Posted in Halloween, Life, Teaching, Writing

Reasons to Celebrate

Life is still weird, and some days are hard, so it’s especially nice when you find a few reasons to celebrate. September has gifted me with some good ones.

Reason to Celebrate #1: FALL

The official start of fall is still a few days away, but last week the Texas summer took its leave. The temperatures dropped, the oppressive humidity blew away, and we even had a few days of hard rain and thunderstorms. There’s nothing quite like that first burst of cool weather after the long, hot months. I was so happy, I went out and bought my first pumpkin. It won’t be lonely for long.

Reason to Celebrate #2: A SMOOTH-ISH START TO THE SCHOOL YEAR

The drop in temperature coincided with the first day of school for my district. On Tuesday, September 8th, we began online teaching. Despite thunderstorms and power failures and zoom fatigue and even a mass internet outage that affected most of our school’s neighborhoods one day, it was still a successful start to the year. The students arrived ready to learn, and the teachers welcomed them with smiles and reassurances and well-planned virtual lessons.

It’s hard though. The amount of work that goes in behind the scenes to make that smoothness possible is too large for most people who don’t work in education to truly understand, and it means that sometimes dinner looks like this:

But we did it, and we’re still doing it, and we’ll keep doing it to the best of our ability. I’m very proud of my campus and my coworkers and my community. This morning, while walking the trail in my neighborhood, I saw this painted rock, and it felt like such a gift. I’m sending it out to all my fellow teachers.

Reason to Celebrate #3: GHOST STORIES

October is just a few short weeks away, which means ghost story season is almost upon us, so I’m excited that my new book, The Ghostly Tales of New England, is now available! This slim, but spooky volume includes twenty-two true stories of historical haunts in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, and it’s the perfect companion to a cup of hot chocolate and a campfire.

A friend of mine read some the stories to her six-year-old daughter, and now she’s writing a scary story of her own! It’s called “The Bodiless Foot,” and it comes with some wicked illustrations.

I think we have a new horror author in the making.

Speaking of writing inspiration, I’m doubly excited because Austin Bat Cave has asked me to teach an online Ghost Stories Workshop on October 17th. If you know a 5th-8th grader with a love of writing and a flair for the macabre, consider signing them up. Space is limited, so reserve your spot soon.

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I’m grateful for these reasons to celebrate, and I’m always on the lookout for more. Let me know if you find any.

Posted in Halloween, Writing

Ghostly Tales

Ghostly Tales Cover

I love ghost stories. That’s probably a side effect of being born on Halloween. While I’ve never seen an actual ghost, it’s not for lack of trying. When I was a kid, my friends and I used to spend our October evenings waiting until it was dark so we could go throw rocks at the haunted shed on the back of our property to see if we could get the ghost to come out. We saw things and heard things—shadows and sparks and footsteps—and once a rock came back at us, but I can’t say for sure that I ever saw a ghost. I guess I’ll have to keep trying.

In the meantime, I like to read about other people’s encounters with the supernatural. One of my favorite souvenirs to pick up on vacation is a book of local haunted lore. What better way to get to know a place than to read about what scares the people who live there? I’ve read haunted tales from all over the country, from Alaska to Montana to my own city of Austin, where you can take a tour of the most haunted spots in town. (I recommend it.)

So when Arcadia Publishing decided to adapt their Haunted America series for middle grade readers and offered me a chance to write one of the books, I jumped at the opportunity.

Ghost stories? Local lore? Scaring children? Check, check, and CHECK. I knew this project was right up my haunted alley.

In April and May, between online teaching and online grading and zoom meetings and virtual celebrations and socially-distanced parades, I was writing and revising The Ghostly Tales of New England. I was grateful to be busy. This project helped keep me sane during a stressful time. Plus, it was a lot of fun. I mean, getting paid to write stories about mad doctors and lake monsters and ghost pirates and vengeful witches? It doesn’t get much better than that.

It was especially cool getting to write about New England because I’ve visited those states a few times. It’s a gorgeous part of the country, full of history and beauty. I loved going to the beach, eating delicious lobster, and seeing where some of the great writers of the past are buried (as well as some of the great ice cream flavors of the past).

[Pictured above: The final resting places of Washington Irving, Louisa May Alcott, and Rainforest Crunch]

If only I’d known that some of the locations I visited were haunted! Like the picturesque Nubble Lighthouse in Maine and Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. (You can read about the creepy side of these popular tourist spots in the book.)

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The Nubble Lighthouse

I’m proud to announce that The Ghostly Tales of New England will be available on September 7, 2020, but you can pre-order a copy on Amazon. The book is written for grades 3-8 (ages 8-12) but will hopefully be entertaining for adults too.

