My Haunted Childhood

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My childhood home was haunted…or at least we all thought so.

When I was about twelve or so, my family and I became convinced that our house was haunted. We had been living there for at least seven years with no ghostly manifestations, but right around my twelfth birthday everything began to change. Books jumped off shelves when no one was near them. Doors slammed even though there was no wind. Papers blew off desks and tables although the windows were all closed, and footsteps were heard climbing the stairs to the second floor, but when we looked, no one was on the steps. Radios and TVs became filled with static and snow, and electric or battery-powered clocks and watches either slowed or stopped (and sometimes, even went backwards).

It was my father who began noticing that these events most often occurred when I was around—especially the interference with the radios and TVs and the problems with time and clocks. But it was my mom who put it together. Maturing child + playful ghost = poltergeist. What else could it be? Since she was the one who had read all the books, we took her word for it; after all, she was the only “expert” we had. Therefore, what we had was a poltergeist, not a garden-variety ghost or goblin.

So, every few nights this poltergeist would thump its way up the stairs, stopping when it got to the second floor hallway. While every day my mother put up with being unable to listen to the radio in the mornings, and I would pick up the books and papers that ended up strewn about the various rooms. After a while it became so common place and routine that we no longer gave much thought to it when objects were moved or misplaced, when we heard strange noises, or when electrical appliances didn’t always function properly. It was just the way things were in our house. That is until the day the new neighbors came to visit.

My mother was a stickler for presenting the proper face to the world, and that included inviting new neighbors over for a friendly “get-to-know-you” chat. So, here it was a beautiful Sunday spring afternoon, and instead of playing outside or sitting in my reading tree with a book (one of my favorite pastimes) I was stuck inside trying to be nice to the new neighbor’s boring son. Listening to the stilted conversation of the adults, I could tell that even my father found these new neighbors stiff and pretentious. I watched him as his eyes glazed over as the pompous man droned on and on about his important job, and his expensive car, and his notable connections. My father was never impressed by that type of thing. Although my mother was (impressed by just those types of things), I could see that even she was having a tough time warming up to these people.

Suddenly, the piano, which was also in the front room, jangled discordantly. As startled gazes sped to the simple upright piano that held down the front corner of the room, tea cups rattled as guests hurriedly placed their services on the nearest table. My dad gave the guests a quiet, crooked smile, while my mother nervously made suggestions about the wind possibly causing the noise or the cat (we didn’t have) possibly walking across the keyboard. Although the neighbors nodded, they seemed unconvinced, and suddenly had another engagement that they needed to get to.

As the guests hurried to leave, I studied the piano and for the first time an inkling of understanding began to seep in. The poltergeist had never touched the piano before, but about the time that it had jangled to life, I had been wishing that the people would leave so I could at least practice my music. Wondering if what I was suspecting was true, I scrunched up my face and stared at the piano until my eyes watered. The closing of the front door, as the guests scurried away, broke my concentration. I turned away to see my dad put an arm around my mom and reassure her that it was okay, and that our reputation in the neighborhood would be fine.

I glanced again at the piano, wondering if mom would mind if I did my practicing and that’s when the piano plunked out half a chord. My mom jumped a little, then sighed. As she began picking up the cups and dishes, she suggested that maybe if I practiced a little that the poltergeist might quiet down again.

Needing no further encouragement, I scooted over to the bench and slid in front of the keyboard. As I started running scales, I let my mind wander. Understanding as to what a poltergeist really was began to come together for me like some weird jigsaw puzzle. A poltergeist wasn’t some phantasm, like a ghost or ghoul, that was linked to me and so using my energy to haunt the house. A poltergeist was the result of my unfocused emotional energy. I had “powers” (that’s how I thought of it…as if I was some sort of super hero), and I wasn’t controlling them.

Although, it seemed that these occurrences were random or happening due to some outside influences, they were really just responding to my own emotional needs and “outbursts”. Unable to express myself in any other way (such as when those neighbors were visiting), my emotions expressed themselves through my abilities. Even the thumping on the steps was my own emotionalism letting go. I’ve always had very vivid dreams and during that period of my life, parts of the dreams actually “came to life”, that’s all.

