The Ghostification of Jonas Cray: The Scare Me Blogfest

Oct 31, 2012

Sci Fi Media is hosting the Scare Me Blogfest! I'm cheating a little-- this isn't a true story, though it's based on the numerous tourist-y haunted houses I've been through, plus an abandoned house I was sure was haunted when I was a kid. I now give you my shortest and creepiest short story ever. Please keep in mind this was written in an hour and a half and has not been vetted by my critique group, so there are no guarantees. ;)

The Ghostification of Jonas Cray

The front entry smelled of decay.

I lifted the voice recorder. “Nice sensory effects on entrance,” I said. “Sets the creep-factor high for the rest of the tour.”

The only light came from the flashlight I’d been issued. I stepped forward and a floorboard creaked. A gust of wind blew in from behind me and the front door slammed shut. I grinned. Real Hauntings, Inc. spared no expense. Built a whole freaking house just to grind it down to abandoned-slash-haunted specs, installed expensive effects, and apparently stashed fresh road-kill somewhere to get that nasty smell.

I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for this.

I swung my light around, admiring the warped staircase and faded family pictures. A shattered mirror hung to my right above a dusty wooden table. The mirror was on my list of “must-checks,” so I wandered over. The spider-web cracks in the glass distorted my face. I shined the flashlight under my chin, gave an impressive growl, and waited for the next haunt to cue.

Rippling in the warped reflection, a pale shadow crossed behind me.

“…he killed me…”

The voice whispered right into my ear. I jumped, then frowned at the goosebumps on my arms. “Impressive sound effects,” I said into the voice recorder. “Not exactly sure how you made it sound so close, and not from a speaker. Extra points for the unexplainable.”

A moan interrupted my reporting. “…please…” The girl sounded desperate. And terrified.

And way too freakin’ close to my ear.

I rubbed the shivers away. I’d laughed my way through the haunted house that sent Paul McBride screaming back out the entrance. This place was real chills, not just cheap tricks, but that didn’t mean the rest of the guys on the baseball team had to find out it’d gotten a rise out of me.

Moving on. Blood-spattered kitchen, here I come. I stepped down the hall.


More screech than word, the sound sent me whirling around. A wisp of air, like a hair brushing my cheek, made me flinch. A thin, foggy shape drifted up the stairway in front of me. For a moment, I thought I saw brown eyes.

“...up here…killed me…”

The shape faded and I swallowed. Their recorded cues must be off-kilter. I was supposed to take the tour like any other guest—wander the house to learn the story and get fully jitter-fied before heading upstairs where the supposed ghost had been killed in her bedroom by a jealous boyfriend.

“Minus points for a lame story,” I whispered. I blinked and realized I’d forgotten to hit the record button on the machine in my hand.

Scratch the bloody kitchen, I was following the pseudo-ghost.

I tiptoed up the stairs, which only gave a few quiet squeaks. Nice. The silence built tension better while heading to a haunted murder scene. At the top of the stairs, I let go of the banister. My hand ached from gripping it so hard. The rotten flesh smell was stronger up here.

A narrow hall stretched out in front of me. I played my flashlight on the walls. Long sections of wallpaper had been torn away like someone had clawed at them while being dragged down the hallway. A dark smudge marred a gray doorframe.


The voice came from the end of the hall this time, and the handle of the far left bedroom rattled.

“Right,” I said, surprised as my voice cracked. Stupid dust. I cleared my throat. “Ready or not, here I come.”

I crossed the hall and flung open the door. My recorder and flashlight fell from my fingers and I choked on the rancid air. The flashlight rolled from side to side, throwing light over the grisly scene. The overthrown mattress was drenched in blood. Dark stains spattered the stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh in the corner. Tendrils of dank, cold air wrapped around me.

“This is…” I gasped. “This is…awesome?”

“Here.” Her voice came loud and firm now, from my right.

And there she was. I let out a squeak.

She didn’t float above the floor, though she was translucent. A ratty t-shirt and short jean shorts was different from the flowing nightgown I’d expected, though the torn throat and bloody hands were plenty grotesque. Hair pulled into a ponytail, and brown eyes. Kinda pretty, though skinny enough to be almost skeletal.

“Here.” She pointed at the folding closet doors next to her.

Half-ashamed and half-thrilled at the heebie-jeebies roiling in my gut, I recovered my flashlight and stepped toward her. She moved back, and I opened the closet.

“Ughhh.” I fell to my knees.

It didn’t matter how good their special effects were. A dead body was unmistakably a dead body.

The face—the body—the freakin’ dead brown eyes of the ghost girl stared up at me from her decaying, throat-slit corpse. I scrambled back, wheezing.

