Category Archives: Writing

Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Wellman, Manly Wade. Dead and Gone: Classic Crimes of North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, 1954, 1980.

Apologies for this being so late in the day. As some of you may have noticed, the site has been down since last night. Basically, it was a case of WordPress and my service provider not talking to each other, an issue that crops up now and again. Anyhoo, it’s fixed now.

So, what to say about this book? Let’s start with the easy stuff. Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986) was a reasonably famous and successful Pulp writer during most of his lifetime, about the level of contemporary Seabury Quinn. He was best known for his story collection Who Fears the Devil? (1963) about a recurring wandering protagonist known as Silver John the Balladeer.

Wellman was celebrated in his day, winning two Edgars, two World Fantasy and Locus Awards each, and a British Fantasy Award. He was also nominated for several others, including a Hugo. He was inducted into the North Carolina Writers’ Network Literary Hall of Fame in 1996.

He was friends with noted Mythos writer Karl Edward Wagner and, it appears, Harlan Ellison (who knew him well enough that Ellison had an unpublished story from him after he died in 1986; Ellison also acted as the auctioneer for his literary estate). His fiction tended to pastiche and crossovers for characters from such writers as Lovecraft and Conan Doyle. That’s okay. A lot of us have done that.

Dead and Gone won him a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award in 1956, in the category of Best Fact Crime Story. Despite what I’m about to say down-review, it probably deserved it, especially in 1956. It’s well-written in the Pulp style of the day and has been greatly influential on the subsequent folklore for the ten stories he covers in nine chapters. There’s even a ghost story postscript to one (the Reverend George Washington Carawan, convicted murderer and possible serial killer of the Bluebeard variety, who shot himself in court in 1853). It was an important tick off my list.

This true crime collection is likely his best-known book now. At any rate, it’s the one you can most easily buy at the bookstore here in North Carolina (though born in Angola to missionary parents, Wellman died in Chapel Hill after many years in NC). Though there seems to be a bit of a revival of interest in his stuff (at least about a decade ago), along with the general resurgence of interest in Pulp and Golden Age weird fiction, he has largely fallen into obscurity outside NC.

Wellman loved his adopted state and that comes through in the prose in this book. He writes with a clear and easy style, for the most part – pulpy and engaging. The book is pretty well organized (though thematically rather than chronologically, which can be confusing). Wellman’s conceit was that he didn’t do any stories from after 1900 to avoid embarrassing the living. He didn’t do any before 1800, either – perhaps because he didn’t feel there would be enough concrete evidence from which to tell the tale.

Not that facts ever stopped Wellman from telling a good story. His considerable embellishments and frequent failure to cite any credible sources are rather the least of my concerns with this book. But you’ll see in a minute why I felt a need to mention them first.

You see, this book also makes it abundantly, painfully, scarily clear that Manly Wade Wellman, beloved (if somewhat forgotten) Pulp fantasy writer, was an unapologetic and vigorous fanboy of the Ku Klux Klan.

Yes, you heard me right. There is nothing subtextual about it, either. Not only does Wellman go into a long-ish explanation in the book about how he despises the 20th century revivals of the KKK, but thinks the Reconstruction era Klan was a heroic band of outlaws dispensing vigilante justice to miscreant rivals (who are always described in not-so-vaguely homophobic terms), but he tells two stories in this collection about these vigilante murders. Namely, the lynchings of William Parker and John “Chicken” Stephens. And they are rhapsodic in their praise of … the murderers. It’s ugly.

The Ku Klux Klan of Reconstruction times was operating in North Carolina. This order, not to be confused with the twentieth-century disturbers of peace who filched the name and the sheeted regalia, was seen riding in the gloom of Yanceyville evenings – “‘those here to day gone tomorrow ‘ gentlemen with flowing white robes, those speechless spirits,” they were described by A.J. Stedman, the Danbury editor. Dead and Gone, p. 142-3.

When looking at this sort of thing, especially in the current political atmosphere, it’s useful to consider two things. First, is this attitude racist? I would say, well, yes. Second, is it a dog whistle? Sadly, I’m inclined to think that Wellman was freely using the dog whistles of the Lost Cause here. In 1956 (another racially inflammatory time), that was, at the absolute best, dangerously irresponsible.

What’s astonishing is how little this is discussed even now. One 2013 Tor retrospective refers to him as “multicultural” due to his missionary background and claim to be part Native American. Um … no. Not even close. African Americans barely appear as more than scenery in this collection and when they do, they are thoroughly stereotypical.