Now that I’ve grown up (although, sometimes I feel more childlike than ever), I look back and see how easily those odd events during those few years could be misunderstood. But as much fun as it was to think that our house was haunted, the only ghost was me.

 

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Where is Love?

wave washed heart and pink shovel_4500Where has the romantic gone?

How did she become lost?

Where is the lonely little girl who constantly poured her soul

Into a few choice words—laying bare her life, her heart, and her mind?

I have searched everywhere, yet she remains lost.

I see a form; it could be her.

Instead I am confronted with some glowering old woman

Whose sour disposition seeps forth from every seam of her face,

and every pore of her skin.

Like the odor of spoiled meat, it surrounds her in a miasma,

full of despair and dislike.

When she sees me, she grabs my sleeve

and demands querulously, “Where is love? Where has it gone?”

“I was a young woman once—in love with life and filled with joy.

Now, here I am dressed in these rags. My hair is coarse and my

face is wrinkled. I do not understand. How did I come to be this way?”

Her tears follow the runnels of her face

until they tumble free and splash against her shawl.

Her claw-like fingers still grip my sleeve

and I find myself patting her age-speckled hand.

Love is so fleeting, so swiftly fading.

With its departure do we lose our youth,

our beauty and our way.

Feeling her pain, I turn her toward the light.

Wiping away her tears, I softly explain

that love is there, in front of her.

For within the light all is joy,

and within the light all is music,

and within the light everything is love.

With a look of awe, she releases me

and reaches toward the light.

As she shuffles forward, her countenance changes.

Her face grows smoother, and her back straighter,

and as the glow surrounds her, somewhere deep

within myself I feel the tones of love resound.

Telling the Story

psychopomp-3d-dls-8pxls-2Do you know the difference between a novel and a non-fiction book? A non-fiction book is based in truth. However, the biggest mistake that non-fiction authors make is equating truth with a dry recitation of facts rather than the telling of a story. Despite your history teacher’s attempts to bore you with lists of dates and tables of facts, history can (and is) actually interesting. People want to know why something happened or why someone acted or reacted as they did. They want to understand the reason for events, and that’s where your story telling ability comes in. You need to show them why; you need to give them the story surrounding the event.

All stories, both fiction and non-fiction, are just that—stories. When writing a memoir, biography, or other bit of non-fiction, you still need to follow the same guidelines as an author writing a novel; however, you have a major advantage. Your story is already loosely defined for you. You have the timeline, timeframe, characters, major conflicts, and key dramatic elements, all you need to do is add the story components.

You need to develop your characters so that your readers can see them the way you do—are they shy, dynamic, geeky, or ne’er do well? The characters need depth, life, purpose, and motivation to go along with that dramatic moment. Does the moment you’re recording have to do with star-crossed lovers, a robbery gone wrong, a heroic deed, or just a crazy moment that changed the character’s life? You also need to build up the environment. What was the time period like, the culture, and the society? Help your readers understand your character’s perspectives, actions, and reactions. (For instance, the American culture and societal mores are much different today than they were in the 1970’s and understanding that can help the reader connect with the character and their plight.)

Also, just as a fictional character has wants, needs, fears, and motivations, so do your non-fictional characters. By using a first- or third-person point of view, action verbs, and a show-not-tell writing style you can catapult your readers into the story and help them appreciate the little slice of true life that you are sharing with them.

Here’s an example of a memoir that, while historically accurate, is rather dry:

In 1973, Terry got a job for the local newspaper. She did many jobs while there, such as typesetting, layout and design, and bundling (which is the bundling of flyers, ads, and other inserts with the paper). However, her favorite job was junior reporter.

Her first really major story involved the murder of a local schoolteacher. When the body was discovered, Terry was at the school to cover the latest protests.

Here is that same example, but written in a more story-like way:

1973 was a tumultuous year. It was the time of flower power, (Viet Nam) war protests, hippies dropping out, dropping in, and dropping acid, flag and bra burnings, and it was the year that Terry saw her first murder victim.

As a junior reporter for the local paper, she was at the school covering the latest protest when the screams ripped through the air.

 

Now, which memoir would you rather read?

How Far Should You Go?

