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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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ghosts

So, I’m working on my Current Novel in Progress…..

……and overall, it’s a fun story to write. There’s ghosts, a woman who can talk to them and she works in cemeteries and there’s a mystery to solve and, of course, vampires. Not the sexy, tortured hero kind of vampire – I don’t find the Undead particularly sexy or heroic. As far as I’m concerned, they’re animated corpses, just one step above being a zombie while retaining most of their former personalities. The vampires in my story are not nice, not heroic and certainly not sexy. They’re cold, predatory and, in some cases, insane. Major life to Undead changes can do that to a person.

The Narrator/Main Character of the story is fully aware of that danger – she wears a silver crucifix that was instrumental in her first encounter with a vampire. Her favorite type of stake is one made from ash. She sees their predatory nature and has little faith in the truthfulness of their words until her own research or outside evidence corroborates them. Vampires are of the past, living beyond their historical time period. Interestingly, they are also leading her to uncover the secrets of her own personal history.

So, while I’m not a fan of vampires as the sexy, tortured hero, they do have a place in the telling of a story. They are, like ghosts, a metaphor – unseen, unheard voices (ghosts) and the walking, talking voices of the past (vampires) – and that’s just one interpretation on those two types of supernatural characters. There are as many different points of view on this as there are writers, and that’s pretty exciting. I’m well aware that there are readers and writers who love vampires as the hero and that’s all good – I’m just not one of them*.

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*(There are, however, some vampire characters that I do like, because of their complexity and interesting development – Angel, Spike, Dracula, Drusilla. Please note that Joss Whedon created three of them.)

 

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Excerpt: How to Bury the Undead

Chapter One

I’d been thinking about that encounter with the vampire a lot, lately.

Why I was thinking about him while fixing myself some tomato soup on a hot plate, I’m not sure, but I was. Behind me, Dottie Perswalski attempted to tidy up my tiny living room, which was not at all – although she was a ghost and had been for decades, she hasn’t learned the art of manifesting enough energy to move things yet. The living room is tiny because my entire living space is tiny. I couldn’t even call my kitchen a galley, with it being made up of a hot plate and a microwave on a battered dresser. The place being a crypt in a previous incarnation was why. The dead don’t take up much living space, especially if they’ve been cremated.

The crypt had been part of what used to be the primary mausoleum, a larger stone structure that fell into disuse after an earthquake in 1993 demolished the majority of it. The remaining structure (and my home) remained in use for another five years, but numerous break-ins and graffiti made the decision to inter the urns elsewhere in the cemetery a respectful and logical choice. That had been in the fall of 1998.

Dottie was one of those who had originally been interred in my crypt, which is why she was fussing about in my living room. In life, she had been one of five housemaids to a wealthy family in Wickerman Falls, some ten miles away. The daughter of immigrants, Dottie was happy with her lot in life until a fire burned the place down one night in the winter of 1925. It was a horrendous tragedy that killed everyone inside, including poor Dottie. She had been sixteen when that happened and is clearly of a generation that belonged in the here and now. She hangs out in my crypt because she still isn’t used to the new one. This probably explains why she hasn’t yet mastered the art of manifesting enough energy to move solid objects.

I don’t mind Dottie’s presence so much; actually, I kind of like hearing her chatter, even if it does border on the obnoxious. I guess it’s like having a younger sister, but being an only child, that’s all speculation on my part. Right now she was fussing over my shoulder, commenting on my lack of skill with the pot of soup. That was my cue to turn the hot plate on low and go sit down on my seen-better-days couch.

The couch came from a thrift shop in Wickerman Falls. So did the tiny, drop-leaf table, a couple of high-backed chairs, a dresser, my bed frame and the faded carpet on the floor, which hid a trap door to a tunnel. All of them had seen better days, especially the couch, but they were still serviceable and that was just fine by me. I don’t need much to live on, just enough to survive. Most of what makes the crypt hospitable for me to live in is the generator tucked discretely into an alcove outside the front door.

The alcove has a roof and door; it’s leak-proof and blends in perfectly with the exterior of the crypt. If you didn’t know where to look, you wouldn’t find it. It will never be warm and cozy during the winter, but it keeps me safe and it’s mine until it was time to move on again. I like it that way, but I will admit that I sometimes feel the pull to stay in one place for a little longer than a few months.

Anyway.

I was thinking about vampires in general and my first and only encounter specifically because, in the course of fussing and chattering, Dottie had let it slip in her naturally gossipy way that the “oh, isn’t he dreamy” pastor was in a big bother over some vandalism that kept occurring at night at the church, some of it on the inside next to the podium. I considered telling her that nighttime was usually the best time to commit vandalism, but refrained. Dottie doesn’t understand my sense of humor.

I kept muttering “uh, huh” as she spoke, which, I realized too late, only encouraged her chatter. Then she changed topics and began comparing the pastor to some guy named Rudolph Valentino and that’s where I lost interest, especially when the dreamy sighs began. I wondered what she would make of today’s movie stars – Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt or (I shudder to think) George Clooney. I wouldn’t get any peace, that’s for sure.

