Posted in Halloween, Writing

Darkness Follows, Then Laughter Follows After

Click to enlarge passage.

That’s how my short story, “Darkness Follows,” begins. With a drink and a memory and a knock at the door.

I first started this story in 2016 during a Writers’ League of Texas workshop. It was just a page of notes then, but it soon grew into a full story. I titled it “Knocking” and submitted it to a contest with the theme “Let Us In.” The story didn’t place, so I kept editing and kept submitting. I really wanted the piece to be published. I’d combined things I love (Halloween, trick-or-treating, family, creepiness) with something even darker than ghosts and goblins (regret, betrayal, loneliness), and I loved the gloomy atmosphere I’d created. I felt disappointed each time an editor passed on the submission, but every time I got it back out there and tried again. The story which eventually evolved into “Darkness Follows” earned eleven rejections before finally finding a home this year in Halloween Haunts, an anthology from Gravestone Press. I’m thrilled it’s finally seeing the light of day.

It’s funny though… I don’t think I could (or would) write this story today. 2021 me isn’t so interested in the gloomy stuff anymore. I’m focusing my creative energy in new directions, looking for the humorous side of things and trying for happier endings. The tales I’m writing these days are filled more with life than death. They’re more collaborative than cut-throat. Maybe I’m getting soft, or maybe there are just enough scary things in the world right now that I don’t feel the need to add more. Whatever the reason, I find that I’m more often trying to make myself laugh lately than make myself look fearfully over my shoulder.

That’s not to say that I’m not ecstatic to finally share “Darkness Follows” with the world. I still love it. A few of the lines I wrote still give me the shivers when I read them, and the story as a whole still drapes me with a heavy sense of melancholy, which is just what I was going for when I first shaped the idea. But if I’d written it today? I think it might have a different ending.

I haven’t received my copy of Halloween Haunts yet. Like you, I’ll have to be patient to see what spooks and spirits await in its pages next to the phantom I conjured. I look forward to reading the book, of course. After all, what are October nights for if not campfires and hammocks and ghost stories accompanied by cricket serenades? But the woman who curls up with this collection of ghouls is a different person than the one who created her ghoul in the first place. This October, I’ll enjoy my moments with the macabre, but then I plan to chase my horror with some hilarity. I suggest you do the same.

My Halloween decorations walk the line between spooky and silly.

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If you’d like to spook yourself this Halloween, pick up a copy of Halloween Haunts and read the rest of “Darkness Follows” and other creepy tales in paperback or e-book format.

If scary isn’t your thing, stay tuned for my next publication, “20 Signs Your Neighbor Might Be a Mummy,” coming soon from Daily Science Fiction. It will be free to read and promises more giggles than gasps.

Posted in Halloween, Writing

The Ghostly Tales of Austin

In October 2015, I went on an Austin ghost tour with some fellow members of the local chapter of SCBWI. We met at the Omni Hotel, then strolled around downtown, visiting the Driskill and the Texas State Capitol and other buildings with haunted histories while our guide, Monica Ballard, regaled us with stories of sinister secrets, ghastly murders, and eerie experiences.

Austin Ghost Tour, October 28, 2015

I love the night and especially love walking around my favorite places at night, seeing them by moonlight and learning their shadows. I would’ve had a good time exploring Austin in the dark regardless of what the topic was. But add ghost stories to a late-night stroll, and I’m in my happy place. I enjoyed myself so much that, when the tour ended, I bought a copy of Haunted Austin: History and Hauntings in the Capitol City by Jeanine Plumer to read more about Austin’s ghosts. I took the book home and gobbled up all the good stories inside.

I had no idea on that night back in 2015 that six years later I would be adapting Plumer’s book for middle grade readers.

In 2020, I wrote my first book in the Spooky America series from Arcadia Publishing: The Ghostly Tales of New England. I was excited about the chance to adapt one of the Haunted America books for young readers and loved learning more about New England, an area of the country I’ve visited a few times and whose history and scenery I love. But I really wished I could write about some ghosts closer to home, so when the opportunity came along to write the haunted history of my own town, I was thrilled. The Ghostly Tales of Austin comes out on Monday, and I can’t wait to share the spooky side of my city with young readers.

