Sunday, October 28, 2012

Putting Flesh on the Bones of a Ghost Story

With Halloween upon us, R8 is delighted to introduce ghost story hunter, Karen Yaffe Lottes. Karen, an historian and museum educator, has been collecting the ghost stories of Montgomery County, MD for over twenty years. Karen just celebrated the launch of her first book In Search of Maryland Ghosts: Montgomery County (Schiffer Books) on Sunday, October 28. Karen is also working on another non-fiction book and a mystery novel.
Welcome, Karen!

What are the main ingredients of a great ghost story? For me, it’s more than just a ghost. It’s putting a little history into your haunting that makes a great yarn.

Collecting the ghost stories is the first challenge. How do you find them? My co-author, Dorothy Pugh and I relied on old-timers and word-of-mouth. If we heard a rumor about a place, we weren’t afraid to knock on the door. I talked to people knowledgeable about their community. Sometimes they’d give me a story, sometimes a lead to someone with a story, or sometimes it was a dead-end.

PicadillyWilson Flickr
Once we had the bare bones of a narrative, it was time for research—the second challenge. We were looking for key historical facts that would flesh out the story. Our research included local histories (self-published folksy remembrances), formal histories and visits to the libraries and archives maintained by local historical groups.

We’d start with some key research questions: Who is doing the haunting? What tragedy or significant event happened that might make a restless spirit? What history is revealed by the story? The ghost stories in our book take place in houses, farms, mills, roads, bridges, even a carousel. We’d look up who lived there, how old the property was, how the site was used, and if it had any unusual features. Did anything violent happen there? Any tragic events?

Ghosts are often associated with someone who died an unnatural death. Stories about unrequited love, murder, burning, and illness all may supply the necessary elements for the incorporeal. For instance, Honeysuckle Hill is home to a tragic spirit that haunts the house only in the month of November. Twentieth century owners of Honeysuckle Hill tell of unexplained noises, and once, the owner felt someone shake him awake--only no one was there. Research revealed that a former daughter of the house, Annie P. Linthicum, hung herself in the attic in November 1869. Research didn’t expose the reason for Annie’s suicide, but her haunting confirms the correlation between tragic deaths and ghosts.

Sometimes the historical record doesn’t support the claim of a supernatural presence, but the ghosts themselves provide compelling evidence such as sightings, objects that have been moved or are seen moving, and unique sounds. Brookeville Woolen Mill is home to the spirit now known as Lily Lilac. Lily was so named because this ghost leaves behind the scent of lilacs whenever it appears as well as the occasional lip prints on mirrors and windows. How can you say a place is not haunted when such things are reported?

Lastly, fleshing out a ghost story is not just a cerebral activity. Visiting the haunted site is a good way to put flesh on the bones of your story. Exploring the creepy old gold mine near Great Falls (MD) where the Tommyknocker resides or the dilapidated, deserted Norma Miller House where Montgomery County’s most written about ghost – Nanny—abides, adds an element of emotion and color to your narrative.

To learn more about Annie Linthicum who returns every November to haunt Honeysuckle Hill, my children and I visited the old family cemetery. While very overgrown, we did manage to find Annie’s tombstone which reads ‘”Though he slay me, yet, will I trust in him.”

To learn more about In Search of Maryland Ghosts: Montgomery County click here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Change is Not a Four Letter Word

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Change is an important part of the cycle of life. So why does it still catch us so off guard when it happens? I’m not sure if it’s because it’s fall here in the mid-Atlantic states or if there’s something catchy in the air, but several people I know (including me) are going through some significant life changes right now. So this week, I decided to look at the stages we go through when we face change and share my Girlfriends' Guide to Managing Change.

Whether it’s you or someone you love facing a huge life change--the end of a long-term relationship, a job transition, the discovery of an illness or disease, or an unexpected surgery--we all deal with change and the chaos of emotions that surround these events in similar ways. Understanding the natural trajectory of emotions during huge change in your life can help us find our way through the chaos and debris left behind when it hits. Here are the common stages psychologists outline as the phases we go through when we deal with change:

Stage 1: Denial - This stage is where we refuse to accept the change that has been forced on us. We resist and we see change as bad. This is not what we expected our life to look like and we refuse to view it any other way. The comfort and security we’ve experienced to some degree has been yanked away and our illusion of control has been fully exposed.