Something in my jeans pocket pinched and I scowled, shifting so that I could pull out my stupid cellphone. It was a basic model, the kind that opens and shuts like a clam-shell and also wonderfully cheap. I eyed it, thoughtful. The date to change it was looming and I’d been trying to work out how to explain the change in my number to my current boss.

I turned thirty a month ago, but I didn’t celebrate it, not even with a special cupcake from the local bakery. It was on my sixth birthday that put me on the path to where I am now, so I’m not fond of them. The spot between my shoulder blades began to itch and I squirmed, trying to reach it and failing.

The pastor Dottie was mooning over was Pastor Devon Maclaine, who moved to the area over a year ago and presides over the local church. To hear her go on about him, you’d think that he was a strong mix of good looks and charm and resembles Rudolph Valentino. For a modern comparison, think of a David Boreanez type. I didn’t see it, but then I’m not a teen-aged ghost with a tendency to develop huge crushes on a guy that even passes the neighborhood of being kind of cute.

I’d spoken to him more than once, but while he was intelligent and easy-going, he seemed out of place in Sleepy Eye Cove. I wasn’t sure of the appeal a small town had for him or why he chose to settle here. The congregation is on the small side, since most of the locals tend to lean towards the mediumistic. But he seemed okay with it, the few times I’d seen him out and about in town. People liked him, made a point of engaging him in conversation and inviting him to social functions.

I think he’s too good to be true, personally. Since he discovered that I had landed in Sleepy Eye Cove in late March, he’s been encouraging me to join in on the social scene, such as it is (there isn’t one). He even suggested the local historical society. I think my job at the cemetery gave him ideas that it would be good for me.

About three weeks ago, he had begun dropping hints about the local softball league. I knew about this because of the flyers left in my mail cubby in the cemetery office. Tryouts were in late April, practice beginning in May and the season ending in October. Since I wasn’t planning on sticking around that long, I had passed on the idea. Twice. It’s now mid-May. I’ve made a point to avoid him, which so far has been successful. The flyers kept coming, though, and I’d resorted to tossing them in the trash.

I know he hasn’t given up on making me a part of his softball team. I’m not sure why. As pleasant and as concerned as he is, I always felt a little uncomfortable in his presence. I couldn’t explain why, even to myself, so I just kept quiet about it and kept my distance.

Abby Somers, a part-time gardener at the cemetery and practicing witch, says he has a lost-cause complex. I suppose that’s one reason to go into the seminary.

And another very good reason for me to keep my distance.

“Quit sighing so loud,” I said, feeling cranky. “I get it, I get it. You think Maclaine is cute.”

Dottie pouted. “And why not? He has a singular light about him that only Mr. Valentino possessed.”

Typical teenage girl, according to Abby. I had asked her about it shortly after moving into the crypt and was faced with the permanent teen angst. I wouldn’t know, not having any normal teen experiences to compare it with. My teenage years were more concerned with escaping from a mental hospital with help from one of the nurses. The main part of the asylum was shut down officially in 1990. The children’s ward, where I had been placed at the age of six, was shut down a decade later, shortly after I had escaped. I still have nightmares of that place haunted by the living, also known as an asylum.

Especially about the doctor who oversaw my treatment. Heavy-set and gray, he would peer at me through his glasses, his gaze unreadable and discomforting. I didn’t like the looks he gave me and hated the therapy sessions he insisted I have. Looking back, I suspect that he knew that I was telling the truth, that I talk to ghosts, and that he misdiagnosed me in order to keep me under lock and key to study me. My parents were much relieved at no longer having to be responsible for my blasphemous accounts of ghosts.

If it hadn’t been for the nurse who had once been assigned to my part of the hospital, I’d still be there. I say ‘once been assigned’ because she had been dead fifty years before I’d gotten there, had worked there when it was an actual place of healing and despised the creepy doctor and his methods, especially when it involved children. I didn’t think that he’d stop looking for me, even though I had become a legal adult long ago. That doctor had an agenda, one I wasn’t privy to, even though I was central to it. And he wasn’t the type to let that go, once he got his guinea pig.

I shook off those thoughts and continued to ponder the idea of vampires as I stirred my soup in slow circles. I’m not exactly sure why they had leapt immediately to mind when Dottie mentioned the vandalism at the church. She hadn’t mentioned anything in particular that would have labeled it a vampire problem. And besides, vampires are unholy creatures of the night – hallowed ground is not easy for them to breach unless it had been defiled by suicide or something.

And as far as I knew, the local church had not been the scene of such an incident.

But then, since I was a fairly recent resident of the area, that didn’t mean much. The thing to do would be to ask around. There were plenty of locals to talk to, and most of them were my neighbors, of the spectral kind. Ghosts are really chatty, probably because so few of the living can hear them, so it wouldn’t be too hard to get them talking about the past. Plus, they wouldn’t ask any of the awkward questions that the living seem so fond of.

Pastor Maclaine was not on my list of those to ask.