I put a lot of heart into this book and learned a lot about Austin along the way. Did you know that Austin suffered a devastating flood in 1900? Or that a ghost wagon haunts Westlake? Some of the stories in this book are not for the faint of heart. For instance, I suggest you don’t read Chapter 2 about Josiah Wilbarger while you’re eating. But if you’re going to the Capitol anytime soon, you should definitely read Chapter 9 before you arrive, so can be on the lookout for the ghost of Colonel Love. And I highly recommend visiting Mount Bonnell while in Austin, but you might want to leave before sunset if you don’t want to experience anything unsettling.

I have fond memories of that ghost tour back in 2015, and I’m proud to now have a part to play in passing down the spooky history of a city that I love. Austin’s ghosts await. If you’re willing to meet them, pick up a copy of The Ghostly Tales of Austin!

If you want an unsigned copy of the book, you can order it from Amazon or, better yet, from BookPeople, Austin’s own one-of-a-kind local bookstore. But if you would like a signed copy, you can order directly from me for $12. Send me a message via my contact page with your name, address, and what you want written in the book (either just a signature or a dedication). I’ll let you know how to send payment, then I’ll get to the post office ASAP, and you’ll have a personalized copy of The Ghostly Tales of Austin before you can say poltergeist three times*!

*Just to be on the safe side, I do not actually recommend saying poltergeist three times.

Posted in Reading

Thoughts Upon Rereading Harry Potter

 

All of my Harry Potter books, including Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
All of my Harry Potter books, including Quidditch Through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out in 1997, but I didn’t hear of it until 1999. That was my first year of teaching. I was twenty-two years old, fresh out of college, and just beginning my lifelong relationship with young adult books. I’d read The Outsiders and The Giver and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and some more, but I didn’t know then that the start of my teaching career would coincide with an explosion of young adult literature. I didn’t know Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was about to be published, couldn’t fathom the volumes and volumes of YA and MG novels I would have on my classroom shelves by the end of my teaching career, and had no idea that a seventh grader was about to introduce me to a character who would make a huge impact on me, my family, and the world.

The student’s name was Kelli, and the character’s name was Harry.

I read the first Harry Potter book reluctantly. No, let me rephrase that. I opened the first book reluctantly. It didn’t sound like something I would be interested in. A little boy who was a wizard? But Kelli spoke so highly of it (she was already reading the third book in the series) and I wanted to connect with my students, so I decided to try book one. For her.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone grabbed me from the very first page, and by the time I arrived in Diagon Alley, I was hooked. SO hooked, in fact, that I told my whole family they should read the book too, with as much enthusiasm as Kelli had used to convince me.

Every member of my family, from my niece to my dad, read the Harry Potter series. By the fourth book, most of us were picking it up on opening day. By the fifth book, I was driving to bookstores at midnight for the release party.

I’m obviously not alone in my feelings about this series. Nearly all my friends love the books. What sets me apart is that, until recently, I only read them once.

Most of my fellow Harry Potter fans have read the series at least twice. Some have read it multiple times. A couple of them reread it every summer. This befuddles me. I rarely reread books, because I’m not a particularly fast reader and there are so many titles I haven’t read lining my shelves. I usually can’t convince myself to reread a single book, let alone a seven-volume series.

But over the past couple of years, I’ve been tempted. After all, it’s been so long now since Kelli first introduced me to Harry—17 years, in fact. The age Harry was when the series ended. I’ve seen the movies of course, but that’s just more reason to reread, being able to delight in all of the details left out of the big screen versions. So I decided just to reread the first one, my favorite. And I chose to listen to it on audio book.

I checked out Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the library in February, and less than an hour into Jim Dale’s delightful narration of the boy who lived, I knew I’d be listening to the whole series. From February to August, I went straight through Harry Potter #1-7, reuniting with every character, reliving every adventure, and revisiting every corner of Hogwarts, and I’m so glad I did.

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Thoughts Upon Rereading Harry Potter (via audio book)

[SPOILER ALERT! If you’ve somehow gone this long without reading Harry Potter or at least seeing the movies, STOP! Go instead to the closest library or bookstore to pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.]

* Jim Dale does an amazing job of narrating these novels. I love the voices he gives to Hagrid and Dumbledore and McGonagall, and, well, most of the other characters too. One thing was funny though. Mr. Dale didn’t pronounce the T at the end of Voldemort for the first three books, making me think I’d been wrong all along when saying it. Then suddenly in the fourth book, he added the T, so I thought I’d been right after all. But THEN I found this article about the pronunciation of the dark lord’s name, and now I think we should all just go back to referring to him as He Who Must Not Be Named.

