I woke up this morning and found out that it is #NationalCameraDay. Who knew? Well, I've been meaning to do a new blog post for a while now, and I remembered that I had once written a short story about a magical polaroid camera that reveals more than it should at a high school reunion. I hope you enjoy it.
A short story by
D. G. Driver
“You think that’ll work?” Bill asked, tipping a beer to his lips. I noticed Blaire, his wife, gesture that this would be his last beer.
Next to Bill on the picnic tabletop, Christy looked dubiously at the Polaroid camera in my hands. “I didn’t these existed anymore.”
I shrugged. “I found it in a box while searching for my yearbooks at my mom’s house last night. It might not work.”
“They’ll probably come out black,” Eddie chimed in. He and his newest wife, Hallie, cuddled on a blanket separate from the rest of us.
“We’ll see,” I said, quickly snapping a picture of Eddie and Hallie. If I was going to get a ruined picture it might as well be of them.
Once the picture slid out of the camera, I joined the rest of my old buddies at the picnic table. Jennifer, the buddy I once considered best, grabbed the picture from me and shook it. “You’re supposed to do this.”
I laughed. She always had her peculiar habits. It was kind of nice to see that after twenty-three years that part of her hadn’t changed.
“It sure is great to have everyone together, isn’t it?” I said.
No one jumped up and shouted, “Yes! And we should stay together like this, bonded in friendship for the rest of our lives and never let life tear us apart again!!!” like I hoped. Instead everyone did a sort of sighing, nodding head thing as though to say, “Yeah, it’s sweet, but can we wrap this up soon?”
The reunion wasn’t my idea. Some teenage girl planned it. Our high school drama teacher was retiring, so the current students hosted this big event, reuniting everyone who ever once graced the stage in an embarrassing moment of Thespianism.
As the event strolled through the afternoon, we alumni slowly split off into chunks by graduating years. My group consisted of the ’96 graduates and their current spouses. I hadn’t seen most of them since graduation except on Facebook and hardly recognized them as the people I used to love more than life.
“It came out!” Jennifer shouted, holding up the photograph.
I studied the picture closely. Strange. I swore I had taken a picture of Eddie and his wife, but Hallie wasn’t in the shot. And another thing. I thought Eddie had been sitting, but in this picture, he was standing with his hand over his heart in that romantic Gene Kelly gesture that used to drive me, and every other girl in the school, wild.
Couldn’t be, I thought. I’m just over-do for new contacts. I picked up the camera and aimed the lens at Christy.
Christy groaned, “Don’t. I look soooo bad.”
Right. Like leggy Christy, who taught yoga and won swing dance competitions had anything to worry about. She was the only one of us still performing. She and I were the only single adults at the table, yet I’m certain her singleness was by choice and not default like mine. I joined the others in groaning right back at her.
I took a few steps back in order to get a good group shot. I was still centering the picture, when Bill asked Jennifer about her kids.
“I hear your boy’s an ace at T-Ball.”
Jennifer blushed with a parental modesty nobody ever buys. “His dad thinks he’ll be on the Dodgers one of these days.”
She elbowed her husband in the ribs. Ronnie nodded, mouth full of hamburger.
“How about you, Bill?” Jennifer asked. “Any kids yet?”
“Nah,” he said. “Blaire and I decided not to have kids.” He rubbed his wife’s neck as he spoke.
I snapped a picture of Eddie and Jennifer, thinking how funny it was to hear them talking about their spouses and family life. It was like they had forgotten that they once couldn’t keep their hands off each other. I wondered if Ronnie or Blaire knew about that as I handed the picture to Jennifer to “air out”.
“Don’t you think Mr. Grant looks old?” Christy said. She pointed at him where he sat, two tables away.
I swung the camera around to get a distant shot of our old teacher. “He’s looked better,” I admitted.
“Not much,” Eddie chimed in. “Remember? He was so fat that when he sat slouched in the theater seats his stomach used to touch his chin.”
We all laughed at the memory of that image as I snapped the picture.
“Oh my God!” Jennifer screamed. She dropped the picture she had been “drying” as though it had bitten her.
I picked it up and dusted it off. To my amazement, the picture was not of Jennifer and Bill. At least not as they were today, forty-year-olds with bellies and hips.
The picture revealed a much younger version of them in an intense embrace.
“Oh my God is right,” I said.
“What? What is it?” Everyone wanted to know.
“Don’t you dare show them,” Jennifer warned.
But it was too late. Christy had already snatched it out of my hands and was sharing it with Bill. “This is so weird,” she said, as though we hadn’t all figured that out.
Luckily for Jennifer, Ronnie was still only interested in his meal. Bill’s wife, however, got a good enough glimpse to warrant him a harsh look and a quick exit from the scene.
“Blaire!” he called after her.
I let them deal with their soap opera moment. I needed to know how the other picture I took came out.
The image struggling to brighten looked to me to be Mr. Grant slouching in a beach chair in the park. Only, we were all in the picture too, sitting in the grass with our backpacks and scripts. This time, I dropped the picture.
Eddie joined us at the table at last, curious to see what was going on. Bill couldn’t find it in him to leave this phenomenon to chase after his wife, so he leaned in too.
“Take another one,” Christy said. “Take one of me.”
As she flung her hair back over her shoulder, I clicked the button. We waited wordlessly for the picture to develop.
Nothing unusual. It came out as a picture of Christy flipping her hair over her shoulder.
“Well, that’s not fair,” she whined.
Of course not. I knew she just wanted to see if it would show us a picture of her once glorious star-of-the-senior-musical self.
Jennifer, studying the pictures, said, “Here’s what I think. When you took these two pictures we were talking about memories.”
“But we weren’t talking about these memories,” Bill said.
“Take another one of all of us,” Christy ordered. “While she does that, we all have to talk about something. Okay? Let’s talk about a play we all did or something.”
Every face went blank for a moment as they calculated which play to talk about. Between us, we had performed in over twenty of them. I aimed the camera and waited for someone to start.
“Remember the auditions for Guys and Dolls?” Jennifer asked, pushing it for a believable delivery. “We all had to do that dance to Luck Be a Lady and it was so hard.”
Christy jumped up. “I choreographed that number.”
Bill cringed. “I remember looking like an idiot.”
“But you got the part,” Christy reminded him.
“Well, yeah,” he admitted. “But Nathan Detroit doesn’t really dance, you know.”
I let them go on a bit longer about the auditions and the show before I took the picture. I wanted to capture them when they truly had forgotten to keep posing for the camera.
A deep debate about the pros and cons of seniority casting occupied them. By the time I approached them with the developed picture they seemed surprised that I had it already. I dropped the picture on the table and the conversation came to a halt.
No one spoke.
How could they? Who would have imagined that the picture would not be about the show? Who would have dreamed that the picture would not include any of us? Who would have thought that the picture would reveal Susie Talbert, the girl who should have played Sarah Brown that year.
We all just stared, silently moved by the fact we had forgotten all about this girl who had once been our friend.
The silence caught Ronnie’s attention. “What’s going on?” he said. “Is it another picture of my wife smooching some kid?”
“Uh, no,” I said quietly. I didn’t know what to say. Apparently, no one else did, either.
Ronnie picked up the picture. “She’s pretty. Who is she?”
We all looked at each other, hoping someone else would answer. Eddie finally spoke up.
“That’s Susie. She was killed in a car accident about a week before the school musical.” He paused, and I could sense the need in him to explain things. I felt it welling up inside myself too. I had denied what happened for so long.
After a deep breath, Eddie continued. “It had been prom. We had planned to all go together instead of separately with our dates. Only, Susie’s boyfriend was the school president, and he hung out with a different crowd than us, so she decided to go with him and hang with his friends that night.”
I interrupted to say, “She figured she’d be spending the whole next week and weekend with us because of the play.”
“Anyway,” Eddie said, “some of us were kind of pissed off that she chose this guy and his jerk friends over us. She was like a real turncoat, you know. Four weeks from the end of school, and she’s hanging with the people who always trashed us.”
