Supernatural, Suomi Style

Freelance journalist received a strange job offer: cover a supernatural convention. The journalist thinks the gig a joke. But is it? And who are the convention’s guests of honor?

Supernatural, Suomi Style

By Richard Zowie

I live in San Antonio, and that’s a good thing. Plenty of time to think as I drove to El Paso, which is an eight-hour drive. I’m a full-time freelance writer, and one of my clients is the San Antonio Express-News. I write mostly features for my editor, Mona De Los Santos, who told me they wanted me to cover a supernatural convention in El Paso. It was for this weekend. I would go, observe, ask questions, take a few pictures, write a 2,000-word article and it would be the lead feature in the Weekender on Friday or for the Life section on Sunday.

As I drove past San Antonio’s outer circular road, Loop 1604, on Interstate 10 West and started my trek into the Texas Hill Country, I remembered the protocol. Since I wasn’t an employee, my travel expenses would have to be written off and claimed on taxes. Gasoline. Drinks. Snacks. Food. Motel room. The cost of attending the convention, which was $500.

As I saw a green sign that said Boerne was 20 miles away and Comfort was 40 miles, I remembered Mona’s request.

“I think it’s a fascinating convention, but management didn’t want someone local covering it when the El Paso Times could easily assign a reporter that we could piggyback off of,” she said. But, the Times told us they were only planning on doing a few photos and no story. That’s why I decided to ask you. What is your religious background, Bill?”

“I’m a Christian, but I’m not sold on supernatural,” I said. “I don’t believe in ghosts. I used to rent an apartment that was a boarding house where an unsolved murder took place, but I never experienced anything unusual.”

“No supernatural experiences?”

“Zero.”

“Can you go with an open mind?” she asked.

“If you’re paying me, yes.”

 

I’d left San Antonio at 6 a.m. that morning, which was wonderful. By the time I-10 became clogged for the morning commute, I was gone. With the stops I made in Junction, Fort Stockton, Van Horn, I arrived nearly at 6 p.m. in the desert town of El Paso. I’d been there only a few times in my life, once as I drove to Phoenix on business and once as I took a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles to visit my Uncle Jerry.

After checking in at the Double Tree Hotel about two blocks away, I went to the El Paso Convention and Performing Art Center, where the supernatural convention was taking place. I expected to see a few science-minded protestors outside, yelling about facts matter over faith. The only people outside were tourists looking for the Southwest University Park, El Paso Museum of History or the University of Texas at El Paso. One complete stranger asked me if El Paso was in Texas or New Mexico. I told him he was still in the Lone Star State.

One beautiful woman wearing a sundress asked me how El Paso got its nickname “Chucotown.”

“I don’t speak much Spanish and have no idea. You should ask someone at the Museum of History,” I replied as I entered.

I expected people adorned in black clothing and silver jewelry, along with priests or priestesses wearing shiny black or indigo robes. Instead, everyone wore suits or dressed in slacks or dress shirts. One woman wore a business suit with a short skirt. From her legs, I imagined she ran a lot and probably looked hard to turn away from when she sat and crossed her legs.

I checked in, introduced myself as Bill McGinnis and got my badge and packet. As I got them, I noticed a brunette with pale eyes helping herself at a spread of various pastries, meats, fruits and assorted dressings. Soon, she was coughing.

As she coughed, I looked up and saw panic in her eyes. I jogged toward her. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

She looked at me, tried to breathe. “PLEASE! HELP ME!” she said in English but in a foreign accent I could not place. “I…can’t…breathe! I’m choking! Help!”

As I dropped my packet and was about 10 feet away, I noticed how everybody stared blankly at her, as though they didn’t know what to do.

What is wrong with you assholes? I wondered as I got to her from behind and embraced her. “I’m going to do a Heimlich Maneuver. Try not to panic. You won’t die.”

“Ok, I won’t.” As she briefly turned around, I could see her pale eyes were a mix of gray and green. She had a soapy smell, as if she had just showered a few hours ago. Her accent…I still couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t Russian or German. She looked like she was from a cold-weather country, with her pale features.

