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Rebecca E. Neely, Author ~ Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

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storytelling

Hard Work: It’s All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Recently, I was seeking inspiration for dinner, and in leafing through one of my Cooks Illustrated magazines (April 2015), came across an editorial written by the amazing Christopher Kimball. In it he pays homage to his home state of Vermont and its colorful and varied denizens, and sums up by admiring how many of them ‘stand for something.’

In short, it got me thinking about what I stand for. In the course of my life, I’ve assumed many roles. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend and aunt. I’m also a single mother and a business woman. I grew up working in my family’s restaurant business. I earned a degree in Accounting and, after quite a few zigs and zags, I’ve been with the same company (well, at least the same location) for twenty years. And I’ve been writing in one form or another for about the same length of time.

One common denominator in all of that, I realized, is good old fashioned hard work. As far as standing for something, I’d be honored to lay claim to that.

My parents passed that on, in DNA, as well as in word and deed. And I believe I’m passing that ethic onto my teenaged daughter, who, at this very moment is washing dishes at a local restaurant.

Hard work is satisfying, comforting. It’s basic, reliable, a cornerstone of my life. It’s sustained, soothed, saved me. I need hard work to feed my soul, survive, and thrive in every way. I want to use everything I’ve been given, physically, intellectually, spiritually. And the experiences, the people I’ve met along my journey of hard work have shaped me, made me who I am. And tell my story.

Interestingly, the people in my life are also hard workers. My cousin, the dedicated social worker with 20+ years of experience. My friend, a court reporter who runs her own business. My boyfriend, the contractor with mad skills. And even his father, who, after a recent fall, insists on planting his own flowers. And is upset he can’t mow his own lawn. They do me proud.

At the age of 12, I would go with my father to our family’s diner style restaurant, doing ‘heavy prep’ – mixing stuffing in Rubbermaid size containers, stirring cauldrons of spaghetti sauce with a wooden paddle long, heavy and wide enough to be considered a weapon. By the time I was 16, I’d done it all–waitressed, washed dishes, bussed tables, mopped, ran the register, assisted with payroll. And I did it alongside my father, mother, brother, aunt, uncle and cousins, and a cast of employee characters that live on, large, in my hallowed memory home.

Sadly, when a downturn in the economy pretty much forced my parents’ hand to sell, I looked for work elsewhere and found myself at a local shoe store. I think my favorite part was unpacking all the new inventory. That, and the 30% discount the employees received.

When the shoe store closed after about a year, I odd jobbed, holding both the title of magazine telemarketer and fast food cashier. Alas, neither took for more than a week. I then started working as a grocery store cashier, and it turned out that would be something I’d do for the next 8 years, during summers, breaks from college and post college when I needed extra money.

There, amongst the aisles of HBA (Health & Beauty Aids), the dairy and produce, you truly do see it all, as everyone has to eat. Rich, poor, mundane, bizarre, friendly, rude—the employees and the customers covered the spectrum. It was there I witnessed store employees chase down a thief, saw a Gypsy for the first time, and rang up more frozen turkeys than I could shake a stick at. I learned the names of myriad vegetables, fruits and herbs, and their codes in the system, some of which I still remember to this day. (Bananas were 242, watermelons 393). I was introduced to the art and science of couponing. And became a master in making change.

While attending college, I took part in the work-study program in the school’s computer center. It was there I had a fellow employee stab me in the back, repeating what I’d said about the boss to her. Oh yeah, I remember him. But I learned the value of keeping my mouth shut. And about who to trust. And not to trust.

When I transferred to finish my four year degree, it was back to food for me, working in the dining hall. And on the weekends, I made omelettes to order on a flat top, honing my egg skills to perfection.

After I graduated from college, I began working as an accounting clerk. The three ladies I worked with took me under their wing, and Linda, my favorite, taught me about more than receivables and payables. One of the smartest and wisest women I had the privilege to know, Linda worked part time, choosing to give up her career to raise her daughter. When I left there to move up the corporate ladder, she made me Jello letters spelling out ‘GOOD LUCK’. Yeah, she rocked.

As a junior accountant, I found myself in the unenviable position of working for a difficult boss. Still young, still green in the ways of Corporate America, I went against the grain, and we parted ways several years later. Feeling beat up, disillusioned, I quit my job without having another one. I didn’t work for a month. And I never regretted it. I still believe, years later, leaving there, and taking time off, was one of the best things I ever did, because it was then I truly learned how to stand up for myself.

