As the last days of September stretch over the horizon, Halloween candy and costumes resume their rightful places on store shelves. One Niantic author, who is penning spooky stories with decidedly local flavor, has planned an informal, fun discussion on supernatural themes in writing.
Pat Kelbaugh, who describes herself as "a lifelong bookworm" is two books into her "Dreamtime" series of paranormal adventure novels. Her settings include the towns of Shoals Crossing, inspired by Niantic; Milltown, modeled on Waterford; and Fullesport, which takes its character from New London.
Kelbaugh says that she could always write, "although I didn't always realize it."
For 30 years, she filled her hours with a corporate gig and watercolor painting in her downtime.
"My art was — and still is — my freedom," she says, but the time she spent painting didn't seem to make up for time she accumulated behind a desk.
"One day... it hit me. The wall. I couldn't do it anymore. There was something else calling me," she explains. "This is what my husband-and-true-friend said about the whole situation, "We've got to get you out of there."And so, one beautiful day in July of 2000, I walked away from the whole corporate thing."
She says she still didn't know that she wanted to write, but one day life yielded her the perfect inspiration: a villain. A difficult encounter with a difficult person meant that she needed to clear her mind.
"I went out for a walk. As I was walking, still fuming, it hit me. That person — the one who got me fuming — would make a fabulous soap opera villainess. And there it was. ... out of that moment grew a chapter. One thing led to another. A year later, I had my first novel."
"Darke House," the first novel in the series, introduces a dimension between our living world and a world populated by ghosts.
The story unfolds in Milltown, a small town on the Connecticut shoreline, where a resort is constructed upon a Victorian ghost house, a house that its dreamtime residents call Darke House. One September, the residents of both are threatened by two storms - "one, a vicious hurricane from the physical world, and the other, a monstrous storm from the parallel dimension," Kelbaugh explains.
The story picks up again in "Summerland," which takes place in a little Connecticut beach town called Shoals Crossing - directly across the bay from Milltown. It tells the story of Nora Reis who has dropped out of college and moved to Shoals Crossing to finish her first novel. Someone else has moved into the neighborhood too - the ghost of a girl who lived a long time ago.
"If you're looking for deep, important literature, keep looking," reads the back cover of "Summerland." "If, on the other hand, you want to escape to the beach where there's just enough melodrama to keep it fun and the bad guys get what's coming to them — well, welcome..."
Kelbaugh will hold a presentation and discussion at the Waterford Public Library, 49 Rope Ferry Road, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. Guests are invited to bring and discuss their own favorite supernatural stories, characters, and personal experiences with the paranormal. And yes, there will coffee and cake.
The talk will also explore how authors working in the paranormal genre navigate the line between creating suspenseful, engaging stories, but also, as Kelbaugh said, stories "that you want to have stuck in your mind."
"It's been my intent to avoid dark creepiness. In my opinion, if a reader wants creepy, there are a lot of other places to look for it. Unfortunately."
"The intent of "Dreamtime" is escape," she explained. "Escape to the beach. Escape to a place where weird, interesting things happen, there's just enough melodrama so you know it's fantasy, and the bad guys get what's coming to them."
She says that her love for the southeastern Connecticut community has been returned in the way people have responded to her work, noting that the Waterford Library and assistant director Judy Liskov in particular, have been very supportive.
"They really rolled out the red carpet for me," she said.
A collection of Kelbaugh's maritime work is on display at the CustomHouse Maritime Museum on Bank Street in New London until the end of September.
For more information, visit www.kelbaughstudios.com.