Eddie was getting worked up about it, so I took over. “We ignored her at the dance. Didn’t give her an ounce of attention. We actually booed and hissed when she won prom queen. I don’t know why we were like that. I can’t remember why…” That’s when I had to stop.
Ronnie raised a hand and said, “I don’t need to hear any more. I think I got it.”
“No, you don’t,” Jennifer said to him. “I need you to know this about me. About my friends and me.” Ronnie let her talk. “Susie was so depressed that night ‘cause we were so mean to her. I mean, we were her best friends. So, she went to some party after the prom with her boyfriend and got wasted. She’d never done that before.” Jennifer bit her lip in an attempt to control the shaking of her voice. “They were driving home from the party, drunk, and they crashed into a stoplight. Her boyfriend broke both his legs. Susie was killed.”
Christy, who had jumped all over the leading role in the musical as soon as the news came out about Susie’s death, started bawling. Of course, none of the rest of us were exactly dry-eyed.
Nobody had anything left to say. We sat there in a funk for about five minutes or so. Eddie’s wife came over to comfort him in her snuggly way. Only Ronnie moved as though unaffected. He got up to dump his paper plate and napkin in the trash. When he came back to the table he took the camera from me.
“Do you mind?” he asked after the camera was already in his hands.
“I guess not.”
A hint of a smile crossed his otherwise blank face. “Thanks.” He took about three steps backwards and lifted the camera to his eye. “Hey, everyone,” he said.
“Oh, not now, honey,” Jennifer said. “No one wants a picture of this.”
The words didn’t daunt him one bit. “Think about this Susie girl,” he said. “Think about what you should have done. What you would have done if you could do it again.”
Before any of us could protest, he snapped a picture.
We waited anxiously while Ronnie fanned the shot just like his wife had before. Finally he walked over to us and held the picture up for us to see.
There we all were, sitting at a picnic table in our modern-day clothes with our modern-day wrinkles and weight. Only one thing was different. Susie was there with us. She had her arms wrapped around Jennifer and my shoulders and was squeezing hard. A great grin stretched across her young face.
As we enjoyed the sight of our angelic friend, I could feel my friendship with Jennifer return and my awe for Christy’s talent swell up inside me. The way I used to always appreciate Eddie’s frankness and Bill’s sweet demeanor came right back to me. Everything fit right back in place—twenty-three years of distance suddenly erased.
Ronnie flipped the camera over in his hands to inspect it. “This is a great thing,” he said to me, bringing me out of my reverie. “Mind if I borrow it for my reunion?”
“It’s yours,” I whispered. I knew I didn’t need it anymore.
I hope you liked that. If you did, you'll probably enjoy my other ghost stories Lost on the Water and Passing Notes. And hey, my newest novel All the Love You Write (a contemporary teen romance challenged by a couple meddling ghosts) comes out in about a month. I'll be having a cover reveal really soon! Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to keep up with all the book release news.
Bullies, mean girls, brats, uncompromising or corrupt adults... Over the course of my writing career thus far, I’ve written a number of dislikable characters. In some ways they are more fun to write than the nice ones. I don’t consider myself a mean-hearted person (I teach babies for a living), so it’s a bit of a thrill to dip into the head of someone who has nothing nice to say or does appalling things. At the same time, writing these kinds of characters is also a challenge for me because I’m kind of a mild-mannered person. I have to work to make the nastiness of these characters believable.
My middle grade novel, No One Needed to Know, is full of bullies who unfairly pick on Heidi and her autistic brother. The point of the book is Heidi overcoming the bullies and hatred so that she can help people learn to be kind toward her brother and others with autism and special needs. So, the bullies had to be awful and do name-calling with a word that makes me cringe. This novel is based loosely on my real-life relationship with my older autistic brother, and we were both bullied when we were young. My daughters were also bullied in school. I had to dredge up what that was like to write these scenes. I can’t say that was particularly fun, but it was important.
The Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy, my YA fantasy series, features several characters that are fairly hateful. The worst of them is Regina, the president of the high school student council who has no use for Juniper until Juniper can provide her access to real-life mermaids. There is also Nick, the high school boy determined to make of fool of Juniper in the school yearbook, and Mrs. Slater, the vice principal who clearly hates teenagers and Juniper most of all. Within her family, Juniper’s mother isn’t the most likeable woman, and her uncle Nathan is a tough pill to swallow. All of this ugliness is necessary for the series in order for Juniper to feel isolated and to force her into action.
Most of the characters in the small-town setting of my YA adventure novel Lost on the Water – A Ghost Story are welcoming, but not all. Chris is a pretty big jerk to the youngest boy in the group, Alex, and newcomer Dannie. He even insists that Alex just ‘wimped out’ on the kayaking-camping trip and paddled home, refusing to believe Dannie that the boy is lost and needs help. When he finds out that Dannie isn’t really a boy, well, there are some less-than-kind words about that, too.
I get attached to my protagonists. I don’t want them to suffer or feel hurt. I guess I think of them as my children, and my instinct is to protect them. When I write a scene where another character is bullying my heroine or treating her badly, it feels icky inside. It’s weird knowing that these awful words and actions are coming out of me, and yet they do. I wrote a scene in my upcoming YA romance All the Love You Write (July, 2019) where Bethany’s friends are being very critical of her relationship with Mark and are tearing her down. I remember tweeting after I wrote the scene about how much I hated those two girls and what they were making me do to my sweet leading lady.
Still, it’s necessary, right? We can’t just have happy stories where nothing bad happens. Antagonists exist to make trouble for our protagonists. It’s absolutely necessary for creating an interesting plot or character development. That said, antagonists don’t have to be villains. They don’t have to be the obvious ‘bad guy’. They can simply be the people planting doubt or creating the obstacles.
But… What if my main character is the awful person?
I have a certain admiration for people who write thrillers or horror novels where the book dips into the mindset of the villain. I’m currently reading Remember Me by D. E. White where there are chapters told in first person from the serial killer’s POV. It’s creepy. It’s effective.
Still, this isn’t quite the same as writing a hateful main character of a story that is not horrific and hoping the reader will stick with her to see where this is going.
I think of characters like Dr. Gregory House from the TV show House. That show was a big hit despite him having the absolute worst temperament. That’s because deep down he was an amazing doctor who would do right by his patients. He had a good side. The audience knew it and trusted it.
What if the main character doesn’t appear to have a good side? With each passing page, she gets more and more vile. What would keep a person reading?
I think of someone like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind, for example. She’s selfish, vain, and manipulative, among other things. Yet we root for her. We read that massive novel or sit through that 4-hour movie (again) hoping she’s going to become a better person and wind up successful and happy.
Well, I decided to write from the perspective of a character like that. I’ve done it twice now, both times as fairy tales.
The first story I wrote was easier because the original plot and main character weren't my original ideas. I took an old Grimm Brothers fairy tale called “King Thrushbeard” and retold it as “King or Beggar”, now published in the anthology Tales of Ever After. In this story, a princess haughtily dismisses every man that asks for her hand in marriage. She’s impossibly rude about it. Finally, her father declares that the next man to arrive at the castle will be her husband. The next man turns out to be a beggar. Oh, what a horrid punishment for this vile girl. I named her Brianna, and she is a rotten thing.
Next, I decided to get braver and try an original story. This fairy tale would be the 3rd in my ongoing series of original fairy tale novelettes. Colleeda, the leading lady of The Silent Beauty, is disgustingly vain and selfish. She doesn’t care about anyone’s feelings—unless it’s adoration for her beauty and lovely singing ability. Life is a flirtatious game until a witch who clearly does not adore Colleeda curses her to never speak or sing again.
In both of these stories, the ladies are punished for their awful ways. Deservedly so. The question is: do readers think the punishment is enough or will they read on to find out if the girls ever change and earn the right to a happy ending?
Happily, one of the first reviews of The Silent Beauty (which released this past week) read:
“The Silent Beauty is an unusual fairy tale, as the beautiful maiden is not one you will like, or even like reading about. Her faults heavily outweigh her looks and her stunning voice. Yet, you’ll likely keep reading. As the tale progresses, you’ll dislike her more and more, as for a change from most fairy tales, she is the evil one. Does she get her comeuppance? You’ll have to read and find out. Like Driver’s first two original fairy tales, the story is well written, detailed, and full of twists and turns.”
