Friday, September 29, 2017

The Artistry of Outhouses with Author Suzanne de Montigny
My pal, author Suzanne de Montigny, has delivered a novel in BWL Publishing Inc’s Canadian Historical Bride series, Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies. It’s an extremely entertaining book, lovingly recreated, and well-written. Let’s chat Suzanne up, shan’t we? (Everyone pretend like you’re sophisticated, hoist a pinky finger, and lift a glass of tea).

SRW: Suzanne! Welcome again, my friend. Tell everyone what Fields of Gold… is about.

SDM: Well, here’s the blurb:

French-Canadian soldier, Napoleon, proposes to Lea during WWI, promising golden fields of wheat as far as the eye can see. After the armistice, he sends money for her passage, and she journeys far from her family and the conveniences of a modern country to join him on a homestead in Saskatchewan. There, she works hard to build their dream of a prospering farm, clearing fields alongside her husband through several pregnancies and even after suffering a terrible loss. When the stock market crashes in ’29, the prairies are stricken by a long and abysmal drought. Thrown into poverty, she struggles to survive in a world where work is scarce, death is abundant, and hope dwindles. Will she and her family survive the Great Depression?

And here’s the book trailer in case you’re too lazy to read the blurb.

Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies trailer!

SRW: Am I right in assuming this is based on your family lore?

SDM: It is indeed. It’s a story that’s been calling my name for quite some time. My dad spent the last ten years of his life writing his memoirs, and much of this novel is taken from those memoirs, though I do get fanciful at times and throw in things that never happened.

SRW: “Napoleon” is the lead guy’s name. Seeing as how he doesn’t really give heroine, Lea, much leeway in his marriage proposal, and how his namesake brings to mind a famous dictator, is Napoleon a short man? Does he suffer from “Little Big Angry Man Syndrome?”

SDM: Hahaha! Actually, he was a tiny man, but the sweetest guy you could ever meet. In general, most French-Canadians are a little on the short side. And Napoleon was a very popular name in Quebec around the turn of the 20th century.

SRW: Napoleon’s hardly a character in the first half of the book, almost a non-existent “Charlie Brown Adult.” Was this intentional? I mean, it's Lea's tale, after all.

SDM: Well….believe it or not, he really was like that. It was hard to find anything wrong with him. He was just a nice, even-tempered guy, though he succumbs to pressure later on and gets a little grumpy. Why, he even raises his voice a few times.

SRW: Suzanne, I think you have a writerly masochistic bent. Not since Alice went down the rabbit hole has a heroine suffered so much. Your protagonist, Lea, loses a number of babies. Yet her determination carries her through the day. Was this much more commonplace back in the ‘30’s when the book took place?

SDM: She lost three babies within a couple of months after their birth. Two of them were identical twin girls. But yes, it was really normal to lose babies back in the day. Take Mozart, for example, his wife had 6 kids, and only 2 survived. And Bach had 20 kids with only 10 surviving into adulthood. And both my grandmothers had 10 kids, losing three each. I think losing a baby was a lot easier back in those days as it was rather commonplace.

SRW: And the agony continues! Poor Lea trawls on through locusts, dirt storms, poverty, and lots and lots of potatoes. LOTS of potatoes. Potato soup, potato casserole, potato bugs. Even dresses made from potato bags. And that scene of plucking feathers from a chicken is nightmare-inducing. Worse, Napoleon builds his wife an outhouse made out of iffy material. Explain, please. (I’d like a drawing, too, as I want the readers to relive the outhouse agony).

SDM: Ah, the potatoes. Yes. And regarding the bathroom, not to gross anyone out, but they used to go out to the barn to do their business. After all, if the animals could, why not them? But in the winter time when it was 40 degrees below, they had this bucket with a cover in the house. Apparently, it stunk to high heavens. So Nap decided to build an outhouse using clay and straw after several years of this torment. First he had to mix it up, and then he had to slowly build the walls, waiting for the mud to dry before he added another layer. When all was ready, he made the roof from barn lumber, filling the hole he left in the barn with the same mud mixture.

SRW: Clearly the drought affected everyone worldwide back in the ‘30’s. It’s amazing this family persevered. I can’t imagine trying to hold down the fort while tons of dust is blowing inside your house. Wait… Let’s go back to that outhouse. That was based on reality, right?

