Tag Archives: ghosts

Lois Ruby, author of The Secret of Laurel Oak

Today I’m chatting with Lois Ruby, who is offering a book giveaway of her ghost story, The Secret of Laurel Oak!  Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy. Please be sure your post links to your e-mail or website so we can contact you, or check back on Sunday’s post to see the winner.

Lois, tell us about your books.

The Secret of Laurel Oak is a gen-u-wine ghost story – my first.  Daphne was born an African slave around 1830 and sent to spirit after a violent death at the age of fifteen.  She’s modeled after a girl named Chloe whose brief life was spent at Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. Myrtles is on the Smithsonian list of the ten most haunted houses in America.

What’s come down through history is that Chloe poisoned two little girls at Myrtles. Whether by accident or design, or if she even did it, we do not know, but her ghost has been spotted by dozens of visitors to the plantation. Nor does Chloe herself (Daphne in my book) know what happened that horrific night.  For 160 years, she’s waited patiently for the right person to show up to solve the mystery.  Now Lila has arrived, and all the spirits of Laurel Oaks are quickened.  The book’s written in alternating voices, half in Daphne’s and half in Lila’s, as the shocking story unfolds both from the here-and-now and from the other side. Will Daphne’s spirit finally be released to eternal rest?  Maybe.

The Secret of Laurel Oaks

I’ve also done another novel, yet to find a publisher, set in the early years of spiritualism, the 1850s. Two intrepid girls fake séances, enthralled by the popular new belief that we can all talk to dead loved ones in the realm beyond.  It’s just a profitable game for them – until they discover that one of them actually has the gift and begins to hear the wails of  six children murdered by their mother.  Based on a true story of Polly Frisch, who poisoned her children with arsenic-laced bread and butter.  Cold, hunh?

Are there challenges in writing in this genre?

Let’s be honest.  In my normal life, I do realistic fiction for middle graders and teens. I’m so steeped in realism that my toes are growing roots like trees.  But as I’ve gotten more rings around my trunk, I’ve hungered for flashes of the visionary life.  So, I’ve begun studying about other realities, in hopes that some day I’ll experience what now is only wide-eyed speculation.  The challenge for me is to escape from the bonds of having to explain every phenomenon in some logical way.  It doesn’t have to make sense; it only has to sense. But that’s hard for a prove-it girl like me to reconcile.  I’m working on it!

[Chris’s note: Lois’s powerful realistic novels for middle grade and young adult readers include Miriam's Well, Skin Deep, and the humorous The Moxie Kid. Her historical novels include Shanghai Shadows, Journey to Jamestown, and Swindletop. Two of her previous books also cross between the past and the present: Steal Away Home and Soon Be Free. Learn about them all on her website.]

Skin Deep

Have your loyal readers followed you down this new path?

They’ve led me down this path.  It’s where young readers already are.  Now that Laurel Oaks is in Scholastic book fairs, I hear from kids around the country who never would have opened my other books.  They take speculative fiction very seriously and clamor for more.

What are some of your favorite speculative books for young people?

I love classic science fiction.  The old Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury books are among my favorites, probably because they’re strongly written, character-driven novels about  brave new worlds, and they don’t depend on super technology and flashy special effects.

I like some time-travel books, especially Jane Yolen’s wonderful The Devil’s Advocate, which catapults a contemporary girl into the milieu of the Nazi Holocaust, then gets her safely home again.  I’m not interested in magical, fantastical books or vampires or elves and faeries, either in medieval or urban settings.  I’d rather read post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels such as Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It, and Haddix’s Among the Hidden series.  Of course, I join the zillions of fans of the Hunger Games trilogy – unmatched for heart-thumping excitement coupled with contemporary satire.

However, in my estimation, as a librarian and author, the finest book for young readers in this genre (maybe any genre) is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. That’s a book I can read over and over, holding my breath all the way through the quiet, understated horror of a world without color, art, music, blemish, passion, memory – and the awakening of Jonas, who is given the gift of these forbidden emotions by the one dying old man who safeguards them all for future generations.  Magnificent book.  Fifth graders can read it for sheer story, seventh graders get the subtleties and begin to think about the implications.  Adults are devastated by it.

Why do you think young people are drawn to dystopian novels?

