Thursday, April 12, 2018

Roots

Isn't this amazing? This tree's branch is woven into the ground. Seen on St. Simon's Island, GA

I've been a bit obsessed with roots lately. Not the kind that blossom flowers or secure trees. No, I'm talking about the roots that make us who we are. The roots that ground us - human beings - to the soil our ancestors walked, worked, and fought for.

For years I fought against my heritage. I was ashamed of being Southern. I hated the accent, the ignorance associated with the region, and the way Southerners are portrayed in film and music. Then, oh about five years ago, I started paying attention. I realized that, while there are a lot of things in the South that I'm not happy with, that I don't agree with, and that need to shift in terms of social justice and human rights - the South isn't such a terrible place to be from. I mean, have you had biscuits and gravy? I started looking past the red neck jokes and the backwoods religious references and started seeing a group of people who are proud and strong and hell-bent on making it no matter how hard the work. I paid more attention to my family, to those long gone, and started realizing that I've been given a great gift: the gift of strong roots.

My people come from the Middle of Nowhere, Georgia. My maternal grandfather's people came from the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. My ancestors came here from Ireland and, if you know your geography, the mountains in Ireland and the Appalachian Mountains are one in the same. Good, old continental drift. But it's more than that. I've been there. I grew up going to the Appalachian Mountains. I've walked through the hills of Ireland and they feel the same. They have the same spirit, the same soul. If I had been able to take off my shoes and walk through the fields there I know my toes would have recognized the soil.

The minute the plane burst through the clouds over Galway I had this intense feeling of coming home. When the plane burst through the clouds over North Carolina when I flew back from India, I saw the green, rolling hills and I KNEW I was home.

Roots.

They connect us to the land, to the Earth, across continents and oceans. They connect us to people and places, to stories and food. Exploring these roots led me to my first novel and I've gathered more respect for them, put down stronger extensions, because of the research and the writing.

Where are your roots? Have you turned your back on them? How can they help you write your true story? Are you ashamed of your roots? How can you use even that to create a real, raw story that sings with your soul?

Wander well,

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"So how's the book coming along?" and other awkward questions

Inside the Library at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina

"So how's the book coming along?" 

I appreciate the question, I really do! It's just, well, that's a hard thing to answer. It's also very personal, especially when you're not (as yet) a well-known author. Perhaps it's harder when you're one of those. I don't know...yet.

"It's going good. Thanks! Believe me, I wouldn't be doing it if I could help it."

Thankfully I was talking to an artist so she understood that last statement. We can't NOT write. That's how you know you're in it for the long haul. No matter what gets published, no matter what languishes in the drawer, you have to put tales to paper and screen. You simply have to tell stories.

Why is this so awkward? Well, when someone asks how the painting is going, you laugh and say, "Fine! I'm almost finished with the downstairs." And everyone can come over and see for themselves that you are, indeed, almost finished. When someone asks how the cake turned out you offer them a piece. "How's the garden?" Here's some tomatoes. "How's the job?" Got a promotion.

How's the writing?

It's in the computer.
It's printed out and I'm editing at the moment.
It's in the re-write/second draft stage.
I've got a few readers going over it now.
I'm sending out queries/synopses/partials

It's never as simple as, "Oh, here's a copy! Go on, take it! It's all finished."

So if I - or any other writer you know - seems a bit awkward or hesitant in answering that question, it's not because they don't know. It's because, well, it's complicated!

My other favorite, awkward question: Why do you write horror?

Why do you read romance? Why do you watch "Game of Thrones"? Why do you shop at this store over that store?

Because you LIKE it.

"Why on EARTH would you like THAT?"

Another question which puts authors into stammering, stuttering, awkward-land.

Because I do. Sure, I could go into the deeper psychological and philosophical ideologies behind horror and speculative fiction but no one's going to listen. They want you to give them a concrete answer, solid evidence why you'd like writing/reading something they consider terrible.

And you can't do it.

It's like asking someone why they like the color green better than the color blue. You just do.