SDM: Yes, it was. And if you really must know, it toppled down pretty quickly. And yes, apparently the dust storms were awful. They’d cough for days afterward not to mention the prairie had turned into a grey moonscape.

SRW: Okay, cool, just wanted to clarify. Anyway… I love the very odd way Lea decides to handle her kids’ out-of-control behavior near the end of the book. Extremely contemporary in feminist psychology, yet disturbing. I have to say it’s a very fascinating final dramatic scene. Defend yourself (without spoilers, natch).

SDM: Hate to say it, but that’s how people disciplined their kids back then. Lots of fire and brimstone, the strap, and threats. They weren’t alone. And you’ll be glad to know that Pol grew up to be a really kind, compassionate doctor. As for that last dramatic scene, well I exaggerated just a little.. well, okay, a lot.

SRW: Lea was a true trailblazer, a fiery sort who just wouldn’t take no for an answer, a heroine to be admired for…

Hold on, hold on. Wait. Let’s back-up a sec…

So…that outhouse was sanitary?

SDM: Umm, nothing’s sanitary on a farm.

SRW: And people actually used it? And didn’t die?

SDM: They thought they were living in the lap of luxury every time they used it. They were really disappointed when it fell.

SRW: What’d they use for toilet paper?

SDM: Pages of the Eaton’s catalogue. (Kind of like the Sears catalogue.)

SRW: Sorry, sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. I know Africa and China were particularly plagued with locusts throughout history. So was Canada, as in your book. Is this a fear factor for Canada’s future?

SDM: It’s certainly possible. Whenever there’s a heat wave in May/June.

SRW: Uh-huh, mm-hmm, that’s fascinating… 

Suzanne, did the outhouse toilet seat form-fit to anyone's bottom in particular since it was made of pliable material?

SDM: I think maybe that part was made of barn wood.

SRW: Splinters! Did the seat reshape after usage from different family members?

SDM: I hope not.

SRW: The picture you paint in your book isn't pretty. In the '30's, women didn’t appear to have many choices in life. Was it war-bride or starve?

SDM: Well, put it this way: People were stuck on the farm where they could at least grow a garden, so being married to a farmer was a good thing.

SRW: Did wealthier women in '30's Canada have indoor plumbing? Sorry, sorry! I keep getting derailed. Let’s get back to…

No! Forget it! I want to know about the outhouse! Was there ventilation?

SDM: Of course, silly. All outhouses have a little moon in the door.

SRW: That's what that moon's for! Have you ever used an outhouse?

SDM: Of course!

SRW: Maybe I'll get to use one some day. Keeping hope alive. Sigh… 

I liked your book lots, Suzanne. A fascinating, well-written tale recommended to history fiction buffs. Tell us where readers can find it.

SDM: Click here to purchase Fields of Gold Beneath Prairie Skies!

SRW: Now tell folks where they can find outhouses.

SDM: There are plenty of them up here in Canada.

SRW: I hear you’re giving one of your earlier novels for free?

SDM: Yup. Here it is.

Shadow of the Unicorn: The Legacy  FREE!

SRW: Thanks, Suzanne, for dropping by. Anyone else have any interesting outhouse anecdotes?

Friday, September 22, 2017

I'd Rather Have a Dumb TV...

Recently, we bought a new TV.

Not until we carted the sucker home, unboxed it, steadied it on top of an extraordinarily hard-to-put-together TV stand ("Aiiieeeeee, I broke my finger!") did we realize the model was  a "Smart TV."
How smart is it? Well, it's tons smarter than me. I can't even figure out how to turn the volume up. Sure, the instruction manual helpfully takes me through the steps of MacGuyvering a bomb made out of oatmeal and paper clips, but try finding any advice on how to turn the damn sound up!

The enclosed manual was no use. Tastefully done in nothing but simple, verbiage-free illustrations (probably to cut down on having to print four languages), I couldn't make heads or tails out of the drawings. Cavemen hieroglyphics. The picture of the two men on the floor next to each other, legs up bicycling, still has me mystified.