Some say the 21st century high school is the quintessential dystopian society.  It can be a cruel and hostile place with its social stratification, intense bullying and hazing, and its refusal to accept those who are “different,” however that difference is defined from within a clíque.  Other people say that we live in a gloom-and-doom world that is totally out of control.  The young heroes of dystopian novels find and earn ways to out-smart and overcome the doom of their worlds and change society for the better.

Once you read your way through the muck and joylessness of those post-apocalyptic worlds, you see hope at the end of the dark tunnel.  Young people want to know that there are ordinary kids just like them who summon the determination and courage to triumph over incredible obstacles, foes, and threats, and come out whole on the far side of the adventure.

Steal Away Home

Is the same true for ghost stories?

It’s different.  I think people of all ages wonder about what’s beyond life.  Very religious people think they know, but most of us see death as a mystery, and life as something we don’t want to let go of.  So, we speculate about reincarnation and a vibrant spirit life after we shed our bodies.  Besides that, young people just love to be scared witless and then to be reassured that things will be set right again when the nail-biting, heart-racing story ends.

Anything else we should know about you?

I have a wonderful husband that I met the first day of college at Berkeley, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren.  I’m older than permafrost, but I made the decision way back when that I’d never totally grow up if I wanted to write stories for and about young people.  You could say I’ve stayed blissfully immature.  I have the pleasure of visiting schools all over the country and have encountered some awesomely good teachers and librarians.  It’s the kids, though, who make it so much fun.  Oh, one more thing.  I  collect pigs, though not live ones.  Yet.  Please follow me on Facebook and visit my Website.

Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy of The Secret of Laurel Oak!

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The Zombie/Ghost Spectrum

As I’m writing this entry, I have another window open with a current draft of the first zombie scene I’ve ever written.  I’ve always loved watching zombie films. Dawn of the Dead, I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, and even Shawn of the Dead had me on the edge of my seat. But for some reason, it’s taken me this long to attempt a zombie story of my own. I’ve come up with a theory about that. I think it’s because I tend to be an optimistic person, while zombie tales take place in the far-pessimistic side of the Zombie/Ghost Story World Spectrum.

The Zombie/Ghost Story World Spectrum:

Ghost stories, at one end of the spectrum, show an optimistic view of the world. They take place in a setting that’s so wonderful that some people can’t be made to leave it, even after death. Ghosts may have suffered horribly in life, but they’d still rather stick around than go on to an eternal resting place.

Moving away from the ideal “better than Heaven” world of ghost stories, we have the well-intentioned world of morality plays. You can always tell the good guys from the bad guys and it’s comforting to know in advance that the unrepentant rule-breaker will be brutally punished for his or her crimes. Good little boys and girls might find themselves in danger for a while but generally come out unscathed. The story takes place in a world that conspires to enforce a code of morality–the author’s code of morality–which has little or no room for shades of gray. Supernatural entities are enforcers of the law, while the real monsters are always human. It makes sense in a way our world never can, but it can also be uncomfortable for anyone whose moral compass varies by a few degrees from the author’s.

Vampire stories, in the exact middle of the spectrum, take place in a neutral world–the natural world of predator and prey. There’s nothing inherently good or evil about a wolf eating a rabbit, for example. The twist comes from making humanity into the rabbits. We’re one rung down from the top of the food chain, which causes tension for most of the in-story characters.

Stories like Frankenstein take place in a world where human intervention has altered the natural order. Inanimate monsters are brought to life, men play God, Gothic misery hangs in the air, and the balance of the world is thrown out of whack. Innocence and goodness will get you killed, if only to teach some other character a lesson. It’s a pessimistic place to be, but things can still go back to normal if the villagers band together with their pitchforks and torches. Or things can also go from bad to worse if the creature’s creator gives in to its demands to make a bride and/or groom.

And then there are zombies. Whenever they show up, you know the story world is doomed. It might start slowly, with a single zombie staggering mindlessly toward you. It’s probably not hard to escape, to find an effective weapon, or to band together with some allies. You can outthink a zombie, and in most versions you can outrun them or drive away from them. But eventually you will find yourself under siege, surrounded a a huge undead mob, with dwindling supplies and nobody left you can count on for help. In the long run, no matter what you do, the zombies always win.

