Good Samhain!

Happy Halloween everyone!  This is my favorite holiday and probably had something to do with yesterday being my wedding anniversary.  It’s my favorite time of the year for a lot of reasons.  Samhain, as it is known on the Wiccan calendar is the most sacred time of the year.  The final harvest is gathered and thoughts turn to telling fortunes for the coming year.  On this night, the veil between the worlds is believed to be at its thinnest, making it easier for spirit to pass back into the realm of the living and to share with us news of their welfare and our own.

I might have mentioned growing up in a haunted house.  The house was built two years before the civil war broke out, and so it was not occupied until the war ended and men came home from the battlefields.  The house was built along with five others on a beautiful hill, each surrounded by a stone wall.  Half of the basement is above ground making the additional four stories a very tall home.  This house was built by a man who had daughters and he intended to give the homes to his daughters as they married, in order to keep them close.

The house I grew up in was occupied by a family I knew, the grandparents of my sisters dear friend.  The owner, one of the daughters, told me her sisters had died either in childbirth or from influenza after the “Great War”, and she was the sole living heir.  When my parents bought the house, in about 1954 it was in terrific shape but had not been occupied for more than twenty years.  My sisters friend said the house was creepy, and she “heard people” inside the house when she knew she and her great-grandmother were alone in the place.

So my parents got a great deal and the house was magnificent.  Two living rooms, one of them a formal parlor with fifteen foot high oak pocket doors that allowed the two living rooms to accommodate more guests. An entry way with carved mahogany panels and stained glass windows.  Both front and rear staircases, with a formal dining room, a kitchen and a service kitchen.  The property also boasted a carriage house, which we initially used as a garage, with some storage in the hayloft.  A great place to grow up if you’re a kid with a vivid imagination and a full attic, filled with trunks and . . . junk, there is no other way to say it.  Paradise.  Because of the amount of room, at any given time either or both sets of grandparents lived with us.  Also fun for kids growing up.  In the summer my grandparents would sit on the porch, sipping tea and entertaining the neighbors.

One Halloween, by best friend and I had gone “Trick or Treating”  all through the neighbor hood, and the next day, the Feast of All Saints was a day when our parochial school was closed.  Late that night, after sorting through our treasure Nan and I settled down in my cannon ball brass bed, which was original to the house.  The owners didn’t want to remove it, and I loved it, so for the price of polishing it, it was mine to keep.

About an hour after we fell asleep, I awoke to the sound of someone turning the knob to my bedroom door.  Shaking my friend awake we huddled, terrified beneath the covers and watched as a man dressed in turn of the century clothing, came into the room, hung his jacket and waistcoat in the closet, settled his hat on the shelf, and proceeded to adjust the gas lamps.  Now let me tell you, the house was originally fitted for gas lamps, and the fixtures remained at that time.  He finally noticed us and raising a single finger to his lips, he leaned forward by the bed, and said, “Shh!”

We both screamed and bolted out of bed but my mother, who believed we had too much candy was really angry with us and shooed us back to bed.  We got a dressing down at breakfast, but my father and my father’s father exchanged looks that made me uncomfortable.

Later that day, my grandfather questioned me closely bout what I saw and treated me like this could have happened.  I felt better knowing he believed me. He explained that sometimes spirits get caught up in a time loop and leave a little residual energy behind and if we’re sensitive we see it.  Not everyone does, he said.

Several months later, the gas pipes were removed from the house.  My mother thought they were an unnecessary risk, and the night they completed the job I saw my “friend” again.  But I was alone,this time.  So I woke up my grandfather and had him come to my room.  When the man left, I along with my grandfather, followed him through the house into our basement.  Once downstairs, he accessed a second basement we didn’t know was there.

I was excited to find something out about the house that no one else knew, and felt vindicated in my mother eyes.  When I described the man for my sisters friends family, they brought out an old tintype of the man.  How shocked was I to learn the man had been a suitor of the young woman whose father built the house.  She told me her father had told her he ran off after promising to marry her, but she never believed it.

That day she cried and related the story of their courtship and how unsuitable her father thought the young man was for his daughter.  Having found he did not abandon her but remained at the house in spirit, she was relieved and I never saw him again.  When my own father died years later, he called to me on my next visit to the house, clearly calling my name and asking if I was alright.

My younger sister also claims to have seen my father at the house after his death.  I believe he’s checking to make sure we are okay.

And we’re all happy to know he’s still keeping an eye on us, and yes Daddy, we’re all okay!

So do tell, do you believe in ghosts?  Have you ever seen one?  Are they family or strangers?  After all, it’s Halloween.  If you have a ghost story, feel free to share.

