to my YouTube channel, go and sign up! You’ll get sound AND shiny pictures that way.

As always, thank you for your patronage. I do appreciate it.

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Even more podcasty goodness!

Busy Weekend — Let’s Start It Off With a Bang!

Hey all! I’m about to start a whirlwind weekend, and of course it starts on Friday! At 2 pm today, I’ll be giving a talk at Warren County Library in Monmouth on the Peoria State Hospital. I’m really looking forward to this, because it takes me back to my old stomping grounds at Monmouth College. Then from there, I’ll go to the Quad Cities for a book signing at the Barnes and Noble in the North Park Mall from 6 to 8 pm.

The weekend continues in Dubuque, where I’ll be sharing a booth with author Ophelia Julien at the Psychic and Paranormal Expo at Grand River Center. I’ll be giving another talk, again on the Peoria State Hospital, at 11:45 Sunday morning.

If you can make it out to any of these things, I’ll see you there! If you can’t, please to enjoy this lovely article that appeared in the Daily Review-Atlas: http://www.reviewatlas.com/news/20170519/author-happy-ghosts-roam-halls-of-bartonville-asylum

Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you all next week!

Some Thoughts

Every so often, because I have the great good fortune to both work at a library and write books, I get to see a book of mine on the shelf, or returned in the book drop, or in passing through Interlibrary Loan. Whenever this happens, part of me says, “Of course! I write books; it’s only natural to see them in the library, in good company.” A bigger part of me, though, is still taken by surprise, then absurdly joyful. “Hey, that’s my book there!”

I’ll never forget the phone call I got in 2000, from a squodgy little POD company I paid to publish my first book (which is now mercifully out of print, and should really have been bottom-drawered in the first place). Yes, it’s true: the first few books of fiction I wrote before finding my groove, I paid to have published. Don’t judge.

But in 2006, I came to a realization. Early in that year, I said to myself, “Hey look, you’ve been writing, and wanting to get published, since 1986. That’s twenty freakin’ years.” And I made myself a promise, that if I didn’t get a book placed with an indie press by the end of the year, I’d pack it in. Twenty years is long enough to try at something without any measurable success. If I didn’t make my own dream come true, at least I would have given it a good solid try.

Fortunately for me (and for all the wonderful fans I’ve collected over the years), my horror book The Dreamwatcher was picked up by StoneGarden Press. And then I got a romance deal with Linden Bay, for Timeless Embrace. I was inspired to keep going. Eventually I landed in paranormal nonfiction, and I am blissfully happy doing this.

I am so very grateful to all the people who have stood by me for all these years — relatives, friends, and people I’ve never even met in person. And no, this post isn’t in acknowledgement of any special anniversary or anything like that. I just wanted to say thanks.

Lights Out!

It’s time for another episode of Lights Out, your virtual campfire. I’ve got a treat for you this time! I’m posting three episodes in a row this time, because they all go together.

These three episodes feature the Ghost Head Soup lab. The lab is at an undisclosed location somewhere in northern Illinois, and it is outrageously haunted. When I visited, we started getting activity while we were sitting in the basement of the building just talking, well before we even began the investigation. It was an amazing experience, and it is my privilege to share it with you, the Lights Out audience. Enjoy!

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Now available on iHeart Radio 

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=hxHNqXCcacg

Lights Out News!

Great news for fans of Lights Out, your virtual campfire! The show is now available on iHeart Radio. Just visit this link, and you’ll be connected to the show that brings you the best in true ghost stories.  Real people, real experiences–it’s all here. And remember, if you’re not listening to Lights Out, it’s like not eating chocolate cake for breakfast; the full richness of life will elude you. So tune in and enjoy chills, laughs, and great storytelling!

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Now available on iHeart Radio

Star Talk

I just finished reading Star Talk, with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Fun stuff–the book discusses everything from deep space to time travel to clean water to zombies. It’s a wonderful look at, among other things, the science of what it means to be human.

There’s a great quote in the book by the musician Moby, that I thought I’d share. It was in an article called “What makes music so seductive?”

“Music is so ubiquitous, it’s such a normal part of our lives–but it can do so much. They play it at funerals. They play it at weddings. People play music to have sex. They play music to cry. People play music when you’re trying to get armies to march in to war. And what’s amazing about music to me is, it doesn’t exist. All it is, is air moving a little bit differently. But somehow, air moving a little bit differently can make someone weep, can make someone jump up and down, can make someone move across the country and cut their hair … I don’t want to figure it out. I just love that it has this power.”

Star Wars Day!

