So . . . About Vincent . . .

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Anybody else out there a huge Van Gogh fan? I’ve been fascinated . . . okay, obsessed with his art, his life, his history, since I was a little girl. I’ve read a number of books, watched a number of movies about his life. Was he insane? Or just a frustrated artist who sadly failed to attain fame until after his death?

Let’s talk about his death. Suicide? I’ve always questioned that. A number of other historical scholars share my opinion that Vincent was murdered. There are also some theories that it was not Vincent who cut off his own earlobe, but that it was severed during a sword fight with his contemporary and idol, Paul Gauguin after a heated argument.

These theories are those I explore in my upcoming novel, PIGMENTS, a story where my heroine, Rachel Parrish, travels back in time to access Vincent’s memories through his DNA.

“Dear Theo” is, in essence, an autobiography of the artist, the man, the enigma: Vincent Van Gogh. The work chronicles over 1000 pages of letters Vincent wrote to his younger brother over his short lifetime. Theo Van Gogh, who owned a gallery and tried valiantly to champion his brother’s work, literally supported Vincent throughout his career.

The original publication of Vincent’s letters, all of which Theo’s widow kept, allows the artist to tell his own story. The original text is Bible-thick and very expensive. Although I managed to borrow the hardcover edition through Tufts University’s library system (I work there), I found it almost as difficult to get through as the Bible itself.

In 1937, the scholar Irving Stone, with the help of his wife, went through the 1000+ pages of Vincent’s letters. He combed out the insignificant details of ordinary life, translated the original Dutch to English, and produced a book he felt would be, a. short enough to be palatable to a general audience, and b. producible at a price that would sell. I am now listening to the audiobook version of this compilation.

Reading about Van Gogh’s life and hearing his own words describing it are two, very different mediums. I’m only about 1/3 of the way through. But I have to tell you, my feelings for Vincent are tarnishing, as silver does when left to open air. In his younger years (early 20s), Vincent yearned to follow in his father’s footsteps: that of a Protestant minister. But his faith proved too weak to sustain the course. He turned to art—first drawing, then watercolors, to express his views on life and its hardships. It was not until later that he took up oil painting.

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Vincent had a soft spot for the working class. The coal miners. The weavers, the seamstresses, and the prostitutes. Those who worked hard in horrific conditions to make just barely enough to survive. This is not surprising. He became one of them.

But he was determined to be an artist, a vocation he defines as “seeking truth yet never to arrive.” It seems his heart was in the right place. Still, I have to question his sense of responsibility. In letter after letter to his younger, more successful brother Theo, the main thing he does—repeatedly—is to defend his own views on life, and to ask for more money.

In listening to Vincent’s own words in describing his mentors—those who, one by one, abandoned him—I cannot deny: he sounds like either a sociopath, or one who suffers from bipolar disorder. In one breath he states he “cannot blame” his mentors for turning their backs on him. In the next, he condemns them for their blindness to his worth.

Does this sound like a man who could have self-mutilated? Committed suicide? Absolutely not. At least so far, in the letters from Van Gogh’s own hand, I see a picture of a man with a very high opinion of himself whose pride, if nothing else, would keep him from doing himself harm. From taking his own life.

My love affair with the Van Gogh legend started when I was just a kid. I was at the tender, impressionable age of fourteen when Don McLean’s rendition of “Starry, Starry Night” came out. We all loved Vincent. He was the starving artist, one to be pitied. He “suffered for his sanity.”

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I have to admit—a third of the way through the audiobook of “Dear Theo,” I’m losing patience, as well as pity, for Vincent. I hope this impression changes.

I’ll keep you posted . . .

*****

Claire Gem writes award-winning supernatural suspense. You can find out more at http://www.clairegem.com.

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Gargoyles!

Welcome Chris Redding to my blog with her new release, DESTINY OF A GARGOYLE, Book One of the Series, “When Gargoyles Love.”

Destiny of a Gargoyle

Donal Foley was born in a time when magic ruled the Earth.

