Why We Love Ghost Stories

Katherine crept down the basement stairs, cringing as each step sent a creak throughout the empty room below. While she was allowed to play in the basement, she didn’t want any of the adults to hear her go down there. She needed to escape the half-empty boxes, tearful conversations, and big decisions. Though no one had asked her to participate, she still felt compelled to solve the problems, ones she could only begin to understand.

haunted stairsAs Katherine reached the bottom of the stairs, her sneakers squished into the dingy brown carpet. Despite the warm, 1970s color palette and the bright light bulb hanging over the pool table, the room sent a shiver down her spine. Katherine had visited the house hundreds of times in her 12 years, but this was only her second visit since her great-grandmother had died.

The first had been on the night IT happened. Katherine and her parents had received the phone call during dinner, discarded their unfinished plates, and rushed into town. All the commotion had passed by the time they arrived. So, they stood around the edges of the living room with the rest of the family, each member careful not to disturb the towel in the center of the floor. Katherine almost wished they’d hadn’t covered up the blood. She worried her imagination was worse than the reality.

Alone in the basement, Katherine walked over to her great-grandmother’s pantry closet. Sliding back the door, she surveyed the shelves. They were stacked full with brownie mixes, canned vegetables, and more. Atop each container, her great-grandmother had written the expiration date in thick, black Sharpie. Katherine touched her fingertip to one of the dates, partly sad that her great-grandmother would never reach 11/05, partly comforted by her familiar scrawl.

As Katherine pulled back her hand, goosebumps rose across her arm, and she got the distinct feeling that someone was watching her. She turned around, expecting to see her mom or one of her aunts waiting on the stairs. No one was there.

Just as Katherine started to turn back around, the light bulb above the pool table flickered. Katherine froze and stared. The light bulb flickered again, and that time, the chain swung back and forth, clinking against the glass bulb.

Putting her hand over her mouth to avoid screaming, Katherine turned and bolted up the stairs. As she reached the top, she slammed the door shut and pressed her back against it. Her mom rushed in from the kitchen, her forehead wrinkled in concern. “Are you okay?”

“Mom, the basement is haunted!” Katherine gulped in a deep breath and pressed her hand to her chest, as if that would keep her heart inside her rib cage. “The light bulb over the pool table flickered. And the chain… it was moving like someone had pulled it.”

“Wow.” Mom rubbed her lips together, and her eyes narrowed in thought. After a moment, she gave a small smile. “I bet grandpa was just teasing you. I’m sure he’s happy now that grandma is with him again.”

Katherine wrinkled her nose. “You think?”

Mom nodded. “He was always a trickster. I’m sure he’s having a good laugh at your expense.” Mom’s face softened, and she rubbed Katherine’s shoulder. “But don’t worry. You know he would never hurt you.”

“Of course.” Katherine shifted from foot to foot. She knew her mom was right, but something about the house still felt wrong. Even if the ghost had just been her grandpa saying hi or playing a joke, she needed some fresh air. “I’m going to go outside and see what Daddy is doing.”

No ghosts, not even Grandpa, could bother her with Daddy there to protect her.


Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), that’s the only real-life ghost story I know. Oh, yes. I am not a Katherine. But that Katherine and her story represent me.

Despite my lifelong fascination with the paranormal and supernatural, I’ve never come closer to a ghost or monster. And as I’ve grown older, I’ve rationalized that moment from my childhood to normality (I haven’t asked my mom if she believes in what she said, but since she reads my blog, I bet she’ll tell me…). The light bulb was probably just close to burning out or a large appliance, like the furnace clicking on, caused it to blink. The jolt of electricity (or my wild imagination) could have caused the chain to move. I don’t know. I’m not an electrician. But ghosts can’t be real… right?

ghostEvery October, I remember my near-ghost experience as I bask in the glory of Halloween. This year, as I’ve suffered yet another family death, it got me thinking: why do we love ghost stories? And why, not-so-deep down, do I hope my great-grandpa really was teasing me that day?

On the surface, the answer seems obvious. If ghosts are real, then there’s something after we die. Whether its heaven or hell, purgatory or haunting our old house, we continue to exist. It’s a comforting thought — for our future and all the loved ones who have already passed away.