Occasionally, a robotic voice blurts, "For volume control, please see online manual." Course I can't figure out how to access the mysterious online manual. And if it's just pictures again, why bother? 

It makes no sense whatsoever. At random times, the annoying robot voice hollers out things like, "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

Think you have the answer? Fine. Go confer with my smarty-pants TV. Go on! I'll wait right here...

See what I mean? Stupid TV's smarter than me. 

The characters in my new book, Peculiar County, are smarter than me, too. They never waste time watching TV. 
One click away from shudders, laughs, thrills and tears.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Horror of the Beeping Basement

For months I've cowered in my house, afraid. Shaking and shivering like latter-day Elvis. Beneath me, in the basement, unspeakable horrors await. Horrors too awful to mention. (But I'm going to anyway.)

My basement beeps.
Several months ago, when it first started, I rolled my eyes, told my wife, "Stupid sump pump's acting up again." Wasn't the first time. Get this...when the sump pump runs a while, doing what sump pumps are supposed to do, it beeps a warning sound. Really dumb manufacturing flaw. So I head downstairs, cursing, then unplug the two cords (why two?) and take out the battery. Sure, the basement might flood, but at least it won't beep.

The sound stops! Huzzah! Problem solved, I head back upstairs. I sit, relieved. I know what I'm--


"Great Caesar's ghost!"

I jump out of my recliner. Rush downstairs like that father in A Christmas Carol. As I tumble down the steps, the noise stops. Mid-beep. Taunting me.

I say (because I'm in the haunted basement and it helps to hear my voice, any voice), "Huh, that's weird. Just a fluke, though. Pretty sure I resolved the issue. It won't beep again."

Upstairs I settle once again into my recliner. Relaxing. Basking in the peaceful meditative--


"Jumpin' Jehoshaphat!"

It's not the sump pump. Clueless, I get tough. I decide to ride out the storm, figuring the infernal sound will tire after a while. It does.

Until three in the morning.

"Sweet Christmas!"

The shrill, incessant beep wakes me. Every 45 seconds, Swedish clockwork. Pillows over my head don't help. Copious amounts of alcohol just intensify it, transform it into a nail-driving drill.

Sleep deprived, the next morning I head back into the dungeon. Determined. Angry. Half crazy.

Seven steps down, the beeping stops. As usual. Making it impossible to track the source.

"Why me? Why have you forsaken meeeeeee?" I cry to the cobwebs. I forget I'm too tall for the hobbit-made basement, stand straight in my drama.


"Ow! Dammit!"

I unplug everything that's plugged in. Wipe my bleeding head, sigh, pat myself on the back for a job well done. Upstairs, I snuggle back into my posterior-conformed recliner to write and...


"Holy mother of pearl!"

I'm back on the hunt. I check high, I drop low. It's a dirty, gross job, but the heinous beeping source will be found! I pull out the tubs of my daughter's childhood toys, denude all the Furbies and other automated varmints of their batteries. Anything that's suspect, anything of a battery-driven nature, I gather in a box to take upstairs where I can keep an eye on it.

For I will solve this exasperating mystery, I will!
Beeeeep! Beepity-beep-beeep!

"Cheese and crackers on Matlock's grave!"

Down again I go, down, down, down. Farther than before, down into the depths of hell itself. I tear everything apart, look in every box, poke every water-damaged cranny, knock things over, pick them up, and do it again. The narrator in Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart has nothing on me. Except I haven't killed anyone. Not yet. But the skeevy sales kid banging away on the doorbell comes close to being my first murder victim.


"Jimmy Hoffa's pantaloons!"

Internet trolls aren't any help.

"Hmm. Do you have any enemies?" someone asks.

"No," I write. "Well, there's my high school bully and that dumb neighbor who won't talk to me for whatever reason and my grade-school friend who I kinda dumped because he wasn't giving me the hallway cred I sought but I--"

"Someone's planted a bomb in your basement."


"Shoehorn of the devil!"

I race downstairs. The sound stops again. A demon with a vicious sense of humor. 

I cover every square inch of Hades. On my knees, I crawl. On chairs, I teeter. I'm covered in grime and cobwebs and great heaping dollops of defeat.

Until...until... Celestial trumpets poot!

