Gift from a Dying Friend

I’ve dedicated my novel Apparition to my dearly departed friend, Fran Hunnicutt.

Fran & meAbout four years ago, I called Fran on the phone, feeling particularly demoralized about my career. She’d heard it all before, but this time, she thought for a moment, then said, “Gail, I think you are at a crossroads, and crossroads don’t last forever.” She told me I should “follow my bliss”.

I don’t know why, but something about her mixed metaphor struck me. I got an image in my head of standing at a crossroads, not one I’d come across, but one that had come across me. Like an act of grace. Would I just stand there, and let that crossroads fly on past? A few weeks later, I started moonlighting, writing a novel. It was something I’d been thinking about doing all my life. I’d just never been able to start before.

When Fran and I met about 25 years ago, we were both in bad shape. She had been forced to give up a career that had been her life for many years. I had just left a marriage. We were both racked with loss and regret and failure. She was a generation older, but we felt like sisters. We shed tears together, exchanged fears, and gave each other moral support. Our friendship grew.

I’d never met anyone with more generosity of spirit, and more steadfast faith in her friends and family than Fran. But she had constant health problems, mysterious ailments and symptoms without known causes. She was like a modern version of Job, harassed by God in some perverse test of her faith. She persevered, never losing her spirit of enthusiasm for life or her dogged belief in family and friends, in culture and the arts, and in simple human kindness.

When Fran eventually moved from Toronto to the West Coast to be closer to her two daughters and her grandson, I was heartbroken. I missed her horribly and mourned her absence for many months, until we fell into a regular rhythm of phone calls, and my annual week-long visits. She was a perfect fit for Victoria, settling into the coffeehouse culture, joining a book club filled with other exceptional older women, delighting in her garden, fawning on her family.

We kept up with each other’s lives by phone. She was always full of anecdotes about her latest crazy adventure, kooky characters she’d met and everyday miracles she’d experienced. She was endlessly entertaining. She could also do tough love very well, with pointed questions and strong advice when she thought I needed it.

But her health deteriorated further, and there was finally a formal diagnosis. Fran had Amyloidosis, one of those rare terminal conditions you’d hear about on the TV show ‘House’, proteins produced in her bone marrow were slowly attacking and undermining her vital organs – heart, kidneys and lungs, but especially her heart and lungs. She saw specialists who offered no answers and little hope. She tried all kinds of medications. She came to depend on an oxygen tank, flying down the sidewalk in her motorized three-wheel scooter, tank in basket, heading for the coffee shop.

There were many bad patches. Several years ago she was given about three months to live. She defied the doctors and held on. She was always breathless, though, and the phone calls got shorter. I sometimes worried that I was being selfish, wanting to talk, wanting to listen, keeping her on the phone longer than I should. Her body seemed frailer by the week, but her grip on life remained sure.

One day I ventured to tell her that if my novel was ever published, I was going to dedicate it to her. For me, there had never been any doubt. Fran seemed pleased, but we both knew why I’d told her, and it cast a slight shadow over the moment. Because neither of us believed she’d live long enough to see the day.

Fran was kept alive by homecare workers and the heroic efforts of her daughters and sister, and her own stubborn love. Her life became a constant struggle just to breath. Every day, every hour, every breath could be her last. She suffered with courage. She talked with me about death, what she feared, what she didn’t fear.

The last time I got her on the phone, just before last Christmas, she could barely speak, but she asked me for a favour. I had just received a publishing contract. She wanted me to mail her a photocopy of the first page, so she could see the letterhead, my name and the book title, with her own eyes.

So many of us carry a personal dream through our lives, longing for it, lacking the faith and courage to make it happen. It’s so easy to spend our strongest years only ever on the verge, until we finally decide it’s too late. We’re too old. What confluence of circumstances makes the difference, creates the moment wherein we finally begin? I don’t know. I only know that Fran was standing close by when it happened to me.

In the days that followed, her daughter Kelly answered the phone when I called. She said her mother was too weak to talk to me, but she’d received my card and was so happy for me. About a week after Christmas, she was finally moved to a hospice, and with the family around her bed, the hospice doctor asking Fran if there was anything she needed. “Champagne?” she whispered.

