28 October 2012

The Black Donnelly's

There was a family. A notorious family just north of London, Ontario in a little quaint village called Lucan. This family was not well like by residents. Many claimed the Donnelly's were criminals and on one bloody night on February 4, 1880 vigilante justice was carried out in the most brutal way and a family was nearly decimated.

I say nearly because the ones the mob were looking for, were not there that night on the Donnelly farm when Old man Donnelly, his wife, their niece visiting from Ireland and two sons were murdered that night and the mysterious thing was no one was ever convicted of their brutal killings.

It's speculated because of an old feud between the Donnelly's and the townsfolk. The Donnelly's were not well liked.

And today, the farm where the brutal murders happened is supposed to be haunted.

Birds don't sing and men don't smile,
Out on the Roman Line.
Their faces grim and so they'll be,
Until the end of time.

For the midnight hour brings alarm,
And horses won't pass the Donnelly farm,
Stay off that road or you'll come to harm,
And horses won't pass the Donnelly farm
Stay off that road or you'll come to harm,
Out on the Roman Line.

Old Song Reprinted from: The Black Donnellys by Thomas P. Kelley

I'm a firm believer in ghosts big time.

Before I even KNEW about the Donnelly's (Because I'm not from this area) we'd drive up past Roman Line to get to my inlaws and at night I'd feel anxious about driving along this stretch. It was eerie.

When I found out about the Donnelly's it all started to make sense.

There's even a whole ghost page set up about The Donnelly's here.

You can tour the original house, where the tragedy occurred, but it is a private property today. Have I toured it. No. I doubt I ever will. Just passing The Roman Line is enough to make me skitterish and I'll stay away from St. Patrick's cemetery in Lucan where the Donnelly's are buried.

I'll learn more about this fascinating ghost story from afar!

27 October 2012

Slacker Ghost Hunting and Local Ghost Stories

My bestie J.C. Wilder and I, paranormal authors to the bone, have come to the conclusion that we’d make terrible ghost hunters.

First of all, we talk too much.

Second, real ghost hunters lug heavy equipment. Climb ladders to set up cameras. Schlep up and down stairs. Sit for hours in cold, damp cellars.

We’re simply too high maintenance for that.

A few weeks ago we had a girls-only weekend at her house. She had just downloaded Ghost Radar to her Android phone, and I had a similar program on my laptop. (Not sure if these really work, but they’re fun to mess around with.)

Camped out on her huge, antique, four-poster bed, fuzzy-slippered feet propped up, about 800 pillows arranged just so, dogs squeezed in wherever they could, we fired up our apps and waited. Positive we’d get something, because strange stuff happens in her house all the time.

Like how J.C.’s Mom always says hello to me by making her musical coffee cup play a merry tune.

After about a half hour of picking up random energies and spoken words, getting no answers to out-loud questions, J.C. commented, “We really should move downstairs. That’s where everything happens.”

For about a minute we contemplated the logistics of moving our comfortably parked arses all the way downstairs. (About six steps down, 30 feet as the crow hops.) And incurring the wrath of two tucked-in-for-the-duration pooches.

Neither one of us moved.

“Let’s watch a Medea movie.”

Oh, how the mighty have fallen...


Holland, Ohio, where I live, is a small bedroom community at Toledo’s southwest edge. You wouldn’t think Toledo would be a hotbed of paranormal activity, and you’d be wrong. There’s a lot of moving water around here – nearby Lake Erie, the Maumee River, and a close-to-the-surface water table just under a glacier-dumped bed of sand. Ghosts tend to feed off the energy of moving water.

Even itty bitty Holland as its hot spot – an old 1800s storefront down by the railroad crossing.

Currently it houses an art glass studio. And a poltergeist. Fortunately the poltergeist would rather fling small objects in the office rather than wreak havoc in the studio! A bit of video taken during Fringe Paranormal’s 2010 investigation shows how careful the ghost is with the fragile glass pieces:


The Toledo area is also the site of a couple of significant battlegrounds, the “Battle for Ohio,” in which there was a ruckus over a narrow strip of swamp land between Ohio and Michigan. Ohio won, which is the reason my house sits in the Buckeye State. No deaths were reported, except perhaps for that of a startled milk cow.

The more famous Battle of Fallen Timbers, said to be the last battle of the American Revolution, took place not far from my home. Sadly, much of the battlefield has been swallowed up by a highway interchange. But a small section has been preserved by the National Park Service. The forlorn little piece of land between the highway and the river is hard to find unless you really want to find it. A bike path runs through it, connecting the adjacent mall and housing development.

The bloody battle took the lives of 30 of “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s soldiers, as well as twice that number of Ottawa warriors.

A few yards from the towering monument to the white soldiers is Turkey Foot Rock. Marked with a plaque, this is the spot where the Ottawa chief rallied his warriors, and lost his life. If you look closely at the weathered stone, you can still see where surviving tribesmen carved turkey tracks as a memorial. When I visited, someone had left an offering of tobacco and flowers.