There! Something I've never seen before! A weird device hidden by the light-bulb screwed into it! I undo it. Smoke detector. Figures. I take it upstairs. Set it next to my wife's mail like a trophy, a savage beast I finally bagged after a lengthy hunt.

Satisfied, exhausted, I retire.

Yet, I still hear beeps. Phantom beeps. Beeps in the night that wake me up, a faint ghost of a beep, a reminder of hauntings past. But it's not my imagination gone wild, it's...

Beeeeeeeeep, dammit, beeeeeeep!

"Bea Arthur's bunions!"

Drowsy, woozy-eyed, I concede defeat to my wife. "I give up. It's still beeping." A sudden teensy-tiny ray of hope strikes me, though. "Wait...what'd you do with the smoke detector?"

"Threw it away. In the kitchen trash."

Like a bag lady, I go scrounging. Past chicken bones and other unmentionable detritus. There it is. Beeping!

I take it to the garage, toss it in the bin.


Like a cockroach, the device can survive even nuclear Armageddon. I roll the bin out to the street. Let the neighborhood deal with it. Finally--finally!--silence.

But I know it's still out there... Waiting...lurking...laughing...beeping...

For more obsessive behavior over ghostly hoo-hah, click here to read!

Friday, September 8, 2017

Check into the Banff Springs Hotel with author Victoria Chatham!

I’m not usually one to read romance books, but good writing is good writing no matter the genre. In the BWL Publishing Inc. book, Brides of Banff Springs, author Victoria Chatham’s prose is marvelous. Vicki was nice (daring?) enough to go on the Tornado Alley grill.
SRW: Welcome, Vicki! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed on Twisted Tales from Tornado Alley. I promise (fingers crossed) I’ll be on my best behavior. First, tell everyone what Brides of Banff Springs is all about.

VC: Brides of Banff Springs is the first book in the Canadian Historical Brides Collection which was devised by my publisher, BWL Publishing Inc, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. There is one bride   for each province and two of the territories. The mandate was to write a historically correct book with a sweet romance because the story had to appeal to a wide range of ages from thirteen upwards. I grabbed Alberta because I know a bit more about it than anywhere else in Canada, and chose the town of Banff particularly because it is such a beautiful place. 

Set in 1935, the story is of Matilda (Tilly) McCormack, who needs a home and a job after her father dies. She leaves drought-defeated southern Alberta to take up a position as a chambermaid at the Banff Springs Hotel. On her way there she meets Ryan Blake, a local packer and trail guide. Working at the hotel is not at all what she expects, from the people she works with to the guests who arrive there, and the ghost she sees in the ballroom. When one of the guests, a bride-to-be, is missing, Ryan and Tilly set off to find her, an experience that brings them closer together and sets them on their path to a happy ever after ending.

SRW: You were born and raised in Bristol, England, jolly good and wot, ‘ey, guv? (Sorry. It won’t happen again. Feel free to fire back and make fun of Kansas hick speak.) How in the world did you come to write a historical tale of early Canada?

VC: I can pin a Bristolian accent at fifty paces but I’ve never met anyone from Kansas! I met and married a Canadian, and love Calgary and its surroundings. Because I enjoy Banff so much I had no problem setting my story there. Conducting on-site research didn’t hurt one bit! I pulled elements from stories of the guides and outfitters who helped geologists, mountain climbers, photographers, naturalists, tourists, and current day librarians and historians.

SRW: I really enjoyed the character of your protagonist, Tilly. Plucky doesn’t even begin to describe her. No matter where you resided in the ‘30’s, life was hard for women, particularly those who had no other choice than to enter the work force. Tilly takes control of her life—again, I imagine a very tough thing to do in the time period—and while somewhat constrained by the rules of the hotel, she won’t accept things she doesn’t like. Do you see Tilly as an early feminist or an individualist?

VC: Definitely an individual. It is my firm belief that whatever the era, there are always extraordinary men and women who rise above the mores and constraints of their time. I read and watched a lot of archive material on the Dirty Thirties which was enough for me to appreciate the real misery people experienced, but in so many instances the women didn’t just endure their circumstances but dealt with them in varied and imaginative ways.

