Real Ghost Stories for Halloween

I’ve spent the week collecting real paranormal encounters to share with you here. Do you believe in ghosts?

I was on a paranormal investigation at the Falk Theater in Tampa, FL, with a local group. My friend Jane and I were sitting on the stage, facing out, and three other investigators were spread out around the theater in the seats. We thought we saw movement so we did a roll call from the stage. We hear one guy say “I’m up here!” and he’s in the balcony, and another guy call out from stage left. Then we see a shadow that looks exactly like our third investigator stand up from a seat about half way back on stage right. We say to each other, oh, there’s Tim, but at that moment we hear Tim say “I’m up here too!” and he’s in the balcony. Craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and Jane saw it too!
-Jacky

My uncle married a mail order bride from Peru. (Which is very big in to supernatural, speaking to dead)
When she got here, they visited my grandmothers house. Her English was still pretty broken.
After meeting everyone, she asked, “who is the man that nobody talks to?”
Everyone thought that it got lost in translation, but she kept asking.
She walked into a bedroom she pointed to a picture of my great grandfather and said “there’s the man. The one no one talks to.” And he’s been dead since 1989! She’s been seeing him around the house.
Same bed room- the light turned off and on on its own after telling this story.
-Drew

Laying in my bed at night, i was just dozing off when my bed began to vibrate. i was abruptly awake, the bed still. my imagination? I drifted back to sleep and woke abruptly to the bed gently shaking. Sat upright, turned on the lights. Nothing was in the room, so I called my dog upstairs to my room, encouraged her to sleep with me. Feeling more secure, I went to sleep. I was woken again, the bed vibrating more now, the dog jumped off and ran down the stairs. She would not return. I slept the rest of the night with all the lights on.
This happened most nights the year I was 16 and 17.
My sister came home from college to visit, and mocked me for being afraid. That night the cot set up in my bedroom for her shook and vibrated her awake twice. She now believed me
-Pat

I was dreaming I was having a party at my new home, a big old stone house, with all the charms they usually come with, there was this great room with a line of tables filled with all kinds of foods, and people laughing and celebrating all over. I went down the basement looking for my significant other and as I was talking to him I saw the outline of a man, all dark no features, I knew right away it was a spirit, the house was haunted. The dream continues to me going to sleep and as I am trying to fall asleep this shape appears floating right above me, my first words out of my mouth are ” No you don’t!!!!” And I put my arms out to stop it from coming closer, this is when the spirit grabbed my wrists. At that point I was getting a bit angry as this spirit was invading my space, so I told him to leave or else….. But it grabbed my wrist even tighter at that point I called my boyfriend name that in the dream was sleeping right next to me as in reality. I must have said his name aloud because he turned over and woke me up. As I woke up a sight of relief left my lips and the realization that my wrists were sore, I turned on the light to find red marks on them.
-Simona

My son woke me up one night crying that he was scared of something in his room. He did this alot when he didn’t want to go to sleep so I went in and told him everything was fine and gave him a hug. As I was hugging him, I heard something in the hallway and turned to see a black shadow run down the hall and down the steps. I slept in his room that night.
-John

One weekend when I was about 8 years old, myself and my brother and sister spent the weekend at my aunt & uncles house in NJ to visit with our cousin. We were young, in elementary school and my cousin was probably three or four years old. The four of us slept that Saturday night in the living room downstairs. My aunt & uncle slept in their bedroom upstairs. In the middle of the night I woke up to what sounded like someone walking up and down stairs in the living room, fast, heavy and pounding footsteps. I looked around and everyone around me was asleep, so it wasn’t us kids. Nobody was awake and running around. I didn’t know what it was so I went back to sleep. The next morning my aunt said she was woken by this noise too, and she thought we were up running around. She said she got up to see if it was us and when she looked nobody was on the stairs and we were all sound asleep on the pullout couch. To this day, my aunt is convinced that that house was haunted and will still bring up that story when we have family visits: “I still Remember the sound of someone running up and down the stairs that night…….and it definitely wasn’t the kids!! Nobody was there!! I swear that there was something in that house!”
-Chrissy

The house I grew up in was a little strange. Things disappeared. Sometimes you would hear someone walking upstairs and realize no one was home. My friend sent me a beautiful tapestry of Buddha and I hung it in my room. After I did, every night I would wake up to noises in my room. As soon as I woke up, it would be silent but it was like someone was moving around my room muttering just before I woke up. It was freaking me out and for some reason I kept feeling like it was related to the tapestry. Finally, one night i was just drifting off, sleeping on my side and I heard something growl, right behind me, in my bed. My heart dropped and I just laid there frozen for a long time before I got up the courage to turn around. Nothing was there but I got out of my bed and took down that tapestry right then. Stuff still would happen in the house from time to time but after I took it down, nothing like that ever happened to me again.
-Lindsey

Do you have a ghost story you’d like to share?

