Sunday, November 18, 2018

Do you cook like you write?

By Lisa Black
This month’s theme is about food--the problem is, I’m a terrible cook. I’m not just being modest. My mother taught my sister and I how to clean house like a demon, do laundry, shop, weed the garden and all other household skills but somehow neglected to teach us how to cook. My sister once baked a steak. I tried to substitute an egg with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and milk. It sort of looked like an egg.

When I first married I made a real effort--I wrote out a weekly menu and went to the store with a corresponding list, a crutch that got me through the first couple of years. But I had married a man who, if it didn’t come from either a restaurant or his sainted grandmother, tended to wrinkle his nose. Said grandmother indulged his every epicurean whim so he considered the kitchen as a place where one should be able to walk in and order whatever happened to be on one’s mind (he still has not grasped the complications presented by thawing). New dishes were neither encouraged nor appreciated, and anything categorized as a ‘casserole’, banned without recourse.

I hadn’t been exactly captivated by the idea of cooking to begin with and this attitude did not help. There are a few things I can make to my husband’s satisfaction…like chicken and dumplings even though my dumplings come out something like soft concrete blocks, but, remarkably, he likes them that way.

I should add that there are few things I can make to my own satisfaction either…perhaps because I tend to mix together everything I’m supposed to eat, things like lean protein with kale and other leafy greens, as a sort of one-dish diet plan. It may not taste great but at least it isn’t fattening.

Yes, my palate is not sophisticated, but to be fair it never had much of a chance to be. I inherited these uninspired tastebuds from my father; he liked meat and potatoes with perhaps a little salt, and that was it.

I did once pull off a whole beef loin in a salt crust after seeing Alton Brown demonstrate it at a food show in Cleveland. Yes, I was at a food show, because my mother, perhaps stifled by the lack of range required by my father, discovered the Food Network in her later years and became a devoted fan. So when I visited her or vice versa, I would get caught up on Brown, Duff Goldman, Giada De Laurentiis, and Michael Symon. [I didn’t mind--I would rather watch three hours of cooking shows than a single sitcom, which to me may as well be nails on a chalkboard. Every sitcom is, at heart, a half hour of people yelling at each other over something monumentally insignificant. There have only been three I can tolerate: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Seinfeld, and The Big Bang Theory. But I digress.] I particularly liked Chopped (mostly just to see Ted Allen).  On Chopped, contestants are given a basket of random ingredients--say, eel, lotus root, and marshmallows, and the challenge is to construct a dish out of that.

This show made me think that what must make a good cook is being able to imagine how these ingredients will taste when combined, how they can be put together in an entrée that will be pleasing to both eye and palate.

Yeah. I can’t do that.

Home décor, yes. I can look at a house, no matter what a wreck it may be, and imagine what the space might look like once cleared out with new flooring and fresh paint, whether the structure can work for me or not. I imagine a painter can look at a canvas and visualize the art he’s going to create. Writers can think of a plot or a character or a place and feel how that story is going to proceed, what the landscape looks like, what the mood of that world will be, how the characters will react to each other, speak to each other, look at each other, how the tone of one’s voice changes when another walks into the room. Writers can do that. I can do that.

With a book.

I can’t do it with an entrée.

What about you? When you look at the ingredients in your refrigerator or the paints in your palette or the blank screen on your word processing program, can you taste what the future holds?



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

National Novel Writing Month: a few tips


by Jamie Freveletti

It's the season of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. For those unaware of this annual event, it's a collective endeavor in which thousands of people who have been wanting to write a novel sit down and attempt to write one in one month flat. You can check out the details here.

The basics:  you need to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's a LOT of words. As an author I usually write 1000 words five days a week. More if I'm under deadline and less if I'm in the middle of other events in my life. In order to write 50K in 30 days you're looking at 1,666 words each day. This year the NaNoWriMo organization expects 600,000 people to participate from 646 different regions.

I love the contest, mostly because it gives me motivation to get going on whatever it is I'm writing, but also because I love the idea of thousands of people working to write every day. A shared camaraderie with the rest of those who love to write as much as I do. In honor of the contest, I'd like to share a couple of tips:

1. Create a writing routine and try to stick with it.

If you need to write before work, arrange to rise earlier and start. If after work, make a resolution that you won't go anywhere/turn on the tv/ clean your house (this last is my favorite way to procrastinate) or do anything else until your words are written.