From there, I worked on and off in accounting as a temp, did a year long stint as a real estate agent, part timed at a house wares store (still fold my towels the way they taught us) and worked as a customer service rep for a national hardware wholesale company. It was there I applied for, and got the job of working as a computer operator in the company’s data center. For the first time in my life, I worked shifts, and with an all male staff. A singular experience, I have fond memories of that crew. They were kind, but they treated me like one of them. Suffice to say, no one worried about filtering their conversation. My skin thickened – but in a good way.

Fast forward a few years. I was once again working as an accountant, married, pregnant, and unhappy with my work. It was then I really started to think about what kind of work I wanted to do. Not for the next year. But for a lifetime. And accounting wasn’t it. Oh, I was good at it. But going to school for business, I realized, had been a knee jerk reaction to my parents’ sale of the business and the resulting financial difficulties, when I’d been at a crossroads in my life. Don’t get me wrong – that degree served me well. But it was never my passion.

But writing was, and is.

Being a woman of action, I read, I researched, and discovered a small magazine accepting submissions. Though I wouldn’t get paid for the articles, I could build my clips, gain experience. I wrote three articles for them, and one of them I know I’m blessed to have written – I interviewed my father about hunting deer, one of his lifelong loves. From there, I went on to write for other local magazines, bid on jobs at a freelancing website, and had the privilege of working with people all over the country.

I discovered I really enjoyed the vagabond nature of freelancing work. Never knowing what I might work on next. No responsibility except to my client and myself for a short period of time. And it was my choice. What I wanted to work on. Who I wanted to work with. LOL – there’s little doubt, in hindsight, that that ‘vagabond nature’ is reflected in my travels through the job market.
And I liked being my own boss. I got a high from creating something from a mere idea on paper, or in my head, for readers to enjoy. And that ultimately earned me payment. And my name in print. But more than that, much more than that, was the bone deep feeling I was coming into my own. This is what I was meant to do. Write.

One of my favorite things to do as a freelancer is to interview people who are passionate about what they do. There’s a fire that comes into their eyes, their voice, their body language. An intensity that ignites interest in me. I’ve written articles on subjects, at the outset, I didn’t think I wanted to know anything about. And certainly didn’t know anything about. (Harvesting cedar, insurance, soccer, to name a few.) Yet, after talking to the expert, they got me excited about it. And I wrote an article showcasing that. When a reader tells me they were moved, or that I brought to life a moment for them in something I wrote, I take that as high praise. Perhaps the highest praise.

I’ve interviewed dozens of people over the years, including a vintner, a team of paranormal investigators, and a tattoo artist. I’ve interviewed the CEO of a casino, and the sole proprietor of a local book store. Those people, their stories, have become part of my story. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to have known these people, if only for a short time. They’ve enriched me, broadened my horizons and excited me with their passion. And incidentally, they all had something in common—they worked hard at what they did.

I’d been freelancing for some years when I became interested in writing novels. I love to read, and romantic suspense is my groove. Once again, being a woman of action, I read, I researched, I joined writing groups, I took online classes. I wrote two really, really bad novels that never saw the light of day. Eventually, after trial and error, I penned my first book. And sold it. Then another. And another. Each one, I felt, was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. And I can’t wait to do it again.

As I said before, the path to get here hasn’t been straight by any means. But I believe everything happens for a reason. And I’m pretty damn happy about the way things turned out. Because right now, here, today, I get to write this for you. It’s hard work. And I’m loving every minute of it.

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.
All books available on Amazon

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The Stone Soup of My Soul

At 47, I’m hovering somewhere between early onset of menopause and the rest of my life, spending more time at funeral homes than I’d like as of late, and realizing that retirement is nary two decades away. And realizing that two decades ain’t such a long time.

Bringing that into sharp, and downright painful focus is the passing of my favorite uncle earlier this year to damnable cancer. As his niece, as a writer, and I think, as a human being, I find myself suddenly and predictably desperate to hold onto the stories that are so much a part of my clan’s history, and that rich, intricate and convoluted fabric of family.

For precious moments, those stories of yore bring my loved ones a little closer, and give me the singular opportunity to revel in the undiluted, childish joy they’ve brought me time and again throughout my life. But I also feel a need to honor, in my humble way, the great line of storytellers from which I hail. To remember the gatherings where they were told and retold, by whom, and the embellishments, versions and tweaks that have been added along the way because these stories—something to which everyone has contributed—have become the stone soup of my soul.

Both my uncle and my father (brothers) played off one another at family gatherings like stage professionals, flawless in their timing, their delivery of tales making us all laugh until we cried and our stomachs ached. Where do I begin? Gems such as the time my father and his boyhood friends’ attempt at becoming trappers went sideways comes easily to mind. On one ill-fated day, they snared a skunk, and upon arriving at home with their spoils (which, at this point my uncle would chime in and relate the progression of the smell, in direct correlation with his ride home from work), my grandfather proclaimed with conviction that the only way the skunk hide would be worth the fifty cents my father had visions of earning from it would be to stick two quarters up its ass.

