by Lisa Schmid
There is no such thing as ghosts. Right? I must admit when it comes to the subject, I’m a bit conflicted.
I love visiting “haunted” places like the Whaley House in San Diego. Rumored to be the most haunted house in the United States, I have toured it a couple of times, hoping to see a chandelier sway or a spectral vision glide across the room. No such luck. But, to be perfectly honest, if I did see a ghost, I’d probably Scooby Doo it right out of there.
Another fun fact about me, I don’t want to see ghosts on my home turf or where I am spending the night.
For example, a couple of years ago I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. The first night while serving up scary banquet food, our waiter served up scary stories about ghosts who inhabit the hotel. One tale, in particular about a creepy ghost girl residing on the ninth floor totally freaked me out. Why? Because I, of course, was staying on the ninth floor. Go figure. So I did what any brave soul would do, I slept with the lights on. All. Four. Nights.
When my husband and I were house hunting, we found a listing online that checked all the boxes. Yay! But wait, in one picture I spotted orbs of light––a sure sign of ghosts––right? Hoping it was just a trick of the light, I did what any smart perspective buyer would do when touring a home, I took pictures to make sure it was an orb free zone. No ghosts. Whew!
To be clear, I like the idea of friendly ghosts, not the kind that your melt your face or push you down a flight of stairs. I am more the comic relief/ sarcastic sidekick kind of ghost lover. The spiritual being who is there to amuse and protect.
Growing up my favorite TV shows and movies involved friendly ghosts. I loved The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, about a ghostly sea captain who falls in love with the beautiful widow. Then there was Topper about not one, but two ghosts who use the afterlife to help their stuffy (live) friend have a good time. And of course, who could forget The Canterville Ghost that involves teen angst and a 17th-century ghost. Not sure which one is scarier.
But my all-time favorite was the sixties British detective TV show, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), renamed My Partner The Ghost for American audiences. Everything about the show was cheesy goodness.
In the first episode Marty Hopkirk is murdered during an investigation, but returns as a ghost. His partner, Jeff Randall is the only character able to see or hear him. This leads to delicious mischief and mayhem.
Marty was the perfect sidekick. Always witty and always looking out for his best friend and partner, Jeff. I loved their friendship, the banter, and the far-fetched cases. Several episodes are available for viewing on YouTube. And yes, I just paused to watch one. Still . . . So good.
When I decided to write a children’s book, this show was still pinging around inside my head. The thought of having a best friend who just happens to be a ghost sounded precisely like the kind of story I would want to read if I were still a kid. And as luck would have it, I had just moved to Folsom, home of the California Gold Rush and a paranormal hotspot. My new town turned out to be the perfect setting for my debut novel, Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold (North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press- June 18, 2019).
Within days of moving into our new home, I discovered a bent piece of metal embedded in the trunk of an oak tree in our backyard. The metal had grown with the tree, twisting and molding itself around the gnarled roots. It was the perfect catalyst for my story.
Daily walks turned into fact-finding missions and location scouting for my book. It was like the universe was guiding me . . . Or perhaps, a friendly ghost. Every excursion provided me with a new nugget of information that I could use. Folsom was a historical goldmine, all I had to do was go out and dig.
Not to give too much away, but I thought it would be fun to share a person and place that were the inspirations for a character and a location.
First up, Captain Cook. I based this quirky character on Jim Snook. He owns Snooks Candy. The first time I met him, I knew I had to find a place for him in my story. Here is a passage from Ollie Oxley and The Ghost:
Before long, a man appeared carrying a tray of freshly baked Snickerdoodles. He looked like he couldn’t decide what he wanted to be for Halloween—a pirate or a pastry chef. The bright red bandana tied around his head made his ears stick out, and his smile revealed a gold front tooth. He was wearing black and white checkered chef pants, and a white apron with the Jolly Roger stitched in black across the pocket.
“Well, shiver me timbers!” He set the tray down and came out from behind the counter to give Mom a big hug. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Jenny Oxley.”
No, Jim Snook does not talk like a pirate, but Captain Cook does. I often wonder if kids will expect Jim to speak like a pirate when they visit Snooks. I am secretly hoping that he will embrace the persona. Wouldn’t that be fun? Arrr!
Next up, home of the antagonist––Aubray Kelly. One day, when I was out for a walk, I came across a man standing in his front yard. He was kind enough to share with me the sordid history behind his one hundred and fifty-year-old home. Here is a passage from Ollie Oxley and The Ghost:
In the 1800s, the Kelly residence had served as the town courthouse—and gallows. The trials of murderers and thieves took place on the main floor. If found guilty, the convicted were taken to the basement and hanged. Justice came so swiftly; it left some of the condemned to wonder, “What the heck just happened?” Thus, a ragtag gaggle of misfit ghosts set up camp and refused to leave.
The lime-green house was run-down and gloomy, and the drab curtains were drawn tight. A trio of garden gnomes greeted Teddy with stony stares; their paint chipped and peeled. Teddy poked his head through the front door. Mismatched furniture crowded the house in muted shades of dull. The dim glow from an overhead light offered little cheer.
Seriously, this was the ideal home for Aubray. On a side note, I did tour the house, and yes, I did go down into the basement. It was tiny, dark and eerie, and the air was thick. The house was probably filled to the brim with ghosts, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.
These are just a couple of the fantastic tidbits I was able to glean from my new neighborhood. I think all authors write what they know. Fortunately for me, I stumbled upon a treasure trove of material.
I hope next summer you’ll pick up my book. In the meantime, I highly recommend:
All three books are sure to get you into the holiday spirit. Not too scary, but not too sweet.
This Halloween, don’t forget to leave the lights on. You never know who or what may be lurking in the shadows. Happy haunting!
Lisa’s debut middle grade novel is Ollie Oxley and The Ghost: The Search for Lost Gold (North Star Editions/Jolly Fish Press, June 18, 2019).
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