2. Try to do this everyday. 

It's easier to break this down into pieces, before you slide into that "uh oh, I bailed yesterday so today I need to write 3332 words". That slippery slope is all too daunting. Soon you'll fall farther and farther behind.

3. Don't censor yourself.

Just write. Don't let that "this is awful/why am I doing this/what the heck am I trying to say here?" hold you back. At this stage you don't care. You can always revise but you can't revise until you get the bones down. So turn off the inner critic and move forward.

4. Save everything.

If you write a section that you absolutely must delete from your work in progress, save the deletion in a separate "excerpts" file. Most writers have some form of this. Words are precious and you never know when something you deleted may show up, albeit revised, in a later chapter or even a later story.

5. Keep research to a minimum but feel free to use it to come "unstuck."

I research a lot of my novels, but when I'm at the active writing stage I only allow myself a half an hour or so, Otherwise I will end up using research to procrastinate. But, if you get stuck there is nothing better than spending a little time researching. It's weird, but when I do this I find that I get inspired once again and can dive back in.

6. Enjoy it! 

There's something about writing that seems to be good for the soul. And what could be better than that?

Good Luck and may the words flow! 




Sunday, November 11, 2018

Possibly the best place to write a book!

….by Karna Small Bodman

What is it about a certain town or area that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Of course there are writers living in all parts of this wonderful country, but there happens to be one small part of my state of Florida that is the home of so many creative souls, I wanted to tell you about it.  The place is Collier County which encompasses Naples, Cape Coral, Sanibel, Captiva and other smaller islands -- all populated with bestselling as well as aspiring writers of all stripes. Well known for having a very friendly atmosphere, great restaurants, first-class philharmonic cultural center, attractive shops, nature trails, sailing, and fishing -- it's probably best known for our gorgeous beaches.





Yes, there are all sorts of beaches along coasts, but Naples offers miles and miles of the most lovely and soft WHITE sand beckoning gentle waves from the Gulf. Imagine relaxing here, taking a stroll and then jotting down your thoughts as the warm breeze ruffles your hair.

Okay, now that I've enticed you with the setting, you might say, "it's too relaxing -- too distracting -- I need to concentrate in order to sit down and craft a good story." Not so fast.  It turns out that a very long list of authors have found Southwest Florida to be THE perfect place to put together a bestselling
Author Robert Ludlum
novel including the famous Robert Ludlum who lived and worked here for many years until he died some years ago...but his character, Jason Bourne "lives on" through the pens of two of my Rogue colleagues, Gayle Lynds and Jamie Freveletti. Can you believe that there are now 225 million Ludlum books in print!



Speaking of Rogues, one who lives here on Cape Coral is Lisa Black, who has turned her professional experience as a crime scene investigator into a number of bestselling thrillers. Her latest endeavor is titled Suffer the Children. This book has been described as "riveting...one with intriguing details...a story with a sharp psychological edge."  She certainly knows her subject, having testified at over 50 trials along the way.

Other well known authors who live in Naples include the ever-popular Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum stories have kept her readers laughing for decades.  Now Janet, who lives here year-round  just down the block from us has a brand new novel coming out on Tuesday (!) where she weaves in some of her own experiences working as a waitress in a Howard Johnson's during college days. It is Twenty-five Alive....Janet has had such success - that one of her books was also made into a Hollywood feature film.

As for film adaptations, author Robin Cook, also of Naples had one of his first novels made into a movie several years ago -- and has kept writing medical thrillers ever since.  His new one, Pandemic, is available for pre-order as it will be out in December - timed for Christmas sales. 

One more book-turned-into-film is by local author Suzi Weinert.  I was on a panel here in Naples not long ago with Suzi, a delightful woman who explained how she loves to go to garage sales. So she came up with the idea of creating a mystery involving special things you can find at such sales.  The Hallmark channel was so intrigued that their producer bought the rights and now we can all watch "Garage Sales Mysteries" on the Hallmark Movie & Mystery Channel.

