Sharing Chapter 1 of “Giving Up the Ghosts”

Candle wick burning.

Image via Wikipedia

Since I decided to take the plunge and self publish, and today is Fiction Friday over at the Domestic Fringe, and I am trying to get on the road quickly so I shouldn’t stop to write, I thought I would share the first chapter of the book for middle-grade readers. Enjoy!

CHAPTER 1:
SECRETS REVEALED

 

T

he finished basement took on an eerie silence as Andie watched Brittany strike a match to begin the séance. Sleeping bags, pillows, and ten young bodies cast strange shadows on the walls in the flickering candlelight. Several of the girls shifted and giggled as the air started to feel heavier.

“Quiet,”Brittanyordered. “We have to be serious.”

Accustomed to following Brittany’s every word, the girls settled down with nervous glances at one another. Andie wondered if any of the girls really believed in ghosts. Andie was sure that Brittany didn’t believe in anything supernatural or anything that involved the imagination. Andie and Brittany played together all the time when they were little girls. They often held tea parties with “imaginary” friends. What Brittany didn’t know, however, was that the friends were not imaginary—at least not to Andie. There were always one or two ghosts hanging around with the girls that only Andie could see. The ghosts played games, sang songs, asked questions and pretended they were as alive as the two little girls. Andie told Brittany stories of whatever the ghosts were doing, but Brittany always thought it was just Andie’s great imagination.

When they turned twelve, Brittany decided that playing with invisible playmates was no longer cool, and that boys were much more interesting.

“You are like a little baby playing with imaginary friends,” she told Andie one day. “I have more important things to think about. I think Steven is so cute.”

Andie had no interest in boys at that point. Brittany drifted away and went on to form a new group of friends. This group, known as The Circle, eventually led the school. Andie soon had nobody but her ghosts.

Andie had not been invited to one of Brittany’s beginning-of-school sleepovers since Brittany had become so popular. For some reason, Brittany had decided it was time to give Andie another chance. Every year Brittany tested one girl to see if she was worthy of joining The Circle. It was hard to pass the test. Andie was determined to succeed because popularity would make her sophomore year in high school much better, and she was tired of only having incorporeal friends.

So here Andie was, sitting at a séance, watching a ghost form in the corner and wondering if she dared to say anything to the other girls. They’ll just think I’m still playing with imaginary friends, she thought, so I’m not going to tell them the truth. I don’t want to screw this up.

Using her spookiest voice, Brittany began, “Eeef theeeere is anyone heeere who wants to talk to uuuusssss, please give us a siiiign.”

Nothing happened. At least nobody but Andie realized what was happening. She watched as the silvery shape she had noticed earlier took form in the darkest corner of the room. At first a dim blob, it finally emerged as the image of a girl about Andie’s age, wearing an old-fashioned, floor-length nightgown.  Andie sneaked glances at the other girls to see if they noticed the ghost. As usual, she seemed to be the only one who was able to see anything otherworldly.

“Is there aaaanyone heeeere who wishes to speak to uuus?” Brittanyasked.

The ghost wandered over to stand behind Courtney and said, “Hello, I’m here.”

Andie heard the statement clearly, or as clearly as one can when a ghost is talking, which sounds like an echo from a deep well. Courtney, sitting next toBrittany, started giggling and asked, “Did you just blow in my ear?”

“It’s windy outside. You probably felt a draft through the window,” Brittany said, “Everyone should ask a question. Maybe a ghost will respond to someone else.”

Obedient as always, the other girls took turns seeking some connection with the spirit world. Andie had to bite her lip to keep from laughing as the playful girl ghost responded in ways that the other girls could almost hear or feel, but decided to pass off as imagination. The spirit wandered from girl to girl, whispering, playing with their hair, touching their arms. The girls twitched and itched, but couldn’t seem to recognize the signs of a ghost.

“If you are here, knock on the wall,” Courtney suggested.

The ghost knocked, startling everyone.

