This is a True Story…

photo 1-1

It’s a sweet little table…

This is a true story, I kid you not. I know you’ll think I’m posting it because Halloween is coming up (but I’m not) because it’s weird and eerie and hard to believe—even for me—but it’s not particularly scary. Just hard to believe.

Here’s the backstory. About four years ago I bought a small end table at a garage sale up the street. It’s a sweet little table, as you can see from the photo. More importantly, it served a need: something to put next to the couch. I suppose I should first explain that our decorating scheme is one step further than shabby chic. I’d call it “comfortable and lived in.”

Anyway, I digress. One of the reasons I was drawn to this particular end table was that it has a drawer—well I assumed it had a drawer when I bought it. From the photo, I think you can plainly see why I thought that. But here’s the thing. I couldn’t open it at the yard sale. I bought it anyway, figuring I could pry it open when I got home.

But even when I got home, I couldn’t open it. I tried screwdrivers and metal paint spatulas, figuring it was painted shut, but no luck. I felt fairly certain there was a drawer (and not just a fake drawer front) because I could hear something rattling as I carried the table home and there’s that hole in the front—where a knob should fit. MEH (My Engineer Husband) tried, the dog even tried (okay, Abby didn’t really try, but you get the point). We even tried to pull the drawer open by tying two toothpicks together with dental floss, then pushing them inside the drawer pull opening and pulling on the floss. Wouldn’t budge. Finally, I kind of gave up, deciding it was either a false front or glued shut. Over the years we’ve used the table for a variety of things—picked it up and moved it wherever it’s been needed. Each time, I’d hear the rattle inside and each time I’d try to open to no avail. Instead I was always left wondering: what’s inside?

I’m guessing you can see where this is going. Today MEH and I were tidying up, and as I picked up the small end table to move it to a different spot, I heard the rattle, and I said to MEH (like I have every time I’ve heard it): “I still always wonder what’s inside this thing, don’t y—”

But I never had a chance to finish because just then the drawer slid open. Slid all the way open. Just like that. Smooth as can be. As the drawer opened, one small nail—with traces of wood and white paint—dropped out onto the carpet. MEH and I just stood and stared, first at the table then at each other. I set the table down and finally got a chance to see what was inside the drawer: a second small nail (also with traces of wood and white paint), a screw (assumedly to hold in the drawer pull), a tiny dried green flower, a hat pin, and those two toothpicks tied together with floss.

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I was disappointed at first.

I was disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected, but I did feel slightly let down. I mean, no old coin, no rusty key, not even a secret love note. Then MEH—the one who usually never says anything like this—asked if I could see any nail holes. Did the nails just get removed? Did someone or something sneak into our house and remove them? Is that why the drawer slid open? I doubt it.

But I guess we’ll never know the real answer. Like I said, it’s not particularly scary, this story. Not supernatural (I don’t think). But it’s weird. Why did the drawer open? I kind of hate not knowing. Maybe it’s one more thing we can chalk up to the ghost of Mr. Able, the man who used to live in our house. (Have you read that post?)

Whatever the reason, I’ll tell you this. I’m not closing that drawer until I get a drawer pull put on. Because I’ve got an old coin, a rusty key, and a love note I want to put inside.

What would you have liked to see in the drawer when it slid open? Have you ever had an unexplained event in your life (with furniture or anything or anyone else)?

Cheers,

Julia

Multiple Genre Obsession


This work is in the public domain in the United
States because it was published (or registered with
the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of writing (and reading) in a variety of genres, especially those new to me. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum it all up—how to write a post about my new writing obsession. Then today, just when I gave up and decided to write a post about something else, I read Henry Denker’s obituary in the New York Times.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t know who Henry Denker was (I’m a little sad and a little embarrassed that this is the case, by the way.). The headline grabbed me: Henry Denker, Author in Many Genres, Dies at 99. But if that hadn’t pulled me in, this quote would have:

“A writer should be active in several forms of his trade. Writing is a business and should be practiced as such. On days when you think you can’t possibly write a line you do it anyhow.”

When I read that, I knew I would’ve liked Henry. And the more I read, the more I liked him: Henry had a prolific career, during which he wrote plays, radio scripts, television movies, novels (over 30!), and more. And his writing sounds fascinating and important—I will definitely be checking it out.

But what really struck me about Henry Denker was his versatility as a writer and his interest in writing a variety of genres. Henry Denker and I, we’re cut from the same cloth in this way, because although right now my heart lies with women’s fiction, I’ve also written short stories, picture books, and middle grade novels; I’ve dabbled in ghost stories, romance, and humor. (This doesn’t begin to sum up my nonfiction writing experience, but that’s a horse of another color.)

