I just finished reading Into the Shadows – America’s Unsolved Mysteries and Tales of the Unexpected, by Troy Taylor. As a veteran reader of books on the paranormal, I can say this collection of stories is the best I’ve discovered. Often the actual writing in such books is barely tolerable, but Mr. Taylor’s work is clean, his voice is personable, and his tone is not overwrought. One story, in particular, fascinated me.
In Missouri, in 1913, a childless, 30 year old housewife named Pearl Curren regularly met for afternoon tea with her mother and a neighbor. On July 18th the women decided to experiment with a Ouija board – a gadget that was all the rage in the spiritualism-friendly era. A presence which introduced itself as Patience Worth came through. Over the next weeks, Patience showed a particular affinity for Pearl. Eventually, Pearl was able to dispense with the slow Ouija board, and simply recite and/or write that which Patience wanted to share.
And Patience wanted to share a lot – over the course of the next twenty-five years, she dictated personal communications, essays, a play, several novels and over 5,000 poems. Much of her work was critically acclaimed.
*Lullaby – Patience Worth
Dream, dream thou flesh of me!
Dream thou next my breast.
Dream, dream and coax the stars
To light thee at thy rest.
Sleep, sleep, thou breath of Him
Who watcheth thee and me.
Dream, dream and dreaming,
Coax that He shall see.
Rest, rest thou fairy form
That presseth soft my breat.
Rest, rest and nestle warm,
And rest and rest and rest.
The story becomes particularly interesting when the pre-Patience life of Pearl Curren is examined. By all accounts, she was an “indifferent student”, with no particular knowledge of history nor attraction to spiritualism or writing.
Of course I’ve been all over the web, but I would say the best source for more information and further details is over at Smithsonian.com.
By the way, I would never touch a Oujia board. I hesitated to even post a picture. ‘Too many horror novels & movies for me, I guess.
*I found the text of this poem at Google Books. It was in the public domain title Antholgy of magazine verse.
Originally posted at main blog on December 3rd.
Last night, instead of watching another great horror flick, I settled onto the sofa – properly equipped with a cup of tea and my knitting – to enjoy a Miss Marple mystery. As my cats passive-aggressively dueled for my lap-space, and my dog warmed my feet, I added another 2-3 inches to the baby blanket I’m hoping to finish before Solstice eve. (One of my goals is to knit an item for charity each season. This one, I think, will be dropped off at the hospital with a request that it be given to the next baby born to a young single mother.) When the movie finished, I went to sleep. It was not yet three o’clock in the morning.
Last night was a portent of things to come. My blog is likely to … soften a bit in the next month – for two reasons:
1) Despite my general dislike of the yuletide season, I am not entirely immune to the warm fuzziness of Christmastime, with its sentimental music, uplifting movies, and incessant good cheer.
2) My autumnal bout of hypomania has all but faded away. Coming to this realization so quietly is a good thing. By acknowledging and accepting what is happening, I am less likely to spiral into a depression. With luck, I will simply shift gears and become more domestic for a little while.
This month I will cook and putter more. I will stay home as much as possible. I will dote on and pet my menfolk as much as they will allow. I will make a point of taking the dog for a walk in the brightest part of the day. When the real cold comes, I will fret about the chickens and the feral cats, and make warm meals for them. (A grain and veggie mash for the hens, a kibble and gravy mush for the felines.) Despite my resolution to not fuss over the holiday, I will probably decorate something with twinkle lights. I will listen to classic standards by the likes of Mel Tormé and Bing Crosby. I will watch White Christmas. Probably more than once. Because it features the incomparable song and dance man, Danny Kaye.
But I will also re-read Stephen King’s It, as I have done, during winter break, for the past 25 years. And, if I follow my pattern, I will spend more time in my closet-office, with the door closed, wearing my headphones, listening to Midnight Syndicate, writing about witches and ghosts, pretending it is whatever season my characters are living in.
Here in the blog, I might not write about haunts and horror as much, but my interests will remain skewed toward the mysterious and the magical. In that vein, let me point you to a wonderful web find: Edinburgh’s mysterious book sculptures.
Watch a news clip about the sculptures by clicking HERE.
I’d recommend that you search the web yourself for more information. I poked around enough to learn that a total of ten sculptures were gifted to libraries in Edinburgh, and that the artist has indicated she is female. I don’t really want to know any more than that – I prefer that some mystery remains.
Posting delay - this is from Nov. 23
Earlier today, when I was out driving my son to karate and buying sick-food for my husband, I thought of a good topic for tonight’s post. Damned if I can remember what it was.