Over on Sanibel Island we have Randy Wayne White, a former fishing guide turned bestselling author. His novels feature Doc Ford, a marine biologist who gets into all sorts of wild situations and challenges.  The newest adventure is described in Caribbean Rim, a story of murder, sunken treasure and pirates -- both ancient and modern.

On a lighter note, we have resident Lynnette Austin whose romance novels have garnered her many awards along with bestselling status.  Her new novel is titled Must Love Babies --who could resist that subject? It turns out that I will be joining Lynnette and some FORTY Naples area authors who will be signing our books this weekend at the Collier County Regional Library Book Fair.  And for a relatively small town like Naples, Florida -- you have to admit we have a ton of talent around here.  So again, I pose the question, what is it about an area  that spawns dozens upon dozens of authors?  Perhaps it really IS the way we live, think and dream as we all watch the sun go down every single evening in this very lovely place.
Naples Pier at sunset
 If you are a writer, do you have a special place that inspires you? Or have you heard of other places where many writers have found their own inspiration? Leave a comment here, or on our Facebook page (icon is at the top left). Thanks for visiting us today.

. . . Submitted by Karna Small Bodman 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

UNITED BY THE LOVE OF BOOKS

by K.J. Howe

With all the heartbreaking strife in the world these days, I'd like to light a candle of hope. Perhaps we can build more kindness and acceptance by uniting over a shared passion--BOOKS--as they can truly bring the world together, at least that is what I'm experiencing this week at the Sharjah Book Festival.

Saudi Arabian booth--fond memories for me as I spent a lot of time there
Irish chef Kevin Dundon
From October 31 to November 10, Sharjah--which is about half an hour away from Dubai in the UAE--has over 2.3 million visitors to the Expo center, everyone gathering to celebrate the written word. I've met poets, chefs, evolutionary biologists, professors, tech gurus, real estate experts, translators. and a host of other fascinating people who have come together to discuss literature in all forms and languages.

Just walking down the bustling halls of the Expo center, you feel immersed in a world of acceptance, positivity, and enthusiasm. People are busting around the seven halls to learn about the different venues, drink tea, and chat about their shared passion. I'd love to share a few highlights to demonstrate that we need to keep events like the book fair in the forefront of our minds as a way of understanding different cultures and finding shared joy.  You could find almost anything inside the expo center, including booths selling antiquated books hosted by Austrians, novels in a host of different languages, and even had a Baskin Robbins stand.

Speaking of food, I met Lee Holmes from Australia and Kevin Dundon from Ireland, both famed chefs with impressive backgrounds and kind hearts. Watching Kevin share his Irish cooking secrets with attendees from many nations was inspiring. Who can't agree on the brilliance of lemon zest on seafood served inside puff pastry?
Mystery and Suspense Panel
At my panel on mystery and suspense, I was on stage with Dr. Ahmed, a renowned professor from Saudi Arabia and Lamya, our brilliant Egyptian moderator from Dubai. We discussed the key components of crime fiction in both Arabic and English while a translator spoke into the headsets of any audience members who didn't speak both languages. There was such interest in novels from all cultures, and it brought the crowd together even though we all came from different parts of the world.

Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria, Channels TV
I met the charismatic Kunle Kasumu from Nigeria who was one of the most dynamic interviewers I've ever met. We shared our common interest in African culture and books...and guess who his favourite author is--Lee Child. See, we all love the vigilante retribution that Reacher delivers to the bad guys.

Another highlight was visiting an American school here in Sharjah and speaking to 100 young girls about writing and career choices. Some were from Syria, others from parts of Africa, others from the Middle East and beyond. The hugs I received at the end of the session will stay with me long after I leave the UAE.

After the talk at the school, chatting with the girls
What fun meeting the drivers who took us on a wild adventure in the dunes. I broke bread with an economist from the U.K. and his wife who was from China along with two publishers from Spain, and a special couple from Australia.

The culture of the UAE and the government of Sharjah are both very supportive of literacy and literary traditions.  The ruler of Sharjah has started a program called Knowledge Without Borders with the goal of putting a library in every home in the Emirate. They deliver and install a special bookshelf to each home along with fifty free books for each family.  So far, they have delivered about thirty thousand "libraries" and one million free books.  In addition, they fund a large share of the festival, including programs encouraging young people in developing countries to read and seek higher education.  I had the privilege of meeting three young Nigerian students whose book reports had scored them a trip to the festival. You can see a very bright future in their eyes.

