Ghost Grandma

Ghost Grandma cover

Right before the start of her sophomore year, Brett O’Brien is visited by the ghost of her grandmother. The only issue? No one seems to believe her except for her best friend. In her captivating book Ghost Grandma, author S. Kay Murphy leads us through a young girl’s struggle to find her place in the world after the death of her beloved grandmother.

Interviewer: Sophie Lin

**********

 Q: What inspired you to write Ghost Grandma?

A: To be honest, the premise came to me as I was walking through the halls of the high school where I was teaching at the time. No doubt I was ruminating on two things: Visitations from those who have passed over plus the way high school students often treat each other. At times, it feels like a war zone, with everyone at odds with everyone else.

Q: Is there anyone in your life that you based Brett off of?

A: Brett is absolutely the girl I was at 14 or 15, only she is the new and improved version, the one who is braver and stronger and has better hair.

Q: Do you have a rigid writing schedule or do you write whenever an idea comes to you?

A: Both. I wrote Ghost Grandma in 30 days. True story. I participated in the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and I did it, much to my surprise. Of course, during that month, I still had to go to work every day, so I wrote 800 words in the morning before I went to work and 800 more at night after dinner, sometimes falling asleep at the keyboard. I knew the premise when I started, but had no idea where the story would take me. It was one of the most fun and most exhausting projects I’ve ever indulged in.

Having said that… I am now retired from teaching, so I have plenty of time to write. But I also have plenty of time to go out and play—go hiking or exploring, ride my bike, have lunch with friends, see a movie—so it has been hard for me to be as disciplined as I should be. But I’m working on that.

 Q: How would you describe your writing process?

A: What works best for me is this: When I’m working on a particular project, I’ll spend some time—30 minutes to an hour—composing. Then I get up, walk around, make more tea, take the dog out or pet the cat. In that time, I generally edit in my head. (I love to write poems this way, and when I do, I’ll write them out in longhand, leaving the notepad on my desk so I can swing by as I’m putting in a load of laundry and change a word or a phrase.) When I go back to what I’ve written, I’ll spend a few minutes making those minor changes, then move on. In the early days of my writing, every paragraph had to be perfect before I moved on. Books don’t get written that way. It’s important to get the narrative down while you’re still excited about the project. Editing is satisfying to me, so I don’t mind doing it. Ghost Grandma went through at least six drafts before I felt it was ready for publication.

 Q: Do you believe in ghosts and/or the supernatural? If so, have you ever had any supernatural encounters?

A: It is possible that I have had supernatural encounters. It is also possible that my experiences can be easily explained away. One of the reasons I wanted to put Ghost Grandma out there was to get young people thinking about what they believe regarding those who have crossed over. In my own spirituality, there is definitely a place for signs and messages from those who have passed. Part of my daily meditation is talking to my deceased loved ones. If that sounds all creepy and séance-y, it’s really just me saying, “Mom, Dad, Aunties, Uncles, good morning. Help me to remember that extending love and kindness to others is the most important thing I can do today.” I definitely feel guided by them at times. One of my best friends is a medium, so we’ve had some pretty fascinating conversations about all of this.

Q: What’s your favorite part about writing?

A: I love having done it. Sometimes, sitting down and beginning a project is absolutely terrifying. When I sat down to begin writing my memoir about my great-grandmother (who has been accused of being a serial killer), I was literally trembling. I wanted that book (The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford) to be perfect because so much was riding on it—I wanted to bring the truth to light and bring closure to my mother (Bertha’s granddaughter). When I finally finished the book, I sat at my desk and sobbed. The same was true for The Dogs Who Saved Me. When we put heart and soul into creating truth and beauty with words, it is a humbling, mystifying, spiritual relief to have the project completed.

Q: What would be your advice for dealing with bullies like Brittany and Jason?

A: In the vast majority of cases, I would say that the best action taken against bullies is to ignore them. It’s also the most difficult. Part of us always wants to fight back, to make a snarky or rude comment, even if it’s behind the person’s back. But we rarely know what other people are going through in their personal lives. Both Brittany and Jason are based on students I actually taught. Brittany started a fight in my classroom in which another girl was badly injured. But in her senior year, she stopped by to thank me for my patience with her. I was never angry with her. I understood that she felt, as I have mentioned previously, that she was in a war zone. She acted accordingly. Sometimes bullies just need to get to the point in life at which they can love themselves. In Jason’s case, he was truly a bad dude, and once I met his angry, abusive father, I understood why. With a bully like that, my advice would be to stay as far away from him as possible.