That hasn’t dated well. But the Klan adoration society thing … that is so far over the line of “okay” that it Superman-flies over that line, lobs a nuclear grenade back onto it, pours on a little plasma from a neutron star, and then sets it on fire. There is no excuse or justification for this. Even “for the times,” it was pretty bad.

What is truly shocking is not his racism. Lots of Pulp writers were racist. Just look at Lovecraft.

It’s that people who, even at the time, claimed to be racially progressive (you know, like Ellison, who aggressively turned his political progressiveness into a huge part of his writing persona) either completely blanked Wellman’s clearly-stated bigotry or excused it with “Oh, tee-hee, that Manly, such a Southern gentleman. What a card.” Some of them are even still doing it. Even though he was espousing this attitude, in a book, during a time when the Klan was actively murdering people who just wanted to be able to live their lives in peace. And vote.

I shouldn’t leave out the fact that Wellman is downright vicious about the female murderers in his stories – notably Ida Bell Warren and poor Frankie Silver (who was most likely a victim of domestic violence and her dead husband’s vindictive family). No apologia for these gals. It’s okay if white women stay in their place, silent and demure, but God forbid they have sexual desires or just plain want to avoid being beaten to death. And it’s not like Wellman is any kinder to murder victims “Poor ‘Omi” or Laura Foster, who get slut-shamed even in the grave.

The thing is that this book is still in print. You can get it on Kindle. It’s charming and engaging in the storytelling, and it continues to influence how some perceive the ten crimes outlined in its pages. Wellman said he didn’t want to cause harm to anyone living when he chose crimes with no living participants. But I don’t think he tried hard enough.

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Halloween in North Carolina

Welcome to Halloween in North Carolina. All month long, I’ll be reviewing ghost story and folklore books about the state of North Carolina. The Old North State has a lot of eerie tales, some new, some old, some startling, and some downright frightening.

North Carolina is the only state to have its folklore thoroughly catalogued in a seven-volume series, The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore. Brown collected stories from 1912 until his death in 1943, and the series was published in 1951. It’s available online. The state also had its own WPA guide (a research project from the 1930s). In addition, there is Tom Peete Cross’ lengthy article, “Witchcraft in North Carolina” (1919), and Elsie Clews Parsons’ “Tales from Guilford County” (1917), among others, that have preserved a lot of the stories that have since appeared in more popular collections.

But much new folklore has popped up since the 1950s. You’ve got Bigfoot and Goat Farm Road and Piney Grove Church and Stateline (Satan’s) Bridge, etc., etc., etc. We’ll talk about those stories, too.

I’ve been collecting books and articles and websites about North Carolina ghost stories for years, but this will be by no means a comprehensive list. The bibliography of published books alone would be at least three times as many as what I can review this month. But I can give you a pretty good idea of what’s out there. And perhaps, I can give you some creepy new material to read and retell.

My current two projects are a book on tales from the Tri-County (Edgecombe, Wilson and Nash) area in Eastern NC and one on tales about the Devil in North Carolina. But this stuff takes time and money to do. If you’re interested in helping me with this research (or you just want to check out my notes and other such perks), head on over to my Patreon page and join up. You can also help by making a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or sending me a coffee.

Happy Ghost Hunting!

The articles:

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #1: The Devil’s Tramping Ground and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories (1949)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #2: Ghost Stories from the American South (1985)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #3: Ghosts from the Coast (2001)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #4: The Haunted South (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: Ghosts of the Carolinas (1967)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #7: North Carolina Haunts (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #8: Monsters of North Carolina (2013)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #9: Haunted Hills (2007)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #10: Mysterious Tales of Coastal North Carolina (2018)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Tar Heel Terrors (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Tales from Guilford County (1917)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Witchcraft in North Carolina (1919)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #14: Best Ghost Tales of North Carolina (2006; 2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #15: The “Wettest & Wickedest Town” (Salisbury, NC) (2011)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #16: Haunted Uwharries (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #17: Ghosts of Old Salem, North Carolina (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #18: Ghosts of the Yadkin Valley (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #19: Ghosts of the Triangle: Historic Haunts of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill (2009)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #20: Mountain Ghost Stories (1988)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #21: Looking for “Lydia”: The Thirty-Year Search for the Jamestown Hitchhiker (2018)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #22: Ghost Stories In North Carolina: Every Haunted Place In North Carolina (2012)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Cursed in the Carolinas (2017)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: The Lost Colony in Literature (1985)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #25: Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater (1966)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Ghost Stories and Legends of Murphy, NC (2015)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #27: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 1: Seaside Spectres (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #28: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 2: Piedmont Phantoms (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #29: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 3: Haints of the Hills (2002)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #30: Ghost Tales of the Moratoc (1992)

Halloween in North Carolina, Day #31: Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast (2014)

Halloween in North Carolina, All Saints’ Day: Bonus Round #1: The Little Book of the Hidden People (2015)

Halloween in North Carolina, All Souls’ Day: Bonus Round #2: Scottish Ghosts (1999)

Horror: The Cult of Exotic Death

By Paula R. Stiles

One day when I was 14, my maternal grandfather bit into a burger and nearly choked to death in front of me and my cousin. It was fall and our extended family was passing through Lebanon, NH, so we had stopped at the A&W Root Beer restaurant there (sadly, now long gone) for supper.

