Guest Blogger ~ Jane Tesh

Turn On the Ghost Light

            I had been with Poisoned Pen Press since 2004. When the company was bought by Sourcebooks, Sourcebooks did not want to continue either series even though I had many more books to go. As you can imagine, this was a blow, but I was still a Poisoned Pen author and they would accept a standalone. So I got to work.

            This was more of a challenge than I thought. I had been writing my two series since 1995 and loved all those characters. To start over with a new cast was daunting. What would I write about? Where could I set this story? What was something I knew about that I could have fun with?

            The answer to that was community theater. I’ve been in community theater productions for over forty years, so I have a lot of experience to drawn upon. Talk about drama. It is definitely in the theater, especially amateur theater with long-standing feuds and clashing egos. And there is a boatload of superstitions to play with. Now I just needed some characters.

            As soon as I have the right name, I have a character. This happens all the time, and I can’t explain it. I name them, and there they are. So I thought of the name Theodosia “Teddy” Ballard. She told me her neighbor’s cat accidentally burned down her apartment building. She missed her latest job interview, a job she really didn’t want. Her dear grandmother who raised her was going into a retirement facility, and her scheming cousin had taken grandmother’s house. She didn’t have a job or a place to live.

            So I thought of the name of her best friend and actor, Will Selms. When Will arrived, he had the perfect solution. Paula Norwood, stage manager at the local community theater, had recently fallen down the costume loft stairs and died from her injuries. The show desperately needed a stage manager. Teddy could have the job and live in the cottage behind the theater. Problem solved.

            Only Teddy doesn’t know the first thing about being a stage manager. But along with the reader, she learns all about the theater. And of course, every theater is haunted, and before long, Teddy makes the acquaintance of George, the theater ghost. George saw Paula fall and tells Teddy it was not an accident. She decides to solve the mystery.

            Something very unexpected happened during the writing of this book. Teddy and Will started to have a typical love scene when Teddy said to me, “I don’t really want this.” To my surprise, I didn’t want it, either. That’s when I realized I had never wanted it. And then, like Teddy, I found a word for this feeling. Asexual. This opened a whole new part of Teddy’s character and gave me a chance to work through what had puzzled me practically my whole life.

Ghost Light

Theodosia “Teddy” Ballard knows nothing about community theater, but when the stage manager for “Little Shop of Horrors” takes a tragic header down the costume-loft stairs, she agrees to fill in for the sake of her actor friend, Will. Teddy takes the superstitions and swelled heads of The Stage in stride—till she meets George Clancy Everhart, the theater ghost, who informs her that the previous stage manager was murdered and demands that she find the killer. Both investigation and rehearsals are complicated when she makes a surprising discovery about her relationship with Will—and learns that George has his own dramatic agenda.

https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Light-Jane-Tesh/dp/1939113563

Jane Tesh, a retired media specialist, lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s home town, the real Mayberry. She is the author of the Madeline Maclin Mysteries, featuring former beauty queen, Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her reformed con man husband, Jerry Fairweather, and the Grace Street Mystery Series, featuring struggling PI David Randall, his psychic friend, Camden, and an array of tenants who move in and out of Cam’s boarding house at 302 Grace Street. Ghost Light is her first standalone mystery and the first to feature an asexual heroine. She has also published five fantasy novels. When she isn’t writing, Jane plays the piano and conducts the orchestra for productions at the Andy Griffith Playhouse.

Visit Jane’s website at www.janetesh.com and her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/GraceStreetMysterySeries

What Scares You?

screaming-face

Since we’re so close to Halloween, I thought I’d explore my one venture into writing horror. The plotting workout of going outside my genre was educational, as it made me study the art of scaring people.

I’m at home writing paranormal phenomena. My mystery series features a psychic protagonist and there are ghosts and spirits in two of the books, Shaman’s Blues and Soul Loss. However, their roles are more mystical than frightening, and while the ghost in my prequel short story The Outlaw Women delivers some disturbing news, he’s actually quite benevolent. Mystery involves suspense and tension, and sometimes fear for the main character’s safety, but not the kind of fear that that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

In Stephen King’s analysis of horror, Danse Macabre, he has a chapter on monstrosity in which he examines the fine line between the strange and the monstrous. It’s the walk on that line that I find chilling. When the transition into monstrosity is too extreme, the impact is lost. To me, the scariest part of a horror story isn’t the gore. The blood and guts or weird slime or whatever is supposed to deliver peak terror is usually so over-the-top or icky that I’m not scared anymore. It’s the build-up that creeps me out, the sense that something is wrong at a deep, perhaps supernatural level, making it hard to fight or prevent.

Though I read horror stories occasionally, I never planned to write one. I ended up doing it on kind of a dare. In a discussion with several other authors, I brought up the fact that when author earnings are sorted by genre, the most money was in romance. None of us wrote romance. A horror writer said he’d have to try. I asked, “Horror-romance?” Next thing I knew, we were working on an anthology of horror-romance short stories based on the seven deadly sins. I picked sloth, since it was a challenge. How could I make laziness frightening? And romantic, in a scary way?

The Apache concept of bear sickness, a condition of unnatural lethargy, struck me as good starting place. Loss of control at the mental level, the feeling that something is invading and taking you over against your will, would have to be terrifying. I explored other Apache myths about bears and came up with a horror story without gore, an appropriate choice for the author of series of mysteries without murders. I was working on Ghost Sickness at the time, which is set, in part, on the Mescalero Apache reservation, so I used that locale—the same powwow, and even a couple of the minor characters from Ghost Sickness— in my horror story. When it turned out to be too long for the anthology, I set it aside for a while. Last year I released Bearing as a stand-alone for Halloween. Most people have liked it and found it creepy or chilling. However, the only review on Barnes and Noble says “Not at all scary.” The same things don’t frighten all of us. What gives you a good scare?

Bearingbearing-copy

 A tale of paranormal horror based on Native American myths.

Mikayla, young Apache woman attending a powwow with her family, becomes entranced by an outsider, a Cree man who shows up without his Apache girlfriend. As her fascination consumes her, Mikayla changes in ways both pleasurable and frightening, powerless to overcome his dark magic until it may be too late.

*****

The Calling, the first book in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery series, is on sale for 99 cents through Oct. 28th on all e-book retail sites.