 Q: What’s different about writing a coming-of-age novel like Ghost Grandma and writing a book like Tainted Legacy?

A: Oh, that is a really great question. In writing Ghost Grandma, I could rely solely on my imagination for the narrative. Fun! Except when I couldn’t for the life of me think of what should happen next. That was grueling—especially since I couldn’t just wait for inspiration, since I had to get my word count in every day. With Tainted Legacy, the fun came in doing the research. There were times when the truth I overturned made me feel absolutely surreal, as if I were living inside a novel. While in Missouri doing research, I kept calling my best friend back home in California to tell her everything, and I would often add, “I swear, I’m not making this up!” Of course, getting down to actually writing the memoir and formulating some sort of chronological coherence was challenging, as I was telling both my story and Bertha’s as well, so the process was completely different, but nonetheless equally satisfying.

Q: Who’s your biggest inspiration to write?

A: Harry Cauley, author of the award-winning novel, Bridie and Finn, said something in a writer’s group 20 years ago that has been my mantra ever since: “Writing is the loneliest work you’ll ever do.” Isn’t that just spot on? One of the reasons writers have a difficult time being disciplined—especially nowadays—is that once we sit down and begin, we know (at least subconsciously) that we are retreating from the world to be absolutely alone for a time, and that is a frightening prospect. It’s much more pleasant to scroll through Twitter to find out what’s happening in the world or Instagram to see yet another adorable dog or cat photo or Facebook to say hi to family members and beloved friends. Doing all those things makes me feel less alone in the world, and I live alone (except for Purrl and Thomas, my cat and dog), so I spend a great deal of my day by myself. I adore social media. But I have to make myself back out of that rabbit hole in order to work—and it is indeed lonely. When I heard Harry Cauley say that, he became my writer-hero for life, and I am blessed for that. I also have a handful of cheerleaders, including a couple of pushy Irish cousins, who keep reminding me that my gift is writing so I should be doing it.

Q: Are you working on any other projects right now?

A: Last spring, I finished a middle-grade urban fantasy novel. I have been looking—with no success so far—for an agent for it. In the meantime, I’m doing short writing projects. I will be starting on another book soon.

Q: Where can people find more information about you and your books?

A: All my books (except the first, which is out of print) are on Amazon. To get a sense of who I am and my worldview, I recommend scrolling through my blog until you find a post that resonates—about dogs or cats or the #MeToo Movement or gay rights or gender equality or whatever. It’s here: www.skaymurphy.blogspot.com. I am on Instagram (posting photos of food, as I am a vegetarian, and I love sharing all the gorgeous, delicious food I eat) and Twitter (where I follow back most folks who follow me—unless they’re a bot or a stalker). Handle for both is @kayzpen.

 Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: For writers: Write your heart out and never stop! You are not alone in the world, though you may feel lonely while you are ‘away’ in the world you are creating. Never let rejection slow you down; keep putting yourself out there. If you begin to feel like giving up, find a friend or a cousin who believes in you and ask them to set goals with you then check back to see if you’re working toward them. I did this with The Tainted Legacy of Bertha Gifford, and it is the only way that book ever got published. I wanted to give up, but my beloved cousin Danny wouldn’t let me. He’s the reason the book is in print, may he be blessed forever.

For readers: You are everything for those of us who write. You are the friends who listen as we speak—even if we never meet you. I feel so very blessed for every email I’ve ever received that has begun with these words: “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve just finished reading your book….” You make all the hard work, all the loneliness, all the nail biting and junk food indulging so very worth it. Thank you!

 

 

Advertisements

Ghost Maven

 

Ghost Maven cover

Author, television producer, award winning documentary film maker, and world traveller, Tony Lee Moral, has just completed work on his second published novel, Ghost Maven, and has generously offered to share a bit of insider scoop on his new book, what drives and motivates him, and what he has planned next. Despite an increasingly busy work life, as with everything Tony takes on, he remains focused and grounded while enjoying the creative journey he rides with each new project and challenge. Welcome Tony!

Interviewer: Debbie A. McClure
**********

Q: Your work spans several genres, including documentary film-making with your own production company, journalistic interviews with celebrities, and author of several books. Is there a common thread or arc in each of these endeavours? If so, what would that be?

A: Story! Story! Story! Whether it’s making a documentary film, writing a novel, or interviewing your subjects for a non-fiction book, each has the common thread of having a good story at the core. If I have something compelling to say, I will write, direct, produce, or find an outlet to tell my story.