Beloved and much-missed Grandpa Van was not eating too fast. He hadn’t taken too big a bite to eat. No. His throat muscles had atrophied thanks to his recent diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s Disease, now known as ALS. He died a few months later. Ever since, I dread whenever water or a bit of cracker goes down the wrong pipe. You see, ALS can have a genetic component. And it can skip a generation.

We all fear what Stephen King once called “the bad death.” What’s funny, though, is what kind of bad death we want to see in our horror stories. The more exotic, the less likely it is to take us, the better.

Zombies? Check. Vampires? Sure. Werewolves? Absolutely. Flesh-eating bacteria? Uh-huh. World-killing flu? Why not? Balloon-carrying, clown serial killers? Alrighty-then.

Heart attack? Cancer? MS? Alzheimer’s? Not so much. At least, not straight up with no chaser.

Sure, good horror does often evoke real-life horrors in a metaphorical way. We see a lot of domestic abuse in horror (and yes, domestic abuse is very common in real life), especially in the vampire sub-genre. And there’s body horror, which often mimics what a parasite from some hot and far-away part of the world can do to an unsuspecting First World body. In fact, some things (like rape) are not only very common, they are portrayed in many works as universally happening to female characters in a tone-deaf way. It’s a free-for-all of gender violence aimed at women in a lot of horror.

But let’s face it – your odds of being whacked by a killer clown while at summer camp are much less than getting lost and dying of exposure, or being killed in a car crash on the way home (or sexually assaulted). But what do we see in theaters and on our bookshelves? Endless movies about hot, young teens whittled down by some chainsaw-wielding maniac. Or zombie horror. Or vampires, sparkly and otherwise.

Admittedly, some of this has to do with the target audience – complacent, social-anxiety-ridden teenagers who think they’re physically invulnerable, for the movies; young, white men for books and graphic novels. When the genre does bother to target other groups, it splits off to paranormal romance for women (young women, of course, because why would older women read books, am I right?) or magical realism/literary for People of Color, both writers and readers. Horror writers and fans look down on these two categories, even though paranormal romance, like most things romance-genre-connected, sells like hotcakes while horror is considered a genre ghetto. Older people who actually buy a whole lot of books might as well not exist in the eyes of those selling them, at least when it comes to horror.

Still, I think a lot of it boils down to simple escapism. King talked at length in his two non-fiction books, Danse Macabre and On Writing, about how he put a lot of his early struggles with poverty and alcoholism into his books. And those elements definitely ground his books in a way that lesser books by lesser authors are not.

But even there, these themes are distanced by the supernatural element. Jack Torrance struggles with his alcoholism and isolation (and being so broke that taking a caretaker job with his wife and son at an off-season hotel in the middle of winter and nowhere is a great opportunity), but those are just the elements of his personality that make him vulnerable to the ghosts. The ghosts are what push him over the edge.

If he went over the edge due to the drinking and isolation, that would be drama. In horror, the ghosts aren’t just metaphors. They are real. So, there’s always an external element of threat in horror that doesn’t exist in straight drama that perhaps makes the threat easier to connect with emotionally.

It’s much easier to deal with things like genocide in The Martian Chronicles when it involves Martians and hypothetical spacemen than when it involves your direct and not-so-distant ancestors (or cousins). Dementia and mental illness are more tolerable in the context of The Twilight Zone than a hospital room. And nuclear holocaust, despite attempts by Hollywood to make it “respectable” drama, was monopolized by the horror genre early on. Nobody ever wanted to think about nuclear bombs in a “realistic” context.

This may be why people seek out horror despite its dark themes. And it may be why some themes (which can be given a horror spin more easily) are more common that others. The fantasy element is like a shield that allows you to see Medusa without being turned to stone.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Telling Stories

By Jim Lee

I have recently published a book of 21 short stories entitled The Haze of Memory. These stories, mostly fiction but also a smattering of non-fiction, are based on events I have experienced and people I have encountered throughout my almost six decades of life on this earth. In the foreword, I wrote that although I put “teacher” as my occupation on my tax forms, I consider myself a writer. But in the final editing of the book, I almost changed that line. And now I am asking out loud (and if you write on a frequent basis, you may ask as well), am I a writer or a storyteller?

