Sneak Peeks of Before and Afterlives (The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter)

Today’s preview from Before and Afterlives is the opening of my story, “The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter,” which originally appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction. It’s a story about a young girl named Sylvie, who has a talent for manifesting ghosts around her, making them visible to others. And it’s about how her father, an out-of-work laborer, recently widowed, capitalizes on his daughter’s ability by becoming a ghost hunter. Set in Warren, Ohio, this is one my favorites of my “locally set” stories, because it features a scene at the Ghost Walk in Warren, an annual tour of the city’s historic district and mansions held in the month of October that I’ve like to go on for kicks since I was a teenager. Little did I know as a teenager that going on the Ghost Walk would give me a scene to write into a story fifteen or so years later.

Also, in case you’re not an Amazon.com shopper, Before and Afterlives is also now available at Barnes and Noble.com and Weightless Books.

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The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter

 

Syl-vie! Syl-vie! Syl-vie!” her father calls through the hallways of the house.  The ghost hunter’s beautiful daughter sighs, wipes a tear from the corner of her eye, looks out the cobwebbed window of the attic.  Sometimes it’s the basement, sometimes the attic.  Occasionally a house has a secret crawl space, and if she sensed it, she’d go there and wait with the creepy crawlies and spinning motes of dust.  Through the false eyes of the portrait of a lady with her toy poodle sitting on her lap, she’d watch her father negotiate the living room, the swathe of his flashlight cutting through the dark.  “Syl-vie! Syl-vie! Syl-vie!” he’ll call–always call–until the ghost hunter’s beautiful daughter finally says, “Here, Daddy.  I’m in here.”

“Sylvie,” he’ll ask, “my God, how do you do it?  Tell me how to find you.”

How does she do it?  If only Sylvie knew, she would try to stop it from happening.  The whispered calls, the bloody walls, the voice of a house, the way it told you how bad it was hurting.  If she could turn it off, she’d gladly do it.  She’s had enough of houses, their complaints, their listing, the wreckage of their histories.  If only she could be normal!

She peeked her head out the side of the false wall that time, waved, and he gasped.  “Clever girl!” he exclaimed a moment later, his shock fading, replaced by a grin.  He ambled over to put his arm around her and squeeze her affectionately while he admired the dark passage behind the deteriorating gaze of a two-hundred year old society woman and her once white poodle.

He calls now, too.  His voice comes from the floor below her.  Upstairs is where this house’s ghost lives, in the attic.  They are so dramatic, ghosts, thinks Sylvie.  If only they’d settle down, give up on whatever keeps them lingering, maybe their lives would get a little better.  No more moaning in pain, no more throwing things around in frustration.  No more struggling to get someone to notice you.  Give up, thinks the ghost hunter’s beautiful daughter.  Why don’t you just give up already!

“Here,” Sylvie whispers.  When her father calls again, she speaks louder.  “Here, Daddy!” she shouts.  “I’m up here.  In the attic.”

His feet thud on the pull-down steps until his head rises over the square Sylvie climbed through half an hour ago.  The ghost here hadn’t tried to hide from her like some.  She hates that, the way some shudder when they see her, wrinkle their noses, furrow their brows–the way they disdain her very presence, as if they are saying, You’re not who I was waiting for.  You’re not the one I want.  This ghost, though, had little expectations.  It had few conditions or requirements.  It was an old woman, and old women aren’t as picky as lost children, spurned lovers, old men whose sins were never forgiven, people who cannot bury hatchets, people who cannot bear to leave even after life has left them.

“Sylvie!” her father gasps.  “Oh my, Sylvie, what have you found?”

The ghost is barely holding itself together.  At first Sylvie wasn’t sure if it was even human.  It might have been some strange sort of animal.  She’s seen those before, though they’re rarer.  Afterwards, they don’t always know how to hold the shape they had in life.  The old woman is gaseous; she probably doesn’t even know what she’s doing in this attic.  Liquids are sorrowful, solids angry, throwing chairs and mirrors and lamps across rooms at their leisure.  Gases, often confused, are usually waiting for some sort of answer.  What is the question, though, Sylvie wonders.  What don’t you understand, old woman?