Indeed. Words of wisdom from a man (who I never had the pleasure of meeting), who, if he felt his daughters’ beaus were cozying up in the parlor too late or too long, wouldn’t think twice about strolling through the house in his underwear.

Ah, it’s gems like these that warm me all the way through, and come to mind at odd times, or precisely the right moment – I’m not sure which, for me to regale my daughter with when she needs a lift, or insight.

The storytelling in my family isn’t without its more serious side. In an attempt to record some more of that history, I recently asked my mother to tell me all she could remember about her grandparents, while I recorded it on my phone. Here’s one of my favorites:

In search of a better life, my great grandmother, Susan Jevin (pronounced with a ‘Y’, not a ‘J’, left Czechoslovakia, making the trip to America by herself at the age of sixteen, never to return, and never to see her family again, save for her sister who’d moved to Michigan, years later. Wow. True grit at its grittiest. It honors and humbles me to know that kind of blood runs through my veins. Susan would meet and marry Paul Semes, a skinny but wiry man who, after coming home from working at the local steel mill—he worked in the store room, managing all of the parts, and my grandfather (my dad’s dad) remembered him, said he was your man if you needed to find something, anything)–could, and often did, eat a whole pie, and remained as skinny as the string beans they grew in their garden.

See what I just did? Gave you a story within a story. It seems the stories I hold so dear are more often than not, just that. And to my way of thinking, a gift.

In this same vein of laughter, storytelling and friendship, I’m blessed to have a group of friends, the majority of whom I’ve known over half my life, some all my life. These friends are my family. My people. While we don’t see each other all the time, when we do, we don’t miss a beat, picking up where we left off, telling new stories, recounting old ones, and catching up on all the beginnings, middles and ends we might have missed.

Speaking of beginnings, it occurred to me on a recent trip to the Heinz History Center there are always new stories emerging, all around us. I see this blessed phenomena every day in my daughter, as she prepares for college and embraces her passions, one of which is photography. I found it serendipitous she wanted to see the ‘Eyes of Pittsburgh’ exhibit, featuring the Post Gazette’s photo archives spanning 100 years of the city’s history, while I was working on this blog. Coincidence? Kizmet? Either way, I’ll take it.

As long as man has gathered around fire, stories have been told—to educate and entertain, sustain and soothe, amuse and fascinate. As the self appointed scribe of my clan, I will always treasure the stories of the past. But I’ve also a sneaking suspicion that the best stories are the ones yet to unfold. And often, there’s joy, and a delicious wonder to be had in the not knowing.

For example, to this day, I have no idea how two of my father’s and my uncle’s boyhood friends came to be eloquently, and lovingly referred to as Stump and Pickle. I like to think it might have had something to do with their late night sampling, shall we say, of a neighbor’s apple cider stash.

But that’s a story for another day.

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com 

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

All books available on Amazon

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This is Why It’s Back to School for this Writer

Recently I had the opportunity to speak to my daughter’s creative writing classes. What an amazing experience. I was truly honored and delighted to speak with these ninth and tenth graders, many of whom I saw myself in at that age—full of promise, creative, shy, hopeful, a bit awkward.

After writing professionally for 15+ years, it’s a privilege for me to give back, and share my experience whenever I can. What motivated me further to wrangle an invitation from the teacher was that as a teenager, I really wanted to be a writer but didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know any writers. The internet hadn’t been invented yet. I had no concept of career possibilities in writing beyond journalism. Nor was the kindly high school guidance counselor a help, whose counseling amounted to informing me late in my senior year that I had enough credits to graduate. So much for guidance. But that’s a story for another blog. Long story short, I ended up getting a degree in Accounting. But again, that’s a story for another blog.

With all this in mind, I set out to create a brief presentation for the classes. Certainly, I wanted to tell them about my experience, about having come at writing sideways, from an accounting career. And about how I began freelancing, and eventually writing romance novels.

But much more important to me was to get them talking. Because guess what? It’s not all about me. I even asked the teacher to have the students put together some questions ahead of time so I could be prepared, and not waste any of the 42 minute period.

I also plied the students with chocolate, knowing they would be hesitant to participate. But once I got them going, they really opened up. I asked them their names, why they were taking the class, what their favorite books and movies were. Interestingly, they much prefer a real book to an e-reader.