Another first reviewer wrote:
“The main character Colleeda is perfectly drawn as an enticing but altogether pompous character, who is perhaps a woman we would all love to hate, but when circumstances catch up with her ill deeds, we come to wonder if, both, she will be saved and if she deserves it?”
It's definitely a thrill when some of the first readers express that they 'get' what you're trying to do.
What are your thoughts about the rotten personas infiltrating your books? If you’re an author, do you like writing them? If you’re a reader, do you like reading them? I’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to leave a comment below.
Happy Valentine's Day!
*update made on 2/13/21: This excerpt is from my novel All the Love You Write, A Hauntingly Sweet Romance. This young adult sweet paranormal romance was published by Fire and Ice YA Books in late 2019 and is still available in print and ebook.
Whether or not you have someone special in your life, I hope you'll enjoy the day with some sweets and something sweet to read. My next YA novel, All the Love You Write is scheduled to be released by Fire and Ice YA Books in late summer this year. It's still got to go through editing and proofreading rounds, and it hasn't got a cover yet. Still, I thought it would be fun to share a little sneak peek at it today. This is a scene that takes place on Valentine's Day between my main characters Mark and Bethany.
First, a little set-up (as this is pretty far into the book). Mark and Bethany, both seniors in high school start dating after Winter Break. They have a rocky start, but thanks to a meddling ghost who help Mark write a beautiful love letter, they are finally on track.
The big problem now is that Bethany knows that once high school is over, she will head off to college, and Mark is leaving to join the military. She is having a hard time investing herself in a relationship that is doomed to end. And it really doesn't help that a different ghost is meddling with her, too. Only, this ghost is not like the ghost who helped Mark. This ghost wants Bethany to leave Mark before she breaks his heart.
To top it off, Bethany's divorced mother is making her spend Valentine's evening with her at a play instead of letting her go on a date with Mark.
Joe and Eileen didn’t get to spend Valentine’s Day together because he was in Vietnam. I supposed they had spent Valentine’s Day together the year before while they were still in school, but never again.
Next year on Valentine’s Day, Mark would be deployed. He might be in the Middle East somewhere. We would definitely not be able to spend Valentine’s Day together. And if he died there, we’d never spend it together. Never.
I ran down the hall and stood at the top of the stairs. “Mom! I won’t go to the play with you tomorrow night. I have to spend Valentine’s Day with Mark.”
Mom twisted around on the couch and looked up at me. “You’re going with me, and that’s final. Mark will survive.”
But that’s the whole point. What if he didn’t? What if he didn’t survive for another Valentine’s Day?
“Mom. Please. This is important to me.”
“I tell you what,” she said. “I’ll give you money to pay for the dinner when you two do go out together to celebrate. My gift to you two. Okay? Fair deal?”
“End of discussion.”
I suppose the play was good. I have no idea. I don’t remember watching it.
Mark and I did have lunch at school together that day, but it was it was hardly private. We decided to picnic in the gym hallway as a sad farewell to our secret love letter nook. He brought some sparkling apple cider and plastic champagne glasses. I made us both some ham sandwiches and cookies. He took off the worn out watch he owned and put on the watch I gave him. His excitement about it seemed genuine. In turn, he clasped the locket he gave me around my neck. It was oval shaped, about an inch tall. The gold had lost its shine, but the etched flowers were still visible. He said it was his Aunt Nettie’s and that she wanted me to have it. I was grateful that it hadn’t been Eileen’s. I was afraid it might burn me or choke me during the night.
“I didn’t put pictures in it yet,” he told me. “I’d mess them up. I figured you’d do a better job at cutting them the right size and stuff.”
I took a selfie of us holding our champagne glasses. It came out really cute, and I told him that was the picture I’d use in the locket until we got a better one at his J.R.O.T.C. ball or prom.
He gave me a sweet kiss while people around us oohed and clapped.
It was something but not enough. A true Valentine’s celebration shouldn’t be cut short by a school bell sending you to fifth period.
I hated being at the play knowing he was roller skating burgers and fries out to people’s cars in the cold February weather. My stomach churned with the guilt of it, and I went to the bathroom twice thinking I was about to throw up. Mom asked if I thought I had the flu. When Riff and Bernardo died, I cried. When Tony died, I sobbed some more. I didn’t care that they died, but the tears had been waiting for the opportunity and took it with abandon. I blubbered halfway home. Mom stopped going on about the show after a while when she finally clued it that my tears had nothing to do with West Side Story.
When we pulled into our garage, Mom put her hand on my arm before I got out of the car. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I know I upset your plans with Mark, but…” She squeezed my arm too tightly. “I just didn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day alone again. It’s hard, you know?”
My mom’s eyes were soft, her eyeliner smeared with some tears she’d been quietly crying on her own. Tears that weren’t for Riff, Bernardo, or Tony either. I reached across the seats with my free arm and hugged her.
“It’s okay,” I whispered.
Now my guilt was two-fold. I’d let Mark down, but I’d also spoiled my mother’s night. She wanted a night out with me to not think about this romantic holiday that she no longer shared with a husband. I was a jerk. I was a terrible person. Although, in my defense, if she’d said something about her real feelings earlier, I could have done better. I think.
“Mom, you know you can talk to me about things, right? About Dad, if you want to.”
She let go of me and turned off the car. “It’s not about your dad. It’s about this dumb holiday. When you don’t have anyone, it makes the loneliness so much more vivid.”
“I guess it does,” I agreed.
We went in the house, and when I was sure she was all right and getting ready for bed, I went to my room. I talked to Mark on the phone, but it was a short call. I lay there in the dark, unable to sleep as Valentine’s Day shifted to February 15th.
“It’s just a dumb holiday,” I said, repeating my mom’s words. “Just a holiday to make people spend money on gifts and cards. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean anything.”
I hope you enjoyed that little glimpse of All the Love You Write. It is a sweet teen romance with some paranormal activity. Learn more about the book and read another excerpt here. It's available in print and ebook and is FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
I also have a Valentine's Day scene in my novel Echo of the Cliffs, book 3 of the Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy. If you'd like to read that cute, romantic excerpt between Juniper and her boyfriend Carter, click on over this old blog post.
Want to read the whole series? You're in luck. The ebook box set is only $6.99 or free at Kindle Unlimited. That's less than half what it would cost to purchase them separately.
I'd love to hear from you. So, please feel free to leave a comment.
A few days ago, I was talking with my mother. She said my brother (yes, the one I’ve written about in my novel No One Needed to Know), recently read a book about how people should choose a ‘word of the year’ to make their own and guide their actions. My parents were excited about this concept, and Mom chose ‘positive’ while Dad chose ‘tolerant’. My brother has not chosen a word yet. I don’t think he has to. He’s awesome as he is. We should all strive to be like Joe.
Anyway, my mother suggested I choose a word for the year. This isn’t exactly a new idea. I’ve read lots of motivational books and articles over the years that suggest this, or something similar to this. Visualize success. Make your thoughts about what you are, not what you want. “I am a writer” verses “I want to be a writer.” And you know what? I’ve seen it work for some people. I have a couple friends who are like poster children for positive thinking.
I, however, am not one of those people. Honestly, it always backfires on me. The more I use ‘this is happening’ language in my head or start believing that something is really going to transpire, the more I lose. It’s like I jinx myself. If I can picture myself doing it, I won’t ever do it.
Here’s one of my earliest examples. When I was 20 years old, I auditioned for the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at a professional theater in California. I had just played Wendy in Peter Pan at that theater the year before. I was 5’3” and super thin. I did a great audition. Other actors at the audition were gathering around me, certain that I would be the one playing the part. I saw it in my mind—me in the brown braids and wearing that blue dress with the red sparkly shoes. Then… I lost to a 33-year-old actress who was an Equity union actress. I was devastated.