There is a difference between the two. Storytellers do not necessarily create the stories they tell. They often retell stories that are important to the culture or the history of a group they identify with. Every family has that one person who is the repository of family lore and you can find that individual surrounded at Christmas or reunions with a rapt audience. I serve that role for my daughter and she will often ask me to relate the events of her adoption or how her granny got stopped for running a red light to avoid dumping a lemon pie on the floor of her car.

Writers, on the other hand, are more concerned with universal themes, interesting characters, or the significance of a setting. Much modern literary fiction has even disposed of some traditional elements of storytelling completely or deconstructs them to such an extent that the writing becomes to literature what a cubist painting is to modern art: The elements are present, but they are disproportionate or displaced. Don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate what the writer is trying to do, but I don’t enjoy it. I only go to an art museum once every couple of years and I can appreciate the pieces I observe there; the art I have in my home, however, is what I enjoy. In the same way, since I read for pleasure (as I suspect most people do), I want my writing to be more accessible to people.

While I want my writing to be enjoyable, I also want it to be purposeful. I know my fiction does not rise to the level of “literary” writing, but I want someone who is educated to be able to appreciate a level of complexity that adds to their enjoyment. Therefore not everything I want my reader to get out of the story is explicit in what is written. Histories and relationships between characters, for example, are often only hinted at, but if you want to spend the time and energy thinking about what those relationships are, you certainly can. In my story, “Wandering in the Shadows,” the parents are headed for a divorce and the mother may be having an affair. That fact is never stated, but it colors the relationship that the father has with his daughter and the depression the daughter is exhibiting. The casual reader can still enjoy the story and find a level of understanding that he or she is comfortable with, but the more-literary reader can find something more.

I suppose I am hung up on labels because I, as most writers, I suppose, want to be taken seriously. Stephen King was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award in 2003 and a number of the members of the organization boycotted ceremonies or even canceled their memberships in protest. Their point was that King is not a “literary” writer; he’s just a glorified storyteller. But more people are reading, and in my case writing, because they were introduced to literature through King’s books than the esoteric writers the NBF honors annually.

In his book, On Writing, King famously stated that a writer writes not because he wants to, but because he has to. By that definition, I am a writer. I have to write. When Paula gave me the opportunity to write this entry, I had already been considering writing this essay, and I am grateful for the opportunity for it to reach an audience wider than my Facebook friends or writers’ group. I had to write it; it was going to burst into existence. But I’m a writer who uses traditional storytelling as the vehicle for my literary vision. My stories move emotions, whether to laughter or tears. My stories teach lessons that someone may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience. I don’t envision winning the National Book Award, but literary journals publish one of my stories every now and again, and my writers’ group seems to enjoy them. So, I’ll keep writing stories and publishing them on whatever platform for whomever wants to read them.

Because I’m a writer. Who tells stories.


Jim Lee’s book of short stories, The Haze of Memory: A Literary Autobiography (by James T. Lee), is available on or through the CreateSpace community.

Cheap, Fast or Good: What You Can Expect From Me As An Editor

By Paula R. Stiles

It’s called the Project Management Triangle. Most people know it as “Fast, cheap or good.” The principle is that you can do something quickly, cheaply, or well. At best, you can do two of those at once but not all three.

It’s almost a mantra among professional editors. I run into this conflict with clients because writers are frequently strapped in their budget, but they’re also in a hurry to get their book out, whether to a publisher or an agent or self-published. Naturally, they also want it to be good. But they don’t understand why they can’t have all three.

I regularly see authors on sites I shan’t name offering to pay $100 or less for novels of 80,000 or even 100,000 words. I’ve seen people who want “just a last-minute go-over” (they mean a proofread, really), offering $20. I’ve even seen $6, with the idea that I’d be gaining valuable experience working on their manuscript. Um … no. I’ve been writing for, tutoring, and editing English students and clients since the late 1990s. I really don’t need that kind of experience, anymore.

So, why doesn’t that kind of offer work? Why can’t it guarantee you a good edit? Sure, a proofread is different from a copy edit, let alone a substantive edit, but it still requires that I read your book to do it.

Let’s look at a 100,000-word book. The industry standard is 250 words per page, which comes out to about four hundred pages for that word count. How long does it take you to read a page? One minute? Two? Six? Ten? If you, say, read 60 pages per hour, that takes you 6 hours and 40 minutes to read a 400-page book. If you pay me $20 for it, that’s $3 per hour. If you pay me $6, it’s less than $1 per hour. Even if you pay me $100, that’s still only $15 per hour – somewhat over minimum wage but still not that great. And how much do you think I’m going to catch reading one page per minute?