I asked them to do a short writing exercise, involving show versus tell (I told them how us writers struggle with that too. That impressed them. Yeah, us writers aren’t so big and bad.) I asked them to read what they’d written aloud, which is a big deal, especially at that age. I know adults who get tongue tied if asked to share their work.

What a win/win. These teenagers inspired me with their courage and their creativity, renewed my zeal with their uncomplicated, unbiased opinions and ideas. How precious and wonderful to know they have their whole lives ahead of them. I truly feel if I helped one person that day, or gave someone an idea, a possibility, or direction, then I’d succeeded.

Of course, I was thrilled when my daughter came home and told me that her friends thought I was cool. Especially after she said something like, “You? Coming to talk to my friends? That’s so embarrassing! OMG,” when she first found out I was coming.

In short, these up and coming writers made my day. And the teenage writer in me felt pretty warm and fuzzy too.

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com 

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

All books available on Amazon

This is the Reason I Return to My Roots

As a writer, I’m often asked about my journey – how I got started, what kind of writing I do, what influenced me, etc. Truth be told, I find it both valuable, and enjoyable to revisit those beginnings. Not only does it remind me why I started doing what I do, it allows me to reflect on where I’ve been, and to focus on where I’m going.

I grew up in a small town, working, cooking and eating in Ricardo’s, my family’s restaurant. It was in that one level, no frills, terrazzo tiled kitchen where I developed my enterprising spirit, working side by side with my family. A memory home, that hallowed ground has been a driving force in my life, and one I revisit often.

Fuel for my imagination, it’s warm, comforting, and takes me back to my roots, especially when I’m running low on entrepreneurial gas, something an author like me needs in abundance.

Ricardo’s was a cool, Mom and Pop retro-style diner. Only at the time, it wasn’t yet retro! In true 1970s fashion, it sported lots of brown and Crayola orange, from the countertops to the paneled walls, to the vinyl covered booths. Design crimes and all, it’s a place that’s part of my soul, and though long gone, lives on graciously in my memory, and now, I’m thrilled to say, in my first romantic suspense novel, A Mighty Good Man.

What a privilege to grow up in such a place! We worked hard, and that ethic stays with me to this day. From the time I was about ten, my brother and I worked alongside my parents, aunt and uncle, cousins and the help, making, on a large scale, tantalizing, from scratch fare, such as spaghetti sauce, (you have to use pork bones), wedding soup, and bread stuffing. Lots of Saturdays, starting at 7am, we did heavy prep, mixing up ingredients in Rubbermaid tubs; pounds of butter, ground meat, celery, onions. We cooked in cast iron and stainless steel cauldrons half my height, stirred with wooden paddles that could’ve doubled as oars. I learned how to work the grill, make salads, and turn last night’s chicken special into today’s soup du jour.

And that was just the food.

The people who worked there were larger than life too, and also live on fondly in my memory. Cooks, waitresses, busboys, dishwashers; men, women, young, old, and in between—they ran the gamut from high school student to retiree, from vagabond to workhorse. Some came and never left, some worked one shift and never bothered to return—characters, all of them.

I remember hanging out at the counter with my Dad for hours, while he drank coffee and talked with customers. I would sit, fascinated by the adult conversation and the things I heard, and shouldn’t have heard. A unique and well-rounded education was mine for the taking on topics as varied as the economy, the local steel mill, sports, hunting, the president, politics, family, and religion.

Regulars inhabited the space, claiming it as their own; they made it a hub in the community, not just as a place to eat great food, but as a place to connect, to complain, to celebrate, and to come together.

The food, the people, the work, the experience—it was delicious, joyous, exhilarating, exhausting, crazy, colorful, strange, and maddening, but above all, unique; so much so, we would often laugh and say we could write a book.

Well, I did.

Rebecca E. Neely is a blogger, storyteller, writer & author. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com 

Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

All books available on Amazon

Spring Time, Sewer Lines and Storytelling

It started on Mother’s Day.

Or I should say, it stopped.

My sewer line, that is.

I bought a house a few months ago, and as a proud new home owner, I was on still on the honeymoon, filled with ideas about improvements and projects I wanted to tackle.

Enter TAG. I now know him, and I bet, if you own a home, you do too. He’s an unwanted guest that will not be denied. Many years ago, my father, a wise man, as well as a home and business owner, told me about his visits from TAG. (a.k.a. Turd Above Ground)

That night, his words came back to me with haunting clarity.

