So, I’ve wanted to tie in my recent Round 2 loss in a blog and meeting Stephen King’s author son, Joe Hill yesterday in Seattle seemed fitting. So, I received my YOU LOSE notification several days ago from the NYC Midnight Short Story competition. The genre I wrote my entry for was GHOST STORY, Electrician and LOVE. I thought I did a good job, but found out from judges’ feedback that I left too many holes. One thing I was happy about was that the story came across as CREEPY/SCARY. “Moonbeams and Lightning Bolts” will be posted below along with the Judges’ critiques.
If you know my work, I’m not exactly in the same category as King or Joe Hill, writing fluffier stuff like romantic comedies. But, it’s like a switch turned on this week. I love watching scary movies. Sometimes by myself, in the dark…through my fingers or peering over my Hello Kitty blanket. So, why haven’t I read horror? I own a few Stephen King novels, watched many of his movies…Cujo scaring the crap out of me when I was a kid and The Shining with Jack Nicholson “Here’s Johnny” still as creepy as ever.
My first movie experience was at 1 ½ in Korea. My Army dad took me and mom to the theater to watch The Exorcist. I don’t remember that experience, but I’m sure it screwed me up a bit and perhaps added to my draw to scary flicks. I remember watching it in middle school being freaked out, and dad telling me it was my first movie…”It was so funny how you climbed over me and tried to hide behind my back whenever Linda Blair was on screen.” (Ya’ think? I was one…so much for movie ratings back then).
Well, after my rejection from NYC, I let the loss settle. How? By joining another contest the next day. Carve Magazine’s contest, which will reveal results in July. The Short Story I submitted is called VEIL. I let my husband read it and he looked at me wide eyed, “Wow. This is really dark.”
And, it is. Carve didn’t want genre writing, so romance was out the door. So, I sifted through my idea pile and finished VEIL.
So, that same week, I received a suggested event I might like on Facebook. It was for Joe Hill’s author visit in Seattle. I was like, heck ya! So, I got my copy of Heart Shaped Box, dug in as much as a mom and wife can when she’s not cooking, cleaning, washing, etc., and drove into the busy University of Washington area of Seattle. I drove by the blocked off street the bookstore was on and saw droves of people behind barriers on both sides of the street. I thought, Holy crap, they must all be here to see Joe Hill! I’ll never get to meet him. Memories of being in line for 12 hours at SD Comic Con came to mind.
But, I found a crazy parking garage and paid $15.00. Panicked because they close at 6PM, which meant that I really was not going to see the author.
I raced two blocks to the bookstore and to my relief the crowds were for a street fair and not necessarily Joe, but if you know my stance on authors, they should be treated like rock stars. I found the group of admirers upstairs, seats taken. I immediately chatted up a nice couple who were also craning their necks for seats. I asked a cashier if someone was in charge and she said yes. Seeing no one attending to the standing gawkers, I took the initiative to make our own seating. Caroline and Paul, my new friends joined in and we began creating seating. Then, two book employees stopped us. “Don’t touch the chairs. We can handle it.” We let them, the male waved his employee badge like he was a cop after all. And, to my happy surprise I got a seat right in front of the autograph table. My new friends and I chatted about Guam and our backgrounds. Paul previously asked if I was from the East Coast. He said I was aggressive. I told him I was from Guam and in turn they told the moderator that I arrived all the way from Guam for the event….of course, I corrected him, adding I got here nine years ago, via my canoe, via California.
Anyway, I was in my element. Ready to take in any writing advice Joe Hill would offer. When Joe arrived, he walked right by our seats. I was deep in conversation with Paul and Caroline and looked up to see Joe, the bearded son of Stephen King. He peered at me from behind his glasses and floppy black hair. Like a geek fan, I stopped talking to my new friends and said rather loudly, “Hi!” Joe waved his fingers and smiled then perched himself against the shelf in front of me. The woman to my side started snapping pictures of Joe with her phone. I purposely didn’t look at Joe again because I didn’t want him to feel awkward, or have him think I was a stalker.
So, after an introduction, Joe Hill drops his bag on the table in front of me and walks to the podium, shuffling and head down. I thought, wow, he must be really shy. But, once he hit the podium, he lit up and explained his walk. He said, he always looks down so he doesn’t trip. Joe ended up being a great speaker, giving wonderful writing advice. The biggest lesson, drop unnecessary dialogue, get to the point and don’t set out to write a short story or novel, but just write a great scene. Over time, you’ll have a number of great scenes and you’ll find yourself with a novel.
