Back to School Musings

August 31st. First day of school for my kids.

Like a million other parents, I face this morning a bit torn. On the one hand, I am ecstatic. This summer seemed to go on just a bit too long, and the kids were just a bit more on my nerves than usual for the past week or so. I’m more than ready to have an empty house for a few hours so that I can collect my thoughts, do some housecleaning, and maybe get some writing done.

On the other hand, today is a little bittersweet. Today, my older son Wesley, half of the Double W’s, starts middle school.  100_4314

He says he isn’t nervous, and for the most part I believe him. He doesn’t seem to get nervous over things like this; he just takes things in stride (definitely NOT something he gets from me!). However, as I was getting his breakfast this morning, he began looking through the dishful of keys that we keep next to the microwave. He found a keychain someone had gotten him in kindergarten—a big green T-Rex. When Wesley was in kindergarten, he wanted to be a paleontologist, so that keychain had held a lot of importance once upon a time. Maybe three or four years ago, he decided that dinosaurs weren’t all that cool, and the keychain was relegated to our dishful of keys.

It took me a bit by surprise when he picked up that keychain and just nonchalantly said, “I think I want this keychain on my backpack again.” Part of me thought about asking why he needed a keychain hanging on his backpack when he’d gone several years with a plain black backpack. I worried that it might look a bit childish to have a dinosaur hanging from his backpack strap.

But then I realized that maybe, just maybe, he isn’t quite as secure as he appears on the outside. After all, he’s on a new journey today, and maybe he needs that little piece of his childhood to go along with him as he takes another step towards growing up.

Have a great first day of middle school, Wesley! You’ll do great!

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The Question That Shall Not Be Asked, Part 2

Well, two blog posts in one week. Isn’t that one of the signs of the Apocalypse? Anyway…

Earlier this week, I posted about the differences between my religious beliefs and the experiences I’ve had with the paranormal, and the tensions that arise because of those differences. I also hinted that some of the experiences Kyrie Carter has in my paranormal mystery series are inspired by my own experiences.

Well, my muse took off running with that blog post, and I wrote a scene in which Kyr and her love interest Spook Steele are having a bit of a get-to-know-you chat. The conversation starts out light-hearted and not very deep–what is your family like, what do you do for a living, what kinds of things did you like as a child, etc. But then Spook asks Kyr a seemingly-innocent question that she isn’t quite prepared for. I’d like to share that scene with you, my readers, just to see what you think. I haven’t decided where this scene will land yet, and obviously the conversation isn’t finished, but it will give you an idea of what Kyr is struggling with in her quest to figure out her life.

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For the next hour, we talked. Spook told me more about his sister Katie and about his parents, and I told him about my brothers and their families. He talked about working with his father as a landscaper, and I told him about my adventures in the children’s library. We shared memories about our childhoods, our school days, and our wildest dreams. As we played twenty questions and got to know each other, I gradually relaxed again and just enjoyed getting to know the man I had fallen so unexpectedly for.

During a lull in the conversation, I slipped my arms around his waist and laid my head on his shoulder. He began lazily stroking my hair as though he were petting a cat. I sighed contentedly and allowed myself to melt into him, feeling a peacefulness I hadn’t felt in a long time.

After a long silence, Spook asked, “Mind if I ask you a question?”

I giggled drowsily. “Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?”

He laughed too. “I guess it is, now, isn’t it?” After another pause, he asked, “What got you interested in paranormal investigation? Was it Project Boo-Seekers, or that scary old woman you saw in your bedroom?” Although he attempted to sound light-hearted, I could tell it was a serious question.

My sleepiness vanished immediately; I hadn’t expected that question, and I wasn’t prepared to answer it. “I could ask you the same question.” My voice trembled, contradicting the flippant tone I’d attempted.

Spook’s hawkish eyes fixed on me, and I knew he sensed my hesitation in answering. “You could, but I asked you first, Kyr m’dear.” He took my hand and stroked it with his thumb as he always seemed to do when we had serious conversations.

My eyes drifted down to our joined hands, down to the sneakers lying in front of the couch, up to the corner of the ceiling where I’d missed a cobweb, looking everywhere but into his eyes. I had never told anyone, not even JoEllyn or Aunt Julia, what it was that had pushed my fascination with ghosts over the edge into the desire to study them, to investigate hauntings. True, it had partly been that first experience, as well as all the other experiences I’d had. And Project Boo-Seekers had opened my eyes to the possibility. But none of those reasons was the ultimate catalyst. Spook’s thumb became more insistent against my hand, and I knew he was waiting for an answer. “No, it wasn’t either of those things…exactly,” I hedged.