My current WIP is a modern-cozy mystery. I’m also in the planning stages of a dark romantic-suspenseful women’s fiction novel. But in truth I’m fascinated with writing in other genres, many genres. And I confess the more I read, the more interested I am in writing an even wider variety of fiction.

A few weeks ago I read two books that gave me pause to think….what if? Would I want to try to write something like one of thesebooks, way outside anything I’ve written before?

One was a romance: The Bro-Magnet (A Nice Guy Romance Novel)by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. This novel is told from the male POV. One of the reasons I find this so fascinating is that one of my WIPs has three main characters and two are male, and I’ve been thinking of writing from each character’s POV. This novel made me think outside the box, and I like that. It was a unique and different novel, which I also like. And it was a fast and funny read, too.

The other book was Drawn, by Marie Lamba. I’ll be honest. I started this novel because a sample chapter was available free on Amazon for Kindle. I read the sample chapter and was hooked: it’s about a young woman who moves to England and starts sketching drawings of a “hot ghost” from the 1400s. Yes, this novel is a paranormal YA novel, and it’s only the second YA book I’ve ever read. I rarely even consider reading paranormal books, but I LOVED this book. It absolutely captivated me, and it actually made me think about writing a paranormal and/or a YA novel. I highly recommend it.

Because here’s the thing. As I read in a wider circle, I’ve realized I like writing a variety of fiction. And these two books—and now Henry Denker—made me think that maybe I might expand my “genre writing circle” even more. It also made me realize once again, how much I love writing about almost anythingreally everything.

And then it made me wonder… how many other writers out there are like Henry and me? I’m so curious how other writers—how you—feel about cross genre writing. Are you tempted to write in a variety of genres? And if so, have you written in multiple genres? Or are you true blue to just one? I’m so interested to hear!

Cheers,

Julia

The Story from the Message in the Bottle

One of these bottles made its way to the shore where Mr. C found it…
a staggering 2.8 miles in 3 weeks 2 days!

Is anyone out there listening? I asked that question in this post. Before that, my husband, daughter, and I threw three bottles containing messages into bodies of water leading to the Atlantic Ocean—asking whomever found them to let us know.
So when I opened my email inbox last Sunday, my heart beat a little faster when I saw an email with the subject: “Your Message in a Bottle.”

Here’s what it said:

“Arrived yesterday at my parents’ house in Cumberland Foreside. Took a long time to get here! Maybe it went around the world first.”

Cumberland Foreside is about 2.8 miles from where we dropped two of the bottles—but still, I was curious about the particulars. What did they think when they found the bottle? Were there any details they could provide? Maybe a story?

I was lucky—when I emailed back, asking if the sender’s parents would be willing to talk to me, explaining: “I’m a writer, I write a blog. Might they be willing to tell me their story?”

The sender said “yes,” then generously gave me his parents’ names and phone number.

When I called, his mother answered. Mrs. C, a lovely older woman, immediately apologized: “You probably wish someone in a more exotic place had found it!” (I wondered if maybe she and Mr. C hoped it would have come from a more exotic place!)

She went on to explain that it was her husband who found the bottle on his morning walk on the shore—he brought it home. “It was exciting!” she said because it was their first message in a bottle they’d ever found; they’ve lived in their house, on a point jutting into Casco Bay, for 34 years.

“It looked like it was a pretty good bottle of wine,” Mrs. C said. “Was it?” They unscrewed the top and then tried to get the note out first with tongs and then with a “lobster poker.” Neither worked.

“Finally I said to Mr. C ‘why don’t we just breakthe thing!’ so that’s what we did! We put it in a paper bag and we broke it!” That’s when they read my note. She went on to tell me that since they don’t have email, they asked their son to send me an email about finding the bottle.

I explained I was going to write a story about the bottle and how they found it, and asked her if she’d ever found anything else unusual on the beach, could she tell me about it? She said they hadn’t, but she offered to tell me a story, if I had time to listen. Of course I had time to listen!

Mrs. C’s Story

Before Mr. C and I owned this house, his uncle owned it for a very long time. And his uncle’s first wife, E—a very beautiful and vivacious young woman—was invited, and attended, the opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. While she was there she was sickened by a terrible fungus. It was so sad, because when E returned home, she got sicker and sicker, and finally she died.

It was terrible! But my husband’s uncle went on to marry another wonderful woman, and they lived a good long life together in this very house. When my husband’s uncle died, he left the house to my husband, and that’s when we moved in, 34 years ago.

One day shortly after we moved in, I was going through things left in the attic, and I came across the loveliest photo of Uncle and his first wife E. I bought a beautiful frame for it, put the photo in the frame, and then placed the framed photo on the shelf over the television. And do you know what happened? As soon as I turned around, that television fell right off its shelf! Yes it did!