She slipped gently into unconsciousness within a day or two and died. My novel was released about 9 months later. I like to imagine she’s reading it in a coffee shop in Victoria right now. I hope she likes it, and knows how grateful I am for her friendship.

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5 Steps to Ley Lines in Apparition

Ley lines (pronounced ‘lay’) are in Apparition because I wanted to pay homage to the landscape of its setting, Grey County by imagining the relationship between the land and spiritual energy. I played with the idea of ‘hallowed’ ground and roads taken on a spiritual journey, in this world or to the ‘afterworld’. Whether the reader takes it as literal or just literary is up to them. But these were the steps I travelled:

ley-lines-uk

1. In the West, ‘ley lines’ were coined by an amateur British archeologist named Alfred Watkins in 1921 in a book called The Old Straight Track, when he noticed that landmarks, whether geological or cultural, often appear to be in alignment with each other.  He gave examples of four or more natural and historical sites that lined up along single planes, too numerous, he argued, to be a coincidence. He connected the dots and called them ‘ley lines’, after the old English word ‘ley’ meaning a kind of trench or valley. He speculated that they represented ancient roads or trackways.

2. Popular speculation is that there are geological anomalies that point to some kind of invisible earth-energy network running along the surface of our planet, emanating from below ground. Stonehenge is believed to get its mojo from being at a crossroads between two ley lines.  Sedona in Arizona is another hotbed of ley line power. Of course, lots of different cultures have parallel ideas that predate Watkins by centuries, beliefs that there are geometric or curved lines in the landscape that act like aqueducts of energy flow. Everyone from dowsers to shamans has been trying to tap into these energy lines for eons. In Chinese culture they’re called “dragon currents,” and it’s bad luck to block or disrupt them. Aborigines in Australia have song lines.

3. They’re sometimes thought of as pathways of heightened spiritual activity, roadways for the traveling souls of dead ancestors. Many spiritualists in the early 20th century believed that ley lines in Great Britain were marked by increased ghost sightings.  Some pretty important people believed this, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

4. You can find numerous maps of ley lines on the Internet, including for Southern Ontario, the setting for Apparition, but I didn’t draw specifically on any of them. I preferred to combine the idea of a ley line with an Aboriginal ‘ghost road’ instead. Ghost roads are a common element of ancient aboriginal folklore, including amongst First Nations who inhabited the Grey County region thousands of years before colonization by Europeans. Death is a journey – a literal journey by land or water to another place. Ghost roads can be identified by the increase in ghost sightings along them. (More on ghost roads to come!)

5. For some reason, I like the image of a ghost walking along a road, heading somewhere. But in Apparition, I was also imagining reasons why ghosts might not take that journey, getting trapped in ‘this world’ when they’re supposed to be on their journey to the ‘next’. And then I wondered whether sometimes they just don’t want to hit the road.

An Inspiration for ‘Morris Dyson”

My APPARITION character ‘Morris Dyson’ is a columnist at a fictional Owen Sound newspaper, an historian specializing in the local social history of Grey County. That’s his day job. By night, he’s a secret ghost-tracker, mapping out ghost sightings, researching the stories surrounding them, helping my protagonist Amelia Mackenzie solve the mysteries behind their restlessness. Dyson is himself a world-weary, haunted man, with a heavy heart and a gaunt face. I kind of imagined him as Harry Dean Stanton in the wonderful Christmas movie One Magic Christmas (shot, by the way, in Meaford and Owen Sound in Grey County!), with a sad, cowboy drawl.

Andrew_Armitage2But when it came to Morris Dyson’s day job, I was inspired by the vocation of another writer – whose columns I’ve read with admiration and respect, though I only met him for the first time a week or two ago. And his character is nothing like that of Morris! Nothing at all!

