Saturday, June 17, 2017

Bees equal ghosts in a Burning Hearth

This story takes place in Homeville, Virginia where my new book Gone on Sunday takes place. It is a story from my childhood, but recently, when I got together with family, I found out more details about this fiery adventure. Ghosts were often rumored to haunt the house, and now a friend tells me that bees are a sure sign of haunting spirits. After this story, you'll conclude the house in Homeville needs an exorcism!

We lived in an old two story plantation house built in 1830. There were fireplaces on each side of the house, on the first and second floor. Bees (spirits?) made a nest in the unused fireplace on the second floor of my parents room. My mother was deadly allergic to bees, so the hive had to be eliminated. Now, I don't know too much about exterminators in the 1960's except that my grandmother, who lived with us, was dead set against these professionals. Her comments on pesky critters usually addressed by exterminators went as follows.

"In my day, we never paid to get rid of bees or roaches or whatever. We lived with them, or we used borax or lemon oil or we burned them out."

My opinion is, mostly they lived with them. But, in this case, it was resolved that, since the bees were in a fireplace, they could be burned out. My mother was super committed because of her fear of dying from a bee sting (reasonable, but, then so is an exterminator).

So, all I remember is the fire, that it got out of control, and that I thought it was the fire that burned up the original Tower Lowe (Eiffel Tower Lowe, my writer namesake.) I learned, however, that the fire was fueled by my brother's favorite comic books (burned up money, he moans today). Every time he complained, my mother apparently shouted the irrelevance of comics and said, "We'll burn everything we can get out hands on." To which I say:


Not surprisingly, as my mother got more desperate, the fire got more out of control. Both my brothers were  sent outside to make sure the house didn't catch on fire. As I recall, I was being kept out of the bedroom in the hallway, listening to the panic and hearing the roar of the fire.

What happened.? Well, the bees were driven away and the house didn't burn down. Next, the fireplace was blocked and is still blocked to this day.

Everyone involved had the incident burned into their memory, pardon the pun. Maybe a few of the spirits took off, but I'll tell you, the last time I slept in that bedroom, with my two little children, my daughter woke up and said,

"Momma, there are other people here in this room. I can hear them."

And that, folks, is more mysterious than New Mexico.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Professional Review Fest!

(Okay...sort of like a BAR-B-Q Fest -- and this place is in Virginia where my novel, Gone on Sunday, is set...)

Hi ghost stories just yet, but I have one coming about bees and evil spirits in the pink room. Hang on for that.

Today I'm celebrating two professional reviews of my first novel in a new series: The Cotton Lee Penn Historical Novels.

The first appeared in Foreward Clarion Reviews.

Here's a quote:

With nary a mint julep or other southern cliché to be found, Gone on Sunday mixes the light touch of a cozy mystery, the terrible weight of history, a hint of romance, and the secrets of stifling summer to engrossing and highly entertaining effect. The result is a historical mystery combined with a modern one, satisfying on every level. -- Foreward Clarion Reviews

 The second, and most surprising to me, appeared in Kirkus Reviews. Those guys can be so-o-o mean -- but they gave me a thumbs up.  Here's a little of what they had to say:

The author does an admirable job of tying the two eras and two crimes together. She deftly drops a trail of crumbs from suspect to suspect, leading the reader down multiple paths before revealing the surprising truth in a climax worth waiting for.…This vibrant first installment of a detective series should leave readers looking forward to more adventures with the engaging heroine. --Kirkus Reviews

For a writer, every book is a work of love -- until the next book comes along.  But I am so pleased this mystery story has entertained readers and now -- a few critics.

I recently finished the first draft of the  next book in this series, tentatively titled Premonition. Here's an excerpt:

Anselm tugged on his flannel shirt and held his gun loosely at his waist, making his way through chiggers and ticks and the underbrush where they thrived. A shot fired in the distance, followed by a hollow echo and a scrambling noise in the brush. A male deer, antlers high into the green, stopped some fifteen yards ahead. Anselm made eye contact. Deep in the brown iris he saw a story unfold.
A small boy with dark hair and pink puffy hands reached up, asking Anselm to take him. The hunter thought to lift the child, but the figure grew to six feet and became a young man, holding a law book in long curved fingers. Anselm drew back from the deer and grabbed his satchel. The tall young man shouted at him.
“Daddy. Watch out!”
Another shot fired, striking Anselm through the heart. The startled buck blinked, and then leapt high into the forest, taking with him the young man and the law book. Anselm felt the sadness of the young man’s going, as he did the sadness of his own passing.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Spirit Leads Us to Light in Las Vegas

The Montezuma Hot Springs in Las Vegas, New Mexico reflect the wild history of this town and the numerous stories and tales that accompany it's past.