I picked up that framed photo, put it right back into the attic, right where I found it. And it never happened again!

*  *  *  *

“And what do you think of that?” Mrs. C asked me.

I told her it was one heck of a ghost story, and explained how my blog readers are pretty fond of ghost stories. And she said I should go ahead and share it with you.

Before we hung up, Mrs. C apologized once more that the bottle wasn’t found in a more exotic location. But how could I possibly be disappointed? Then I offered to call her if and when I hear back about those other two bottles.

She was thrilled! And I definitely will call her back—because I would love to have another conversation with a storyteller the likes of Mrs. C!


Have you ever had surprising results from a conversation with someone, like I did with Mrs. C, that started for one reason but ended with another? Are you, like me, always interested in the stories people have to tell

—no matter what path brings them your way?


Cheers,


Julia

Writing the (Un)Explained

As a small child I lived in Belize. Recently while going through some old photos, I found two pictures: one of me and one of the house I lived in—located in a small seaside village in southern Belize. These photos brought back many memories—one, a story of the unexplained. (And if you like this story, you might also enjoy another post I wrote called The Ghost of Mr. Able.)

Some events stick in your mind, try as you might to drive them out. Try as you might to deny they happened. Try as you might to explain them away. In Punta Gorda we lived down the street from a small cemetery. In fact, there was only one other house closer to the cemetery than our house: Miss Mary’s.

Miss Mary and everyone else was superstitious and wouldn’t go anywhere near the cemetery at night or even at twilight. My parents said it was nonsense, that I didn’t need to worry.

They tried to reassure me that I didn’t have to worry about the ghosts or spirits that my friend Kolo told me about.

“We don’t believe in those things,” Mom told my seven-year-old self when I approached her with a worried brow. So it was okay that we lived within a stone’s throw of the cemetery, even at twilight or even later when no one else would walk down the road toward that cemetery. And even though our closer neighbor, Miss Mary, made sure she was home safe and sound before then.

That particular day my mother and I were weeding in the garden. As the day wore into evening, and twilight came, my mother started to pick okra and beans for dinner. As the light faded, the colors turned gray, and I helped my mother pick the beans, being careful as I stepped between the tightly-growing plants. On other days, we found spiders and once even a six-foot long snake—and we didn’t want to step on anything that night.

I hurried, wishing myself back in our small cozy house, away from whatever was hiding beneath our feet. My mother was nervous, too, I could tell because she pulled the okra from their bushes instead of using the pocket knife she carried in her apron pocket.

As darkness settled around us, a shadowy figure silently emerged from the murky darkness, walking down the street toward our house, toward the cemetery—toward us. The figure was tall and shrouded in gray and glided along the road. I couldn’t see any feet touching the ground beneath the sweeping gown.

I reached for my mother’s hand and she squeezed reassuringly.

“Hello Mary!” My mother called out cheerfully as the figure walked by us.

No answer.

“Mary,” My mother called out again.

Still no answer!

I clutched my mother’s hand, not sure what to think. I couldn’t see the face inside the hood or under the veil. But I knew my mother had to be right. It had to be Mary!

The figure glided right by our house, less than 20 feet away, never hesitating or answering, never turning toward us.

My mother and I stood there a few more seconds more, side by side, hand in hand, watching the figure disappear down the street, vanishing into the gloomy grayness toward Mary’s house….and the graveyard.

We looked at each other.

“Who was it, Mom?”

“Must have been Mary,” my mother said matter-of-factly. “She didn’t hear me call,” she added with less conviction.

“Are you sure?” I pulled on her hand.

She briefly hesitated. “Of course. Who else, what else could it be?”

“A ghost, Mom? Could it be a ghost? Kolo says there are ghosts… in the graveyard.”

My mom shook her head.

“Are there ghosts in the graveyard Mom?”

“No, no ghosts! No I don’t think so.”

My mother swept the vegetable basket up in her arms and headed toward the house. I followed without question.

That evening, after dinner, my mom and I told my dad about “the figure,” as my mother would always call it. Even after I went to bed that night, I could hear them talking about what it was, what it could be.

My mother was a great storyteller, and I heard her tell the story of “the figure” many times over the years. Over time, as the years went by, she chuckled as she told it. But I could still hear the chill in her voice. She staunchly refused to ever admit it might really be a ghost, and yet still she told the story.

For me, it’s not that easy. That warm summer evening was long ago, but I still remember it like yesterday. Standing in the garden, hand in hand with my mom, I feel the cool shiver down my spine, the goose bumps on my arms, and the uneasiness in my stomach. Because the event that sticks in my mind is a ghost story. And try as I might, I just can’t explain it away.




Have you ever had something happen that you just can’t explain? 


Cheers,
Julia