Stage 2: Anger - Once we realize the change is going to happen whether we like it or not, we often move into a phase where anger is the predominate emotion. We get angry at the situation or the person who initiated the change, or we’ll sometimes direct the anger inward at ourselves.

Stage 3: Bargaining - In this phase, we try to bargain with the person who forced the change on us. This could be the attempt at reconciliation in a relationship or the place where we make a deal with God or ask that boss to reconsider his/her decision.

Stage 4: Depression - This stage is where we work through the feelings of loss we’re experiencing for the life, comfort, and security we thought we had but we’ve now lost. We’re grieving the loss of good health, that person who we’ve loved for decades, or job security. The emotions are powerful and important to navigate.

Stage 5: Acceptance - This is the final stage where we let go of anger and decide to move on with our lives. This doesn’t mean we don’t still ache and hurt from the situation, but we choose to get on with living our lives, whatever that life is going to look like in the future.

What we need to realize is that we all go through these stages when faced with change--big or small. Many people will flip-flop back and forth through several of these five steps, possibly getting stuck in one of them or shifting back to an earlier stage, right before truly moving on.

“I accept change. I am not so sure change accepts me.” Bob Dylan

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Okay, so what do we do when faced with change? Now that we’ve identified five possible universal stages we experience when faced with change, what do we do next? I love business and leadership books, so, naturally, that’s where I went to look for answers.

John Kotter, leadership guru and former professor at Harvard Business School, established an eight step model for change leadership back in 1996 and has since updated his change management strategy as Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International. My Girlfriends' Guide to Managing Change is loosely based on his model, but adapted and twisted to fit our needs here (with one key additional step).

The Girlfriends' Guide to Managing Change

Step 1: Determine where you are on the emotional trajectory mentioned above. Which stage are you in? And what’s keeping you from moving toward acceptance? Take a step back and try to figure out where you are in dealing with the change forced on you. Are you still in the denial stage? The anger stage? By identifying your position, you can begin to manage your own progress and move toward acceptance at your own pace.

Step 2: Gather your survival posse and keep them close. These are your “change leaders,” those friends you call on when you’re bottoming out or when you need to vent. This team helps to keep you moving forward. They’re your cheerleaders, coaches, sounding boards for whatever change crisis you’re going through. Whether you need margarita therapy, a good cry, or a bitch session, this posse is your go-to team.

Step 3: Ask yourself where to next? Have a vision for where you want to go from here. How does this change open up new opportunities? And how can you turn this “bad” change into a positive situation that moves you into a position of strength? Develop a plan and envision where you want to go from this point forward in your life.

Step 4: Talk about your plan/vision. First, use your vision as a guiding light in making decisions. In the midst of major change is not a good time to make major decisions. So knowing where you’re headed next will help you make right decisions that keep moving you ahead. Does this decision support where I want to go? Sometimes, this vision might be as simple as getting out of the chaos into a “safe” place to heal or regroup. Nothing wrong with that kind of plan. Talk about it often. This helps you to formulate and develop your new reality as you’re moving through the change into a better place.

Step 5: Remove obstacles to your growth. Are there things or ways of doing things that are getting in the way of your growth? Identify these obstacles and eliminate them. Whatever is not nurturing or helping you grow is an obstacle creating stagnation. Weed out the bad, devote your energy to the good, building activities in your life.

Step 6: Keep a list of short-term wins. It’s important to celebrate success, even the little ones. Anything that moves us toward our goals is good. Note and celebrate your progress. This will keep you going, help recharge and motivate you.

Step 7: Build on change. Real change cuts deep. Take this opportunity to look at your change situation to examine the role you played leading up to it. Was there anything you could have done differently? Don’t get stuck in regrets here. There’s nothing you can do about the past except use it to help you become a better, stronger person. Examine, take note, and move on.

Step 8: Embrace change as an adventure and an opportunity for a fresh start. When possible, allow your change situation to spur you on to becoming the best you--the two-point-oh version. Use this change to help you reach your highest potential. How we respond to life change matters. No one has the power to determine your course in life except you. Make the most of it.