You write horror because it's how you interpret the world. This doesn't mean that I see ax murderers behind every trash bin or really hope that abandoned home on the corner of 37th and Paulson is filled with guts and gore. No, it means that writing dark is how I find the light. We all have our own ways of sifting through the sludge to find the gems.

Long story short? There are a million things people want to know about writers and their work. People who don't write don't understand how complicated a process it really is, how difficult it is to put words into, well, words. But don't let that discourage you. Keep writing and one day you'll have a finished work to direct them to. And if you're one who's doing the asking, tread gently on the dreams of writers. They may act like they aren't quite sure what they're doing but that's not the case. They are devoted to their work and it's part of their soul. You're treading on their souls, Dear Reader, and that's scary territory.

Wander well,

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Be Your Own Hero

I'm not a fan of superheroes. There's just something suspect about invincibility and anyone who constantly walks around in spandex or prefers to wear their speedos on the outside of their tights.

Still, sometimes it would be nice for someone to swoop down and pull me out of the quagmire of not getting stuff done. I'm not talking about going to work and cleaning out the cat box. I'm talking about the writing and crafting that goes into building the life of an artist.

Why do we find it so hard to carve out the time for the things that sing to our soul?

This got me thinking: I don't like superheroes but I want to be rescued. What is it about the dark stories I love that make them so appealing? Sure there's the ghosts and monsters, the "Other" that lurks under the floorboards but if you dig a bit deeper you find something really, really magical. The heroes of these stories are people. Average, ordinary people. Oh, sure, sometimes they have some sort of sixth sense or otherworldly power which sets them apart from everyone else. But it's not necessarily the power that saves them. It's their tenacity and their will to survive.

What I really need isn't a fairy godmother or an enchanted cat (although I wouldn't say no to the cat); what I need is to put on my Thor t-shirt, pour myself another cup of coffee and become my own hero. Ultimately, it's WE who must do the work. We must sit down and get out through our fingers the little beasties that roam the grey matter between our ears. No caped crusader is going to do that for you.

Sorry if that disappoints.

But really, do you want some magic formula to make your writing write itself? Do you want an elixir that will give you unlimited creative power? Not me. I've seen those films before, read those tales too often. There's always a charge, always payment to be gathered. It's better to sit down, put on that arm brace, and get down to business for yourself.

Know the demons and flesh them out. When you do, they aren't nearly as scary. That's how you become a hero. You brandish your pen and drive the monsters out of the shadows. You take a good, hard look at them and put them where they belong: that novel, this short story, the series over there. When you take control, your work becomes pliable. It wants you to take it by the scruff and set it down on the screen. Sure, it's going to put up a fight, but that's how the conflict happens. That's when the plot gets thick and the characters have to lace up their boots and go into the swamp. And that, my friends, is when things get good.

That's when you get to see what your stories (and yourself) are really made of.

Tell Me: How have you had to become your own Hero?

Wander well,


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sympathetic Handling of Beliefs

There are so many legends and myths out there it's hard to know where to start. Research is my own brand of crack and once I start it's hard for me to know where to stop digging and start writing. When I started my current novel, it was intended as a short story. I've always been fascinated with the old, religious tradition of snake handling. It's not prevalent in the South, or anywhere else for that matter, and it's definitely not something one finds many examples of in the areas where it takes place. So I went searching and found several entries, one suggestion to read the chapter in one of the Foxfire volumes, a couple of YouTube videos of interviews with the pastor of one such church who, unfortunately, died as a result of his handling, and an X-Files episode. (Spoiler Alert if you click on the link. If you'd rather watch the episode, look up "Signs and Wonders" via YouTube. Season 7, Ep. 9)

Yes, I did watch the X-Files episode. No it didn't help my research, but it was entertaining :)

After the video watching and the X-Files creep-out, I realized this story may want to be something more than a short story. Sure enough, as I started sketching out the plot, it revealed itself to be a novel length tale, set in the North Georgia mountains, and centered around the tradition of snake handling.

The story took the reigns from there and morphed from a simple snake-handling sub-plot to something far more complicated. The more I wrote, the more I realized I was going to face something very delicate: how to present the people who believe in the tradition of snake handling in a diplomatic and sympathetic way. The last thing I wanted to do was to insult anyone's belief system. 