“Well, then what was it?” All the teasing was gone from his voice, and I knew I had his complete attention.

I met his eyes and swallowed hard before responding with a question of my own. “Can someone who didn’t believe in ghosts become a ghost himself when he dies?”

His thumb ceased its movements, and his eyes widened as the question settled over him. “That’s not a rhetorical question, is it?” he asked softly.

Unexpected tears came to my eyes as I shook my head. “Well, can they?” I couldn’t keep the desperation out of my voice.

Spook let his head fall against the back of the couch, and he withdrew his hand from mine to stroke his beard in agitation. “Kyr, I…really don’t know.” His concerned eyes met mine once more. “Why do you ask?”

I leaned forward to rest my elbows on my knees, half wishing I hadn’t posed the question that I was now reluctant to answer. Still, if anyone would understand, I knew he would. “Not long after Daddy died, I started noticing…things…happening around my place. Nothing scary, just…footsteps outside my bedroom late at night, feeling as though someone were looking over my shoulder, that kind of thing.” I glanced over at the framed picture of my parents sitting on top of the coffee table. My voice shook as I continued. “What made me start thinking it was Daddy was that I began to catch whiffs of his aftershave. On the one hand, I wanted to believe he was checking on me, letting me know he was okay, but on the other hand, it didn’t make sense, you know?”

“Because your dad didn’t believe in ghosts.”

I nodded. “He believed that when you die, you go one of two places. He always told me there’s no in-between, and there’s no coming back to earth. Ever.” My insides knotted up and began trembling, and soon that trembling worked its way to the rest of my body. I clasped my hands together to stop it. “Could it have been my dad? Even if he didn’t believe in ghosts, could he have come back as one?”

Part of me wished I hadn’t asked the question, recalling other times in my life when I’d asked such things. I’d been called on the carpet more than once, first by the youth pastor at my home church, and then by Daddy when he heard I’d been asking about the paranormal—the occult, as they called it—and had found verses in the Bible that supported my beliefs. Now, as then, I silently cursed my curiosity, wishing I could just accept what I was told and move on. But I couldn’t.

Do you have any unanswerable questions? Leave a comment if you’d like to share.

The Questions That Shall Not Be Asked, Part 1

I’ve long said that writing is a way for me to process the issues and burning questions that I can’t or don’t want to talk about with—gulp—real people. Friends and family who know me well and who have read my paranormal mystery books have commented about how much Kyrie Carter sounds like me. They have noticed that she has a lot of the same foibles, character traits, and personal struggles that I have.

One struggle that has been dancing around the ring but has not as yet been fully introduced into the story is the struggle between Kyr’s fascination with the paranormal and her religious upbringing. It is that struggle that has at last stepped forward and loudly proclaimed that it is time to be dealt with.

I attended a writers conference this past weekend, hoping to learn some new tidbits, and perhaps to share some of the things I’ve learned over this past year since self-publishing my first book and subsequently getting a publisher. What I didn’t expect was having the session on Memoirs and the session on Characterization collide in my brain and shatter Pandora’s proverbial box, leaving me with a burning question that screams to be written into a scene between Kyr and her now-boyfriend Spook Steele.

As many of my friends and some of my family know, I had my first paranormal encounter at the tender age of four, in the back bedroom of the Victorian duplex where I lived during my preschool and early elementary years. As I lay awake one night, while my seven-year-old brother snored in the twin bed across the room, my eyes wandered to the foot of my bed where, to my surprise, stood an elderly woman who stared silently back at me. Her dress was unfamiliar to me; it wouldn’t be till a few years later when I would first see the late-nineteenth-century style of dress and recognized it as that which she wore. Thinking someone might be visiting my parents, but wondering why they would choose such a late hour to do so, I asked, “Who are you?”

The strange woman said nothing, but simply ceased to be there. She didn’t fade away or walk through a wall to exit; she just vanished.

Realizing that I had just seen a ghost, I did what any other four-year-old would have done: I screamed my head off, waking my brother and bringing my parents at a run to our bedroom. Of course, they brushed it off as a bad dream, or my imagination, or anything but what I knew was true. You see, there had been other indications that we weren’t alone on our side of the house, mostly in the form of voices that came from nowhere and the occasional catching movement at the corner of my eye.

The incident was soon forgotten by everyone but me, and within my immediate family, it was never talked about again. Still, it came to mind many, many times over the years, and it finally found a home as the catalyst for Kyr’s initiation to the world of ghost hunting.