Where does your favorite story world fall on this spectrum?

—Greg R. Fishbone, Destroyer and Creator of Worlds

Greg R. Fishbone

Greg R. Fishbone

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Ideas for Speculative Books

Every writer knows that ideas are everywhere. Even for speculative fiction, which may be only loosely based in reality, story or book ideas can come from real-life facts or mysteries.

Here are just a few examples, from interviews I conducted:

Laura Ruby said, “I wrote my ghost story, Lily’s Ghosts, based on some stories my friend Andrea told me about her family’s “haunted” house. I got the idea for my fantasy-adventures, The Wall and the Wing and it’s sequel, The Chaos King, after I asked my then 12-year-old stepdaughter and her friends which superpower they’d like to have if they could have any. Three of them said they’d like the ability to fly; the fourth said she’d like the power of invisibility. I thought it would be great fun to write about a world in which everyone could fly, and it was.

Q. L. Pearce, author of three scary story collections, said, “I look at ‘average’ people in supermarkets, shopping malls, etc. and ask myself, ‘What are they hiding?’ Then I let my imagination run wild. I also love antique stores and swap meets. There are objects in such places that just ‘scream’ a story.”

Lois Szymanski and Shelley Sykes write the Gettysburg Ghost Gang series, which uses a contemporary setting with civil war era ghosts. “Our ideas come from our history research and our experiences on actual ghost investigations,” Szymanski said. “For instance, in our history research we found that hundreds of women fought in the Civil War dressed as men.” This inspired A Whisper of War.

Tom Sniegoski said, “Just flip on the evening news, or open a newspaper. There’s plenty of stuff to be afraid of. In Sleeper Code I have these untrustworthy government agencies set up for the good of the people, but their true purpose is anything but. That, I feel, is a real statement about the current mistrust in our administration.”

Cynthia Leitich Smith said, “The classics offer me inspiration and ensure my work is original. So does keeping up with new books in the genre. In crafting Tantalize (Candlewick Press, 2007), I drew my initial inspiration from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Stoker’s classic includes as a secondary character a Texan, Quincy P. Morris, among its original vampire hunters. Intrigued by the Irish author’s choice, I brought the mythology “home” to Texas, offering my new protagonist, Quincie P. Morris—an updated and gender-flipped nod to Stoker’s old school.”

I honestly can’t remember where I got the idea for Haunted — it’s just been too long. It was before all the ghost hunter TV shows, though I might’ve heard of an early one. A WIP started as a realistic mystery, but I was struggling. At the Tucson Festival of Books this spring, I sat next to a fantasy author/illustrator during a signing. Someone asked him about writer’s block, and he explained that you just have to work through it. Then he said, “And if that doesn’t work, add more giants.” So when my mystery seemed slow to start, I thought, hmm, no giants for me, but maybe I need to add a ghost!

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch think she’ll pull out every story and novel she ever wrote, and add ghosts. Lots of ghosts!

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Middle Grade Trends in Speculative Fiction

Yesterday I discussed speculative trends for teen readers. (By the way, I forgot to mention some prime paranormal examples: the Dead Girl series by our own Linda Joy Singleton, the Ghost Huntress series by Marley Gibson, Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez, and ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley.)

So what about middle grade readers? Vampire romances and dystopian suspense haven’t trickled down to preteens, but paranormal is supposed to be on the rise with preteens. That should be good news for my Haunted series. But how new and strong is this trend, really?

Most of the current ghost series are targeted at teenagers, like the ones I mentioned above. It seems like most of the single title, middle grade ghost stories I pick up at the library are from the 80s and 90s.

Of course The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a recent bestseller. Peg Kehret has been writing suspense novels for years, mostly contemporary realistic stories involving robbers or kidnappers. She came out with The Ghost’s Grave in 2007

But let’s look back a bit…. Richard Peck’s series that began with The Ghost Belonged to Me started in 1975, and that title was re-released in 1997. Bruce Coville released The Ghost in the Third Row in 1987, and continued the trilogy with The Ghost Wore Gray in 1988 and The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed in 1991. Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude came out in 2000.

(Read my Amazon list mania “More spooky ghost books” for brief descriptions and links to all these books.)