“Hurry. My mom.”

I looked around to see her pointing anxiously at the door. The exit. Her eyes—how could they look so alive when she was totally dead on the floor!—pleaded with me.

Hurry. Run. Tell somebody there was a dead girl sprawled in the closet. I ran through the hall and tripped my way down the stairs, finally wrenching open the front door.

“Jonas! Went well, I see.”

I jerked to a stop on the front walk. Mr. Walker, head of Real Hauntings, Inc. stood under the streetlight where I’d left him, leaning on the ratty picket fence.

“You—she—dead…” I rocked back and forth on the sidewalk. “She’s dead, someone’s really dead up there!”

He smiled and made a note on a clipboard. “Excellent. She’s doing her job perfectly.”


“Of course. She’s our ghost.”

“Who…who is she?”

He pulled out his cell and began texting. “Hm? Oh, just a runaway we found. On her way home, actually. She’d just learned her mother had cancer, so it was perfect timing to abduct her. Unfinished business and all that.”


He pocketed his phone and smiled, the lamplight shadows turning his nose beaky. “We couldn’t kill her until we brought her here, naturally, or her spirit might have bonded with another structure. We should be able to remove the body tonight. It’s been sitting long enough to anchor her here.”

What in the name of all that was holy and unholy...ah, crap, I was going to puke. “You killed her. To make a real ghost.”


“I’ll turn you in.” I stumbled back, ready to run. “Tell everyone what you did.”

“That sounds like some excellent unfinished business.” He studied me carefully. “We’ll have to make sure to mutilate the face. We don’t want anyone around here to recognize you.”

From behind, hands closed around my biceps and held me against a hard torso. I yelped.

Mr. Walker smiled. “We need the boyfriend ghost, too. We’re staging the story as a murder-suicide.”

I barely had the strength to squirm as a plastic bag swept over my face.

“No,” I whispered. Thin plastic clung to my open mouth.

“Congratulations, Jonas Cray,” said Mr. Walker. “You’re about to become a prop for Real Hauntings.”

image credit

What's on Your Writing Desk?

Oct 26, 2012

No Healthy Writer's Club post today...because I am at a ZERO on the healthiness scale this week. Too much running...getting over a cold...some weeks, I guess healthy just doesn't happen.

And now, [insert clever transition to real post]. <---Yes, this is an indication of my current limited brain function. ANYWAY.

I went to Disneyland with the fam last week. The Kiddo was in ecstasy on Haunted Mansion and the AstroBlaster, Baby Noodles tolerated Winnie the Pooh and was entranced by the Tiki Room, and the Hubby and I blissfully took in our children's joy.

Oh, and I got an R2D2 for my desk.

R2D2 has been my favorite Star Wars character since childhood, and Disneyland is a great place to find Star Wars merchandise. So I scoured the park to find a new desk buddy. I was disappointed to see very little of my favorite droid. BUT THEN. The popcorn stand outside Space Mountain proved to have just what I wanted: an R2D2-shaped bucket full of popcorn.

So now, I've got a new place to keep special treasures/secret eatings on my desk. I'm a firm believer that whatever's in your writing space can inspire you, so here's what I've got, from left to right:

  • A sand picture from Dubai containing seven colors of sand from each of the UAE's emirates.
  • A picture of a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who, drawn by my awesome crit partner, Chersti.
  • A woven basket made by a Cherokee woman in North Carolina.
  • A picture of me and the Hubby on our honeymoon in Hawaii.
  • A carving from Ghana of a woman praying.
  • R2D2-- a sci fi writer's best friend.
  • A candle that smells like the ocean.
  • My bamboo plant with inspiring fortunes from fortune cookies.
All of these things have meaning to me, and help keep an ambiance of inspiration from my favorite life journeys.

So, my friends, what graces your writing desk? What meaningful things do you keep nearby as you write?

Healthy Writer's Club: Even Breaks are Productive

Oct 19, 2012

Welcome to The Healthy Writers Club! As writers, we hear a lot about the "butt in chair" tactic, which is great for our manuscripts, but not so great for the actual butt in the chair. Every Friday, I'll be posting about how healthy I've been that week and how it connects to writing. If you're game to join the fun, you can run, walk, bike, make a healthy dinner, play tag with your kids, etc. Then, you post about it on Friday (or whenever you want). Sign up here!

Just a quick post today because I'm on VACATION! I only ran once this week, but I figure with all the walking I'm doing at Disneyland, I'm getting plenty of exercise. The fun thing about taking a break is that even breaks can be productive-- for both exercise and writing.

