I sneezed seven times today. It was the first time that EVER happened and believe me, I would remember such an event. This ghost story author grew up in a very superstitious family. We were raised to count our sneezes like some people counted strikes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. (It’s one of the country folks’ storm watching secrets.) If you don’t understand ask someone from the south where thunderstorms can lead to terrible things.
Am I the only superstitious person in the room? Can’t be. Right?
If you sneeze to five, you’ll be fine.
Sneeze to seven, you’ll go to heaven.
I don’t remember much else of that well repeated verse from my childhood but still to this day I count sneezes. My sneezes. My husband’s sneezes. Certainly, the sneezes of my children. Got to be prepared, right?
Luckily, it’s been a few hours and I haven’t sprouted wings yet. Trust me, I’m not testing God here. I’ve been close to death several times and I don’t want to invite a rematch. (See? I am superstitious and didn’t even know it.)
What about you? Did you grow up in a superstitious household? I learned to avoid stepping across water in a skirt. And certainly, you don’t whistle in the house because the devil will hear you. As I was taught these things by my elders, I accepted their warnings without questions.
I surely didn’t need the devil harassing me, so I did my best to follow the whistling rule. I may have whistled a few notes a few times because I was a rebellious child.
The skirt thing—well, I didn’t understand the consequences until much later. This superstitious warning never really applied to me as I was never one to willingly wear a skirt. I’m a tomboy. Was. Am. Will always be. No skirts for me. Especially when someone finally whispered the rest of that warning in my ear.
You can get pregnant that way!
I grew up accepting all these warnings on faith.
You’re probably asking yourself why I’m sharing this with you. (I’m asking myself the same question.)
If you want insight into my writing process here it is. I write ghost stories because I was taught to be spiritual. To look at the world with an extra pair of eyes. Despite all this, my sometimes living yet bewildered extended family is quite puzzled as to why I write ghost stories. I apparently have a better memory than they do.
Or perhaps, I listened more attentively to those ominous warnings and took them to heart. Either way, I believed and that’s the key to a good ghost story.
Believe the story.
Even if it’s fiction.
You see, I don’t set out to make fiction believable. I believe it from the beginning.
In a way, writing ghost stories is a bit like channeling spirits, I suppose. I don’t consciously set out to pull a haunting tale out of my brain. Instead, I offer myself up, fingers on keyboard, as a conduit for whatever bubbles to the surface in my brain, or spirit. Depending on what day it is.
And in my brain and spirit are many strange warnings from the past. Lots of odd superstitious sayings. Memories that remind me of childhood fears and of the wonderful family I evolved from.
There are lots of things I quietly tucked away and don’t think much about until I set out to write. As I am this morning. I had a plot but guess what, that’s shifting slightly because of this memory.
And just like that, everything changed when I sneezed seven times…
Now, on to writing Dead Is the Loneliest Place to Be.