“My stupid brother must be spying on us,” Brittany said, jumping up to open the door leading upstairs. Of course nobody was there. “Leave us alone, dork!”Brittanyyelled, “Stay away from this room!”

The teenage ghost started being even more mischievous, blowing on necks, causing goose bumps, and pinching arms and cheeks. She stood behind Brittany and made strange faces. Andie pushed her nails into her palm and hid her face behind her thick mane of unruly reddish-brown hair to hide her smile. She pretended to cough to hide her laugh.

“Is something funny, Andrea?”Brittanyasked, annoyed at the interruption to her serious ceremony.

“Sorry . . . um, I just had something in my throat. And . . . I wish you would call me Andie. You know nobody calls me Andrea.” Andie answered quietly.

“We don’t use nicknames in our group,”Brittanysaid, “It’s your turn to ask a question.”

“Um . . . I’d rather not.”

“If you want to hang out with us, you have to do as I say,”Brittanysaid. The other girls responded in agreement.

Courtney said, “You should ask the ghost to do something.”

“OK, let me think a minute,” Andie said, closing her eyes. What do I do? She thought. I don’t really want the ghost to answer me, but I can’t get out of this. Andie remembered that ghosts required a lot of energy to move objects, so often they wouldn’t do it when asked. Usually they just said “No.”  Please just say no, Andie prayed silently.

“If you are here,” she whispered so quietly that the other girls leaned forward to hear her, “please lift the candle in the air.”

The ghostly girl looked thoughtful and headed toward the candle. Andie held her breath as the spirit tried to grab it. The candle flames flickered more brightly as the ghost focused energy in that area. Someone whispered, “Did you see that?”

“Shh!” Brittany said. “You are imagining things.”

Andie held her breathe. The ghost made two more unsuccessful attempts at moving the candle. When she gave up, a look of frustration reflected on her pale features, Andie released air in a rush.

“Well, that was useless,” Brittany snapped and blew out the candle. “I’m getting bored, let’s do makeovers now.”  She looked over at Andie, “Some of us really need help. You should start wearing makeup Andrea.”

Andie blushed, but stood up, relieved that the séance was over with no harm done. She’d even tolerate a makeover, although her mother didn’t want her to wear makeup. She’d do anything to keep her secret safe.

All the girls rushed over to grab hairbrushes and makeup cases. Brittany ordered Andie to sit in front of her and started experimenting with purple eye shadow so Andie was not able to see what the ghost girl was doing.

Brittanyhad just finished one of Andie’s eyes when somebody screamed, “Look at that!” A mirror dropped with a loud crash.

Everyone looked toward the center of the room, where they had left the candle. To most of the girls, it seemed as if the candle was floating several feet above the ground. Andie saw a hand that looked almost solid, and the faint image of the figure of the ghost girl.

Forgetting where she was, Andie said to the ghost “You should probably stop that. You might fade away completely.”  The ghost responded by walking over to Andie and handing the candle to her.

Suddenly Andie realized that all eyes in the room were on her as the girls backed away.

“How did you do that?” Brittanydemanded.

“Do what?”  Andie answered, trying to hide the candle behind her.

“Make that candle float.”

“I didn’t do it. I think you really have a ghost,” Andie said, and then giggled nervously trying to pretend she was making a joke.

“And who were you talking to?” one of the other girls asked.

“Uh . . .” Andie looked at the girls who were all staring at her with shocked, terrified or mocking expressions. She realized she wouldn’t be able to fib her way out of this situation. For the first time she decided to reveal her secret. She took a deep breath and began. “I can see ghosts. There’s a girl standing over there.”  Heads swiveled to where Andie was pointing, but of course nobody could see anything.

Brittanysnorted with scorn. “You’re such a freak. You still haven’t grown up and left your imaginary friends behind. I’m going to call you Ghost Girl from now on!  Girls, isn’t that a great name for her?”

Brittany’s entourage agreed.