It is said that if you sit near the rock on Aug. 20, the anniversary of the battle, you can hear gunfire, screams, and smell gunpowder in the air.

If you're interested in finding out if your corner of the world is haunted, the internet has a number of sites where you can find out. Chances are there's an old building, battlefield, or bridge guaranteed to raise your hair.

Blessed Samhain, everyone!

Carolan Ivey
Romance that will haunt you…

25 October 2012

Local Ghost Stories - Gacy House and a Quick Survey of Modern-Day Ghost Hunting

This is Noony, your host for today's exploration into ghostly phenomena around Chicago.

Okay, that was my working hypothesis when I started to write my post for this week.  It quickly turned darker and more reality-based as I wandered the pages of one of my husband's local guidebooks, one that centers on ghost stories around the Windy City.  I came across the chilling factoid that I am a neighbor of John Wayne Gacy.  Not a literal neighbor, but in the sense that he lived, and murdered, in Norwood Park, just 3 neighborhoods away from where I sit, typing this.  Chilling.

Mug Shot of John Wayne Gacy
Photo from Wikipedia (1)
The interesting part about Gacy's murders is that several of them were solved by the use of psychic evidence.  In the book Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural, author Richard Crowe, with Carol Mercado, relate how the lot where Gacy's house stood continued to remain barren in two oval spots, photographed 3 times over 2 years.

Several theories abound about why plants would not grow on those spots.  The location of buried victims, the ground remained disturbed until new owners purchased the lot and changed the physical address.  The land recovered after that change and grass finally grew on the site.

Despite this, speculation has surfaces regarding other possible sites used as dumping grounds by Gacy.  His construction company worked all over Chicago.  He was convicted of thirty-three murders, but authorities don't know if there are more bodies that have yet to be uncovered.  Other psychics have attempted to discover signs of his victims.

The use of psychic phenomena in criminal investigations is viewed with skepticism by many in law enforcement, and with good reason.  Some so-called psychics have been charlatans, bilking people out of money and raising false hopes.  On the other hand, there have been verified discoveries by psychics that have lead to the arrest of criminals, so it's hard to say with black-and-white certainty one way or the other whether psychic phenomena are empirically true or not.

In the last few years, the public has grown more fascinated with the possibility of psychic phenomena.  Shows like Ghost Hunters, now on the SyFy network, detail the work of real paranormal investigators armed with modern-day technological tools to support their psychic detection.

Dean Radin has researched consciousness and related phenomena for over 20 years and has worked on psychic research for the government.  He ran the paraphsychology program at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, when I lived there, and the program was greeted by great fanfare in the press.  (I regret not going to study with him, actually, since that would have been an interesting, and unusual, course of study.)  My point in bringing him up, though, is that not all psychic research is by new age devotees.  There's some pretty heavy science behind trying to figure out, conclusively, whether or not this stuff exists - and, if it does, to what extent and in what ways.

Curious about these practices, I wandered over to Meetup to see if there were others who decided to try to find Casper with an EMF meter.  It turns out there are many groups who meet on a regular basis to do just that.  There are six groups just in the Chicagoland area.  If you're curious, head over to Meetup.com and type "ghost hunting" in the search box.  Perhaps a group meets in your town?  If not, why not start one?  You might find the next local murder house.  ~shiver~

1.  "John Wayne Gacy," Wikipedia entry, Photograph accessed 10/24/2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wayne_Gacy

2.  "Biography," Dean Radin's website, accessed 10/24/2012 from http://www.deanradin.com/NewWeb/bio.html

3.  "The Top Ten Best Video Clips From Ghost Hunters (TAPS)," YouTube, accessed 10/24/2012 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciHf4WXKY4E

4.  Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural:  A Guide to Haunted and Legendary Places In and Near the Windy City, by Richard T. Crowe with Carol Mercado, Carolando Press, Inc., Oak Park, IL, Second Printing, 2001

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
- E.E. Cummings

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20 October 2012

Alexandria Ghosts

Looking for ghost stories?  Have I got the town for you: Alexandria, Virginia.  We’ve got three centuries of ghosts to choose from, and we aren’t done yet.

Founded in 1749, Alexandria hosted the gathering of governors that kicked off the French and Indian War.  General Edward Braddock, who convened the conference, wrote the fateful letter to the British government suggesting the colonials pay for their own defense, which prompted the creation of the Stamp Act.  If that wasn’t enough, he was a braggart, a drunk and a sexual predator.  He was no respecter other people’s property, and oh yes, he insisted the town’s citizens house and feed several thousand unruly British troops without compensation or legal recourse.  Fortunately, he managed to get himself killed within three months of his arrival, and the aftermath gave local boy George Washington some serious experience in retreating.

Speaking of George, he slept, ate, drank, danced, and was first called “president” here.  Dolley Madison served oyster ice cream at her parties here. 

Johnny Bull and the Alexandrians by William Charles (1814)
The town surrendered to the British twice in during the War of 1812. On one of those occasions, local leaders had to chase the British down to do the deed.  It saved the city from burning…by the British.  The political cartoonists of the day were another matter.