The work I planned to do in my online critique group got ahead of me. Now (as of midnight somewhere) my latest chapter is up for review – which is good – but I missed the deadline to critique some stories that were up during the last review period. That means I missed my opportunity to earn full credits for work that I’m going to have to do anyway. I tried to get one quick critique done before the queue switched, but I got sucked in, and went past deadline.
Now it’s 2:30 in the morning. I’m only just starting my blog post. I haven’t yet responded to recent blog comments. For days, I’ve been posting only to WordPress, with the intention of copying posts to the mirror blogs “tomorrow”. ‘Haven’t done it yet, though.
I haven’t yet graded some critiques I’ve received on an earlier chapter, even though it’s polite to give feedback as soon as possible. I have read those critiques, which were thoughtful and helpful … and embarrassing. You see, I spelled the word envelope wrong – a half dozen times. Apparently, I typed envelop …repeatedly. Which just sucks. I do know the difference. (Clearly, I rely on that squiggly red line too much.)
I haven’t yet worked on my manuscript today.
Right now, the theme from The Big Bang Theory, is playing over and over in my head. (Well, the first two lines of the song are anyway.) Why? Because, instead of buckling down and doing the work I needed to to do today, I sat, knitting, on the sofa with my sad, sniffly husband, watching all the episodes we had recorded to the DVR.
Screw it. I’m going to go take a bath, then drink a Bailey’s on the rocks in front of a TV tuned to something soporific. I’ll start again tomorrow.
Posting delay - this is from Nov. 22
I knew, when I joined Critique Circle, that it would take time to write thoughtful critiques. In fact, it’s taking more time than I expected, but I’m glad I did it. My manuscript has been strengthened and tightened already, thanks to the feedback I’ve received. I’ve also gained confidence in my ability to edit – for others and for myself.
I knew, when I decided to start platforming by launching The Paranormalist, it would take time to develop a voice and establish connections. In fact, it’s taking more time than I expected, but I’m glad I did it. It’s been fun to work with short pieces again. NaBloPoMo, has helped me maintain a daily writing habit. And I feel like I’m making new friends.
Nothing feels as good, though, as making progress on the novel.
Posting delay - this is from Nov. 21
I’ve been lazy for the last two days. And that’s okay. It was nice to take some time to celebrate my son and tend my cold-stricken husband. It was also nice to watch some TV, get some extra sleep and prowl some new blogs.
Tonight, however, after my men-folk went to bed, I decided to make a to-do list – to capture all the little tasks I’ve accumulated in relation to writing and investigating … and reluctantly preparing for winter. (Now that it has snowed, and I can no longer deny its arrival.)
It’s 2:41 am. I just finished making the list. I am a bit overwhelmed. I won’t bore you with the details, but I have a couple of writerly things I wanted to share.
Many of us are doing NaBloPoMo. I discovered a fledgling movement to start a National Novel Progress Month. I LOVE this idea. Even though there isn’t much time left in November, I jumped in. I hope the group decides to continue in the upcoming months. (Click the picture to go to the site.)
Posting delay - this is from Nov. 18
It’s digital arts & crafts night here at The Paranormalist.
Right now, I’m sitting at my husband’s computer – as I usually do when I’m blogging – but I don’t do my fiction writing and editing here. For that I go upstairs, to the office I made in my walk-in closet.
My husband’s first question to me today, after he read On the trail of the cryptid known as the Linwood Woolly Beast, was: “So. Did you make that one up?”
No. I actually found references to the creature on a couple of websites when I Googled Minnesota paranormal. (Though I must admit I was several pages deep into the results by the time it came up.) Despite sounding so irked last night, it turns out that I’m glad I learned of the legend. My boy and I had a lovely time looking for the thing as we drove into town.
As long as the question came up, I want to promise you I will never confuse my personal fiction with my paranormal studies. Even if I could craft a better story. Which I could.
(That’s a clumsy segue into the subject of my fiction.)
My book is in review at a critiquing community. I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to boast about nice things people say, but I’m making an exception for the critique I found in my email tonight. Because it literally made me tear up. Because I’ve been hoping to hear something like this for a long time:
“While reading it, I was thinking that your writing style is much more similar to literary fiction than to a typical horror/mystery genre novel. … So, people have probably been saying “go faster! go faster!” but now I am not sure how much faster you really need to go. There are definitely areas that can be trimmed, but this is going to be a slower-pace, more internalized novel. And it is really working. Such an interesting combination…the pretty words slowly telling this intriguing ghost story. I like it.“
Don’t get me wrong. I WANT to be a genre writer. I read and love horror. (Albeit old-fashioned horror like King and Rice and McCammon and Simmons.) I know I have to ruthlessly trim what I’ve written. But it was awfully good to read that someone, somewhere gets what I’m trying to do.