Q: Your latest project, Ghost Maven, is a YA novel, which is quite a departure from your previous books on Alfred Hitchcock and murder mysteries. Can you share a little about this story to whet a young reader’s appetite?

A: In Ghost Maven, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice Parker, moves to Monterey, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules, they begin seeing each other. It’s a love story with a twist.

Q: Why YA at this point in your career?

A: I’m inspired to write different genres, and as a compulsive communicator, I wanted to reach out to as many different readers of all ages as possible. The Young Adult readership is especially appealing to me, as I read many books in my teens and can identify with the hopes, fears and aspirations of being a teenager. It can be a very uncertain time for many teens, but I hope they identify with the characters in the book and want to share the journey with them.

Q: Have you ever encountered a ghost or spirit form in your personal life or travels? If so, what happened? If not, do you believe in ghosts?

A: I haven’t experienced ghosts or spirit forms, but I have had some intuitive dreams. Like Alice, I have experienced personal loss, and I use those feelings to create an atmosphere of reaching to the after life. I do believe that some things can’t be explained and science is still trying to unlock the answers.

Q: What surprising correlations or similarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?

A: Good storytelling is at the heart of both film-making and writing, whether it be shaping well-developed characters, creating emotional arcs and creating compelling situations. A good film or book takes the viewer or reader on a journey of discovery, enlightenment, or good old-fashioned entertainment.

Q: What dissimilarities have you discovered between film-making and writing?

A: With film-making, one should think in visuals, rather than relying on words or dialogue. You have a rectangle to fill with a succession of images to create an emotional response. Hitchcock said he wasn’t interested in photographs of people talking in his films, so I try to rely on visuals to tell my story when directing. In fact, I often think my novels are more like screenplays as I’m always thinking of the mise-en-scène, where the characters are, how they are dressed or what expressions they have on their faces. The advantage of writing is that you can really get inside your characters’ minds, what they are thinking and feeling, which you can’t quite do in a documentary film.

Q: What would you say fuels your imagination in writing?

A: Definitely travel – I’m lucky to travel with my day job as a film-maker, and I have been to some extraordinary places and have had access to some incredible situations and people. I’m like a sponge, absorbing human behaviour and thinking of how I can translate stories to the page or screen.

Q: How long does it take you to write a novel from first draft to final edit?

A: It depends on the publishing process. I first wrote Ghost Maven in 2010, so six years later it is being published. The last 18 months has been especially productive, as the novel was honed through various drafts, and I had some wonderful input from agents and copy editors.

Q: You are represented by a literary agency, Loiacono Literary Agency, in an age when many writers are choosing to self-publish. What has been your experience in working with an agent?

A: One of support and encouragement, which is invaluable as writing can be a very lonely process. The great screenwriter Jay Presson Allen, who I interviewed, described writing as a “divorcement from life”, which I can totally identify with. But having an agent is having someone to share the rewards and accomplishments with. What’s the point of being successful, if you have no one to share that success with?:

Q: Can you tell us a little about your production company, Sabana Films, and what you are trying to accomplish with your films?

A: I won the Special Jury award last year at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, which was an incredible, inspiring moment, and has reignited my love for natural history. I’ve started filming a documentary movie which I’m very passionate about called ‘The Cat that Changed America’. It’s about P22, the mountain lion who is trapped in Griffith Park in LA, and the wonderful conservationists and Angelenos who are trying to help him.

Q: If you could sit down and spend an evening chatting with three people, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

A: Alfred Hitchcock, because I’ve written three books on the Master of Suspense, and currently writing a fourth on his reputation. His films have inspired me and are text book examples of film making and screenplay writing.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, as he is my favourite author, his prose is elegant, simple and elegiac. I love The Great Gatsby, the world Fitzgerald lived through and created, and the characters who populate that world.

Winston Churchill, because he epitomizes everything great about being British, what I love about England, and the country where I was born. His stoicism and heroism is something to be admired.

Q: What’s next for you, Tony?

A: I’m looking forward to my book tour for Ghost Maven. On Labour Day weekend, Saturday 3rd September 2016, at 2 p.m., I will be in the Old Capitol Books store in Monterey, California, signing copies of the book. It’s very special to me to launch the book in the place where the novel is set and where I lived for two inspirational years.
Q Where can our readers find you online?

http://www.ghostmaven.com
http://www.tonyleemoral.com
http://www.alfredhitchcockbooks.com
http://www.thecatthatchangedamerica.com
http://www.sabanafilms.com

https://www.facebook.com/tonyleemoralfans/

 

Seeing Things

Nancy Young cover

“True love is like ghosts,” wrote Francois de La Rochefoucauld, ” which everyone talks about and few have seen.”