Joe’s humor was most refreshing. When someone asked about his legacy, being Stephen King’s son. He said, he’s proud of his dad’s career and yes, his dad has a few books out and hopes his dad can be successful. All tongue and cheek and modesty, which was great. Another cool thing, his novel HORNS has already been made into a movie which should come out next year. He added that Daniel Radcliffe (Mr. Harry Potter himself) is the main character, Ig Perrish.
For the book signing, by default and not because I was the first on the scene, the same dude who got mad at me for touching the beloved chairs, stood in front of me with Sharpie and post it. Are you going to be first? He asked. Hell yeah, I thought. He wrote my name and placed it in my book. Joe signed my copy of Heart Shaped Box and I asked official guy if pictures were allowed. Joe said of course and as Joe signed my book, official guy wanted to snap the picture. Joe told him to wait…”I’m going to stand to take pictures, hold on.” Joe signed my book and asked if I ruined the not completely read novel for me since he discussed some aspects of the story. I told him spoilers don’t spoil a thing for me. So with autographed book in hand, I got my picture and went along my merry way…before 6PM.
I made it to my car with only one homeless guy asking me, “How you doin’?” and my purse still on my persons.
Another meet the author mission complete, I left Seattle.
MOONBEAMS AND LIGHTNING BOLT SUMMARY
Jeremiah Clay shelved his songwriting aspirations to become the reluctant apprentice to the family business, Clay and Sons Electrical. With two older brothers who have flown the coop, Jeremiah struggles to balance appeasing his demanding father and his desire to make his music dreams a reality on YouTube, all the while dealing with accusations from viewers that he’s using tricks in his videos to boost his fame.
Jeremiah scrapes on the painted lightning bolt of the Clay and Sons sign on his father’s old van. He taps a steady beat using his guitar pick. The bolt is meant to be the “s” at the end of Sons and the chips of yellow paint scatter to the winds. The sign should read Clay and Son since Jeremiah’s older brothers joined the Navy.
Big Joe, his father, owned the business for forty years, hustling for minor electrical jobs in the tiny town of Saintsville. It’s been a sluggish year, which is why Jordan and Jacob Clay made a run for it. Big Joe’s reluctant blessing was enough for the two to set sail.
Big Joe swats his youngest child’s head. “Jeremiah, what the hell are you doing?”
“Nothing.” Jeremiah laughs, running to the other side of the van. “Stop hitting me on the head, I’m not fifteen.”
“You’re twenty five going on fifteen.” Big Joe chuckles. “When we get back, fish out some yellow paint from the shed.” His father cranks the engine.
“Why?” Jeremiah already knows the answer.
“Freshen up the letters and brighten up our lightning bolt.”
“Can I block off the s in Sons?” Jeremiah plays air guitar and hums a tune.
“No. Your brothers might decide they hate the Navy and come home.”
“Or, they’ll love it and keep away.”
“That hurts.” Big Joe laughs. “They’ll be back.”
Jeremiah playfully drums on his father’s rotund belly. “I wouldn’t count on it Big Joe, it’s just you and me.”
Jeremiah was Clay and Sons’ heir apparent, but he would rather be home strumming his guitar, putting words to paper, weaving melodies. He finally perfected his cover of Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah and is ready to debut it on his very own YouTube channel.
“Hello, my name is Jeremiah Clay. This is my cover of Hallelujah.” Warm winds stream into Jeremiah’s room, making his azure curtains dance. His nerves melt as he sings into the red light on his computer.
Jeremiah reviews the video, when he notices the curtains on screen. He hits pause. There is a smudge near his shoulder. He wipes the screen. He drags the video forward and back and no matter what he does, the smoky smear remains.
Irritated, he plays the song again focusing on his fingering and phrasing. Jeremiah uploads the video and lets the music gods work their magic as he rests.
“Damn, wake up, Jeremiah!” Big Joe stands over his son. He flings a cell phone on the bed. “This stupid gadget has been peeping all night. You left it in my coveralls.”
Wiping the sleep out of his eyes, Jeremiah takes hold of his phone as his father stomps away. His phone pings instantly, which means there’s an email. Then it chirps, which means he has a text. He stands by his window and stretches. He reads the first few texts.
-great creepy video, OMG 3.13
-you rock, I’ve got the hee-b-g-bees
-love your singing, but it’s not Halloween
Jeremiah’s blood feels like it’s draining out of his body. He charges up his laptop, eager to find out what the hell everyone’s talking about.
“Damn it!” His laptop boots up too slow for his eager nerves.
Jeremiah forwards the video to 3.13, but he can’t see anything but the smudge. He throws his hands in the air. “Why can’t I see it? Thirty eight comments?” Jeremiah hungrily scrolls down the comments.
*that’s some scary stuff!