Robert E. Lee’s hometown, Alexandria was the site of the first Union and Confederate deaths in the Civil War.  It was occupied by Union forces for the duration, although it voted overwhelmingly to secede with the rest of Virginia. 

During the occupation, nearly every large building was converted into a military hospital.  Many of the remaining structures became part of the Union war machine, serving as laboratories for the advances in engineering which helped win the war for the North.

All this history means there are so many ghosts, local ghost tour guides have to pick and choose.  Are the customers interested in the War for Independence?  Tell them about the Loyalist wrongfully shot by the British, who has since made a point of harassing any English-born man or woman who presumes to cross the threshold of his Prince Street home.

Are they romantics?  Recount the story of the Female Stranger, whose male companion swore her deathbed attendants to secrecy about her identity—then skipped town without paying the hefty tab for her medical treatment and her elaborate gravestone in St. Paul’s Cemetery.  Or talk about the screaming ghost of Candi’s Candies, who burned alive when a candle ignited her wedding gown.

To say nothing of the usual parade of spectral dogs and soldiers, executed criminals (including one who was cooked alive in an outdoor oven), suicidal sea captains’ wives, etc., etc.  You could fill a book.  In fact, people have.

So why hasn’t it appeared on any of the televised ghost hunting shows?  You’d think it would be a natural.

Okay, you can understand why someone might now want to open their home, but the museums?  Gadsby’sTavern, favorite haunt of the Female Stranger and the occasional incorporeal cotillion, has been a restaurant and museum for years.  Ramsay House, formerly owned and still patrolled by one of the town’s founders, serves as Alexandria’s Visitor Center.  On the creepy side of the street, the headquarters of Franklin and Armfield, one of the nation’s largest slave trading firms, has been office space since 1984—which seems appropriate in an odd, double-speak kind of way.

I don’t know why those folks didn’t invite Ghosthunters to come on down.  I only know the reason why the Carlyle House never made it to national TV.

Carlyle House
(courtesy Ser Amantio di Nicolao at en.wikipedia)
Carlyle House was built in the early 1750s by John Carlyle, a wealthy merchant and close family friend of George Washington.  The Georgian Palladian stone mansion was the premier house in town for many years—and the only one with a front yard.  So it was the natural choice for General Braddock’s famous conference. 

It was the “mansion house”, which gave its name to the Mansion House Hotel, and became an integral part of the hotel complex.  During the Civil War, the hotel also became one of the largest medical facilities in the region and ground zero for one of the conflict’s biggest battles of the sexes.  It was a proving ground for the Civil War’s most outrageous innovations: women nurses.

And that’s just the building’s public face.  An Englishman of Scottish extraction, Carlyle appears to have been a superstitious sort.  When the Northern Virginia Park Authority restored the mansion in the early 1970s, they discovered a dead cat had been walled into the hearth—an old Scottish tradition thought to protect the house from harm. 

It worked on the house, if not on the Carlyles.  Both of Carlyle’s wives died of complications in childbirth before the age of thirty-five.  All but two of Carlyle’s eleven children predeceased him.  Only one survived to her majority. 

However, daughter Sarah Carlyle Herbert not only beat the family odds, she had seven healthy children and lived out her full three score and ten.  Her descendants and those of her sister Ann (who died in childbirth at seventeen) are the reason the house can display so many Carlyle family treasures.  They cherished their heritage and their ancestors’ possessions.

This historic photo shows the Mansion House
Hotel during the Civil War, when it served as
a military hospital. The hotel was built in front
of the Carlyle House (aka the Mansion House).
Before its restoration, the house was popularly supposed to be the most haunted place in town.  The basement wine cellar, the result of a mid-nineteenth century renovation, was described as a pen for runaway slaves.  (It wasn’t.)  Mrs. Green, the wife of the man who built the hotel, was said to roam the backyard, fretting about the ruination of her daughter Emily.  (Emily wasn’t ruined. She never even dated a Yankee.  She married Frank Stringfellow, a Confederate spy who later became a U.S. Army chaplain in the Spanish-American War.)  Any number of ghostly Civil War patients were said to repeatedly throw themselves off the roof.  (When the hotel was converted to a hospital, the house was used as a doctors’ residence.  The patients were billeted in the hotel, which spanned the street in front of the mansion.  Some of them did jump or fall from the upper floors of the hospital, but not the house.)

But all the ghoulies seem to disappear as soon as the derelict remains of the hotel were torn down.  I suspect it had something to do with all that sunlight streaming through windows which hadn't seen the street in over a hundred years.  But whatever the reason, I’ve worked as a volunteer docent at the Carlyle House for two years now, and I’ve never felt any out-of-place “spiritual energy” or unnatural cold spots.  The building is quiet.  Serene, even.  At least to me.

But I wonder if the house’s last curator felt the same.  You see, one of those national ghost hunting shows did approach him about doing a program about the house.  He said no.  He said the house wasn’t haunted.  Insisted it wasn’t.