I didn’t intend to post of any of that. I came downstairs to satisfy my quota for NaBloPoMo by simply sharing my thoughts about the movie I watched tonight: Carnival of Souls (1962)
This movie was shot in 3 weeks, on a tight budget, and it shows. (Not always in a bad way.) The editing leaves something to be desired, and the soundtrack started to give me a headache after a while, but I’m glad I stuck with it. In the latter half of the film, there are some wonderfully creepy, surreal images which I fear I will see again in future nightmares. Even the makeup, which looks too thick in stills from the movie, is effective in the context of the story. (The smeary-lipped, rictus grins will stay with me for a long time.) It’s a contender for the 13 Creepiest Horror Films list that I’m still working on.
In the novel I’m working on, the main character plunges into a genealogy project in an effort to understand how events from the past are affecting her present. As a writer, I often sample the activities that consume my characters, so that I can write about them authentically. When I was researching and dabbling in genealogy, I found some wonderful photographs of my own ancestors.
The backstory: No one knows the name of my maternal great-grandmother. In fact, we have only a few tidbits and rumors about her: She lived in Norway, within the arctic circle, in the 19th century. She married a wastrel, and bore him eleven children. She was some kind of medical professional – we’re uncertain if that means she was a midwife, nurse or doctor. She eventually got rid of her first husband and remarried, then had two children with him – Jack and Marie. Over the years, the children from the first marriage drifted to America and settled in Minnesota. When Jack and Marie were still young, she contracted tuberculosis, and was confined to a sanitarium. Knowing she was dying, she sent them to live with their half-siblings in the United States.
This photograph shows Jack and his half-brother Edward. It was taken sometime in the 1910s.
Here Marie joins the boys.
I find it amusing that picture day was obviously all about the guns.
Because I am tired ( and feeling a bit tapped out on the fresh blog topic front) I decided to post a few paragraphs from the novel I’m working on. Because I am chilly (and regreting that I didn’t have one last bonfire before it turned cold) I chose this snippet:
(Lizzy is burning yard waste after a day spent working outdoors.)
Lizzy’s body unkinked as she watched the blaze grow. When the logs had caught well, she stood to add the final fuel—the pile of willow whips. Sweet, white smoke billowed as the flames worked to ignite the green wood. She retreated to her lawn chair. The fire’s kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, yellows and blues lulled her into stillness.
As the fire matured to low flames springing from cracked, ash-covered wood, she slumped with her eyes half shut and her fingers laced loosely over her belly, allowing her thoughts to wander over the accomplishments of the day. She didn’t startle when she heard her name in the hissing and popping of the fire.
Her gaze drifted up from the embers to the coiling smoke that rose toward the dark sky. Within the coils, a figure came into focus. Lizzy’s head dropped back. Her skull clunked against the aluminum frame of her chair, but she barely registered the thud. Her hands remained, numb and brick-like, on her abdomen. Under them, her stomach moaned and rolled unpleasantly.
She studied the hovering form. It … no, she … appeared to be made of the smoke, yet concealed within it. The light cast by the dying fire seemed pale and thin compared to the figure’s own, internal, illumination. She was a creature made up of layers of light. But it wasn’t as though she glowed—rather, she dispelled the dark.
Again the figure breathed her name. A string of faint words, lost in the hissing of the fire, followed. Lizzy tried to decipher the movements of the pale, blurred lips. The apparition frustrated her attempt at lip reading by moving her left hand across her face—the wrist encased in a tight cuff … but now bare, as the milky bell-sleeve of a robe fell back—in a somehow familiar gesture. She was tucking a lock of smoke behind her right ear.
Lizzy wanted to move, to speak, to drop her head between her knees and breath hard and fast. Instead she remained quiescent, watching as the smoke-woman stepped down and toward her, using the shimmer above the flames like an uneven staircase. The warmth of the fire was nothing compared to the sensations flooding her body. Knife-edged heat was stabbing out from her core, boring through her thighs and arms, burrowing into her extremities. An urge to run coursed through her, but she could not even twitch backward into the webbing of the chair. I’m frozen, she thought with horrified clarity, frozen in place, and about to combust.
The smoke-woman advanced smoothly, and probably slowly, but the distinction between minutes and seconds had skewed for Lizzy. She had ample time to contemplate her bad joke, her ill-chosen thought. She wanted any word to describe her state except frozen.
Good night. Sweet dreams.