Haunted Highway

You know what I hate most about having lived such an amazing life? My memory is completely shot. Too many awesome things have happened to me and I can’t keep them all in my head. That’s going to mar today’s story somewhat. We can only hope April comes over here and helps to clear things up.

This eerie little tale takes place along the A1 in Australia! (Hi, Michelle! Your forests are creepy! Well, at least one of them.) For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to say these facts are true and accurate to the best of my recollection. In reality, I think I’m making 90% of this up because I can’t remember what really happened and I didn’t write it down anywhere, which is odd in itself. Obviously, something didn’t want me to tell this story.

April and I went to Australia and it was delightful. Except for the one night when it was terrifying.

We were driving The Golden Arrow (that was our rental car’s name) from Cairns to Sydney down the A1, over the Pacific Highway, along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a scary little hillbilly town in the backwoods for petrol and supplies and, from there, planned to drive until we found the next larger, not-scary town that would be able to provide a place to stay. We figured we’d just drive through the forest and when we came out the other side, it would be night, we would find a motel and we would rest our weary heads to start fresh the next day.

Oh how wrong we were.

We left the scary little hillbilly town a little before sunset, laughing about the gas station’s mostly-toothless attendant who was unintelligble to us, to me especially. April was able to figure out some of what he was saying after she made him repeat it a few times. Me? I never got it. We entered the forest, chortling and carrying on. It was lovely until it started to get dark.

Foggy Woods by Matthias via Flickr http://bit.ly/Foggywoods

Yeah, it started like this and then it just got worse. (photo from Flickr, courtesy Matthias https://www.flickr.com/photos/theowl84/)

As the light faded, the woods started getting thicker, deeper, darker and there wasn’t a bit of civilization in site, no signs telling us how far to the next town, nothing. I don’t remember which one of us was the first to crawl into the back (The Golden Arrow was a station wagon) for a nap. I think it was me. At any rate, by the time it was full-on dark, I was catnapping when, suddenly, the car swerved and April shrieked. Something had jumped out into the road to end its life and probably ours. April, though, amazing driver that she is, swerved and we all survived. The thing is, she didn’t know what it was. All she could say was that it was big and it didn’t look like any animal she recognized, not a kangaroo, not a moose, not a goanna. I didn’t think I’d be doing anymore sleeping so I slithered back up to the front seat and noticed that the trees were really crowding in and it was incredibly dark out there. A mist was creeping along the trunks and stepping gingerly onto the road. We passed something bloated and dead on the shoulder and to lighten the mood, we discussed it, settling on it being wombat road kill.

That didn’t really  help at all, though. There was something out there in the woods and we were miles from anywhere. There were no other cars on the dark, eerie two-lane road and the trees were bending over, just waiting to nudge us, prod us, send us caroming off into their trunks. There was constant peripheral movement, the mist clung as we passed through it, things were readying to jump at us as we crept through the dark.

It was like every horror movie. We expected the car, unreliable as it was, to break down and strand us, leaving us to the mercy of murderers and mythical monsters. We were so tightly strung, jaws clenched, eyes peering as hard as they could to see beyond the murky light cast by the headlamps. The road started sucking at the tires, pulling us off and into the trees. April slowed down but slowing down meant it was easier for whatever was out there to catch us. We were breathing hard, our hearts beating too fast. April was fighting to keep the car on the blacktop. She told me to keep talking, do not stop talking. But what can you talk about when you’re traveling through a nightmare?

That road, that forest, the dark and the mist, the jumpy animals and serial killers, it all went on forever. We drove and drove through the night, terror mounting with every kilometer. The constant thrum of fear bore down upon us as the mist drifted through slow-ink dark and we drifted down a lonely, forgotten stretch of highway.

I don’t know how we made it out. As the sun began to come up and the world began to turn gray, smoky, quiet, we finally emerged from the longest night of our lives. Once we were clear of that horrible, haunted forest, I took the wheel and April took the back for some much-needed sleep. We had made it out alive.

Looking at Google Maps, I would guess the forest in question would probably be Toolara State Forest, Beerburrum/Beerwah State Forests, Devils Pulpit State Forest (based solely on the name. This forest isn’t actually big enough to have taken us so many hours to drive through), or Glenugie State Forest. But your guess is as good as mine. Wherever it was, I don’t recommend driving through at night after making fun of toothless hillbillies.

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Filed under Adventures, In someone else's backyard, My Dearly Beloveds

The cold soiled doves

This story makes me feel like maybe I’ve gone insane. I keep trying to find source material and I can’t, nothing exists. Maybe I dreamt it all?