Step 9: Be kind to yourself. Donald Trump says, “People think they will get more of what they want by being harder on themselves when reality is we get more of what we want by being more compassionate and loving ourselves.” So love yourself. Give yourself the break you need. Grace goes a long way in helping us heal and adjust to change. Take care of yourself. Do things you love to do, that nurture your soul, and restore your emotional tank during this difficult time.

All right, enough of what I think. Let me know about your experience with life changes and how you deal with the difficult things that come your way.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sustaining Passion

Last week, Lisa blogged about the bio-chemical aspects of love, telling readers that being in love is similar to a drug high. Well, if new love is like cocaine, what’s “old” love like? Quaaludes? Valium? Shock therapy?
I’ve been reading Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag who posits that, after the honeymoon, most marriages fall into the “low-conflict, low-stress unhappy marriage.” In the face of mortgages, kids, careers, and carpools, intimacy recedes like the Red Sea before Moses and passion fizzles out.

No wonder women read so much romance and, my personal favorite, romantic suspense (RS). We’re starved for a “love high.” But, how does the romance author keep her fictional couples madly, passionately in love in a multi-book series?

I’ve identified three basic models with some overlap. There are probably more, I’ll depend on you to tell me, but here’s my shot:

Keep ‘em Danger – There is nothing like the rush of danger to spark passion. Roarke and Eve Dallas (J.D. Robb) epitomize this model. Eve has a dangerous job, Roarke helps out and they both carry a lot of angsty-baggage which cranks up the flame.

The Crisis of the Uncommitted – Can’t fully commit to the relationship, can’t completely quit. Breaking-up to make-up. My R8 chums turned me on to a few good ones in this category Dr. Temperance Brennan and her detective boyfriend Andrew Ryan (Kathy Reich);  Boston-based PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro (Dennis Lehane).

Marriagis Perfectis – Pam Haag describes most marriages as melancholy and this model is the reason why. In “marriagis perfectis” (not a real Latin word) the committed couple deal with mortgages-careers-carpools-kids and still have energy and desire for the bedroom. (See? Gotta be fiction.) They’re best friends having a torrid love affair. Where to begin? Jesse Stone and his gal Susan (Robert Parker); Sheriff Joanna Brady and Butch (J.A. Jance); Wimsey and Harriet Vane (Dorothy L Sayers), and Nick and Nora (Dashiell Hammett).

How do you keep passion burning after the first book? Share it here!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Crazy In Love

I’m always fascinated by what attracts people to one another.  As a writer, learning about this can only help my manuscripts.  The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D. describes some of the biology behind attraction.

In the chapter, “Love and Trust,” the author describes what happens when two people who just met are attracted to one another by discussing a couple she calls Melissa and Rob.  “The dance of romance had begun, and its choreographer was not her friend or a matchmaker.  It was the biology of Melissa’s brain.  We know that the symmetry of physiques and faces that entrance us, the moves that seduce us, and the heart-pounding passion of attraction are all hardwired into our brains’ love drive by evolution.”  When Melissa’s brain determines that Rob is a potential mate, dopamine (which causes euphoria and excitement) and testosterone (which controls sexual desire) are released.  “Our brains size up a potential partner, and if he fits our ancestral wish list, we get a jolt of chemicals that dizzy us with a rush of laser-focused attraction.” 

Once the couple falls in love, they are inseparable.  “Falling in love is one of the most irrational behaviors...for both men and women.”  Scientists have documented that new love “shares brain circuits with states of obsession, mania, intoxication, thirst, and hunger.”  The early stages of love have the same symptoms as “the initial effects of drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates like heroin, morphine, and OxyContin.”    

As a writer, this tells me that when two characters are falling in love, it should be a life-altering experience.  They should be thinking of each other all of the time, longing for each other when they are apart, and sparks should fly when they are together.  After they consummate the relationship, they should be unable to keep their hands off each other, and should feel any separation physically.  They should crave their partner.

Outward signs of a female character in love could be that the woman fiddles with her hair, moistens her lips, or sits with her feet pointing toward the loved one.    Internal emotions of a female in love could be a nervous feeling in her stomach, tingling where he touches her and acceleration of the heart.   