The authors are all staying in the same hotel and the cross-pollination of creativity and positivity is unbelievable. At breakfast, you might be discussing chimpanzees with a top evolutionary biologist. Lunch brings about the power and traditions of poetry from African and Lebanese poets.  Down by the pool, a discussion is ongoing about the power of social media and what it means to grow up in the internet age. And dinner features top chefs sharing cooking secrets.

Yes, there is heartache and pain every day as a result of hate and intolerance, but I remain hopeful that positive people can unite against evil, resist it, and focus on what amazing things we can do if we work together.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Something wicked

S. Lee Manning: Something wicked has crawled out of a box where it has been locked up. Something evil has dressed itself up in Sunday best and is strolling down Main Street, smiling and nodding, as if everything were normal. Something ugly is sunning itself on top of the rocks, when it used to hide under them.

We Rogues write thrillers. Our heroes fight evil head-on. They fight serial killers and mass murderers, villains who kidnap, villains who torture, villains who use drones to attack innocent people, villains who use poison or bombs. Our heroes sometimes fight against long odds. They are women and men, using their intelligence and their skills to win the day. My protagonist Kolya faces down those who intend to do harm to others. He’s a lot tougher than I am (maybe because he’s imaginary), and despite the odds, he wins the day, fighting with guns and fists. 

But this isn’t fiction. It is real. Something truly wicked has crawled out of the box. 

And it feels personal. People who don’t know me want to kill me, my children, my aunts and uncles, my cousins. People who know nothing about us – except one thing. 

We are Jewish.

My father’s mother had to hide under a table in Russia when Cossacks fired guns into her home because she was Jewish. She fled for the United States soon after, as did all of my grandparents – fleeing anti-Jewish violence that had been sanctioned by the Russian government. In America, they found a home, and they knew they were safe. 

Some of the family stayed behind – thinking they could make it through the bad times, and they didn’t want to lose their homes. Those cousins and great aunts and uncles wrote letters to my grandparents and my aunts and uncles until sometime between 1941 and 1943 when men in black uniforms with swastikas rolled into the region and rounded them up. My relatives were stripped naked, marched to the edge of a pit called Babi Yar, and machine-gunned. 

I grew up knowing about the Holocaust. I knew that people wanted to kill Jews for no other reason than that they had been born Jewish. I knew they would have killed me and my parents. But that was in Europe. It was far away and long ago. 

There have always been Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists in the United States. For the most part, over the last 30 years, they stayed hidden in cellars, writing little manifestos to a handful of people. I knew they were there, but I never considered them a real threat. Yes, there was prejudice and bigotry, but it was not openly proclaimed or celebrated. This ideology was done - except for a few nutcases.

I live in America – and I love this country.  My wonderful husband is not Jewish. Raising our children, we celebrated Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover. It might seem confusing, but it worked. 

But something ugly is sunning itself on the rocks.

Last Saturday, a Nazi shot and murdered eleven people for the crime of being Jewish – elderly people, a doctor who treated AIDS patients when no once else would, two disabled brothers who always greeted people with a smile.      


After he was wounded and captured, this gunman said, “I just want to kill Jews.”

The ideology behind Nazism and white supremacy, that one group is superior and others subhumans to be dominated or eradicated, an ideology of hate is no longer the province of a few nutcases holed up in cellars. And let me be clear - while the man who murdered innocent people in a synagogue may have indeed been unbalanced, the people who perpetrated the Holocaust were coldly and ruthlessly sane believers - and they coldly and methodically plotted the extermination of every Jewish man, woman, and child in Europe - failing only because they lost the war. People again believe in that ideology, and they are no longer hiding.

In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent over the previous year, and that previous year had been a record high. In 2017, men carried swastikas and chanted “Jews Shall Not Replace Us.” Jews are less than two percent of the population of America, but they are the targets of half of all hate crimes in New York.

The generation that experienced the Holocaust is disappearing: the Americans who liberated the camps and the survivors, who have told their stories. My uncle Leon, who died five years ago, lost his mother and his sister to the gas chambers of Auschwitz – and spent his teenage years taking bodies from the gas chambers to the crematorium. The family knows his story – as does the family of every Holocaust survivor – although the children will have to carry the stories forward. But now there are people who deny the Holocaust even occurred.