On the other hand, maybe ghost stories prepare us for the opposite. After all, who wants to turn into an evil specter and harm the living for eternity? Maybe nothing would be better than being a Grade A asshole until Sam and Dean come along and blow us away with rock salt.

And perhaps it’s even a little deeper than that. In a way, ghost stories allow us to “experience” death in the same way that romance stories allow us to “fall in love” through their characters. And by doing so, they also remind us to appreciate life.

We often see the tormented ghost berating the innocent protagonist, until it finally lets go of its lost life and finds peace. As we reject the ghost’s behavior, we commit ourselves to being a better dead person than it is. We will accept our fate with dignity, and as such, we will appreciate our life while we have it, “live life to the fullest,” etc. Thus by entertaining the ghost story, we end up feeling more alive.

Then again, maybe there’s nothing deep to it at all. Maybe some of you twisted souls just like to be scared.

I, for one, do not. So, Grandpa, if you’re still present in the ether and watching over me as I write this… please don’t mess with the lights. At least not until sunrise.


How do you feel about ghost stories? Have you have any encounters with the supernatural? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Month-End Update: September 2017

Have you ever had an experience that fundamentally changed your view of a subject? Maybe you read a transformative novel or attended a mind-blowing lecture or traveled to a new country. This month, I had one of these experiences, right here at my desk.

bootcamp notesDuring the last week of September, I attended the Smarter Artist Bootcamp hosted by Sterling & Stone (which I’m sure you’ve seen me mention a time or twelve). This free event featured five two-hour workshops, in which Johnny, Sean, and Dave shared their process on planning, writing, editing, publishing, and marketing a novel. I attended Bootcamp last year, and it was really helpful, so I was extremely excited for the 2017 edition.

What I didn’t expect was a major revelation. I won’t go into details here — partly to avoid boring you and partly because I still have a lot of soul-searching to do. However, the main point is that I finally realized how much I’ve grown over the last three years and how my desire to be super human (aka do ALL THE THINGS) has held me back. So, while I start my next novel and finish out 2017, I’m going to allow myself to rethink everything I’m doing and only keep the essentials that bring you the best stories I can write.

Now, let’s take a quick look at the goals, so I can get on with October!

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – still a little behind
Write a second novel – hoping to start this month

While I didn’t complete as much writing as I would have liked in September, I accomplished strong pre-production work (e.g. outlines, worldbuilding, character sheets, etc.). Though I want to count this as a win, I also know I’m suffering from a little analysis-paralysis. Too many ideas! Too many characters! Too many series! In October, it’ll be back to drafting.

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Create short story for my Reader List – in progress
Blog once per week – fun plans for October
Read 52 books this year – catching up!

After attending Bootcamp, I am sorely tempted to re-evaluate my business goals. Instead, I’m going to save that for 2018 and focus on finishing 2017 as strong as I can. I’m really excited about the blog posts I have planned for October (all Halloween related!), and I’ve found more reading time, which has done wonders for my creativity and stress levels.

Books Read:
A Time to Die (The Legend of Carter Gabel #3) by Jonas Lee
Revived (Foreverers #1) by Nina del Arce
Risen Gods by J.F. Penn and J. Thorn (audiobook)
Angel & Faith: Season 10 Vol. 2 by Victor Gischler, Will Conrad, & Joss Whedon
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 10 Vol. 2 by Christos Gage & Rebekah Issacs

Book in Progress:
Selkie Cove (Ingenious Mechanical Devices #5) by Kara Jorgensen
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – still going great
Break a bad habit – a little setback
Exercise 3x week – actually doing it!

At risk of sounding like a cliché, moving from the East Coast to the West Coast has dramatically improved my quality of life. My new work-from-home schedule gives me the afternoons to focus on myself, and I’ve started a meditation practice that has done wonders for my positive outlook. Daniel and I have also recommitted ourselves to exercise, and I’ve worked out at least three times per week since we moved here. We’re eating healthier too. It’s been so refreshing!

Goals for October
Finish Desertera short story for my Reader List
Start drafting my next novel
Begin thinking ahead to NaNoWriMo
Track author/business activities to decide what should stay/go in 2018


How was your September? What goals do you have for the last quarter of 2017? Share your successes (or failures — no judgment here!) in the comments.