“It’s time to play Truth or Dare,” Brittanyordered. “But I don’t want you playing, Ghost Girl.”

Andie winced at the new nickname. She was never going to be part of this group.

Brittany continued. “Why don’t you go upstairs and help my mother with the pizza.”

For the rest of the evening, Andie did whatever Brittany ordered her to do, but was otherwise ignored. Occasionally, she caught the other girls whispering and giving her odd looks. Andie finally remembered to wipe off the purple eye shadow haunting one eye, but the funny looks didn’t stop. If anything, they got worse. The words “ghost girl” followed her around. The real ghost followed her as well. The faded teen wanted to communicate and get the attention of everyone in the room. Whenever she thought she no one was looking, Andie whispered to the ghost, trying to convince the spirit to leave for a while. This only added to the strange looks from everyone else.

Finally, it was time for bed. “I think you should sleep over there,” Brittany told Andie, pointing to the far corner of the room—the corner where the ghost first made her appearance. “That way you can talk to your ghost friends without disturbing the normal people in the room. Goodnight, Ghost Girl.”

The other girls giggled, saying “Goodnight, Ghost Girl” as Andie grabbed her sleeping bag while trying to stifle a sob. She slowly set it up in the far corner of the room.

I guess I won’t be joining The Circle now that my secret is out, she thought.

Andie had a difficult time falling asleep. She tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable on a hard floor with a tear-damp pillow. She continued to hear whispered conversations from across the room, including the words “Ghost Girl.”  The spirit girl tried to start a conversation with Andie, but Andie was in no mood to oblige. Eventually, the ghostly teen faded away with a look of disappointment.

Unable to sleep, Andie thought about the first time she had ever seen a ghost.

When is it Time to Say “Rest in Peace”?

As if I wasn’t already having a doubt myself as a writer day, I came home to find this in the mail:

I’m not really surprised. Anyone who has read my book GIVING UP THE GHOSTS has liked it. (I’ve linked you to an excerpt of it, if you are interested). Even the harshest critic of them all, a 10 year old avid reader.

I revised for this contest, and made it stronger. But here’s the thin, it is a single book. It doesn’t have series potential, or at least not obvious series potential. It doesn’t follow the over-sexualized young adult vampire trend that I have been reading lately. It is a book about two girls trying to find their place in the world. One of them happens to be able to see ghosts.

I’ve submitted this book to several places, large and small. It is hard to label this book. It’s kind of current, paranormal, fantasy, coming-of-age. It is what it is. I’m not saying it is the world’s most brilliant book, but it certainly is better than some published books that I have read recently.

I admit, I am not a good advocate for myself. I am not good at the business side of writing. I don’t want to write to the needs of a publisher, I want to write the book that my souls is trying to write, but then I want it to find a home.

But that leads to the question, when do you give up? When do you let the poor little manuscript rest in peace, gathering dust with all the rest of the accumulated words from years gone by?

Maybe it is time for me to really give up the ghosts on this one.

Where Do Stories Come From?

I stayed home today, thanks to a stomach that seems intent on making life as uncomfortable as possible and a wonderful hubby/partner/lifesaver who was willing to cover my class so that I could stay curled up with books and warm tea.

Today I am reading the final book in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series,  The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan.

I admit, I am addicted to so-called Young Adult fantasy series and anything to do with magic. Sometimes the things written for adult readers simplydon’t take me where I want to go. To me, a good book for younger readers is simply a good book. There are plenty of poorly written ones out there, and I definitely have my favorites, but a story that can capture the attention of a child through not just one book but an entire series of them seems pretty impressive to me.

But this post is not about what makes good children’s literature, or whether or not Percy Jackson has made my favorites lists. No, this post is about writing and stories.

Thanks to my commitment to the Daily Post and a slowly growing community of readers and fellow bloggers, I am writing daily. I am writing many different things, ranging from letters to memoir essays, from rants to poetry. But one thing is missing–I haven’t written very much fiction lately. Except for one 600-word story that I submitted to NPR’s Three Minute Fiction Contest (wish me luck) and an invitation to join an adult novel writing class that I cannot afford at the moment,  the story well has run dry.