Andrew Armitage is a Grey County treasure!  He’s a columnist at the Owen Sound Sun Times, the long-time, now retired, chief librarian of the Owen Sound public library, and a wonderfully skillful and engaging author of local histories. For years, my husband and I have admired his writings, and Morris Dyson’s day job is my way of paying homage to the decades-long contribution that Andrew Armitage has made to the celebration of Grey and Bruce County history. Is Andrew Armitage the real ‘Morris Dyson’? Of course not!  (But I can’t help thinking that researching local history might make a great cover for a secret ghost-tracker!)

It’s a special thrill that Andrew Armitage included a review of my book Apparition for the Owen Sound Sun Times this past weekend in his weekly column “Read This”, on October 26th, 2013, and I’m reprinting it below with his permission:

“We have a new novelist living in Grey County.  Let me introduce her.  Gail Gallant is a television writer and story-editor who has worked on productions for CBC, the Discovery Channel and History Television.  Gail and her husband (think The Nature of Things) live in one of the old Telford houses in what was once north Sydenham Township.

Sitting in the Ginger Press one day, Maryann Thomas received a call that the author of a forthcoming Random House title somehow worked this writer into her plot.  I didn’t think more about it until a reading copy of Apparition (Doubleday Canada, $14.95) came in for review.  Even then, I waited until I had the actual book in my hand before I took the plunge.

I whipped through Apparition in one sitting and then, went back and read it again.  This is a ghost story, a gripping grand tale of an old barn, an apparent suicide, the deaths of broken-hearted young men by their own hands, dating back decades.  It is atmospheric, supernatural, and destined to keep readers glued uncomfortably to their chairs.

Yep, I’m there, barely recognizable.  “My name is Morris Dyson,” he continues.  “I’m a writer.  I write a column for the local paper.  Mostly short history pieces.”  Dyson (along with his son Kip) leads Amelia (age 17) to the barn where her best friend, Matthew died.  And then becomes a guide to the events that unfurl in one very scary place.

Gail introduced herself last Monday on the MS Chi Cheemaun’s fall voyage down the Peninsula.  Puzzled, I asked her why her new novel was listed as Young Adult.  Which led to a great long talk about publishers, agents, and readers.  Apparition is certainly not “YA” (ask me, I was once a young adult librarian in Philadelphia).  Even though it deals with the lives of young people, this is a full-fledged novel that reminds me of the early work of Susie Moloney, the Winnipeg author of Bastion Falls.

Apparition makes excellent use of its Grey County setting.  Unlike other recent novels that attempt to superimpose a place on a story, Gallant’s rambles through such well-known places as Inglis Falls, the Scenic Caves, Greenwood Cemetery, and Branningham Grove ring true.

“A grand old three-storey Empire Loyalist mansion.  It’s been run as a restaurant, changing owners about three times in the past ten years, and no one has been able to make it work.  But back in the late 1850s it was a last stop in the Underground Railway – the secret route to freedom for slaves escaping from the cotton plantations in the Deep South.  Apparently it was also a tavern and brothel for sailors, back when the town was a thriving port for ships on the Great Lakes.”

Apparition, which appeared in print this fall, will be followed by Absolution in 2014.  Also published by Doubleday Canada, it will continue the story of Amelia and Matthew.  And this reviewer can’t wait to read it.  But that is months away.

On Tuesday night, October 29th at 7:00, Gail Gallant will have her Owen Sound book launch at the Ginger Press.  I will join her that evening to tell some ghost stories, explore the world of scary living in the outback of Ontario, and belatedly welcome Gail to Owen Sound.  We will also break a bottle of bubbly over my new book, Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem: 26 True Tales of Grey and Bruce.  By the way, proceeds from the book will go to support the enthusiastic work of the Community Waterfront Centre to forge a new vision for Owen Sound’s historic port.  Join us!”

What’s with Love Triangles?

Seeing Isn't Always Believing

Seeing Isn’t Always Believing

During Word on the Street in Toronto last month, I took part in a panel discussion with two other YA authors entitled “Love in a Hopeless Place”. Just as we were running out of time, a gentleman in the audience asked an interesting question: whether a story about love must rely on a ‘love triangle’ to provide the plot with dramatic tension, or whether there are other ways to create tension in a ‘young romance’ novel without triangulating.

