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Wednesday, October 26,2011

Macabre Michigan

’Ghostwriters’collects spooky stories from authors around the state

by Bill Castanier

Do you believe in ghosts? I do — and just not Casper, but also malevolent ghosts of the kind found in “Ghostbusters.”


So who you gonna call when you want to read about ghosts? 


Naturally, “Ghostwriters.” That’s the title of a
collection of short stories, written by 12 Michigan authors and edited
by Keith Taylor and Laura Kasischke, both University of Michigan
writing professors.


Kasischke, who contributed the story “Ghost Anecdote,”
says she personally doesn’t believe in ghosts, but emphasizes that “my
family was big into ghosts.” She said her mother’s side of the family
was Irish and English, so it came naturally: “She put on a good show
for a child.”


The author of several novels — including the recent “The
Raising,” which has tinges of the paranormal — said that once you talk
to people about ghosts, you find “there’s a lot of it going on.”


Her belief is that “since the material world is all there is for us, we want to believe in the impossible.”


She candidly admits that several stories in “Ghost
Writers” got her going, including Laura Hulthen Thomas’ “Bones on Bois
Blanc,” the tale of a woman trying to find a final resting place for
her mother’s remains. Hulthen Thomas is from Ann Arbor and teaches
creative writing at U-M.


“It really did creep me up,” Kasischke said. “It evoked that place so beautifully.” 


She said she was also impressed by the 27-year-old writer
Elizabeth Schmuhl from St. Joseph, whose short story “Belief” is set on
a farm on the Paw Paw River. It is the first major publication for
Schmuhl, who teaches high school. 


Keith Taylor says his short ghost story, “The Man at the
Edge,” is a metaphor for race and the homeless, and that the idea for
the book grew from Kasischke’s story “The Gray Lady of Lake Huron,”
which she wrote for a collection titled “Fresh Water.”


 “We were sitting around talking about ghosts and wondering how many people have those experiences,” Taylor said. 


He said it dawned on them to put a collection together
with only two requirements: All the authors needed to be from Michigan
and the stories all had to have a Michigan setting.


Taylor said he believes that ghost stories have been
popular throughout the ages because “we are bound by our own mortality
and we are desperate to crossover. We put ourselves against limits and
ghosts secure that line. When we lose people we love we can’t believe
they are dead.”


He said that he’s not sure there will be another anthology of ghost stories, but he added, “I want to write some more myself.”


As we talked, Taylor conjured up the idea of tracking the
path of his Irish grandmother, who died by her own hand on the barren
plains of Alberta Canada early in the last century. He said no one knew
she had committed suicide until 90 years later when he accidentally
discovered an obscure book of Canadian police reports while sorting
books for a sidewalk sale in Ann Arbor. That alone would make a great
start for a ghost story.


Not all the ghost tales in “Ghost Writers” will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  U-M
Professor Eileen Pollack’s short story, “The Devil in Cross Village,”
is more of an essay about Father Weikamp and the time he spent in Cross
Village, establishing a mission there in the 1800s. Weikamp’s crypt is
just a short walk from the tourist attraction Legs Inn, where locals
still tell tales of Weikamp rising from the dead. Pollack’s atmospheric
writing would be right at home in a segment of “Tales from the Crypt.”


Another Ann Arbor writer Steve Amick delves into local
legend Harry Bennett, who built a “castle” on the Huron River in
Ypsilanti, complete with a moat and lions. He also built a lodge in
Northern Michigan, outfitted with extraordinary precautionary devices
to protect against attack.


Taylor said Bennett’s name has slipped back into obscurity and he now has to explain who the anti-union thug was.


 Bennett was
the muscle for Henry Ford, but he also was said to be haunted by
voices. Amick writes about the depths of Bennett’s depravity and the
elaborate schemes he would undertake to eliminate the “haints” or
voices. As those familiar with Amick’s writing would expect, “The Lake,
the River and the Other Lake” is worthy of its own “Weird Tales” comic.


Other writers contributing to the collection include
Nicholas Delbanco, author of 25 books and U-M faculty member; Lolita
Hernandez (“Autopsy of an Engine”); James Hynes, whose most recent
novel, “Next,” was a little creepy itself; and Elizabeth Kostova,
author of “The Historian,” the bestseller written in pure Draculean
prose.


Taylor said he knows the collection is not as spine-tingling as others might like, “but that was kind of the point.”


“Ghosts become ways we understand our fears,” he said.
“Maybe even our hopes. Sometimes they are the way we test belief. And,
yes, sometimes they define place.”




‘Ghostwriters’


Keith Taylor, Elizabeth Schmuhl and
Elizabeth Kostova will take part in the Zombie Night festivities at
Schuler Books & Music


2820 Towne Center Blvd., Lansing


7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27


Lansing


(517) 316-7495


www.schulerbooks.com

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