Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ghosts in the House: Research For My Latest Novel, Quarry

Blurb for Quarry

Reeling from the loss of her job in New York, Sari comes home to Gramps mountain-top farm near Montbleu only to find that he has been ill and has high medical bills. Jake, the man who worked their quarry, is using Gramps debts to try to buy the farm for a pittance. Sari vows to help Gamps save the farm.

At the jail, Police Chief, Chess Devon, is waiting for her Deputy, Lance Andrews, to take over prisoner duty. Flinty Mathews, the town drunk, is in for drunk and disorderly. Chess thinks he’ll sleep it off until she hears screams from the cell block. She thinks Flinty is having DTs, but when Lance comes into the area and nearly passes out, she isn’t so sure.

Right on schedule, Bartlett Thomas, Chief of Detectives from Scranton, shows up. He has even more bad news. The governor has gotten word that a group of environmentalists plan to blow up a gas well. It could be one near Montbleu.

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Research for the Novel

When I decided to have a ghost as one of the characters in my novel, Quarry, I asked my friends, Beth and Anna, to give me a taste of ghost hunting. We live in a town founded in the 1800s that has it's share of ghost stories. The best places in town to find ghosts are the cemetery and fire house. Anna and Beth have done ghost hunting in both locations, but we opted for a different local, my house.

The main part of my house was built in 1825. The ownership is fairly well documented in local histories so we know there have been several deaths there over the years. I wasn't completely sure I wanted to find out whether I was living with ghosts, besides I really didn't believe we'd find anything.

Anna and Beth arrived at my house in the evening with the usual paraphernalia for ghost hunting: a digital recorder to capture electronic voice phenomena, EVPs. a digital camera, and a small device to measure electromagnetic radiation.

When I showed them around the house, Anna, who is the most sensitive, felt that the parlor was the place to start. She sensed that a person had been laid out there, and the people around the coffin were sad. So we set up in the parlor.

Beth carried the digital recorder. We had compiled a list of questions. Her job was to ask the questions to see if the ghosts responded. Nothing happened until she said, “If you're here please give us a sign.” I heard a crack from the second floor. It sounded like ice breaking or wood splitting. This was getting serious. If we really did have ghosts, rousing them might not be a good idea. I was ready to get call the whole thing off, but Beth and Anna were perfectly calm, so I sat still.

While Beth was asking questions, Anna was taking pictures. When she reviewed the pictures she'd captured, she said, “Wow, look at this,” and passed me the camera. I was stunned. The picture showed me sitting on the sofa. Two orbs were just above my head in a darkened spot. Orbs are supposed to be a manifestation of spirits. Not all the other pictures showed orbs, but there were several in the photo of Beth asking questions. We also took photos in the attic, and those showed orbs.

Beth couldn't analyze the voice recording that night. It takes a special voice enhancing program to hear the EVPs. In a few days she brought me the results. There were seven EVPs. I have to admit I had trouble figuring out what was being said. The crack from the second floor was clear, and there was a surprise at the end. When we finished in the parlor, I said, “I'm glad you came. I had fun.” A fairly distinct voice on the recording, and it wasn't one of us, said, “I had fun, too.”

It was a productive evening of research. I guess there is some sort of paranormal activity in the house. Thankfully, they are friendly ghosts. They don't bother us, so I don't mind sharing the house with them.