After having a relaxing day at home, reading the book my daughter had given me as a gift, and eating dinner with her and my boyfriend, I told him about some water I’d found earlier that day on the floor of my basement, near one of the floor drains. Or, rather, the evidence of it – a sopping wet throw rug I keep in front of the washing machine. At the time, I’d gotten my flashlight, checked the ceiling. It was dry. Had it come from the washer? I had no idea, and I was in the middle of making dinner, so I forged ahead, figuring I’d ask my boyfriend about it later.

My boyfriend is a general contractor who possesses an uncanny ability to fix things. When I told him about it, he raised an eyebrow in his calm, knowing way, almost as if he knew something I did not. He instructed me to flush the toilet, and run water in the bath tub.

Minutes later, he yelled to me from the basement. Stop! I ran to join him, while my brain tried to process what I was seeing erupting from another floor drain. Denial is a funny thing, isn’t it? Was that rusty water, I asked, almost as if I said it aloud, I could make it so.

No. It was TAG.

Unmitigated horror filled me as the seriousness of what was happening hit me. This was bad. Running upstairs to escape the smell, I located the home warranty information I’d been given at the closing, and called the 800 number, pushed the appropriate numbers to get me to the correct menus (you didn’t think I talked to a person, did you?), and placed my service call.

At this point, I feel it necessary to clarify that I’m not squeamish; I’ve raised a child, I’ve had numerous pets, and I worked in my family’s restaurant business growing up. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty, and I have, many times. But this situation was proving beyond my capabilities.

Over the next few days, I learned more about pipes, sewer lines and plumbing than I’d ever wanted to know. I listened to my boyfriend’s advice; however, this particular problem was beyond his fixing scope, unfortunately. He was, however, at my side every step of the way, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I Googled and You Tubed my way through the internet, reading and watching more information than I’d ever known existed on the topic. Opinions and prices varied wildly on issues such as root killers, pipes and camera videos. My mind raced. I couldn’t sleep. What if I had to replace it? I knew it could be thousands of dollars and take days to repair.

Captain’s Log, Day 1

I had to leave work to meet the plumbers the home warranty company sent. They snapped on their black nitrile gloves and went to work, their big metal snake shimmying and rattling to some unknown tune. Again, the smell was so repulsive I fled. Thirty minutes later, I was told I had tree roots growing in the line, and guess what? The home warranty doesn’t cover it. Big surprise. I was told the line was open, to get it camera scoped, and that the roots would come back, a common occurrence in the spring time. I paid the fee and they departed, leaving me to clean up a mess I’m not sure I can properly describe in mixed company. That was the low point. The substances I cleaned from the floor and the walls, along with the creatures–yes, you read that right–made my skin crawl.

Worms. Did I mention some of them were alive?

Shudder.

And the smell. An unholy, godforsaken, dehumanizing smell emanating literally, from the bowels of my home, seemed to permeate my nose, my mouth, my very skin. If I’d showered for three days, I don’t think I’d have felt clean. Suffice to say, it was Andy Dufresne escaping from Shawshank prison through the tunnel all over again.

Still can’t sleep.

Captain’s Log, Day 2

Since I was price shopping, I called a local company. The woman on the phone told me proudly that they didn’t charge by the hour, but by the job. That sounded promising. I needed a camera scope, I said. They did that? Great. See you tonight.

I came home from work, and evidence that the line still wasn’t clear greeted me from the basement floor.

Plumber No. 2 snaked the line yet again, scoped it with a camera, and announced the alleged ‘good’ news. Since the line was in pretty good condition, I would able to put in a liner – to the tune of $9,500. Did I say the low point was cleaning up the floor? I burst into tears.

Still can’t sleep.

Captain’s Log, Day 3

The drain is open. I’m taking short showers, and checking the drains constantly, creeping up on them, afraid of what I’m going to find. All is well. For now.

Enter plumber No. 3, an old hand who both my boyfriend and I had used at different points in our lives. I’d wanted to go to him in the first place, but the home warranty dictates that their contractors must be used. My boyfriend had spoken with him over the course of this ordeal, and filled him in about what was going on. Did I mention I hadn’t slept well in three days?

I called him. He chided me, telling me I should’ve called him in the first place. Plumbers apparently have egos. Who knew? Bewildered, sleep deprived, and sick with dread about what fixing this might cost, I tried to explain the events of the last few days and found myself groping for words. Phrases like, ‘raw sewage’, ‘home warranty’, and ‘digging it up’ punctuated the conversation. We agreed on a time for him to come that evening.

It occurred to me was living in some sort of alternate reality; office admin by day, plumber whore by night.

