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, 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!