Now, some people might not care if they disrespect someone's beliefs. Some people hear of something they don't understand and immediately go on the defensive, acting as if they're beliefs (or lack thereof) are far superior to anything as silly/strange/weird/stupid as what they're being presented with. Quite frankly, I believe that's irresponsible and reprehensible. 

I don't understand the tradition of snake handling. I grew up in the Methodist church, a very orderly and liturgical denomination. I've since gone to several Church of God and Assemblies of God services, and to be perfectly honest with you, they made me very uncomfortable. The shouting, screaming, running around, waving clothes, people falling over, jumping up and down, speaking on tongues, etc. was very chaotic and distracting and made me feel very disjointed. This does not, however, make it wrong or bad. Just to be clear, I've never been to a service where anyone broke out some rattlesnakes. Had I, my first inclination would have been to run. Now, I'm not so sure. I'd probably stay, at least for the anthropological moment of it.

There's so much in this world we don't understand and perhaps the human animal is the most incomprehensible of it all. Snake handlers base their belief on a verse found in the book of Matthew which says that believers can take up serpents and drink poison and go unharmed. This has been reported to have backfired but still they do it. Why? Faith. And I'm not even going to touch on that subject here.

The point of all of this is to ask you: Have you ever written about something that perhaps you don't understand but many people hold dear? Have you ever created a story around a belief that seems strange, maybe even a little crazy? How did you handle it? Did you write with sympathy or did you impose your thoughts on the characters? There's nothing wrong with having a character share your confusion, anger, or even hatred of the act but I do believe that we writers need to present the characters performing the act in as sympathetic as way as possible. Even if someone is committing a ritual killing - a sacrifice - you can't always present them as some evil demon hellbent on murder and mayhem. I mean, you can, but where's the fun in that? Wouldn't you rather build our sympathy to the murderer, make us suspend our disbelief for a moment and think, "Hn, in some bizarre way they make sense?" Ah, there's where the true horror lies. Creating comfort in the midst of chaos.

As for snake handlers, I hope my story presents them in as favorable as light as I possibly could. I want the story to be about the particular characters who are drawn into the evil that surrounds this small mountain community, not the old time tradition of snake handling. 

In fact, snake handling became merely a delivery for the action that sets the story in motion. After that, things get rather weird.

Happy Haunting,


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Novel Explorations

Well, well, lookie here. An actual, honest to God real post! About writing! About horror writing!

I may faint.

Seriously, though, welcome, and thank you for stopping by and giving me the chance to dig in and get my hands dirty in this crazy thing we call blogging.

                              * * *

What is it about the holidays that throws me for a loop? I haven't written since before Christmas. Before, I finished editing a novel and I wrote a short story. Since then I've been completely disinterested in writing at all, holed up with auto-immune issues and books about writing.

Yes, kids, even when I'm not writing I'm reading about writing. Which has been fun. The auto-immune flare ups, not so much. BUT, I'm on the up and up, thankfully, and trying out a new eating plan to hopefully heal my gut and the Fibromyalgia/Myalgic Encephalomylitis demons.

Because of the new eating plan, I won't be sharing any PERSONAL baking. I will, however, begin a collection of recipes that I shall try AFTER all this crap is over and done with. I don't intend to live "walking on eggshells" where my eating is concerned. I know, one can't really say that for sure, can they? But I'm going to do what I can to heal my gut and (fingers and toes crossed) give myself the freedom to indulge, in moderation, the things I love so very much.

*cue the slideshow with the sad violin music showing food porn pictures of cheese, bread, cake, cookies, wine...*

* * *

SO! What really did prompt this return? I've felt that old pull back to story. It never really goes away, not matter what the stress of the holidays, chronic illness, new positions at work, etc. It's always there, lurking, tugging, growling in corners while I choose to ignore it. Sometimes we have to ignore it, for our own sanity and our own well-being. I've needed to just BE since the start of the year and I've done that, more or less, without complaint. Oddly enough, the sun is out, Spring is in the air, and all I want to do is get down and dirty into those two works mentioned above. AND I'm doing some edits on an old story that needs some serious TLC. 

