Ghost Stories at Christmas?

Christmas Spirits

Bill Ectric’s Place is celebrating Christmas with this website called Hypnogoria and the history of Christmas ghost stories:

There’ll be parties for hosting
Marshmallows for toasting
And carolling out in the snow
There’ll be scary ghost stories
And tales of the glories
of Christmases long, long ago…

So sang Andy Williams back in 1963 in his festive favourite It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year. And the lyric quoted above has caused much scratching of heads over the years, as not every one is aware of the old tradition of telling spooky tales upon a Christmas night. Indeed some have wondered whether the lines above are merely referring solely, in a hap-hazard fashion, to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

But of course there’s more spectres abroad at Yuletide other than just Mr Marley and his crew. To begin with some of the finest ghost stories ever written were produced by M. R. James who notes in the preface to his first collection of tales, Ghost Stories of An Antiquary (1904) –

“I wrote these stories at long intervals, and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the seasons of Christmas…”

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Spirits Were All the Rage

William Marriott

William Marriott with some of the “ghosts” he bought from the GAMBOLS catalog.

There is a fun website called The Haunted Museum with, and here is a fun article from said website about exposing fake spiritualists back at the turn of the century when Spiritism was all the rage.

“Is Spiritualism a fraud? Are the spirit-rappings and the spirit-forms of the séance, the prophecies of the palmist and the clairvoyant, the visions of the trance mediums, genuine evidence of a spirit-world, or are they mere catchpenny tricks, engineered by charlatans to charm money from the pockets of the credulous?”

These were questions asked by Pearson’s Magazine in March 1910, when it began a series of articles written by William S. Marriott about Spiritualism. The editors added that “in order that readers of Pearson’s Magazine may judge for themselves the pros and cons of this tremendously important subject. If Spiritualism is genuine, it ought to be a vital factor in the lives of us all: if false, then it and its high priests should be ruthlessly exposed and believers in it disillusioned of a faith that is altogether vain.”

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The Ghost From 100 AD

Ghost_Story_Collage

They say there are only so many stories to tell, just different ways to tell them. Take the classic ghost story about a spirit that cannot rest until something or other is resolved. I never realized how old that story was until I saw this.

Pliny the Younger was an elected official in ancient Rome. He and his uncle, Pliny the Elder, were both witnesses to the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 AD. The elder Pliny was killed during the eruption while attempting to rescue some friends by boat.

Pliny the Younger was also an author who wrote hundreds of letters that have survived to this day. His letters have enabled historians to learn much about ancient Rome. One of the earliest non-Biblical references to Christianity is in a letter from Pliny to the Greek Emperor Trajan, asking for advice on how to conduct trials for Christians (most likely for the crime of not bowing to statues of the Emperor).

Pliny does not necessarily present the ghost story as fiction. In his letter to a Roman Senator named Sura, Pliny writes, “I am extremely desirous to know whether you believe in the existence of ghosts, and that they have real form . . . or only the visionary impression of terrified imagination.”

Pliny follows up his question with two stories. The first story is about a man who sees a vision of a beautiful woman who accurately predicts his death.

The second story begins:

There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees: immediately afterwards a spectre appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and squalid appearance, with a long beard and dishevelled hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, ruined their health, and brought on distempers, their terror grew upon them, and death ensued.

Naturally, no one wants to live in the house. No one, that is, until a philosopher named Athenodorus comes along and, being fully apprised of the fearful circumstances, decides to buy the house and live in it. The story ends when the philosopher sees the apparition one night and follows it:

The ghost slowly stalked along, as if encumbered with its chains, and, turning into the area of the house, suddenly vanished. Athenodorus, being thus deserted, made a mark with some grass and leaves on the spot where the spirit left him. The next day he gave information to the magistrates, and advised them to order that spot to be dug up. This was accordingly done, and the skeleton of a man in chains was found there; for the body, having lain a considerable time in the ground, was putrefied and mouldered away from the fetters. The bones being collected together were publicly buried, and thus after the ghost was appeased by the proper ceremonies, the house was haunted no more.

You can read the entire letter, and all the letters of Pliny the Younger, here at Project Guttenberg. For the “ghost letter” scroll down to LXXXIII — To SURA.