Gargoyles protected fairies from goblins. His family was a group of elite gargoyles who were assigned to protect a specific fairy. His father’s dereliction of that duty cursed his sons to become stone and wait.

Now reawakened in the twenty first century where no one believes in magic how is he going to convince his fairy that she is one and that she is in danger from a goblin?

He must do that without falling in love with her.

~~~

I’m a personal fan of gargoyles. 🙂 I have two in my office atop my desk that look down on my while I write. Let’s get to know Author Chris Redding better . . .

Do you have any strange writing habits (like standing on your head or writing in the shower)?

I listen to music. Specifically I listen to video game soundtracks when I write. They are designed to help you focus.

If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?

Colin O’Donaghue would play the hero. Emma Stone the heroine.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Invited to do a workshop at Comic Con. The one in San Diego. They would have to ask me because my paranormal characters are so beloved by man at that point.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?

I would never write about the abuse of a child. I just can’t. Not in any context.

Have you ever gotten into a bar fight?

No. I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional house and the upshot of that is that I have great instincts. I know when trouble is coming and how to stay away from it.

What secret talents do you have?

I can juggle. There is a picture of me juggling while doing tree pose.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held?

I was a dumper for a newspaper. This was many years ago and my job was to “print” out the classifieds. The paper then had to go through a photo processing machine. Sometimes light leaked into it and I wouldn’t know until the ads came out the other end. Smelly chemicals and a crappy boss made the job even worse.

~~~

Gosh, even the name of that job sounds bad – a dumper! And having a crappy boss is never good.

Thanks for stopping by today, Chris! You can find out more about Chris and Destiny of a Gargoyle here:

Chris Redding Author LLC

Email: chrisreddingauthor@gmail.com

Website: www.chrisreddingauthor.com

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New Inspirations

Most of my fans know that it takes an energetically charged location to inspire my stories. Up until now, those places have been old libraries, abandoned hotels, crumbling asylums, even an antebellum mansion. After reading this article this morning in Observer-Reporter, I believe I may have found my next inspiration.

From a memory.

The article talks about a new, nonfiction book called “Haunted Hills and Hollows” by Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Kevin Paul. Apparently there is a corner of southwestern Pennsylvania that seems sleepy–except for the recurring supernatural occurrences there. Ms. Guiley, who runs Visionary Living Publishing, was contacted by Mr. Paul about the strange events in the area. Ms. Guiley was intrigued.

Of course, the book is on my to-read list. But what popped out of this article for me was a quote by Ms. Guiley:

“Guiley said mines, oil and gas wells and rivers are conduits for spiritual energy, all of which Greene County has in bounds.”

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That’s when it hit me. A memory I had buried (no pun intended) in the deep, dark recesses of my mind.

It’s got to be 15 years ago now, but I had the pleasure of taking a trip to Belgium a while back. My gracious host and hostess packed me in their station wagon and took me all over the region. One of the places they took me was to an abandoned coal mine in Liege, Belgium.

The experience I had that day still makes my heart race.

I guess I must be claustrophobic, although I was not aware of it until that day. We took an elevator down some distance below the surface. I can’t remember if it was 30 feet or 300, but it doesn’t matter. The panic attack I experienced slicked my skin with sweat and deadened my hearing for the blood rushing in my ears. I was sure I would die there that day. I couldn’t wait to get back to the surface.