For Halloween, a man dressed up as an SS officer and dressed his child as Hitler – and then insisted he is merely a history buff – while his wife posted on Facebook: “There is no objective proof of the six million Jews he supposedly murdered.”

In Vermont, where I live, Jewish middle school children have found swastikas carved on desks. Swastikas have been painted on the side of barns up here. On the University of Vermont campus, white nationalist posters are appearing. On Wednesday, a California synagogue was defaced with the words, “Fuck Jews.” On Thursday, someone broke into a reform temple in Brooklyn and painted “Kill the Jews” inside, causing the temple to cancel an election event – out of fear for their safety.

We thriller writers know – because we write about ugly things and evil people – that evil has to be fought. Our heroes know it, and they fight, even at great personal cost, even at the risk of their own lives, against bad odds. They are sometimes injured, physically and emotionally, but they know when something wicked is strolling down Main Street, and they go for it.

Something evil is strutting its stuff, and we have to fight.

But the fight looks a little different than the fights in our books – because there is no ultimate show-down with the bad guy. There is no one person to kill – and order will be restored. There is an idea – that we thought had been shoved into a box and under the rocks - that has wormed its way out. It is the idea behind Nazism and white supremacy: the idea that one group is superior and that others are inferiors to be exterminated or enslaved. Jews are not the only targets of this ideology, other groups, other peoples are victims and targets - the LGBTQ community, people of color. I am writing about Jews, however, because I am Jewish, and eleven Jews just died for being Jewish at the hands of a man spouting Nazi hate. We have to fight this evil– and we have to fight with the most powerful of weapons.

Love – and kindness.  




I am heartened by the outpouring of love. My tiny synagogue in Stowe, Vermont was packed last weekend at an interfaith service. Christians, Jews, atheists, all coming together to express solidarity against hate.  A Muslim organization has raised almost $200,000 for the victims and their families.

It’s not a fight that will end soon – or maybe ever. We will never totally destroy hate or the ideology that nurtures it. But like the heroes in our books, when we see evil, we have to fight it – even if it’s a quiet, long, and sometimes frustrating fight. Together, with love and with kindness, we can push this evil back to where it belongs. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

PIE ... You, Too, Can Undo the Curse of the Jack-o'-Lantern!


By Gayle Lynds

Okay, folks, ‘fess up.  You’ve got a pumpkin with an expiration date that’s today – Halloween!  In case you haven’t noticed, tomorrow is post Halloween.  Your front porch or windowsill likely will still boast the evidence, but you’re going to have to do something soon about the Big Round Orange Guy, whether he’s intact or been carved into a glorious jack-o’-lantern.

Of course, you could dump Jack in the trash.  But jack-o’-lanterns make garbage cans awful heavy.  When I first moved to Maine, I learned that lesson the hard way.  Oh, my aching back.

On the other hand, John (my husband, not “Jack”) and I are fortunate to live in a forest inhabited by deer, foxes, turkeys, bears, coyotes, and squirrels.  The first October here, I figured surely someone in the Animal Kingdom other than homo sapiens would want our carefully sculptured orange jewel.  Yum.  Tasty treat.

Cradling Jack, I hiked off through the trees to the edge of a clearing, far enough away from the house to discourage the idea that there’d be more goodies from us.  I set Jack on a pile of oak leaves where he looked mighty handsome, even jaunty.  Definitely a culinary temptation.  With an affectionate “good-bye” and a “best-of-luck,” I walked away.

Jack stayed on my mind.  After a couple of days, I hiked back in, expecting to find he’d been so popular that nothing remained.  But no, there he was, still on his bed of leaves.  Sadly, his grin was deflating.  He was rotting.

I left and tried to forget Jack.  The last of the autumn leaves fell.  The temperatures plunged.  A light snow dusted the trees and grasses.  Our wildlife needed food, I told myself.  They must be hungry.  And so I returned, but Jack was still there.  He was as flat and brown as a pumpkin pancake.  I didn’t see a single nibble mark. 

I got the message:  No one wanted him. 

