It’s that time of year again, full of thrills and chills and things that go bump in the night.
When many usually sane people decide to attend commercial haunted houses and ghost tours.
Now, I haven’t attended a haunted house and I never will, based on this:
But I have gone on a bunch of ghost tours, and I’ve got a few tips for writers and others about…
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF A WALKING GHOST TOUR
- Stay in the front–sounds obvious. But if you trail the group you will miss things. Even if the Ghost Walk Conductor uses a bullhorn, you’re gonna miss stuff. Random people walking down the street will ask you what’s going on. Other ghost tour customers will buttonhole you with their own personal ghost stories. Which are almost never any good. And the tour leader will often talk to the people in the front, off-mike.
- Laugh, gasp and generally encourage the guide–even if it makes you feel like a bit player in a melodrama. An engaged audience is a lot more fun for everybody–including the speaker. If he enjoys delivering his spiel, he’ll ham it up. Throw in extra tidbits of information that he might skip if he’s in a hurry to ditch a surly group.
- Ask questions–figure out whether your speaker is more interested in the ghosty or historical part of his job. If he’s working for a ghost tour company, he’s enthusiastic about at least one. And usually knows a lot more about his subject than he’s telling you. If you’ve got a question, ask it. But dear God, please don’t tell the group about the time your great-grandmother heard the Banshee cry. Nobody cares. Sorry.
- Interrupt–honest to Murgatroyd, I have become intolerant of fools in my middle age. As far as I’m concerned, a chatty audience member gets one it’s-all-about-me comment per situation. If a fellow ghost tourist feels the need to continually take the speaker’s presentation off track, interrupt with a question that will help the him get back to business. (“Did George Washington sleep here?”) Or simply repeat the last thing the tour guide said. (“You said he had a wooden leg named ‘Smith’. Go on.”) 99.999999% of the time, he will be grateful.
- Tip–come on, cheapskate. You flattered and cajoled your host into giving you the ghost tour of a lifetime, now tip him. And while you’re at it, ask him to recommend historical and paranormal sources you can check out. After all, this is book research, right? RIGHT?
If you’re going to write a YA novel with a less-than-popular teen character, you’ve got to read the book American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent.
Nugent confesses to being labeled a nerd in high school. But he doesn’t rest his expertise on his personal experience. He looks at the nerd in scholarly studies, interviews, popular culture, and even touches a bit on the nerd in history.
In Nugent’s view, a true nerd is more inward, more directed by logic and reason and less by emotion and physicality. A nerd is more machine-like, stiffer, and has some relationship to Japan. You’ll have to read the book to understand that last part.
There are two types of nerds: people who truly deserve the name, and others who are guilty by association.
Nugent takes us through the trends that have helped to define the nerd, such as Dungeons and Dragons, the high school debate team, manga and anime, Star Trek, Star Wars, pseudo-Medieval societies, computer games…
But through interviews we find out that while these pursuits alienate the nerd from the mainstream, they also serve as a vehicle for friendship with other nerds. In some cases, these nerdly endeavors are even a salvation.
And then there is the issue of Asperger’s Syndrome. Are nerds mentally ill? Should we try to “cure” nerdiness? If we do, will we lose our greatest technological innovators and scientists?
This book is thoughtful as well as interesting. It’s a peek into nerds’ feelings, understandings, and often their self-loathing.
If you’re a writer, American Nerd will be a big help in developing your characters. If you’re not a writer, it might just help you be a little kinder.
The Cockroach Hall of Fame and 101 Other Off-the-Wall Museums by Sandra Gurvis* may not seem like a helpful book for children’s writers at first blush, but stick with me. I’m awfully persuasive.
Four ways this book could be useful to you:
1. You are writing a non-fiction piece for Cobblestone magazine about toys of the past. Turn to your handy-dandy Cockroach Museum book to find directions to the Mary Merritt Doll Museum, the Crayola Hall of Fame, the Toy Train Museum or the Barbie Hall of Fame. (Including Skipper, Francie, Ken, and the ugly friend Midge that nobody wanted to play with.)
2. You are writing a historical novel and need to know what kind of every day appliances the maid would use. Look up the Maytag Exhibit, the Cookie Jar Museum or the Hoover Historical Center. (Motto: We suck and we’re proud.)
3. Maybe one of your minor characters is an eccentric. Perhaps a kindly grandfather who devotes his time to running a bizaare museum. Use Marvin Johnson’s Gourd Museum, the Curt Teich Postcard Archives or the Post Rock Museum for inspiration. (I would NOT recommend Exotic World: The Burlesque Hall of Fame. Even though it houses “…the largest (and perhaps only) collection of feather boas, elbow length gloves, breakaway jeweled gowns, G-strings and pasties…” Might be a little much even for YA.)
4. Your main character enters the dilapidated mansion housing the mad scientist. What kind of things will he find? Something like the Soap Lady at the Mutter Museum? (“The Soap Lady is a preserved corpse who looks as though she were auditioning for a musical version of The Night of the Living Dead. The soft tissue of her body decomposed after burial into a fatty was known as adipocere, which is similar in composition to lye soap.”)
Or maybe the Combat Cockroach Hall of Fame, in the “sensational roach art” section. These are actual dead roaches dressed up for the edification of the museum-going public. (“…Roach Perot standing on a pile of money…Marilyn MonRoach complete with blond hair, white dress, and spiked heels, bikini’d roaches on surfboards…”)
You just never know what you’ll need until you need it.
*This book has been expanded and repackaged as America’s Strangest Museums: A Traveler’s Guide to the Most Unusual and Eccentric Collections.