Men died in those shafts. I remember the tour guide telling us the stories. What better place for spirits to be trapped?

~~~

Claire Gem writes award-winning supernatural suspense novels. Find out more at http://www.ClaireGem.com.

 

 

Tech-Savvy Ghosts?

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This year’s Mother’s Day was not the most festive I’ve experienced. I spent the day at the funeral of a friend of the family. This incredible lady (we’ll call her Sally), who was stolen away from us at ridiculously young age from a sudden illness, has touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands in her short, fifty-one years. Her younger brother (we’ll call him Will) and I are particularly close. Will and I met for the first time about ten years ago and in that moment had a “Hey, wow, there you are!” kind of weird recognition. A communion of spirits.

Yesterday, we followed Will and Sally’s family, proceeding in a long line of vehicles to the tiny cemetery very near, ironically, to the town where my first Haunted Voices novel, HEARTS UNLOCHED, is set. A steady, drizzling cold rain made the already unpleasant journey even more miserable. As I was getting out of the car to walk to the interment site, a very bizarre thing happened . . .

I had, of course, silenced my phone during the wake, and it was still on silent. Yet suddenly, as I grabbed the small wallet case in which I carry it, a song began to play from its speakers–LOUD. I didn’t recognize the tune, and what’s more, I could not make it stop, even though I hit the two little vertical “stop” bars on the screen multiple times. Each time I tried, the screen went black but the song continued to play. Embarrassed and more than a little flustered, I finally had to shut the phone off to silence it.

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When I powered the device back up a half-hour later, the phone was still set to silent. The song was still displayed on the screen: California (There is No End to Love) by U2. It was not on my Youtube app, where I often listen to random songs.

It was in my iTunes app, as if I had purchased it.

Now don’t get me wrong–I have nothing against U2. I’ve heard some of their songs and do kind of like their style. But I’m not a fan, and have never either purchased any of their music nor even looked them up on Youtube. So how–and why–did my iPhone begin playing this particular song as I headed to the grave site for the interment of my dear friend’s sister?

I suppose I will never know. I have asked Will if the band was one of Sally’s favorites, and he said he wasn’t sure. I don’t know any of her friends well enough to ask the question, and would be afraid they would think I was a little loopy if I shared my story. Perhaps some of the lyrics hold a clue:

“I’ve seen for myself, there’s no end to grief
That’s how I know

Whoa, that’s how I know
And why I need to know
That there is no, yeah,
There is no end to love.”

Was the deceased sending a message from the other side? A message to let us know that although the grief is endless for us, there is no end to love? In sending that message, was she letting me know that the other side does exist?

In our modern world of gadgets, we rely heavily on what? Energy. The first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed. We are all made of energy. Perhaps, once the force which defines our lives is transformed, our essence–spirit, if you will–retains the capability to influence the tangible, electronic devices still present on this side of the veil.

Maybe a spirit can turn on an iPhone’s speakers and make it play a song.

Was it my friend’s sister who played the U2 song? Or some other, random soul whose energy was still present there in the dismal cemetery on this cold, rainy Mother’s Day? I may never know the answer for sure, but of one thing I am certain: it wasn’t only the icy drizzle on my neck sending chills through my body as I made my way between the gravestones to the place where they laid a very special lady to rest.

Rest in peace, pretty angel, and feel free to send me a tune anytime you please. I’d be honored to hear from you.

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~~~

Claire Gem writes contemporary romance and supernatural suspense. Find out more at her website or Amazon Author Page.

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The Mysterious Fate of Talcott Hall

I grew up in Middletown, N.Y., a medium-sized burg about sixty miles north of NYC. We had an insane asylum there at one time . . . well, it actually went by the name Middletown State Homeopathic Hospital.

Basically, it was a place where they sent those suffering from illnesses not of the body, but of the mind.

By the time I graduated high school, the facility, which had been in operation since 1866, was more or less defunct. Many of the buildings stood empty, but some had been re-purposed for use by other state agencies. The grounds still maintained a firehouse, as well as security guards. I actually dated one of the nighttime security guards for a time.

The asylum was always a creepy, haunting place for me, and the reasons went beyond the dilapidated, abandoned buildings and the loneliness that seemed to ooze out of their very walls. My father, who suffered from alcoholism, was a patient there at least one time, a sad and mournful memory from my early childhood.

I decided to exorcise some of my own ghosts when I wrote SPIRITS OF THE HEART. The hero, Miller Stanford, suffers from alcoholism. Or thinks he does.

One of the largest buildings still standing on the campus, up until June of 2015, anyway, was Talcott Hall. The monstrous, three-story brick structure was crumbling from the inside out, windows smashed, encircled by an eight-foot high chain link fence that failed to keep out the vandals and the desperate homeless.

While I was working on SPIRITS OF THE HEART, my sister, Terri, who is a quasi-professional photographer, spent the day with me driving around the asylum grounds, taking pictures for my book cover and trailer. It was overcast and cool that day, adding to the chill that always seemed to seep up from the ground. We got lots of photos, one even unique enough to use for the debut cover of the novel (enhanced, of course, by Terri and Gimp photo-editing software).

Two weeks later, the building burned to the ground. Mysteriously. The fire was chalked up to vandalism. But in conversation with Nick Elio, one of Middletown’s fireman, some strange events kept the crew from reaching the building until it was way too late. Two or three other alarms were pulled that night in places far from the old hospital grounds. By the time the fire trucks arrived, the building was completely engulfed. (Photo courtesy of Nick Elio, Middletown Fireman)

 

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What really happened to Talcott Hall? I mourned the loss of the building, since it was the spotlight in my ongoing novel-in-progress. My muse was bruised and discouraged. I put the book aside and couldn’t work on it for almost a year.

SPIRITS OF THE HEART finally came out on Valentine’s Day, 2017. The following year, the title was a finalist in the “I Heart Indie Awards.” Now, it’s in the running for InDTale’s RONE (Recognition of Novel Excellence) Award. This round, however, is judged by public vote.

Will you vote for SPIRITS OF THE HEART? Voting ends Sunday, May 13th. Please make my Mother’s Day special this year by helping my book get the recognition it deserves.

First,  you must go to InDtale’s website and register. It’s free and there’s no obligation. They will send you an email link, which you must click on to confirm. Then you go to the Voting Page, where SPIRITS OF THE HEART is the third title down under Long Paranormal.

You can read more about SPIRITS OF THE HEART here. The book trailer is here.

Thank you in advance for your support, and in helping pay tribute to a novel set in a place that surely qualifies as the perfect supernatural setting.

RONE.Gem