On a recent visit to the hot springs, a friend and I soaked our feet with a couple of local college students. As we sat, taking in a beautiful winter day, I asked about a wooden building nearby.

"Oh...there's a spring in that building, too. But it's locked and nobody can go in."

"Why? Is it ghosts?" (I'm always looking for a story....)

"No, I don't think so. I heard that the building was opened years ago, and people would go in there to soak.  A woman was sexually assaulted, I was told, about twenty years ago, and then a series of children were molested there and that was the last straw. It's closed forever.

Yikes!  Not the kind of story I was looking for. I don't know if it's true at all, but it gave me a creepy feeling for the rest of my trip. The town is a beautiful record of the history of the railroad (Montezuma Castle here is said to be haunted by the ghost of a railroad executive's wife.) It has a vital group trying to revive the historic building on the plaza, an international school and a chapel of light. Plenty of spirits might enter here. And, as I stood up to wrap myself in a towel at the hot springs, I got a burst of spirit energy that led me right to that chapel.

I'd never heard of the Dwan Light Sanctuary even though I've lived in New Mexico for over thirty years. I visit Las Vegas regularly because I like the plaza and the Montezuma Castle. But this trip was already turning a bit sour. While the hot springs were free and great, the story about the sexual crime left me filled with anxiety. I've heard stories that the springs are on Jicarilla Apache land, and that the native spirits want it back. I wondered if there weren't bad spirits there, welling up with the spring water. An yet, when I stood to look around on a January day, the weather was mild, the sun shining and the water sparkling. I dried myself off and walked towards the car.

But it was still there, and it wasn't only a feeling. The hair on my arms stood up, and I knew I was in the presence of a spirit stream, or a metaphysical energy of some kind. I had planned to return to the car, but I felt this urge to keep walking. I put on a sweatshirt and a jacket and followed the spirit urges up to the college. Maybe you think I'm a little wacky, but even though I write this ghost story blog, I don't normally follow spirits or energies or even ghosts. In fact, I rather prefer to keep ghosts in stories and not in my presence. But, on this day, I even talked my friend into following my urges.

We walked through a parking lot, past an office building and then I saw it, up in the distance -- the chapel. Now, many of you probably already know about the chapel. My friends laughed at me when I got home. But, remember, I'd never heard of the place. I was following a presence that led me away from the awful story at the hot springs and into this strange round building. Inside, the feelings of doom faded as a bathed the the prism filled light of the chapel. I sat on a molded bench with my friend and we were silent for a few minutes. The story of the wooden building at the hot springs, true or false, faded and was replaced by a sense of peace and tranquility. I felt my spirit rise above the troubles of the day, the need to believe in the negative and dark side of live, and lift up to the light. A spirit led me there, to contemplate the joy of life on this earth.

And that, my friends, is more evidence that things are, indeed...mysterious in New Mexico!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Floating Ghosts of Taos, New Mexico

Thirty years ago, in my early years in New Mexico, I invited a good friend, Diana, to join me in Taos. We stayed an an historic inn, where the rooms boasted functioning Kiva fireplaces that burned fragrant piñon wood. It was the month of October, which we should have known was the month of spirits and haunts. But...we were young and sophisticated and smart. Right.

We started off as good tourists, with lunch at Michael's Kitchen, already a must in Taos. Then we walked the town square and drove up to the ski basin. The air was brisk, and the mountains full of autumn mists and the colors of dying leaves. At a small jewelry shop on the plaza, Diana contemplated a pair of turquoise earrings, but ended up buying an old musty book about Kit Carson. As we left the shop, Diana remarked that the hair on her hands stood up. I laughed at her.

"Next, you'll be telling me you feel a sudden chill."

She looked at me with wide eyes, but said nothing.