The ghost hunter nods at his daughter briefly when she doesn’t answer, then goes directly to the old woman’s figure in the corner.  The old woman turns to look at him.  Her face is misty.  Wisps of moisture trail in the air behind her when she turns too quickly.  She is like a finely composed hologram until she moves, revealing just how loosely she’s held together.  She looks past the ghost hunter, over his shoulder, to meet his daughter’s gaze.  Sylvie turns away from her to look back out the cobwebbed window.  A long, wide park of a yard rolls out and away, trees growing in copses, with a driveway unspooling down the middle of everything, leading out through the wrought iron fence to the tree-lined road.  This was her father’s favorite sort of grounds to hunt, his favorite kinds of ghosts lived in places like this, usually.  Sylvie can’t bear to look back at the old woman.  She knows what comes next.

There is the click, the sucking sound, the high moan of the old woman’s ghost, and then the silence ringing in the dusty attic.  Her father sniffs, coughs, clears his throat, and Sylvie knows it is okay to look now.  She turns to find him fiddling with his old Polaroid camera, pulling the film out and waving it in the air until it begins to develop.  “That’s a good one,” he says.  “Not the best, but not the worst either.”  The old woman’s ghost is gone.  He looks up and sees Sylvie watching him.  Blinks.  Sylvie blinks back.  “Thank you, sweetie,” he says.  Then:  “Come on now.  The Boardmans will be back shortly.  We should get going.”

*

     The road is gray, the tree trunks are gray, the sky is gray above her.  There are no discernible clouds, only drops of gray rain pattering down, speckling the windshield of her father’s car as they pull away, and further away, from the haunted mansion.  Sylvie remembers visiting the mansion once with her mother.  In October.  For Halloween.  The mansion, one of many, sat in the historic district of one of those small Midwestern cities in one of those states with an Indian name.  Each Halloween, members of the community theater hid among the mansions and family cemeteries of the historic district, buried themselves in orangey-red leaves, covered themselves in clothes from the previous century, adopted slightly archaic ways of speaking.  They were ghosts for an evening, telling stories to small groups of people–parents and children, gaggles of high school boys and girls who chuckled and made fun of their dramatic renditions–who had come on the Ghost Walk through the park and along the river, where once the people whose ghosts they now played actually had walked, loved, hated, drowned themselves out of unreciprocated affection, hid amongst the tombstones from abusive husbands, hung themselves before the police came to arrest them.  Her mother’s hand holding hers, how large and soft it was, moist, how her mother’s hand quickly squeezed hers whenever a ghost brought his or her story to a climax.  “This is it, Sylvie!” said her mother’s hand in that sudden squeeze.  “Something wonderful or terrible is going to happen!” the hand told her.

Out of those park-like promenades of oak and maple lined streets they drove, back into the center of their shabby little city.  Warren.  Named after the man who surveyed the area for the Connecticut Land Company that pioneered the Western Reserve, Sylvie had learned in Ohio History class only a week ago.  Before that, when someone said the name of the city, she had always thought of mazes and tunnels instead of a man who measured land.  She misses picturing those mazes, those tunnels.  Though the city is small, shrinking each year since steel left these valley people decades ago, it is tidy and neat, not maze-like at all.  It’s a city you could never get lost in.

Once past the downtown, on the other side of the city, the wrong side of the tracks but better than where they’d been living, her father likes to say, they stop at the Hot Dog Shoppe’s drive-thru window, order fries and chili cheese dogs for both of their lunches, then continue on to the house Sylvie’s father purchased several months ago.  “An upgrade, Sylvie,” he had said when he took her to the old brick Tudor with the ivy creeping up one of its walls.  Much better than the falling-down house where they’d lived when her mother was alive.  Sylvie still passed that house on her bus ride to and from school each day.  That house could barely hold itself up when they’d moved out last spring.  Now it really was falling down, leaning to one side unsteadily.  The windows had all been broken by vandals and thieves now, people looking for leftover valuables.  Not jewels or antique furniture.  Copper piping, aluminum window frames and siding–anything they could turn in for money.  They found nothing in that house, though.  Sylvie’s father had already stripped the place before others could get to it.

Inside he sits at the computer desk, as usual, one hand pressing the hot dog to his mouth, the other moving the mouse, clicking, opening e-mail.  They’d had a lot of work in the past year, after word spread that her father could truly rid homes of lingering spirits, temper-tantrum poltergeists and troublesome ghosts.  He’d built his own website after a while, and bought the new house.  He was going to give her a better life, he told her.  A better life than the one he’d had.  Sylvie wondered why he spoke as if his life was already over.  Her mother was dead.  Her father was alive despite his deathly self-description.  How could he not see the difference?

“Another one!” he shouts while chewing a bite of his chili dog.  He grabs the napkins Sylvie has placed beside the mouse pad and wipes away the sauce that dribbled out while he spoke.  “Listen to this, Sylvie.”