I’ve already been paid for my work on this book and won’t receive any royalties from the sales, so don’t buy it because you want to give me money. (You can always use my Tip Jar if you want to do that.) Instead, buy it because it’s full of spooky stories that will simultaneously give you the creeps and let you take a virtual vacation. What more could you ask for?

Happy (Scary) Reading!

 

 

 

Posted in Halloween, Life

How I Do Halloween

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If you’ve met me or read this blog before, you probably know that my birthday is on Halloween because I like to tell people that. I love having a Halloween birthday. I love decorating my yard and dressing up in costume and carving pumpkins and watching scary movies and going to haunted houses and accidentally scaring myself with the tricks and traps I set for my husband.

This year, my homemade cemetery had a theme…

 

While I love having a birthday on Halloween and celebrating it all month, my actual birthday can be a bit chaotic. When the day approaches, friends often ask me, “What are you going to do for your birthday?” and I just laugh. If they’re thinking of parties and date nights and nice dinners or even just some relaxing me-time, they’re way off.

I dressed as Lucy Carlyle from the amazing Lockwood & Co series at school and a wild-haired demon thing wearing yoga pants at home…

See, I can’t actually go out on my birthday because I have to want to be home to hand out candy to all the trick-or-treaters I’ve been luring to my house for the past month. Nope. No fancy birthday dinners or relaxing me-time on my birthday. Instead, my night goes something like this:

  • Dump candy in bowl, light 8-10 jack-o-lanterns, turn on Halloween-themed music. Change out of work costume into yoga pants, comfy sweater, and creepy mask. Pour “pumpkin juice” into a Halloween-themed cup, and sit down to put my feet up and wait for—DING DONG! Never mind, trick-or-treaters are already here.
  • Open door, offer candy, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down, take a sip of “pumpkin juice,” realize I cannot drink pumpkin juice through my mask, lift mask, raise “pumpkin juice” to lips—DING DONG—spill “pumpkin juice” on self.
  • Pull mask down, open door, offer candy, am informed of peanut allergy, offer Halloween pencil instead, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down, pick up “pumpkin juice,” am handed birthday gift by hubby. Squeal with delight from behind my mask, begin opening birthday gift—DING DONG!
  • Put down “pumpkin juice,” leave gift half-unwrapped, open door, see some of my students on the doorstep, offer candy, say Take two. Take THREE if you’re a good student. Watch them squirm a bit, say Happy Halloween in creepy voice, listen to students laugh at me because I’m a very dorky teacher, close door, return to birthday gift.
  • Rip paper quickly and unceremoniously off of birthday gift, say Ooo! Thank you so much! in non-creepy voice. Lift mask to kiss hubby—DING DONG.
  • Pull mask down, open door, offer candy, am informed that neighbors have bigger candies, say Good for them in creepy, surly voice, close door.
  • Lift mask, realize I have lost my “pumpkin juice,” begin searching for it—DING DONG!
  • Pull mask down, open door, realize it is the pizza we ordered, take the pizza, tip the delivery person, offer candy, say Thank you and Happy Halloween in creepy voice, close door.
  • Find “pumpkin juice,” lift mask, guzzle “pumpkin juice,” stuff slice of pizza in mouth—DING DONG!
  • Swallow pizza, pull mask down, open door, see small child staring at mask in horror about to cry, lift mask, say It’s ok! in not-creepy voice, offer candy, say Happy Halloween in least-creepy voice, close door.
  • Sit down on couch and—DING DONG!—Tell hubby to please please please hand out candy for five minutes while I eat a slice of pizza.
  • Eat pizza, pour more “pumpkin juice,” contemplate going to Bermuda for my next birthday.

But, really, that would never happen. I love my Halloween birthday and all of the “work” that comes with it. This Halloween, like every other Halloween, I was right where I wanted to be.

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If you’re wondering why I’m posting about Halloween halfway through November, it’s because this October brought with it the wrong kind of scare. On October 20th, an enormous tree fell on my parents’ house during the terrible storms in Dallas. My parents were inside at the time. They were (thankfully, miraculously) unharmed, but the house suffered serious damage.

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I spent the week before Halloween helping my family clean up debris, deal with insurance, pack my parents’ belongings, and relocate them and their cats. It was exhausting, both physically and emotionally. This is the house I grew up in and also the house my dad grew up in. It’s never not been in our family, and its sentimental value is incalculable. After going through all that, I just wasn’t in the mood to write for a while.

Now though, things are starting to look up. Everyone is doing ok, and I’m finding my way back to the keyboard. There is still a long road ahead though. There’s a lot of work to be done, and my parents will be displaced for quite a while. If you would like to make a donation to help them pay for repairs, visit their GoFundMe page. A few dollars toward their goal would make a wonderful belated birthday present to me. =)