 

Ghost Recognition

A Ghostly CompanyGhosts and Scholars  Supernatural Tales

Cool news from our friends at Wormwoodiana:

“Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the best ghost story and the best ghost story collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members.”

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Mitzi Szereto: To Die For – Interview by Bill Ectric

Mitzi Szereto is an author and anthology editor of multi-genre fiction and non-fiction, has a blog called Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog, and is creator/presenter of the Web TV channel Mitzi TV, which covers “quirky” London.

Her books include Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance;  Pride and Prejudice: Hidden LustsIn Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales;  Getting Even: Revenge Stories; Dying for It: Tales of Sex and Death; the M. S. Valentine erotic novels; and the upcoming release Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire (Sept. 2012).

Mitzi has pioneered erotic writing workshops in the UK and Europe, teaching them from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature to the Greek islands. She’s also lectured in creative writing at several British universities. She’s been featured in publications such as the Sunday Telegraph, Independent, Times, Observer, Toronto Star, Guardian, The London Paper, Company Magazine, Dare Magazine, Family Circle, and Writing Magazine, and on BBC Radio, Bravo UK Television, Telecinco TV 5 (Spain), Newstalk Ireland, Talk Radio Europe, and FM4 ORF (Austria).

Her anthology Erotic Travel Tales 2 is the first anthology of erotica to feature a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Bill Ectric:  What’s the best part and worst part of publishing an anthology?

Mitzi Szereto:  The best part is when it all finally comes together and just jells, and you know you’ve got something really good. This takes a long time, I should add, and it doesn’t happen without a lot of hair pulling. Then there’s this massive sigh of relief when it’s over and you can get on with your life until it starts all over again!

The worst part of doing an anthology is when you get in a ton of completely inappropriate submissions that just won’t work, editing or no editing. You start panicking and wondering if you’ll ever pull the book together. Out of fairness to the authors, I should clarify that some stories are rejected because they just don’t tick the right boxes – and this can be for any number of reasons. However, there are also a lot of writers out there who don’t seem to read or comprehend the detailed specs I disseminate and insist on sending material that incorporates everything I don’t want. I can only shake my head in astonishment and wonder if perhaps I’ve accidentally written my submission specs in Sumerian. With the anthology I just finished (Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire), I became so annoyed over this issue that I wrote a rant about it at my blog . Alas, I’m sure the word to the wise has not been sufficient!

Bill:  I like the Woody Allen quote at the beginning of your sex and death anthology, Dying For It: Tales of Sex and Death. He says, “The difference between sex and death is that with death you can do it alone and no one is going to make fun of you.” Alfred Hitchcock often used humor in conjunction with murder and sex.  Do you think there is some magic formula there?

Mitzi: I think there is, yes. Death is an uncomfortable and unpleasant subject. We’re all going to die, and we’ve all been affected by death. Incorporating an element of dark humor into the subject matter is a survival technique of sorts, especially when death is ratcheted up several notches to murder. We’re helpless in the face of death, so why not try to find a bit of humor in it? When it comes to sex and death, the danger buttons get pushed even harder. Some of the stories in Dying For It do have black humor in them. I’m a sucker for dark humor, always have been, even as a child. I wonder what that says about me?

Bill:  I know you were living in England, then I saw some pictures on Facebook of you in Savannah, Georgia. Where DO you lives?

Mitzi:  I’ve been living in England for the past decade and am a British citizen (God save the Queen!). I will, however, be spending more time in the USA, which seems to have made my American fans happy! It’s always a bit weird for me being in the States – no one gets my references. I was in Savannah recently and ran into some people from the UK and it was such a relief to be able to mention Del Boy and actually have someone know what in hell I’m on about! Oh, leave it out, Rodney!

Bill:  Where were you born?

Mitzi:  I was born in the United States, but emigrated to the United Kingdom about 11 years ago. I’ve pretty much lived all over the USA, so I don’t really consider myself a native of any particular area or beholden to one place. Well, other than Britain, that is.

Bill: As you may have noticed, I’m a bit of an Anglophile, myself, but I’ve only been to London one time, years ago when I was in the Navy. I want to go back. Why did you move to England? And you say that you became a British citizen? Interesting! Would you consider yourself an expat?