“Why’d you turn them down?” I asked.  “Half the time they don’t find anything.  The other half, they’re just scaring themselves.  Either way, it’s good publicity.”

“I know.  But…” 

He hesitated.  The former curator resembled a genial linebacker, and I wouldn’t have thought anything made him nervous.  But by this point in the conversation he was looking downright sheepish.   

“But,” he repeated, his voice dropping to a hoarse whisper, “what if there’s something here?”

Jean Marie Ward

19 October 2012

Duppy, Rolling Calf and a White Witch

My country of birth and heart, Jamaica, is filled with “duppy” (ghost) stories. Tales such as that of River Muma, who sits on a rock combing her hair with a golden comb, luring the enchanted to a watery grave abound. Another Jamaican spectre you may encounter as it races along lonely country roads is the Rolling Calf, covered in hellfire and bound with rattling chains, coming to scare you into madness, or to death.

Obeah, the remnants of African spirituality brought to the island with the slaves, doesn’t produce zombies like Voodoo is reputed to. Instead, the Obeah Woman or Man steals a person`s spirit, hiding it in a cotton tree and using it to make mischief and bring misery to others. In the meantime the person whose spirit was stolen slowly withers away and dies, unless someone with the knowledge and spiritual strength can “dig out” the obeah, freeing the spirit and returning it to its owner.

Ironically enough, probably the most famous Jamaican ghost story involves not the work of an Obeah practitioner, but of a woman alleged to be well versed in the art of Voodoo—Annie Palmer, the White Witch of Rose Hall.

Rose Hall is a plantation house located east of Montego Bay, on the northern coast of Jamaica. Legend has it that the owner of the planation, John Palmer, married Annie, a woman who was well versed in Voodoo. Annie is reputed to have murdered not only John, but also her next three husbands, all of whom died under mysterious circumstances. Apparently not content with a handful of husbands, Annie also had a tendency to take to her bed any slave who caught her fancy, eventually murdering them too.

She in turn is said to have been murdered by her butler, a slave and one of her many lovers. Some legends say he murdered her because he knew if he didn’t, she would kill him in turn. Others say he killed her because she caused the death of his daughter’s lover.

After her death, it’s said that the next owners of the house had a series of unfortunate incidents that culminated with their housekeeper falling to her death from the balcony Annie would stand on each morning to issue instructions to the slave. The house was eventually deserted, and fell into ruin. It was restored in the 1960s and then, in the 1970s, was refurbished and opened to the public for tours.

There is little, if any, historical fact to back up the legend of Annie Palmer. There are no records showing she ever existed and so many variations on the story exist, making it hard to decide which is more likely. Some stories are set in the 1700s, others in the 1800s. Some say she was born of mixed English/Irish heritage but raised on Haiti, where Voodoo is practised, others have her born in France and being taught Voodoo in Jamaica, by the very slaves she used it to terrify and control. She is said to have tortured, maimed and killed slaves without mercy and remained at the house even after death to continue her reign of terror.

I’ve been to Rose Hall, and it’s a beautiful, interesting place, and will say whoever sourced the items displayed in that house did a masterful job when they acquired a particular portrait, billed as being of Annie. Since I can honestly say I don’t think she ever even existed, and know the house and most likely all contents were destroyed by fire during a slave rebellion, I’m sure it wasn’t her in the painting. Yet I stood there, feet glued to the floor, staring and staring, feeling the woman in the picture staring back at me, her black-eyed gaze burning its way into my soul. It took all my energy to turn away.

And to this day that painting haunts me, a lingering, malevolent shadow, the most vivid reminder of my trip to the rebuilt plantation house. Whatever ghosts live at Rose Hall, I bet they found a happy, haunted home in that portrait…

18 October 2012

Romantic Ghost Stories

I have always loved a good romantic ghost story. I blame the Saturday afternoon matinees that local stations used to have in the days before cable.

I first watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir on a cold winter weekend afternoon. I must have been about ten years old.

Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison are a couple deeply in loved but divided by the great beyond. Harrison is the ghost of a sea captain, cranky and sarcastic while Tierney is a single mother trying to find some way to raise her daughter alone in a world where her employment options are limited.

The original trailer is on YouTube and has some terrific scene snippets.

The story also has a feminist angle. Mrs. Muir at first tries to solve her problem by falling in love with a man who she believes will take good care of her and her daughter. Unfortunately, the charming gentleman courting her turns out to have a wife and she's back on her own.

Knowing he's getting in the way of Mrs. Muir moving forward, as their love appears doomed, the Captain vanishes fading to a distant memory.

If you've seen the ending of Titanic, you can guess how this movie ends. I often think James Cameron is a fan of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Another similarity to Titanic is the beautiful musical score. The video above showcases it.

The movie is proof that sometimes even ghosts have happy endings.