HSC Contest Reviews – PPW Fiction Writing Contest

PPW Fiction Writing Contest

Presented by:

Pikes Peak Writers

Opens for entries: September 15th

Fees: $30, for an additional $20 you can request a critique of your entry from one of your judges, for an additional $40 you can request a critique of your entry from both of your judges

Entry: Short story – send the complete short story (not to exceed 5,000 words)
          Novel – send the first 4,000 words (include a synopsis in those word counts) 

Closed for entries: November 15th

Winners notified:  Late March/early April, 2012

List of Judges:  Mystery/Suspense/Intrigue –
                          Laura Bradford of the Bradfor Literary Agency
                          Stacia Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency
                          Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror:
                          Michael Braff, Assistant Editor for Del Ray Spectra,
                         a Division of Random House



Cash prizes
You can pay to have your entry critiqued


Only two judges for the first round
3 top scoring entries in each category advance to final round
Not clear on who the judges are in the first round
Judges not clear for the final round


The Good –

The winner of each category will be refunded their conference fee (the Annual Pikes Peak Writing Conference) or, if not attending, be awarded a cash prize of $100!  Second place is $50, third place is $30.  In this economy, cash prizes are always good!

Critiques.  If the entrant chooses, they can pay the first round judges to critique your entry.  The judges will give a one page single spaced critique.  $20 per judge.  This is a great idea for those who want to take advantage of it.

On the PPW website, there is a great checklist to guide you through the process and make sure everything is included in the entry

The Bad –

Two judges for the initial round, adding a third only if the scores are 25 points apart.  The most askew score is then dropped.  Why not just have three judges? 

Top 3 entries in each category are finalists.  This limited number seems unfair, especially if one category gets 60 entries and another gets 20 entries. 

Not sure who exactly is judging the first round.  Are they published authors?  Are they readers?  It doesn’t say on the website.

There are only three judges listed for the final round.  But there are many more categories.  Who is judging the other categories?  For example, who is judging romance in the final round?  Who the final round judges are in a contest will sometimes determine whether or not to enter.

The Manuscript does not have to be completed, but be prepared if one of the final round judges requests it.


As far as the Pikes Peak Fiction Writers Contest is concerned, it’s pretty average. The $30 entry fee for approximately 20 pages for a short story and 16 pages for a novel, is a little steep. You get the opportunity for a hefty cash prize, but uncertainty about who is judging. You also have the choice of paying to have the first round judges critique your entry. It would help to have a little more information about the first and final round judges.




            In a few more days it’ll be Halloween, the time of ghosts, goblins, hauntings and, the fun stuff, candy. That brings to mind the prevalence of paranormal stories and novels, everything from vampires to shape shifters and, of course, ghosts. If you haven’t yet, how about delving into the mysterious and scary paranormal scene?


            For research, both online and in person, there are a number ofU.S.cities that boast of hauntings. Among them is one I visited when my son worked there as a newspaper reporter –Charleston,South Carolina. Not only is Charleston a beautiful city with much history and gorgeous plantations, it also claims to have ghosts and actually has ghost walking tours – at night, of course, thus adding to the scary feeling one gets at the suggestion of some otherworldly being.


Following is a list of the ten most haunted cities in theU.S., together with a bit about each one.


No. 10 –San Francisco,California.


The creepiest, as far as I’m concerned, is the old prison, Alcatrazwhere visitors have actually seen apparitions walking the cellblocks. Personally, I think I’d like to haunt something else, but perhaps they’re in jail in the afterlife as well.


No. 9 –Key West,Florida.


This small, sunny beach town would seem to be an unlikely spot for ghosts, but thanks to rumrunners and buccaneers, it has some of the scariest and creepiest ghosts. While it isn’t a ghost as such, there is a doll, Robert the Doll, given to the painter Gene Otto in the early 1900s. The young boy became deathly afraid of the doll and claimed it threatened him. A good idea for a horror story, right?


No. 8 –Athens,Ohio.


This small university town lays claim to some of the strangest hauntings, including a headless train conductor, a pagan cult, even the appearance of a pentagram. Because of the Spiritualist Movement of the 1800’s, this isn’t surprising. Also, to add to the creep factor, is the Athens Lunatic Asylum. There is a story that a deaf mute, trapped in a ward, died, and that the stain from the decomposing body is still there.


No. 7 –Portland,Oregon


This city is reputed to be the most haunted of thePacific Northwest, thanks in part to thePittockMansion, owned by a wealthy businessman and his wife who died soon after it was built. The Bagdad Theater, built during the roaring 20s, is said to house many a spirit. Also inPortlandare the Shanghai Tunnels, said to contain the ghosts of kidnap victims.


No. 6 –Charleston,South Carolina


Site of ghosts in Charleston

One of the oldestU.S.cities, its downtown area is known as Battery Park and was a protective artillery installation during the Civil War. In the Battery Carriage House, a hotel, visitors have reported seeing strange lights, as well as the ghost of a student who died after leaping off the roof, and, a headless corpse that visits guests’ bedsides at night. I think I’d hesitate before booking a room there. The most famous, however, is the Dock Street Theater, the site of the murder of a prostitute.