Well, my two fellow authors on the panel gave thoughtful responses, reassuring the young man that No, a YA novel does not have to rely on a love triangle for tension, and there are lots of other things that can threaten a relationship, thus driving up tension, stakes, and drama. But by the time it came round to me, having a clear ‘love triangle’ (Amelia, Matthew and Kip) in my book APPARITION, and feeling that we’d run out of time anyway, I responded rather glibly, just saying “Yes, definitely!” in a joking way.

Afterwards, I kind of regretted not taking the question more seriously, especially given the look of disappointment on the questioner’s face – making me think he’s spent a little time waiting for some gal to make up her mind himself. But then, who hasn’t? Who doesn’t know what that feels like?

So here’s my more considered response for YA writers out there:

Of course a YA novel, a romance, or a love story, doesn’t need a love triangle to make it work! A relationship, as we all know, can be threatened by many, many things, thus making for the kind of tension and drama that engages a reader. There are lots of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ style barriers to love, two people coming from worlds that are simply too different – with all kinds of external things working against them, or coming between them – class, race, ethnicity, timing, or lifestyle, not to mention prior commitments. There are countless internal things that can come between two people who love and desire one another. Different needs, dreams, even fears, that can threaten to tear a loving couple apart.

But what I think the questioner was really asking was Why are there so many goddam love triangles in YA novels? Ahh! Now, that’s a good question. I think it’s because the love triangle can capture something profoundly true and revealing about character and experience. Namely, that most thinking human beings, especially when they are young adults, but also at times throughout life, are complex, evolving, and wrestling with inner conflict. Which is why feelings about a person can be mixed, even when those feelings are extremely intense, and perhaps especially so.

Young people know something adults can sometimes forget – that life isn’t always straightforward and neither are our innermost desires. Which is why a decent love triangle story often rings painfully true. It’s rarely some crass comparison going on between two candidates for one’s affections, and more often two very different parts of oneself that respond separately to two distinct people. Can you love two people at once? Yes and no. You see? Nothing’s simple, for most of us. And if it does seem simple, well, count your blessings. You’re a rare bird.

If this weren’t the case, well the word commitment wouldn’t have to play such a vital part in our love lives. Because the point is, love is an experience that demands a choice, and a love triangle is a vivid way of driving home that we don’t choose our experience of love necessarily, but we do choose what we do about it. We just don’t get to choose what the other person does about it. Lucky people are the ones who wind up choosing each other, without regrets, despite the options.

Six Things to Consider when Evaluating a Cemetery

There are lots of things to consider when rating a cemetery. Here are six:Abbney Park

1. The lay of the land. I’m convinced that ghosts like a good view, so for the sake of the ghosts who may in fact be hanging around, there’s nothing better than a cemetery that is either set on a hill, or at least a bit hilly. In many communities, the cemetery is positioned above the town, on the outskirts, overlooking the townsfolk, and this makes a lot of sense to me. I made the in town cemetery in Apparition on a hill for this reason, even though it’s a cemetery from my imagination and not based on any specific one.

2. The best cemeteries have landscaping. Flowers and shrubs are good, but trees are what make a cemetery really special. The bigger, the better. Some of my favourite cemeteries are actually a little overgrown. One of the best cemeteries on the planet is in London, England, the Abney Park Cemetery. It’s ancient and overrun so you almost have to search for the gravestones amongst the trees and brambles and ivy vines. It’s spooky as hell, even in daylight.

3. Then there are the shapes and ages of the actual gravestones, from tiny markers on the ground for babies to ostentatious monuments for wealthy families in town. I also like the statues, especially of angels. Sometimes there are little shrines with home-made icons and candles for a more personal touch.

4. The age of the cemetery makes a big difference to its character, and whether the inscriptions are sharply etched, or worn and crusty beyond all reading. The best cemeteries are the old ones that are still in use. My favourite are at least a hundred years old. The inscriptions tend to be more poetic and religious with age, often with scriptural references few people would recognize today.