And then it struck me ... I hadn’t wanted him either.  How is it that something so enticing one day can become unwanted the next?  I considered the meaning of loyalty.  I poked Jack with the toe of my boot.  Hard as granite.  He’d frozen from neglect and rejection.  Just like some people I know. 

Maybe I was feeling my own sense of past isolation.  What about the high school boyfriend who went away to college and never wrote me?  Or my first husband who thought he’d married a housewife but got stuck with a writer instead — now there’s a horror story.  And then there were the rejections of editors when I'd first started out.  I could've papered a bathroom with them.  Worse, what about the times editors tried to rewrite me?  Talk about rejection!

Self-pity rose in my throat.  I kicked Jack – after all, he was just an orange rock now – and stomped away. 

A year passed....  

The next October, we bought a magnificent pumpkin and carved it.  After Halloween, I used my mother’s recipes to cut it up and make a remarkably delicious pumpkin pie.  Mom never rejected me.

So for you, dear Rogue Reader, here are Mom's recipes, which relieved my guilt and set me free, with a full and happy Pumpkin Tummy....

Mom's Easy-Peasy Pie Crusts

Makes 2 crusts:
2 ½ cups sifted flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup shortening
1/4 to ½ cold water

One of the secrets of great pie crusts is to understand the chemistry of your shortening – keeping everything cold (brrr) until you slide the crust into the oven encourages it to bake into a flaky, mouth-watering pastry. 

So put your mixing bowl, utensils, and ingredients in the refrigerator (or ice box, as my family used to say) until they’re truly chilled.  Then cut your shortening into the flour and salt until the mix is crumbly, about the size of peas.  Add in – as little as possible – cold water.  Pat the mixture into a ball and put it back in the refrigerator until all is chilled again.

Sprinkle cold flour on your table top and roll your pie crust thin as you can.  Drape the crust into a pie tin.  Make the edges pretty.  Now you can refrigerate until you’re ready to bake your pie.

Here's what to do with your Jack-o’-Lantern

Gird yourself ... you've got to gut Jack.  He won’t mind – he’s going to turn into a beautiful, aromatic pumpkin pie your family and friends will discover is far tastier than the stuff you get out of can.  For great instructions on how to take possession of Jack's innards, click on this link: Pick Your Own.

Pumpkin Pie Heaven

Or, if you’re like me these days, you’re going to fling aside any potential guilt and buy a can of pumpkin to use as your base.  It’ll be delicious, too! 

2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup milk or evaporated milk
3 lightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup brandy
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
½ tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves

Bake your pie crust for 10 to15 minutes at 400 degrees to minimize it from getting soggy.  While it's baking, gently stir all of the pumpkin ingredients together.  After you remove the crust from the oven, pour the pumpkin mix into the crust.

Bake the pie 10 minutes at 450 degrees.  Reduce heat to 300 degrees and bake 45 to 50 minutes until the crust is brown and the pumpkin mix is starting to set.  Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  Welcome to Pumpkin Pie Heaven!

What are your favorite holiday pies?  Is pumpkin among them? 

Sunday, October 28, 2018

I WOULD LOVE TO FIND PENNIES

by Chris Goff


Touched is the word that comes to mind. Which of course can be taken two ways. This Halloween, as the Rogues reveal their scary encounters (or attempted encounters) with those from beyond, the word so aptly describes my experiences.

It's well known in my family that I'm the crazy one. For years I've seen spirits. Shadows that swirl around and seem to multiply just before someone I love passes. And, more than once, I've seen actual people.

The first ghost I ever saw was a rattlesnake ghost. I was six. My father was sitting beside my bed reading to me from Pinocchio when I the snake stuck its head up at the side of the bunk near my feet. I shrank back toward the head of the bed and told Dad to be careful. He turned off the light and told me to go to sleep. Right!

The second spirit was one I conjured. I grew up in an triad A-frame house that my father built. It had two lofts—one that was my play loft and one with two bunks where I hosted sleepovers with my friends. You could only get up into them by ladder. An only child, I thought it would be fun to have a playmate, so I made up the ghost of "the girl in the loft." The weird thing was, when I no longer wanted her there, she refused to leave. Eventually I left for college and my folks sold the house.

