Tales from the Ghost Town Writers Retreat

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15493618_10154899107475972_7094799763006043672_oI have had a difficult time writing this past year. I have a novel that I have started and stopped more times than I care to admit and a Christmas project that I decided to postpone from the planned November publish date. I had amazing momentum coming into this year, but it fizzled quickly, and I’m not sure why.

I decided many months ago to attend the Ghost Town Writers Retreat at the beginning of August to see if I could get my groove back, then my Grandma passed away a few weeks ago, and I almost canceled. Losing her hit me harder than I expected and I just wanted to hide out. My darling husband took time off from work to go with me and said it would give us some time away from the kids together, I suspect he knew I needed him to give me an extra push.

The retreat was held in the small mining town of Georgetown, Colorado. I’m a Colorado native but can say I’ve never hung out in Georgetown for anything more than a bathroom break, fill up, or to get to the pass to go to Clear Lake. I remember when I was little my parents looked at buying a piece of property there. The day they went to look at the property they dropped me, my two siblings, and my grandparents off at the little park in town to eat lunch so they could speak to the realtor without distraction. My sister would not play or leave the bench she sat on. It wasn’t until I told her where I was going that she said the park was full of spooks and they demanded to know why she was there. It scared the hell out of her, and that’s why she wouldn’t play. Weird story, I know, but totally normal in my family.

Georgetown is only about an hour from our house on I-70, but the ride up was hairy. The retreat needed to borrow some grills for the Grill and Greet, so I volunteered ours. Since my husband was coming along, we took his truck and loaded our old gas grill into the bed. The day was overcast, and the wind was picking up. Just as I inquired if the grill was safely tethered a huge bang shook us. The grill had fallen over but not out of the bed. Sadly, the handle didn’t survive. After readjusting the bungee cords, we journeyed on. We drove through dense fog, drenching rain, and pounding hail. It didn’t help that I woke up that morning with a nagging headache. Maybe it was a sign to go home, I thought.

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I-70 Westbound

 

When we got to the hotel we discovered that it would be some time before for our room would be ready and we were a little confused about where to check in for the conference, but we did figure out where to take the grill. After an uninvited cloud burst, my husband helped cook up some buffalo hot dogs and burgers, and we had a tasty little dinner with some fascinating folks.

One of the things I really wanted to do was check out the park. I still had a headache, but the next morning I grabbed my camera and off we went. The moment I entered the park through the iron archway my headache was joined by a turbulent stomach. No one demanded to know why I was there, but it felt heavy and strange. My husband asked if it used to be a cemetery because it gave that kind of vibe. As a side note, I got a terrible headache working on this piece, and I kept getting an error message when I tried to upload the photos of the park, it took several tries. Coincidence? Maybe, but my husband says I should quit messing around with this subject!

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The Park Entrance

Even though my head and tummy were very unhappy, I continued to hit up all the sessions I could. Every single session was terrific, and the presenters (some first timers) were great. When we got home and were describing some of the things we learned my daughter laughed and said it sounded like a murders’ convention! Most of the sessions were held in the historic Heritage Center, the old school house. The building restoration was fabulous!

The marketing sessions were beneficial, as that is the area I dislike the most about this author thing and find the most challenging. I’m a quiet, shy, introverted person which is a huge hindrance to my marketing efforts. I made a commitment to myself to move way out of my comfort zone in the coming months regarding this.

I also had an epiphany. I believe my difficulty in writing has come because I know the marketing will come after. Yes. I hate it that much. I think I got some tools and resources at the retreat that will help me, though.

Being the very first Ghost Town Writers Retreat, there were some hiccups and places where there is room for improvement. I thought Georgetown was a great location and I had the best burger ever (after my tummy finally settled down) at Round About Burgers. The waffles at The Happy Cooker were amazing, and the Family Dollar is stocked better than a full sized Walmart! It turned out to be more of a conference than retreat, however. I would have liked more opportunities to meet up and write with other writers. And coffee! Coffee at the venue for morning sessions, please!

I wasn’t sure where or how to sign up for editor/agent sessions, but since I didn’t feel well, I opted not to pursue it. Maybe for next year,  the signup and location information could be available a few days before the event begins.

There was a walking ghost tour that I would have loved to attend, but it happened on Sunday evening, and I was already jonesing for my kids. We opted for the train, mine tour, and of course, the cemetery.

We really didn’t need a ghost tour anyway. I drug my husband around the town late on Saturday night, just to see what we might see. He always warns that I better not get him arrested, but I’ve been doing this to him for years, and so far we are arrest free, knock on wood!

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Haunted Hamill House After Dark

 

Even though I didn’t feel well for the first three days, I feel like I got out of it what I wanted. I have a strategy to push through my writing wall, and I got to spend some time with my husband. He got a better idea of what it is I do and struggle with and ended up getting into it himself! I said we should just write spooky books together and forget everything else!