We bought Courvoisier, our favorite brandy at the time, and settled on a restaurant for dinner that was only a few blocks from our landmark hotel. The green chili enchiladas and sopaipillas (a fried, puffy pastry) were exceptional, and we returned to our room sleepy and happy. The Kit Carson book was on the night stand. We started a fire, and poured Courvoisier into the hotel glasses. Silence, broken by the cracking of piñon wood,  surrounded us. I think I dozed off, because I remember being startled by a rush of wind and the sound of whispering. My rational mind suggested wind and dead leaves, but I felt scared. The room was dim except for the firelight and strange glowing clouds above the bed.The clouds moved about t the room and the whispering grew louder and became a chant. Diana reached over and touched my arm. I jumped. She shoot her head and me and then looked in the direction of the bed. The clouds of glowing gas were in a circle now, and the chants grew louder.  A breeze stirred again, seeming to blow near the nightstand and the Kit Carson book blew open to a page near the end. I was paralyzed, as this was the spookiest encounter with ghosts I ever experienced. Diana, on the other hand, was energized by fear.

She jumped up and shouted, "Go, go, go." The clouds of gas and chanting ceased. I found myself seated in with my back to the bed, certain I had dreamed the whole affair.

"Did you see all that?" I asked Diana.

"I saw something," she replied.

She walked over to the nightstand and looked down at the open book. The page described the burning of Navajo villages and the killing of the Navajo men and the animals families needed to survive.

"Why did the book open to that page?" I asked Diana. "Were you reading it."

She backed away from the book and the night stand. In spite of my skepticism and my sense of fear, I know I heard a dim chanting sound start in the back of my head.

"Of course I turned it to that page," Diana said. "I was looking for the gory parts."

"Want to grab a late night snack?" I asked, anxious to get out of the room and away from that chanting sound in my head.

She grabbed her jacket. We went down to the lobby and ordered Dos Equis. Nothing further happened. We passed out in our room, the fire went out, and the next morning, a bright sunny affair with leaves dancing along the street, we breakfasted at Michael's and headed home.

To this day, Diana swears that she saw nothing that night and was simply thumbing threw our souvenir book -- a book which she can no longer locate, for some reason.

I'm sure it was all a dream, but you never know for sure in Mysterious New Mexico...

Monday, October 3, 2016

In Albuquerque, Haunted?

Hotel Andaluz, downtown Albuquerque
Today my new novel, In Albuquerque, Abandoned is in early release. This put me in mind of the most haunted hotel in the city, the Hotel Andaluz.

I am literally afraid to go there myself, because a teacher I met when I worked in Albuquerque attended a conference there and saw two apparitions. The conference was on spirituality, she says, so it put her into a mood where she was open to the unseen world that surrounds us every day but remains invisible.

"I felt more alive as we discussed the world of spirit people -- those who are at rest and want to communicate good and those whose life ended suddenly. I think this opened up the vision to me in the Andaluz lobby."

"It was early in the morning, about 4am, and I couldn't sleep. I wondered down to the lobby to get out of my room, and sat on a couch there. I was about to fall asleep again when I heard the sound of heels clicking on the tile floor. I looked up and brown haired woman dressed in a shirtwaist dress in a deep green, with large black buttons and wearing black high heels and a matching square purse approached me. She did not speak, but raised her purse and threw it at the door."

"I was speechless, I can tell you, but I also heard her thoughts. I knew she had been jilted by her husband. She sat next to me when I extended sympathy in my thoughts and she cried. I didn't know what to do, because I think I realized she was an apparition. So I sat quietly there on the couch until I fell asleep. When I awoke, the lobby was empty except for me and a desk clerk who had just arrived."

"I remember this woman often and wish I knew more about what happened to her."

Wow. This story is one of many that led me to write my new release In Albuquerque, Abandoned. It's full of quirky characters and abandoned lovers and more. Ready it here.

Because we are, without question, mysterious in New Mexico.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Spanish Ghost at the La Fonda Hotel

The La Fonda Hotel is located right on the Santa Fe Plaza, at the corner of San Francisco Street and old Santa Fe Trail. A small adobe inn was located here in the 1800s that doubled as the town courtroom. In those days, Spanish was the native language of many inhabitants as the territory had once been part of both Mexico and Spain. Local rumor has it that many men were hanged in the old building in Santa Fe's wild west days.