5. Cemeteries are communities. In any given cemetery, who are the dead? The graveyard just up the road from my country home is filled with Scottish immigrants, born in Scotland and died over here. Another nearby cemetery is in Leith, with a gravestone that marks the final resting place of famous Canadian painter Tom Thomson, although whether the bones disinterred from Algonquin Park near where he drowned are really his has been debated for decades. Certainly his ghost prefers hanging out in the landscape he painted.

And the very Victorian Abney Park Cemetery in north London was designated specifically for citizens who were not members of the Church of England, ie not Anglican. In the 19th century, that meant outsiders of one form or another, self-proclaimed atheists, Salvation Army members, ‘free thinkers’ of all sorts.

6. You can read quite a lot between the lines on a gravestone, just looking at the names and birth and death dates. Gravestones are often about relationships – somebody’s son, somebody’s wife. You can imagine their stories. What are the social demographics? In the early part of last century, the number of deaths of young women during childbearing years speaks volumes about the age-old risks in childbirth. Same with the spike in the deaths of babies in hard times. The deaths of octogenarians, all from the same family tree always impresses me. Then there are the war monuments, honouring soldiers whose bodies made it home.

And I remember visiting a certain Inuit cemetery on the Baker Lake reserve in the high Arctic, a tiny community with gravestones marking too many deaths of teenage boys and young men, lost to suicide or misadventure. Walking though that cemetery, the feeling of heartache was practically unbearable.

Haunted People vs. Haunted Places

haunted_house_4_by_fairiegoodmother-d5d3x91I’ve often wondered why, in Western culture, ghosts mainly haunt places, specific places that have some kind of connection to them when they were alive. But in Eastern culture – Japan, for instance (where they are equally if not even more fond of ghost stories!) – ghosts tend to target and haunt specific people.

Mr. Takahiro Hamano, a Japanese Television executive producer of an anthology series of ghost stories that ran on NHK, their public TV network, explained to me that ghosts in Japanese folklore usually pick on a person who wronged them or was responsible for their deaths. Once a ghost has a grudge, the person they have a grudge against can run, but they can’t hide. The ghost will catch up with them, even if they have to track them down in a Holiday Inn hotel room a thousand miles away. Ghosts can do that in Japan.

But in our culture, ghost stories are more likely to focus on a very specific location. It’s almost as if the ghost “lives” in a particular spot, a woods, a graveyard, a shack, and most likely of all, a big old house. Our ghosts tend to be house-bound, and can’t leave it even if they wanted to. They’re shut-ins. The good news here is that, often, if you run out the front door and down the road, the ghost may not follow you past the front gate. If you hitch a bus out of town, chances are that you are totally out of danger. But if you choose to spend the night, well, then you’re just asking for trouble.

Sometimes, the “haunted house” genre goes so far that it’s as if the house itself is haunted, as if the house is the ghost. It’s alive, well, in the way a ghost is ‘alive’.  A good example is in the classic ghost story film “The Haunting” (the original and not the crappy remake) where the very walls seem to breathe and buckle and bang in the dead of night.

And how often do those classic ghost stories end with the haunted house burning down? As if the house itself is cursed and the very building has to be destroyed in order to exorcise the evil spirits: The House of Usher, The Haunting, The Changeling – haunted houses always seem to end up in ashes.

I’ll be honest. I’m not a big fan of contemporary movies about ghosts. I don’t like gratuitous gore, torture, and sexualized violence, and I don’t enjoy being frightened so badly that I can’t sleep at night. (That already happens to me too often.) I did appreciate The Blair Witch Project, though I wouldn’t want to watch its sequel. And I’ve avoided all the usual poltergeist horror movies with fixed cameras etc. I’m just too chicken. But if you have a ghost story to recommend that’s thoughtful and not just disturbing – I mean apart from The Sixth Sense or The Others, which were great – please let me know!!!

EVIL BARNS!

side barn

I  know first hand what it’s like to be afraid to go into a barn.