Writing breaks often give me time to refuel, and get some new, fun ideas. Breaks are necessary in exercise to let your body breathe a little, even if the break comes in the form of varying your exercise. I don't run every day. Some days I don't exercise at all, and others I do yoga, take a walk with my son, or gambol around Disneyland. :)

In unrelated news, if you've seen the sidebar picture, you'll know I'm now (dun-duh-duh-DUN!) a redhead! Like The Doctor, I've always wanted to be ginger.

Not going to lie, I'm totally digging it. Who knew changing my hair color could change my outlook on life? Not that my outlook was bad before...but I'm just having a lot of fun at the moment!

So, my friends, do you take breaks from your exercise? What about your writing? Any fun changes in your world?

Have You Met Your Heroes? An Evening with Lois Lowry

Oct 16, 2012

I know I've said this before, but when I was in about the fourth grade, the book The Giver by Lois Lowry changed my life. I'd never read a book quite like it, and it basically stirred my little mind and gave me the direction for the type of stories I wanted to write. In fact, my current book about a girl whose memories are stolen is a result of the seeds The Giver planted in my mind. In so many ways, Lois Lowry is a personal hero of mine.

When I told my crit partner Chersti that a few weeks ago, she said, "Oh! Did you know she's coming to town?"


As part of her tour for Son, the fourth book in The Giver quartet, Ms. Lowry was coming to my town. Tickets were hot, but we scored some. In preparation, I dug out my fourth-grade copy of The Giver, then bought a new, hardback special edition. 'Cause obviously I needed both the nice copy and the well-loved copy signed, right?

Ms. Lowry's speech was amazing. She spoke about how The Giver came into existence, and it resonated so hard with how my own story about memory came into existence. Though we both had different experiences that led to the idea, we both asked ourselves the same question: "What would happen if we could take away our difficult memories?"

She was eloquent, funny, approachable, and wonderful. At the Q&A at the end, she said something about the young boy asking the question having a t-shirt that said "Tigers" on it, then said, "Okay, ask your question, Tiger."

He paused. "Please don't call me that."
With Chersti and Baby Noodles

The audience roared with laughter, but Ms. Lowry only smiled a little, apologized, and invited him again to ask the question. Her respect for him was obvious, and it made me realize how well she still identifies with her target audience, though I believe she's now in her 60's.

I waited with Chersti, Bree Despain, and her friend Michelle for our turn at the signing. As Ms. Lowry signed my books, I told her how instrumental those books were in my own writing, and she smiled.
It was so inspiring to meet one of my heroes. Just hearing her talk and meeting her briefly reminded me why I love to write-- I love writing stories that have the potential to touch people's lives. It was incredible to meet the first author who ever touched mine.

So, my friends, have you met your heroes? Who are your heroes, and why?

Let's Pretend We're All Human Beings for a Few Minutes

Oct 12, 2012

I'm veering really off-topic from my usual posts today because there's something weighing on my mind. This morning, I read two articles. One about political posts on Facebook and Twitter destroying friendships, and another about a teen girl who committed suicide because of bullying.

Okay, world. Here's the thing. Can we all pretend we're fellow human beings for a little while?

Those two articles don't seem to be related, but to me I see a sad trend that common decency is no longer common. On the political front, things are very hot right now. I purposely do not get political online-- not because I have no opinions, but because I value people more than online political discussion. That doesn't mean you shouldn't state your opinions, that's just my preferred tactic right now. Politics have a tendency to be divisive, particularly, I've noticed, in this election. There are two vastly different choices for our next president that are polarizing the field.

Let's hit that pause button again,  peeps. We're all humans, remember?

I hate seeing nasty, biting comments online about people from one group or another, or even about one candidate or the other. Because here's the thing. The other side? They're not the anti-Christ. Believe it or not, I don't think anyone here wants to vote for a particular candidate because they want to destroy the country, and I doubt that's either candidate's motive, either. Of course, depending on your views, you may see the other side's tactics as a bad idea. But can we please remember that underneath our conflicting views, we're all human beings whose desire is to MAKE THIS WORLD BETTER? Disagreement is fine, and even healthy on the political front. 

But please, let's be human beings. Let's at least be civil in our discussions.

Be inspired to be kind.
The girl who was bullied and committed suicide is a darker issue. In fact, it's completely appalling. Granted, mistakes were made on all sides. And I know bullying is by no means a new thing in this world. But for the love of all that is holy, why on earth are there teenagers (and let's be honest, adults as well) in this world being so completely horrible to each other? Who is teaching the rule that each of us is personally responsible to take another person to task--in cruel ways-- for mistakes made or perceived? Or just for being different?