As Percy Jackson entered the River Styx to bathe in “all the dreams people had thrown away as they’d passed from life to death” (Riordan 132) I thought about my dreams of writing fiction, and having it read by others.  I love that people are reading some of my personal stories and some of my thoughts about the world. That is a powerful feeling. But I have always wanted to tell the stories that speak through other voices than my own. Now I need to figure out how to do that.

I don’t want my stories to end up wet leaves of paper on the River Styx.

But then, I wondered, do I really even have interesting or fascinating stories to tell? I have one book written that is awaiting judgment from certain publishing gods (wish me even more luck on that) before I can send it on its weary road of rejection after rejection after rejection. I thought it was a good story. (If you are interested, I posted this excerpt a long time ago). I have several other beginnings and ideas floating around in cards and in some form on this very computer. But I cannot seem to pick them up . . . the stories have disappeared into the abyss.

Where do stories come from? When I read these 6 book series, or discover stories that bring readers into worlds that they never leave, or meet characters that I welcome with delight as they return  in story after story by my favorite authors, I honestly wonder where the stories come from.

Is there a mystical melting pot of poetic language, character and plot that anyone can access? Is there a group of muses that selects certain individuals to inspire and help along the way? Or is story purely from an independent source, from the internal thought processes and life experience of each individual writer?

Sometimes I find stories pouring out of me from a source unknown. I am not writing them, they write themselves. So that suggests some kind of creative energy that can be accessed by all. I’ve simply lost touch with it.

My Muse Sleeps in a Sunbeam

I hope for a combination of creative energy and guiding muses;  because if it comes down to only individuals I wonder if my stories have faded away forever. I would hate to think that the joy I have found in blogging has silenced my inner fiction writer.

Do you have the desire to write fiction? Do you know where your stories come from? Do you find that blogging affects your ability to write fiction? I would love some insight!

Writing, Rejection, and Writing Again

Why do I write?

Perhaps a bigger question is, why do I write this blog? I mean, I am the first to admit that this is a blog about nothing. I don’t reflect on cutting news of the day, or analyze movies, or critique books. I simply write what I’m thinking whenever I get the urge to write. I have a few self-promotional things up here, like an excerpt from Giving Up the Ghosts but mainly this is about putting words on a page, and hoping that somebody reads them.

As a matter of fact, I apologize to anyone who is reading this right now, as I am rambling on about nothing. But it is a nothing that I am continually thinking about at the moment.

So maybe that is why I write, in the hopes that someone will read my words. I’m back on the drawing board as far as the book is concerned. I still haven’t found it a home. I know, there are millions of people out there trying to get their books published. Or at least thousands. What makes me think mine is so special. Well, I read a lot of young adult fiction that I know is weaker than mine. My story is good. My writing is strong. And yet . . . I don’t know what the next step is.

So why do I write? I noticed recently that my old entry called On Writing in a Public Forum has moved up in the ranks of my most popular blogs. This suggests that people really wonder why we blog: that blogging has become something significant in society. Facebook, and other social networking sites have become significant too. But why? I wonder if we are constantly looking for connections with others, and one of the strongest ways we connect is through words.

So I write to connect. I write to reach out. I write to express. I write despite rejection. I write to find a home.

I guess that’s why I write.

Excerpt from GIVING UP THE GHOSTS

 

It's a ghost!

Image via Wikipedia

 

[The following is an excerpt from the book for young adults that I am hoping to get published. The book is mostly written in third person, with the occasional chapters from Andie’s diary that are written in first person. This is the first of those chapters.  If you want to read more we’ll just have to get it published. 🙂 Enjoy.]