The novel is close to my heart. It was supposed to be a short story but after three days of research and an X-Files episode, I realized it wanted to be far more than that! 

And you know you're on the right track when your research necessitates watching an X-Files episode 

(image found via Wikipedia)


It's an odd little story, about a girl, some strange gifts, a mad herbalist, and a vengeful demon. It's set in the North Georgia Mountains, the foothills of the great Appalachian Mountain range my ancestors called home. I'm sinking my toes deep into red clay for this one and digging into some old snake-handling folklore.

The two short stories are as different as night and day. One is a modern re-imagining of an old, Alpine Folktale set in a snowy wood somewhere in America, some 20 days before Christmas. The second one is Old South. It echoes Native American curses and good old boys gone bad. This second story has been with me for over six years now and I'm amazed it's taken me this long to really let it drag me to the computer and commit to it.

* * *

There you have it! The REAL start of this long neglected, long overdue blog on horror writing, ghost stories, old folklore, and one writer who loves them all! Updates will come regularly, will hold me accountable to the editing of these three stories and the ensuing search for publication. EEP! Now THAT'S scary..

Happy Haunting,


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ghosts of River Street & Ghost Tours

I spent Friday afternoon, after work, wandering the Internet looking for Savannah ghosts. Specifically, I searched for "lesser known Savannah ghost stories" and "uncommon hauntings in Savannah". Unfortunately, I wasn't avalanched under a mound of new and exciting spooks. No, I pretty much still had to wade myself through the usual YELLOW FEVER VICTIMS FOLLOW YOU and CAREFUL HE'LL PUSH YOU DOWN THE STAIRS. And I'm not discrediting those tales; nor am I against showmanship when it comes to enticing tourists to part with good money to wander the streets after dark.

I'm just curious about things that aren't on all the tours. Of course, the main references I found to start my search are from just that: tours! But I liked two of the tour sites the best because they weren't flashy and they touted that their tales were told from an historical aspect, not just for shock and alarm. I respect that. I mean, how historically accurate can you get with a ghost story? I know, still, when you spend your time researching and finding out where and what and why, you're better able to ascertain the stories of the hauntings and cull the blatant lies from the improbable truths.

Do I believe in ghosts? Yes, yes I do. I think it's ridiculous and quite frankly, haughty to think that the only truths that surrounds us dwell in the "I can see it/touch it/smell it/count it/quantify it" realm. Science is about research and building a hypothesis based on evidence. In this case, evidence is from personal accounts which, yes, you must take with a grain of salt. But, in my experience, if you have more than five people who have had the same or similar experiences in a certain place - and they aren't working together to create a sensation - you probably have something that needs exploring.

Can we prove ghosts exist? No. Will we ever? I don't know. But if you think that just because we don't have to ability to prove something right now means it doesn't exist, you're foolish. History is filled with things we take for granted as scientific fact that were once seen as fantasy and heresy. To forget that and call people who believe in things that aren't yet in the realm of FACT is to make yourself a pathetic excuse of a scientist. After all, scientists are supposed to have a willing suspension of disbelief. How else can they ever possibly go after the things we're curious about which dwell just on the other side of today?

* rant over *

So here's a few links that beg some more exploration. And not just the links in themselves: there needs to be some more digging in the history behind the stories. The history behind the places and the people and the plausible causes and explanations behind what's going on in these locations. I'm also very interested in the early history of the land that became Savannah. I'm reading everything from Native Burial ground to Voodoo sites when I research the land that was once empty of commerce and residencies. Who knows what I'll find when I begin to dig?