~~~

Claire Gem writes contemporary romance and supernatural suspense. Find out more at her website or her Amazon Author Page.

Island of the Dead

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Hart Island, a sliver of land in Long Island Sound in New York, is eroding away. Nature reclaims its own, right? What’s heartbreaking–and eerie as hell–about the natural reclamation of this particular island into the sea?

The fact that along with the dirt and sand, the ocean is reclaiming the remains of the dead buried there. Perhaps even those of one of my kin.

Hart Island was purchased by New York City in 1868 with the intent to use the land as a “potter’s field” –a place to bury dead whose bodies go unclaimed at the morgue, or whose families cannot afford the price of burial in a traditional cemetery. Since then, the land has also housed a workhouse for wayward boys, a Civil War Prison, a tuberculosis hospital, a missile base, and an asylum. Now, amid crumbling ruins of these old structures lie the graves of countless dead, unmarked and stacked three deep.

Mass graves. Twice a week, a ferry crosses the sound stacked with pine boxes. Prison inmates from Riker’s Island are paid 50 cents an hour to inter these in bulldozer-gouged pits. It is estimated that over 1 million souls ended–and continue to end–their earthly journey here.

But now, some are leaving. In bits and pieces, a collarbone here, a femur there. Erosion is washing away the shores of Hart Island, unearthing some of the older graves.

What is the city, whose taxpayers’ dollars’ fund this mass disposal system for their indigent dead, doing about this horrifying state of the island? In this May 3, 2018 article, Melinda Hunt, advocate for the island, is quoted as saying, “They came to clean this up, but it isn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.”

Visit The Hart Island Project to learn more. You’ll also learn the history of the island, see maps and aerial video footage, as well as video of what happens, twice a week, to this day. Chilling footage, to be certain.

What’s especially chilling about this particular slice of land, to me personally? I believe it’s where my mother’s mother–or grandmother, the family history is shrouded in secrets–was laid in or about 1934. My mother was twelve when the woman she knew as her mother died of a “rheumatic heart.” When I was a child, I remember her telling me that her mother’s body was laid out in a coffin in the family’s living room for three days before she went to burial.