Five Horror Books that were better than the movies

Looking for something to read that will scare the hell out of you? If you’ve only ever seen the movies, you only have half the terrifying story.

1.The Exorcist

Classic and terrifying, the tension builds with the psychological examinations as well as the supernatural.

2. American Psycho

Not your average horror, this gritty, graphic account of the murderous Patrick Bateman might turn your stomach.

3. The Hellbound Heart

This short novel served as the drawing board for the classic Hellraiser movies. A dark, haunting battle between good and evil that blurs the lines and compels you toward understanding darkness.

4. Rosemary’s Baby

This traumatic tale of a young  women who’s joy turns to terror drives forward to not only scare but also break your heart.

5. The Shining

The Kubrick classic doesn’t hold a candle to this dark and isolating novel illustrating the decent into madness in the most evil hotel in the world.

Real life Horror: Stranger than Fiction

Documented mysteries for Halloween.

Percy Shelly

The life of Frankenstein author was marred with tragedy, but none so devastating as the death of her husband and son during a boating accident. A week before Percy died, a maid was shocked to see him in the house when she’d just seen him walking outside. Percy went searching for the impostor and saw himself, standing on the porch. When Percy approached, the double pointed out over the water and then disappeared.

The Dayatlov Pass Incident

This one has received a bit of attention recently, along with a “found footage” movie about a film crew who set out to discover the mystery. There’s a good reason for this. It’s profoundly creepy and still unsolved today. In 1959 a group of experienced hikers set out on a ski trip through the mountain pass. They were found several days later without their clothes, laying in a circle. Faces were smashes, body parts missing, bones broken, and signs of burning that could be indicative of radiation but there was no sign of struggle.

The Poltergeist Movie Curse

Accidents and tragedy seemed to stalk the actors of the Poltergeist movies (my favorite horror movies btw). Set malfunctions that almost cost lives, odd experiences, real life hauntings and the untimely deaths of at least four starring actors, including young Heather O’Rourke who passed filming the final movie. Actor Will Sampson performed a real life exorcism on the set after it was discovered that real skeletons were being used as props.

Aokigahara, the Suicide Forest

This dense forest in Japan has many mythologies associated with it involving demons and monsters, but the truth is, for some reason is attracts about one hundred suicides a year. No one is really sure why but the problem is so prevalent that officials must frequently search the forest for bodies and have signs up urging people to seek psychiatric help and warning of the forest’s reputation.

Morgellons disease

A mysterious condition that receives very little but disdain from the medical community, Morgellons suffers deal with overwhelming itching and crawling in their skins. They develop painful lesions and find fibers under their skin. Doctors claim the fibers are from their clothing and the disease is entirely psychological but sufferers of the disorder swear the fibers are growing out of their skin and causing the condition.

A week of Celebrating Fear

I love Halloween. These days I have to tone down my urge to scare the hell out of everyone at home as I celebrate with two small children, but there’s no reason I can’t freak you out here. This week I’m posting every day with something a little scary to get your horror on, leading up to Halloween.

I have finished the first round of major edits on my novel “The Silent Apocalypse” and on Halloween I will post the prologue here!

Terrifying subjects that haven’t been done to death

If you’re a horror writer you know there are some subjects that have overwhelmed the market. Classic ghost and haunted house stories have to be spectacular to get anywhere today and Vampire stories are a dime a dozen (followed by werewolves and any other human-like supernatural being). So if you want to write some horror that hasn’t been seen, at least not in the same numbers, here are a few topics that I would love to see done in some excellent fiction.

Blood Rain:

Of course this sounds like any old sign of the apocalypse and Armageddon has been so done already, but blood rain is a real phenomena with alot of debate over what caused it.

Black-eyed Children

Supposedly people have reported encounters with children that run in groups and ask for entrance into a person’s car or house. The children have black eyes and get aggressive when they are denied.

Golems

Not like Smeagol, a Golem is a creature made of mud or earth and animated by a person who has an intention for them. They appear in Jewish mysticism and can do some serious evil without ever giving away their creator.

The Mandela Effect

This documented phenomena comes from a large group of people who specifically remember that Nelson Mandela died in prison and never was released to become president. There are internet groups that are dedicated to documenting all instances of “false memory” which include the spelling of the children’s book “The Bearnstain Bears” and other random items. Careful though, you may find that some of these false memories are ones you yourself have.

