Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Double-dose of spooky

It’s October and we all know what that means: a month’s worth of haunted hayrides, haunted houses, haunted amusement parks, and big bags of fun-sized treats. And no one said you have to share with little kids dressed like Batman or ballerinas.

Getting back to the spooky (now that I’m thinking about chocolate ❤ ), this week I had two nights of Halloween-esque fun. Our local Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime has monthly meeting the first Tuesday of every month. At every meeting, one of the members reads from their work (WIP or published) and we have a speaker such as an FBI agent or medical examiner or audiobook producer.

This month we got to hear all about ghosts and spirits from a real-life psychic/medium/paranormal investigator.  Natalie told us her story about realizing her abilities and using them to help spirits cross over. She was fantastic! Now, I am somewhat skeptical, but I firmly believe there are a lot of things we don’t understand about our world, and I think there really are people who are sensitive to things beyond our perception. I mean, with 7 billion people on the planet, someone (many someones) has to be, right?

Natalie shared some of her experiences with us, including a spirit that wanted to cross over on a stairway to heaven, like the song, and it took as long for him to climb the stairs as the song. Another spirit she helped, who had died in an ATV accident, decided he wanted to go on a Harley. Man, when I get there, I want to go on a dragon 😀

All the stories were great inspiration for adding spooky to mysteries. Natalie is a member of our chapter, and accessible. She said watching ghost-hunting shows on TV is not the same as the experience. If there’s a legit paranormal investigation group in your area, they might have opportunities for you to tag along on an investigation, or they may conduct events for groups at known haunted places. In fact, Natalie and her group are doing an event this month at the Palmer House Hotel, a known hot-spot for ghosts.

TC SinC ghost tour 2

picture taken in Anoka by Timya Owen, Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, on the ghost tour

Have you ever heard of Anoka, MN, the Halloween Capital of the World? The historical society there conducts walking ghost tours of the city, complete with historical facts about houses deemed to be inhabited by souls that haven’t crossed over yet. A group of Twin Cities Sisters in Crime (TC SinC) members, including yours truly, went on a tour the night after our psychic speaker primed us for all things paranormal.

The house in the picture above is purported to be the haunting grounds of a little girl who died during the flu pandemic in the early 1900s. Another house has a proper Victorian-age woman who refuses to let the homeowner sleep in on weekends (by banging around), and watches movies with the homeowner on her laptop. (How does the homeowner know? Cold spots where someone might be looking over her shoulders, then she adjusted the laptop, and the cold spots went away)

TC SinC ghost tour 1

Members of Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, pic taken by Timya Owen (I think)

This Masonic Lodge is connected to a house that was built by a couple who were doctors. The house is now an antique shop, but the spirits still hang out; people have even smelled someone smoking (no smoking is allowed in the place, of course). The story about the Lodge involved a member who was there late working on something on one of the upper floors. He finished, turned out the light, down the stairs, locked the door, got into his car…

And the light was on. So he gets out of the car, unlocks the door, goes up the stairs, turns out the light, back down the stairs, locks the door, back out to the car. And it happens again. The third time it happened (this is all the same night, btw) he raced up the stairs, turned the light out, raced back down, and in a mirror beside the door caught a glimpse of trousers and shoes coming down the stairs behind him. The Mason said, “Turn the light off your damn self,” or something along those lines. He locks the door, back to the car. . . . . And the light stayed off.

It was a dark and stormy (windy) night, perfect for a walking ghost tour. From ghosts who warn the house/ building residents of danger by leaving lights on or knocking bowls off of refrigerators to spirits of children running up and down hallways like kids do, there were sooo many ideas for stories.

It was a fun week, and I learned a lot about the paranormal, and the possibilities. I kept thinking about Mae Clair’s most recent book, Cusp of Night, which revolves around a spiritualist and things left behind (and don’t forget her Point Pleasant series with the … oops, not going to spoil it 🙂 ). Another author with some great (IMHO) books involving the paranormal is Kay Hooper and her Bishop/Special Crimes Unit series, which is actually multiple series starting with Stealing Shadows, through the Evil, Fear, and Blood trilogies to the SCU series and the Bishop Files. I’ve also read and enjoyed the Abby Cooper books by Victoria Laurie.

Yeesh, didn’t expect this to be so long. Anyway, if you want some fodder for spooky stories, a ghost tour or a talk from a paranormal investigator will stir up your imagination.

