Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring Break in the Shade

“I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, I DO believe in ghosts!”
--Cowardly Lion, The Wizard of Oz

I don’t believe in ghosts. Not the way I believe in cats or cars or coffee mugs—things I can see and touch and understand. And if seeing is believing, I really don’t want to believe, because I don’t want to see.

Huh, you say?

Well, just because I’ve never seen a ghost and don’t technically believe they exist doesn’t mean I’m not scared pantless of them. While part of my brain knows that there’s a scientific explanation for each bump in the night, there’s another part that says…what if?

To answer “what if?”, novelists need vivid imaginations. We start with a tiny thing—an idea, a character, or even a single word—and turn it into something big: a story.

Problem is, I can’t shut off that imagination when I’m walking the dog down our lonely country lane…late at night…in the fog…and the flashlight beam makes our shadows dance in the thick air like demonic puppets…and—what was that? A rustle in the cornfield ten feet to my left. The dog freezes and pricks her ears. It’s probably just a rabbit or a fox. Or a zombie.

See what just happened? My mind took a tiny thing (a rustle) and turned it into a big thing (a zombie). In five seconds flat, I told myself a story that ended with my brains gobbled by a walking corpse. (And that’s when my dog and I turn around and go home. Quickly.)

At least no sane person will seriously claim to have encountered a zombie. But ghosts? Many people say they’ve seen or heard the spirits of the dead, the leftover piece of a human who has passed from this world.

I once stayed in the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, Arizona, a place that was recently featured on the Ghost Hunters show. My friend who made the reservation sort of forgot to tell me it was haunted. When we checked in, I noticed a “Ghost Book” sitting at the front desk, where guests could describe the spooky things they’d seen and heard during their stay.

I told myself, Jeri, don’t read that, Jeri, don’t read that, Jeri, don’t read that.

I read it. I then spent the next three nights sleeping with the lights on (not that I slept much, or even closed my eyes). I only let my friend leave my side when I had to go to the bathroom, and then I wouldn’t look in the mirror because I just knew that something would be staring back at me.

One of the coolest parts of being a writer is that we can tame the things we fear by making them our own. In my upcoming novel Shade, ghosts are people, too. Everyone accepts that they exist, because everyone the age of my main character Aura and younger can see them. Aura’s not afraid of ghosts—they’re a normal, sometimes sad, sometimes incredibly annoying part of her life—but she would love to make them go away forever. Until her boyfriend Logan dies and becomes a ghost.

Then she learns first-hand that behind every glowing, floating, endlessly chattering spirit lies a real person with dreams and desires. Logan’s not ready to leave this world, not as long as there are concerts to go to, friends to party with, and a girlfriend to visit in the middle of the night, when the darkness shows him best. If our own world’s ghosts were as cute and friendly as Logan, maybe I wouldn’t mind seeing one every now and then.

Wait. No. It would still freak me out.

Oh, well. I guess that like the Cowardly Lion, I’m more “scaredy-cat” than “king of the forest.” I may not have conquered my fears here in the real world, but at least I created a place where, for a little while, I can believe in ghosts—and maybe even love them, too.

But I draw the line at zombies.


Do you believe in ghosts? Have you ever seen one? Tell us your stories in the comments and enter to win the Daily Dose’s grand prize pack, including an autographed copy of Shade!

I love to hear from readers, so please feel free to reach me through my website or on Facebook or most frequently, on Twitter.


  1. Nice post Jeri. I'm exactly the same about making up stories in my head to frighten myself! I do believe in ghosts but I have never seen a PROPER ghost. I think that they are generally friendly and know that I would have a heart attack if they ever revealed themselves to me! They don't want to hurt me! I have had some funny experiences though with electrical goods turning on and off. Also, one of my friends died at 19 from kidney problems. I used to write to her as she lived in Kenya. We used to send each other little gifts and she sent me a stand up calendar. After she died, I was playing the piano and thinking about her when the calendar she gave me (sitting on the piano) fell over. I like to think it was her telling me that she was alright :)

  2. I'm not sure I believe in ghosts, I've never seen one but my dad says he has and he gets really serious when he talks about it so it's kinda scary! But he won't actually tell me how he saw one or anything, just says he's seen them!

  3. I do believe in ghosts. I have had several instances in my life in which I experienced something paranormal, including a visit from my father the night he died - he was living in Virginia at the time and I was in Massachusetts and this was after he had passed (we had already gotten the call about it). I won't go into details (still too personal), but it was a nice send off.

  4. I believe in ghosts and spirits. I never seen one, but I have seen strange things I couldn't explain. Believing doesn't mean I want to run into a ghost. I have to tell you I am very relieved to know the history of my one has died in my house.