A body that has just released a good dose of dopamine and testosterone should be revving.  And if your character isn’t showing signs of this, then the reader will have a hard time believing your character is in love, especially if the reader has experienced falling in love.  Knowing the biology behind these feelings can help the writer to portray them in a believable way, which in turn pulls the reader into the story.  And isn’t that the goal of every writer—to create a book that the reader can’t put down?

Tell me about some of the love scenes you’ve written.  What worked and what didn’t?  Do you have a favorite book that showed an engaging exchange between two characters in love or a love scene that worked?


Monday, October 1, 2012

Spook-tacular RITA© Winner Terri Garey Tricks, Treats & Gives a Free Book

The Spook-tacular Terri Garey
Here in Rockville, October's on the calendar and autumn's in the air! That means the Eight are gearing up for tricks and treats and Halloween. And boy, readers, do we have a treat for you!  RITA© winner Terri Garey swings by after the graveyard shift to give us the spine-tingling skinny on her new paranormal novella in BLOOD BY MOONLIGHT. Plus, one lucky commenter will receive a free book from Terri's Nicki Styx or Devil's Bargain series. See details below.   

A Southern girl with an overactive imagination, Terri Garey grew up in Florida, always wondering why tropical prints and socks with sandals were considered a fashion statement. She survived the heat by reading in the shade, and watching cool shows like the The Twilight Zone and the classic gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Balancing a career with marriage and motherhood convinced her that life was too short to rely entirely on the left side of her brain, and Terri started writing her own devilishly delicious tales from the dark side. She is the RITA© award winning author of six novels and various novellas, and despite her choice of subject matter, only hangs out in graveyards on Halloween. Visit her website at, friend her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at

Now, take it away, Terri:

Terri's New Novella: Get It While It's Hot!
October has arrived, and with it, my favorite holiday, Halloween!  I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found the spooky side of life to be far more interesting than the every-day, so-called “normal” side.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in the South, where I discovered ghost stories at a very young age, scaring myself silly with tales of ghosts and haunted houses, witches and werewolves, spooks and spirits. I would’ve loved to have Casper the Friendly Ghost as a play pal, and Herman Munster as a dad! Halloween night itself meant candy and costumes, roaming the neighborhood long after dark, spooking the other kids by jumping out of the bushes and shouting, “Boo!”.  As an adult, I still love Halloween, which is why, when my editor at Avon approached me with an idea for a Halloween anthology, I leapt at the chance to give my readers a special treat by creating my OWN ghost story.

THE GHOUL NEXT DOOR was the result, one of three spine-tingling tales in BLOOD BY MOONLIGHT, a new e-book anthology from Avon Impulse, to be released October 23, 2012 (just in time for Halloween!)  In it, a witch and a warlock battle for possession of a haunted house, little knowing that the ghost who haunts it may have her OWN agenda!  Here’s an excerpt:

Cassie stood tall, and lifting the smoldering bundle of herbs aloft, turned her face to the moon. Ignoring James completely, she began to speak.
Honor to thee, Nimue, keeper of the night sky. Bathe my soul with moonlight, and see that my motives are pure.”
There was nothing but silence, broken only by the faint crackle of flames. Despite himself, James couldn’t tear his eyes away from her curves, backlit as she was by the fire.
 Spreading her arms to encompass the trees, Cassie spoke to them, as well. “Honor to thee, oh spirits of these ancient oaks. Stand with me as guardians this night, sheltering me as I breach the veil between the living and the dead.”
The scent of burning sage rose in the air, drifting, enshrouding the oaks. Cassie walked slowly around the fire, purifying the air with sweet-smelling smoke, murmuring words in a language he didn’t understand.
She seemed to have forgotten he was there, and he decided not to remind her. Instead, he watched and listened, finding himself fascinated by the way the moonlight both revealed and hid her face, gliding along her jaw line, turning her eyes from pockets of shadow to glittering diamonds.

What about you?  Ever play any tricks on Halloween night, or were you just in it for the treats?  Leave me a comment for a chance to win an entirely different kind of treat – a signed copy of one of my earlier books, reader’s choice!

Whatever you do, make sure you go out and scare up a little fun this Halloween, and don’t forget to check out BLOOD BY MOONLIGHT (but do it safely, by downloading the book, not with any actual blood or anything. J)  Happy Halloween, ghoulfriends!

Take a Trip to the Dark Side with Terri's Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy Series