Then, of course, there’s Goosebumps. According to Wikipedia, the Goosebumps umbrella featured 62 books published between 1992 and 1997. An average of 10 books per year from one author, and that doesn’t even count his Ghosts of Fear Street (a spinoff of Fear Street targeted at younger readers), which started in 1995. Now THAT’S a trend.

So when, exactly, did paranormal go away? Based on this very unofficial survey, it seems like the 90s were a prime paranormal time, though the trend may have dipped in the early to mid-2000s.

Maybe the lesson here is that some topics are eternal (just ask Dracula, who made his appearance in 1897). Or perhaps there’s a message about the futility of trying to write to trends. Or the inaccuracy of all this trend prediction, anyway (look at yesterday’s post about the supposed decline in fantasy). Or maybe the real point is, we just shouldn’t worry about it, and focus on reading and writing what we enjoy.

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch needs to go investigate that strange noise in the basement now. Oh wait, she doesn’t have a basement. CREEPY!

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Teen Trends In Speculative Fiction

Three years ago, I interviewed some editors for an article on horror and paranormal fiction, and asked what they saw as upcoming trends. Let’s see if they were right….

“There’s definitely been a rise in the popularity of thrillers, ghost stories, and stories based on the paranormal,” a Delacorte editor said. “I think the most popular books are the ones that set the ghost story in the contemporary world. There’s something about believing those things are out there right now that is thrilling for young readers.”

“Pure horror will probably never explode the way fantasy or sci-fi have exploded at different times,” a Scholastic editor said, “but the wave of terror ebbs and flows. During any given year, some subgenre or another seems to take off. For the past couple years, apocalyptic zombie stories have been big, thanks to Max Brooks, Brian Keene, and others.”

At Llewellyn, an editor said, “We see good, steady demand for well done paranormal thrillers, books that might even be called ‘dark fantasy’ or ‘urban fantasy,’ especially for girls. Witty, graphic horror, such as the books by Darren Shan, seems to work well for boys.”

In a Candlewick Press editor’s opinion, “I think we’ll see more graphic fare in all of these areas as the graphic novel continues to gain popularity. It’s a natural fit. For middle-grade readers and younger, the emphasis seems to be on series publishing and story collections, while YA readers range more between genre/series fare and lush, literary novels like Twilight.”

Seems like they did pretty well. And how about today? At the SCBWI New York conference a few of months ago, Susan Raab said that mystery and ghost stories are thought to be growing. Vampires and werewolves are still big, but not expected to last. Fantasy in general is softening, but dystopian fantasy is growing.

Of course, who really knows? A fantastic book may be ready to launch, and pull back up one of these trends, or start a new one. And as for fantasy, editor Ari Lewin noted that eight or nine of the top 10 books on both the hardcover and paperback children’s bestseller list that week were fantasy of some kind. We keep hearing about the death of fantasy, but that seems to be wishful thinking on the part of editors who are tired of it. Readers just keep on reading. (Note that these were not high fantasy (knights and dragons), but lots of dystopian and paranormal books.)

So what’s the next big trend? Have you read — or written — a book that you think will light some fires? Personally, I’m hoping that Rick Riordan’s new Kane Chronicles series will reignite interest in ancient Egypt, both historical fantasy and straight historical fiction. Because, you know, I have this Egyptian novel I haven’t beChris Eboch with Haunted booksen able to sell yet….

Chris Eboch has this fantasy that she’ll start a new trend and beginning authors will submit their manuscripts with covers letters that says, “It’s the next Chris Eboch” so often that it becomes a cliché.

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What’s in a name?

Hey folks — I’m a new blogger in this group (you can find out more about me under Authors or Books, above), and I’m thinking about just why I’m here.

My first novel, The Well of Sacrifice, was historical fiction. I then wrote several other (unpublished) historical and contemporary fiction novels, without a hint of fantasy in them. I also did some work for hire nonfiction and fictionalized biographies. My first nine published books have no fantasy, science fiction or alternate reality elements. And yet, here I am on a blog about “speculative fiction.”

