I appreciate the 486 people who have entered the GoodReads giveaway for a paperback copy of Lena. The giveaway runs through November 10th. I enter these kinds of giveaways, too, and have won a free book several times. So, winning is possible.
If you win, I hope you enjoy the book. Lena is the third and final novel in my Florida Folk Magic trilogy.
Meanwhile, my publisher and I are putting together a collection of ghost stories to be called Widely Scattered Ghosts. I’ve been writing another story for the collection, this one set in an old theater. The story is based on a real theater in Florida that those in the ghost hunter business claim is haunted. The main character is named Emily. She appeared in my collection called Emily’s Stories, now out of print except in translation and audiobook editions.
If you haven’t read any of the Lena and Eulalie stories, you might consider buying the three novels in a boxed set. This is cheaper than buying Conjure Woman’s Cat,Eulalie and Washerwoman, and Lena separately. The edition is available in Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and Kobo.
I’m hopeful we will find a narrator for a Lena audiobook. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the collection of all three novels in this recently released e-book.
As for those who have been asking, there isn’t going to be the fourth book in this trilogy. There might be a related story, but I think the Lena and Eulalie stories have reached a natural conclusion. Authors always have to figure out when they’ve written all they need to write with one group of characters or another. What we don’t want to do is write a story too far; that is to say, writing past the stories we intended to tell.
We often notice how many things come in threes and how often seeing and noticing a thing (car make, idea, book) leads us to seeing it again soon.
I’ve often thought that where we focus our attention seems to enhance whatever it is we’re looking at and thinking about. So it is that whenever we begin to casually think about a story idea, we find ourselves stumbling over the ideas for scenes that will enhance the plot and characters that will be memorable after readers get to the last line.
Passion seems to fuel an interesting synchronicity throughout the research as well. One thing leads to another thing which leads to marvels that truly fit the story that we weren’t even looking for. The Internet and its links plays into this unfolding scavenger hunt for relevant facts, prospective locations, and the little details that can make or break a story.
Recently, a writer friend of mine told me about a call for submissions from an upcoming anthology of ghost stories about a city many miles away from there I live. The publisher wanted new paranormal stories that fit the city and its attractions and culture or new takes on legends and haunted places.
My first thought was to dismiss the idea out of hand. There was no way could fly or drive to that city and soak up its ambiance and turn my impressions into a story. But, if you’ll pardon the pun, the idea haunted me. An Internet search turned up a few ghostly legends that might possibly be brought forward into a current-day story. One legend kept drawing me into the facts and suppositions people had about it at the time it happened over a hundred years ago.
I kept saying I was just dabbling with the idea because, really, the anthology seemed best suited to people who lived in the city and who knew it well. Okay, maybe I could use Google’s maps and street view to see what the place looked like. Hmm, spooky. Then I stumbled across an author who’d written a book about the incident and who had been inside the house where it happened.
Oops, I just got hooked into submitting something. I have no idea whether the publisher will like it.* Either way, I had a good time watching characters, real-life facts, ghostly musings and plot ideas unfold before my eyes as though they had a mind of their own. Did the ghost herself lead me into her lair? Naah, stuff like that doesn’t happen. But the synchronicity behind the things an author becomes interested in is typical.
Another author recently said that whenever we choose to involve ourselves in a story, the universe aligns itself with us to help us tell the tale. I like that idea, and I find it works best if I don’t begin my dabbling with either an outline or a preliminary list of prospective characters.
These approaches may or may not be helpful later, but if they’re used too soon, they tend to restrict the incoming flow of information. How? Because the outline tends to limit the synchronicity to that which you include in the outline, leaving out the better ideas a writer could have used if s/he hadn’t made arbitrary decisions before the universe showed him what was possible.
I love discovering stories while I’m writing them.
While working on a ghost story set in St. Louis for an anthology of Missouri stories, I had to face three realities: (1) I hadn’t been in St. Louis for a long time, (2) I didn’t have a budget that would allow me to rent a plane and fly up there to do research, (3) My setting had to be believable to people who lived in St. Louis.
The story features a modern-day student and a a real historical figure, Patience Worth, channeled years ago by Peal Curran. I was vaguely aware of Patience Worth and the sensation she created a century ago as she turned out books and poems that were quite well received.
I knew what I wanted the story to do. But I needed to familiarize myself with the writings of Patience Worth so that my ghost in the story sounded like the “real” spirit. Fortunately, her writings are accessible on the Internet, and a kind expert in the subject gave me many wonderful pointers.
While it was crucial to “get Patience right,” the settings were also important. It took a while for me to nail down whether the house where Pearl Curran channeled Patience was still standing. Once I found it, it didn’t take long to discover a picture of it using Google’s Street View. I also looked at the adjacent streets in the historic neighborhood where the house still stands.
