What am I talking about here writing with a piece of string and buttons? Let me explain. When my daughter was in kindergarten the teacher asked a few of us to help him format a lesson plan for teaching art history to five and six year olds. We wrote and developed lesson plans starting with cave painting and ending at Andy Warhol.
Part of the lesson plan was to have the children create a masterpiece using whatever materials we provided and inspired by that week's artist. What struck me was how given the same materials and same theme, no two would be alike. Sometimes an idea would travel from one table to another. Like some child might discover if you wrap a pipe cleaner around your pencil, you create a spiral, and pretty soon everyone at the table would be making spirals, and then some kid sitting at the next table would notice and pretty soon everyone was making spirals.
But in general, each child put their own stamp on the project, using materials in unexpected ways, or by making a personal statement. And, so to me, writing with other authors in an anthology is the same. I've worked on a few anthologies now and I'm always amazed to see the ideas people come up with. A time traveler in a mail-order bride anthology? I wish I'd thought of that. I think I never experience writing envy as much as when I see the fresh ways other authors tackle the same subject.
When I was invited to be part of The Good, the Bad and the Ghostly I was excited by the connecting theme: a paranormal investigation agency sending agents out to the old west where there is a sudden upsurge in ghostly activity.
In the early stages all the authors collaborated on what the common threads would be. A head of the agency was created, Nat Tremayne, purposely left gender questionable. The agency got a name, the P.S.I. Agency (Psychic Specter Investigators) and was patterned on the Pinkerton Detectives. We set the head office in St. Louis--Gateway to the West. A chart was made with details of each authors detective's names, the location and time their stories were set in--in case we found each other in the same neck of the woods.
We created a Pinterest board with details such as the address of the P.S.I. Agency, street maps of 19th c St. Louis, and the interior of the office down to the wallpaper. With such reference points each author was handed their bowl full of yarn, buttons, string and a glue stick and sent off to their individual tables to create.
When I read the other stories in the anthology it was like watching those kindergartners all over again. Some did check in at the central office, but some opened up their own branches. Much fun was made over the mysterious Nat Tremayne. Did Nat stand for Nathaniel or Natalie? Some took the Pinkerton Code very seriously when developing their agents. (I think my character forgot to read the Code). We ended up with a unique collection of stories connected by common threads. Some agents even jump stories and make appearances elsewhere in the boxed set.
For my part, I decided it would be fun to have my P.S.I. agent find romance with a real Pinkerton detective. But what will happen when their separate cases converge in the Ghost and the Bridegroom?
The Ghost and the Bridegroom by Patti Sherry-Crews
Life is looking rosy for Abbott Foster when he brings his new bride to his ranch in Arizona. But when he is unable to consummate his marriage due to a malevolent spirit in the bedroom, he is forced to call in Psychic Specters Investigations.
Agent Healy Harrison doesn’t want to accept this case. She has her own demons and likes her quiet life, lived in the anonymity of St. Louis. But Tucson is where she finds herself—with instructions to “Have an adventure! Have a romance!” Things get interesting when she meets handsome Pinkerton detective, Aaron Turrell. Is this the romance she’s meant to have, or when their two cases intersect, will it drive him away?
Excerpt from the Ghost and the Bridegroom:
The air burned as hot as a fever out here on the porch. The windmill in the yard creaked and creaked. Tumbleweed rolled past, carried on the same breeze turning the windmill. The porch smelled like hot, old wood.
Healy pinched the bridge of her nose, dislodging her glasses. Over the layer of perspiration covering her face a fine coating of gritty dust stuck to her skin. She’d gone so parched; she had to work her lips off her teeth, where they were stuck, to utter a word.
“Yes, we’ve already established that fact, and as I’ve already had this conversation with the ranch hand you sent to fetch me, I’m finding this conversation about my gender rather tedious.”
He studied her with his gray eyes. “You’re a woman.”
“Oh, my…now we’ve ascertained I’m not a man are we going to have to now go through this whole process again, establishing I’m a woman. I suggest we move on from this topic and talk about your problem, Mr. Foster.”
He ran a hand through his sandy brown hair. “I can’t talk to you about this. I thought you’d be a man. This is a delicate matter.”
“Mr. Foster, I assure you I’ve seen everything. There isn’t anything you can tell me I haven’t heard before. What is happening to you has happened to many before you.”
“That’s just it. I’ve heard about it happening to other men, but it’s never happened to me before.”
“Ah, I see. Well, this too is a common reaction. Many don’t believe in ghosts until they experience the phenomenon themselves. You’re not alone.”
He looked down. “I’m not talking about ghosts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t talk to a young lady about this.”
“You can! Nothing you say will shock me.”
“Are you a…spinster?”
Healy huffed. “I don’t see how my marital status is relevant, but yes, I am not a married woman.”
“So you don’t have experience…”
“Please, I have traveled a long way under the most trying circumstances to help you. You’ve already paid the agency, and here I am! Let’s just start at the place where you encountered the haunting?”
Abbott sighed. “In the bedroom.”
“You’re lucky in that sense. Some ghosts follow people around and make all kinds of mischief.”
“Naw, you ain’t catching my meaning.”
“Aw, all right.” He took a long pause, studying his boots before he looked up again. “I’m a newlywed….”
“Yes, but here’s the crux of the matter. The ghost will not allow me to…consummate my marriage.”
Healy felt her face burn red. “Oh, I see. Well, that is a new one on me. Never heard of that one before. How is it that the ghost has power to stop…the act?”
“Ever since I brought Erline—that’s my bride—home, things don’t work right.”
She put a hand on his arm. “Are you sure you’re consulting the right expert? Have you talked to your doctor?”
His face went beet red with frustration. “It’s having a ghost in my bedroom gumming up the works.”
“You have to be more specific. I need details.”
He shuffled his feet in the dust on the boards of the porch. “I think about Erline all day. She’s so pretty. I can’t wait to go to bed. I get in next to her all cocked and ready to fire—and she’s eager too--I can tell, but then when I put….”
Healy put up her hand. “I don’t mean those kinds of details. Tell me about the ghost.”
“Oh, well, it always starts the same way. First there is this god-awful odor like rotten flowers.”
“Olfactory manifestations. Very rare. Interesting. Go on.”
He looked proud of himself a minute for having a rare haunting. “After I smell the odor a shape appears in the corner. A big, black shadow.”
“Oh, this is bad. Very bad. Black shadows are extremely malevolent.”
“It gets worse.”
“Worse than a black shadow? You’re wise to call in a professional.”
“The shadow moves. It walks, or floats--or whatever those things do--and comes and stands right next to the bed, and the creature points at me! Things shrink up down south at that point, if you know what I mean.”
“And your wife, does she see the ghost?”
“No, she don’t! I’d think I was going loco, but the dog knows the ghost is there too. It ran away and won’t come home. Stays with the neighbor.”
“Interesting. Animals are sensitive. Does your wife believe you?”
“She does not entirely believe me. At first she did, but now she thinks it’s her. She is beginning to think I don’t desire her.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll sort this out. I have a high success rate. May I come in?”
“Yes, pardon my bad manners.”
He stepped aside and opened the door for her. The minute she walked through the threshold, Healy felt cooler—and not just because she was out of the sun.
“You, Mr. Foster, have a ghost in your house, all right.” She ripped off her glasses. “Let’s get to work.”