Skinwalkers

I think I may have seen Skinwalkers come up time to time, but I wouldn’t mind a really great horror story on this subject. Skinwalkers are a Native American monster who can change into an animal. While this sounds whimsical and fun, it is usually a curse that comes on for committing murder or incest.

Vortexes

Vortexes exist all over the world, credited for being portals to the afterlife, energy centers for UFO’s, paranormal hot spots and other things. They can appear and disappear in homes. There isn’t really a clear explanation for what they are or what they do but the creepy thing is that the effects of them are obvious even to the most skeptical.

Changelings

In the old tales the fairies would constantly be trying to steal children and babies. When they managed to steal a baby from the crib, they would leave an odd fey creature in it’s place, sometimes conjured from a turnip. The changeling baby would then torment it’s new parents who had no choice but to try to accept the baby as theirs, even though they knew it was not.

Shadow people

Okay, Shadow people have been done, kinda… but not enough IMO. Give me something really terrifying about shadow people and I will be up all night.

Writers and their Egos

There are several prescribed courses toward publication once you finish a piece of work. Various routes to getting your work out into the world. But before you edit, peer edit, query and submit, there is one very important first step I believe you must take before you can be successful.

Get your ego out of your way.

It’s an old cliche. The writer and his or her giant ego, who strikes down critics, naive commentators, politicians, other writers and even the occasional fan who just does not understand the weight of their reading material with a witty and biting stroke of their sharp pen.

But we writers hate cliches, don’t we?

It’s been a hard lesson for me, an introvert with a burning need to shine like a supernova, but more than anything else, my ego has held me back in progressing with my writing.

Some people confuse a large ego with good self esteem. Those people are wrong.

At it’s core the ego is about self preservation. While confidence tells you can do something, Ego tells you that you shouldn’t try because you might fail. While a good sense of self allows you to shake off a defeat and try again, the ego refuses to acknowledge any flaws in your implementation, instead blaming others for your shortcomings.

The ego is a liar.

The ego is destructive.

The ego is holding you back and weighing you down.

The ego acts like an overbearing, overprotective, coddling parent. When you feel sad, it gives you candy. It tells you that you are perfect. It lashes out at anyone that might have hurt you. It keeps you from playing any games or with any people that might make you feel that way again.

When you write, you are not creating from your ego. You are creating from deep within, from a place in yourself that is honest and humble. When you are finished that first draft, what you have is something vulnerable. It may be brilliant but it is naked. And Mama Ego wants to take over so it never gets hurt, never get changed, and never doubts itself.

A big ego doesn’t want your work to succeed. It urges you to hide your work. It tells you your work is perfect and you don’t have to change anything. It tells you that the people who suggest edits are wrong, jealous, hateful, mean. It urges you to lash out and criticize other people’s work in a destructive and hurtful way, to look at the others around you as competitors, trying to step on you to get ahead. When your work is rejected, it tells you to hide it again. Protect it. Stop trying. You’re not good enough.

Your ego is really irrational.

So get it out of the way. Love your work and know it can be better. Put it out there and let it be toughened up by the world and then take it back in and care for it.

Get your ego out of the way. Admire and support other writers. Offer them genuine critiques with their best interests in mind and if their ego bites you back, be understanding that they are not there yet. You will find a group that will admire and support you if you don’t treat your peers like they are the enemy.

Get your ego out of the way. Keep striving. Keep writing. Keep refining. Keep learning. Maybe your first book can’t be saved, so write a new one. Who wins on their first try? You won’t ever be good enough if you quit.

Get your ego out of the way. If you make it, if you publish that book, if it gets great reviews, if you’re living the dream, don’t forget you were once a hopeless, penniless admin assistant who couldn’t bring herself to say she was a writer out loud because you feared the questions and the judgments it might provoke. If you make it, don’t take it as an excuse to give your ego a room at the beach house. It will reek just as much havoc in your successful life as it will in your striving life.

Get your ego out of the way. Entertain it once a month to remind yourself that it’s not a very good friend. It’s kinda a douche and it holds you back from your very best work.

Discouraged with pursuing a writing career?

Peter Benchley was a reporter at the Washington Post, an editor for Newsweek. He was a speech writer for President Johnson, and in 1971 he was just barely making ends meet as a freelance writer supporting a family. Even with his impressive background, he was ready to give up. The story goes that he took a long walk on the beach and thought about what he could do if he gave up. He looked out of the waters. His mind wandered. He recalled a story about a massive great white shark being caught off the east coast years back. The wheels in his mind turned…

Dean Koontz always wanted to be a writer but he took on a practical occupation out of college. He hated it and spent his free time writing. Leaving the job for a better one did not quell the urge or slow him down. He continued to spend his nights and weekends writing novels. Finally his wife offered him five years to devote his time to his writing while she was the bread winner. By the time those five years were up, she was working for him.