On the third thrust, the dark-brown, partially-chewed piece roast beef flew out of her mouth toward the crowd. A few screams as some scampered out of the way. Several people had their cell phones out and were recording the incident, which really pissed me off. What is with Americans and their need to record everything?

She took several deep breaths as her color returned. She turned, smiled at me and gave me a hug. “Thank you so much,” she said. “You saved my life. I am Ailukka Korhonen.”

I told her my name. “That’s a pretty accent you have. Where are you from?”

“Finland.”

I was amazed at how well she spoke English when a man came out of a bathroom and headed to us. He wore blue jeans and wore a blue polo shirt with a white flag with a left-of-center blue cross on it. Underneath the flag was the word “SUOMI.” I had no idea what that meant.

He had blond hair and blue eyes and went up to her and hugged her and said something to her I could not understand. She pointed to me.

“Are you the man who just saved my wife’s life?” he asked me. He spoke with far less of an accent, as if he’d been speaking English for a long time.

I nodded, thinking of how strange things seemed to be — and the convention hadn’t even started yet.

He offered his hand. I shook it and found his grip to be firm. “My name is Hannu Korhonen.”

I noticed a few people still recording.

“What is wrong with you people? Why did you just stand there?” I demanded, upset but trying not to lose my cool. “Couldn’t you see she was choking and asking for help?”

One man, who had just turned off his phone, shook his head. “We heard her, all right, but none of us could understand her. She was speaking in a foreign language.”

“No, she wasn’t,” I said. “She’s from Finland, but I could understand her English just fine.”

Everybody became silent.

“You say my wife asked for your help in English?” Hannu asked me.

“Yes, sir. She has a strong accent, but I could understand her.”

Hannu said something in Finnish to Ailukka. She shook her head.

“My wife says there must be a mistake. She doesn’t speak English, but she said you were speaking Finnish to her.”

“Hannu, I don’t see how that could be possible. I don’t speak Finnish, not even to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”

The man who had just shut off his recording came up to us and played the recording. It showed Ailukka choking and me coming up to her to do the Heimlich.

Then the dialogue.

“Voinko auttaa sinua?” My voice, without a doubt.

“OLE KILTTI! AUTA MINUA! En … voi … hengitä! Olen tukehtumassa! Auta!”

“Aion tehdä Heimlich-säätimen. Yritä olla paniikkia. Et kuole.” My voice yet again, this time saying things I didn’t understand.

“Ok, en.”

“Kiitos paljon. Pelastit henkeni. Olen Ailukka Korhonen.”

“Olen Bill McGinnis. Se on melkoinen aksentti. Mistä olet kotoisin?”

“Suomi.”

She’d said Finland to me, I’m absolutely sure, but now, she was saying Suomi.

“Hannu, what does ‘Suomi’ mean?” I asked.

“That’s how we say ‘Finland’ in the Finnish language.”

For five minutes, I had no idea what to say. Finally, I took down as many names and phone numbers as I could as I pulled out my phone, turned on the recorder and asked questions to as many eyewitnesses, including the Finnish couple. The convention hadn’t even started yet, but I already had my story.

Post comments here or send them to richardzowie@gmail.com

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The joys of freelance writing

A friend referred me to a freelance writing website. One assignment already helped me in part to get my brakes repaired.

Still, there are growing pains.

I have learned that even when you lower your bid to about half of what the person lists as their maximum amount, they may still decline your bid as too high. Perhaps it’s in how the bid is worded, or perhaps the person doesn’t grasp that when it comes to professional writing, they will get what they pay for.

Here’s an example: I just paid $205 to have my brakes replaced (calipers, rotors, brake pads). I had been leaking brake fluid, which is a sign that the brakes need to be replaced NOW. I wonder what would’ve happened if I’d told the mechanic I’d be willing to pay him $20 for the job? My guess is he would’ve looked at me, blankly, waiting for the punchline. And when it didn’t arrive, explain to me that if I want to pay $20 for the job, then I should trust the job to someone who has no idea what they’re doing.