Today is Star Wars Day at the Fondulac Library. It’s so much fun just to be here in the days leading up to this–you can feel the excitement in the air. The whole library is dressed up for the occasion.

SW boba standup
Life-size cutouts are scattered around the library.
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The view from the checkout counter — my station. Welcome to the library!
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Endcaps help patrons find great reading material.

SW movies

SW posters
Looking for a good book? We can help…

SW read

SW cart
Even the book carts get dressed up for Star Wars Day.

Why yes, I do have culture…

I just got home from a Bach concert. It was a cover band, but still, it was pretty cool.

Seriously, though, it was magnificent. I actually found out about this because I got to put up the poster at the library. One of the piano soloists is a patron of the library, and I knew he was a musician of some repute, but I’d never heard him perform before. Wow, what a treat!

This was a concert for orchestra and two pianos. It was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Peoria, so the acoustics were lovely. In the background were four violins, two violas, a cello, and a bass. In the foreground, of course, were the two grand pianos. The program was simple but elegant; four pieces, three movements each. A duet first, then a solo. Intermission, another solo, and they wrapped it up with another duet.

Now, I’m not a musical illiterate by any means. But I am not good at recognizing a piece just by a number (unless, duh, it’s Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Or his Seventh or Ninth Symphonies). So a glance at the program when I sat down was fairly useless to me. All I could tell going in was that these were concertos by Bach, not his religious pieces. I’m always down for a good bit of Bach, so I settled in for an evening of great music. With the first few notes of each piece, I recognized them as old familiar friends, and I listened to the concert with a smile. (For those of you who are more eddicated than me, the pieces were Concerto for Two Klaviers and Strings in C minor; Concerto for Klavier and Strings in D minor; Concerto for Klavier and Strings in D Major; and Concerto for Two Klaviers and Strings in C minor. See? Doesn’t tell you much until you start listening. Doesn’t tell ME much, anyway.)

I’m always impressed with how Bach manages to be intricate and muscular at the same time. I was sitting in the very first row, right next to the aisle, so I was quite literally front and center for this evening of exquisite music. During the last concerto, the second duet, I was in a position to watch the female soloist as she performed. I was mesmerized by her hands as she played the slower second movement, the Adagio. Her fingers danced over the keys with the sinuous moves of a cat–it was amazing to see.

I closed my eyes and lost myself in the music at some parts. I thought of how marvelous it is that humans get to make music–I mean, really, how cool is that? I grew up singing, and I had lessons on several instruments, but I could never get the hang of anything that took more than one hand to play (which is why singing was the only thing I ever got any good at–you don’t need ANY hands for that). I am in utter awe of musicians who can draw such fierce, tender, thrilling sound from their instruments. And I am moved beyond words that there were people in this world who composed this music, this wonderful Baroque intricacy, and three hundred years later we are still sharing it with each other and honoring and enjoying their work.

Next month, it’ll be Vivaldi’s Gloria. I can hardly wait!

The Funnest Reference Question of All Time

We’ve been at the new library for three and a half years now, so people are slowly getting used to the phone system. They still sometimes push the button for the front desk when what they really want is the Children’s Room, but that’s okay–that’s why we’re here, to direct them where they need to go.

Sometimes, though, I’ll get a call that turns into a reference question, and rather than sending it to the Reference Desk, I’ll just take care of it myself. I’ve answered questions like, “How far is it to Chicago from here?” and “How do you spell cappuccino?” Something like that happened a while ago, and I turned out to be almost giddily glad that I stuck around for the question. This turned out to be my favorite reference question of all time.

Me: This is the library, how can I help you?

Patron: Hi! So, um, I read in one of those trivia things in the newspaper that summer on Uranus is, like, 34 years long.

Me (listening; can hear only sincerity in the patron’s voice when they mention “Uranus”; decide they honestly want to find out the answer to a question): Uh huh?

Patron: Has anyone ever gone to Uranus? Like astronauts or someone?

Me (still monitoring patron’s voice for giggles; finding none; deciding to be professional and answer the question): No, NASA hasn’t sent any manned spacecraft out that far.

Patron: So no one’s landed there?

Me: No, it’s too far, we haven’t sent humans there yet. Besides, it’s a gas giant; there’s really nowhere TO land a spaceship.

Patron: So if no one’s there, what does it MATTER if the summer is 34 years long?

Me: ….    …..     …. Well, I suppose that’s a question everyone has to answer for ourselves, don’t we?

The patron was perfectly satisfied with this. I was quietly delighted, and I got to (sort of) answer a reference question. Everyone wins!