Plumber No. 3 came. He observed with an experienced eye, asking few questions, except for me to run water, flush the toilet, and the like. He eyeballed the drains, which mercifully, were clear at this point. And pronounced, in not so many words, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

I hugged him and praised all higher powers. Truly. He gave me a few suggestions about maintenance, and we emerged from the basement, friends and comrades, our bond forged indelibly as we each of us soldiered on in the war against TAG that every home owner wages.

I’ll bear the scars from this battle proudly. I earned them. And because, at the end of the day—wait for it; you knew it was coming—shit happens.

So, what have I learned, and why am I blogging about this? Common sense, in the form of an older, experienced plumber, will win the day. I still love being a homeowner. And about TAG? My father passed about ten years ago, and in the moment of crisis, his words came back to me. He used to make us all laugh so hard, and I almost felt like he was there with me, commiserating. So, thanks Dad!

Also, this blog is for anyone who’s ever felt overwhelmed, uninformed and intimidated by repair men, not to mention short on cash for serious home repairs. You are not alone. Also, this is for anyone who wonders what writers do in their spare time. <grin> Collect experiences!

And, I am a storyteller at heart. I sincerely hope I’ve been able to entertain you with my folly. And who knows? As upsetting as the whole experience was, it’s replete with emotion and strife, perfect for me, as a writer, to tap into when I want a character to suffer, say, by finding themselves in a deep, dank hole in the Earth, clawing through dirt, and coming up with . . . worms.

“May your lines be clear, your position always upwind, and TAG never darken your door.”
–A Brand New Proverb

Rebecca E. Neely is a writer, blogger, author and storyteller. Visit her at www.rebeccaneely.com

The Crossing Realms series ~ The Keeper, Book 1 and The Watcher, Book 2 available on Amazon

The Strange History of Abandoned Talcott Hall

It’s my pleasure to welcome fellow paranormal romance author Claire Gem today. She’s sharing a fascinating ‘story behind the story’ about abandoned Talcott Hall – which, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know I have a thing for abandoned buildings! Read on to learn more about the history, mystery and horror of this creepy psychiatric center, which inspired Claire in her upcoming book, SPIRITS OF THE HEART.


talcottfire“Please tell me the smoke isn’t coming from Talcott Hall.”

I spoke these words in a frantic phone call to my sister, Terri DelNegro after seeing a post from a mutual friend on Facebook that said, “There’s smoke billowing over the grounds of the old Psych Center.” Terri is also my cover designer and dear friend who lives in the town where I grew up—Middletown, N.Y.

In that town are the state grounds of an abandoned mental asylum, one I was intimately familiar with as a child. You see, my father, who suffered from alcoholism, was an inpatient more than one time in that facility. In the 1960s, alcoholism was considered a mental illness, not a compulsive behavioral disorder. Back then, illnesses such as epilepsy and diabetes also labeled the patient “insane.”

My earliest memories of the Psych Center are of visiting my father on Sunday afternoons, where he and my mother sat at a picnic table under the shade of giant maple trees while my younger brother and I fed peanuts to the squirrels. Only about six or eight years old at the time, I never understood why my mother cried every time we visited him. Or why Daddy couldn’t come home with us.

talcotthallHaving haunting memories about this place even after half a century had passed, I felt compelled to write a novel set on the grounds of the Middletown Psychiatric Center. Many of the buildings have since either been razed or repurposed, but there are still a few hulking buildings remaining. One of these is—or was—Talcott Hall.

A monstrous, intricately designed brick masterpiece, the building was a thing of beauty encasing what must have been, for those trapped within, a house of horrors. During Talcott Hall’s heyday, mental health treatment still consisted of procedures now looked upon as torture, including hydrotherapy (soaking in ice cold or scalding hot baths) and electro-shock therapy. Lobotomies were still common practice, though none of record were performed at this particular facility.

Talcott Hall was the building reserved for the least tractable, most violent patients. There were bars on the windows, and steel cages encased the external fire escapes. The patients who were admitted to Talcott Hall, in all likelihood, were never going home.

Two weeks before that frantic phone call, I had spent an entire day with Terri, who is a professional photographer as well as a brilliant graphic artist. We drove around the grounds, discussing the plot of the book I’d begun writing. She snapped over a hundred photos that day—most of them of Talcott Hall. The tall chain link perimeter kept us from getting too close. But we could feel them, both of us: the ghostly vibes emanating from that lonely place, even from a dozen yards away. In this video by Antiquity Echoes, glimpses of the interior of the asylum clearly speak to its haunting qualities.

And then, mysteriously, Talcott Hall caught fire and burned to the ground.

Well, not exactly to the ground—the sturdy exterior was constructed of brick and iron. But the morning after, Terri sent me videos of bulldozers scooping what was left of the stately old building into a heap that billowed gray smoke for days.