But we don't see this kind of romance often in books. At a workshop for my local RWA chapter, former editor Theresa Stevens said that ghost stories are a hard sell and don't sell well. Perhaps it's because a happy ending for a ghost is so hard to find.

I find ghosts comforting because it's nice to think that they exist. They're de facto proof of life after death, after all.

I have written one ghost story but the ghosts aren't part of the love story, they're being used as weapons against my heroine, who can see ghosts but thinks they can be explained by science, at least some day. I thought it would be a fun idea to have a person who can see ghosts but doesn't truly believe in them. Eventually, she'll change her mind--or the heroes change it for her.

That story isn't published as yet. But maybe having flesh and blood humans as the heroes will help. And a vampire.

17 October 2012

Coming Into the Home Stretch...

But not on a manuscript. Boo.

On my Master's Degree. After three years of juggling and putting things off, especially writing, and especially after I got a full-time job, I am on the last month of Graduate School. I am working like mad to get my Special Project finalized and turned in (this week!), and all the paperwork that goes with graduating, AND finishing the final two courses, one of which is absolutely insane with work.

I keep thinking of all the things I will have time for once this is over. NOT getting up at 5:15 am to read textbooks. Or working on papers while sitting at son's football practice. Or having Sundays to do...anything. House projects. House cleaning, which has gone woefully undone for far too long.

And finally...writing. It's not like I haven't written anything the last three years. I put out two novels, one of which was done before I started grad school, the other half done when I sold it. I finished another, and got an agent. I spent the summer pounding away at the keys to get just over 20K in a new book so that I have something to show a prospective editor when my agent sells the book she has. And I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of academia. Yuck. It's weird, some days I don't even think about writing at all, and I don't miss it, and others I long to break into a project and work, work, work. Some days I just want to get some sleep and watch some TV without a computer on my lap.

Oh, I don't plan to start writing for fun and profit the day after grad school is over. I plan on getting very very drunk before that. But once the hangover is gone, and I get a few days to breathe, I will be ready to go. I will have to shift my brain from logical thinking to fictional thinking, but I think it's like riding a bicycle. And there are so many projects just waiting, so many stories to be told.

Home stretch, baby. By Thanksgiving, this will all be but a memory.

15 October 2012

Ghost Stories

My grandmother had some of the best ghost stories and I was an eager listener.

There was the time that her favorite brother came to her in a dream. He was covered in dirt as if he was a child again rolling in a giant dirt pile. But he was no child, he was a young working man far, far from home.

"Cap?" she mumbled, using his nickname. "What are you doing here?" Wasn't he supposed to be in Alaska?

She could barely make out the whites of his eyes, widening in alarm. He tried to speak and puffs of dust spewed out, but no sounds. Only the dust. So much dust.

Terror seized her. "What's wrong? What are you saying?" 

His mouth opened and closed so quickly that it seemed he was smoking dirt. Choking on it. And his eyes. She'd never forget the anguish, grief, sadness swirling in her favorite blue eyes.

"Cap!" she screamed and woke herself up.

Later the next day when a messenger arrived, my young grandmother became distraught, crying and wailing before her mother could open the letter. She didn't need to read or be told that her sweet brother had been killed during a mine cave-in. She already knew. In the middle of the night he'd come to tell his favorite sister good-bye.

I've always wondered what my great-uncle had tried to say.

Happy Halloween.


14 October 2012

North Dakota's "Dark Man" Legend

I recently learned about the "Dark Man", watching Haunted Highways (Jack Osbourne's show on SyFy).  It freaked me out...watching this show.  I have a pretty strong belief in the paranormal and signs. 

In my research I was unable to fing much about the Dark Man other than he's a bad omen.  Watching the episode the ghost hunters were unable to get the Lakota people to talk about "The Dark Man", they were obviously afraid.  Their superstitions that even speaking about it might bring bad luck.

I was shocked then when the hunters went out looking for this evil spirt.  I'm not a fan of ghost hunters taunting spirits.  I think anytime you invite evil in you have a hard time getting rid of it.  I was watching this particular episode and shouting "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" but that's me.  Luckily all the hunters experienced was extremely "bad luck".

Here's a clip:


You can find the entire episode on YouTube if you so desire.


10 October 2012


When we first moved into our house, we were told about the typical things: the water needed treatment to be potable, it wasn't insulated very well, the treeline was the boundary on the left...little things that never stop first time homebuyers from signing on the dotted line.

Once we got settled in, our then-tenants came over and told us that sometimes we get squirrels in the attic. When that failed to get me riled up, they...might be rats. I pretended I could live with rats. "I meant raccoons." Well, raccoons would be a problem, I admitted, and my tenant walked away secure that he'd terrified me. In fact, I was more concerned that if he kept going, we'd have bears in the attic.

But about three months later, the same tenant came by and asked if we'd heard anything in their kitchen the night before. Apparently they'd left all the kitchen cupboards open, and they all...closed. At once. The front door, he said, had a habit of rattling in a way that sounded like someone opening it, but there was never anyone there. Ghosts, he'd decided, even as I pragmatically resolved that it's a really old house and that nothing is level, plum, square - and they're going to make weird noises sometimes.

