Hey Mixed-Up Filers!
I jumped at the chance to interview author Kerrie Hollihan about her new book, Ghosts Unveiled!, because it’s exactly the sort of book I would have fought over with my friends in the school library when I was a kid. It’s spooky, well-researched, and best of all, it’s part of a series of similarly enthralling titles (the next one is about bones – how cool is that?). I asked Kerrie about her experiences, her writing methods, and obviously her favorite halloween costume.
CL: Thanks for talking with me, Kerrie! In the introduction of Ghosts Unveiled! you write about some of your personal experiences with the supernatural – were there any specific experiences in your life that motivated you to explore the topic of ghosts?
KH: Are you surprised if I say “No”? Abrams Books for Young Readers had Mummies Exposed! in the works when they proposed a series called “Creepy & True.” They had my proposal for a next book (Bones Unearthed!), and suggested I write a second title for the series about ghosts. Little did I know how much I’d learn.
CL: The book lists LOTS of different kinds of ghosts – do you have a favorite?
KH: Hmmm. I think my favorites arise out of doing research, so my favorite stories have pointed me to my favorite ghosts. One would be the ghost of the English soldier from the Gallipoli battle in World War One, and another is whatever tugged at the leg of Vernon Peterson, the elderly cemetery groundskeeper who questioned the odd-looking Civil War grave and spurred the identification of the Black soldiers buried there.
CL: Yes! I really loved that part of the book! Ghosts Unveiled! is full of well-researched anecdotes and snippets from historical accounts. Can you share some tips or strategies for doing research?
KH: Often I dig into my memory bank for events I’ve studied or places I have been, and then my research starts. Unlike Mummies Exposed! or the new book I’m writing, Bones Revealed!, for Ghosts Unveiled! I pinpointed “my” ghosts, then I went to historical societies, old newspapers…and online research is a godsend when you want to dig up old accounts of ghosts, so I started with contemporary reports published in the early 1900s, 1800s, or even earlier on archive.org or Project Gutenberg. Some accounts are online, but for others I relied on my wonderful Cincinnati Public Library for old books, many of which are referenced in the endnotes of Ghosts Unveiled! (Hereward Carrington’s Psychical Phenomena and the War, for one!) Magazine articles and blog posts are also a good start, though I pay careful attention to the details, because often these are wrong. For fact checking, I go to Britannica.com—and not Wikipedia, although their footnotes often lead me to other prospects.
CL: So how do you organize all that information?
KH: I organize my research two ways: I find three or four big nuggets of info that will become individual chapters in each book, and then I spend time thinking about other chapters that will round things out. I use Evernote to clip articles and posts from the web and organize these by topic. When I want to get an impression of a very long passage in a book, I often dictate a note into Evernote as I read through. If I find a good quote, then I dictate that with the citation, as well. Ha…in the end…it’s all about the endnotes!
CL: Well, speaking of individual chapters – one of my favorite parts of the book is the section on animal ghosts (which I did NOT realize was a thing!) – was it hard to find research on that subject?
KH: Surprisingly, no. They just appeared as I was looking things up. The “black dog” ghost is a super big presence in the British Isles, but I was looking for an American dog ghost. I wrote an entire section on the ghosts who hung out with of the famed dog author Albert Terhune from the early 1900s, but then I read that he was a notorious racist. I decided not to get into any controversy, so I ended up with a better choice, and that would be the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills, whose tale I found on archive.org.
CL: The haunted locations in the book span the entire globe. Are there any specific locations you’ve been to or hope to visit?
KH: I’ve been to many, as it happens. I think after I’ve traveled someplace, my psyche is left with a bit of the vibe, as it were. I’ve traveled in the UK and Ireland, the American Southwest (my dad lived near the scene documented by Antonio Garcez of the ancient ghost that creeped out the boys on the road outside Tucson.) In 2011 I was in Japan as they prepared to celebrate Obon, to welcome back the spirits of their ancestor, by lighting up a massive display on a hillside – little did I know I’d be writing about Japanese ghosts a few years on!
CL: Yeah, really! Was there anything else that surprised you as you were working on the book?
KH: At first my research covered ghost legends and ghost folklore, and I learned that these are meticulously cataloged in volumes of books. About 1950, students at Utah State collected and cataloged ghost stories. Here’s an example from the “Vanishing Hitchhiker” …
- Supernatural Non-Religious Legends
2.1.1. Revenant or Evidence of Appears Along Roadway
18.104.22.168 Vanishing Hitchhiker (Folder 1)
…22.214.171.124 Driver vanishes. (Folder 2)
126.96.36.199 In Payson, Utah, female appears in middle of road, is hit and leaves blood and scratches on car.
188.8.131.52 Old woman appears in front of car at place where she was killed long before.
184.108.40.206 White ghost dog appears and disappears along roadway.
220.127.116.11 Old sheepherder who was beaten to death searches roadway for his lost body.
18.104.22.168 Mysterious man gives aid at accident site. …
CL: Wow – that’s really wild that it’s part of recorded history like that! Your books all focus heavily on history and science. What motivates you to write on those subjects?
KH: It’s truly gratifying for me to read your observation, though I’m not quite sure why I write like this. I guess it’s how I look at the past and how I like to explain things to my young readers. The crossroads of history and science is fun to research and to write about. “You can’t have one without the other…”—like that old Sinatra tune😊
CL: And what would you say to a skeptical reader who doesn’t believe in ghosts?
KH: Seeing ghosts is a personal experience. I could go into a long discussion about God and science and worldview and so on, but let’s leave it at that!
CL: Okay, Kerrie – now comes my favorite part…the lightning round! Here we go…Favorite place to write?
KH: In my son’s old bedroom, still with the stars he pasted on the ceiling for nighttime.
CL: Favorite authors?
KH: George Saunders, Jennifer Winspear, Eric Larsson, Ian McEwan
CL: The BEST scary movie is…
KH: The Exorcist
CL: Do you have any pets?
KH: A black Ausiedoodle named Maleficent for my favorite Disney (cartoon) villain. But she’s Malley for short.
CL: Best desert?
KH: Cherry pie a la mode
CL: Spookiest book you’ve ever read?
KH: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Spooky, informative, and theological all in one.And a short story!…“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
CL: Best Halloween costume?
KH: My Maleficent costume that I sewed myself about 30 years ago….I still have it.
CL: Thanks, Kerrie! It was so fun getting to talk with you!
Kerrie Hollihan writes award-winning nonfiction for young people. Her new book is Ghosts Unveiled!, second in the Creepy and True series for Abrams Books for Young Readers. The first, Mummies Exposed!, garnered four four-star reviews. Kerrie’s books have been honored as “notables” by the Children’s Book Council/National Council for the Social Studies and more. She’s especially thrilled that Mummies! is accessible for vision impaired readers through the Library of Congress.
To learn more about Kerrie, you can visit her on her website, and Kerrie also belongs to the highly regarded nonfiction author group iNK Think Tank and its interactive partner, Authors on Call – www.inkthinktank.com/. She blogs with other authors at Hands-on-Books, and you can catch her three-minute talks about lots of things at iNK’s Nonfiction Minute.
Thanks, everyone…and don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win a free copy of Ghosts Unveiled!
See you next time!