* On this read-through, I noticed that none of the professors at Hogwarts are married or have any children. Further proof that it’s very difficult to devote your life to teaching while also raising a family.

* I can’t remember how I pictured Severus Snape before I saw Alan Rickman play him.

* I’m done watching the movies. I only ever tolerated them before, but now I will no longer idly sit in front of one on a Saturday afternoon. I want the words and the words alone to stay with me. Watching the movies makes me forget more than I remember, and I want every little detail to stick.

* Some things I had forgotten: The ghost professor of History of Magic, who died at Hogwarts but continued to teach; How little Dumbledore was in the first two books (yet how much he pervades the story even when Harry rarely sees him); How scary the cave lake/potion/horcrux scene was in The Half Blood Prince.

* What I loved even more this time: Ginny. What a strong, outspoken, independent, funny young woman. I missed her so much in book 7; Lee Jordan’s quiddich commentary (which was even better on audio); Dumbledore’s Army.

* I loved the fact that this time in book 4 when Dumbledore described finding a room filled with chamber pots when he was looking for a restroom, I knew it was foreshadowing the Room of Requirement in book 5. 🙂

* On this read-through, SPEW (The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare) made me uncomfortable. Hermione’s heart was in the right place regarding house elves, but the way she went about trying to force freedoms onto them didn’t seem right.

* I still hate Umbridge more than I ever hated Voldemort. I actually yelled out loud at her once while listening to book 5 in my car.

* I have a list of questions ready to ask my friends and loved ones if I ever suspect them of being imposters using polyjuice potion.

* It was no easier listening to Dumbledore’s death and funeral than it was reading it in print. 😦

* Let’s talk about The Deathly Hallows. Strangely enough, the last book in the series is the one I remembered the least. And, upon rereading the series, it was also the one I liked the least. The beginning is great. The scene about “the seven Potters” is still one of my favorites. I love how everyone starts changing clothes out in the open and Harry’s embarrassed at how immodest they’re being with his body. The scene that comes next, when they’re all flying and trying to escape the Death Eaters, is awesome too—so intense and heartbreaking. (I hated it when Hedwig died.) The end of the book is also great. Neville’s a badass, and Harry sacrifices himself with his parents’ spirits by his side, only to survive again, and then he has that magical talk with Dumbledore in “King’s Cross,” ending with one of my all-time favorite quotes from his extraordinary headmaster: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” But the middle, ugh! The middle is a long, boring, repetitive slog through forests of indecision with a bunch of wand confusion thrown in for good measure. All they do is argue and apparate. I missed Hogwarts! I missed Ginny and Hagrid and Professor McGonagall and the Weasley twins. I can only figure that the first time through I read the book so fast, in such excitement to see how it ended, that I didn’t notice how bored I was through most of it.

* Lastly, I’m still a little disappointed that my prediction about Harry didn’t come true. In July of 2003, when I was reading the newly-released Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I wrote in my journal, “Prediction: When Harry graduates from Hogwarts, he will become the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.” I thought it was so perfect. He was a natural teacher, as evidenced by his lessons in the DA, and he was obviously skilled and knowledgeable about combating the dark arts. And since Hogwarts couldn’t keep a Defense teacher more than a year, I thought Harry would defeat Voldemort, break whatever curse was on the job, and become the best professor Hogwarts had ever seen. But he didn’t. And I’m still kind of sad about that.

Photos from the midnight release party at BookPeople for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in July 2007. Left = a person dressed up as a moving portrait. Center = me clutching my copy of book 7. (Side note: I still have that t-shirt. I wore it yesterday.) Right = the Voldemort dunking booth. Step right up and dunk the dark lord!
Photos from the midnight release party at BookPeople for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in July 2007. Left = a person dressed up as a moving portrait. Center = me clutching my copy of book 7. (Side note: I still have that t-shirt. I wore it yesterday.) Right = the Voldemort dunking booth. Step right up and dunk the dark lord!

In conclusion…

I still love these stories. (Even the last one.) I owe Kelli for introducing me to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever reread the whole series again or not, but I suspect I’ll pick up the first one from time to time and rediscover the magical world along with Harry.

As for the new book? I don’t have strong feelings about the existence of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I haven’t read it. I might someday. I might not. This post isn’t about that book. It’s about the world of Harry Potter as I first experienced it. That’s the world I love.