There was once a rule to treat others as you want to be treated. Fellow human beings, right?

So, my friends, I think there's only one thing to do. Kindness often engenders more kindness, so go out and be kind today. And tomorrow. And for as many days as possible. Maybe write a book that deals with cruelty and hardness in the world, and maybe write about it being overcome. 

And each day, remind yourself to do three things: Be kind. Be considerate. Be a human being.

Rejection isn't personal-- it's trite but true

Oct 9, 2012

We hear it all the time-- "rejection isn't personal." When I queried my first book, I never felt like I personally was being rejected, but what was hard was feeling that rejection was personal to my story. It wasn't so bad when I got a rejection on a simple query. At that point, I figured the "not personal" thing really was true, and I was (mostly) okay with that.

What stunk was rejection on a full or partial. Even when it was a "positive" rejection (if there is such a thing), and the agent specifically said they simply didn't connect with it because of this or that, I always had this niggling suspicion they were LYING. They hated  the book! Of course, that wasn't true and I knew it, but it was hard to remember that they weren't making a judgment on me or my book-- except that it just "wasn't right" for them.

When I queried my current book and was in the position where I was actually the one choosing between agents, I learned something interesting about rejection. Each of the agents I talked to was so excited about my book. They were all very friendly, and I liked them all. They were all very professional and I knew they could sell my book. But each of them had different ideas on where to go with my book, and some of those ideas just "weren't right" for me. In that way, I had nothing personal against them when I made the difficult decision to tell them no thanks.

There was one agent that I felt really GOT the book. We connected not just in terms of vision for this book, but of what I wanted with my career and our agent/client relationship. When it came to saying YES, that was personal, in the sense that it was an individual choice that was right for me.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that's kind of how it is with agents accepting or rejecting manuscripts. Rejection often doesn't even mean the agent doesn't like the book-- it's just not one they really loved and connected with enough to read it multiple times and champion it to editors. Acceptance means that's exactly how they feel about the book. Not everyone can LURVE your book like that, and that's okay. The thing that stinks about that is you have no control of it.

It's hard to remember that when the rejections come in, whether from agents, editors, or readers themselves. After all, WE love our books an awful lot. But rejection is part of the game from beginning to end, so I thought it might be a helpful thought-- at the very least, for me to look back on from time to time!

So, my friends, what are your thoughts? How do you approach rejection?

Healthy Writers Club: How Story Structure Gives You Freedom

Oct 5, 2012

Okay, first off-- the winners from the You Are a Real Writer contest have been chosen!
Winner of the $10 gift card: Adrianne Russell!
Winner of the 10 page critique: Tony Dutson!
Winner of the 5 page critique: Reece Hanzon!

Congrats to the winners, and thanks again to the rest of all you real writers for your awesomeness. :)

Now, onto the HWC post. When I was on the track team in high school, we had a "guest" coach for a few days. He'd run (and won) more marathons than I even knew existed, and he taught me the greatest thing I ever learned in running: form. I didn't even know there was such a thing as proper running form, but the way you move your arms, lean your body, and point your feet all plays into becoming a better runner. From one track meet to the next, I shaved a full 30 seconds off my race time using this form (which doesn't sound like much, but was pretty impressive for me).

In writing, structure is much the same way. 

I never used to use any kind of structure in my stories, at least not consciously. I didn't want my books encumbered by the form and tedium of anything as banal as the three-act structure. And that was okay. My writing was decent. However, when I grudgingly learned all the points of the three-act structure and saw how it worked for a myriad of different books and movies, I learned something important. 

Applying a structure to my writing didn't encumber or hold back my story-- it actually freed me to tell the story in a more compelling way. When I began to write with a full understanding of structure, all of a sudden my stories had tighter pacing, natural-flowing plot lines, and more room to play around with the actual story idea. Oddly enough, structure gave me more freedom. I was no longer trapped by writer's block, or struggling to come up with a new scene. I knew where I was headed, so I could explore all different routes to get there instead of feeling my way blindly. 

Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, it's worth it to know some form of story structure!

Weekly stats: 2.5 miles (kinda pathetic this week, but after some knee pain early in the week, I scaled back to make sure I didn't injure myself)
In-flight entertainment favorite: Writing Excuses podcast: Death
Coolest moment: Uh, maybe being able to sleep in on the day I took off? :)
Hardest moment: Forcing myself to wake up the day AFTER the day I took off.

So, my friends, do you use any kind of structure when you write? Does it help you or is it hard for you? Or is it both helpful and hard?

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