I was heartbroken.

I’d been in the exhilarating, early stages of crafting SPIRITS OF THE HEART, which centered around Talcott Hall and the ghosts trapped within. Suddenly, it was gone. My muse had gone up in smoke. The fire was labeled arson, but no one was ever charged. I put the manuscript aside, unsure of whether or not the story would ever come to fruition.

Until the day I knew it had to. Talcott Hall must be resurrected, I decided, in my book. And its fiery fate would become one of the most terrifying moments in the novel.

Was it coincidence that Talcott Hall burned down two weeks—to the day—from the day Terri immortalized it in photographs? I don’t believe so. I also don’t entirely believe it was random arson, especially since the building had sat empty, its windows all broken out, with vines winding their way up its edifice and hawks building nests atop its turrets, for over twenty years.

I believe the fire was a sign. I believe it was my ghostly muse tapping me on the shoulder and whispering in my ear: “When Talcott Hall goes down, it must go down in flames of fury.”

In Spirits of the Heart, it does.

Many thanks to Nick Elia of the Middletown Fire Department, who took some amazing photographs of the fire, and granted me permission to use them in promoting my book.

You can read a sneak peek at upcoming release, Spirits of the Heart, HERE.

Available for pre-order NOW!

SPIRITS OF THE HEART – A Haunted Voices Novel

spirits_of_the_heart7_very_lt-grey-1An addiction counselor and a security guard struggle to reunite a little girl and her father—two spirits trapped within the walls of an abandoned mental asylum.

Laura Horton returns to her hometown to start her career with the Alcohol Crisis Center. But her homecoming is jarring. Her old friend moved out unexpectedly, so Laura’s new roommate is the friend’s intimidating ex-boyfriend—in a house that snugs up to an ancient graveyard.

Miller Stanford works nighttime security for the State grounds. He’s a man with a shattered past. His Dad destroyed their family with alcohol, a weakness Miller is terrified will consume him too. The last thing he needs is an addiction counselor—a sexy blonde one, to move in and start watching his every move. When he begins to see specters in the dark, he starts questioning his own stability.

But Laura sees them too—Greta, a pathetic child-spirit searching for her father. When Laura starts digging into old asylum records, she reveals a horrific cover-up. Can Laura and Miller unravel the mysteries of Talcott Hall without jeopardizing their love—and lives—in the process?

MEET CLAIRE GEM ~ Strong Women, Starting Over ~ Redefining Romance

claire_2516Claire is a multi-published, award winning author of emotional romance—contemporary, paranormal, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction. She writes about strong, resilient women who won’t give up their quest for a happy-ever-after—and the men lucky enough to earn their love. No helpless, hapless heroines here. These spunky ladies redefine romance, on their terms.

Her paranormal/romantic suspense, Hearts Unloched, won the 2016 New York Book Festival. Her latest release, The Phoenix Syndrome, won the women’s fiction division in FCRWA’s The Beacon Contest.

A New York native, Claire has lived in five of the United States and held a variety of jobs, from waitress to bridal designer to research technician—but loves being an author best. She and her happily-ever-after hero, her husband of 38 years, now live in central Massachusetts.

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Celebrating THE WATCHER, Book 2 in the Crossing Realms Series

the-watcher-1-1_830x1250I’m celebrating the release of THE WATCHER, Book 2 in the Crossing Realms paranormal romance series this week, and I’m thrilled to finally be sharing Dev and Meda’s story.

Today, I’m talking about writing, and sharing inside info about hero and heroine Dev and Meda.

Here are some questions I’m asked frequently:

What was it like writing THE WATCHER? Writing THE WATCHER was the most challenging story I’ve written to date. It’s the longest story I’ve ever written. As well, Crossing Realms is my first series, and writing the second book in a series is a challenge all its own. I wanted and needed to continue the quest begun in Book 1, as well as build the foundations for Book 3, AND weave Dev and Meda’s tale. I wouldn’t consider the books stand alones; you’ll enjoy the series more if you start from the beginning.

Why did you pick New York City as Meda’s initial locale? I love New York City. I’ve visited Manhattan several times, and I love the vibe of the city, the energy, the architecture, the character. It’s teeming with life, and even though there’s so much happening there, as I put it in the story, Meda is able to hide in plain sight. Plus, Dev needed a little quest to get him and his Harley going. 🙂

Where did the inspiration for Tan come from? Ah, Tan. I walk almost every day around town, and there’s a dear old lady who likes to sit on her porch who I pass often. She’d call to me as I went by, and we’ve become friends. Her dog was named Tan. 🙂 He was a mutt, really old, and his back legs would often give out from under him if he tried to stand too long. A total sweetheart! She loved him, and he loved her. I always adored the name Tan. It’s so simple and sweet. I decided I would use his name a long time ago, and I chose a German Shepherd because I’ve always wanted one, and because he could be a protector of Meda.