Over the years, film, television and fiction have given us a bounty of stories in which star-crossed soul mates discover themselves up against the greatest divider of all – that pesky line separating the living and the dead. Whether it’s the hero who longs to be reunited with a beloved bride that was snatched from his arms too soon or a wistful heroine who has reconciled herself to the belief that all the best men are married, gay or a possible figment of their imaginations, author Nancy Young delivers a fresh twist in her latest novel, Seeing Things.  When you’re out to debunk the existence of ghosts – as well as deny your own ability to see them– what’s a girl to do when the sexy techie whose attention she has attracted is, quite literally, out of this world?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

 Q: So tell us a little about your journey as a writer and who (or what) was the greatest influence on your quest to become a published author?

A:        I was hooked on writing from the time the teacher posted my lion story outside our first grade classroom. Even my research reports in school tended to morph into narratives. In the college where I worked, a group of us met weekly for critiquing sessions, which helped me grow out of that awkward beginners’ stage, rife with poems about butterflies and roadkill.  Drafting up to 17 stories a week when I was a reporter gave me confidence as a writer. Once I quit teaching, I had the time to publish poems, short stories, and plays. I started the novel because everyone in my writing group was working on one, and I didn’t want to feel left out!

Q: Were you a voracious reader when you were growing up? If so, what book titles might we have found on your nightstand?

A:        I grew up in the local library—literally. My mother was a librarian, and after school I’d hang out, sometimes helping alphabetize cards, but most often working my way through the collection, graduating from the children’s floor to the adult section by the time I was in middle school. (It was a very small library.)

As a girl, I read and reread The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, as well as Mary Stewart novels, Victoria Holt novels, Poe’s and Vonnegut’s short stories, and an assortment of folklore anthologies. My guilty pleasure was those Gothic paperbacks—the ones with a nightgown-clad woman running in terror from a brooding castle. My favorite of that genre still sleeps in my bedside table: Moura by Virginia Coffman. From the list, you can see that I’m drawn to a mix of supernatural/ fantasy elements, strong characters, and dark humor.

Q: You’ve described your newest release, Seeing Things, as a romance with paranormal elements. What’s your attraction to this particular genre?

A:        The two genres are a perfect balance of light and dark. I love the tensions of romance—the friction, the rising stress, and the eventual capitulation. With paranormal elements, I can introduce unpredictability—a plane where intelligence and logic have no impact. Since I prefer strong characters, the complications they face have to be out of their immediate control.

Q: What was the inspiration behind Seeing Things?

A:        This book started out to be anti-genre. The central character is neither innocent nor naïve. She doesn’t want to be rescued.  Her love interest isn’t a taciturn alpha male, either. I took a sly delight in having Mary Catherine reject the typical hero.

Q: Have you ever had any ghostly encounters similar to those experienced by your intrepid heroine?

A:        When I was a T.A. in grad school, I shared an office with a folklore expert. He was often called upon to investigate odd phenomena and invited me along on investigations. At a plumbing supply business in Northeast Philly one bright winter afternoon, I heard bells chime in a wall where there were no bells, saw a clock run backwards when its power source had been cut off, and looked over a strange arrangement of paper plates and a dead bird on a breakroom floor. Since the business owner was anxious to keep the investigation secret lest it hurt business, a hoax seemed unlikely. This scenario found its way, in a different form, into a chapter of Seeing Things.

Another example occurred when I lived in a hundred-year-old farmhouse. In the attic (accessible through a trap door in my bedroom), hats, tools, and an old Royal typewriter had been left behind by the original owners. That typewriter would periodically have a new line of type on the tattered, yellowed sheet rolled into its platen. My kids were under five and couldn’t have accessed the attic without help—nor could they spell, for that matter.

Out of curiosity, I participated in an EVP study at Rhine Research Center, a parapsychology center that was originally part of Duke University.  Though most of what I heard in the controlled study was static, two voices sounded loud and clear. I have no idea if those were “control” sounds or actual examples of paranormal recordings.

Oddly enough, things like this fail to bother me. Put me in heavy traffic on the Beltline, though, and my palms will sweat.

Q: What governed the choice to pen this story in the first person? For instance, do you feel a special kinship with the narrator?