True, my Haunted series involves a girl who can see ghosts. Technically, the book is a fantasy, or even horror. Yet I never even noticed that I was changing genres, and the editor who acquired it claims he doesn’t like fantasy. I guess we both saw it as more of an action series, which happened to include ghosts.

In 2008, I wrote an article for Children’s Writer on horror and ghost stories. In an interview, Delacorte Editor Krista Marino said, “There really hasn’t been much true horror done for YA, but there’s definitely been a rise in the popularity of thrillers, ghost stories, and stories based on the paranormal.” What defines horror, then?

Agent Ashley Grayson said, “My definition of a horror novel is one where a group of ‘good’ people encounter a malignant entity, whither a ghost, werewolf or psychotic killer. The novel of terror can include the quite different type of story where simple acts of malice by the protagonist or her circle of friends avalanche into worse acts. Fortunately or not, classic monsters like vampires are the new buddies of romantic interests for teens.” So is Twilight a horror novel, because it involves vampires, or a romance? Or a romantic horror?

Scholastic Editor Joshua Glazer noted, “Scary stories are always popular, but not everybody self-identifies as a horror fan. I often encounter people who say ‘I don’t like horror,’ but ask them if they’ve read The Stand or seen The Exorcist, and they’ll answer with an enthusiastic ‘yes.’ Horror also hides in unlikely places. If Beowulf debuted in stores today, it would probably be shelved in the horror section, and the recent mega-properties like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter all contain horrific elements.”

I would say I don’t like horror. I haven’t even read The Stand or seen The Exorcist. And yet, I’m a fan of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series, and Haunted: The Ghost on the Stairs involves a scary ghost possession. I have even called the Haunted series “horror light,” though it never occurred to me to use the word “horror” as an Amazon tag word. Instead I stuck with terms such as ghost stories, action and spooky.

When you read a novel with ghosts, vampires or werewolves, do you think of it as a horror novel?

Or do you prefer the term paranormal (defined as supernatural or not in accordance with scientific laws, including phenomena such as ghosts, telepathy, UFOs and Bigfoot), or speculative fiction (dealing with a world outside normal life, and generally considered to include science fiction, fantasy, alternate histories and horror)?

On the one hand, maybe it doesn’t matter. Someone can like ghost stories or vampire romances without needing to define them further. But finding the right language could be key in helping readers find the right books. For example, kids who enjoy Goosebumps might look for other “horror” books. And they might enjoy the Haunted series …. So I guess I need to go back and add “horror” to my Amazon tag words, and embrace my status as a horror author!

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch thinks feeling horrific might not be so bad.

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My reality or yours?

LJS’s post about DEAD GIRL DANCING got me thinking about ghosts.

My grandmother’s house is haunted. Really. Most everyone in the family, including a science teacher, agrees, as did a few objective friends who visited with me when I was a teen.

Having grown up with ghostly presences, they are part of my view of reality, and thus I continually forget that not everyone believes in or has experienced them. This has caused a challenge for me in writing about them; critique partners are always asking two things: 1) How does she know it’s not her imagination? And 2) Why isn’t she more scared?

I try to revise accordingly, often taking the story farther from my own actual experience to do so, but truly, my answer to both questions, really, is, “Clearly you haven’t ever spent much time with a real ghost.”

This is an extreme example, but I think it’s not uncommon for varying versions of reality to sometimes cause problems in writing and selling books. A more mundane one:
I know a published YA author with a manuscript about a girl living in a trailer park. She hasn’t been able to sell it. In a GOSSIP GIRL market, she has heard repeatedly from editors that, “Nobody wants to read about poor people.” The award-winning, trailer-park-set THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY notwithstanding, I guess.

But lots of real kids and teens live in trailer parks, and at least some of them read books (even if they have to get them from the library instead of buying their own). And the overwhelming response to books featuring MCs with ethnic backgrounds — “Finally! A book with a character like me!” — seems to imply that those editors might be wrong. Maybe the marketing consideration is the real objection, and they just don’t want to say that.

In what ways has your reality, or the realities of your work, bumped up against conflicting views? (I wonder if writers who would like to incorporate more of a religious view in characters, and find pushback, is another example.)

Perhaps more important, how do we escape the assumptions and blinders of our personal views of reality to do a better job of creating worlds that a large number of people recognize and feel at home in?

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