When I was 13, my extended family was out for a visit. We took them to Cripple Creek, a favorite destination for visitors even before it was a gambling town.

On this particular trip, we decided to visit a whorehouse. There were more than one brothel in Cripple Creek’s heyday; now there’s only one remaining, the famous one. That’s not the one we visited. The one we went to was off the main drag (Bennett) to the southwest. It was in back of a much larger building and there was a weedy lot next door. It was a two-story red brick affair and it didn’t look like much.

There were tours of this old pleasure  house on weekends so we signed right up. I believe our group consisted of my large family and another smaller family. The tour commenced, the kids were bored and the adults were just happy to be out of the heat. However, once the stories started, we were all captivated. The rooms were roped off; we could only stare in from the hallways as we heard about the happenings throughout the house. It was exciting and interesting. I remember the wallpaper, handmade and opulent. Imagine making wallpaper!

Colorado soiled dove

Upstairs, we viewed the girls’ rooms, heard tales, and when we came to one room at the end of the hall, my mom stopped. My sister stopped. My grandmother stopped. They all lingered. Finally my grandmother and sister moved along and I joined Mom at the little fence in the doorway, peering around her to see what was so interesting. It was just another room. Mom said, “Do you notice how cold it is in here?” and I said, “Not really.” She said, “This room should be hot. It’s a late midsummer afternoon on the second floor of a brick building that’s had sun shining on it all day. This room should be much warmer than it is.” I rolled my eyes and moved along.

The tour was soon finished and a new one had begun; we listened to the other tourress begin her story. Our delightful guide, a retired woman who loved Cripple Creek history, bade her group members farewell. My mother lingered, as did my grandmother. Our guide, seeing no one else in the room, told them they were correct – the upstairs room was cold. A girl had died of a belladonna overdose in that room. There had been a murder in there, as well. I don’t remember if the man killed the woman or the woman killed the man but someone had died violently and restless spirits remained.

Colorado soiled dove

One of Colorado’s soiled doves.

My mother looked at me smugly. I hurried out of the whorehouse.

I went back years later when I was in my 20’s. The building had been torn down to accommodate parking for the new gambling hordes. Only The Homestead House remained. I cannot find mention of my brothel anywhere. Was it just a dream?

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Filed under Adventures, In someone else's backyard

Happy October First!

I’m going to skip the part where I make excuses for my long absence and, instead, jump straight into the meat of things: It is time for HALLOWEEN!

That means it is time for stories and this all crept up on me, despite my watchfulness, so my first ghost story is going to be one that is short and sweet, though a little sad.

I’ve mentioned a time or two that ghosts and I don’t exist on the same plane. I can’t see them, feel them, hear them, sense them. They pass right through me (haunted humor – I’m hilarious) and I am unaware.

Except for this one time.

To back up: A couple of weeks before I was born, my grandmother’s Siamese cat had kittens, a whole litter of ’em. After I was born, my mom and I lived with my grandparents so the kittens and I were raised together. No joke.

Because these kittens were made to be sold, they all found new homes pretty quickly. One was kept for me. They named him Chopin. Apparently, he and I got on quite well and the Household felt we should grow up together and so we did.

When Chopin and I were around 12, he came down with Feline Leukemia and was put to sleep. Well, not all in one day, but it did all happen in a short span of time.

I’d gone to school knowing my cat was sick and I came home to find no cat at all. That was a really hard day, probably the worst of my life up to that point. It still rates in the top 10.

I cried myself to sleep that night. I was so lonely. My bed companion, a constant for my entire life, was gone. There was an empty, cold space where he would have slept. It was horrible.

But then, in the wee, dark hours of the morning, I woke up for no reason. The moonlight was seeping in, I could hear my sisters breathing in their part of the room, and I felt Chopin jump onto my bed. I looked for him and he wasn’t there but all the same, he walked up my side, sat down and purred. I pet him, pet where he was supposed to be and I couldn’t feel him but I could feel him. There was no warmth, no fur, no softness but I could trace his outline all the same. He purred. I cried. And then he was gone. Forever.

He came to tell me goodbye.

Not all ghost stories are scary.

Tonight, I am going to start my cider. I will figure out how to put my Halloween costume together. I will revel in the beginning of my most-favorite season and I think I’m going to take a moment to thank Chopin, my cat, for taking such good care of me.

Welcome to October, my friends. The fun begins!

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Filed under Adventures, In my backyard, My Dearly Beloveds

Promises, tears, and magic

Remember back when I won a book on Goodreads and it led to me accidentally working with an author?

On May 13th, that manuscript, the one I got to read and puzzle over and love – it was published.