The Telford barn in my novel Apparition is inspired by a very creepy barn that was on a farm property my husband and I bought some years ago. We were city folk looking for a weekend escape from our stressful jobs in television, and we couldn’t afford much. The farmhouse in Grey County, just south of Meaford, Ontario, was an eyesore. It had been neglected by an absentee owner who left it to a series of short-term renters for years. But it was affordable. There are condo parking spaces in Toronto that cost more. And if there was ever a house that seemed emotionally depressed, it was that one. We proceeded to put ourselves into deep debt fixing it up, and in the end, it did seem happier.

But the depressed state of that old farmhouse was nothing compared to mood of the huge weathered barn out back. It had issues no hardware store could heal.

Inside barnHave you ever stepped into a space and with no physical evidence at all, you just knew that bad things had happened in there? The barn hadn’t been used by a proper farmer for many decades, and though it was mostly empty except for the odd unidentifiable pieces of farm equipment, small piles of the kind of old junk you might find in a garage, it seemed crowded with discontent.

It was impressively large. The roof rafters reached up three stories high, like some post-apocalyptic cathedral. The beams that held up the frame were massive tree trunks. Along both sides there were platforms and a series of stalls. The air smelt of an awful old dust and straw, and the sunlight came in shards through all the cracks and gaps and missing boards in the walls and roof. The whole place had a strange spiritual quality. Bad spirits.

If there had been human sacrifices in that barn, I wouldn’t have been surprised. I hated going in, and wouldn’t do it alone at all. My son, 14 years old at the time, thought it was pretty cool and would hang out inside with a buddy, mostly breaking things for fun. We did find one mysterious box of personal stuff, old papers, notes, bills from years before. And a short journal. I admit I read it. I figured the author had long since gone.

It wasn’t your average ‘dear diary’ journal. From the first paragraph, the writer explained that she was keeping a record of interactions with her estranged husband, at the recommendation of her lawyer. He had just been released from prison, and though she had a restraining order against him, she was afraid he would show up looking for her and the kids. She had been staying at the house temporarily, as a kind of shelter or hide-out. There were several accounts of him showing up at night, banging on the doors, shouting and swearing. There was a lot of fear and anger and guilt and regret on those pages.

On weekends we would go for long hikes along the Bruce Trail, and that was when I first started imagining a story about the barn. The scene that kept playing in my mind was of a mother, trying to talk her suicidal son down from a high beam where he’s about to hang himself. The problem would be that he’s been possessed by a suicidal ghost. She would eventually find out, with the help of an eccentric ghost expert, that there had been a series of suicides in the barn over the last century. The skeleton of the story hung in my head for almost ten years. I didn’t begin to write it down until I’d ditched the narrating mother for the teenage boy’s sister. I gave the story to Amelia to tell.

Every few months, a few wicked storm would bring pieces of the roof flying down into the yard, and the boards seemed so unstable that we finally decided to have the whole thing taken down before it fell down on us. We enlisted the services of a young preacher who ran some obscure church in the county, taking down barns on the side in exchange for hauling off the old barn boards. They would sell as reclaimed wood for cabinet-makers. The process was slow and methodical, a barn-raising in reverse. Still, one day, a young teen he had helping him came running to the house in a panic. The preacher had fallen from a great height, and we had to get him to the local hospital right away. He was only out of commission a few days and lucky he didn’t break his back, that’s all I can say.

In a way, I feel badly now about destroying the barn. Old abandoned barns, from a distance, are a beautiful sight. Just as long as you don’t have to go inside or, God forbid, spend the night.

Ghosts vs. Angels

AbneyPark2Even though these days I spend all my time thinking about and writing about ghosts, and my novel Apparition is a ghost story, my first obsession wasn’t with ghosts but with angels.

My mother was born in rural Prince Edward Island, the second youngest child and only girl in a large family. Her mother died when she was only eight years old, and her father sent her off to a residential convent school for the remainder of her education. For years during the 1940s she lived in a residential convent school, raised and educated by nuns. That’s a heavy dose of old-fashioned Catholic religion. And she passed it on to her children – just as heavy.