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My Handsome Husband – It Looks Good on Him!

 

I can only imagine what it takes to organize a thing like this. The speakers and moderators were great. The movie screening of Dead Awake was fun, and I wanted to ask Jeffery Riddick (Dead Awake, Final Destination) what led them to cast Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black), she was great by the way, but my head was killing me.

How you go about contacting all these folks and getting them to come to a retreat in a tiny Colorado mountain town is beyond me. I’m grateful for the opportunity and that I ignored my headache AND did not go back home. I am already looking forward to next year, but I think I’ll stay away from the park…or not!

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The Binding Chord of Stories

mourning-360500_1920Today I am tired to the bone. There is not one inch of me that doesn’t hurt. My eyes are scratchy and bloated. I feel like a ran a marathon or spent the last two days in drunken bar fights. In a way, I wish either of those things are what is wrong with me.

I have no desire to read, promote, edit, or write. I don’t even want to look at my laptop. There is a piece of me that never wants to write another word or utter any kind of story. I’m forcing myself to write this because I think it will be good for me and no other reason.

You see, yesterday I returned to the place that we laid my mom to rest, almost to the day, forty years ago. This time I buried my second mother, my maternal grandmother, Rose Lovato. If you read my bio in my book you would know that she is one of the reasons that I love spooky stuff. Our culture and our family have always had a unique connection to the supernatural and no-one could convey that better than Rosie.

When I was little and my mom was missing to go to chemo my Grandma Rose would stay with us. We would cuddle on the bottom bunk bed and she would tell us stories. Some funny, some scary. I would beg to hear the scary ones over and over, so much so that I earned the nickname Spooky.

I didn’t care if it wasn’t cuddle time either. I remember being in her kitchen and she was making tortillas, rolling dough into balls, placing them in the galvanized pot and covering them with a red and white tea towel to rise. Her bright red finger nail polish flashed as she rolled out and worked the dough. I begged her to tell me a story. I think she was annoyed that I wouldn’t let her get her work done, but she told me a story anyway.

The day before she went into hospice she was telling us stories. Beautiful stories about answered prayers and angels she saw. I tucked these away in that secret place in my heart reserved for my most private thoughts and memories.

At her memorial service, we shared stories about her. Her devotion to prayer and middle of the day phone calls, no she did not care if you were at work. How she won $6000 at her favorite casino. The time she had to go to the tavern to find our grandpa and when a man made a lewd comment to her she beat the hell out of him with her purse. How they lost everything in a big fire when they lived in Utah and she took her two tiny babies on the train back to Colorado that very night in nothing but her nightgown. How much she liked a good party, and good music, and to sing. And tell stories.

Today I feel like I will never publish an other thing. It takes confidence to put your work out into the world. I have what I consider a delicate balance of support from those around me. My insecurities regarding writing are legion and require specific support from specific people. Knowing somebody as tough and outspoken as Rosie was in my corner, no matter what drivel I put out, made me feel like I could do this. She’d be there with her big purse to wonk anyone that dissed me. Now there is a terrible void in that network of support.

Remember I told you my family has a unique connection to the supernatural? At her memorial, one of my cousins told me he talked to her and that she was ok and wanted us all to know that she was happy, she was where she wanted to be. Perfectly normal in my family, perfectly acceptable. My boy reminded me this morning as he came in to see me writing this and crying, that Grandma Rose is still there for us, not to worry. She may have come to him too, but he rarely speaks about the encounters he has.

Many elements or themes from stories Grandma Rose told me pop up in my writing. Stories, it would seem, are the binding chord from me to her, from this world to the next. I’ll keep telling them, for her. 

Until next time – Thank you for teaching me to be a good woman. Love you, Grandma Rose.rose-402671_1920

What a Year

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endof-year

What a year. 2016 had ups and downs, losses and gains, twists and turns. I don’t know about you, but I feel a little sea-sick! I’m hoping 2017 is a little less crazy. A girl can dream, can’t she?

It’s been a good writing year. I finished writing and revising DREAD and published! I’ve sold some copies, and not just to my family, LOL! Some of those readers even left five-star reviews. Weirdly, I miss my characters a little bit. I spent almost every day with them for over two years, after all. I’m sure they don’t miss me but are enjoying new life every time they spring to life in a reader’s imagination. I *heart* you Nate, Garrett, Sophia, and Lindsey!

I stretched out of my writing comfort zone and wrote a short story in the Dystopian Horror genre. Dystopia always felt overwhelming to me. Seriously, how in the world do you create a whole new world…out of your words? I spent a large part of my summer working on Code Yankee Sierra 7 so I could enter it in the  Pandora’s Box of Horrors Challenge. Guess what? It tied for the win. Pretty exciting!

I’ve made amazing writing friends and connections this year. Their stories captivated, spooked, entangled, and encouraged me. Thanks, guys!