Then one day, after the tenants left, I was walking up the back stairs, and I felt a cold patch. I stopped, checked for air leaking in from somewhere, shrugged, and kept going.

Three or four days later, a neighbor stopped by and asked if I knew the house's history when I bought it. "Sure!" I said. I knew that a politician-writer had been born here in the 1850's. That it had belonged for a while to another local politician. (in the 1980s) That it was, at different times, a sandwich shop, an arcade, a general store.

"But do you know about the murder suicide?"

er. No. That was a new one.

"Yeah, the old man who lived there killed his wife and then himself."

(WHY do people say these things like they're rattling off a grocery list?!)

"From those stairs, you know the ones? Sometimes there's a cold spot."


Now, I've never seen or heard from the ghost, beyond that one episode of cold chills. The former tenant kitchen has been gutted and turned into a storage room, so i've never met the (supposed) little girl who went around closing the doors. And putting a new hinge on the tenant's front door has stopped it from rattling (although if it was, as he believed, his grandmother, checking in on him, then I assume she'd go with him to HIS new house.)

Strangely, even though I dismiss all of this as rather happenstance in my own house...I totally think it happens to other people, and that there are paranormal explanations.

Just...not to me.
Not here.

And maybe that's naive, and maybe it's just self-preservation. I'm not sure. But if there are ghosts in my house, they're benign, and they seem happy enough to let me stay here, insulating the walls and uncovering the (gorgeous) hardwood floors. So if they are here, I'm happy enough to share the space, so long as they continue to be unobtrusive. Live and let...er...live...I says.

09 October 2012

Jean Marie's Capclave Schedule

This weekend—the real Columbus Day weekend—you can find me at Capclave, my hometown con. The guests of honor will be John Scalzi and Nick Mamatas. But they’ve given me some really nice panels, too. Come join us in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and see for yourself.

4 p.m., Frederick Meeting Room
Required reading
Students are required to read many novels. Is this a good thing? Can High School students truly relate to the Joads? Does being forced to read hold back students? Panelists: Roger MacBride Allen, James Morrow, Jean Marie Ward (Moderator)

Noon, Bethesda Meeting Room
Reviews, what are they good for?
They said what!?! What is the value of book blogs and review sites? Should you engage? Panelists: Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Brenda Clough, Gayle Surrette (Moderator), Jean Marie Ward

3 p.m., Salons A & B
Romancing the Paranormal
Witches and werewolves and vampires in love. Why has paranormal romance become so popular? Is this a fad or a lasting subgenre? Have publishers started cutting back? How much romance needs to be in the book for it to be paranormal as opposed to urban/modern fantasy? Panelists: Victoria Janssen (Moderator), Sherin Nicole, Jean Marie Ward

4 p.m., Bethesda Meeting Room
Has Steampunk gone mainstream?
New York editors are acting like gears and coal-fired engines are the new vampires. Has the genre become too popular--and is that a bad thing? And what exactly is steampunk and is it fantasy or science fiction? Panelists: John Ashmead, Jonah Knight (Moderator), Alan Smale, Elaine Stiles, Jean Marie Ward

7:30 p.m., Salons A & B
Capclave Signing
All Guests

10:30 p.m., Salons A & B
I Swear It’s All True
Panelists regal fans with their best “true” stories about things that happened to them. The moderator will give prompts, “Things that happened when I was supposed to be writing,” “Craziest thing that happened at a convention,” “Weirdest interaction with an editor or agent,” and “How I learned a lesson I’ll never forget.” Panelists: Jean Marie Ward (Moderator), Lawrence Watt-Evans

11 a.m., Bethesda Meeting Room
WWI Comeback
It has been nearly a hundred years since the War to end all wars, is this a setting that still has potential? Will the movie War Horse and the TV show Downton Abbey spark a new interest in fiction set during World War One? Panelists: Tad Daley, JD, PhD, Andrew Fox, John G. Hemry, Victoria Janssen (Moderator), Jean Marie Ward