Excerpt Showing the Use of the Research

  Chess had barely unlocked the door to the old jail when she heard voices coming up the path. Bartlett opened the door and five people filed in. Tory and Andy led the way followed by a short pale couple. Sari, looking frightened, was last. Chess thought the ghostbusters looked as much like ghosts as the phenomena they tracked. 
  Andy drew the couple forward. “Chess, Bartlett, I want you to meet Martha and Howie Collins.”
  Chess extended her hand; Bartlett followed suite. “Thank you for coming,” she said. “I don't know if we have ghosts, but some rather strange things have happened.”
  Howie and Martha shook hands. They stayed close together as though drawing support from each other. Chess wondered if they were brother and sister rather than husband and wife.
  “We often don't find evidence of actual paranormal phenomena . . . er ghosts. Many times there are perfectly logical explanations for what's happening, but sometimes . . .” Howie grinned broadly. “We do find evidence of spirits.”
 “We've had some unusual cases,” Martha said.
 “We're eager to hear what you do.” Chess gestured toward the long table against the windows.            “Why don't we sit here and you can tell us what to expect.”
  With a scraping of chairs on the old wooden floor, they seated themselves around the table. Chess looked around. “Lash isn't here yet.”
  “Who are we waiting for?” Howie asked.
  “My deputy, Lash Andrews.” Chess glanced at her watch. “Let's get started anyway. We're working a case, and he may have gotten held up.” She looked at Howie. “So how do you go about tracking ghosts?”
  “As I said, we try to take a scientific approach to looking for spirits. Many times there are logical explanations.” He paused to look at each of the people seated around the table. “Sometime people hear what they think are chains rattling at night. We've found more than once that the sound was caused by pipes in the house, particularly those houses that use hot water heat. Under the right conditions they can expand and contract at night causing strange noises. Lights that go on and off can be caused by faulty electricity. Windows and doors that open and close by themselves can be caused by the breeze from an open window.”
  Martha broke in. “Once we found a door that opened itself because the floor was slanted. Most of these phenomena appear, as you would expect, in older houses.”
  “And that's why people immediately think of ghosts.” said Howie.
  “That all makes sense.” Chess said. “So how do you figure out what's happening?”
  “We make a careful evaluation of the physical aspects; looking for loose wires, faulty plumbing, that sort of thing.” Howie gestured at the walls and ceiling. “If nothing appears to be wrong then we start looking for paranormal explanations.”
  “And how do you do that?” Bartlett, who had been sitting with his chair tilted back, leaned forward. The front legs snapped against the floor.
  Tory jumped. She gave a slight laugh and covered her mouth. “I guess I'm nervous expecting ghosts.”
  “That's all right.” Martha patted her hand.”I still get nervous on some of our cases.”
  “We have several techniques.” Howie said. “Probably the easiest is to use an audio recording device. Ghosts will often respond to questions or say things you can't hear with your ears, but come out quite clearly on the device.”
  “That seems simple.” Chess said.
  “We call these Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP for short.” Howie laid a digital recorder on the table. “I'll take this recorder in with us when we examine the cell block where these manifestations are occurring. It's easy to do and we may get a hit.”
  “Interesting.” Bartlett picked it up. “This looks like the kind of recorder we use for dictation or to make notes during an investigation.”
  “I'm sure it's the same. These little voice activated recorders work extremely well.”
  Bartlett laid the device down. “If we have a criminal, he should be right a home having his statement recorded.”
  “If the ghost is from the 1800's, I don't think so.” Chess frowned at him.
  Bartlett shrugged. “You never know who or what's in there.”
  Howie laid a small digital camera on the table. “We also use digital cameras to try to get a picture of the phenomena.”
  “Did you ever get a picture of a ghost?” Chess asked.
  “Not a picture of a person. Usually our pictures look like smoke, a bright spot, or a series of bright spots.”
  “Then how do you know they're ghosts?”
  “We don't, but if we have EVP and electromagnetic radiation we can be fairly confident it's some sort of paranormal phenomena.”
  “How do you measure electromagnetic radiation?” Bartlett asked.
  Howie laid another device on the table. “This is a fairly simple device to measure electromagnetic radiation. It was designed to detect the presence of computers and other electronic signatures, but we can use it to detect paranormal activity.”
  Bartlett leaned forward to study the device. “This all sounds pretty sophisticated.”
  “We try to use as many modalities as we can to detect paranormal disturbances.” Howie said.            “Usually, if there are some, we can find them.”
  “Great,” Andy scribbled in his notebook. “This is really interesting stuff. Hope you don't mind if I do an article on it for the Tribune.”
  “Not at all. It's good publicity for us. This is an old town. There may be lots of paranormal phenomena.”
  “Wow, more ghosts. Do you really think so?”
  “It's possible.” Howie held up a cautionary hand. “I'm not even sure we have an entity here.”
  “What are we waiting for?” Andy looked longingly at the devices spread on the table. “I want to see what we get.”
  “Not quite so fast. Tonight we wanted to meet with you, tell you about our investigation, but we also want to hear about what you're experiencing, and whether there are any historical reasons for it.”
  Chess said, “It's easy to explain what happened, but I don't know if we have anything but an old drunk and my deputy, who'd been working too hard.”
  “So tell us about it,” Martha said.
  “We had Flinty Matthews locked up in back. He was in for drunk and disorderly. I was going to let him sleep it off and then take him home.” Chess rubbed her index finger along the wood grain of the table. “I was sitting out here waiting for Lash to check in when Flinty started screaming that he was being attacked. I thought he was probably having DTs. I went back to see what was going on. When Lash came, he walked into the cells area. Before he'd gone very far, he doubled over and practically fell on the floor.” She looked toward the door. “I wish he was here. He could tell you what he felt. I thought it might be a lack of food. He hadn't eaten that day, but I suppose the ghost or whatever's in there could have been the culprit.”
  “That's a fairly complex phenomena.” Howie massaged his cheek. “Did any of you see anything?”
  “Flinty said he saw a ball of light in the corner of his cell. I thought it was just the DTs, but . . .” She spread her hands. “I suppose it could have been something else.”
  “It sounds like you may have a demonic entity.” Howie looked from one to the other. “Good entities don't attack people. Did anything happen here in the jail that could have resulted in a demonic entity coming to reside here? Any murders? Things like that?”

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