SRW: Early on, Tilly’s dashing love interest, Ryan, boldly states he’s going to marry Tilly. While I like the guy’s moxie, Tilly later wonders why Ryan hasn’t considered what she wants. Good question. A question you never see brought up in movies from the ‘30’s and ‘40’s and even later sadly… Clearly, Tilly’s ahead of her time. Do you think there were more women like Tilly in the ‘30’s then Hollywood would have us believe? (Sorry, Vicki, Hollywood’s the only frame of reference I have for the time period!)

VC:  I think Hollywood portrayed what they thought or wanted women to be. But you only have to look at Hedy Lamarr to knock that theory on the head. She famously said, ‘Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid,’ which fit the Hollywood bill. But Hedy had smarts behind her glamour. It’s thanks to her work in wireless communications that we now have Wifi. Personally, I think many of the star names during the 30’s and 40’s were extraordinary women with lively intelligence and wit behind their captivating faces and were quite different to the characters they might have had to portray on screen. If they hadn’t had that, why is that even now names like Bette Davis, Lucille Ball and Katherine Hepburn immediately come to mind?

SRW: Okay, now I'm in awe of Hedy Lamarr. 

I liked how every chapter ends on a mini-cliffhanger, even if just a question or line of dialogue. I could practically hear the musical zing! You’ve got the chops to write a straight-up suspense thriller and there’re some thriller elements in the book. Ever consider writing a straight-up suspense?

VC: Thank you! I’m not sure which author workshop I learned that trick from. I think it may have been E.C. Sheedy. I am flattered you think I have the chops to write a straight-up suspense thriller and think the second book in my Buxton Chronicles trilogy might come close. I always enjoyed the Nick and Nora Charles stories by Dashiell Hammett and created my Lord Randolph and Lady Serena Buxton with them in mind.

In Cold Gold, the first book in the trilogy set in a Californian gold mining town in 1907, the Randolphs help a Pinkerton agent, Stuart Montgomery, solve a case. In the second book, On Borrowed Time set in 1913, they return to California to assist Montgomery again. There are murders in this book! The third book, Shell Shocked is set in 1918 shortly before the end of WW1 and ends the trilogy.

SRW: Of course you had me at the ghost, one of the titular Brides of Banff Springs. Usually, I write about ghosts who’re a bit more frightening. Yet, Tilly just accepts her haunting, actually seems to enjoy it a bit. Vicki, we’re looking at a double-whammy question here. First, is the “Ghost Bride” based on actual lore? Second, how would you react to your own haunting?

VC: Yes, your ghosts gave me the creeps! I discovered there are two tales of a Ghost Bride at the Banff Springs Hotel. One apparently started in the early 1920s, another citation states the early 1930s. As I could not verify either one of them, I set my story in 1935 to cover both eventualities. One story is that a bride descending a winding staircase at the hotel tripped on the hem of her gown and fell to her death. The other is much the same, but instead of tripping on the hem of her gown, she brushed against a candle flame and, startled she fell. Either story ends in a death but many people claim to have seen the Ghost Bride.

As for how I would react, I really don’t know. I think we all from time to time imagine what we might do or say in a given situation but none of us can know for sure. I did, however, wake up one morning to find my grandmother holding my hand. I was just relieved and very happy to see her looking so serene as she had died the previous year. After my husband passed away I felt his presence for a long time, and still do but not so frequently.

SRW: How much research did you put into the tale, Vicki? (Personally, I hate research and pretty much make my assistant, Mr. Google, handle it all.) I recognized a few historical names and places in the tale. How much of the book is based on fact?

VC: All of it! I have to say I love doing research. I always have. Mr. Google is a great place to start, as is YouTube. I also read – a lot. Would you believe I walked out of the Banff Public Library with two bags of books about the town and the area? Ryan and Tilly are my own characters, but both were inspired by real people. I met a young Park Ranger at Logan’s Pass at the summit of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, Montana. The depth of his knowledge of the area and his enthusiasm in sharing it really impressed me. He was a born story teller and it wasn’t long before he had quite a group gathered around him. Another Ranger, dressed in period costume at the Cave and Basin in Banff, also impressed me with his knowledge as did a well-informed trail guide from the Warner Stables. When I read about June Mickle, (June 29th, 1920-December 28th, 2010) who grew up in the foothills area west of Calgary, I knew she was the gutsy kind of character I wanted Tilly to be. 