The thought chilled my eight-year-old mind to its core.

“Weren’t you afraid?” I asked.

My mother stared at her hands in her lap. “No. She was my mother. I knew she would never hurt me, alive or dead.”

“Where is she buried, Mommy?” I asked.

My mother shook her head sadly and looked away. “We had no money. She was buried in a potter’s field.”

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Hart Island, since its purchase by the city in 1868, has been the city’s potter’s field. My grandmother–or great grandmother–is buried there. I’m certain of it. And surely, a grave from the 1930s fits the definition of one of the “older graves.”

In 2012, after an exhaustive records search, I located the grave of my maternal grandfather. His draft card led me to his resting place in a military cemetery on Long Island. I visited and left a bouquet of pink roses. It felt good to find him, even though he never knew me. I experienced a sense of closure.

It appears I will never have the opportunity to achieve this with the woman my mother called “Mommy.”

I wonder if her remains are among those washing away into the sea. I wonder if, in at least a physical sense, she is finally finding freedom from her prison of poverty and shame after almost a hundred years . . .

~~~

Claire Gem is an award-winning author of six novels, including her Haunted Voices series of supernatural suspense novels. Find out more about her work at her Amazon Author page, or at her Website.

Sucked Through the Veil

After the release of my last Haunted Voices novel in April, I took a few weeks off from writing. Yeah, I’ve blogged. I’ve doodled around with a couple of short stories I had brewing. But starting another book? It just wasn’t happening for me. Not yet.

Then, there is the conundrum: what do I write next? Do I pick up where I left off on one of several other Haunted Voices novels I’d begun over the last several years? Pigments? Electricity? Sirens of Salt? Time is a Ribbon? All of these have at least 10,000 words invested–in each of them–already.

Still, I just wasn’t feeling it.

Until last week, when I listened to the last installment of my upcoming audiobook.

A Taming Season, which was the first of the Love at Lake George novels, came out in 2016. I’ve just now gotten lucky enough to locate a narrator who could personify my tender-hearted but strong-willed heroine, AND bring to life a very important secondary character, Jade.ATS.Postcard

Jade is from Jamaica, born and raised. Has a serious Jamaican accent. Not all narrators can switch from my heroine’s mild New York accent into full-blown Jamaican. But Sharon Cline can.

And I was blessed she decided A Taming Season was a title she wanted to narrate. The recording is finished. It’s now in the hands of ACX who is doing the final quality evaluation. Very soon, A Taming Season: A Love at Lake George novel, will be coming to life in sound, on Audible.

I’m sorry to tell you, dear lovers of the supernatural, that this title is not a ghost story–unless it’s internal, emotional ghosts you’re talking about. It’s straight, contemporary romance. Spicy. Intensely emotional. But it delivers the same kind of heart-twisting journey as any of the Haunted Voices novels.

What better time than now to go back to the “proposed” second book in the Love at Lake George series, Anchor My Heart? So that’s what I did.

I had a page–ONE PAGE–written. The opening. I had rough character sketches of the hero and heroine. I had located “pictures” of them (my hero is a young Eric Close. Yum.) And I had a rough idea of the storyline.

This morning, I spent two hours fleshing out the rest of the characters. Characters, I learned from Matt Bird in his wonderful book, The Secrets of Story, make the story–not the other way around. So I made a list. Heroine: her mother, her father, her friends. Hero: his mother, his father, his multiple siblings, his friends. And suddenly, something wonderful happened.

I opened up that ONE PAGE I’d written on Anchor My Heart, and I was pulled through the veil. Sucked into the world these characters live and breathe in. Suddenly, I was in Lake George, sitting at Murphy’s Bar & Grill, watching Collette Delgado and Todd Gallagher reunite for the first time since high school. Now, she’s an attorney. He’s inherited his uncle’s very successful marina on the lake.

I couldn’t type fast enough.

I think the dry spell is over. I think my characters have sucked me into their world, and won’t let me go until their story is told.