Starstone_Front_Cover_Only - 1As a reader and author what do you consider too sexy? I have to admit that as a reader, I’m prone to skimming. That means, while I appreciate the good, steamy build up, I don’t really care to read about the consummation of the act. (I’m an adult, I get how the mechanics work. So, unless it’s a sex-how-to manual or an x-rated adult book, the mechanics only slow the story down for me). Therefore, as an author, I tend to write the steamy build ups and the glowing aftermaths; but, I leave the actual act to the reader’s imagination.

I suppose I could include all the details and let the reader decide for him- or herself whether to read it or skim past it, and I know there are plenty of authors who do just that. Yet, I can’t help thinking of all the interesting books and hunky/sexy characters that leave the reader at the other side of the bedroom door—such as Dirk Pitt, Stephanie Plum, or Rachel Morgan—and still manage to let us know that they are anything but celibate.

But, as a reader, I’ve encountered too many books where the story practically dies just so the author can throw in some gratuitous sex scenes. If I’m reading a murder mystery, I’m looking for clues so I can figure out who done it. Throwing in a hot, steamy roll-in-the-hay (while nice), is probably not providing any clues. Instead, it’s akin to flipping channels between an action/adventure movie and a chick-flick. Your reader is left going, Huh?

I also think a lot of how the scenes are written depend on the author’s motivation for including the scenes in the first place. After all, sex sells—we’ve all witnessed that in various forms and mediums. Yet, for me, I include sex scenes in my books only when they are intrinsic to the story and not because I want to sell more books. (Although, I suppose I might reconsider my position, if including more sex in my books might translate into the kind of sales that E.L. James had.) But even if adding more sex to my stories might help my sales, I’m still not sure that I would include the actual deed.

So, how about you? Do you include sex scenes in your book? And, if so, how far do you go?

 

An Interview with This Author

meI was asked to participate in an interview for a local library publication, and thought I’d share it with my readers:

Q: What do you want most from life?

Acceptance. I want to feel as if I belong with a group, in the world, in this place, in this life. The biggest roadblock to that, though, is myself. I’m independent and prone to follow my own drummer, which makes me a puzzle to most people.

Q: What do you notice first about people?

Their face. I tend to look at a person’s eyes to see who they are inside. I truly do believe that the eyes hold the secret to a person’s soul, and you can usually tell by looking at their eyes what their true mood is. People can smile, but the eyes will tell you if it’s genuine.

Q: What do you appreciate the most in your friends?

Understanding. I’m very introverted and so really appreciate my own space. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about someone; it simply means that sometimes I need to step away from the drama of everyday life, and I need friends who can understand that.

Q: What is your main fault?

I need to know ‘why’ about everything. I never outgrew the terrible two’s when you go around asking everyone why. I still do that. You tell me about an event, and if it isn’t clear to me why something happened, or why someone reacted the way they did, I’m going to ask…and sometimes I keep asking until I’m satisfied with the answer.

Q: What is your favorite occupation.

My favorite occupation is writing. I have always adored the written word. I taught myself to write when I was 3 because I wanted to understand what the magic was about words, and many decades later, I’m still exploring that magical realm of words.

Q: What is your idea of happiness? 

Happiness to me is many things. Some of those things are simple, like a soft breeze on a summer’s day or a bouncing, bundle of playful puppy or kitten. Sometimes I find happiness in watching my spouse come into a room and knowing that he’s safe and well. Other times happiness is knowing that I wrote a powerful passage that will move my readers or the knowledge that something I wrote has changed a reader’s life for the better.

Q: What is your idea of misery?

My idea of misery would be me being unable to communicate in any way—trapped in your body with an intact mind but no way to express your thoughts or ideas. That would be misery.

Q: If not yourself, who would you be?

I can’t imagine me being anyone other than who I am. While there are others I admire, I wouldn’t want to be them.

Q: Where would you like to live? 

I would love to live in the country, away from crowds and traffic. I adore nature and the tranquility it offers.

Q: What is your favorite color?

I adore rainbows because they have a blending of so many colors; however, if I have to pick a favorite, it would be purple.

Q: What is your favorite flower?

My favorite flowers are daisies and asters; primarily because of their ability to endure. I’ve seen them bloom despite drought or freeze, and I admire that.