  5. I don't believe in ghosts. I've never seen one. I do have a friend who senses spirits. It's odd. She says the Bible talks about spirits. I'll have to read up on it. To me, the concept of ghosts goes against my beliefs and all that, but who knows? Anything is possible.

  6. Ghosts are fun though. I grew up on my very superstitious Irish Granny's stories about spirits a-haunting and my very superstitious Italian Grandma's ghosts of spirits seeking revenge and all.

    But...zombies Jeri...they're so fun...:D

  7. I absolutely believe in ghosts though I'm not sure if I've seen one or not. Does the human-shaped shadow at the foot of my bed when I was a kid count? Seems like everyone I've come across has seen him... They don't scare me so much as they fascinate me!

  8. I can't wait till Shade is out I love Jeri Smith especially her Voice of crow series shes a great author.. I'm sure shes going to be a great YA author

  9. i do believe in ghosts! i believe my grandmother Helen is with me all the time, flashing the lights and watching out for me. I also believe my grandmother Grace always tells me when to quit drinking by giving me a bad feeling in my tummy... so yes, defintely believe in ghosts! ;)

  10. I actually just did a post on this very topic a few weeks ago. I totally believe in ghosts, I've worked in two of the most haunted places in my City & have expierenced things like a phone ringing when that phone didnt even work.

    Can't wait to read Shade!

  11. When I was a little girl a woman talked to me while I was playing in my yard - I later learned she was the dead grandmother of my neighbor! Spooky!

  12. Oh I definitely believe in ghosts. One of the houses I lived in growing up was haunted. Both my mom and I are sensitive to that sort of thing so we noticed it right off the bat. In my bedroom, I'd constantly hear the sound of snoring (no, it wasn't my own) and on other occasions our dog would sit and stare at the ceiling and bark incessantly. There was a crawl space in our basement. It had an earthen floor. I refused to to into that crawl spaces, the feelings I got just looking at the room creeped me out!

  13. Hi everyone! Sorry my post wasn't about spring break. I was told it was optional, and when I was in school I always had a habit of, um, altering the assignment. (Of course, I after I turned it in I thought of the PERFECT spring break post, but oh well, there's always next year.)

    Thank you all for stopping by, and especially for sharing your personal stories.

    Lynsey, that's a lovely story about your friend (I'm sorry you lost her so young). I think part of why we love the idea of ghosts is that it gives us a real connection to those we've lost. That was the basic emotion I tried to draw from when writing SHADE.

    Wendy: Ooh, I wonder what your dad saw? Sometimes not knowing is even spookier than hearing the actual story. :)

    Margay: I've heard of that happening to people, where someone they lost far away appeared to them, sometimes even before they knew that person had died. I think that would be immensely comforting.

    bigferret: That's definitely a selling point for any home--no one ever died there! :)

    Kelly: Yeah, I like to keep an open mind, too, even though . So many people seem to have experiences. I'm just glad I'm not one of them!

    Our internet connection is shaky today, so I'm going to post this and start a new comment to answer more.

  14. I'm gonna take the cop out.. and say I'm not sure if I believe in ghosts. I've never seen one, really had anything to make thing one was around... but I also watch shows like The Haunting on Discovery a lot and that makes me think that maybe there is something hanging around. And your post can totally be related to spring break... what if someone spends their whole break being haunted? See? Its relevant =)

  15. Lexie: Zombies are certainly fun to write *about* (I have them in my next vampire book, BRING ON THE NIGHT), but I can't bring myself to think of them as cute and friendly. ;-)

    Heather: I've never seen the human-shaped shadow at the foot of my bed (OMG, my first thought was of BOB from Twin Peaks), but generally when a lot of people have similar experiences, it means that it's a natural phenomenon of our brains. I once had two roommates at a conference who had the same recurring dream of a white spidery thing floating above their bed. Luckily another friend at the conference, who does biomedical research, said that it was caused by a certain something-or-other than our brains produce when we're in a half-waking state. I was so relieved, because their stories were giving me chills!

    Elizabeth: Thank you so much! I can't wait to see what you think of SHADE. I still get goosebumps (non-ghost-related) when I see myself described as a YA author. It's an honor.

    Jennzah: I think if anyone would be a ghost and stick around to look after their loved ones, it would be grandmothers. :)

    WickedLPixie: I think if I worked in a haunted place I would require extra pay! But seriously, that sounds very cool.

    Karen: Wow, that IS spooky! Did you ever see her again after you found out who she was?

    Jenn: I would've been the same way about the crawl space. *shivers* The snoring sounds very spooky. I always used to like having pets around because I figured if there were ghosts or anything else supernatural, they would know. So as long as the cats and dogs were calm, I knew things were okay.