The first full blown spirit I saw was a young man standing near the stereo in my home in Frisco, CO. He was short, with dark hair and dressed in shamrock green. It was March. A leprechaun? No one else could see him, and he disappeared when the phone rang. The caller was my mother telling me a close childhood friend of mine had died from a drug overdose. I was nine months pregnant. They chalked my vision up to hormones.

We've all heard that it's not uncommon for dying people to "see" family members who have already passed, but I admit to being surprised when I received a frantic phone call from my grandmother's nursing home. They wanted me to come right away. My grandmother was "talking in tongues."

Not exactly. It turned out she was speaking Swedish As I walked in the room, she brightened, more animated than I'd seen her in months. "Christy," she said. "I'm so glad you're here. You've never met your great-grandmother, have you?" For the next hour, Gram proceeded to switch between English and Swedish, introducing me to her mother, Emma Christina, and translating our conversation. Clearly she believed my great-grandmother was in the room.

What frightened me was, I was seeing spirits at home. It wasn't the first time I'd seen "shadow people." I first saw them when my mother was dying from cancer. Swirling figures who would gather in my house, and follow me room to room. I saw them when my father-in-law died, when my mother-in-law fell ill, when I lost my dear friend Janet. The take awayI see ghosts when someone close to me is about to pass. 

A week after being introduced to my great-grandmother, I became aware of the gathering spirits and bolted up the stairs toward my bedroom. For the first time, I could actually pull faces out of the crowd. Taking the stairs two at a time, I bumped into someone halfway up. We hit shoulders hard, and I shouted, "Get away." My husband called down from the bedroom, "They're only trying to comfort you."

With Wes snoring, I convinced myself it was all in my head and crawled under the covers without waking him up. Then a couple of hours later, I sat straight up in bed. My heart pounded. My breath shallow. Wes—who still appeared to be sleeping—said, "Lie back down. They won't call for an hour." I lay there awake until the phone rang at 1:30 a.m. My grandmother had died at 12:30.

I hate seeing spirits. They scare me. Though, sometimes I'll see them now and nothing bad happens. Once in our Denver house, I saw a young girl standing near the fireplace. We lived in an historical residence, but I have no idea why she was there. She looked to be about seven, dark-haired, wearing a pink wool coat and hat with black velvet piping and black patent leather shoes. She just stood and stared, her eyes wide, as though she was just as surprised to see me. I was sick, recovering from surgery. Everyone around me blamed it on drugs.

Still, I must admit, I am that person. The one who can't handle scary movies; who sleeps with the bathroom light on if I'm home alone. After seeing "The Haunting," a 1963 film based on "The Haunting of Hill House" by Shirley Jackson, I can no longer sleep with an arm or leg draped over the side of the bed. I still sometimes feel ghost animals walking across the duvet. And, just the other night, when my husband was out-of-town, I felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed. It was 2:35 a.m. The light was on. I was terrified.

Were I braver, maybe I'd try and engage with those that gather. I've never sensed malevolence. They're likely family and friends, and I would love the chance to talk with my mother again.  

In a comment to Robin Burcell's blog, "There's a Ghost in my Bedroom" (Oct 2018), Gayle Lynds wrote about how her daughter kept finding pennies in unexpected places after her grandmother died. I LOVE the idea of finding pennies. The closest I've come is an earring. I was in my new office, sitting in a new chair, when I heard something drop to the wood floor. Looking down I found a small, gold hoop earring. It was one of a pair that my grandmother had brought home from Sweden and given me when I was sixteen years old. They were my favorite, and I had lost it six month earlier. Fortunately, I'd never thrown away the mate. I still wear those earrings, everyday.

I am convinced, if we're honest with ourselves, that everyone has experienced something that cannot be explained, something that defies reason. A roommate I had after college told me about her mother, who had lost a little sister in a fiery car crash years ago, when they were still in high school. Fast forward ten years and Shelley was born, and her mother heard her sister's voice telling her to "come into the other room. I'm there." Her mother did as asked, but only Shelley was there, lying in her cradle. Her mother never said a word, not until Shelley was a young adult and seeing a therapist to help her with her pyrophobia.

Rogue Readers, I'd love to hear some of your stories of the unexplained. Care to share? I promise, I won't call you crazy.