So, you press on and keep bidding.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com. Contact Richard if you need freelance writing work done.

Day off? What’s that?

Since about December 15, I think I’ve had maybe three days off. Christmas Day, St. Patrick’s Day and, well, some other day I can’t seem to remember.

Last night, I went to bed at about 10 p.m. and woke up at 10 a.m. Catching up on sleep.

I had intended to do absolutely nothing today except some chores, take a walk and go to the library and do some writing. But, on my cell phone there was notification from a school principal of a special event going on at their school.

So, I hopped into my car and covered it. Took lots of pics and interviewed two people.

Then, after that, up to a library to get pictures of a teacher and artist autographing a book they had worked on.

Tomorrow, I will be getting pictures of athletes who made All-Conference teams. Later that afternoon, I will treat myself and go to a matinee showing of Prometheus.

It’s all appreciated greatly, since it means work and since with my editor being on vacation this week, it’s good to go out and get lots of pictures and stories for the newspaper. It is always better to have too many pictures and stories than not enough.

And then, when not writing for the paper, there’s also blogging, writing fiction and journaling. So, in essence, there probably is (or shouldn’t be) no such thing as a real day off for a writer. A writer writes every day. And to quote that one film Throw Mama From The Train, a writer writes always.

Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

What are YOUR day jobs, fellow writers?

For 11 years I have been a professional writer. I have one published short story to my credit along with countless news and feature stories and columns. Lots of sports, also. Once I even ghostwrote a column for a brigadier general. And then there are the finished-but-unpublished short stories sleeping on my hard drive, along with two novels I’m working on.

Last, but not least, my blogs.

My dream is to be a full-time fiction writer.

Like many writers out there, I can’t support myself and my kids on what I earn as a writer. So, I have day jobs.

Thirty hours a week I work at a weekly newspaper. Sometimes it feels more like 40, but I love this job immensely. Getting paid to write–how great is that?

Twenty-four hours a week (although, this week it will be 32), I work at a gas station. It also feels like I put more hours there, but whatever my unsaid opinion might be, I really can’t complain: this job pays my electric bill, auto insurance bill, internet bill, cell phone bill, and many other things.

Those are my two day jobs, and I’ve had others: (briefly) a factory worker, a bagel maker, a broadcaster, a telemarketer and a cashier.

I remember one novelist, who worked as a waitress, was asked what motivated her to write: “Because I absolutely hated my day job,” she replied.

So, fellow writers, what are YOUR day jobs?

Richard Zowie has been writing professionally since 2000. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Back in the saddle, so to speak

It’s been far too long since the last time I blogged. My apologies. For the past few months I’ve been too worn out physically and mentally to blog.

Bad excuse?

Yep.

Despite what has gone in my life (work, work, trying to get cleaned up around the house, dealing with issues in my personal life), writing is something that still needs to be done. Writers write. Sometimes writing is done to earn a living (what I do 30 hours a week) and sometimes writing is done for fun, but it needs to be done to stay in shape and stay focused.

Tonight, when I get home from work, I think I will even have to do some fiction writing to get back in the swing of things.

And, yes, when I’m done, I’ll blog about it.

Post comments here or e-mail Richard at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Visit to the library today, will write fiction soon

I checked out Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia. Am also current reading President George W. Bush’s Decision Points and am about halfway through it. Also placed an order at the library for Julia Child’s book My Life in France.

Came very close to checking out a book on my current reading list: Karen Robards’ Shattered. I love what I have read about this book, but a very quick skim reveals it looks like it might be along the lines of a trashy romance novel. Will try it out in a week or so to see how it works. Besides, I’m curious to see if there is a way to write love scenes in a tasteful way or if I should give only what is absolutely necessary for the plot. I wonder because one current project includes a man snared into a trap through the oldest trick in the book–a voluptuous woman who happens to be his type; he has gone without female companionship for some time and foolishly gives in.