Trying to fight off a cold that just hit me yesterday, so other than pickling all the peppers I rescued before the plants succumbed to frost, I’m going to relax a bit this weekend. Next weekend I’m spending a day at a book festival for TC SinC. Gotta get some experience; my March release is only 6 months away 🙂

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Happy Halloween/Samhain/Harvest

Or whatever floats your boat. Happy October 31st!

I wasn’t going to post until my usual end-of-the-week, but I miss posting this past week. I was a virtual book tour stop on the Paranormal Bar & Grille train. Stop by the Story Empire blog and enjoy some posts.

Anyway, it’s National Trick-Or-Treat-And-Eat-Too-Much-Candy Day. On a Monday. When my daughter has too much homework–wait, strike that. She has poor time-management skills (thank you (not) smart phone, EXO (Korean pop band), and SoundCloud). She and a couple of her friends are going trick-or-treating tonight despite the fact they are high school juniors and my daughter is taking 5 college-level classes with no study hall (read: HOMEWORK). I guess the allure of free candy is too much to resist.

When I was a kid, growing up in MN meant planning your Halloween costume to fit over a snowmobile suit, or at least a winter coat. Late October has equal chances of being snowy (1991 Halloween Blizzard) or somewhat comfortable temps. This year is supposed to be in the 60s (F) today. As I recall, the past few years have been temperate.

Global warming, anyone? Followed by a polar vortex migration and colder-than-normal winter. Gotta love Minnesota!

Horror fiction seems to be all the rage during the season. There are some spine-tingling flash fiction pieces out there, and even a collection of them. Check out the Macabre Sanctuary for some scary reads.

The key, I think, to scary fiction is understanding fear. Not just blatant blood-and-gore type fear, but the real visceral stuff, like that unease you get when you’re out in the woods at night during a new moon and your flashlight dies. The wind moans. Trees creak. Leaves whisper like disembodied voices. Snap! You listen hard. Something broke a stick.

Is that it? Rustling off to the side. A shadow crosses your path–or was it? It’s too dark to see. Icy fingers creep down your spine. There’s no one here but you, right?

BOO!

Point is, atmosphere is crucial to a good scare. Look at Poe’s work. He sets up the environment in such a way that it’s spooky before anything happens. We humans have primal fears that are survival mechanisms. Not everyone is scared of the dark, or of heights, or of drowning, or of being buried alive, but by realizing some fears are universal, you can tap into them. Cultivate them for your readers, like Poe did. Draw them out, feed them back to the reader until anxiety and tension are pulled tighter than a garrotte.

Description builds atmosphere. You can draw the line between a bright sunshiny day with a gentle breeze and a day of harsh light, cold winds, dull colors simply with word choices. Once you create the scary atmosphere, layer core fears, and twist the expectation at the end. Think M. Night Shyamalan (well, his better movies anyway). Or Hitchcock. Even the Twilight Zone banked on eerie, unexpected endings.

So, enjoy your All Hallows’ Eve tonight (or Samhain, or Harvest, or whatever). Take an hour or two to write a scary flash piece, just for fun. Pull out your collection of Edgar Allen Poe pieces, turn down the lights, and absorb the mechanics of a good fright.

batman_begins


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Autumn in Writersville

Ah, it’s my favorite season (followed closely by spring). The weather is comfortable, the sky is brilliant, the leaves are changing, and the garden is winding down. The worst part about autumn is knowing winter is coming. I can do about a month of winter, maybe two, before I start going crazy.

Now’s the time I’d normally spend putting together my outline for NaNoWriMo this year. I say normally, because I’ve already done my NaNo for the year–in February. Yep, 50k+ words in 28 days. That doesn’t mean I’m going to blow off NaNo in November. I figure, the point of NaNo is to write every day. It’s about this time every year I’ve lost that habit, and I need a refresher course.

This year, I plan on spending the time revising my WIP (written in Feb). I tracked my stats in February, so I’ll post those to the NaNo site, but I need to do a major overhaul, and NaNo is the perfect excuse/incentive to do so. I seen a few fellow writers post about maybe doing NaNo this year (Emily, I challenge you!) I’ve said it before: I feel the most important reason for doing NaNoWriMo is to develop the habit of writing every day. If you don’t, it’s a lot harder to hit the 50k word goal line.