  16. Kari: It is interesting to watch those shows and see other people's experiences. Sorta makes you wonder...

  17. I believe in ghosts but never have seen one. I've wondered a few times though when I heard noises or hear stuff like someone calling my name and no one is there but I'm sure it could be debunked, lol. Also when my dog was alive, she use to freak me out all the time. Her ears would go up and she would stare at something that wasn't there. She would even growl.

    I'm a huge fan of your books so I know I'm going to love Shade :)

  18. I guess I believe in ghosts. I've never seen one, but my mom has...the ghost of my great grandmother, GaGa, who died 7 months before I was born. Mama was only 19 at the time & she & GaGa were extremely close. It devasted her when GaGa was shot & killed by a robber. GaGa's spirit came to Mama late one night when I was about 5 months (the setting perfect for a story: it was a cold, winter night, dark in the room...). My parents were sleep in their bed while I was in my crib. Mama said she saw GaGa appear before her. Of course, Mama was excited because she missed GaGa. She wanted to hold a conversation with her, but all GaGa said was, "Check the baby." Mama kept trying to tell her about all the exciting things that had happened, but GaGa would only tell her to check the baby. Daddy had to shake Mama awake. He didn't see GaGa, but he heard Mama talking & he said she'd sounded far away, even though she was right next to him. When Mama told him what GaGa said, they went to my crib to check on me & found me blue in the face, not breathing. The emergency room doctor told them they were lucky. Had they come in even a minute later than they did, I would've been a victim of SIDS or crib death.

    So, yeah. I believe in ghosts. I've never met GaGa, but I can feel her spirit with me sometimes...especially when I'm baking (I share my love of baking with her). I'd like to think God sent GaGa's angel to save my life. The funny thing is, I collect anything angel (pictures, stickers, figurines, calendars, etc) & I think it's because of GaGa.

  19. Kinda hard not to believe in them when you live in a perfectly ordinary tract house haunted by a small gray and white ghost cat. She startled me to the point of jumping several times after we moved in. I'd see her out of the corner of my eye when she'd dart in the house from outside, and I was sure it was a raccoon or a squirrel or something I most definitely didn't want in the house. I put down the sightings to exhaustion, because I was usually (ahem) dead on my feet when I saw her. Then my maid of honor came to visit and asked me when we got the cat. Her description was spot on, too.
    The visits have been less frequent since we got the Duz. I think the material and the transparent came to an accommodation. Not long after the living cat decided he wanted to share the bed, I woke up to the prod/poke of little cat feet prowling across the bed. Groggily, I reached up to pet the cat, but he wasn't there. So I lifted my shoulders off the mattress to see where he'd gone.
    Duzie was sitting in the doorway watching something invisible to me make its way across the comforter. We both followed the growing trail of cat foot-sized depressions until it leapt from the corner of the bed and, from the turn of Duzie's head, exited the room. Then the living cat joined me for a snuggle.
    The cat went to sleep before I did.

  20. I'm a bit on the fence. I thought I saw one when I was a kid (about 7 or 8), and was utterly terrified. I now think it was an optical illusion caused by the way some clothes were lying on an armchair, recent death of my great grandmother, and an active imagination but BOY did I scoot downstairs at a rate of knots to find people to huddle up next to.

    Now, I don't think I have the upbringing and personality to recognise paranormal phenomena unless it was amazingly blatant. I'm a "just the facts" sort of person.

    But I keep an open mind, and am respectful of other people's experiences. I work in the health system, and I'm confronted daily with the fact that other people experience things I never will. Judging phenomena from my own perspective? Limited. :)

    Oh yeah -- don't think I'm eligible for prize-ness (New Zealand!) but since I have Shade on pre order anyhow ... this will not make me cry ;) Just felt like commenting.

  21. I inhaled my copy of Shade upon receipt and it was awesome!

    I've only thought I'd seen a ghost once and that was when I was around 5 years old, woke up from a nap and saw a guy wearing a long trench coat standing in the door way looking into my parents room. It was the middle of the day and no reason anyone should have been there. Scared the hell out of me. :(

  22. I do believe in ghosts but have not seen it in real life. Movies such as Paranormal activity gets to me. I believe that there are spirits and they can harm us if we upset them.

    cindyc725 at gmail dot com

  23. Hi! I was fortunate enough to received an arc of Shade and let me tell you , it is an AMAZING story!

    I am still undecided on the whole ghost issue. Do I believe there are spirits who hang with us for while after death, yes. Even if it's just to say their goodbye.

    I am not certain, though, if they can stay behind for a lengthy time or if they could do us harm.

    Great event!
    Kate aka YzhaBella

  24. I don't believe in ghosts, but I love to read stories about them. I think it would be kind of cool if there were ghosts, but until I get to see one for myself, I can't really believe in them.

