Tag Archives: research

The Truth In the Details

I wanted to title this “Learning to kill” but refrained from tempting the search engines and NSA quite so much. I’ve finally got time to recap the best things about recent appearances – namely World Horror 2016 and Spring Into Books.

World Horror was a convention rich in guests and very lean in attendance. It was a shame for the organizers but those of us who were there got unprecedented access to authors and other guests that normally would never happen. I’m not complaining that I’m now on hugging terms with greats like Kevin J Anderson after spending a convention weekend in Provo – we even talked politics and religion for an hour over drinks.

Best part of World Horror was the ballistics gel presentation by D.K. Goddard, a local author and publisher. He brought a lifelike slab of ballistics gel and let us all pretend to stab and maim it with weapons. All in the name of authenticity when we are writing action scenes. I learned that if you’re going to stab someone, it is much easier to push the knife into flesh than I anticipated and far more difficult to pull the blade out. Fully-engage-your-muscles difficult. Also, slicing someone’s throat – something that looks as easy as cutting through room temperature butter in the movies – takes great effort. It’s more like dragging the blade through six inches of crusty bread. If your weapon of choice is a hammer, you can do far more damage using the pointed side designed to extract nails than the blunt side. Here I am in the throws of intense research…

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Best take-away from this intense experience was realizing that the truth is in the details. It’s sufficient in my writing to say a character was killed by blunt force trauma to the head. But it’s much more intense to describe the sensations of what it feels like to wield the weapon. The lesson was invaluable and will be called upon in the future for certain.

A month later, at Spring Into Books, I got to meet an adorable eight year old who loves horror. (Shown here with permission from his mom.)

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I had the pleasure of teaching a presentation on writing for beginners, the last half of which we spent plotting an action scene where a mutant zombie destroyed a tank. We took that one sentence and showed how it happened rather than telling that it happened. It was both interactive and fun and I thrilled to see several attendees pause to take notes during the workshop. I love giving back and mentoring young writers. This annual event put on by the League of Utah Writers is a great place for young and old to find free workshops and meet local authors and I enjoyed being a part of it.

Ghost Hunting 101

I’m a horror writer; one who is working on a ghost story of sorts and who lived in a haunted house for seven years. So when I heard there was a local ghost hunter who was organizing an investigation that others could attend, I jumped at the chance. It was one of those bucket list kinds of things. If I had a literal list, it would go something like this: 1) visit Italy 2) find proof of ghosts 3) learn a second language 4)publish a best-selling novel 5) win the lottery. Some of those items are more of the pipe-dream variety while others have a bit more of a chance. Until last week, I would have put the ghost item in the pipe-dream list. Now, I can say I’ve checked that one off.

When I talk about ghost hunting, both before and after the experience, people have varied reactions. Most assume it will be creepy or frightening. Having lived with at least one ghost for many years, I didn’t have many apprehensions. In the back of my mind I knew there was that possibility but assumed the professional leading the expedition wouldn’t take folks with zero experience into a place that would have malevolence lurking.

What I expected was a lot of walking around in the dark, hearing footsteps on floors above, maybe even feeling tingling sensations when I walked into rooms. All the things that I had come to expect from our own ghostly housemate years ago. I went into the experience wide open and ready for all possibilities. I got lots of the things I expected. What I didn’t expect was actual data that I can’t easily discount as anything other than proof.

The gadget geek part of me who loves data was in pure heaven. Did you know there are such things as electromagnetic field sensors? The pros call them “ghost meters”, pun intended I’m sure. They have these red lights at one end that indicate when there is an electromagnetic field present, which apparently has been linked to ghosts. Then there’s a dial with a needle that reminds me of a volt-meter from my days in the electronics lab in high school. Touch the sensor to electrical current and the needle jumps to the right. This one detects when a ghost somehow interacts with the meter. The result, the ghosts have the ability to answer yes/no questions by indicating one for no, two for yes (or vice versa).  There were lots of other gadgets to record EVP’s – the ghostly voices that are only heard on the playback. It works like a dog whistle since the the frequencies are so low the ear cannot hear them until you play it back. The flashlight that is set so sensitive that the barest whisper of a touch will turn it on – we didn’t get to see that one work, unfortunately. Digital thermometers, apps to sense EVPs real-time and interpret to text what is said, and I’m sure lots of other things we didn’t get to see outside of the mysterious backpacks carried by the professionals.

Of all the gadgets, I was obsessed with the ghost meter. The immediate gratification could not be beat. I ended up in a stiflingly hot cabin for most of the five hours we were there, talking to multiple ghosts. At one point, early on, the experienced leader assigned to our small group was talking about how things worked and getting a feel for who we all were. He stopped mid-sentence to say that his ghost meter was going crazy and that he’d never seen it do that before. He was the resident skeptic so he spent a fair amount of time trying to discount it with a natural explanation. When there were no power lines and no electrical devices in the vicinity, he started to get excited. We started questioning and determined there were three different ghosts that were all vying for a turn to answer questions. About that time, the head professional joined our group with a second meter that was also going crazy. They put them side by side on the floor and he switched up the answer responses from “one for no” to “two for no” several times, asked the same question and pointed to which meter he wanted his answer on, back and forth. The answers were consistent, even with the switching of answer responses, and would switch back and forth between the meters as directed. It was fascinating.

On top of the gadgets with their ubber-cool lights and sounds, there were other, more subtle, experiences. Like when two of us were sitting on the bed, in the dark, with our eyes closed so the other senses were heightened, and felt a presence first climb up onto the bed using our arms and shoulders to boost it up, and then sit between us for a time. I even had an earring move as if someone was playing with it. I wanted to discount that it was just me somehow making it swing, but only one of them was moving so I kind of doubt it. One guy said something – or someone – poked him in the rear-end on multiple occasions. His wife had a laser pointer that, even with fresh batteries, kept getting turned off and then back on. Another guy kept smelling things the rest of us couldn’t even though we were standing right next to him.

At the end of the night, I was convinced that I need my own ghost meter. Although having it in the house might be tempting and would likely scare my kids. I went into the experience hoping to gain some inspiration for a story I’m working on. What I got instead was a healthy dose of “I want to do that again” and a heightened awareness that what we see with our eyes is not always the only things going on around us. You will likely find me hanging out in cemeteries in the future. Once my ghost meter arrives, that is.