My soup was bubbling, so I turned off the hot-plate and lifted the pot, pouring the red liquid into a bowl. Steam rose in a cloud, and I inhaled the tomato scent with a sigh.

Vampires. God, I hate those bloodsuckers. At least they clean up easily with a broom after staking.

I shuddered.

A cemetery in the afternoon.
A cemetery in the afternoon.

****
Editor’s Note: This chapter also appears in a slightly different form published on March 2, 2012 on Hubpages.com.

So, I’ve noticed an interesting trend in my novels……..

……..and they seem to be reflecting major events that occurred in my life. I’m sure I’m not unique to this revelation and I’m also pretty sure that I won’t be the last writer to experience this strange bit of self-realization. Sometimes, I write things in my stories that later come true, but that’s another blog altogether. There’s a saying about life imitating art. This is about how life influences one’s art.

This is a fairly long post, so bear with me.

In my first novel, ‘Secrets & Howls: A Wolf’s Head Bay Mystery’, Marita ‘Marty’ Brye moves home after many years away. Not such a big deal, I know – everyone moves, either away from or back to the town/city they started out in. But moving, whether in fiction or in real life, is a catalyst for change. Big or small, slow or fast, change is always happening. In ‘Secrets & Howls’, change wasn’t just about trading one place for another, but about inner and physical change. Marty’s catalyst for moving home was to finally lay her mother’s ghost to rest, but she ends up uncovering secrets about her family and her town that dated back over a hundred years. I wasn’t making such profound discoveries in my own life, at least, not consciously, but like Marty, I also traded one city for another and in the process, was put on the path to find my inner strength.

Which brings me to ‘The Pike Horse: A Literary Cousins Mystery’. This one was a far more personal and a much darker story than I had originally intended it to be. I had wanted a fun cozy mystery, I got deeply unsettling. Like Marty Brye, Josie March had also moved home or, as she more accurately perceives it, she ran away from a toxic situation that ends up following her. What she doesn’t foresee is that the one is a precursor of sorts to another, far more dangerous encounter that tests her mind and spirit. So this novel is about something traumatic that happened and succeeding stories about Josie will follow her recovering from it and finding herself again, just as I and thousands who endured such trauma has before her. It was also a novel that became a way to purge and release, a catharsis, if you will.I’m sure there’s a saying of some sort, one that warns that monsters lurk under safe and familiar faces, but I can’t recall what it is.

And in ‘Much Ado Over Murder: A Hey! No Problem! Mystery’, there are old friends re-connecting and old loves finally opening up. As I was writing this novel, I kept encountering heart themes. I lost a heart charm and, in the process of developing portions of the novel and expanding on several plot threads, I kept seeing open heart surgery imagery. There were many other such blatant images popping up and I ultimately realized that I was writing a love letter of sorts – both for the characters, Alexandra ‘Al’ Hitchcock and Jack Taylor, as well as for the kind of relationship I want for myself. The original version of this story had Jack and Al part ways in a not so friendly manner. I was never entirely satisfied with this, because, while it read and wrote well, it didn’t suit the characters. It wasn’t true to who I knew them to be (and I should know, since I’d been writing about them for more than a decade). In the published version, they still part company, but on loving terms, with love confessed and hope for the future. I know what’s happening with them, but they’re not ready for the telling.

So, that brings me to my current Work In Progress. This one is a paranormal story about Cadence Galloway, a woman who can talk to ghosts. She’s a bit of a loner and a hermit by choice and generally keeps others at a distance, not trusting them more than necessary. Upon landing in a small coastal town (about thirty miles north of Wolf’s Head Bay, not so coincidentally), she is suddenly finding herself making new friends among the living and finds she has actual ties to the community she landed in. While the potential for romance is clearly indicated, I’m two-thirds of the way through and nothing’s happened. Which, to me, seems odd, because I usually know before page 100 if there’s going to be some Cupid activity going on. I’m not too unhappy about this, because I’ve realized something else far more important – this is where I am, in my life. Not needing the romance or the relationship, but fully aware that the potential is there. I’ve also been something of a hermit and now, instead of keeping people at a distance, I’m coming out of my shell and making new connections and interacting with Life. And instead of talking to ghosts, I’m exorcising them. It’s a lot harder than you’d think and it does cause some anxiety, especially if it’s brand-spanking new to you.

So, what’s the point of this particular blog? Well, each poem, story, novel, whatever that is written reveals a great deal about the author. What the particulars are is known to the author herself (or himself) and you may never know them. When I write, I throw everything and anything I can think of into my stories (so far, no kitchen sink has been thrown in, but a broken coffee maker has). Even Stephen King put himself into his own story (The Dark Tower series), incorporating the accident that nearly killed him to continue the tale of Roland and his ka-tet.

However, I can only speak for myself when I say that just about everything I write has some basis in my life. My stories reflect where I’ve been, what I’ve experienced and how I view life and the people I meet. More importantly, I feel, they’re also starting to reflect my progress – as a writer and as a person.

Art, no matter what the medium, allows us to explore our inner selves and, hopefully, we can also find ourselves there, too.

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