Kathryn Stockett was a working in publishing in New York and penning a novel that burned within her based on her upbringing in Mississippi. The novel took her five years to write and when she finally finished it, no body wanted it. Rejection after rejection poured in, even with her credentials and connections to the industry. Every time she got knocked down, she went back to the manuscript and refined it a little more. After sixty rejections, an agent finally agreed to represent her and her book “The Help”.

What do these three authors have in common? Aside from their ridiculous success? Aside from their indisputable talent? They pursued their career with all they had, all in different ways. They believed they could do it and didn’t let doubt paralyze them. It didn’t happen for them quickly. They had great ideas and they perfected them.

So if you are having a bad day, if you are punching away a job you hate to pay the bills while you write your novel, or fighting off writers block, if you are being beaten down by rejection after rejection, please do not give up. If it helps, set a goal but that means you have to use that time to give it all you have.

There are more opportunities for writers today than ever before. There are more venues to explore to get your work out there than you may ever be aware of. Keep trying, keep refining, keep querying, keep editing. There is no deadline for greatness.

Writing Parents in Fiction: What you need to know to resonate with your readers

“There’s no bitch on earth like a mother frightened for her kids.” – Stephen King

I recently read a really great novel that had one jarring details I could not get over. A mother of a brand new baby was choosing to move out of a safe environment with her newborn to an extremely dangerous place where life would be a struggle to survive every day. The reason behind this? Because she felt stifled in her current home.

As a mother of two little ones this sent up red flags all over the place so I did a little research on the science behind parenthood and dug up a few truths that might not occur to writers just trying to set up the pieces for the next big scene.

Now, before I continue on, let me stick a big disclaimer in here. Before I was a parent, I had alot of idea about what being a parent entailed. I had very little idea about the emotional changes parenting forces upon a person. I also liked to role my eyes at the sanctimonious “You just don’t know what it’s like” BS parents would spew at me. I am not trying to go there. I am just breaking down the specifics to help keep your work authentic. However, of course there are exceptions to every rule. There are saint parents and there are very bad parents. Mostly there is a lot of in between

Things you should know about new parents:

  1. New moms are a mess. Their bodies are extremely sore if they are lucky, completely ravaged if they’re not. Their emotions are even worse. I am not saying they cannot be rational and calm, and walk around and do stuff, BUT it is not a given. Their absolutely 100% first priority is taking care of the tiny helpless bundle that they just gave birth to. A new mother physically is not up to any kind of hard adventure for a week to several months after she gives birth. That bundle’s immediate safety and comfort is their fixation and they will not willingly put that child in any kind of danger, at all, unless they are having some sort of mental health issues. Which brings us to number 2.
  2. Postpartum depression and other mental health problems after having a baby are real and prevalent. It was likely prevalent in medieval England and it will probably be prevalent in 2194 on a space station. The wild influx of new hormones after having a baby play a large role in this. They do even out. The mental adjustment of suddenly being responsible for the life of another human being, one who you care about more than yourself, is huge and difficult. If a new mother doesn’t have proper support the isolation and demand of a being a new mom can be overpowering. The pressures of today’s society on mothers also can put a woman in a constant state of feeling like a failure. This is when new mothers start to make irrational or poor decisions that do not seem to have their infant’s best interest at heart.
  3. New dad go through changes too. They have dips in testosterone, their bonding hormones spike. This means that, if they are involved in the pregnancy and the birth, they too will become more nurturing and family oriented. They will seek out time with their babies, and they will be fiercely protective of their family. However, fathers have a social push to “toughen up” their children that many mom’s do not feel the pressure of.

Some things about parents of young children:

  1. Even though parents at this time have some separation between their needs and the needs of their children, they are still biologically intertwined. No matter how ridiculous it is, a natural inclination is to avoid tantrums if possible because as irritating as they might be for spectators, they are emotionally wrenching for parents.
  2. Young children have as much range in personalities as adults do. Very few adhere to an ideal of a model child no matter how they are raised. Parents need to be versatile especially from child to child. One sibling may be agreeable and sweet and the other might be wild and challenging. A parent will likely know the strengths and weakness of each child and not consider one to be “the bad child” but they will recognize that one is more taxing than the other at that period in time. Just like you would not deal with every one of your friends the same way, a parent learns what works with their individual children.
  3. They feel blessed to be parents but they look forward to being individuals as well. The martyr ideal of the mother who basks in the bliss of caring for her family all day and night and has no interests besides their happiness is rare if not non-existent.
  4. Children are hard on relationships. A couple has to work extra hard to keep their bond as partners strong even when their bond as co-parents is granite.