SRW: There’s a riveting two chapter set-piece toward the conclusion of the book, a primer on how to stay alive in the snow-capped wild. I don’t camp (my idea of camping is a hot tub and no phone service), so I don’t know how much of Ryan’s can-do, campsite manner is real, but it certainly sounded like it. Based on fact? Your experience? If I ever get lost in the woods, can I call you?

VC: You can call me whether you get lost in the woods or not, but Kansas is a long way to go for coffee! I can honestly say that camping was never high on my list of favorite things to do, thanks to a miserable experience as a Girl Guide. Slashing rain, collapsed tents torn from their guy ropes and carried off by gale force winds over the Black Mountains in South Wales, and then being billeted in the nearest village at midnight is not exactly a memory of a good time.

Having said that, I have been camping several times with a friend here in Calgary who has many back-country skills of her own. At one point, she taught wilderness first aid and I went along on several exercises with her Search and Rescue group as a victim/patient. That was actually a blast because we had scenarios to enact and were made-up according to what accident we’d been involved in and is where I learned how to treat hypothermia. 

I also went back-packing with her to a remote wilderness camp called Top-of-the-World high in the Kootenay mountain range in British Columbia and that’s a trip I will never forget. We had a snowball fight on July 1st, which is Canada Day; we saw a pair of North Pacific loons in breeding plumage, and a pair of ospreys teaching their young how to catch fish in a lake teeming with them and, not surprisingly, named Fish Lake. I also watched a lot of YouTube clips on how to build campfires, especially with wet wood and made notes of everything. 

SRW: As I said earlier, I don’t read romances. Based on your book, maybe I’ll start. No, no, scratch that, I just got carried away for a moment! But I truly enjoyed your book. Tilly’s a wonderful heroine, one to root for. Without giving anything away, I had a stupid, Kansas grin pasted across my face during the final chapter. I’m betting romances are written differently than other genres. Did you have the ending planned all along? Do most romance writers?

VC: I don’t think romances are really written any differently to other genres. Some authors prefer to plot every scene and nuance and often know the ending better than the beginning. Others just start writing. I usually start with my characters firmly in my head and a rough idea of what I think will happen. That they often disagree and lead me down paths I never expected tends to be more organic but I like to make sure all my threads have a satisfying conclusion. I find it gratifying that, as a non-romance reader, you took the time to read Brides of Banff Springs. That you enjoyed it is a bonus.
SRW: Put on your travel agent hat and sell a tourist on the following hotels: A) The Banff Springs Hotel; B) The Bates Motel.

VC: If you enjoy mountain scenery, quaint towns and magnificent hotels, you could do no better than to book a vacation at the Banff Springs Hotel, nestled in the town of Banff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Opened in 1888 and one of the jewels in the Canadian-Pacific Railway’s crown, it has long had the reputation of being haunted. Now named the Fairmont Banff Springs, this luxury resort is open year-round but it doesn’t have to be winter for you to experience all the chills and thrills you could ever want. Hidden rooms, unexplained cold spots, ghostly encounters, this hotel has it all.

Now, the Bates Motel...

If you are touring through coastal Oregon, look out for the Bates Motel. You’re not likely to miss it. Set beside the highway, by day the family’s Gothic-themed mansion looms over the property. By night, the flickering neon sign advertising the accommodation lights the gloom. Its reputation for odd occurrences has affected more than one visitor. If you survive the experience, you are guaranteed to never forget it. Oh, and don’t shower alone.

SRW: Vicki, you're quite good at the travel agent business! Based on your descriptions, I just don't know which hotel I'd rather stay at!

There you have it folks! Let’s give Vicki a nice round of cyber applause. Thanks for being here and let readers know where they can find Brides of Banff Springs.