LINKS:

Suggestions of some lesser known haunts that beg for more digging
(and some interesting sounding tours if that's your thang):


River Street Ghosts
Ghost City Tours: Haunted Places
Ghost City Tours: The Dead of Night Tour

The Hampton Lillibridge House -
reputed to be the most haunted house in Savannah:

Mysterious Facts
Haunts of America
Haunted Savannah Tours

As soon as I'm able to do some more digging into these places, I'll return here and update the links. Also, if I find anything really intriguing, I'll do a blog post in them and add a link directly to that post here :)

And here's a list of the places I haven't had a chance to research yet but I'll update it with links as soon as I can find some interesting information:

- Perkins and Sons Ship Chandlery
- 432 Abercorn Street
- Madison Square
- The Old Pulaski Hotel
- The Lucas Theater
- Factor's walk (Closkies Tombs)
- The Cotton Exchange
- Bradley Lock and Key
- Rene Ache Rondolier - the supposed "giant" that lived in Colonial Park Cemetery in the 1800s
- An old abandoned hospital/sanitarium with tunnels used to dispose of plague/fever victims
- 17Hundred90 House
- Mercer House - yep, the one made famous in John Berendt's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

An Introduction to Ghost and Creatures of the Deep South

Savannah is a wonderful place to live when you're interested in things that go bump in the night. We're known for our ghosts, claim the title of "Most Haunted City in America" although I know New Orleans' residents would argue against it. Not that I know how one can make such a designation. Do ghost hunters go about, making census calls?

Anyway, I've always been a fan of ghost stories and folklore, especially mysterious creatures and sightings. I've been on a couple of ghost tours but they're all theatrical. Even if the stories told are "true", I'm a bit put off by the insincere or (worse) the over dramatic ways in which the guides relay the tales.

I'm not interested in pot boilers, though murder does color a ghost story a gory shade of red. I'm not even interested in yellow fever victims or the supposed entity who lives in the basement of the Moon River Brewing Company who's been known to scare employees when they go downstairs to get another keg of beer for the bar.

What I'm interested in are the quiet stories, the back alleys and abandoned homes, the cemeteries and moaning oaks, the empty, windswept dunes and the winding waterways of the marshes. It's going to take a bit of digging, of course, and some research. And I'm sure I'll have to expand my research from Savannah into the rest of the South. It's a great place to start. After all, don't they say, "Write what you know?"

The posts will come slowly, but my goal is at least two a week and we'll start with ghosts! There's many famous old tales in the South, from the pine choked hills of Appalachia to the alligator infested swamps of the Okefenokee and the voodoo charms of New Orleans. My concern is the ones that I've never heard of, the ones that seem more "believable" than the flashy stories that Hollywood latches onto. I'm a bit excited about what I may uncover. Plus, I'll come away from this little research project with some good scares and, I hope, a catalog of inspiration for my own twisted tales.

I hope you enjoy what I uncover and please, if you're familiar with any of these tales or if you have a similar tale of your own, I'd LOVE to hear from you!

Happy Hauntings!


Monday, January 15, 2018

How many times have I posted this?

I know, another "Wait for it!" post.

But life is a strange and twisty thing and I'm working on building a body of work for this blog. It's taking some time and a lot longer than I'd anticipated but it's good. Very good.

I hope if there's anyone out there who stumbles up the garden path and finds their way here they'll be patient and return when the boards are off the windows and the porch is swept and repainted.

The sun is setting and the shadows are creeping in. You might want to run around back and take shelter for the night in the shed. It's always open and there's wood in the hearth. Go ahead, make yourself at home.

Just don't forget to lock the door before you go to bed.

Dream well,



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!


Happy Halloween!

Be it Halloween or Samhain or All Hallow's Eve, have a wonderful time, stay safe, don't run up the stairs if an ax wielding monster comes through the front door and for crying out loud, DON'T GO OUT AFTER MIDNIGHT.

You're going to go out after midnight, aren't you. *sigh* I warned you...

xo

Friday, October 27, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Poke Cake

From the Namaste Foods Website

I help out with the social media accounts at work and this recipe came across my radar one afternoon while I was looking for something to highlight for our grocery department (I work at a natural foods/herb shop). It sounded so fantastic, I went home and made it for a get together that very weekend. Needless to say, it was a hit! I made it a second time putting the batter into a cupcake pan rather than a sheet cake and it was still delicious. If you want all the decadence this recipe promises, go for the sheet cake. It allows for more holes to be poked and far more caramel to be drizzled. If you're looking for something a bit lighter, do the cupcakes. You can still drizzle on the caramel and whipped cream but the portions will be a bit more controlled and you'll be prevented from using the entire jar of caramel sauce in one go!