As for the clash with religious upbringing, well, that fine point is more of Kyr’s world than mine. The church I grew up in was for the most part open and accepting of people’s experiences, whatever they might be. Now, that being said, I still didn’t find much commiseration with what I had seen, but no one shamed me or told me I was embracing the devil. My own personal struggle between my experience and my beliefs did not come until my adult years, after I had gotten married and began attending a different church in a different denomination with my husband.

It also coincided with the advent of the many paranormal investigation shows that are so common now. When I first saw the show Ghost Hunters, I was skeptical and a bit incredulous. Although I was a firm believer in ghosts and rarely questioned anyone who said they’d experienced one, I looked askance at this crazy idea of a show. Did people really go around dark houses at night trying to talk to these entities? How strange and, yes, how stupid.

Still, I watched the show and began to understand their techniques and their jargon. I learned the difference between residual hauntings and intelligent hauntings, and I made note of some of the situations that might be mistaken for paranormal experiences, such as plumbing problems or sensitivity to EMFs.

Where I got myself into trouble was on social media (there’s no surprise, right?). In those days, many of the celebrity Facebook pages had the option of discussions; a member of the group could post a topic for other members to debate or comment on. I joined many of these discussions on Jason Hawes’ page, and started a few of my own. Now, to make this long story a bit shorter, someone at my current church saw the things I was posting. Since the beliefs I held (the fact that ghosts exist and may or may not be some residual energy from living persons) differed from my church’s beliefs (the only “ghost” is the Holy Ghost, and all other spirits are either angels or demons), I was called into a meeting with one of the pastors. I will not dredge up old grievances and chronicle everything that was said in that meeting, but suffice it to say, it did not end well. My husband (who does not share in my beliefs or experiences) and I left that church and are attending another.

Suffice it to say that I still have questions about the paranormal—not just ghosts, but also things like UFOs, cryptids, and all sorts of psychic phenomena—but I am much more guarded in whom I share my experiences with. I still watch some of the paranormal shows, and I still search the Bible trying to understand the differences between my views (and my interpretation of Scripture) and the church’s. I believe that continued struggle largely influences many of the things Kyr experiences in my stories. I don’t think I will ever really reach a conclusion, but as with many other issues I have had to work through, it does certainly help to be able to write them down in an environment where I can freely express and explore them.

My Top 10 Fall Foods

Yes, I know that Fall—or Autumn, as some prefer to call it—is still a few weeks away, but that doesn’t mean I’m not already there in spirit. I’m already planning my fall wardrobe, picking up new fall décor items, and yes, thinking about all the yummy fall treats. Here is my list of the 10 foods that just scream “Fall Is Here!”

  1. Gingerbread.

With lots of whipped cream. I like gingerbread year-round, but a tasty square of gingerbread on a fall night is just a slice of heaven.

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2. Apple cider.

Hot or cold, it doesn’t matter to me. From the very first sip of tangy, spicy apple goodness, I’m carried back to October evenings at our church’s Halloween parties and square dances.

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3. Apple butter.

Like a lot of the other foods on this list, apple butter is available here year-round. Still, in my mind (and on my tongue), this just tastes better in the fall.

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4. Caramel apples.

Yes, these are also a staple at a lot of the carnivals and summer street fairs where I live, but making my own from apples bought at a roadside stand or local orchard is such a wonderful fall memory.

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5. Pumpkin roll.

I may be the weird one here, but I am generally not a big fan of all things pumpkin. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin spice lattes, all those things leave me cold, but a slice of pumpkin roll after a homemade Thanksgiving dinner hits the spot.

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6. Hot chocolate.

Again, a favorite that carries over into winter, but a steaming mug of hot chocolate brings back memories of sitting in the stands with the marching band at football games.

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7. Candy corn.

And all the other assorted shapes found in a bag of harvest mix. One of my earliest memories of enjoying this candy is in 2nd grade at my class Halloween party.

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8. Molasses cookies.

Another treat that isn’t necessarily “autumn-y,” but they make me think of fall because it’s one of the things I start baking as soon as the weather begins to cool off in late September.

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9. Cranberry sauce.

No matter what time of year I eat this, it always brings to mind turkey, stuffing, and hot rolls fresh from the oven.

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10. Soup/stew.

Yes, I eat soup all year long, but I really start to crave a good, hearty vegetable soup when the first frost coats the ground.

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What’s your favorite fall treat? Leave your answer in the comments.