Why Do You Write? (An Idea Revisited Two Years Later)

If you’re reading this, I assume you want to be or already are a writer. I also assume that there’s a decent chance you want to be a full-time author. So, if that’s you, let me ask you two difficult questions: Why do you write? And why do you want to be a full-time author, when there are hundreds of easier career options?

writing and coffeeNow, your gut instinct is probably something like, “Come on, Kate! Writing is my life. Those questions are so easy!”

But do me a favor and really think about it. I’ll give you a personal anecdote while you ponder your own situation …

After my recent move from New Haven to the Bay Area, I’ve had a difficult time getting back in my creative groove. I have a lot of perfectly valid excuses: organizing the new place, adjusting to a new work and household routine, exploring new shops and landmarks, to name a few. But, I think I finally understand the real issue.

Whenever I meet new people, I introduce myself as a writer. I include my novelist side, but I always admit, with a twinge of unnecessary shame, that my books don’t pay the bills. I’m “really” a copywriter for a wine marketing company (which has actually helped my fiction writing). It sounds super-sexy on paper, and while most of the time I just stare at a computer screen like every other office worker, it is a great job. Though I’m still the lowest rung on the company ladder, I could make copywriting/marketing a long-term career. And I think it would make me happy.

It would be SO. MUCH. EASIER. to just let go of my author ambitions and relax into the 9-to-5 life. I’m NOT saying every 9-to-5 job is easy, and I’m definitely challenged at my work, but giving up the author stuff would relieve me of several challenges. I could stop spending nights and weekends at the computer. I could stop heaping guilt on myself when I don’t meet my creative goals. I could stop spending hard-earned, harder-saved money on editing, cover designs, and marketing expenses. I could stop all the other nuisances of indie authorship and still call myself a professional writer.

Live your dreamBack to you: your situation is obviously much different from mine. Maybe you’re working a job you loathe. Maybe you have tons of extra money to shower on self-publishing. Maybe you view writing solely as a career and aren’t bothered by any of the emotional, passionate aspects.

Still, I ask again: Why do you write? And why do you want to be a full-time author?

(If you’re a fan of the Sterling & Stone trio, you can probably guess that I’m a big believer in Sean’s “Know Your Why” mantra, which this insightful article discusses more eloquently than I can.)

While contemplating this question, I remembered a blog post I wrote over two years ago. It lists the reasons why I write, along with some great additions from fellow writers in the comments. They all still hold true, but they don’t answer why I want to write fiction professionally and not just as a hobby.

After giving it some careful thought and seriously evaluating my larger personal/life goals, here are a few of my reasons:

Writing is my greatest passion.
Writing is my most employable skill.
Creative satisfaction means more to me than conventional success.
I want to be my own boss and set my own working hours.
I want the freedom to vacation when and how I choose.
I want to work be able to work from anywhere in the world.
I don’t want to regularly manage other people.
I don’t want to give up my dream to help someone else achieve theirs.
I love storytelling.
I want the opportunity to make my daily work meaningful and valuable.
I want to entertain, inform, and educate others.
I want to make a difference in the world and provide a source of escape for others.

Conclusion? Being a full-time writer both satisfies my creative passions and provides several practical benefits that “regular” jobs cannot.

If you’re in a similar situation to me (and I know at least one of my friends reading this is), do yourself a favor and ask these questions. You might realize that writing is just a hobby for you — and that is 100% awesome. Or (more likely, I bet), you’ll realize that full-time authorship is really the career you want. If that’s the case, you’ll be armed with a list of reasons to keep you motivated when the going gets tough. And trust me, it will get tough.

But, if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s also wholly, completely, utterly worth it.


Leave your reasons in the comments and cheer on your fellow authors. If you’re already living the full-time dream, I’d love to hear whether your “why” remains true now that you’ve reached your goal. 

