Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How Do You Tell A Ghost Story?

When I was a kid I loved ghost stories. In fact I was kind of famous in outr neighborhood for telling scary stories. There were favorites like The Golden Arm and “It Floats” but sometimes I just made up stories and I still remember the joy of sitting on our front porch at just-about-dark with a mixture of younger siblings and neighbors, spinning tales. I've always been a story teller. My very favorite picture of myself was taken by my sister Lisa in my mother's kitchen. I am telling a story to my niece Alicia and my nephew Cal. I love the looks on their faces – Cal, totally fascinated, and Alicia, totally delighted. It's good to tell stories.

My Grandmother Werner had some good ghost stories that were in her family. Most of them had to do with the Black Forest back in Bavaria and I told a couple of them in my cookbook/memoir about growing up Pennsylvania Dutch. I also wrote a sort of paranormal/love story based on a true story. It is called Sailor's Valentine and is included in my love, murder, etc. collection. But when you set about to tell a tale for grownups about a ghost it is quite another challenge.

I've had this story brewing in the back of my brain for several years now and, because I so much enjoyed writing The Crazy Old Lady In The Attic, I decided to try writing another novelette. I started it back in July and my goal was to get it polished up and available for Halloween. Actually, I should say that I wrote a different version of the story some years ago and called it Michelle Pfeiffer's Evil Twin but I never did anything with it. I liked it though because it had a sort of mysterious quality to it. So I decided to rework it and see what happened.

The thing about writing about a ghost is that you never know how much you can afford to risk. How do humans interact with ghosts and what will readers accept or reject. The answer, of course, is you can get away with almost anything if you set it up correctly. One of my very favorite movies of all time is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I mean, Rex Harrison... what more is there to say???

So, when I set out to write my ghost story I had all these ideas in my head. I wanted it a little sexy and romantic like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but I also wanted it pretty scary. And the one thing I learned from telling ghost stories on the front porch all those years ago is that ghost stories are best when there's a shock at the end.

About 20 years ago I was driving back home on a cold November afternoon from a trip up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I stopped in Salisbury Beach to get some coffee but there was hardly anything open. I had never been there and was amazed at the dark, creepy atmosphere of a town known for its amusement parks and arcades and entertainments in the depth of off-season. I was in a little coffee shop/gas station/convenience store when I overheard three old guys sitting at the lunch counter talking. One of them had recently sold an ice cream shop in town and had moved to Florida but hated it and turned around and came back. The other guys were giving him a hard time about that and that scene stayed in my head. So when I started writing – or re-writing – my story, I decided to build on that memory.

So I wrote my ghost story which grew out of my love of scary stories as a child, and my memories of a ghostly experience of my own, and the allure of Capt. Daniel Gregg, and some stories told by old men in a dark afternoon in a beach town. The result is Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter. It is now available for Kindle or Nook and the people who have read it so far said the ending took them completely by surprise. I love that.

So, if you want a Halloween treat with a few chills (I hope), give it a try. I hope you'll let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading.

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