  25. Have to say I believe in some form of spirit. Have never seen a human form one, but have had several Odd instances.. from the smell of fresh baked Choc.chip cookies filling my house when I found out my dog who went everywhere w/ me was terminal & I was really upset.. to walking thru what I thought was sunlight only to have my heart stop..literaly until I stumbled thru it ..when I got myself together I rechecked the room to realize sunlight wasn't hitting that part of the room.. so there's a couple..
    Would love to read Shade.. thanks for the chance to get to do that..

  26. I actually don't believe in ghosts. Although this one time, I was hanging out with my boyfriend and all of a sudden we hear this soft singing, and I was soooo freaked out. Turns out I hit a button on my iPod in my pocket and that singing was 99 Luftballoons.

  27. Great post. I love to read and watch ghost stories. And I do believe in ghosts and have had a couple of strange experiences. The most memorable was one day at the house I grew up in I was walking out of the bathroom and could see into my room from the hall. And in front of my closest was a older women in an old fashioned dressing gown that looked like she was just looking for something to wear.

  28. I do believe in ghost and I do not want to see one! *do you hear that granny.* I have to make sure I tell her that since I am now sleeping in the very freaking room she died in. It's creepy but I know she would not be an evil ghost to me...I hope.

    There was a time when I use to want to see a ghost. My friend Andy. He died at 13 on my 14th birthday, I use to pray to see him all the time. What was I thinking! I know I would have been freaked out. I use to also pray to be visited by an apparation of the Virgin Mary (I was a good catholic girl mind you at like 15) but the time I thought she may have showed up in my room, I covered my head terrified praying she'd just go away! So imagine if a ghost of a dead boy showed up in my room like I thought I wanted! *cracks up laughing* I could go on like the time I thought the Moth Man was in my room and sitting on my bed but I was paralized with fear and never turned around to see what was on my bed! I had just watched the moth man prophecy, okay I don't just make this stuff up I swear. lol

  29. Excellent post! I do believe in ghosts. Growing up with a mother who was once know as the "Seance Queen" in her youth and had quite a lot of stories to tell is one reason, but I do believe there are spirits wondering among us.

    In one of our old houses, lights used to get flicked on, electrical appliances would heat up or be turned on when we come home even though they were unplugged. Once, everyone was sitting just outside the backdoor, no one else was inside the house and we could hear footsteps as if someone was walking around. Small stuff like that happened, then after we moved out the landlord told us a man had hanged himself there previously.

    Even now I sometimes get the sense there is something else in the room, see shadows out the corner of my eye or smell things that are so completely out of place. I really believe in the spirit world and have taught myself not to be afraid of it.

  30. I believe that we're not alone, I'm not sure if it's a lingering spirit or Angel (which I do believe in) but I believe that a presence is watching over us to keep us safe:)
    I don't have any stories which I'm glad for:P But I've had family and friends have there own stories some that are even inspiring:)

    Can't wait to read this book, it sounds amazing and I'm really looking forward to it.

  31. I'm not really sure what I believe. I don't think I believe in "ghosts" but I do sometimes feel you're not alone.

  32. I do believe in ghosts or spirits, but I have never encountered any. I think I would act just like you if there was a chance I would see them. Freaked out!

  33. I do believe in ghosts. That or SOMETHING like that. There have been too many weird things to happen in my house not to believe in something.

  34. I have seen a ghost. My friend and I lived in a house where we would see a little boy. He also turned pictures face down and would draw on the walls.

  35. Ghosts can tickle your feet and make empty cans float on a thin trail of condensation. Don't ask me how I know these things because then I would have to tell the truth. ;)

  36. I believe in ghosts, definitely. We can't be the only ones here. Besides, growing up in my grandmother's house, there was just too much weird stuff that went on for a simple explanation. So, yes I believe.

  37. Well, that all considered, it's always nice having the choice as to whether or not believe in something. Me, I am not privileged to such an advantage. You see, I see ghosts. People say they look like this... Or that... Or they're doing that. As for me, like people, there are different types of ghosts, and I've been seeing them for a long time. Some ghosts are what I refer to as "fragments"- they're there, but more just images or running through some moment in their life over and over. Then there are those that are conscious. Sometimes they look as a real person, except for the fact that you can see them in the dark. There are also sometimes those that are only one color, like they are built of a blue light and so on, or there are those I call "shadow people". You get the drift. Just be glad that that's all you have to worry about, because there are also things that aren't ghosts. Don't worry though, because they can't sense YOU. They don't come out of YOUR mirrors, and they don't cause YOU to fear the dark for a GOOD reason. BUT remember, if there are ghosts... and "things" that are NOT ghosts (I will not write the word), then there are also the antithesis of such beings. As I've seen ghosts, I've also seen... Very wonderous things too. There is good out there too.