What’s up with Dev? On the surface, Dev Geary seems pretty simple, pretty straight forward. As he puts it, “He’ll get in, rock his Compulsion, and get out. Boom. Done.” Famous last words, right? Indeed – he’s anything but simple. Guilt, darkness and a need for revenge haunt him, and complicate his life and his relationships. However, there might just be a woman who’s ready to take him on…

Find out more in THE WATCHER, Book 2 in the Crossing Realms paranormal romance series, out now on Amazon!

Missed THE KEEPER, Book 1? It’s on sale for 99 cents until December 3rd!

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Put some paranormal in your life. Go on. I dare you.

Goodwill Hunting – The White-Tailed Deer, That Is

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When I first began writing professionally over fifteen years ago, I freelanced, writing copy, articles and profiles for people and companies all over the country. I’m proud to say that one of the very first magazine articles I wrote was about my Dad, and his love of deer hunting. Since it’s opening day of deer season in my neck of the woods, Western PA, and because I grew up in a hunting family, I started thinking about my father, who’s never really far from my mind, and who passed about nine years ago.

He was an avid outdoorsman, and for him, hunting was not only a sport, but a time honored family tradition steeped in memories, rituals, as well as his deep respect for nature and creation.

My father was an amazing storyteller, and so I think I like to think I inherited just a little of that from him. And indeed, a lot of great storytelling is part of the enjoyment and experience of hunting. I still remember the tales I heard and enjoyed many times over, sitting around the kitchen table with my family.

When I gathered information for the article, I gave him a list of questions, which he completed by hand. I feel so blessed to have this now! I was going back through his notes this morning, and came across this passage:

“Hunting is much more than harvesting a deer. A true hunter applies his skills to everyday life. He hunts or seeks the truth in everything. He seeks a genuineness in relationships, honesty and reliability in everything he does. From the first time I stepped into the woods as a young boy, I sensed there was something reverent and something linked together.”

And so it is for me. While I’m not a hunter, I deeply respect and appreciate his philosophies. I too seek out and revere the perfection and harmony of nature, by going camping, by hiking in the woods, and by tagging along with my boyfriend from time to time while he hunts. For me, these experiences bring my Dad closer.

And, as I get ready to release my third novel this week, I know he’s proud of me for following my passion, just as he pursued his while he was alive. Here’s looking at you, Dad!

I invite you to read the article here: Hunting the Whitetailed Deer: A Lifetime of Memories.

I hope you enjoy it.

Rebecca E. Neely is an author of romance, the paranormal and suspenseful kind. 🙂 Visit www.rebeccaneely.com

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THE WATCHER- The Inside Scoop on the Characters

Meda regarded him silently. “What is ‘Dev’ short for?”

“Devlyn.” He laughed half-heartedly. “It means brave. Or misfortune. Take your pick.” And that just about sums up Dev Geary, former Keeper and reluctant Watcher. This hunk and his Harley will take on the human realm in the seven days he’s been given to save his clan—and conquer the very thing that killed him.

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I enjoyed the challenge of crafting Dev. He’s a bit of an anti-hero—he’s belligerent, hell bent on his own agenda, an opportunist, a unique blend of strengths and vulnerabilities. His catch phrase and philosophy on life is to be ‘between the inches’, or to embrace his death wish. It’s a fine line between thrills and terror, and it’s the only place where he can feel alive, free from the darkness that lives inside him. Free from the secrets and shame he suffers.

Combine all that angst with some super human powers, and you’ve got yourself a hard ass hottie, fiercely determined to guard and rescue humans. The irony, and the beauty of his character is he doesn’t realize he could use a little rescuing himself.

Enter human Meda Gabriel, a cagey, street smart bar owner with a unique skill set, who might just be of some help in that area—and his quest. But she too, harbors a few secrets.

And the clock is ticking. That kind of pressure is bound to bring out the best—and the worst—in both of them. Will bravery, or misfortune win the day? Find out in THE WATCHER, Book 2 in the Crossing Realms series, available for pre-order now on Amazon!

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Catch up with me today at Fresh Fiction, and don’t miss a chance to win a Kindle!

Join my mailing list & MONTHLY, be entered to win a FREE ebook! You’ll also receive EXCLUSIVE sneak peeks, offers & sale info!

Put some paranormal in your life. Go on. I dare you.

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