Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween's Ancient Origins

The roots of Halloween date back thousands of years to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in, rhymes with cow). The Celts lived in what is now Ireland, United Kingdom, and northern France. They celebrated their new year on November 1, the day marking the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark winter which was a time associated with death. They believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, a time when they believed the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

To commemorate the event, the Druids (Celtic priests) built large sacred bonfires where the people made sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the winter.

By 43A.D., the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic home land. During the next four hundred years, the Roman festivals of Feralia and Pomoma were combined with the traditional celebration of Samhain. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints' Day. It's now believed that the pope was trying to replace the Celtic festival with a church sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows. So, the night before it, the night of Samhain, was called All-hallows Eve.

In 1000A.D., the church declared November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes. Together the three celebrations—the eve of All Saints', All Saints', and All Souls'—were called Hallowmas and eventually Halloween.

Halloween has always been a holiday filled with mystery, magic and superstition. It began as a Celtic end-of-summer festival during which people felt especially close to deceased relatives and friends. They set places at the table and left treats on doorsteps for these friendly spirits. They also lit candles to help their loved ones find their way back to the spirit world. Today's Halloween ghosts are usually depicted as scarier, as are our customs and superstitions.

Do you have a favorite costume this year? Are you planning to go to a party? Leave me a comment about your Halloween plans.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beware Of America's Creepiest Roads

They've been called urban legends, ghost stories, creepy encounters. But they all have one thing in common—unexplained happenings on dark roads in the dead of night. If you'll pardon the use of the word dead.

Or maybe it's more appropriate than you realize. :)

Halloween is the perfect time of year to explore these creepy lanes and the unexplained happenings. Here's a sampling of some of these haunted roads.

The San Antonio Ghost Track: If you put your car in neutral on the tracks, the car will move off the tracks by itself. And if you cover the bumper in baby power, you'll find child-sized palm prints. The origin of this ghostly tale is supposedly a school bus that was hit by a train. However, be careful if you decide to check it out. There have been reports of bandits waiting in hiding for people to start their paranormal test.

The Georgia Ghost Roads: Travelers late at night along Railroad Bed Road and Old Ghost Road (Robertson Road) see a faint orange light flashing in the distance. As they drive closer to it, a man will appear who is digging a ditch…or perhaps a grave. He turns and walks toward the car, but disappears before he gets there.

Buckout Road in Harrison, NY: The shocking murders committed by Issac Buckhout are believed responsible for the area's many reports of notorious activities such as farms burning, vandalism in a local historic cemetery, and people who claimed to have been attacked by flesh-eating monsters because they parked in front of a specific red house and honked their car horn three times.

Meshack Road in Tompinsville, KY: This is supposedly the original location of the oft repeated story of the young woman in the prom dress who is walking along the road and given a ride by a young man. He gives her his coat to keep warm. The next day he returns to the house where he took her in order to retrieve his coat. The woman living there told him her daughter had died several years ago…on prom night.

Milford Road in Oxford, Ohio: The story of star-crossed lovers. The boy and girl were in love but the girl's father hated the boy. The boy would flash his motorcycle headlight three times and if he saw her porch light flash three times in response he knew it was safe to go there. One night he's killed on the road, but the flashing lights continue to haunt the area.

Mona Lisa Drive in New Orleans: A philanthropist donated a collection of statuary to the city with one stipulation. The statue commissioned to commemorate the death of his only daughter, Mona, would be placed in a special location in the park by itself. One night a car chase ended with a car crashing into the statue and shattering it. After that, rumors began to circulate that Mona lurked in the park where the statue had been, haunting innocent and unsuspecting visitors.

Archer Road in Justice, IL: Resurrection Cemetery is the site of a story similar to the Meshack Road haunting. A young man met a pretty blond at a dance. At the end of the evening, he drove her home. When they reached the cemetery, she asked him to stop. She got out of the car, walked toward the gate, and disappeared. He went to the house where she said she lived and the woman told him her daughter had been dead for five years.

Spook Hill in Burkittsville, MD: In addition to the ghostly reputation courtesy of the 1990s horror movie, The Blair Witch Project, an unexplained recurring happening here is similar to the Railroad Crossing in San Antonio. When driving up Spook Hill, if you stop and put the car in neutral it won't roll back downhill. It will continue uphill as if being pushed. The local ghostly tale claims it's Civil War soldiers who think they're pushing one of their cannons up the hill.

Shades of Death Road in Warren Co., NJ: Yes, Shades of Death Road is the real name of the street, but no one is sure exactly how the name came about. Over the decades many murders have happened along this stretch of road, each its own ghastly tale, which certainly explains why so many different ghosts haunt the area.

Do you have any ghostly tales or spooky happenings where you live?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Writer By Accident—Erotic Romance Author By Surprise

I didn't start out to be a writer. My writing career was literally a by-product of a hoped for career as a nature and travel photographer. Even though I worked full time in Los Angeles in the television industry as a production manager, my passion was photography. My dream was to visit marvelous and interesting places, take stunning photographs, have them published, and even sold in galleries. I had a couple of minor successes with my photos appearing in magazines, but nothing of consequence. I came to realize that I had a better chance of marketing my photos if I wrote magazine articles to accompany them. That led to a few more publication acceptances.