Q: What is your favorite bird?

I’m not sure that I have a favorite. I find them all fascinating and interesting—even the noisy grackles and the rather ugly turkey vultures.

Q: Who are your favorite authors or most inspiring authors?

There are so many. I love to read, so I would say that my favorite author is the creator of whatever book I’m reading at the time.

When it comes to inspiration, though, Rod Serling and O. Henry were the authors that most inspired me. I adored the way they led you along a specific path with their stories so that you never saw the cliff looming ahead. I’ve always wanted to be able to able to write short stories the way they did…and someday maybe I will.  

Q: Who are your favorite poets?

Dr. Seuss and Ogden Nash. I love their playfulness and childlike innocence.

Q: Who are your favorite painters?

I want to be able to recognize what I’m looking at, so I like art that looks like what it’s supposed to be. That leaves out most impressionists, cubists, and modern artists (such as Van Gogh, Picasso, and Dali).

Q: Who are your favorite composers?

I’m fairly flexible in my musical tastes, but I would say that my favorites range from Beethoven and Mozart, to the Beatles and Billy Joel.

Q: What are your favorite foods and drinks?

Anything chocolate.

Q: What are your favorite names?

That would be like trying to name my favorite star or planet. Every name is beautiful. We only think badly of a name when someone wearing that name acts in a negative way toward us.

Q: What do you dislike about yourself the most?

I dislike my impatience. It keeps me from being able to enjoy every moment of every day. But I’m working at improving myself so that I can be more in the moment, instead of racing ahead to the next one.

Q: What historical figure do you dislike the most?

While I may not care for some parts of our world’s history, and I hope we never repeat those parts, disliking the people involved is like disliking an actor in a play. The past is in the past, and we can’t change it, nor should we. Because if we were to change the people and the incidents, then we wouldn’t be living in our here and now and we wouldn’t be the people we are in this time and place.

Q: What natural talent would you like to be gifted with?

I already was. I have the gift of wordsmithing.

Q: How do you wish to die?

Quickly, quietly, and without fuss.

Q: What is your favorite motto?

Life is a series of choices; make the best of each one.

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Why do you write?

readerEvery author’s “How-to” book that I’ve ever read always has these 2 basics somewhere in the book’s depths:

Write what you know
Write for yourself

The “write what you know” part has never been an issue for me. While I love fantasy and the freedom it gives you; the story still has to be somewhat believable or no one will accept the premise and, thereby, the story. Therefore, writing what I know (or can at least research) is always the best course.

However, for the longest time I struggled with the “write for yourself” part of it. I mean, I didn’t need the story written down if I was writing for myself. I could picture the story in loving detail in my own mind, so why spend time scribbling it down unless I was planning on sharing it with someone else? And thus my dilemma. If I’m writing for someone else, then who? And if I’m not writing for someone else, then why bother?

It was very frustrating. So, I went through all those reasons of why write (it down). Why be a writer (of stories)? Fame…I don’t care if I’m famous; in fact, I prefer my privacy. Glamour…writing isn’t glamorous, it’s hard work. Riches…well, that one still grabs me. Sure, I’d like to be rich, or at least rich enough to quit my day job and do nothing but write and read stories. But then the stories become just another job. You have to create the stories to make sure the money machine keeps churning out the dough.

No, the real reason I decided to write the stories down was for those lonely, geeky kids whose only friends are those they meet between the covers of the books they read. This was a reality I knew very well. These lonely, geeky kids I saw in my mind’s eye were very much like me when I was young. (So, in a way, I guess, I was writing for myself.)

I was the kid whose best friends were the Hardy Boys, Ann of Green Gables, and every character that every piloted a space ship designed by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, or Andre Norton. My friends lived in the local public library, and every week I would invite a half-dozen or so of them to my house. They would take me on the most wondrous adventures, and it would no longer matter if I wasn’t invited to some classmate’s birthday party, or if I wasn’t asked to participate in the games at recess. It didn’t matter because I was solving mysteries, stopping spies from taking over the country, or saving the world from some technological catastrophe.