Should Books Be Written on Soapboxes: Social Responsibility & Literature

As someone raised in the Midwest, I learned at a young age not to discuss sex, politics, or religion. While I’ll gab about the former with the right people (and after a glass or two of red wine!), I tend to avoid politics and religion. From a cultural standpoint, I learned by example that discussing these issues seems pointless and sometimes rude. How can I, as one little person, cause any real change in the world? Why waste my time trying to alter someone’s mind on such divisive topics? What does someone’s political affiliation or religious beliefs matter if they’re a good person?

protestFrom a personal standpoint, I feel I have no right to discuss these issues. Since I don’t have a political or religious association of any kind, who would take me seriously? How can I ensure the information I learn is even factual? And, given how much I hate conflict, why open myself up it?

However, with the current state of the world, politics and religion are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. And perhaps rightly so. Between the radical propositions made by President Trump, Alt-Right/Nazi rallies (a phrase I never thought I’d type in present-day context), and devastating climactic events, politics and religion arise in nearly every conversation. And as I sit there, mouth clamped tightly shut while friends and family members rattle off their views and theories, I have a realization.

While I don’t often voice my views on contentious issues, I’ve written them into my books.

In the Desertera series, I’ve woven in several topics I care strongly about — sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. I advocate for a positive view of female (and all) sexuality. I grapple with the de-criminalization of prostitution (an issue I’m still uncertain about). I support homosexuality by making it a non-issue in society (except for where it prevents the nobles from having biological heirs). I condemn classism and social stratification. And, especially in the final books of the series, I’ll warn the reader about climate change.

Listed bluntly like this, I marvel at my boldness. I do have opinions — quite a few that would shock my fellow Midwesterners — but I’ve made them more palatable, I hope, by lacing them in fiction. And I’m not alone. Not by a long shot.

Most of the literary fiction I studied in college contained moral or political messages for the reader. Many of my author friends use their writing to advocate for causes or social issues. Hell, Science Fiction as a genre basically serves as a warning from the future (it’s one of the reasons I’ve always been attracted to it). You’ll find the same agendas in nearly every form of artwork at nearly every stage in history.

This brings me to the crux of this article: As an author, do you feel a social responsibility to stand on your “soapbox” in your writing? And as a reader, how do you feel when authors “preach” a message within a novel?

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.

On one hand, inserting your views into fiction can be a noble endeavor. It gives readers with similar views a safe place in entertainment. It allows readers with different views a chance to consider a new perspective without being personally attacked. And it offers you, as the author, to remain at arm’s length from the topic.

On the other hand, shouldn’t fiction just be fiction? In a world where the news constantly showers us with depressing topics, our social media feeds fill with contention, and our dinner table conversations get usurped by arguments, we need a break. Isn’t it just as noble for books to offer pure entertainment and unbiased escape?

I go back and forth on this issue a lot.

As a writer, I do feel an obligation to make my fiction meaningful. Though, I don’t always agree with myself about what is “meaningful.” Sometimes, I want to use my fiction as a platform. Other times, I just want to offer my reader that innocent escape.

Same goes for when I’m reading a novel. Mostly, I appreciate when an author attempts to make me think deeper — so long as she writes in way that feels respectful to me and doesn’t belabor her point. Though, other times, even the slightest hint of an agenda will make me cringe and wonder, “Why can’t I just enjoy this story for the story’s sake?!”

Maybe it’s about choosing which type of author you want to be, or which type of writing is right for each particular story. Maybe it’s about knowing what your ideal reader expects. Maybe it’s about striking a balance between theme and entertainment. Maybe it’s about being sneakier, having your cake and eating it without the reader even noticing you baked it.

My specific answer keeps changing, based on whether I’m writing or reading, the story itself, the mood I’m in, even the day (it’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on 9/11). But my politically correct, moderate, agnostic answer remains the same: as long as the author respects the story and the reader, that’s what matters most, soapbox or not.


What do you think? Do authors have a responsibility to advocate for their political/religious views in their fiction? As a reader, do you expect a “message” from the author, or are you only looking for entertainment? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Month-End Update: August 2017

Yes, I’m alive. Yes, I’ll be around more in September. And yes, I have stories!