Somewhere along the way I discovered, to my surprise, that I really enjoyed the writing process. And that's when my emphasis switched from photography to writing.

I didn't want to write the sweet, traditional romance where a chaste kiss was the answer to pent up sexual tension and desire. There is definitely a place for the sweet romance within the genre and it has lots of followers, but it wasn't right for me.

My first published romance was from Silhouette's Desire line, the most sensual line they published at that time. After having five books released from Silhouette Desire, I had my first romantic suspense published by Harlequin's Intrigue line.

I've always loved mysteries and romantic suspense seemed like a natural combination to me. Whether it's romance where the two main characters become involved with a mystery or a mystery where they become involved romantically, having the romance and mystery together ups the ante for those characters. There is more at stake for them than merely solving the crime or unraveling the puzzle. They now have an emotional investment with each other and the need to protect that growing love. It adds new elements to the story and complications that wouldn't otherwise be there.

My fifth Silhouette Desire was in the final stages of editing when I was told to add another love scene to the book. What? At this stage of the production process I'm supposed to add a love scene in a manner that doesn't make it read like something just stuck in there? As it happened, I had the perfect place to add it. In fact, that was what I had wanted to do when originally writing the book because it was a natural progression of the story. That editorial directive told me they were increasing the heat level for the line.

Even though the sensual content had been increased, I eventually became frustrated with the imposed need to use euphemisms in love scenes and polite terminology that seemed to me to be out of place for the contemporary times and not realistic to the circumstances, whether the situation was a love scene involving sex between two consenting adults or a verbal clash between two angry gang members on the tough city streets. Although hell and damn were acceptable words, they certainly weren't realistic dialogue. That's not what you hear street gangs saying, or the bad guys in a mystery. Not even what you'd hear the good guy cops saying when interrogating a bad guy. Their terminology and dialogue would be much more realistic.

And that brings us to 2005 when I discovered the eBook publishing world while attending the RWA national conference in Reno, Nevada. ePublishers pushed the envelope and didn't impose unrealistic restrictions on their authors yet they still retained the elements that made a story a romance.

Graphically writing the realism of sex is usually referred to as erotic. To some, the word erotic has an unsavory connotation like something you'd purchase under the counter in a plain brown wrapper at an adult book store. But the reality is that erotic romance has two characters working through the obstacles of a relationship, whether it's the internal conflict of emotional baggage from the past or external conflict of what's going on around them, to achieve the ultimate goal of love and happiness. The same process the writer puts the characters through in the sweet and traditional romances. Erotic romance can be part of any romance sub genre such as paranormal, fantasy, historical, etc. They all have the one ultimate goal of love and happiness.

How do things stand now in the romance industry? It appears that traditional print publishers have taken a cue from the realism of eBooks and have accepted that there is a large segment of readers who want their romance books to include erotic elements. They now have erotic romance lines offering up much of the same type of reality that ePublishers provided from the beginning.

And that's how I got from taking nature photographs to writing erotic romance. I still do photography and not all my romance writing is erotic romance. In fact, a have a romantic suspense scheduled for release in January…DÉJÀ VU from The Wild Rose Press, a NON-erotic romantic suspense that caters to my love of mysteries.

And the beat goes on…

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Things NOT To Say At A Job Interview

We all know that going on a job interview is cause for varying degrees of nervous tension. We're uncomfortable, very concerned about making a good impression both personally and with our resume and work history. Saying the wrong thing…misspeaking…is upper in our mind.

All of this discomfort is part of the process. But, there are those who go beyond the bounds of mere jittery nerves. The following comments were actually said during the course of a job interview.

Q: Why did you leave your last job?
A: "I have a problem with authority."

Q: Why should we hire you?
A: "I would be a great asset to the events team because I party all the time."

Q: Do you have any questions?
A: "Cross dressing isn't a problem, is it?"

Q: Why are you leaving your current job?
A: "I was fired from my last job because they were forcing me to attend anger management classes."

Q: Why do you want to work for us?
A: "My old boss didn't like me, so one day I just left and never came back. And here I am!"

Q: What are your weaknesses? [related to job skills]
A: "I get angry easily and I want to jail for domestic violence. But I won't get mad at you."

Q: When have you demonstrated leadership skills?
A: "Well my best example would be in the world of online video gaming. I pretty much run the show. It takes a lot to do that."

Q: Is there anything else I should know about you?
A: "You should probably know I mud wrestle on the weekends."

Q: When can you start?
A: "I need to check with my mom on that one."

Q: Have you submitted your two weeks' notice to your current employer?
A: "What is two weeks' notice? I've never quit a job before. I've always been fired."

The following are random responses and comments made by job seekers at interviews.

"If I get an offer, how long do I have before I have to take the drug test?"

"When you do background checks on candidates, do things like public drunkenness arrests come up?"

"May I have a cup of coffee? I think I may still be a little drunk from last night."

And finally…
[During a telephone call to schedule the interview] "Can we meet next month? I am currently incarcerated."

Most of those sound like they should be part of a "believe it or not" collection. :)
Do you have any job seeking experiences you'd like to share…either as the interviewer or the interviewee?