No joke. When I start planning what I am going to write as my next tweet or Facebook post about my great upcoming success story, that’s usually when I get the rejection. This happened just this past week. I got a request for a full manuscript from a publisher only two days after submitting. I just KNEW this was going to be IT! Not just a book sale, but a SERIES sale. I had my announcement tweets forming in my head and my blog post about determination and dusting off old manuscripts half planned. Then I got a rejection—the very next day. It wasn’t the direction they were planning after all. I didn’t tweet about that.
So, here I am, a determined optimist who is cursed to not be allowed to specifically imagine the fruits of success. My mother suggested I picked a word for the year, and my impulse was a big fat “No!” If I pick a word, then the opposite of that will happen to me. I know my tone disappointed her, and that made me feel sad and guilty. In deference to her, I decided I would give it some thought. I’ve come up with a few words that might be good motivators (without being too specific).
One of my goals this year is to further my knowledge about the business of writing. I’ve been to lots of writing conferences and workshops about the craft of writing and how to submit to publishers and agents. I’ve read and read and read about these skills and have applied them. What I haven’t taken enough time doing is learning about promotion tactics, SEO, effective advertising, you know, how to really sell books. I have a limited amount of time to dedicate to my writing career, and most of that time has gone to actually writing or doing some minimal publicity. There has to be a way to break through and get my books noticed by a larger audience, and I want to take more time learning the tricks of the trade that are eluding me right now.
In both my acting and writing careers, I’ve always been a person who sees an opportunity and runs with it, even if it takes me away from where I thought I was headed. For that reason, I published 6 nonfiction books back in the early 2000s and did a fair bit of freelance writing even though I always wanted to be a novelist. These nonfiction books helped me make some income as a writer and become a Published and Listed author with SCBWI, which was important to me.
I like challenging my writing ability, and I also like working on assignment, so I might look for more opportunities outside of writing young adult novels this year. To that end, I’m also considering leaving children’s writing (and fantasy) behind completely later this year and working on a book intended for grown-ups. My plans have a way of getting changed depending on what comes my way, so we’ll see what happens.
Five of those nonfiction books I mentioned above were a series of biographies about classical composers that I co-wrote with Daniel Felsenfeld, who is now an accomplished composer and a music professor at Julliard. It was a great experience. Other than that, I have always worked on books by myself, in a little messy office, with no real input from any outside voices. I had a meeting yesterday with a dear friend about the possibility of us working on a novel together. I’m super excited to see where this will go and how it will improve and change my writing for the better.
Along with collaborating, I need to get more involved. I am a member of SCBWI, but I haven’t been to the local conference in the past three years because of schedule conflicts. I feel the difference it makes, not being connected to the local pack of authors. I am in a great online group of clean indie fantasy authors, and I’ve had the good fortune of having three stories of mine selected for their anthologies. I’ve done a few of their Facebook events but not enough of them. (In fairness, my fantasy novels aren’t self-published, so I can’t always do some of the group sales events because I don’t control the prices of my books). However, I could try harder. I went to a couple local book signings last year, but I want to be more supportive and go to more of these if possible. I will definitely be looking for more opportunities to include myself in events—and not just ones where we all stand at our own tables and sell books.
Fortitude means to carry on bravely through adversity.
I’ve been at this writing game for 24 years now. That’s a considerable amount of time. I’ve seen my work published in magazines, websites, anthologies, nonfiction books, and novels, but I’ve yet to get an agent or reach what I call 'The Big Show'. Like most creatives, there are days I want to quit and give it all up. I had more of those days in 2018 than ever before. I hit a hard block on the novel I was writing because I just didn’t see the point in finishing it. I was disappointed at the lackluster sales of my newest novel release. One of my manuscripts that I shopped around to agents all year didn’t get a single bite, even after multiple revisions of that all-important first chapter. Sometimes I get really heartbroken by it all.
But then I’ll get a new awesome review, or a small award, or someone does a cool bookstagram post with one of my book covers or sends me a message about how much they liked one of my books. I’m revived and rejuvenated. I keep plugging ahead and hoping the next project will be THE project. The one that’s going to propel my career to the next level.
There you have it. That’s my list of words for the year. I hope Mom is pleased. Do you have any words that would help define what you expect for yourself in 2019? I’d love to read your comments about that, and I wish you all the best at achieving your goals.
So, here I am, like every other author, doing my annual year-end round-up of my writing-related experiences and favorite reads. I hope you've had a lovely year. Mine had some stressful moments personally, but overall was a better year for my family than 2017. I'm grateful for that. I stayed away from doing any theater the first half of the year and focused solely on writing. Due to this, I was able to be involved in a couple anthology projects and got more work published.
Normally, I'm a person that works on one project at a time. This year was the opposite for me. My main writing project was interrupted multiple times for other more pressing deadlines and ideas.
It started right before New Year's Eve last year when Fellowship of Fantasy (a group of indie fantasy writers on Facebook that I'm part of) announced that they were putting together an anthology of stories with the theme of magical doorways. I knew I had an old story like that. So, I stopped writing my novel and spent a few days cleaning and pruning that old story. It got accepted into Mythical Doorways which came out early in 2018.
Cleaning up "The Hallway of Three Doors" reminded me that I had several of these old original fairy tales, and I decided I would clean them all up and release them as a series of novelettes. I got right to work on the first one The Royal Deal and released it at the end of January. My plan had been to get these out quickly, but the revisions took a lot longer than expected, and the next one, The Tomato Quest, didn't come out until summer. Also, one of my old stories, which was a retelling of an old Grimm Brothers fairy tale got chosen for the Fellowship of Fantasy anthology Tales of Ever After.
I started back on writing my novel and then, of course, was interrupted with rewrites to my editor's notes and proofreading of my newest YA novel release, Lost on the Water - A Ghost Story, which was published by Fire and Ice YA Books in July, 2018. Along with that, I had my novel No One Needed to Know narrated as an audiobook by Allie James and had to proof that. I also got the digital rights to that novel returned from the publisher and released the book as an ebook. Lots of stuff going on.
Oh, and hey! Two books of mine won awards this year. The anthology Winter Wonder, which features two of my short stories, won 1st place in the 2018 Purple Dragonfly Children's Book Awards for Best Anthology. My novel Lost on the Water - A Ghost Story won 2nd place in the 2018 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards for Best Young Adult Fiction. So that's fun.
I finally got back to work on my novel... and then I was asked to direct a play.
The second half of my year was full with theater. I directed Steel Magnolias for The Larry Keeton Theatre in Nashville, which ran in August. I wrote a blog post about that experience. Then my husband, step-daughter, and I were all cast in A Christmas Carol, the Musical. They were fun experiences, and totally worth interrupting my writing schedule. I tried to sneak in writing on my novel between rehearsals, but it was slow-going. I also experienced some serious writer's block on that novel (definitely due to the stopping and starting). It's the first time this has really happened to me, and I'll blog about that sometime soon.
I had a few fun in-person experiences as an author this year. I did some school appearances and special events in April (Autism Awareness Month) to talk about my novel No One Needed to Know. My favorite (and most successful) events of the year were the Rocket City Author Event in Huntsville, AL, the Taste of Wilson County in Lebanon, TN, and doing a signing for Lost on the Water at Button Willow Coffee House and General Store. This event was extra fun because it was in the small town where some of the novel takes place. We sold a lot of books there, and I had to return another day to replenish their supply. Another fun day was when my daughter, husband, and I went to Center Hill Lake (where the story is set) to hike around and take lots of publicity pictures for the novel. I hope to go back next summer, too.
I can't say for certain what in store for 2019 yet. I DID finally finish writing my novel. It's called All the Love You Write and is a full-length YA romance that expands upon my previously published novella Passing Notes. I sent it to Fire and Ice YA Books yesterday morning, so I'm waiting now to see if they like it, want to publish it, and when. In November, I signed a contract for my very first picture book. It's called Matching Costumes. I don't have a release date yet, but I expect it will be in 2020.
My next project is to work on the next of my original fairy tales. It's titled A Voice of Desire. It's a bit darker than the other two, and I hope to release it in February. Here's a little sneak peek at what I'm planning for the cover (this may change).
