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Do You Believe in Ghosts?

Image: Two alleged ghosts (or folks wearing drapes on their heads.)

One of the great joys of summer, in my childhood, was the opportunity to camp out with friends 'in the backyard.' As I've mentioned before, we grew up mostly in the country, so the idea of backyard was rather loosely defined. We might be within sight of our house or several miles from it. There would always be a campfire to sit around and frequently ghost stories. The group could be as few as two or as many as eight or ten, depending on which friends showed up for the evening. I don't remember a single ghost story that was told; I doubt many of them were very good. It didn't matter, however, because the ambience was perfect. Part of the appeal of camping is the vulnerability of it - you are exposed to anything and everything that might be lying in wait outside your home, from mosquitos and ticks to timber wolves and bears, and, of course, ghosts. Whatever sanctity the walls of your home afforded you most nights was no longer in place when you were camping. Add in the sounds of nature: tree boughs moving and creaking in the wind, shadows created by the moon (or the overwhelming blackness of night when it was cloudy) and suddenly every story was enhanced to a point that it could be real.

Although we moved several times when I was a kid, right up to the middle of high school, on several occasions we lived with walking distance of old cemeteries. These were not the giant cemeteries you see around cities, but smaller community cemeteries, with anywhere from perhaps fifty to one hundred graves. The oldest headstones in the graves were so weathered that you could not make out much detail about the occupant, but others were in pristine condition. Graves could easily be more than 150 years old or as new as last week.

My brother Rudy and I started doing grave recordings when we lived on Old McConkey Rd. The idea was to capture the voices of ghosts when they slipped from their graves to go haunting. You had to go into the cemetery just a few minutes before midnight, leave a battery-powered cassette recorder on top of a grave, next to the headstone, and let it record for an hour. Then you went back and picked it up and played back the tape. One of the scariest things I've ever done. As teens, we could not admit to believing in ghosts, even though I am sure we did. The act of walking into a cemetery after dark violates all of our societal rules around graveyard etiquette, so you had to hide every time a car drove by. Mom and Dad would have been angry if they discovered what we were doing, both for being in the cemetery and for leaving a recorder there for an hour untended. By the time you entered the cemetery, your anxiety level would be overflowing, and every noise would make you jump. Sometimes, we were so worked up we ran from the cemetery once we had placed the recorder. Going back an hour later was even more difficult than setting up the recorder in the first place. More than once, we left the recorder there all night.

The reward was playing those tapes. It was so easy to convert any noise captured on the recorder into something with meaning. I remember sharing bits and pieces of the recordings with my friends and brothers, and even the most skeptical of them felt like we had captured unexplainable sounds. I'd love to listen to one of those tapes again, but we never saved any of them.

As a writer, the point of all of this is that settings matter. If you can create the right environment for your story, you've gone a long way towards making it believable to your readers. It can be easy to get so caught up in crafting an engaging plot, with lots of twists and turns, to end up ignoring the ambience of the story. We don't want to be style without substance either, so immersing your good plot into the perfect world is critical. If my characters are sweating because of a heat wave, I want my readers to be just as uncomfortable!

Love: a story of grief and desire is now available as an audiobook! Available on amazon, and wherever audiobooks are sold.

Win a free Kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for this month's drawing. Good luck!

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