The Tyrant's Heir booksAugust kicked off with a bang, as August 8th marked the publication of my third novel, The Tyrant’s Heir. Book launches always stir up a lot of emotions for me: excitement (Yay! It’s finally out in the world), fear (Will my readers like it?), but mostly gratitude. Thank you to everyone who has read the novel, shared it on social media, and of course, left a review. I seriously couldn’t do this without you.

Good news: if you’ve been waiting to order your signed paperback copy of The Tyrant’s Heir, go ahead! I have two boxes of books ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered. Visit the book page for ordering info.

What happened after the book launch? Well, the very next week, Daniel (my husband) and I loaded up our belongings and moved to our new home in California. As you might remember, Daniel finished his Master’s degree in Connecticut, but now he’s off to complete his PhD. I couldn’t be more proud of him. We had kind of an extended, two-part move, but it definitely made for an adventurous summer!

Most people think I’m crazy for it, but I love driving. So, getting to say that I’ve driven literally coast to coast in my beloved Pontiac feels really cool. (And I mean coast to coast. I didn’t let Daniel drive a single mile just so I could claim that title for myself! Luckily, he hates driving just as much as I love it.)

Of course, it wasn’t all long hours in the car. We enjoyed a stopover in Kansas (my real home), where we caught up with friends and family. On the second half of the road trip, we made a 150-mile detour to pop up to the Grand Canyon. And let me tell you, if you haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, it’s worth the trip! I always worry about seeing monuments and famous tourist destinations in person. Sometimes, they appear more impressive on TV or in photos, but the Grand Canyon lives up to its name and then some. I’d love to go back and explore it more!

Eventually, Daniel and I made it to sunny California (113 degrees Fahrenheit driving through the desert!), then onto our new home in the Bay Area. We’ve been here for a little over two weeks now, and we already like it 100x more than New Haven. Being in a real house with plenty of nature around has improved my emotional well-being more than I can say. I grew up in the country, and I had no idea how much I needed wildlife around me until I lived in the city. As dramatic as it sounds, I feel like I can breathe again.

As you probably guessed, all this upheaval left little time for writing, reading, and the other author-related pursuits I enjoy. But now that we’re finally settled, I’m ready to dive back into my projects. August became a month of personal productivity, so I think it’s only fair that September focus on writing again!

Before I sign off, here’s the quick recap as concerns my annual goals:

Writing & Publishing

Main goals:
Create five days a week – a little behind from the move!
Publish The Tyrant’s Heir (Desertera #3)

One of my goals for August was to decide on my next writing project, and my goal for September will be to make some serious progress. First, I’ll keep plugging away on the free Desertera short story for my Reader List. Second, I began planning my next series in August, and I hope to have a complete outline (maybe even a first draft started) on my first book in this series. Don’t worry — I’ll still have Desertera #4 out next year!

Business

Main goals:
Make $2,000 from Boxthorn Press – catching up
Create short story for my Reader List – in progress
Blog once per week – getting back on track
Read 52 books this year – catching up!

Most of my business goals are ongoing, so I don’t have any new ones to cross off this month. However, I’m happy to report that I’m almost caught up with reading books written by my author friends. As always, you all haven’t disappointed!

Books Read:
Friend or Foe: A MenoPausal Superhero Short Story Collection by Samantha Bryant
Face the Change (Menopausal Superheroes #3) by Samantha Bryant
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (audiobook)
Fall of the Titan (The Desolate Empire #5) by Christina Ochs

Book in Progress:
A Time to Die (The Legend of Carter Gabel #3) by Jonas Lee
Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee

Personal

Main Goals:
Work on positivity – still going great
Break a bad habit – doing well
Visit a new state – several during our whole road trip!
Recoup savings post-Yale – such a relief!

I’m down to three personal goals for the year, all of which are continuous. Focusing on a positive outlook has been going well (I’m even adding meditation to my routine to help!), and I’ve been avoiding my bad habit. Exercise, though, remains my Achilles heel. The good news is that I have a free spousal membership to the university gym … so my excuses have dwindled to almost none!

Goals for September
Write Desertera short story for my Reader List
Outline the first novel of my new dark fantasy series
Establish a new author routine for my new surroundings


What successes do you have to report from August? What do you look forward to in September? Any tips for me on establishing a new writing routine in a new home? Leave it all in the comments!