Granted, if you don’t hit 50k, no one’s going to stop by your house and hang a “Loser” banner or anything, but it gives you a target. Bonus, if you do hit 50k or more, chances are you’ve got a rough draft of a completed novel on your hands. Just think, writing a novel in a month. Sure, it’s crap–it’s a rough first draft–but no matter how long it takes you to write a book, you’ll have to revise it (unless you’re George R. R. Martin, but that’s why it takes him years to finish his books).

Join me and the other 100k writers on a NaNo Noveling journey. Now’s the time to lay out your plans for your NaNo novel. I never used to outline, but the first year I did NaNo, I outlined a fresh story, one I hadn’t been mulling over in my head. I was surprised at how well it helped me develop the story. Ever since, I’ve taken October to outline my NaNo novels and do some research. Some writers just “pants” it–write by the seat of their pants. It works for them, and might work for you as well.

October is also Halloween. Okay, technically only the 31st is Halloween, but it seems like the foreplay lasts the entire month. I know people who celebrate Halloween like we celebrate Christmas: jump in with both feet at the beginning of the month and fill every day with little bits of the season. One writer has her Halloween mystery on special this month. Another writer has an October tradition he calls Macabre Macaroni.

I don’t get caught up in the whole H’ween thing, but I think people who like the season have a lot of fun with it. I’ll settle for colored leaves, Honeycrisp apples, and hot mulled cider (I’ll take hard cider if it’s available). Enjoy the new season, and enjoy your upcoming week. I’m off for a run, then the Vikings’ game. They’re taking on Denver today.

Cheers!


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Boo-mused!

Ah, it’s the week before All Hallow’s Eve. Bats, ghosts, goblins, and everything else we like to associate with October 31st are plastered everywhere we look. Enthusiastic individuals even practice for Christmas decorating by hanging Halloween lights and planting inflatable pumpkins and skeletons on their front lawns.

Halloween is a great muse for a lot of people. The occasion inspires everything from horror stories to costumes to haunted houses or yards. Some people spend months designing that year’s Halloween display or party menu. Of all the holidays we celebrate (or observe, at the very least), Halloween seems to be the most inspiring muse, with Christmas a close(?) second. No, really. Think about it. There’s even multiple movie franchises based on Halloween, or Halloween characters, or Halloween nightmares.

The characters commonly associated with Halloween have invaded more than just the October 31 festivities. The number of books and movies and television series highlighting vampires is mind-boggling. And zombies. I cannot believe how many people are zombie connoisseurs. Just look at success of The Walking Dead. There was even a zombie pub crawl in Minneapolis this year toted as the largest of its kind. I met with a group of writers last week, and of the four of us, two were serious zombie fans. My husband is a member of that fan club as well; we’ve been binge-watching the Walking Dead on DVD (since we don’t get cable), plus he recently discovered a DVD with 15 zombie movies on it. Let the eye-rolling commence.

Zombies, vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, mummies (hey, sounds like a Lon Chaney, Jr. and Boris Karloff reunion), ghosts, goblins. Witches. Evil clowns, dolls, cars, leprechauns, dogs. Halloween is traditionally a holiday that emphasizes the things we are afraid of, though we try to make things far more fun for kids (no parent wants to be woken by a kid who has nightmares). But originally the day was a celebration of the harvest and the eve of Winter.

Halloween for kids from about 15 to 115 tends to be on the scary side. Terrifying even. If a haunted house doesn’t make you scream, or a movie doesn’t give you goosebumps or make you turn on all the lights in the house, it isn’t scary enough for Halloween. Maybe it’s cute enough for Halloween, though, like the Great Pumpkin. Or Shrek.

So here’s a challenge for you and your muse. Write a short story or a couple of scenes where October 31 is a fun, bright, happy day everyone looks forward to. Think of it as the bunny/duckie side of autumn (as opposed to spring). It’s still autumn, and on the cusp of winter (in the Northern Hemisphere). Call it Halloween, or Samhain, or Winter’s Eve. Use the muse of Halloween to reveal the other face of the holiday, the one not dark and spooky and scary. But no zombies. I am beyond tired of zombies. Make that no zombies, vampires, werewolves, mummies, or Franken-whatevers.

Can you do it? Can you make Halloween fuzzy and cuddly and fun? Share your answer if you like.