Jean Marie Ward

08 October 2012

Mea Culpa! -- An author's dark secret

Almost every writer is guilty of it though many will deny and even fabricate long and complex stories to cover up the fact—after all we are writers famed for a high dosage of imagination. Sometimes we’re so clever we actually convince ourselves of our innocence.
The truth and bitter reality will eventually reassert itself and force us to face the facts and neither denial nor sheer bloody bullheaded self-induced amnesia (for which I am not guilty of, no sirree) will ever get us away from the shocking reality.
Almost every writer; and that includes you Mrs. J.C. from Hammersmith, VA. (Aha, you didn’t think I’d notice that little burp on the Quillsquatters page did you?) I repeat, every writer from the icicle-dipped-in-heated-ink-on-sheets-of-ice Inuit to the scratch-with-a-nail-on-a-stone-block Falkland’s sheep herder is guilty of this one thing.
We all have at least one skeleton in our laptops.
Shamefully I admit I am as guilty as the rest of them and I’ve attempted for longer than most to keep this affair secret. Since I was eighteen years old when I was a mere uneducated and easily corrupted teen I’ve gone out of my way to divert any attempt to pry this secret out of my wonderfully electric pink and fluffy closet. After all isn’t it much cozier huddled up with the cheap Walmart parka’s and worn out wellingtons than it would be bouncing around bare-naked in the full light of day?
Did I say bare-naked?
Uhm, please excuse me. I didn’t mean to put it quite like that, after all it’s not anything to do with baring…, well..., baring one’s soul perhaps.
Okay; dammit, I’ll confess to being guilty of having something I am truly ashamed of. Although in this case it’s not so much a skeleton in the laptop since such things didn’t exist at the time of my deed (laptops that is—skeletons have been around a little longer I’ve been told.) So it’s more like an apparition in a typewriter; a cadaver in the keys or a revenant in the ribbon. An act so heinous even a liberal apologist such as myself still cringes at the memory.
Perhaps this acknowledgement and an act of contrition will bring about a cleansing of my soul and free the overburdening weight of guilt which has hung over me for the last thirty-two years.
And so I announce now…
Ah, a glass of water please.
Thank you, So, that’s it…right?
I didn’t say anything—
Oh dear, well…

Here goes…

I just want to say…

iwrotethisfirstnovelanditiscompleteandutterlyembarrassingtrash .

Okay! There, now you know and the first one to laugh gets…gets…gets a free copy of it. Hah! So there.
I don’t mean the first “it’s the first I’ve published first novel”. Cyberius III was my first published novel and was actually my fifth written novel though it is currently “out of print” and unavailable from the publisher; a somewhat odd state of affairs for an electronic publication but hey, what do I know, I’m only the author.
Poseidon VII was actually my seventh completed novel and Dante I my tenth. (Novels two to four are either still being edited or are difficult sales to shrinking markets.) I’m talking about the foremost, truly mind-numbing first ever typed words on paper kind of story. (Trust me I’m not even going to include the cringe, curl up and die stories I had to write for English class. My adolescent stories can be most easily equated to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Vogon’s Poetry.
The thing is; it is true isn’t it? All writers have first writtens or experimentals which we keep locked in the bottom drawer of the file cabinet, stuffed under the bed, hidden in an old shoebox crammed into the bottom of the bathroom cleaning products under-the-sink storage. Yellowed copy for which we’d die if it was espied and read by even our nearest and dearest; yet somehow is too precious to offload into the nearest furnace or shredder. (Throwing it in a trashcan is out of the question, some one may pull it out to read.)
My no-title masterpiece was a glowing example of a Marty Stu. One shy little nobody (with brown hair, glasses and a wicked smile) building a worldwide secret force for good and saving the entire world from nuclear destruction while simultaneously re-educating the world leaders in the ways of peace and harmonious living.
Think about it. Would you really buy a book which started with the sentence:

White edged sky edged toward sleepy Houndston as dawn chased away the lingering shadows of another sleepless night.

It’s okay to scream, I understand. If you haven’t clawed your eyes out by now it’s safe to open them again.
With a twisted and totally unrealistic plot this amazing science fiction/action thriller suffered from multiple name changes and physical characteristics of the secondary characters; superhuman capabilities of a main character who could fix anything and never made a mistake; randomly moving body parts; intensely yucky pseudo romancey scenes and probably every single mistake it was possible to make in all its literary forms. With camels regularly coming to a sweet end in the roving dunes of the Arabian desserts the Novel with No Title was my very own Eye of Argon simply waiting for the chance to entertain myriad SF convention attendees along with three pints of beer and a brandy—triple shot on ice with some white fluffy cream and a bagel.
Fortunately this two-hundred and forty-three page; single spaced; yellow aged; typewritten monstrosity is the only embarrassing attempt I’ll admit to. Having learned enough from the one failed attempt to edit, re-edit and edit again up to the tenth generation edit. Yet, I find I’m still unable to completely give up on no-title and every eighth year I pull it out from the cobwebs and add another gallon of red ink or two to the edits I’ve already added to the impossible.
Truthfully, in spite of the terror of seeing what my original writing skills amounted to I am still quite proud of that piece of work. I know it will never be published. Even after massive edits and rewrites it would be simpler just to write a completely different book with a similar story idea.
The important thing is I did write it. I managed a ninety-seven thousand word typescript, plotted, planned, researched and completed it. And you know what? It’s not something which a lot of people can do. Completing even a cringe-worthy manuscript which has no chance of being published brought me a great sense of satisfaction—not to mention the boost it gave to my writer esteem. Once I knew I could complete a novel it became easier to do the next, and the next.
Also there is a certain amount of self-teaching to be found within the historical first time. Like the highly embarrassing first time sex, reviewing the fumbling and bumblings of my first typescript reminds me that I wasn’t always as proficient a writer as I am now and helps me relate more easily to today’s beginning authors.
It is a very humbling experience to look back and see how little I knew then compared to how much I know now. Encouraging too since it’s similar to looking back over your baby and childhood photos and seeing how you grew and developed. My one major regret in life is how in a fit of teenaged pique I threw away dozens of notebooks containing over nine years of childhood poetry—I’d turned into an adult, see, and didn’t need their constant reminders of how silly and childish I’d been.
How many authors have closets like mine (minus the electric pink) and their secret not to be discovered first writtens? I don’t know, after all some skeletons may look better in a closet with a big red bow tie holding them firmly into place—with the occasional, locked in the bedroom airing.
What do you think?