*stop it at 3.13 and you see her face.
*man, this is a hoax, good way to get famous Jeremiah.
*What’s with the girl in the dress?
Jeremiah finally calls his father. He cues up the video from the start. Big Joe pulls his boxers over his belly and watches unimpressed. As the singing progresses, he gives his son a thumbs up. Jeremiah watches the scrolling seconds, when it hits 3.13, his father jumps back.
“You, hey, did you see that?” Big Joe is tense and slowly turns his head to look behind him. Jeremiah follows suit and sees nothing.
“God, dad, I can’t see crap. What did you see?”
“Ah, maybe it’s nothing, great singing.” Big Joe walks out fast for a three hundred pound man.
Jeremiah pulls the circle on the video counter back to 3.13 and stares at the screen.
He spends the entire morning reading comments, one after the other talking about a little face, a girl, an apparition. A ghost.
“These people are crazy!” Jeremiah says to his computer. Before this goes viral, he removes the video. He keeps his channel active, determined to try again. He watches Big Joe leave to work without him.
Jeremiah cleans his computer and camera. Sustained by coffee, Jeremiah is eager to get another video posted. He tweaks an original song he’s been working on. He sets up in his living room, bookshelves and mom’s old knickknacks in the background. For good measure, he records a few bars and reviews the video. No smudge this time. No ghosts.
Satisfied, he starts recording, “Hello, this is Jeremiah Clay. This is my original song, Moonbeams and Lightning Bolts.”
My mama used to say I had moonbeams in my pocket
My papa used to say I rode lightning bolts just for fun
My brothers and me took adventures in our rockets
And raced mighty Pegasus to the fiery sun….
Jeremiah plays the video multiple times, scrutinizing everything, watching for errant smudges in the background. Big Joe is back. Has the whole day melted away? Jeremiah wonders.
“Hey, dad want to hear my new song?”
“No!” He says harshly. Big Joe stops and looks at his son, weary. “I mean, maybe later son. I had a long day. I need your help tomorrow for a job, so rest up.” Jeremiah watches him retreat upstairs.
“Shoot, I’m doing it.” Jeremiah says to no one. He uploads the song. He checks on his snoring father and takes a shower.
As Jeremiah towels off, his phone pings. He gets dressed and it chirps. He looks at his reflection in the hazy mirror. He needs to trim his blond hair, maybe get a crew cut so he can match his brothers. Ping. His body tenses. He wants to ignore his phone, but after three pings in a row he bolts to his bed. It’s been thirty minutes since he’s uploaded the song. Seven emails notifying that he has comments on his video.
Jeremiah races downstairs. His laptop is still humming. He sits on the couch, his guitar repulses him for the first time. He refreshes his YouTube page. Seven comments cling to the bottom of his video. He takes a breath and reads.
*I love this song! But, why the special effects?
*You’re so hot, but no need to add scary stuff…
*WTF! Tell me you saw that!
*Girl in a blue dress. Around 2.25.
Jeremiah slams his laptop shut. He paces the living room, stopping to stare on occasion at the backdrop of this last video. “God! Am I in the Twilight Zone?” He opens the computer and it comes to life. He starts Moonbeams and Lightning Bolts. His finger shakes, waiting to pause it at 2.25. Click. Jeremiah brings his face close to the warm screen. He looks at his mouth suspended in mid song, the bookshelves, and the curio cabinet with his late mother’s stuff. He doesn’t see, wait. A milky bubble is near Jeremiah’s ear, small, indistinct. “Why are people seeing a face? What here is a girl in a blue dress?”
Jeremiah wants to respond to the now twelve comments, but doesn’t. Instead, with regret, he removes the video. Seeds of doubt plant in his mind. Maybe music is not for him, maybe he’s destined to just be the lone son in Clay and Sons Electrical.
Jeremiah closes his laptop, the irritating pings on his phone stop. He lifts his guitar like it’s a rare flower. Alone in his room, he mounts it on the wall.
Jeremiah wipes his finger over his guitar. He looks at the fine white dust that has collected in the last three months. He pulls on his blue coveralls, the Clay and Sons lightning bolt logo stitched over his heart. Big Joe waits in the van.
“Where to today?” Jeremiah asks dully.
“Mrs. Jensen. She needs a faulty socket checked out, easy. You could stay home if you like. Play some music, do whatever.” Big Joe watches his son. Jeremiah shrugs and looks out the window.
“It’s okay, let’s go.”
They pull into a nearby housing area. Jeremiah used to ride his bike around these streets. A flash of blue catches his eye and he cranes his neck to a row of trees. Nothing.