At the moment, I've agreed to direct a play in May. I hope to do something theatrical in the fall, too. My daughter is graduating from high school this year, so I'm trying to keep my calendar clear for all her senior year events.
As for my reading? According to Goodreads, I read 42 books this year (although it says I read one more than once.) I think there are a few books I didn't include in my challenge, too. I continue to mostly read YA and MG books, and half of the books I 'read' this year were audiobooks. Typically, I 'eyes-on' read more indie books and authors I've met (whether in person or online) and listen to the books from the big publishers.
My Favorite Books of 2018
My Favorite Book of the Year was Caraval by Stephanie Garber. Which also makes my favorite series of the year being this and the sequel Legendary. Caraval had an amazing, magical setting with a complex plotline that kept me riveted the whole time. Gorgeous!
Best Book from a Big Publisher (not including Caraval) was Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. I listened to 3 of the 4 books of this series and then needed a break. I haven't gotten back to the final book yet. The second book in this series is BY FAR the best. It's so romantic and full of action. It's sexy, though, so I don't recommend it for YA readers (even though it's sold on YA shelves.)
Runners up were Stalking the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco and What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock
Best Book from a Small Publisher was Before I Found You by Daisy White. This is the second book of this 1960s New Adult mystery series, and there is a third one out now waiting on my Kindle. I'm drawn to the atmosphere and setting of these books as well as the characters, and the mysteries are solid. White has become one of my favorite writers, She writes quickly, though, so I can't keep up with her. I have 3 of her books on my TBR list for 2019.
My runner-ups in this category were The Gemini Connection, a cool YA scifi by Teri Polen, and Barn Shadows, a YA ghost story by Laura Wolfe.
Best Self-Published Book. I actually didn't read very many of these this year. Sorry, my indie friends. I'll do better. I bought a lot of them, if that counts. I'm actually going to vote for Tales of Ever After, published by Fellowship of Fantasy. (This is a cooperative author group, not a publisher, so it fits in this category). I know I have a story in this book, but I didn't read the other ones until the book came out. It is my favorite of the FoF anthologies so far, and I truly enjoyed every story. I recently wrote a blog post about it if you want to scroll down a little and read more of my thoughts about this little (did I mention free?) gem.
Best Local Author Book was Freefall Summer by Nashville author Tracy Barrett. I'm a big fan of Tracy Barrett's work, and I enjoyed her first YA contemporary novel. It was a fun, spirited, coming of age novel with a unique activity as the backdrop.
Best Audiobook was definitely End of Watch by Stephen King. It was read by Will Patton (who also narrates The Raven Boys). He is an amazing actor, and his gravelly voice was perfect for this terrifying mystery/horror series. I actually started watching the TV show of Mr. Mercedes and couldn't get into it because Hodges didn't sound like the Hodges I knew. I just loved these audiobooks. Creepy as hell, though. Be warned.
Runner up is What Happened to My Sister by Elizabeth Flock and narrated by Cassandra Campbell. I don't know how she did it, but Campbell managed to change her voice from an 8-year-old dirt-poor girl from the hills to a suburban Southern housewife and made me believe every second of it.
Favorite Grown-Up Book. (This includes nonfiction as well as fiction.) Life is Like a Musical by Tim Federle. I bought this book as a gift for my daughter, a musical theater actress and fanatic. I'm a fan of Federle's fiction, and he's a doll on Twitter. I knew I was going to love this book of uplifting advice and autobiographical stories from his Broadway life. Yes, it's targeted toward theater nerds like me, but I think there's something in it for everyone. It has a positive, optimistic tone that is so refreshing right now. I can't recommend it enough.
I would love to hear from you. What are some favorite books you've read this year? Can you recommend any? Please leave a comment. (And feel free to roam around my website to find all the excerpts from my books.)
I'm popping out a quick blog post mostly because I haven't done one in a month, and also because it's my birthday. Someone said to me the other day, "Welcome to the Golden Years." Oh my. Did you hear that, Pony Boy? I'm finally golden. I feel like I should have awakened this morning with some King Midas skills, but, alas, nothing I've touched so far has turned golden. (I've got some revising to do in a minute, so maybe it'll be a figurative talent.)
I'm 50 today. I'm not shy about that. I'm not one of those people who's all, "It's not polite to ask a lady's age." Nope. I'm fine with it.
I'm mostly fine with it.
Okay, I'm a little wobbly about it deep inside.
I'm a person who only wears makeup if I have to, so I'm not trying to hide my wrinkles. Yet, in a moment of vanity weakness the other day, I was convinced by a savvy saleswoman to buy some skin products to reduce those wrinkles. I am a woman sighs at images of the thin and wrinkle free person I was twenty-five years ago, but I'm also a woman who's pretty okay with looking the way I do now. I'm embracing it, and I'm grateful to have many friends my age or older who are excellent role models of how to be awesome in the second half of life.
My blog is mostly about revision. Yes, revision with regard to writing, but why not about everything. Sometimes we need to take a good look at our lives and see what could use a fix. Adjust this. Move that. Scratch that thing that doesn't work and replace it with something else. This is where I am in my spirit. I'm proud of my accomplishments, but I'm also ready to do more things, new things. I'm feeling like I need to be braver and challenge myself harder than I have before. Why not? I'm seriously considering writing a novel for adults next year to try a new path. I want to do more directing, because directing Steel Magnolias last summer was one the best experiences I've ever had. I want to take a real vacation next year, and I'm going to figure out a way to make it happen.
I'm hoping to find more readers for my books - somehow.
What I won't do is allow the number to rule me. To think that somehow my best days are behind me. I refuse to allow the concept of aging to bring me down. Tonight I'm spending my birthday singing and dancing in a musical of A Christmas Carol. I thought that would upset me when I got cast - doing a show on my birthday (again). Now, however, I'm really glad it's happening. It verifies everything for me, the idea that I can still do something cool and fun, something I've done and has given me great joy my whole life, and that moments like these aren't coming to an end. There are many more ahead.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. It would be super awesome if you'd take moment to travel around my website. I've got lots of info and excerpts for all of my books. They'd make a great gift for someone on your gift list. It would also be an awfully nice birthday gift for me to see them being purchased. All the best to you, and have a lovely holiday season.
(BTW, If you are looking for something Christmassy, I do have two fun Christmas stories based on characters from my Juniper Sawfeather Trilogy and my book No One Needed to Know in the anthology Winter Wonder. The ebook is free!)
Tales of Ever After is an anthology of fairy tales published by Fellowship of Fantasy. It came out this summer between the releases of my novel Lost on the Water - A Ghost Story and my novelette The Tomato Quest. It is the 3rd FoF anthology to feature a story of mine. I FINALLY had time to finish reading the other stories in this collection. It is absolutely my favorite of the anthologies so far.
Tales of Ever After features 16 stories by different fantasy authors. Each story is an original fairy tale or a new take on an existing one. For example, my story "KIng or Beggar" is a retelling of the lesser known Grimm Brothers tale "King Thrushbeard". Of the stories in the book, mine is the most faithful to the original version, but it embellishes the plot and adds details, changing a story that was only a couple pages long to one that is nearly 10,000 words. But I don't really want to talk about my story. I want to talk about why I liked the other stories so much.
I'll confess that in the other anthologies from this group that I've read (Fantastic Creatures and Mythical Doorways) there has been at least one story in each book that I just didn't care for or couldn't get into. Not every story appeals to everyone, and these books are packed with different styles of writing. It is one of the charms of reading an anthology. You discover new authors you like, and you can skip the stories that don't hold your attention. In all fairness, I've read reviews that clearly stated that my stories in those book were not favorites, and other reviews that listed them at the top of their favorites list. Everyone has unique tastes. However, in Tales of Ever After, I liked every single story without reserve. Yes, I had some favorites, but none of them bored me or made me skip ahead.