So much reading and writing to do…

Richard Zowie is a writer who knows you have to read a lot to develop into a good writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

So, now I have my daily writer’s list…

I compiled it last night at work using my trusty slightly-larger-than-reporter-size notebook (my favorite kind–a firm cardboard back with a transparent plastic cover) and a Papermate Design pen. Ten items I intend to start tackling on a daily basis as a writer:

1) 2,000 words written on my novel(s)

2) 2,000 words written on my short story(ies)

3) Update my blogs (this one, From A to Zowie, Richard’s Two Shekels and Ponderings From Pluto); at the very least, this one and the Shekels one daily

4) Journal entry (at the end of the day)

5) 1-2 essays

6) Look for freelance writing work

7) Work on a screenplay

8 ) Read both fiction and non-fiction

9) Market my fiction

10) Write a poem or two if the mood strikes

A long list? Perhaps, but I need to be accomplishing these things on a daily basis. With sufficient time management, it can be done.

Richard Zowie is a writer who is working to get off his lazy butt. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

At the Frankenmuth Wickson District Library

FRANKENMUTH, MICH. — Just finished my newspaper work for the day. Tomorrow evening I will call some coaches about their teams and see if I can track down two kids who placed very high in the Genesee County spelling bee.

If you’re a writer, you probably are like me and love to write at libraries. Even in the absence of stern, Nun-style librarians who demand a library be as quiet as the vacuum of outer space, it is still a very tranquil place to be. Much easier to concentrate. You can type at a computer (such as what I am doing) or sit at a table with pen and paper.

Even now, a man is speaking on his cell phone in a slavic language. It’s not Russian, but sounds very similar. Bulgarian? Croatian? Possibly Polish? Russians are like Americans: they come in all different types of physical appearances (short, tall, skinny, heavy, dark hair, blonde, brown eyes, blue eyes, fair skin, dark skin). I don’t mind his banter at all.

Ahhhhhh.

I do hope I can get my laptop fixed so I can return to more writing freedom at home.

This library has one of two writers magazines that I love to read regularly. This leads me to a question: is it really worth it to buy that magazine or should I just spend an hour a month at the library reading it and taking notes? I will have to keep an even closer eye on my finances and eliminate wasteful spending…perhaps I should do this until I can assure myself I have the budget to afford the magazine.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

What I’ve been up to as a writer (besides 5’8″)

…Today, while on lunch break, I resisted the urge to buy another pen–for now. It was a Zebra with a stainless steel barrel and a rubber grip. But it was fine p0int–which I’ve never liked.

I wish they had a “test drive” option where you could try out a pen before buying so that you don’t have to worry about getting into your vehicle, ripping the package open and then almost immediately getting Buyer’s Remorse. Oh well…

…I’m having to type this from another bedroom in my house since my laptop is doing something strange. Don’t have the money to get it repaired. I hope that will change in a few weeks.

As I look at my blog, I find myself hoping the day will come when I can buy a website or upgrade to a higher version of WordPress so I can design this blog to my specifications. Yes, I like to mix things up, but I often find one frustrating thing about WordPress’ formats: there is always one slight thing about it that ruins what otherwise is a beautiful look…

…This weekend I work to balance out my gasoline job with my writing jobs. By Monday night I’ll probably be very tired.

Richard Zowie is a writer–or so he says. We are actively investigating him and expect to post our findings very soon. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

Shaking the rust off my muse

About a year ago in The Writer magazine, they reprinted an excellent old essay by Lois Duncan (who wrote Summer of Fear and I Know What You Did Last Summer) about writer’s block. I e-mailed Ms. Duncan about it and she was kind enough to respond.

As I ponder what she wrote, I think about what I’d like to accomplish as a writer: each day writing 2,000 words on on my novel, short stories, writing an essay or two, doing a journal entry, a few poems and updating my blogs.

It really boils down to writing. No excuses. No recreational activities until you write.

Simple, isn’t it?

On Friday I work at the newspaper, but I’ll see if in my spare time I can accomplish this. I’m having to share a computer since my laptop isn’t working properly, so we’ll see.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.