*

Dear Mr. Applegate,

     My husband and I have recently read in the newspaper about your ability to exorcise spirits.  Frankly, my husband thinks it is bullshit (his word) but for my sake he said he is willing to try anything.  You see, we have a sort of problem ghost in our home.  It was here before we were.  It’s the ghost of a child, a baby.  It cries and cries, and nothing we do stops it except when I sing it lullabies in what must have been the baby’s room at some point in this home’s history.  Sometimes we’ll find little hand prints in something I might spill on the floor–apple sauce, cake batter I might have slopped over while I wasn’t paying attention because I was on the phone with my mother or perhaps a friend.  If it were only the hand prints, I don’t think it would matter very much to us.  But the crying just goes on and on and it’s begun to drive a wedge between my husband and me.  He seems to be–well, I’m not sure how to put it.  He seems to be jealous of the baby ghost.  Probably because I sing it lullabies quite often.  At least four or five times a day.  Sometimes I worry about it, too, when I’m out shopping or seeing a movie with a friend or my mother, and I’ll think, How is that baby?  I hope the baby is all right without me.  I mean, it won’t stop crying for my husband even if he was at home.  The baby doesn’t like him.  And often he’ll leave and go to the bar down the road when that happens until I come home and sing it back to sleep.  We’re not rich people, though, Mr. Applegate.  And the prices I read on your website are a bit out of our range.  Would we be able to bargain?  I know it’s a lot to ask, considering the task, but as of now we could afford to pay you eight hundred dollars.  I wish it were more, but there it is.  You’re our only hope.  Would you help us?

Yours sincerely,

Mary Caldwell

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One for Sorrow AKA Jamie Marks is Dead

I have good news at the end of 2012. My novel One for Sorrow‘s film rights have officially been sold, and filming will begin shortly in the new year, from what I understand. This has been a long-term project for the director/script writer and the production company he has assembled since he first optioned the rights several years ago. To be honest, most book-to-film options never come to fruition, and I knew that from the beginning, so I never got my hopes up that I’d see my book truly made into a movie, and remained grateful just that there was someone out there who had read the book and resonated with it so greatly that he went so far as to pay money to option the right to make it, and to continue renewing the option until he had a production company in place to make it happen. Now, I’m kind of dumbfounded that it’s really going forward.

Here’s what I can tell you so far:

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The director and script writer is the really well known fashion photographer Carter Smith. On top of fashion photography, he’s also a filmmaker who won a Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Short Film in 2007, for a film called Bug Crush. After that short film, he directed his first feature length film in 2008 called The Ruins, based on the novel by Scott Smith, for DreamWorks.

 

imgres-1Hunting Lane Films, from what I understand, will be producing the film version of One for Sorrow.  They’ve done movies like Half Nelson and Blue Valentine most recently.  The executive producer on the film is John Logan, who wrote the script for movies like Hugo, Any Given Sunday, and Gladiator (!!!), who also won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Play for Red, the Broadway play about painter Mark Rothko.

With a crew like this, I feel like the book is in good hands.

They are most likely going to change the title, however, to Jamie Marks is Dead .  There will also be some slight changes to the novel’s version of the story, but a film based on a novel is never the same thing as a novel–they’re adaptations–so I’m looking forward to seeing how the story of Adam McCormick and Jamie Marks and Gracie Highsmith plays out in this film version of the book.

I’m not sure who all they have cast yet, but I’ve been privy to hearing about possibles, and if I can ever confirm who will be in it for my readers, I’ll be certain to update here on my website as soon as I can.

However, I’ve been shown auditions by some of the hopefuls, which were incredible, and have also seen what seems like thousands of photos from location scouting. It seems they’ll be filming in several different upstate New York locations, small towns and rural villages around the Sleepy Hollow area, which somehow seems appropriate, this being a ghost story and all.

This has been something I’ve been sitting on for so long now, so I’m really excited to finally be able to announce it! I can’t wait to see what Carter makes of my story. It will be interesting and fun to be in the reader/viewer’s seat in these circumstances.

2013, here we come!

Map for a Forgotten Valley and 631

Dear Locals (and those traveling nearby) who will be around Youngstown on February 15th.  I am giving a reading from my series of creative nonfiction vignettes called “Map for a Forgotten Valley”, along with a showing of Derek Jones’ short film “631”.  Here is a blurb of what the evening will look like.  Please click on the image to make it larger.

 

Please come, listen, watch, speak.