The pale yellow home is quaint and a young woman watches from the door. He grabs his toolbox and looks at the two story house. A movement above catches his attention. He sees a little girl just tall enough to peer out the window at him. He waves. She smiles and waves too. She brings a toy panda to the window and makes it wave at Jeremiah as well. He chuckles and follows his father.
“Hello, Mrs. Jensen. I’m Big Joe and this knucklehead is my youngest boy, Jeremiah.”
“Please come in. And please call me Ingrid.”
“Ingrid Hutcherson?” Jeremiah stands at the doorway. She turns, her curly brown hair is just as he remembered. She’s hiding her blue eyes behind square framed glasses, but he knows it’s her.
“Yes. Jeremiah? Hey! I remember you. We were in choir camp, right?” Her eyes alight and she smiles. Jeremiah wants to give her a hug, but he doesn’t want to tramp his dirty boots through her home. He helps his father with his booties and covers his shoes as well. The moment lost, he shakes her hand instead.
“Oh my, I last saw you when we were ten, right?” She says. Her wedding photo catches his eye, perched on a piano.
“Yes. That was the last camp Big Joe ever paid for. He thought I wasted my time with music.” Jeremiah mumbles.
“Not true. You’re talented.”
“Yes, I do recall how great you were.” Ingrid adds.
Big Joe coughs. “Let’s see that burned socket, shall we?”
Jeremiah stops smiling at Ingrid and follows his father.
“It’s upstairs, my daughter’s, um, follow me.” Ingrid rushes up the steps. Jeremiah stays behind his slow moving father as he tackles each step. He peers around his dad and smiles again at Ingrid.
“So, you’re married, I see.” Jeremiah asks finally on the landing.
Ingrid frowns, “No. Not any more.” She wiggles her bare left hand for Jeremiah to see.
“Oh, sorry.” He can’t fight a ray of delight that she’s single.
“This is my, well, this was my daughter’s room.” Was?
The room looks lived in. It’s full of toys, books, pink everywhere. “Do you have another daughter?”
Ingrid looks at Jeremiah, puzzled. She blinks away tears. “No, just one. My daughter, Lanalynn, she died a year ago. It’s silly, but I still light her nightlight every night. Faulty, I guess, burned the socket.” She shows them a smiling moon night light, charred.
“I’m so sorry, about your daughter.” Big Joe glares at Jeremiah. “Let me take a look at the fixture.”
Ingrid stands by the window. Jeremiah is stuck in place. “I’m sorry, Ingrid.”
“Oh, don’t be. She was very sick. I miss her so much. But, after she passed, her dad couldn’t handle it. He’s Navy. We split a few months ago. It’s for the best.” Ingrid fidgets with her phone, then hands it to Jeremiah. “This is Lanalynn. My little Sailor Moonbeam.”
Jeremiah’s mouth goes dry. He stares at the phone screen.
Lanalynn wears a blue sailor dress.
She clutches a toy panda.
Her perfect porcelain face smiles at him.
WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR SCRIPT - ......The discovery at the end, with the description of the sailor dress and the panda, is appropriately creepy; what's also done well here are the various YouTube comments which are left by his friends. While this may seem like a silly thing to laud, it isn't; it's too tempting, many times, to bend comments the way you need them to go for your story without them being realistic, and that's just not the case here. Here, the writer has expressed exactly what one would see on YouTube in a realistic manner while still making his point. Very well done on that.......I'm glad to finally see a creepy ghost! I love the idea of the ghost appearing in the YouTube videos, very creative. And the story is well-paced. The best thing about spooky ghost stories is having a good punchline, and you do.
WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK - ......One logistical issue in this that could easily be repaired: he records the issue, sees the smudge, and records it a second time. Wouldn't he have checked the video a second time to see if the same phenomenon had occurred? Perhaps he sees it a second time, records it a third time, and on the third time around he doesn't see it at all -- which then would make the Youtube comments by his friends/followers that much more chilling, for not only can he not see the girl they're talking about, he can't see the smudge either. OR, he sees the smudge, but only after it's up on YouTube (in other words, the ghost tricked him).//At the end of the story, it's revealed that what has been haunting his videos is the ghost of a woman's daughter. While it's true he'd gone to choir camp with the woman, there is no other connection between them that would make the reader understand why this ghost is haunting the young man. Is she coming back into his life to encourage him? There's more to this story; I'd suggest some strengthening of that aspect.......The problem, though, with the punchline, is that it doesn't add up to much. Did Jeremiah have something to do with Lanalynn's death? If not, I don't see why he is the one she's haunting. The story can be made more creepy if you added another layer to it, a reason for the ghost to be there. But I did find it scary.