Why is this? I've put a little thought into that question. I think it has to do with the concept of the books. Each Fellowship of Fantasy anthology has a theme. Editor and accomplished author, H. L. Burke, puts out a call for stories, and authors write to the theme by a certain deadline. The submissions are judged for content (they have to be clean fiction), theme (they have to stick to it), word length, and quality to be selected. So, when the theme is 'fantasy creatures' or 'portal stories', a pretty wide range of styles appears from high fantasy to urban fantasy to science fiction. There are two more FoF anthologies I haven't read yet: Hall of Heroes and Paws, Claws, and Magic Tales. I'm sure these books also feature a wide range of writing styles.
Tales of Ever After is different from the others, because the theme is a genre. 'Fairy Tale' rather than something to include in a story like 'cats', 'heroes', 'doors', or 'creatures'. Fairy tales have familiar tropes and patterns that are what make them the kind of stories that they are. So, while the authors contributing to the book have different writing styles and flair, the structure of each story is similar. The book has a little more flow than the others. Nearly every one of them was about a character going through some kind of adventure or challenge that changed them for the better.
I took a class on fairy tale literature in college. In that class I learned that the original oral tradition of folk tales and fairy tales was to teach lessons, but these lessons were usually not positive. The old, old versions of fairy tales had dark tones to them because they were told by poor people struggling to get by in a feudal system. They had messages of 'lie, steal, cheat - do whatever you have to in order to get ahead in life.' The Grimm Brothers took a lot of those stories and moralized them. Thanks to them, fairy tales began to have happy endings. They kept the strife, though. Bad things happen before good things can, and if a princess is good, a peasant boy is brave, or a prince is humble, they will eventually find their way to success. These are the messages that roll throughout Tales of Ever After. Goodness will prevail.
I love this, for I am on a mission to spread kindness, and this book fits in with that mission.
There are several princess stories where the princesses aren't sweet and need to learn a lesson or two before they can have their dreams come true. "Princess and the Stone Picker", "The Loathly Princess of Edimor", "Beeing Seen", and "King or Beggar" are among those. There are some handsome heroes that have their work cut out for them to find their true loves, including "Quest for a Wide Awake Princess", "The Greatest Adventure", "Wake the Moon", and "A Week After Midnight". There were some that had some surprising elements to them like "The Girl Who Talked to Birds", "Believing in Fairy Tales" and "How to Hide a Prince."
My favorite of all the stories, was the most unique in the group. "At the Corner of Elm & Main " has a lamppost as its main character. This lamppost is sentient and lonely. It dreams of having a life beyond this corner, and then its wish comes true. It has one night to be free. It is a beautiful story. It's the kind of story that I could see being animated into one of those short films before a Pixar movie. (And hey, before you wonder about it, not all Grimm Brothers stories were about people. There are several about inanimate objects. One adorable story of theirs was "The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean".)
So, long story short (see what I did there?), if you like fairy tales, stories with surprises and happy endings, a touch of romance and sentimentality - pick up this book. I mean, why not? The ebook is free at all the ebook vendors. And hey, nearly every author in this collection has a fantasy or fairy tale book of their own. If you like their style, you can go read some more.
Hoping you have a happily ever after reading list!
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I'd love to hear from you. Do you have any favorite fairy tales? Do you have any favorite fairy tale retellings? Leave a comment below. You can learn more about Tales of Ever After and the other anthologies I've participated in on the Short Stories page of my website. Also, learn about my series of fairy tale novelettes Chasing the Romantics, a Series of Original Fairy Tales.
I haven't been doing a lot of writing these past two months. I had big plans this summer to finish my current novel and release my newest fairy tale novelette The Tomato Quest. This didn't happen.
Why? Well, my other creative passion came calling. Theater. When she whispers in my ear, it's really hard to ignore her, especially when it's a great opportunity. This time around, I was asked to direct a production of Steel Magnolias at The Larry Keeton Theatre, a popular dinner theater in Nashville where I have performed over a dozen times. I couldn't resist the call and agreed to do it. So, I wound up spending all of July staging this play, and it opened last weekend for a three week run. My husband is stage managing, and I have decided to stick around and help with stage crew. I like staying involved, and it's fun to work with my husband (as you might tell from this silly picture of us on the set).
I've had an amazing cast, and directing this show has been a wonderful experience. I'm very glad I did it and have no regrets about taking time away from my writing...
Well, let me think about this a little bit. Have I taken time away from my writing? I mean, it's true I haven't created any new words on my manuscript since June, but there are other aspects to being a writer besides the actual output of verbiage. A lot of it has to do with simply using my mind creatively with relation to telling a story.
As I think back on the past month and a half of putting together a play, I notice that there are many similarities between writing a novel and directing a play. The main thing that is similar is how both of these creative outlets challenge my brain to think.
I think about story and plot. What is Steel Magnolias about? What happens? What is the best way to make each important moment in the play clear so that the audience will follow along and accept it all without question? When directing, I am interpreting someone else's writing, so these choices are made through blocking: moving the characters around on the stage to make interesting pictures, keeping the actresses' faces visible, varying the activity between serious and light moments, and adding business (what the actors do besides just reciting lines). The goal is to keep the action from being stagnant and boring the audience.
As a writer, I use these same tools. I decide when and where my characters will stand, sit, or move. I carefully choose moments to share what they are doing with their faces, arms, and bodies. I try very hard not to make these movements random and to keep enough description so the reader can always visualize the scene and stay invested.
I think about the scenery. Steel Magnolias is set in one location - a beauty shop in the 1980s. Still, it has locations within it, such as the hair stations, manicure station, hair dryer, sink for washing hair, and exits. Based on the demands of the script, I chose how I wanted this shop to look, and then my husband and a team of workers built it for me. For Steel Magnolias, I wanted the set to be as realistic looking as possible, to make the audience feel completely involved in the show.
As a writer, I make all of those same choices. I decide how the scenery looks - whether it's a teen girl's bedroom or a haunted rowboat in the middle of a dark, vast lake. I don't have anyone to build these sets for me, so I have to describe these locations in a way that the audience will be able to visualize it and stay connected to the story.
I think about properties. There are tons of items that the actresses have to use throughout the play from hair curlers, towels, mirrors, and nail polish, to extra stuff like magazines, pom-poms, candy, purses, and a tin of cookies to name a few. I had a wonderful woman helping me gather the props and decorate the set with them. She has a keen eye for things like this. Ultimately, though, it was my decision what we absolutely needed and how they would be used.
Again, this is an important part of writing. I must decide when to mention something a character is holding or using. I describe it purposefully. The more attention I give the item, the more value it has to the plot or the character's identity. There is no point in introducing an object in a story or novel that is unnecessary. For example, if my main character uses a purse, that purse needs to suit her. In the play, Shelby's purse is pink and glittery, because she proclaims multiple times that she adores pink. "It's my signature color!" In my current work-in-progress, my main character's purse is small and plain because she doesn't like to draw attention to herself. Dannie, in Lost on the Water - A Ghost Story would never use a purse, preferring pockets, and Juniper Sawfeather chooses a messenger bag to take on her adventures.
Then, ultimately, I think about the characters themselves, their motivations and intentions. I was blessed to have six incredible actresses to work with on Steel Magnolias. They have wonderful instincts and skill, and often I would wait to see what they would come up with on their own in rehearsals. Then, I just needed to shape it with some suggestions to alter the tone or delivery of a line. Or I might correct something that I interpreted differently. Sometimes I'd give an idea that would sharpen a comedic moment or prevent something from falling flat.
In some ways this process of directing is more like revising a finished manuscript. It is no joke when authors say that characters often decide what they are going to say and do on their own. This happens to me all the time while writing first drafts. So, when I go back in to revise and rewrite, that's when I nudge that dialogue into place. It's often the time when all the 'he said' and 'she said' tags get changed into action lines or phrases that give more understanding of how the characters feel about what they're saying. So, in a sense, when I'm revising, I'm directing my characters to give their best performances. Perhaps that's why I prefer revising to writing first drafts.
The final similarity I will point out is when the book is published or when the play is open, I sit back and wait for the response, crossing my fingers that people will like the finished product. I'm so proud to say that the response to Steel Magnolias has been awesome. One of our less forgiving critics in town praised it in his review, the ladies are getting much-deserved standing ovations, and the show is selling out all of its performances.