* * *
by Namaste Foods
[sarky comments in red by me]

Ingredients: 

1 box Namaste Foods Spice Cake Mix
1- 15 oz can pumpkin puree 
1- 10 oz jar gluten free caramel - why caramel would have gluten in it I have no idea...
2 cups whipped cream or 8 oz container whipped topping 
You could whip this up yourself, but I went the easy way out and bought some whipped topping already made. For extra deliciousness, and to make the cake dairy free as well as gluten free, go for the coconut milk whipped topping. Oh my heck is it good! Oh, and I totally didn't measure this out. I used the whole container :)
Pumpkin pie spice for garnish 
1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional) 

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line 13" x 9" pan with parchment paper or spray with non-stick spray. 
2. Combine pumpkin with Spice Cake Mix in large bowl until smooth. Batter will be very thick. Don't forget to add all ingredients listed on the box. This is common sense, but the recipe didn't state it and for a moment I thought I was to just mix the cake mix with the pumpkin puree. Glad I didn't!
3. Spread batter into pan. Bake for 27 to 31 minutes until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Let cool completely. 
This part is important. That's why it's here. Granted, I was in a hurry, but to put the whipped cream on before it's completely cool is to end up with a weird, frothy mess on top of the cake instead of the lovely, whipped, caramel-y drizzled goodness I left the house with. Alas, it wasn't pretty but it sure did taste amazing!
4. Using the back end of a wooden spoon, poke holes all over top of cake. Pour caramel over holes, but reserve some to drizzle on top. 
5. Spread whipped cream or topping evenly over top. Drizzle with remaining caramel. Sprinkle with pecans (if using). Can be chilled before serving. Variations Also works well using Vanilla Cake Mix.

Do give this a try! It would be perfect for a Halloween party or for the upcoming Thanksgiving festivities. Or for the hell of it. It's CAKE! Enjoy!

Yours in Dark Chocolate,
Jen xo

PS: I'll be out of town for the next few days. We're headed up to the mountains for a good, old, woodland Halloween! I can't wait. Taking along "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" by Stephen King. Seemed appropriate as it's set in the woods and the main character listens to a broadcast of a baseball game. It IS World Series Time, you know. [Go Dodgers!]

Thursday, October 26, 2017

To the Woods

I'm looking for something lost, something I left behind ages ago. It was good riddance, something to be remembered as "what once was" but nothing more. It certainly wasn't anything I planned on resurrecting.

The ocean's call brought us here, tugged us seaward and we've settled nicely, eager to put down roots but roots have a hard time in sandy soil. I feel another tug, now, a tug North, a tug to what once was.

A little girl lost.

She's in the woods, down an overgrown path, somewhere between memory and fantasy. There are poplars and mountain ash, pines and large rocks surrounding. There's a tree stump - or is it a witch? - covered with moss. There are leaves that toss from the heads of sweet gums and the bones of Rhododendron tangled off to the left. She left the cabin in the early afternoon with a pad and a pen and went to follow some footsteps and forgot to come back.

Rather she lost her way.

The Appalachian Mountains are as much a part of me as my blood and skin. It's where my people come from, where my parents returned to, year after year, and where I learned the shivering wonder of ghost stories. It's where I first heard things creeping about in the woods at night, where I honestly first believed in monsters, and where I've found myself returning in my mind for those monsters, those ghosts, and those overgrown trails.

The tree trunk is still there, in my mind, and though I'm not going to the exact same stretch of woods, I am going where the Appalachians reach deep to the soul of the Earth and where She whispers secrets to those brave enough to sit still, on that old, moss covered stump, and listen.

Or maybe it is a witch. I should be careful where I sit.

Roots

Isn't this amazing? This tree's branch is woven into the ground. Seen on St. Simon's Island, GA I've been a bit obsesse...