Nashville Ghost Stories for Grown-Ups
Just in Time for Halloween, Local Author’s Short Story Collection Debuts
The idea of a haunted side to Nashville is nothing new. Sit in a honky-tonk downtown long enough and you’ll hear about how the ghost of Hank Williams still plays there. Take one of the popular ghost tours and you can hear all kinds of stories about Nashville’s famous dead.
But there are also a lot more places in Nashville that just feel like they should be haunted. In A City of Ghosts, her new book released in time for Halloween, Betsy Phillips tells the stories of ghosts that Nashville should have. From a friendly neighbor who, despite being dead, still cooks breakfast for his East Nashville neighbors, to the Devil himself, who still shows up every now and again to mourn the woman he lost to Timothy Demonbreun, Phillips populates her book with ordinary people and familiar places recast in an eerie light.
“They’re all made up,” Phillips explains, “but I tried to give each story enough basis in actual history that it would make the fantasy more delightful. For instance, instead of just being the result of haphazard city planning, I decided that the reason there are roads in town that change names a bunch of times or start and stop is to keep the Devil confused. It’s not true, but you kind of wish it was. I mean, if you drive around here, you wish there were some explanation, no matter how outlandish, right?”
Phillips, a well-known blogger, decided to keep in the same Do-It-Yourself spirit when it came to book publishing. She’s self-publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace.
“It’s no secret that the publishing industry is going through interesting times,” Phillips says. “I submitted the manuscript a few places and got some very lovely rejection letters. But then I realized I could either continue down that uncertain path and, in a best case scenario, end up with a very Nashville-specific book being promoted by a publisher who didn’t know much about Nashville—or I could do it myself and see what happens. I hope it will get some good word of mouth and the people who might like it will find it.”
Are the stories in A City of Ghosts real?
No, they aren’t. I start the collection with my take on the Bell Witch legend, which I suppose anyone who’s writing Tennessee ghost stories has to reckon with, but otherwise, they are all completely made up. I tried to give each story enough of a hook in reality that they’d seem plausible, but they are all made up.
Nashville has plenty of real ghost stories, but they focus mainly on country music stars or haunted antebellum mansions. I have a few of those stories myself, but I tried to come up with ghost stories that would be different from the ones we usually hear.
What gave you the idea for the book?
Well, at my blog Tiny Cat Pants (www.tinycatpants.com), I had a tradition of telling all of the creepy stories I knew every October, in honor of Halloween. In 2009, I realized I was out of true stories, so I decided to make up a story, one for every day of the month. Once I started to think about doing the same for 2010, I realized the stories were more than just stand-alone pieces, that they fit together and read better all together.
You have divided the book into two parts—April and October. Why?
According to legend, there are two nights when the barrier between here and the afterlife are the thinnest. Everyone’s familiar with Halloween, but the same is true for May Eve. So, I imagined the stories all leading to those two nights, with the happier stories in April and the scarier or more disturbing stories in October.
You self-published the book. Can you tell us a little about that?
Well, after a few lovely, supportive rejection letters, I realized I could either shop the book around for ages, hoping it caught someone’s attention eventually or I could publish it myself. There are drawbacks. For instance, it’s true that it’s harder for self-published authors to get reviewer attention.
But these days, it’s hard for anyone to get reviewer attention. By doing it myself, I could insure that everyone who worked on the book—from the copyeditor to the typesetter to the designer to the photographer—were all local Nashvillians. They’d know if the book sounded right. And, I figured I could promote the book through my blog.
I don’t think I’ll sell as many as I would have through a traditional publisher, but I think it’s worth it to have the kind of creative control that self-publishing affords.
Plus, I chose to use Amazon’s CreateSpace and so the book is available not only through Amazon, but through any local booksellers who would chose to sell it.
Betsy Phillips lives in Whites Creek, Tennessee. She blogs for the Nashville Scene at their political blog "Pith in the Wind". She also blogs at her own site, Tiny Cat Pants (www.tinycatpants.com).
A CITY OF GHOSTS
By Betsy Phillips
220 pages 6×9
Trade Paperback $14.99 (ISBN 978-1-4536-9983-6)
Publication Date: October 2010
Available wherever books are sold.