A more realistic number would be 10-12 pages per hour for a proofread, 5-10 per hour for a copy edit (what suffices for your average fiction novel without significant structural problems). It can be as little as 1-2 for a substantive edit or an edit of a particularly complicated piece of writing (such as an academic book with footnotes) and the hourly rate for that actually goes up because editing at that intensive level is hard. These are professional standards as set down by the Editorial Freelancers Association. The EFA also lists $30-$40 per hour as the lower end for editing. The Writers Digest figures are even higher.

So, if you calculate that out, you can see that a single edit of the average decently self-edited fiction novel should range between $1000 and $2000. At least. If you’re getting a substantive or a particularly complicated type of edit (such as for a book with footnotes, index, graphs, and such), it can be even higher. By “single edit,” I don’t mean a single pass (read-through) but a complete edit by one person, which should include more than one pass over the manuscript, scanning for different types of problems. Ideally, after you’ve edited your manuscript as well as you can, you should employ a copy editor and then a separate person for proofreader. The more people who look at your manuscript, the more nits they will find and the cleaner your manuscript will be. Nits — like coat-hangers — they breeds in the dark, my precioussss ….

But you may ask, Why such a high starting hourly rate? Well, there are a few reasons. One is that editing is a skill. It’s a skill that requires experience and training, and it requires more experience and training to keep it sharp. It also requires that I set up my own office. So, you’re paying me for my skill and my experience and my tools, just as you would a plumber or a contractor to work on your house. In this case, your manuscript is your house.

Another is that editing is an intensive job. Most editors I talk to say they can edit up to four to six hours. Some can only do two. It’s hard on the eyes and hard on the brain. After a while, if you push it too much, everything starts to blur. Editing in a blur is no fun and doesn’t tend to produce good work.

For me, four is my usual limit. What do I do with the other hours? Quite a bit — answering emails and otherwise interacting with current clients (because working on your manuscript also means getting to know what you need), advertising, prospecting for new clients, blogging, research, and training to keep up and increase my skills. That can easily put my work day over eight hours, but those other hours often don’t make any direct revenue on their own. Some of them I even have to pay for. Yet they are essential to my business and my ability to make your book as good as I can.

A third is that if I’m earning a decent wage from your project, you have my full-time, undivided attention for that period of time. I don’t have to scramble to find other projects to fill in the blanks and pay the bills, especially if I get half from you up front. I can concentrate fully on your project because that’s what you’re paying me to do.

“Good” isn’t something on which I’m willing to compromise. If I don’t do the best I can manage within the parameters of the project each time, it will eventually affect my clients’ satisfaction and my business. Yes, there’s a difference between a proofread and a copy edit, but that difference is not one of quality. In addition, I’ve been an indie publishing editor for seven years and I throw in advice for free about where you can send your manuscript or how you can spin it for an editor.

That leaves “fast” and “cheap.” If you want it fast, well, it’s definitely not going to be cheap. But there are limits on both. To do a really good, thorough edit, depending on the manuscript, I will generally need two weeks to a month for a project of 100,000 words. And much less than $1,000 for that size of a project is therefore not going to be worth it for me. You can certainly find cheaper editors on the internet, but look at the above calculations and ask yourself what corners they have had to cut to make that model work for them.

Now, I understand that authors are not made of money, even those who budgeted for editing (which many make the mistake of not doing). I’m an author myself; it’s one reason why I like working with them. If your book is smaller, of course the fees will be less. A cleaner manuscript won’t require as much work as a rough one (though in my experience, authors often think their work is more finished and nit-free than it really is).

Not sure you want to work with me? Try a sample of up to 2000 words for $20. Need time to pay for the whole project? I can do the manuscript over time in installments. Not sure your manuscript is ready for prime-time editing or what you should be editing? I can do a pass over it and give you an evaluation for $40 per hour. Need British or Canadian English? I’ve done that. Need Australian English? I know someone I can recommend who can help you. Working on a thesis? I’ve done two — one at the Masters and one at the PhD level — and I’ve tutored a lot of people in English and essay writing. Have other languages in your manuscript? I have a degree in Classical Languages and a background in French and other Romance languages. I’ve even studied Old English.

And, of course, whatever changes I make (with tracking, unless you ask otherwise), you can always undo. It’s your book. I’m only helping you with it.

So, if you’re looking for a good editor, drop me a line, either here or at thesnowleopard(at)hotmail(dot)com.