Also, the image of the feral house on this flyer was taken by Tony Romandetti, photographer extraordinaire. 😉

Another piece of the map

For those of you who may have read the vignettes in Map for a Forgotten Valley that I published last month, another piece of that map has recently been published by Muse, a Cleveland magazine.  You can read the whole issue of Muse by visiting their website and downloading the pdf of the issue.  Along with my story, “The B&O, Crossroads of Time and Space,” the poet Nin Andrews has interviewed me for the issue as well.

Here’s a link to Muse.

And here’s a direct link to Muse 12 JAN11.

Thanks for reading!

Introducing “jenny”

“jenny” is something my students in the Literary Arts Association at YSU have been busily preparing as a new online literary magazine.  This is a radically energetic and creative group of students, and I’m really proud to be working with them as they put together something new and electric like this.  Please take a look at the site preview.  The debut party will be on November 24th at 7PM at Dorian Books in Youngstown, OH.  Details on the front page of the “jenny” magazine site itself.  If you’re around the area, please join us.  And if you’re not, please give the magazine a read when it debuts and consider sending your own work in the meantime!

–Chris

Dear Friends,

Youngstown State University’s Student Literary Arts Association is proud to invite you to submit work to our new online literary magazine: Jenny.

Allow us a moment to explain the title of our venture.

Like many struggling postindustrial cities across the country, Youngstown, Ohio is a place defined by images of ruin and rust, and there are few images more striking than that of the Jeannette Blast Furnace. “Jenny,” as plant workers called her and as Bruce Springsteen referred to her in his 1995 song “Youngstown,” was one of two furnaces located at Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was a place where things were made, shaped, created.

The blast furnace was shut down in the late 1970s and was demolished in 1996. Steel was one of many industries that left this region built on manufacturing in the last four decades of our history. While the absence of our blast furnaces has been felt in terrible ways throughout our region, our fire has not gone out. In the aftermath of de-industrialization, we are not a people without industry. Youngstown is not done creating, not done making. We are each of us, every day, telling stories. Here in the pages of Jenny, we aim to display some of those artifacts made by wordsmiths and visual artists alike.

Jenny will publish short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and interviews with artists and writers. We hope to bring together writers and artists both from the local region as well as the wider world, connecting our stories with yours, yours with ours here in America’s heartland and America’s rustbelt. Submissions do not have to be set in Youngstown, or in rustbelt or postindustrial settings at all, though we do encourage writing and art that speaks to that experience.

Jenny will appear twice a year, in late fall and spring. We will be publishing 5-7 pieces of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry per issue. We ask that prose not exceed 7,000 words (preferably 5000 or under), and that poetry submissions not exceed 5 pages (or 5 poems).

Each issue will also include a featured artist. If you are interested in being a featured artist, please contact us with a proposed series of images or photographs.

Along with writing and art, we will also feature interviews with authors and artists, and podcasts of selected stories and poems.

Please direct all submissions and questions to ysujenny@gmail.com. Please submit all work as an attachment in .doc or .rtf format. Deadline for the Fall issue is October 29th. If your submission arrives after that, we will consider it for our Spring issue, the deadline for which is April 2nd.

We look forward to your contributions.

Sincerely,

YSU SLAA (Student Literary Arts Association)

Best Beer Store in the World

Hello, World.  Did you know a Youngstown area retailer/pub is rated the best beer store in the world?  I didn’t until today, when my friend Peter Oresick sent me this link to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s article about Vintage Estates, which is just over the border of Youngstown in Boardman, one of the suburbs.  I certainly knew that it was one of the best places I’ve been to, but didn’t realize it was top in the world.  It’s a cool place: carryout store on one side, with every beer and wine imaginable, along with other kinds of alcohol like mead and various blends of sake.  The other half is a tasting pub, with some of the best pizzas I’ve ever eaten.

So, out of town friends, if you’re around these parts in the future, hit me up.  I’ll take you for a visit.  It’s definitely worth it.

The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter

In the October/November issue of Asimov’s, on magazine shelves now, you will find a new story penned by me, entitled “The Ghost Hunter’s Beautiful Daughter”.  It’s set in Warren, Ohio, just a twenty minute drive from where I sit in my office on the North Side of Youngstown, an old floundering steel town with a richly beautiful courthouse square that serves as its downtown, and wonderful old mansions and churches from a time when the region was prosperous.  Every year in the month of October, a local community theater, along with a local church, puts on a Ghost Walk through Warren’s historic district.  When I was a teen in high school, a troop of friends and I would always go on the Ghost Walk, which is more history oriented than it is interested in horror and frightening anyone.  The lives of former residents in the historic district are recounted, at least those who have a bit of a thrill in their family histories.  It’s always something I look forward to each autumn.  For this story, I wanted to set a scene at the Ghost Walk in Warren, which seemed appropriate since I was writing a ghost story.