No. 5 –Salem,Massachusetts


Not surprisingly,Salemis among the top ten. Well known as the place of the witch trials, and dubbed “WitchCity,” it has one of the biggest Halloween celebrations in the country. There are several ghost stories, and one in particular involves gallows hill where witches were hanged. The most haunted place is the Joshua Ward house, built on the foundation of the George Corwen home, the sheriff during the trials.


No. 4 –Chicago,Illinois


Because of the 1871 fire and the history of gangsters,Chicagoranks high among ghost cities. One of the most famous ghosts is that of Resurrection Mary, a young girl, hit and killed by a car when leaving a dance hall with her boyfriend. She was buried inResurrectionCemeteryand periodically wanders the streets in her white burial dress. But Bachelor’sGroveCemeteryis reputed to be one of the most haunted places and is the site where prohibition era gangsters dumped bodies.


No. 3 –Gettysburg,Pennsylvania


In 1863Gettysburgwas the site of the biggest military clash and one of the bloodiest to occur on American soil, over 50,000 killed or wounded. What is unique aboutGettysburgis the sheer amount of ghost sightings. A famous site is the Devils Den, a rocky outcropping that was the site of a skirmish on the second day. A Confederate sharpshooter took shots at the Union soldiers. They later found his body. The man now haunts the Devils Den.


No. 2 –Savannah,Georgia


With its many cemeteries, gothic mansions and trees covered in Spanish moss,Savannahis well known for its hauntings. Because it escaped burning duringSherman’s march, it still contains many antebellum mansions, perfect places for ghosts. The most haunted is the Hampton Lillibridge House. It was built in 1796 and in 1960 a builder hoped to restore it. However, a portion of the roof collapsed and killed one of the workers. Other builders claim to hear voices and footsteps when they are alone.


No. 1 –New Orleans,Louisiana


Not surprisingly,New Orleansis famous for all things paranormal. These include haunted mansions, graveyards, taverns, cursed pirate ships, Civil War spirits and voodoo hexes. One of the most famous is Marie Laveau, who gained a great following during the 1800s as a practitioner of voodoo. She died in 1881 but for years after people saw her wandering the French Quarter. Most famous is the LaLaurie House, owned by a physician and his wife. Reputed to be cruel to slaves, there was also evidence Lady LaLaurie killed a 12 year old girl. When a fire broke out, slaves were found chained to the wall in a makeshift dungeon, and many claimed the doctor performed grotesque surgical experiments on them.


If these cities are enough to stir your imagination in the realm of ghosts, you might want to travel to the west, where you’ll see remnants of ghost towns. Could it be that former residents, now long dead, roam the mountains and plains at night?

Joan K. Maze

writing as J. K. Maze

Bad Boys


I feel with the above picture I almost need my own theme song, “Bad Boys, Bad Boys, How am I goin’ get me some bad boys….” 

So today I wanted to talk bad boys.  Not the kind that ride motorcycles with his hotter than hot abs, the ability to make flicking a cigarette sexy, and an uncanny ability to also be romantic and Alpha male at the same time.  Though I have a feeling that would be a rather spectacular thing to discuss.  No, today I wanna talk about the real bad boys, the villains.

Now, how many people watch soap operas or prime time dramas.  It’s okay raise your hands, there’s no judgment here – more like a fan club. Is there or is there not a villain on your show that is so bad and so evil, you want to hate him, but you secretly love him? 

Take Dexter, I get that he’s the hero in the show, but he’s also the villain.  He’s a serial killer!  Yet each week we root for him to commit murder and to catch a killer.  Oye.

In real life Ted Bundy was a chick magnet, adored by women, and was a great charmer.  That is until he slaughtered them.

Who could dispute that Hannibal Lector was so down right terrifying that to this day a little Chianti and some fava beans still feels freaky.

The king of all villains, Count Dracula.  He was so vile of a character that he had to drink blood to survive, he could control his victims and dominate their thoughts.  Yet, the lore of vampires has created a surge of hero’s and villains in literature and film.  Is there no better vampire, both tortured hero, and ruthless villain, than Anne Rice’s Lestat De Lioncourt? Okay tweenie boppers – Edward is kind of a big deal too. (Go Team Jacob). 

I could write on and on about these lunatics, killers, nightmare inducing bad boys, as there are plenty of them out there. To every great hero written or imagined, there needs to be an equally dynamic villain to create a balance.  Well, unless you are Dexter then it’s just a crazy multiple personality mash up of good and evil living in one body.  What would Batman be without the Joker?  Just a guy dressed up in tights, a cape and bat ears with no where to go?

So let’s talk – spill your evil guts to me…*evil laugh*  Tell me what makes your ideal villain? What villainous creatures still haunt your dreams? (Note to those people on Elm Street – Don’t go to sleep) What villain do you secretly adore?