Mitzi: Yes, I do consider myself an expat, and probably always will, even if I remained permanently in America. Mind you, I might then need to be called  a British expat as well as an American expat! I must’ve been British in a previous life, because I always felt British even as a child growing up in America. I think it was my destiny to move there, and I finally decided to put things into place to make it­ happen, essentially going over on my own, with no relatives or friends to fall back on. Being a resourceful individual, I made it work. I was given a lot of opportunities that I truly do not believe would have happened had I remained in America, such as becoming a university lecturer in creative writing and also pioneering erotic writing workshops, teaching them at literature festivals and on residential courses in places such as the Greek islands. I should add that I’ve gained a far wider international public profile living in Britain, finding myself in demand by the European and Irish media as well as the UK media, including television. As for my citizenship, I have fond memories of my swearing-in ceremony; Essex County Council (where it took place) did a lovely job and made it very special occasion. I had my naturalization certificate presented to me by Lord Peter dressed in his regal best!

Bill:  In your introduction to Red Velvet and Absinthe, you say you’ve enjoyed Gothic novels since childhood. Do you remember the first novel you read that could be considered Gothic? What are some of the Gothic novels that stand out in your mind?

Mitzi:  That’s a tough one. I used to consume these novels as some people consume sweets, so I can’t remember which novel was my introduction to the genre. I would read whatever came out that looked good, generally novels by contemporary authors writing along the lines of say, Jane Eyre – novels featuring handsome brooding gentlemen living in isolated houses filled with secrets and ghosts. Is it any wonder why I like the moors so much?

Bill:   Your books have such great covers. You choose the covers yourself? Where do you get them?

Mitzi: I’m afraid I can’t take credit for the art, but I’ve generally been pleased with the final product. I think it’s a good sign that when a new book comes out and I love the cover and think this is it, it can’t possibly get any better, the next book surprises me with an even more amazing cover. My last three titles were like that, first with In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales, then Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts (with the demure lass featured on the cover), and finally Red Velvet and Absinthe with its harlequin-masked woman. Now I’ve just seen the cover of my new anthology Thrones of Desire: Erotic Tales of Swords, Mist and Fire – and bang, it’s brilliant! It evokes the sexy epic-fantasy feel of the book in a way that is immediate and dramatic. I should mention that I come from a fine art background, so it’s a real treat to actually be happy with what the designers have come up with for me.

Bill:  When you went to Savannah, did you see where they filmed Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, or go on the Ghost Tour?

Mitzi:  I recall they shot a lot of scenes for the film at Forsyth Square, which is a lovely area surrounded by some beautiful old homes, so yes, I was definitely there as well as pretty much everywhere in the historical district. As for the ghosts, funny you should mention it, but I did go on a ghost tour. I should add that there are plenty of ghost tours in Savannah, and I opted for the lazy one on the trolley. Just about every local you meet in Savannah lays claim to a ghost story of some sort. I admit I’m a skeptic, but I have to tell you about something very peculiar that happened in two different locations, one of which was the Moon River Brewing Company (reported to be haunted). You remember in The Omen whenever a photo was taken of someone who’d later die by some horrible means something weird always showed up in the image? Well, several photos we took in the pub had these weird squiggly lines in them. We were also down on River Street one evening when it was still light and my friend was taking photos of me with my famous bear Teddy Tedaloo and a Savannah police officer, and some of the shots came out with this ghostly fading thing happening by our heads. I should tell you there’s nothing wrong with the cameras that were used, and there wasn’t any bizarre lighting issues going on either. I actually set my paranormal short story “The Blood Moon Kiss” in my Red Velvet and Absinthe anthology in Savannah. I’m thinking this Southern Gothic thing might be a literary avenue for me to pay a return visit to.

Bill: Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me, Mitzi.  I’ll end the interview with a list of links where people can learn more about you and your ambitious work:

Errant Ramblings: Mitzi Szereto’s Weblog

Facebook Author Fan Page 

Twitter 

Goodreads 

Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts website

Mitzi TV 

Google+ Official Page

MySpace