Suzy (I call her that cuz we’re tight, remember?) and I probably shot pieces of this book back and forth over the course of four or five months? Let’s call it six because that makes it sound like we did half a year’s worth of hard work and let me tell you, writing is hard work. She’s a total hack-n-slasher; she’ll remove entire sections, if necessary, in order to make her story go the right way. It’s like she is all the forces of nature wreaking havoc upon her poor characters but the result is amazing. In turn, her early readers are like FEMA workers in that they have to see what the lay of the land looks like after the restructuring. We’re responsible for testing the new spots, making sure everything fits together, sometimes reading the same thing over and over again. It’s a lot of work and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed or taken as seriously any other project in my entire grown-up life.

Anyhow, when time was up and she had to relinquish her baby to the publishing house, she told me I’d been a big help. I don’t know how much I believed her – my opinions are only opinions, after all – but it was nice to hear nonetheless. She reaffirmed she was going to put me in the acknowledgements, something she’d said a million times already, but this time she said I would be first. Again, I don’t know that I fully believed her because I know I get overly-enthusiastic about stuff from time to time and make promises only to forget them later. She asked me how I wanted my name to appear and if I wanted her to say anything specific. I said I wanted my full name because I’m vain and no one would be able to doubt it was me she was acknowledging but, otherwise, she could say whatever she wanted. Then I promptly forgot about all of this. Well, not forgot but it sort of went to my background consciousness.

As the publication date drew closer, I started hyping the book to co-workers, friends, and family, using the “You should buy this book because I’ll be in the acknowledgements” line but even then, I don’t think I really knew what that meant until April 18th when Suzy announced on Facebook that the pre-order was live and that if you went to Amazon and did the “Look inside!” trick, you’d see the people she’d tagged in the acknowledgements. I did as instructed and then died.

Talk about making good on promises.

People, when you say you’re going to do something, do it big like Suzanne Palmieri. I cannot tell you what this did to me (but I’m going to anyway).

Here’s the book:

Go get this book. If this isn't your kind of story, buy it as a gift for someone else. Just go get it.

Go get this book. If this isn’t your kind of story, buy it as a gift for someone else. Just go get it.

And here’s the Acknowledgements page which is right at the beginning:

Yes. That's me. The very first acknowledgement, just as promised.

Yes. That’s me. The very first acknowledgement, just as promised.

Not only am I first, but I have my own sentence. Two of them, actually. If you read the book, you’ll appreciate the sweetness of “shine,” too.

When I saw this, I cried. Not pretty little tears trickling down my cheek at a beautiful pace. No, it was the out-n-out snotty nose, puffy eyes cry, the Ugly Cry. You would think ugly-crying would not be the proper response to finding out you were mentioned with gratitude in a book and got a place of honor surrounded by swirly, lovely words but the thing is, not only had I not been expecting something this big, this special, but about ten days earlier, I had found out my mom has cancer and I’d been in a bad place ever since. So seeing this was a gift, a hug, a bit of love on the wind coming to give me comfort during a turbulent bit of life. Yes, of course, part of my joy was centered around my vanity – who doesn’t want to see her name in print, right? But it was more than that, two things more, to be precise.

One: My mother was going to be able to see this before she dies. I owe her and her mother, ZZ, credit for my reading addiction. Because they showed me how to love words, my name gets to live with words. My mom always wanted to be a novelist but never got around to it. I think she has the same hope for me but even if I never make it, this is close. I loved seeing her smile when I gave her this book and she read those words. I can keep that with me forever.

Two: Praise is a wonderful thing but, for me, it’s what’s behind the praise that means the most. I know that I helped Suzy, that I gave her a piece of me and she was able to weave my thoughts and suggestions into her story, that she was able to take what we all gave her and she made something that was already good into something absolutely…well…magical.

I feel the shine. Can’t you?

The Witch of Belladonna Bay is available at Barnes & Noble, Target, Amazon, and other fine book retailers or you can order it through your local bookstore. Can’t buy it? Try the library!

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Filed under Adventures, My journey to writerhood, My Opinions on STUFF

Carrying the TOURCH in the #mywritingprocess blog hopchaintour

Funny story:
One day on October 4, 2012, I was perusing The Bloggess’ latest post and noticed the first commenter, a guy named Nic, had the word “garlic” in the bloglink under his amusing reply. I love garlic so I clicked over to his blog, found that it was quite enjoyable, and I left a comment. This is not an uncommon habit of mine – I like to spread myself over the internet like black mold invading a grimy bathroom. However, I took the extra step of stalking him (I started following his blog) which is rare because I typically only stalk people I’ve already met.