A:        I actually wrote the first few chapters of Seeing Things in third person before recasting it in first. The first-person POV won out with everyone who read both versions. So many of the great Gothic narratives are written in first person—Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” du Maurier’s Rebecca. First person narratives bring immediacy to a story and create a close bond between narrator and reader. Most importantly, this point of view allows for dramatic irony; the reader sees more than the narrator does. I loved playing with that notion with Mary Catherine, my protagonist.

Some readers hate first person novels, and I knew I was taking a risk. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s the easiest perspective to write in. When it’s done right, it’s amazingly challenging. For instance, readers want to know what a character looks like, but real people don’t describe themselves. Finding innovative ways to impart such information’s like a literary game.

Early on, I thought my narrator had little in common with me, but as the book progressed, I realized we suffer from some of the same issues. My local librarian even remarked that the woman on the book cover looks like me.

Q: Unlike typical romances that are formulaic in nature – as well as predictable – you opted to incorporate unexpected twists in character and plot. Why did you decide to go this route?

A:        When I was browsing the in the public library two years ago, I picked up book after book with the same basic plots, the same interchangeable, tiresome characters. When I started writing my own novel, I set out to create a book I’d like to read—one with a funny, complex central character, an atypical love interest, and a plot that pokes into unexpected places.

Q: Would you call yourself a plotter or a pantser and why does this your choice of development style work well for your personality?

A:        I’m a pantser for most of the writing process, at least until I write myself into a dilemma and have to type my way out of it. Even though I like to feel in control of the worlds I create, my characters develop minds of their own, veering off in unanticipated directions. A good writer, like a good director, has to be flexible. In the editing process, however, I’m meticulous.

Q: Have your characters ever surprised you?

A:        They often say things I didn’t expect, and then I have to rethink the plot line. My novel characters turn out to be every bit as complicated and contradictory as real people. Developing their arcs is like watching a child mature.

Q: Tell us about the title of the book and what it means to you.

A:        Seeing Things hints at much: questioning what is real, what is imagined, what is true. People constantly close their eyes to things they cannot face. I remember teaching Oedipus Rex to a class of students who thought that Oedipus should have closed his eyes (pre-poking them out) to the evidence of his guilt, remaining happy in his ignorance. I never understood how anyone could do that.

Q: What’s your favorite novel or movie about someone falling in love with a ghost?

A:        I watched The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison) when I was little, along with the old Dark Shadows TV show. And my husband and I still dance to “Unchained Melody” from the Ghost soundtrack.

Q: If, hypothetically, one day you return as a ghost yourself, where would you most likely be hanging out and why?

A:        I’d be in my office—the tower room of the Victorian house I live in. The current residents would hear the faint tapping of my keyboard late at night, and the cat would refuse to cross the threshold.

The writer might die, but the words live on.

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher for this project?

A:        I had submitted my novel to two or three big publishing houses, and it languished in the slush pile. After reading a NYT article, I aimed instead for a small publishing house and had my work accepted.

Q: “Home” for you is a small town in North Carolina. How has this influenced your life as a writer and the interactions with your non-writer neighbors?

A:        When you ask a question around here, you get a story in response. The South teems with unusual people who speak in colorful metaphors and act unpredictably. Many of my poems and short stories stem from local lore: the lost woman walking the streets twirling a hula hoop, the church organist who suffered a breakdown when faced with a new electronic keyboard, the raging diva displaced from a local singing group.

My close friends are writers and artists. To keep myself grounded, though, I joined my neighborhood book club. Most of the other members are literal people who work with computers. Unsurprisingly, we have different tastes.  I often think their book choices would benefit from the addition of a zombie, especially those dreary stories about the Episcopal priest. They find me quirky. I consider that a compliment.

Q: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

A:        I like heavy metal.

Q: If you could summon the ghost of any famous person in history to have a chat with, who would it be and what question would you most like to ask?

A:        John Donne. As a young teen, I’d daydream about him while I studied his picture on the cover of the Norton Anthology. Donne was such a fascinating mixture of passion and intellect, and he gave up everything for love. I’d ask him if he thought it was worth it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A:        So many things—the third book in the novel series (the second’s awaiting publication) , another novel featuring a minor character from Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a scene for a Regency play, and a short story about a pregnant woman going quietly insane.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A:        My bio is published on Amazon and Goodreads, as well as on my publisher’s site http://www.worldcastlepublishing.com/author-nancy-young.html . I also have a Web site, http://nancymyoung.com.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:        The sequel, Hearing Things, should be out in 2015.