I'll sum up by simply stating that directing this play has been an experience I won't forget. I'm not sure if being an author helped me be a better director or if being an actress/director helps my writing. A lot of people ask me which I prefer: acting or writing. I often joke that I like writing better because I get to play all the parts. This kind of goes for directing, too.
Thanks for reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it and were able to take something away from it. If you did, please feel free to leave a comment. Also, take a moment to scroll through my blog or visit the other pages of my website. I had a bunch of new stuff release this summer, including an audiobook, a new novel, a story in a free anthology of fairy tales, and my newest fairy tale novelette The Tomato Quest, releases next weekend.
This summer I've invited authors to share ghost stories on my blog to celebrate the release of my new novel Lost on the Water, A Ghost Story. They've been sharing excerpts from their novels or real encounters they've had. Today, I thought I'd share a couple of my own experiences.
I've witnessed ghosts a handful of times in my life. I don't consider myself a medium or to have any extra-sensory powers, but I have experienced a few things that can't be explained by anything else except paranormal phenomena. Most of my ghost encounters have been since I moved to Tennessee. Not surprising. Everyone says the South is haunted.
When my daughter was about 7 or 8, she came into the living room to find my husband and I watching Ghost Hunters. (Yes, I'm crazy about true ghost stories, if you haven't guessed that yet.) At this impressionable age, she asked, "Mom, are ghosts real?" I looked her in the eyes and lied. "Of course not." Then I explained how fake the show was.
I didn't tell her that the house we'd just moved out of had ghosts in it. They were children, and they were often laughing and playing in our yard.
I didn't tell her that the theater where we did (and still do) most of our shows was haunted. My husband and I had a rehearsal interrupted by one of them wiggling a doorknob to the room we were in and peeking in through the square window.
I didn't tell her that the 150 year old building that used to house the child care center where I work was filled with ghosts who liked to turn on toys, slam doors, and entrance the babies in my care. (No kidding, they all would zone out and stare at the exact same spot in the room and then start smiling or giggling at whatever was up there. We named that ghost Duncan. A woman who now works in that facility recently visited us at our new location and said she has often heard the clicking of heels walking around in the hallways after hours.)
My daughter didn't need to know about ghosts just yet. I wanted her to sleep at night.
The truth is that I do believe in ghosts. Five years ago, for my husband's 50th birthday, we decided to do a 'bucket list' challenge and participate in a real ghost hunt. We signed up for the Ghost Hunt Weekend retreat at the Thomas House hotel in Red Boiling Springs. My husband has family in that area, and has known about the hotel his whole life. This hotel was built in 1890 over some natural hot springs and was once a popular attraction. Even Teddy Roosevelt stayed there once upon a time.
For the ghost hunt, they gather everyone together and told the history of the building and all the ghost stories surrounding it. Then they split us into groups and took us around the property to see if the ghosts would reveal themselves.
In the dining room, they set up so we could hear Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP), and we heard voices of a couple children and then a stern man's voice telling them "no" and to not talk to us. Later, in the restaurant area, they had a laser grid shining around the room, and we saw figures running through it. It was after 3:00 in the morning when we finally retired to our room. I still couldn't sleep, because they had told us about the ghost that haunted our particular room. I was certain she was there. It was a fun but nerve-wracking event.
I used the memory of it in a scene in Lost on the Water, A Ghost Story. The setting of this book is less than an hour away from The Thomas House. I have a scene where the boys in town are sharing all the Tennessee legendary ghost stories they know with Dannie. Here's a bit of that scene:
Jasper said that he and his brother spent the night at a hotel up in Red Boiling Springs and did an honest-to-goodness ghost hunt, just like they do on TV. They stayed up all night and listened to the spirits of children talking through EVPs and watched for shadows in the corners. “It was freezing, and you know how they always say places that are haunted are super cold. I couldn’t sleep at all.”
“Yeah,” Brian teased, “but that’s because they said some lady haunts the room we were in and watches people while they sleep.”
“That’s creepy,” Jasper said, defending himself.
“Depends,” Chris said. “Is she a hot ghost?”
I had to ask. “How do they know the hotel is haunted?”
“Lots and lots of deaths there,” Jasper said.
“They don’t call it Red Boiling Springs for nothing,” Brian added.
Lamont tapped me on the shoulder gently and said, “There used to be these hot mineral springs up there. People came from all over the country to soak in them, thinking the hot water would heal them of illnesses. The hotel was built on top of them.”
“And they’re red because of all the blood that spilled into them over the years,” Brian said as dramatically as possible.
“Ooooooh,” Chris added, his hands ﬂying in front of him like he was a blind ghost. I wished he would walk into a tree.
Lost on the Water is not a horror novel despite A Ghost Story being part of the title. It is a contemporary coming-of-age adventure story. There is ghost in the story (more than one depending on your definition of 'ghost'). The novel takes place at a real location, a lake in Tennessee called Center Hill Lake. This lake is vast and winding and surrounded by forest, an easy place to get lost if you're in a rowboat and don't know your way around. It is a popular vacation spot for boating and fishing trips. It is no surprise that there is at least one death per year.
This is also a man-made lake. The Army Corps of Engineers built a dam on the Caney Fork River in 1948. The lake is 62 miles long, with 415 miles of shoreline and covers land in three counties. Apparently, when the lake was created by the dam, the water completely covered some small towns and the cemeteries within them. They say the bodies were exhumed and moved elsewhere, but I've seen Poltergeist and I have my doubts.
At any rate, I found out that there is a Haunted Canoe ride that happens every November. Apparently, they tell you all the scary stories about the lake, and then you go out on the water in canoes and paddle right over one of the old cemeteries just fifteen feet below. Well, it's my 50th birthday at the end of this year, so I think we're going to have to do this canoe trip so my husband and I will be even-Stevens on our ghost encounter birthday trips. I'll let you all know how it goes.
Lost on the Water, A Ghost story is on preorder now and releases everywhere on Tuesday, July 17th. You can find all the links and read another excerpt from it here. If you're a fan of stories like Stephen King's "The Body" (the movie is Stand By Me) or you're looking for a fun summer themed book, give this novel a look.
As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or share a haunting experience of your own. You can join my mailing list here. And if you're new to the blog, scroll on down and enjoy the other posts. Thanks for stopping by.
This June and July I have invited authors to share ghost stories on my blog. The stories could be excerpts from their novels, stories of ghosts they've encountered in real life, ghost legends from the region where they live, or whatever other paranormal activity they'd like to share. My hope is that you'll read their books while you wait and get pumped up for the release of my newest novel Lost on the Water, A Ghost Story.
Today's guest author is Leslie E. Heath. She is an author of fantasy novels. Her day job is working as a nurse in an old haunted hospital. But I'll let her share more about that. I know this post is a little longer than usual, but if you like real ghost stories and sightings and things that go bump in the night, it's worth it.
**All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the nurses involved.
I work as a night-shift ER nurse in one of the oldest hospitals in the United States. The original building was constructed in 1832 over a Revolutionary War Battleground. Unsubstantiated rumors say the old building was used to hold prisoners of war during the American Civil War, and the hospital hosts tours of the dungeon beneath it during the Halloween season. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have reported unnerving experiences on these grounds. I’ve worked in this facility for nine years, mostly on nights. These are a few of my own personal encounters.
During hurricane season, it’s not uncommon for the staff to stay on hospital grounds when a large storm threatens the area. One such night, I stayed in the hospital, even though I wasn’t scheduled to work until the next day. The hospital at that time had three units that weren’t open due to staffing concerns and low patient census, so the staff were assigned to sleep in the rooms lining those abandoned halls.
Exhausted by the stress of preparing my family to weather the storm and packing my belongings to head to the hospital, I fell asleep quickly in my private room. At some point during the night, I got hot and kicked off the blankets, as I often do at home. I awakened again with a shock as someone pulled the covers up to my chin and tucked them around my shoulders. I hadn’t heard the door open or close.