For months, I read his blog from the shadows and then one day, I just started commenting on posts as if we’d been friends our whole lives. My ruse, it worked. He accepted me into his tribe but I only just found out how much he had accepted me last week when he passed me the #mywritingprocess TOURCH (<–click that word to find out why I keep saying “TOURCH” and also to see Nic’s answers to the questions I am about to answer) and said really nice things about me! I was all, “Awwww!” and then I realized that he was just setting me up to do work. Then I was like, “DAMN YOU, NIC!” with my fist shoved angrily into the air.

So from what I can gather, this is a blog tour/hop/chain. It’s been done by both real, actual writers as well as play writers (like me) (no, I don’t mean I write plays, I mean I’m playing at writing. It’s what I do here on this blog) I don’t think there are any stated rules anywhere, but it looks like you answer the four questions (below), say something about it on Twitter with the hashtag (which you’ll automatically do if your posts send themselves to Twitter and you put the hashtag in your title. I think), and then tag some other bloggers you admire to do the same!

That sounds about right. Let’s move on now.

1. What am I working on?

Blog answer: I am currently working on three drafts and four scheduled posts. They’re in various stages of editing.

Non-blog answer: I am working on a YA horrordomesticfictionparanormalsomethingorother novel. It should take me about 10 years to complete at the rate I’m going. I am also working on some sort of friendship/chick-lit (though not really) piece but that’s all vague and hazy right now.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

It…doesn’t, actually. Blog-wise, I come from the same writing school as the admirable aforementioned Jenny Lawson as well as Tina Fey. It is sort of the Open Mouth, Words Come Out, Then You Listen to Them After You Realize What You Just Said school. Yes, yes, I understand both Lawson and Fey do lots of editing and don’t just go all willy-nilly but their art makes them look like they’re all willy-nilly and I always look that way because I am that way, so…see? Same/Same.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I don’t know what else to write. I think I’m a storyteller so I tell stories. I might not actually be a storyteller and am, rather, a hoarder of words which I then collect on a page and call it a blog post. I’m not really sure what I’m doing, actually.

I can tell you why I write YA horrordomesticfictionparanormalsomethingorother novels, though: It’s because I’m working through crap and this seems to be the most user friendly way for me to get it out of my system.

4. How does my writing process work?

Writing process? I’m supposed to have a process?

Oh, well, actually, with the blog, I am fairly organized. I think of things I want to write about or I remember stories I want to tell or Noelle says, “You should blog about that!” and so I jot notes on scraps of paper or, if I’m near my computer, I type sentences into a document. Then, when I’m in a super-writey mood, I compose all these stories and post them as drafts here on WordPress. I organize them according to when I want them to appear and then edit as needed. I like the editing part because I like making my jumbled writings more cohesive. I mean, you wouldn’t know any of my work is edited because it all seems so scattered but you should see it when it’s still in rough form. That said, I have a long way to go, obviously.

For the novels, though…I have to wait until my brain is ready to write. It comes and goes. If I force it, I just get crap. But if I wait until it tells me it has stuff for me, then I will sit for hours and pour words out of my fingers. When I’m not busy doing that, though, I edit. I really do like to edit. The YA horrordomesticfictionparanormalsomethingorother novel has actually become something I enjoy reading, too, and I keep getting frustrated that there’s not more done because I want to know what happens next. I think that’s a good sign, though I will obviously never know what happens next if I only ever work on the writing part six to eight weeks out of the year.

The End.

Those are my answers. I would have been more cheeky but I’m fresh out of cheek this week. Sorry.

And now, I would like to have the following published authors share their processes because I think that would be really interesting:

My beloved Internet Boyfriend: The Reverend Doctor (and his whimsical adventures)
Tyler is a fellow #Lawsbian (those who follow The Bloggess; we’re almost a cult, really, created the day she had a book chat on GoodReads, broke the site, moved the chat to Twitter, broke that, too, and we were all left in a heap of giggling and silliness afterward) and a published poet! He’s like the antithesis of me in that he’s kind and gentle, thoughtful and good-hearted, and impressively talented when it comes to crafting things such as hats, tiny taxidermied creatures, and words. Yet, somehow, we are so alike and I’m not sure why. I am sure, though, that I adore him. So, Tyler, it’s your turn to share your writing process!

Also, four-time published novelist and BEST. TWELLER. EVER: Suzanne Palmieri — Oh, look! She already did it. Here it is. She’s always one step ahead of the game because she is magical and one day, I will meet this amazing person. Go read her words because they are delightful, much like the author, herself. And then, you can go buy her books, especially the new one that was just released yesterday!

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Filed under My journey to writerhood