My childhood world was supernatural – religious statues and pictures, rosaries and holy water fonts, prayer books and blessed medals. The atmosphere was thick with invisible characters – angels and martyrs and saints, the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.  But my favourite invisible beings were always the angels – angels in general and guardian angels in particular.

Who can resist the idea of an angel watching over you? Keeping an eye on you? When I was really young I used to worry that I might accidentally crowd my guardian angel when I got into bed or sat in a chair. I imagined her so close by, she had to dodge me a bit when I made a fast move.

I imagined angels to be pale white and translucent, and beautiful and loving, but also tough enough to protect me from harm. But I was never really drawn to the religious images of angels in artwork – white fluffy clouds, harps, flowing robes and wings. Those angels in medieval paintings always looked bored to me.

Something about growing up made me lose interest in angels. Life got more complicated, and it seemed to me that angels didn’t. Except for the last angel I ever remember seeing. She was a very old lady on the bus. I don’t know why she struck me as an angel, but the impression was overwhelming. She was hunched and wrinkled and frail, moving slowly to the back doors to exit. But something about her face was radiant, as only an angel’s can be. I was so struck by her that I wrote a poem about angels as soon as I got home.

I gradually became more interested in ghosts than angels. Angels are so virtuous and pure and well-intentioned, and ghosts, well – not always. Ghosts are more like us. Where I’d always looked to angels for protection, ghosts remind me of loss. In the end, the older I get, the more I think I can relate to ghosts. Ghosts speak to me in a way that angels never could. And that’s why I write about ghosts. They make a strange kind of sense.

But does that mean a ghost can’t also be a bit of a guardian angel too? That’s where Matthew Sorenson in Apparition comes in. Could he become Amelia’s ‘guardian ghost’? It’s taking him a while to get used to being a ghost, but who knows what will happen when he does?

Finally, for the record, here’s the poem I wrote after seeing the old lady/angel on the bus.

 

Angels by Gail B. Gallant

angels live and die and live

and die and live again

even the purest spirits

find they flicker now and then

forever is a broken line

that breaks and joins again

like music that arises, fades

and then is heard again

and angels can be old and dry

and still be full of light

and spirits have been seen to fly

after their final flight

between two deaths come many births

that make the living bright

like flashing light that’s off and on

continuous to sight

though true the speed can vary

like the fluttering of a wing

angels come to life again

with all the force of spring

and life is off and on

just like the blessings angels bring

when angels die they truly die

and push the limits of pain

and birth hurts just like dying

pushing limits just the same

true when angels die

they leave an awful empty space

but angels come alive again

and temperatures rise again

and souls are open-eyed again

leaving death without a trace

so immortality is a lie

because the soul can live and die

before their last eternal rest

angels live a thousand lives

undo a thousand deaths

I Love Cemeteries

Hastings UK Cemetery

I love cemeteries. I really, really love them. Always have. I’m not exaggerating. And just like love, the way I feel about cemeteries is a little bit non-rational. The mere sight of a cemetery gives me a little endorphin hit. It’s a strange wave of warm, reassuring comfort. Usually followed by screeching brakes and spinning tires on gravel as I careen off to the side of the road for a closer look.

There are two cemeteries in my novel Apparition. One of them is in town, and it’s where both Amelia’s friend Matthew, and Amelia’s mother who died a few years before, are buried. The other cemetery is a small old country cemetery at a crossroads near 12th Line, where the ancestors of the family who build the Telford farmhouse are buried. And I think it’s the perfect setting for a surprise rendezvous between Amelia and Kip. Cemeteries can be very romantic, a great place to meet someone special.

Even though I love cemeteries, I’m not ‘dying’ to get into one. I don’t envy the dead. But visiting cemeteries does make me feel more comfortable about my inevitable death. Overall, it’s a positive experience.

When I walk through a cemetery, I’m not thinking of the bodies in various states of decay under my feet. I’m not thinking particularly of their spirits either. I don’t immediately imagine all the ghosts that linger in the cemetery at night. I’m mostly thinking about the gravestones.