S.J. Willing
Proud Author of the PIACT undercover agent series.

S.J. Willing's Forum
Dante I
Poseidon VII

05 October 2012

Bumps in the night

Have you seen a shadow move?  Have you heard an odd noise -- maybe a voice from nowhere?  Have you ever felt as if you were being watched? Followed?

Those somewhat creepy, eerie sensations seem affect a lot of people. Is it merely an overactive imagination? A trick of the light or dark? Maybe. But I think many of us suspect that there is more to life than meets the eye.

Ghost stories have existed all over the world for many centuries. As human beings, we seem to enjoy being scared. That little bit of adrenaline rush, followed by relief and maybe laughter. It feels good. Otherwise, why would things such as horror stories/movies and roller-coasters be such an integral part of our culture?

My youngest daughter and I love watching Ghost Hunters together. Now before you scoff, they do manage to catch quite a few interesting bits of evidence with their high-tech gadgets. Early in 2011, the TAPS team visited a nearby famous haunt when they investigated the Homestead Carnegie Library here in Pennsylvania. Their time was well-spent. My daughter immediately wanted to go there and experience the haunting for herself. :)

More locally, there are stories of a nearby diner being haunted by the spirit of an older woman. Not that frightening, really, unless you're easily spooked.  ;)  I'm also fairly certain a small cemetary we pass frequently has its own lingering energy. No, I don't tend to think tombstones are haunted. Ghosts would probably have more interesting places to hover.

I've grown up with ghost stories from within my own family -- it seems we have a genetic 'gift' when it comes to experiences with the afterlife. Personally, I've been on the fringes: watched, but not spoken to; jumping at shadows and shapes that move in and out of my peripheral vision; having things moved -- hidden it seems -- and then put back in place. Which is kind of how I like it. :)  I prefer that little adrenaline rush to full-blown screaming terror. How about you?

~~Meg Allison
Indulge your senses...

04 October 2012

Who Believes in the Bell Witch?

This month at BTV in honor of spooky October, many of us will be talking about ghost stories and local haunted house tales. I live in Tennessee, and one of the most prominent Tennessee Tales of Terror is the story of the Bell Witch. In fact, the Bell Witch cave is only a couple miles from the house of a crit partner of mine, though neither of us have ever been.

Growing up, the main thing I knew about the Bell Witch was that if you went into the bathroom after dark, closed your eyes, chanted, "I believe in the Bell Witch" 3 or 10 or 13 times, and then opened your eyes, you would see her in the mirror. Right there, scary as any retinal adjustment to a change in illumination *heh*. I don't think I ever made it to 13 times.

The legend itself doesn't appear to stem from some horrific witch-burning incident or ax murdering psycho, as so many haunting tales do. No, it was some ticked off neighbor lady named Kate who took offense to the Bell family and poltergeisted them (in particular the dad and one of the girls) for a number of years.

Naturally my writer's mind wanted to make sense of it (She had an affair with the dad! The girl was engaged to her half-brother, unbeknownst to her!), which apparently isn't a rare reaction, as a number of movies, books and stories revolve around the legend. The About.com page suggests the girl's teacher was in love with her and wanted to scare off her fiance, who did eventually leave, and the girl ended up married to the teacher.

According to the official website, tales of the Bell Witch stretch back to 1817. According to the Wiki, movies it inspired include The Bell Witch Haunting, The Bell Witch, An American Haunting and the Blair Witch Project. I don't think I've ever seen any of those, either, since I'm not a huge fan of horror. Nor have I heard the "2 piece doom band" with the name Bell Witch: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bell-Witch/136264673108884  (I know, right??) Also tons of books and such at Amazon, which are too numerous to list.

You can find out more about the Bell Witch at the official site: http://www.bellwitchcave.com/

Here's another webpage dedicated to the Bell Witch by author/historician Pat Fitzhugh, who's also written books about the legend: http://www.bellwitch.org/home.htm

Wiki Page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_Witch

For those of you who aren't wholesale believers in ghosts, here's a skeptical review of the legend: http://mtskeptics.homestead.com/BellWitch.html

And if you're a fan in general, there's a fan site: http://www.bellwitchfansite.com/ which claims it has exclusive pictures and videos, woohoo!

Have you ever been inspired by local haunting tales to write a story?

Jody Wallace and Meankitty
Making the Internet Cattier Since 1999
http://www.meankitty.com * http://www.jodywallace.com