I am very excited today to be able to welcome author and editor Sheryl Tempchin. Back in 2008, Sheryl purchased my short story ‘Turning Point’ for the speculative fiction magazine Zahir. This was my first sale ever, an even that gave me the courage to continue as an author. It was a period before blogs and Eolyn and even Hadley Rille Books. I never imagined back then that one day I’d be welcoming Sheryl for a guest interview in my own virtual space.
Sheryl Tempchin is an accomplished author. She writes ghost stories, science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, and stories that are just plain weird. Her stories have appeared in a number of publications including Rosebud, where twice they were finalists for the Ursula K. Le Guin Award for Imaginative Fiction. For nine years she published and edited the zine, Zahir: A Journal of Speculative Fiction, finally leaving it behind in 2012 to focus on her own writing. Ghosts, Aliens & Magic is her first collection of short stories, and she has a paranormal novel in the works. Sheryl lives in Encinitas, California with her husband, songwriter Jack Tempchin.
Sheryl, tell us about your book.
First of all, Karin, I want to thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. It’s an honor, and I appreciate the opportunity to connect with your readers.
Ghosts, Aliens & Magic is a collection of short speculative stories. Some have been around a while and have been published before, and some are fairly new. As you might guess from the title, there are several ghost stories, a few sci-fi tales and some stories about magic and magical objects. These were fun stories for me to write, and I hope they are fun to read.
Who are some of the main characters in your stories? What are the challenges they face?
I think my favorite character is the ghost in “The Permanent Guest.” He’s a mild sort of fellow, a thinker, interested in everything, a little envious of the living, trying to solve the mystery of who he was in life and why he’s stuck haunting an old hotel. Another favorite is Dahlia, in “The Tattoo Artist and the Fisherman’s Daughter.” She’s in high school, trapped in a bad home situation, but too young to move out, so she writes her life as a fairytale, turning her problems and frustrations into something magical.
What inspires you to write dark fantasy/horror?
I’ve always liked that kind of story. When I was in the 6th grade, I bought a book through the Scholastic Book Club at school called Tales to be Told in the Dark. That might have been my first introduction to the genre, and it totally hooked me. Later, as an adult, I discovered a different type of fantasy when I read the stories of the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges, who was arguably the father of magical realism. His stories are connected by common themes such as dreams, labyrinths, libraries, and mirrors, things that have always fascinated me. He only wrote short stories and essays, never a novel, but you can get lost in his stories. I’ve read them over and over.
What do you find most challenging about the writing process?
Oh, just getting myself to sit down every day and do it. There always seem to be so many other things demanding my attention, and writing can seem like a selfish indulgence when there are practical, real-life problems that need to be taken care of. I have to convince myself every day that what I’m doing is worthwhile.
Any projects in the works right now? Tell us what we can expect in the future.
I’m putting the finishing touches on a novel about a woman who, at the age of sixty, rediscovers a psychic ability that she has suppressed for almost her entire adult life. She ends up on a cross country road trip with a similarly gifted elderly aunt, and they have adventures. That book should be out early next year. I have a few other things started as well, a fantasy that takes place on another world, and a romance/adventure that involves Aztec treasure, but they both have a way to go.
Everyone has their own idea of what a successful career in writing is. What does success in writing look like to you?
People wanting to read my books! If I can entertain people, take them away from their problems for a while and give them an enjoyable experience, that is success.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I’m a painter, I grow vegetables, and I read really a lot.
What do you hope people will take away from your stories?
The feeling that there’s more to the world than meets the eye. That, really, we exist in an incredible, magical universe where anything is possible.
About Ghosts, Aliens, and Magic
Strange things are afoot… A ghost wanders the corridors of an old hotel, pondering his origins. An antique mirror, bought at a garage sale, reflects more than it should. A strange fungal growth on a cellar wall tries to communicate. In the corner of a thrift store, a sentient leather jacket waits patiently. A young couple discovers a very unusual elevator in their newly purchased house. In these and other stories, things are never quite what they seem. The world is a mysterious place full of shadows and dark corners where anything can happen—and does.
I walk these halls alone.
There are others here, of course, but they are not like me. They belong to time. I am aware of time, but I do not belong to it anymore.
This is not an unpleasant place. Really, I am quite fond of it. Every corner, every windowsill, every tiny detail of every room is intimately familiar. I have been a shadow on the wall, a pattern in the tiles, a curtain moving in the breeze.
It seems as if I have always been here, and yet that can’t be so, for the place itself has not always been here. In the lobby, a brass plaque states that the Hotel del Balboa was built in 1889, so I must have arrived sometime after that. I don’t remember. My past is an enigma, cloaked in a mist of forgetfulness. But I have come to understand that I am dead.
I have my routine. Even the dead are creatures of habit. In the morning I sit on the patio where they serve breakfast, and I watch the waiters with their shining silver trays rushing back and forth from the kitchen, so graceful and efficient. The guests look happy and well rested, their conversation ebbing and flowing like the sound of the surf on the nearby beach. On clear mornings, the sun shines through the dark green and brilliant magenta leaves of bougainvillea and dapples the red-tile floor with shifting patterns of light and dark. I sit in my corner, by the potted palm, watching. It is so beautiful, this dance of sound and light that is the living world.
A small child toddles over and stands before me staring. She is exquisite, with her tousled black curls and great brown eyes full of curiosity and intelligence. I smile and she smiles back. Then her mother is there lifting her up, glancing in my direction.
“What are you looking at?” she says to the child. “The chair? Do you like that pretty chair?”
It is a pretty chair, one of those high-backed wicker jobs that has lots of curlicues and looks like a throne. The child stares at me and points.
“Man!” she says.
The mother laughs nervously and carries her away. Over her mother’s shoulder, she continues to stare at me. I wave and she flaps her little hand.
Babies and small children sometimes see me. Animals, too. Dogs don’t like me. They bristle and growl, while their owners wonder what is wrong with them. Fortunately, not many dogs come here.
I get along better with cats. In the old days, the hotel always kept one or two on the premises to keep the mice under control. They would seek me out in the evenings and we would make our rounds together, walking the long hallways, wandering in the garden. Cats are subtle creatures, more imaginative and less respectable than dogs. They don’t mind consorting with the likes of me.
Occasionally there are others who see me. Once there was a woman who worked in housekeeping, an Indian from far down in Mexico. She sometimes spoke to me when no one else was around, and she treated me with great deference, as if I were important. I once heard one of her countrymen say in a hushed tone that she was a sorceress.
Then there was the girl in the white dress.
It was 1956. I had been wandering the hallways, as I often do, when I came upon her, near the elevators, standing in front of one of the big mirrors trying to fasten a string of pearls around her slender neck. The clasp must have come loose as she was on her way downstairs to the party in the main ballroom. She looked so lovely in her party dress, I stopped to watch her. It was a white dress, strapless, with a full skirt that rustled. She looked almost like a bride. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she struggled intently with the pearls, frowning and biting her red lips. Something about her seemed terribly familiar.
I moved closer. It has often puzzled me that in my insubstantial state, my four senses function quite well. She smelled of flowers and sunshine and health. A great longing filled me and I moved closer still… and then something strange occurred. I saw a figure, white faced and hollow eyed, dressed in a dusty tuxedo, reflected in the mirror. It was a vague floating image, just behind her left shoulder, hardly there at all, but I saw it.
And so did she.
Her eyes went wide with terror and she whirled around. Suddenly we were face to face, just inches apart. She screamed and screamed, then fainted. I looked back at the mirror and realized that the sad, pale face, those eyes full of longing, belonged to me.