Therefore, when I decided that I needed to share my stories, these were the people I had in mind as my audience. The kids who prefer (or need) to find their way through childhood and young adulthood by reading books. The kids whose imaginations can’t be contained inside of movies, but rather need to explore worlds of their own visualization but with the help of a good story and one or more characters they can relate to.

Once I figured this out, I realized I was writing for myself…just not in the way I initially thought or understood their statement to mean. It took me a bit of pondering and soul searching, but I really think I’m a better writer because of it.

I think every wannabe-author needs to take a look at those two questions. Then they need to really look inside themselves for the answers. Be honest with yourself; it’s not easy, but I think once you figure out why you really want to write stories and books, you’re ready to be a real author and not just a writer.

Ripples of Effects

waterRings-4x6We’ve all heard of the butterfly which, when it flaps its wings in Tokyo, causes rain in New York, but do any of us realize that each of us also creates ripples and waves in the ocean of reality that surrounds all of us?

Just like that butterfly, every time we make a choice, rings of consequences flow outward through the energies surrounding us. Eventually they impact the energies of the people nearest us, who then make choices that then affect those near them, and outward and onward. It’s very similar to what happens when you drop a pebble in the water. The rings flow outward until they collide with something; then sometimes the rings stop, but other times they simply split and keep going.

So, what if you drop several pebbles into the water? Now you have rings flowing into rings, flowing into rings. Each ring spawning another, just as each choice spawns another. For instance, let’s say that you get up one morning and as you come into the kitchen you decide to have oatmeal instead of toast. The extra few moments it takes for you to microwave and eat your oatmeal makes you a few minutes later in leaving than normal. So, in your haste, you skip kissing your spouse and settle for a quick “Bye. See ya later…” instead.

What’s the big deal? It’s such a small choice what can it possibly affect? Well, a butterfly is a small thing, yet it can cause rain in New York. But let’s follow our scenario and see where it goes.

The spouse has chosen to be miffed at not getting a morning kiss (consequence and chosen response). Because the spouse is miffed, they drive in an angrier manner than usual. This choice affects everyone they encounter on the road between home and office, and each of those people then makes a non-conscious choice to respond to the spouse’s angry driving in some way. They might decide to ignore it; they might decide to compete with it; they might decide to advance the anger into a rage. All are valid choices that are spawned by the ring of consequence from the spouse, and each of these choices kicks off its own rings of consequences. All of this just because you chose to eat oatmeal instead of toast.

It’s simplistic for sure, but it does illustrate how easily something you might not even really think about can affect more than just yourself. It also shows that what affects someone else, then affects another group of people, and so forth.

Each day you make thousands of choices, some large and noticeable by you and by others (such as whether you should buy the new car, take a vacation, or have a baby), while others are small and seemingly negligible and may be made without any real thought (such as sleeping in 5 or 10 minutes later than normal, wearing the green or blue tie to work, or having toast or oatmeal for breakfast).

Some choices are such habits that we give them no thought at all, such as brushing our teeth, kissing our spouse goodbye for the day, or the choices we make while driving to work and back. But each of those choices, from the smallest to the largest, to the ones we really ponder to the ones we do out of habit, is what creates our personal reality. Without all of those choices, our personal reality wouldn’t exist. However, some of our personal choices spill over and affect the people around us. Perhaps you were running late, so you didn’t brush your teeth today, and your bad breath annoyed your seat mate on the train. That annoyance made him snap at his secretary, who then complained to her friend, who missed a phone call because she was listening to her friend complain, and so on.

Each of us makes choices on how we will act, what we will do, and how we will react to someone else. And every time we make a choice, we send out rippling rings of energy, and those ripples flow outward until they connect with one or more someone elses. Then those people act or react to the energies and create their own rippling rings of energies. Soon the whole world is filled with these rippling rings of energy, mixing, interacting and merging, creating a global reality with each new wave.

So, if we choose to be kind and upbeat, full of positivity and happy energies, this creates a very positive energy that ripples outward and touches all those around you. And if those around you take that energy and decide to react in a happy and positive way, then they send out positive waves of energy, and pretty soon the whole world is just filled with nothing but positive energies.

Think about it…no more fear, no more intolerance, no more hate or war, just happy positive energies filling the world. Is it possible? Of course. Is it probable? Maybe not, but why not make a choice to give it a try, anyway?