I have a haunted house short story up at Strange Horizons this week that I am crazy proud of. I was scared to death to send it in - worried that I was way out of my league on multiple levels. I have written nonfiction 99% of the time for the past ten years - even the fictional aspects of MAP OF MY DEAD PILOTS are so deeply based in truth that they did not challenge me in the same way that actually creating characters/setting/story do. So this was my first big attempt at a totally fictional story and I was nervous as heck about it.
Except, that isn't really true either as my family did live in a haunted house in Jacksonville, FL and all the things I describe - from the radio to the mold on the walls to the voices to the lightening - actually happened. But still. You write what ya know, right?
We lived in Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville, in 1972. My father had a civil service job at Mayport Naval Station and we were there about a year. After that we moved to Orlando where he worked at the navy base and then, finally, to Melbourne (near the beach!) where he worked at Patrick Air Force Base for twenty-five years until his retirement. I've lived in military towns my entire live (I was born in Annapolis where he worked at the Academy), all of them relatively small (Orlando was pre-Disney mania) and all of the houses were small and nondescript. The house in Orange Park was nothing to remember and if we didn't have a few photos and the story then it would be completely forgettable. But obviously, because of what happened, it has stayed with us for decades.
I don't know what it is like not to believe in haunted houses. My entire life has been filled with stories no one could explain, from this house, to a voice for help in the dark one night, to a vision over the trenches in France, to dreams of people long gone, who visit at night to ask simply "how things are going". When you get a weird feeling in my family everyone respects it. (And the ones who don't we just flat out ignore.) The Orange Park house though, the one I wrote about in this story, is the first one to directly involve my parents and brother and myself. It's sort of the one that defined for us what being freaked out means. Basically, if something like this ever happens again I'm out of there the minute the radio turns off and on - screw this crucifix business. I'm not praying, I'm running. (Not that there's anything wrong with prayer, of course.)
I hope you like "What We Left Behind in Jacksonville". I'm working on another short story in FL right now and have another to follow behind it. This publication has given me the confidence to keep submitting my fiction which makes me very happy. This is a singular moment for me and I'm relishing it to no end.
[And P.S. I'd like to give a shout out to Karen at SH who was a fantastic editor to work with - really great.]