While I don’t reveal the address of the house in the story, I needed to see it online so that when my young, modern-say protagonist drives down the street, she’ll see something that not only is real, but that sounds real to anyone who knows the area.
Near the historic house is Kennedy Forest, a part of the city’s Forest Park, the seventh largest munipal park in the nation. While there are a lot of pictures and descriptions online and while Google Street View showed me what it looked like, a forester helped me make sure I had the tree types correct. Why? I wanted my character to go to that forest and see what is really there.
I also found major streets so that my character could drive from the Patience Worth house to the park on real streets with accurate descriptions. The descriptions add ambiance to the story and bring the real setting into believable focus.
A lot has been written about Patience Worth, the historic district where the channeling too place, and the nearby landmarks. All of this greatly helps a writer while s/he is working on a story set in a town s/he hasn’t seen for a while. The age of the house and the park fit my needs perfectly: I wanted something very old to appear in a modern world, and the locale itself helped me tell my story “Patience, I Presume.”
My approach is always to research settings and subject matter extensively and then let the story tell iself once I’ve immersed myself into the time and place where it unfolds. If you’re a writer, you probably approach your stories quite differently. We never know when we think of a story what we’ll need to do to get it down on the page the way we imagine it. I start with my atunement to place and work outward from there.
You May Also Like: How I Researched a Ghost Story – Filed under “writing tips,” this provides a step-by-step approach to the online research that worked for me.
The Florida Panhandle is often called “the other Florida” or the “forgotten coast” since it’s far away from the attractions and other developments in the peninsula. This is a land of piney woods, Karst region sink holes and limestone caves, spring-fed rivers, deep swamps, and ghost stories.
Growing up in Tallahassee, I heard many of these, but seldom went out to investigate—except for a brief side trip over one of the state’s oldest bridges over the Chipola River north of Marianna. I last saw the bridge in 1962; it was ancient then. (I didn’t see the ghost!) The bridge was abandoned soon after that when a new road and a new bridge were built. While the bridge still stands, it has only been visible via paddle trips since the road leading to it was closed and reverted to private ownership.
Historian and author Dale Cox recently presented a plan to Jackson County for a heritage trail to the bridge via public lands to the west of the river. That project was approved and the trail is now open for use. You can learn more about the project on its Facebook page.
Cox has just released The Ghost of Bellamy Bridge to help support the trail project. The legend about this haunted bridge has been around for about 150 years, and is among Florida’s oldest ghost stories. In this new book, Cox tells the story as the old timers always heard it, Then he tells the story behind the story.
From the publisher: Cox opens his investigation with the much loved legend of young Elizabeth Jane Bellamy, the 18-year-old bride of a wealthy doctor. She supposedly died in a wedding night tragedy and now haunts the environs of a nearly century old bridge that spans the Chipola River north of Marianna, Florida.
For dedicated ghost hunters, Cox also features nine other stories, including “The Two Egg Stump Jumper” and “The Wild Man of Ocheesee Pond.”
I last drove my decrepit 1954 Chevy over the historic Pratt-truss bridge on Bellamy Bridge Road in Jackson County, Florida in 1962. I grew up in Tallahassee about 85 miles away via U.S. Highway 90 and the Florida Caverns State Park on the Chipola River in nearby Marianna was a favorite day trip of mine. While researching another story for my evolving series of Florida short stories, I focused on the old bridge because ever since the mid-1830s, it has supposedly been haunted.
The bridge, which can be viewed by those on Chipola River paddle trips, has otherwise been inaccessible for years ever since traffic over the river shifted to a new bridge and the portion of the road leading to the old one was abandoned. As a preservationist, I hated seeing this historic old bridge not being conserved and maintained or made accessible to those who want to look at one of the few remaining iron bridges of its type in the State of Florida. For me, the bridge is a wonderful location setting for a short story as well as a memory from childhood years.
While I was working on this short story, Dale Cox happened to make a proposal to Jackson County that a privately funded walking trail through public land be created with appropriate signs and markers that would allow people to hike into the fabulous floodplain swamp and river environment and see the bridge. The project appears to have the support of the county and, with a little luck and a lot of hard work from Dale Cox and other volunteers, the trail may soon become a reality.
I don’t think anyone is claiming that hikers will see any ghosts. In fact, insofar as the legend is concerned, it may not match the historical record of one Elizabeth Jane Bellamy who has purportedly been haunting the area for 178 years. My short story is named Cora because that just might be the name of the actual ghost. But leaving behind stories and storytelling for now, I’m happy to see that the bridge may become accessible and that many others will enjoy a historic structure that I took for granted when I drove my old car over its wood planks (long gone now) when I was in high school.
If you live in the Florida Panhandle and/or like old bridges and floodplain swamps filled with chinkapin and cypress, you can follow the Historic Bellamy Bridge project here on Facebook.