How did you come up with this idea to write a collection of original ghost stories?
Every October, at Tiny Cat Pants, I’d post the true ghost stories I knew, which was great fun. But last year, I realized, I was out of ghost stories. So, I thought I’d write some of my own–ghost stories that we should have but don’t. And the response was great. It was really incredible.
The only drawback was that I started writing fairly late, so I was still writing ghost stories in the middle of October. I didn’t have time to really let them simmer or to go back and revise. One story, which didn’t make it in the book, was basically a retelling of another story from earlier in the month.
This year, I started writing much earlier, so I was able to revise and make sure things were unique and that the themes I wanted readers to mull over where more prominent. And I was able to think about how they’d fit together with the stories from last year into a book.
But to make a long answer short, I came up with the idea as a way to entertain my blog readers that would also be fun for me.
Why do you think people are drawn to ghost stories?
Well, I think it’s two-fold. There’s the thrill of a good scare. But also, we want to know what happens to us after we die, whether this vital life we feel inside us carries on in some way. Yes, of course, a lot of us have faith that we know what happens, but there’s a big difference between “We’re all going to Cleveland at some point” and “Hey, I just heard from Grandma and she’s in Cleveland and the weather’s lousy, but she’s waiting for you.”
I think ghost stories serve as a way for us to talk about death and what our hopes and anxieties around it are. We live in a society in which death is a pretty big taboo, so being able to talk about it is powerful stuff.
To what aspects of your background do you give credit for your ability to so insightfully probe the myriad ways people are haunted by the past?
Shoot, just being alive and around other people is probably all of the background one needs. But also, my dad is a Methodist minister, so my whole life had been lived on the periphery of people going through enormous upheaval–weddings, funerals, baptisms, illnesses. I also come from a very large extended family. Both of those things, I think, lead me to realize how things echo down in families and communities, even if we don’t exactly realize it.
Other than your blog, Tiny Cat Pants, do you have a writing or publishing industry background?
Yes. I work for Vanderbilt University Press in the marketing department. I write for my local alt.weekly–The Nashville Scene–at their political blog and I write for my own pleasure.
I am completely impressed with the number of unique and diverse stories you have created. Can you tell us a little about your writing process? How long did it take to write these 61 stories?
Well, I’ll tell you, I felt a little bit like I was cheating. I mean, I should know better, but I have this idea in my head of the author as a long-suffering lone genius who maybe doesn’t enjoy writing, but feels compelled to write. But I had a great time writing these. I wrote about one a day, and then it took me a month or so to revise. So, the whole writing process took about three months. And it was fun!
But I should say, too, in a way, this book took me years to write, without knowing that’s what I was doing, because I was constantly driving around town or reading about things or going places that ended up in the book.
For me, writing is about cramming as much stuff that interests me in my head as I can and then letting it all stew in there until places and characters start to develop. That’s the scary part–waiting to see if the magic will happen, if things will take shape and take on a life of their own.
For those not familiar with self-publishing, could you tell us a little about your experience with this form of publishing? Would you recommend going the indie route to others?
I have really mixed feelings about self-publishing, still, even as I have now done it. On the one hand, I’m not sure that I would have ever found a conventional press for this book. It’s very Nashville-centric, but it’s fiction and I’ve intentionally avoided a lot of what outsiders think of as “Nashville.” I was able to find an editor who also lives here (in fact, all of the help I received–editors, designer, photographer–was local), who knew the places I was talking about, which was so helpful.
So, the book is exactly how I wanted it to be. That is awesome.
And I felt like I had the knowledge to market the book myself and I really thought CreateSpace was easy to work with. The book is available on Amazon and regular bookstores could order it, if they want. It is, for all practical purposes, a “real” book. It’s exactly the same in terms of how it’s produced and how people might acquire it as the books I publish at my job.
But I’ll be honest, the marketing is tough. I’m doing everything I know how to do for the book, but I’m not sure I’m doing everything that could be done. Also, it’s not like I have the money of a publisher. Even if I’d had a marketing budget of $500, which would be paltry for a publisher, I could have sent out more press releases and more review copies.
So, I don’t know. It’s a lot of work and I really miss having other people’s expertise to draw on. But I also see that this is a really viable way for folks to get their work out there, especially if they know how to reach their audience.
Do you have plans to write a second book? If so, do you expect to do a second story collection or go in a new direction?
I don’t have firm plans, no, but I would like to write a second book. I think you can tell from reading that some of the characters were not so easy to leave after a story and some situations (like that house on Sigler Street) needed coming at from a couple of different angles. So, I’d like to try writing something longer and I’m mulling over what a longer project might look like.