I come by my interest in gravestones honestly. A gravestone is one of the very earliest images I can remember from my childhood. It was in our family photo album, a black and white photograph, really old, with a thin white scalloped border. A full-frame shot of a gravestone. It was one of those stones set flat on the ground to mark the spot of the burial.

The name on the gravestone was “Gail Gallant”. Yeah, my name. It was the gravestone of my older sister, who died from complications after a bad car accident my parents had before I was born. I came along less than a year after her death and my parents gave me the same name, so I more or less saw myself as her, reincarnated. In a way, I saw the gravestone as mine.

I love the look of gravestones because they remind me that every person buried in the ground once walked above ground just like us, and after they left, family and friends marked their passing on these stones. They wrote something. They chose their words. They had them chiseled into stone so they’d last. Maybe they cried at the burial. Maybe they visited the gravesite for years after. Maybe they planted flowers. Plastic flowers, even. Cemeteries feel like a silent and secluded space for all the people left behind every time another person dies. So in a strange but nice way, cemeteries radiate love as much as loss.

My Apparition

GG-tight shot

This is my first Apparition Blog entry.  It’s all about ghosts – and the mysterious images, strange noises, and spooky feelings that go with them. I’ve always been interested in ghosts. Do they exist, and if so, what exactly are they? What do they want? And if they don’t really exist, why are ghost stories such a universal part of human culture, all over the world and since the earliest of times?

I’ve been writing supernatural thriller/romance stories about a reluctant clairvoyant teenage girl named Amelia who sees and talks to and sometimes hangs out with ghosts. Amelia is ‘reluctant’ because she doesn’t really relish the fact that she sees dead people. It’s scary, and disturbing, and even frustrating. Because she often feels they need her help, but it’s hard to tell how or why. The first book, APPARITION, is out in September, 2013, and its sequel, ABSOLUTION, comes out next Fall.

All Amelia knows is that, wherever there’s a ghost, something’s wrong. Usually something she’s got to try to figure out and fix. That makes life complicated and often dangerous. To make matters worse, her heart is torn between two boys in her life: Kip and Matthew. One of them is alive and one of them is dead but still in the picture, if you know what I mean.

Do you believe in ghosts? I’m not so sure myself. At least not when I’m downtown, walking along a busy sidewalk on a sunny day.

But alone in the country after sundown, in a secluded 158 year old stone farmhouse in Grey County, Ontario, set back a quarter mile from the road and hidden behind towering black walnut trees, well, that’s a different story.

It’s bedtime, and I head up the dimly lit staircase. I turn a hard right into my bedroom, careful not to glance to the left down the long hall toward with dark doorways that open onto three other empty bedrooms, for fear of what I might see. Like, for instance, a moving shadow in the corner of my eye.  Or a portal into some ghoulish abyss.

This is when I have the creeping feeling that ghosts really do exist. In fact, I sense them filling up my bedroom as soon as I flick off my light switch. The souls of the dead surge in from hallway and surround me, crowd all around my bed, float overhead and lurk in corners behind furniture. I know they’re here because I can feel them.

That’s the problem with ghosts. There’s not much hard proof, just a cold, creepy feeling. But where does that feeling come from? Why is it so strong? It’s not like I’m making it up.

I’ve always suspected that people tend to see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe. It’s a bit cynical, I know. For instance, I fear that for many people, ‘heaven’ is a very appealing concept, a celestial paradise that’s comforting in the face of death, but maybe, just maybe, a bit of wishful thinking too.

Ghosts are different. They’re not exactly part of a heavenly choir, offering comfort to us anxious mortals. More like the opposite. I think ghosts serve as a nasty reminder of our mortality, not an escape from it. And belief in them often arises not from wishful thinking but from raw personal experience, whether we want to believe or not. Whether we are reluctant, like Amelia, or not. And what good comes from thinking about our mortality? Well, because it might encourage us to live mortal life, for as long as it lasts, more fully, more deeply.

What about you? Have you ever experienced a ghost? How did it make you feel? I hope you’ll check in on my blog, and share your thoughts and stories too.

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My Apparition: All about Ghosts

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