In the 1980's, when I first moved here, I invited my Cuban friend, Santa, to join me for lunch in the cafe.  As you can see above the dining room is a Santa Fe style delight, with plenty of decor and natural light. Locals still hung out at the bar in those days. We ordered green chili enchiladas and Santa headed out briefly to use the facilities. For me, I experience no ghosts or funny presence,  just good food and beautiful surroundings. But my friend returned to the table with a frown and speaking in garbled Spanish.

"What's up?" I asked.

"There's no on in the corridor leading to the restroom is very lonely," she said.

"It's a Tuesday," I suggested as a reason.

"But I met a man in a serape and a large hat."

"Is he cute?" I asked.

"No. He was an old man, with a mustache. He spoke to me in Spanish."

"It's not so unusual," I responded. "Many local people are bi-lingual. What did he say?"

"Voy a morir," she said.

"What does it mean?"

"I am going to die."

"Okay, that's odd."

"Me van a ahorcar."


"It means, 'I will hang.'"

We paid and left the restaurant to search for the man in the serape, but no one was in the corridor or the lobby of the restaurant. So we asked the desk clerk if she had seen such a man.

"No, but a couple of our guests have seen him. He's a ghost from the old days. A man who was hung here on this spot before this hotel was built."

"Do you know his name?"

"No. In those days, justice was swift. Many men were tried and convicted on this spot, or so my boss tells me."

Santa and I walked out onto the plaza, and were glad of the bright sun. My friend has since become quite ill and unable to communicate, and I miss her. But I have many memories, including that strange meal at La Fonda on the plaza in Santa Fe.


Friday, July 8, 2016

A Panhandling, Headless Ghost...

Madrid, New Mexico -- a thriving tourist town now, full of galleries and shops and the Mine Shaft Tavern, where locals and tourists gather for refreshment. Every Christmas, the town resurrects an historic light show, rumored to go back to the 1920s and 30s.

Coal mining started in Madrid in the 1800s and picked up steam in the early part of the 20th century. By the 1920s, the town produced its own coal driven electricity and became famous for a Christmas light show that is still visible today.  The mines closed in the 1950s, but hippies and other non-conformists began to live in the old wooden cabins that occupied the site in the 1970s. Over the time I've lived here, Madrid has gone from an eccentric ghost town occupied by oddballs, to a popular tourist spot on the old Turquoise Trail, a "back way" between Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

When I arrived in New Mexico in 1982, the town was nothing like it is today. The old houses still tittered on rotting foundations, the roads were empty and ghostly, and, yes, ghost stories abounded about the town.

One story stuck in my mind. It was told to me in Santa Fe, at the old Green Onion Bar and Grill on St. Michael's Drive.  A seedy place even back then, my friend Al and I stopped in to soak up local color and  for local gossip.  After a couple of beers, one of our bar companions heard us talking about a recent driving adventure on the Turquoise Trail.

"You hear about the ghosts in the Mine Shaft Tavern?" The man was about 30, with straight dark hair and a mustache.

"Tell us," Al said.

The man moved down a barstool and revealed the story of a miner named Arnie who owed money to the mine company and couldn't pay.

"Arnie had this sick kid. And he spends money on the kid for medicine and taking him to the doctor in Albuquerque, so he can't pay his debt. So the story goes, a company man finds him and the middle of the night and cuts off his head, right in the guys bed, while his wife is laying there.  Late at night, here in the bar -- right before last call -- he appears in the near the bathrooms. Arnie, standing there in the dim light, holding his head in one hand and a donation cup in the other."

"Have you seen him?" I asked.

"Seen him?  I gave him money. Lot's of people do."

"Why? What happens to the money?"

"Folks find it later. Usually a family with a sick kid. They wake up one morning and the money is on the sidewalk in front of their house. In my case, I gave the ghost a twenty -- I was that scared -- and a woman from Madrid told me she  walking down the street and she looked down and there was a twenty."

I gave him a questioning look.

"God's truth, I swear. Stay until closing -- give an odd amount. You'll hear about it, I swear you will. No lie."

I heard the story again, but I never went into The Mine Shaft Tavern and stayed until closing. Maybe you can do that the next time you visit Mysterious New Mexico.