Some things about parents of children any age:

  1. They never stop worrying. Even the blissful empty-nesters who have moved to their dream home miles away from their adult children and are living it up drinking corona’s on the beach are still worried about their kids. They might not be sending them money every week or visiting their grandchildren as much as they should, but they’re still worrying.
  2. Allowing your children to fail is awful. Just awful. Some parents never get the hang of it. Some put up a hard front and let it happen very early. Many struggle somewhere in between, but it is always a struggle and it always happens eventually.
  3. Teenagers can be just awful to their parents and parents can be just awful to their teenagers. In the time of adolescents a child is compelled to detach from the parental unit to become an adult and an individual. From that teenager’s perspective their parents are trying to control them, keep them from growing up and don’t trust them. From a parents perspective that little person who needed you to wipe their butt and still plays with Barbies when her friends aren’t around suddenly thinks they can make decisions concerning real life things they know nothing about. No matter how mature that child is, there is still an innocence the parents want them to hold onto as long as possible while the teenager desperately wants to be worldly. The clash that ensues can bring the worst out of a parent as well as the child. It is an epic timeless theme that many writers don’t seem to have a firm grasp on.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’ve seen writers get wrong frequently or your questions.

Lock down your characters

It’s an easy trap to fall into. Your character is written into a corner. They need to change, grow or get past something that is preventing them from moving forward. So they do something drastic, they make a big leap, but in doing so they act, well, out of character.

Think Bella Swan’s random acts of bravery when she is normally pretty okay with being saved by werewolves or vampires and her brief stint as an adrenaline junkie or Claire Randall’s rapid switch from being a faithful wife trying to get back to her own time to being a willing and completely enamored wife to a hot young Scot in 1743 who no longer has any ambitions to get back to her old life.

These changes help the story along. They set up the action. They get our characters in or out of trouble. But if they are not consistent to your character’s personality, they might lose you your readers. Obviously Ms. Myer or Ms. Gabaldon managed to do alright in spite of their character issues, but for others it can destroy their story.

It’s all in the editing.

I have experimented with mapping out character personalities before starting a novel. I have made elaborate spreadsheets of all the different people who would be important to a story. Their core values, their flaws and their histories. How they would interact.

What I have found over and over again is that characters take on a life of their own as the story unfolds. You can intend for Rick Morgan, PI to be a gruff, closed off workaholic who is struggling with abandonment issues but as you write your first draft Rick might prove to be a reckless alcoholic who cannot hide his feelings for Madeline Rosario. When you’re finished the draft you’ll find you have a man who is decidedly lopsided in how he acts through out the story.

Let your characters develop naturally. You will find the personalities that unfold on their own are so much more vibrant than what you could have initially conceived for them.

And when the first draft is done, go back and lock them down.

Give them all a Myers Briggs test

Now that you know them intimately, determine their personality type the way psychologists and head hunters do. This test can reveal the core of your character, the things that won’t change no matter what your character faces or how they grow. An ESFJ will rarely act impulsively or reckless. They will be the type to defend their family and friends no matter what the cost. An INFP might have their faith tested but ultimately they would never abandon their ideals. Once you know these things about your characters, you can go back and look for points where they do not sync up with what you know of them.

Explain the change

A miserly old man hates Christmas. He’s mean and greedy with everyone he encounters on Christmas eve. He mocks people for their goodwill. The next morning he wakes up and starts giving his money away to charity and makes his impoverished employee his partner, thus saving the man’s ailing son.

This story makes no sense. We need to know of Mr. Scrooge’s crazy night in order to understand the change he has undergone.

Frequently characters need to change in order to drive the plot. In my current project, Dr. Colleen Percival needs to accept that there is something more to the world than cold hard scientific facts. This is incredibly hard for her but entirely necessary for the story. It would have been so easy to give her an “ah ha!” moment and have it be done with but this change is so very much against her core values at the beginning of the story that it has to happen carefully, with her kicking and screaming the whole time. When it finally comes, she is not a new person. She is still tenacious, sarcastic and focused to a fault, but now her focus has shifted and her boundaries have expanded.

Locking down your characters, in my opinion, is one of the easiest and most fun ways to clean up a story. It has a big impact in how your story reads and how your readers relate to your work. Remember a good book introduces characters that come to feel like friends to readers. If they are not consistent, the reader may choose not to associate with them anymore.