I wrote three other short stories. One was originally posted as a Thanksgiving story, but I revised it to a Christmas story (All Through the Night) and popped it up on WattPad for fun. Another one is also a Christmas story (The Kalli-Who) that was published on this blog as a playful holiday share with you, the readers! Lastly, just for grins, I reworked a story I wrote a very long time ago (Best Night Ever) and also shared that on WattPad.

My current WIP Shiver is coming along. I’m still getting to know the characters, and so far, I like them. Too bad I’ll have to terrorize, burden, and maybe knock some of them off *evil giggle*. What?  I’m a writer, it’s what I do.

A writer. You’d think I’d feel perfectly fine calling myself a writer by now, wouldn’t you? But it still feels awkward. When I think writer, I think of Anne Rice, Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, and the like. When I say I am a writer, it seems arrogant and like a big overblown fishy tale. Despite the list of accomplishments above, it feels like I am the biggest poser in history, play acting a childhood fantasy and hoping the world buys it. I wonder if the people I mentioned before ever feel that way.

For 2017 my resolution is to own it. To boldly submit works and laugh in the face of rejection letters! To shout, I AM A WRITER! Well, maybe just say it in an inside voice.

Here’s wishing you an adventurous, thrilling, spooky, joyous, own-your-truth new year. I hope you get some of that through reading something I wrote for you.

Until next year, Never Turn Off the Lights!

I <3 Horror, Deal With It

I have a problem. Like many writers, I feel uncomfortable telling people that I write when I first meet them, let alone that I write Horror. You have to know me a little better first, or at least, buy me dinner. My neighbor of four years didn’t know until she stumbled on my Facebook profile and she told me she was shocked.

Shocked? I asked her why.

She stuttered and hemmed and hawed, but eventually she said that I just didn’t seem like the type of person who liked that kind of thing. I had to laugh. What type of person is the kind of person that likes that kind of  thing?

My dear cousin sent me this meme on Facebook because she knows. I commented that I would crack up because things just got FUN! It made me think about an experience I shared with one of my daughters, she definitely knows.12744564_660596094078920_6204107145974811045_n

It was the night after my favorite holiday, Halloween. I picked up said daughter from a late practice at her high school and we were driving home.

At that time we lived in the western suburbs of Denver, butting up to the Rocky Mountain foothills. Our streets were wide, the houses spaced nicely apart, and the street lights were of the decorative variety, pretty but not efficient in their job. That left the roads alarmingly dark at night.

The street we were driving on was the long straight backbone of the neighborhood, the other streets shot off from it like teeth on a comb. As we drove through the dark we saw a lone figure in the distance standing in the weak pool of light cast by the street light at the only stop sign.

It was slowly formulating in my mind that someone had left a Halloween decoration too close to the road. A dark lower portion made the white top appear to levitate. As we approached, I could see that it was a person. A person wearing dark coveralls and a white Micheal Myers mask.

We slowed down as we got right next to him because of the stop sign. He moved towards our car, reaching his hand out as if to grasp the passenger side door handle.

“Mom, go!”

I pulled away from the stop sign and looked in my rearview mirror. I saw him standing in the road behind us, his white face glowing red in my taillights. He stood motionless, watching us drive away. I thought he looked dejected.halloween-4-03

“Holy crap! What was that?” my daughter said.

“I don’t know, but let’s go back! That was awesome!” I said, glee overfilling my heart.

“No way!”

I looked at her sweet face. She really was freaked out.

“Come on. It’s just a Halloween prank. We’ll just drive back around one time, ok?”

“It. Is. Not. Halloween. What if they want to carjack us! Or he just killed all the neighbors and needs a get away car?”

I love her dearly, so we drove on home. She relieved, me disappointed. I was sorry to miss out on that glorious feeling of terror, that thrill that I love so much.

It took the sensible voice of my husband to keep me from getting in my truck and driving back over there by myself. The girl was right, it probably wasn’t safe. You never know about people these days. He joked that if we don’t hear about neighbors being slashed tomorrow, we would know it was a late Halloween prank.

I never told them that I looked in my mirror one last time before turning off on our street. I saw him cross the road and go in between two houses, as if headed to one or other backyard. There was still hope that Michael Myers was creeping around the neighborhood. I peered out into my own heavily wooded and dark backyard hoping for a jolt.

My heart sank a little deeper to see that no one was there.

My current neighbor would probably rethink every interaction we ever had if she knew that story about me.

There you have it. Just like a book, you can’t judge a horror fan by their cover. It could be anyone. Even the people you least expect. Take Guillermo Del Toro, R.L. Stine, or Stephen King. They all look perfectly normal. My neighbor thinks I’m a normal, upstanding, kindly, law-abiding citizen who listens to NPR. While I am all those things, I am a creator and fan of horror. Even little Mikey Myers appeared normal, at first.

My husband was right. You just never know about people these days.

Until next time, Never Turn Off the Lights!