CHAPTER 6:  IN SEARCH OF ANSWERS

Dear Diary,

I’m so frustrated. School is horrible this year. I have no friends and everyone thinks I’m strange and it’s all because of the ghosts. I hoped it would get better, but we have been in school for over a month and it’s only getting worse. They treat me even worse than MM. What’s really strange is MM keeps trying to talk to me. I actually think she seems kind of nice, but I’m afraid of talking to her. I mean, either I will ruin her reputation more, or she’ll ruin mine. But I’m so lonely. I guess I could try to be her friend, but if I do I know that my chances of being popular are over for good. Then again, the ghost things seem to have ruined that anyway. I’m so confused.

I really wish I had someone living to talk to about ghosts who could give me advice. I tried to talk to Mom the other day, but she shuts down every time I mention the strange things that happen around me. She won’t let the impossible disturb her scientific mind. And Dad always thinks I’m being creative. I’m going to have to try someone else; someone who believes in this kind of thing. Today I saw an ad in the paper for a psychic. I know exactly where she lives too. She’s in that little cottage on the other side of town, the one next to the yellow house full of kids. I’ve seen her sign “Psychic Readings: Let me help you solve your problems through the spiritual realm.”  Well I have a HUGE problem. Seeing ghosts isn’t fun anymore. They are around all the time and it’s so hard. Maybe the psychic will help me convince the ghosts to give me a little space. I’ve been saving babysitting money for a while now. I was planning on buying an iPod, but this is more important. I hope his woman can help me.

Hold on, diary, Irene just appeared in my room and she’s trying to get my attention. I’m so mad at her after she embarrassed me the other day. Why does she have to interfere? I have to make her leave me alone so I can write in privacy. That’s part of the problem. I never have any privacy with all of these ghosts popping in and out.

Wow, getting rid of her was harder than I thought, Diary. That visit was really strange. She must have been reading over my shoulder because she said “We’re sorry if we are bothering you, but we need you.”

I told her that I don’t know what she means and that I’m tired of being embarrassed.

Then she said, “Wait, I’ll show you.” She faded slightly as if she was going to go to wherever they go when they aren’t bothering me and said in a faraway voice “Come talk to her now.”

A man and a woman appeared next to Irene. I hate it when you can tell how someone died, and this time I could. They looked a little crispy around the edges, as if they were burned in a fire. They were dressed in jeans and sweaters that could be seen in any store today so they couldn’t have died too long ago. They looked a little confused, as if they had never appeared before. They tried to speak, but that was also faint as if they had never communicated from beyond.

The woman started crying, which is a horrible sound coming from a ghost and said, “Help her.”

I think the man said something like, “Tell her . . .” But he seemed to not have much practice speaking so the end of his sentence was garbled. I couldn’t hear what I was supposed to tell someone. I have no idea what they were talking about.

I yelled “GO AWAY!” as loud as I could and the two strange ghosts popped out quickly. Irene looked at me sadly for a minute and whispered “Please help us. Please don’t give up.” and then faded away slowly.

I feel sorry for these ghosts but I don’t know what they mean. I can’t help them. I just want my life to be normal.

I’m Doing It!!! The Next Step on the Journey

Some of you know that I have a book that I wrote a couple of years ago, and submitted to a few publishers. Well, nothing happened with it, and I kind of put it on the back shelf because of all the other craziness going on in my life.

The funny thing is I wrote a good portion of the book here in Okoboji. So now I’m back, and thanks to some fabulous feedback from Celest, I’ve dusted it off and am ready to try again. I spent the last two days editing, and I feel like it is getting better all the time. I’ve made a few major changes, and I’m going to make the audience slightly older (young adult rather than middle grade–Heidi you should like that ;). I feel good about the way it is going. Time flew over the past couple of days, and I couldn’t stop.  So, one more pass and then I will submit!

I’m excited. Whether it gets published or not, I feel like I’m taking the next step towards the reinvention of self which is something I really need to do this summer. I don’t know what the future has in store, but it is time to take some chances and find out.

Wish me luck!

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