As an aside, this is the first time a story of mine has been published in Asimov’s, over which my teenage self, if he could know about it, would totally be geeking out.

You can get a taste of the story over at Asimov’s right now, actually.  Just click here. And, if you like it, go out and buy a copy to read the rest of it, or order it online.  I hope you enjoy it.

Oakland Open House

For local readers:

The Oakland Center for the Arts announces its third annual Free Open House and Season Announcement Party on Saturday, August 29, from 6:00-9:00 pm. Hosted by the Oakland Board, the Open House is a chance for the community to get to know their community theater better. Free food, wine, punch, and beverages will be offered in the Star Gallery, where a retrospective of posters from 23 years of past productions will be highlighted. Attendees will also be treated to a preview of show selections highlighting the upcoming season.

The Oakland is celebrating their tenth season at the Boardman Street location with a bang! The 2009-2010 Season will be previewed live on stage, featuring local actors and a roster of up and coming directors including Robert Dennick Joki, Alexandra “Sandy” Vansuch, Christopher Fidram, Dr. John Cox, Shawn Lockaton, and Nathan Beagle. Local actor and media personality Brandy Johanntges will host.

The cast of The Great American Trailer Park Musical will reprise a selection from its recent sold-out smash hit production. Also making an appearance will be the cast of Rent, Jr., which will mark the premiere of the much-loved musical in the Mahoning Valley. Other plays which will be highlighted include Sandy Vansuch’s original one-woman show Love, Ludmilla; The Rocky Horror Show, which returns to the Oakland stage with a totally new look; the Oakland’s annual holiday fundraiser How The Drag Queen Stole Christmas; Dinner with Friends; An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein; Wit; and Back of the Throat.

Never been to the Oakland but dying to find out what all the fuss is about? Stayed away for years and ready to come back? Been a loyal supporter since the Oakland was on Mahoning? The Open House is our way of welcoming, renewing, and saying thanks to our friends and family who keep us afloat. Stop by, grab a bite, take in a show, and meet some new friends. Flexpasses will be for sale all night with drawings for free tickets occurring on the hour.

The Oakland is located at 220 W. Boardman St. in downtown Youngstown. For more information, please visit oaklandcenter.com or follow oaklandcenter on twitter, facebook, or myspace.

A small taste of America in decline

An interactive segmented video about my home region’s loss of industry over the past thirty years, and how it may now lose its very last major manufacturer in GM.  It’s very well made, though a sad reality, and one that is now in the new century becoming the reality of more and more communities in America.  If you want to know what loss of economic foundations look like, watch this small portrait.  There are other documentaries I’ve watched that give bigger pictures, but this is a small taste of America in decline.

To watch it, click here.

Reading at Thurber House

Last week was a big week for me.  Three nice things happened.

1. It was my birthday.  Fun times, growing old.

2. I got to reconnect with an old friend from college.  Fun times, rehashing when I was a youngster.

3. I read at Thurber House, In Columbus, Ohio, where the writer Jamese Thurber is from.  They run a summer series of literary picnics, and the most recent one was aimed at featuring three emerging voices in Ohio, in three forms: creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction.  Memoirist David Giffels was invited as the creative nonfiction writer, James. J. Siegal was there for poetry, and I was the emerging voice in Ohio fiction writing.

What was really cool about this reading is not just the reading itself, which is well-attended by a wonderful audience of people who clearly like to not only read books but to listen to authors read from their work, but what happens before and around the reading itself.  A great interview session at Ohio State University that will be podcasted later this summer (I’ll let you know), and a tour of Thurber’s house, where a portrait of each author who has read there will be hung (that’s me next to Anna Quindlen! well, I don’t know where they’ll hang mine, but it’ll be up there!), as well as a ritual signing of Thurber’s closet, among all the names of all the other writers who have read at Thurber House as well.  In addition, my books will be added to the library in Thurber House.  It’s all very traditional and very quaint and the people who hosted the event were lovely and kind and accomodating.  If you’re ever in Columbus, check out their website to see if they have an event coming up.  It would be well worth it to attend one.

And if you’ve never read any James Thurber, you should start here.

Discussion in America means dissent.”

–James Thurber