VC: Thank you for inviting me, Stuart. It’s been a pleasure answering your questions. For details of Brides of Banff Springs and of all my other books, the best place to go is my author page at Books We Love, Simply click on the cover and that will take you to all the markets where the books are available. Or, visit my website at

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Ghosts of the Midwest

Kansas has its fair share of hauntings, one of the most "haunted places in the United States."
 There's Fort Leavenworth, home of the haunted military fort where a priest's ghost ("Father Fred," not the spookiest of names) roams the land. The Hollenberg Pony Express Station in Hanover, Kansas, purportedly hosts long-dead pony express riders, hootin' and a'hollerin' from the spiritual plane. My favorite's gotta be the Stull Cemetery in Douglas County, home of nothing less than the gateway to Hell!

So, Kansas is not only known for fields of wheat, sunflowers, meth labs, rednecks, guns, and stupid Toto, but lots of ghosts abound here, too.


'Cause Kansas is spooky, that's why. You try living here all your life and tell me differently. Ever since I was a kid and peeked through the windows of a supposedly haunted house in Kansas City ("Ygor's House," where it was said you could see Ygor swinging from a rope on certain nights), I've been fascinated. (Of course, at the same time, I can't wait to move out of this God forsaken state). Of course I had to write about it.

Peculiar County, my first YA book for BWL Publishing Inc., is the result. It's a ghost tale, sure, but it also encompasses nostalgia (in my opinion, all effective ghost stories should be somewhat nostalgic), suspense, romance, humor, paranormal, murder mystery, and a coming of age tale. It's also my attempt at evoking the early sixties in a Midwest small town; a turbulent time not only for my fifteen year old heroine, but the entire world.

I'm gonna get a bit writerly here, so hang on...

The year the book's set, 1965, is a metaphor for my young heroine, Dibby Caldwell. The first major shock of the sixties had happened two years earlier: the assassination of US president John F. Kennedy. The tragedy portended the end of the easy-going fifties, a time of silly, blinders-on innocence. The world wasn't adequately prepared for the radical changes of post 1963: hippies, the Vietnam War, rampant drug use, free love. Bell bottoms, for God's sake! Culture shock at seismic levels.

Talk about a nation haunted...

Dibby's experiencing similar changes on a more personal front. Fifteen years old, hormones are rattling her to her core. Not just changes to her body, but of her self-perception, an awakening of sexuality and adulthood. The arrival of "cool" bad boy, James--representative of the new, scary times to come--really triggers matters.
And, of course, there's that pesky ghost in the cornfield next door, haunting Dibby into finding out who murdered him.

Welcome to haunted Kansas! And thanks for stopping by Peculiar County. Perfect reading for the upcoming fall season.

Peculiar County...CLICK HERE for spooky Midwest shenanigans!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Swimming in Sewage

Nothing brings a family together more than a time of crisis.

Well. Maybe not my family.
Couple Fridays ago, I got a call from my mom.

"Something terrible's happened. My apartment's flooded."

Naturally, I thought it was case of Negative Nelliness, a curious illness my mom's prone to. Sure, Kansas City'd been struck by horrific storms the previous night, Noah's Ark worthy floods. (The weather forecast had called for "a slight chance of rain."). But my mom's a "Drama Mama."

Except this time she hadn't exaggerated. If anything, the situation was far worse. Everything was soaking wet, half her stuff destroyed. Cars were playing bumper pool in the parking lot. The entire lower level of the apartment complex had been devastated. Not just by the rains, either; sewage had backed up.

I know, right?

We had to move fast. My brother, his wife and I packed all her crap up and moved her into a new apartment in three days.

The moving task seemed endless. How many boxes of back-breaking China does someone need anyway? Mom continued to offer China out like it was candy. I declined (as did everyone else). She lamented that today's youth just don't care for China. I kinda think that goes for everyone under the age of 80.

Anyway, the last day of moving got off to a bad start. A team of smarmy insurance people dropped by, said they wouldn't pay for any of Mom's personal loss. Just the apartment's structural damage. I raged, ranted, chased them down the sidewalk. Hulk smash!

Which just primed me for the main event to come later with my family. Tempers boiled, voices rose into screams, and curses were flung. Making sure Mom's new neighbors got a good first impression. We were three folding chairs shy of a full-fledged Springer show. Wallowing in sewage for three days has a way of doing that to people, I guess. Family togetherness.

Mom's now farther away from me than she was before. Waaay out South. She just called, said she can't operate the TV.

Gotta run. Another emergency crisis.