Shaking, I pressed the light button on the bedside controls. I was alone in the room. I convinced myself it had been a dream, something my over-tired mind had made up, and I turned the light back off and tried to will myself back to sleep. The room was still uncomfortably warm, so I kicked off the blanket and rolled up in the sheet.
I lay there for what seemed like hours, though I have no idea how much time actually passed.
Before I could fall back to sleep, someone whispered in my ear, “There now. You’ll be all right. Now, get some rest,” and tucked the blanket back around my shoulders.
This time, I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I sat up in bed and pressed the light back on. The room was empty.
Goosebumps erupted over my arms and neck, and I threw my belongings back into my bag. I figured I’d sleep in one of the empty ER beds where my friends would be nearby. I pulled the door open, ready to flee down the hall, and ran straight into one of my co-workers.
“Someone’s in my room,” she said. Her face had none of it’s normal color.
Speechless, I nodded and grabbed her arm. “Mine, too.”
We proceeded down to the ER together, and neither of us slept in the abandoned wards again, even though whatever spirit was in that room clearly had no wish to do me any harm.
Though we rarely interact with the spirits within the hospital, we see them much more often. Most of the time, they’re passing through the hallways in the dead of night and I see them when I’m heading in the same direction.
One such night, the pneumatic tube system we use to send lab specimens and paperwork throughout the hospital was broken, so I had to walk my patient’s blood to the lab. This is a fairly common occurrence, because the maintenance crew likes to take systems down late at night to minimize interruptions to service during the peak business hours.
This particular night, housekeeping was also stripping and waxing the floors in the main hallway, so I had to take a series of side passages to get to the lab. I turned yet another corner in the winding maze of the old building and stopped in my tracks. There, in the middle of the hall, a semi-transparent figure in a white antique nurse’s uniform floated down the hall toward me. I could clearly make out the details of her pristine blouse, skirt, and hat, but her face was blurred and I couldn’t see anything below the skirt. No legs. No feet. She moved toward me without acknowledging my presence, so I ducked back around the corner and pressed myself against the wall.
I stood there, frozen, until I saw her pass by. I stepped out of my hall and watched until she turned another corner. When she was gone, I sprinted to the lab to deliver the blood I still held clenched in my hand, and I had a member of maintenance walk me back to the ER even though I knew he couldn’t do anything about the floating nurse.
After those experiences, you’d think I would have known that the hospital is haunted and would have stayed to the “safe” areas where I work regularly. Or not. One summer night, we had no patients in the ER. We’d been empty for hours. I finished all my annual trainings, and so did my friends and co-workers. A small group of us got bored and decided to go explore the old building, the original hospital that’s now only used as offices during the day. Even maintenance won’t go in there at night.
The old building is attached to the new one by a walkway on the second floor, so we didn’t have to go outside in the rain to get to it. Four friends and I took the elevator up one level and walked side-by-side down the empty halls to the connecting bridge, our medical clogs clacking against the linoleum floor and echoing down the corridor.
Had I been alone, I would have turned back at a dozen different points down that walk, but even the pressure of my friends couldn’t stop me from trying to back out when we reached that walkway. The lights in the bridge were dimmed for the night, and the lightning outside flashed through the floor-to-ceiling windows, casting a deathly glow on the white stone of the old building.
Two of my friends grabbed my arms. I could feel their hands shaking through the fabric of my scrub jacket.
“I changed my mind,” I said. “I don’t want to go over there. Not tonight. We can check it out in the morning.” I didn’t care anymore if they thought I was a coward.
“It’ll be boring in the morning,” Cheryl said. “We’ve all been in there a thousand times in the daylight. Let’s see what it’s like at night.”
I let them pull me forward across the bridge, though every fiber of my being wanted to flee.
The old building is a hollow square, with stone halls and offices encircling an inner, open courtyard. At some point in the building’s history, someone renovated and added elevators at the corners.
We linked arms at the end of the bridge and continued to the right, toward the elevator. We had decided to go down to the first floor to see the grand entrance hall, which I had never seen before because it was on the opposite side of the building from the nursing offices.
As soon as we passed from the bridge to the stone floor of the old building, the mood changed. The air in that space was icy cold—colder than air conditioning could explain on a stormy southern summer night.
This time Cathy decided she wanted to back out. Again, the others grabbed her arms and convinced her to go on. We continued toward the elevator that would take us down to the main entrance of the hospital, where generals and administrators had given speeches, held ceremonies, and addressed the media for nearly two hundred years.
We piled into the tiny elevator, and Elizabeth pressed the button for the first floor.
Nothing happened. The doors stayed open. The button didn’t light up.
Elizabeth pressed the button again, harder this time.
All the buttons lit up.
“Going up,” the cheerful automatic voice announced.
“No!” We all yelled.
Elizabeth pressed the first floor button again, several times in quick succession.
The doors closed, and we went up. And up. All the way to the fifth floor. The top of the hospital. The old operating suite.
During the day, the glass dome focused the light onto the center of the room, where the operating table had been in days passed. The room had been turned into a museum, or so I’d heard, though I had never seen it.
The lights in the elevator flickered. The doors opened.
Beyond the open door, a velvet blackness filled the room. A cold, rotten stench filled the elevator. It stank of blood, infection, and death.
I gagged. So did Cheryl.
“Down, dammit,” Elizabeth said through gritted teeth, pounding on the first floor button again.
In the blackness, something moved. Papers shuffled. Boots scraped across the floor.
“Down!” Elizabeth yelled.
Part of me wanted to run, out of the elevator, down the stairwell that ran beside it. The rest of me was frozen in abject terror.
“Why?” A raspy voice whispered from the darkness. “Why did you do this to me?”
I closed my eyes, sure I was about to die.
The elevator door slid closed with a creak. It dropped with alarming speed to the first floor, where it jolted to a stop so hard that it knocked us all to our knees.
As soon as the doors opened, we ran from the elevator and out the front door. I can’t say I saw anything of that grand room we had hoped to explore. We sprinted together through the pouring rain, around to the back of the new building, where the bright red sign announced the entrance to the emergency department.
I’ve never set foot in that building again. Whenever there’s some business that would normally lead me to one of those offices, I find another way to handle it. I email, call, and even snail mail.
Wasn't that the best? I love a good ghost sighting, and now I feel a trip to visit this hospital is necessary and added to my bucket list. Added to my TBR list is Leslies newest novel. If the story telling she shared here is any indication of her writing, I'm going to love her books. Also, she needs to get these ghost stories together and write a horror novel asap. Right? Here's a blurb about her latest book:
Sometimes the only way to prevent a war is to meet it head on.
Alija's village has known peace for twenty years, but only under the tyrannical rule of Tavan and his guards. Stripped of all weapons, the villagers know to keep their heads down.
But when one of Alija's group suffers merciless punishment after they are caught with weapons, he and the others decide Tavan and his men must go. It's the only way to prevent a repeat of the village's violent history.
How far will they go to gain their freedom––and are four untrained men enough to bring down an army?
Available at Amazon Kindle
Leslie E. Heath is a wife, mother, runner, animal lover, nurse and writer. She resides with her family and a number of rescued pets in a quaint North Carolina town, near the Outer Banks. When Leslie isn't cozied up at home writing, she finds inspiration for her work by spending time basking or running at the nearby beach or trails. Her love of writing began when she was ten years old, fueled by her love of reading. Her affinity with fantasy allows creativity when it comes to character development, settings, and a little magic.
*Note: She lives in North Carolina and works in Virginia, because she lives close to the state line. It’s not a terribly long commute, even though it’s a different state.
I hope you enjoyed Leslie's guest post. I have more guests with ghost stories on the way, so keep coming back. My novel Lost on the Water, A Ghost Story releases on July 17th. Only a couple more weeks! I'm also running my other ghost story, Passing Notes, for free until then. Please leave a comment for Leslie or myself. It's always great to see who's visiting the blog.
D. G. Driver
Author D. G. Driver's
Write and Rewrite Blog
“There are no bad stories, just ones that haven’t found their right words yet.”
A blog mostly about the process of revision with occasional guest posts, book reviews, and posts related to my books.