Warren Man’s career in storytelling takes a supernatural turn

Paul Guernsey has reinvented himself many times in his professional life, all around his love of truth, fish stories and ghost stories.

He worked in all fields as a reporter, initially as a reporter in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and later for the Associated Press in Caracas, Venezuela, where he reported on the gas industry, and as a travel writer. In a complete change, midway through his career he spent several years – perhaps the best years – in his dream job editing a Maine-based fly fishing magazine, which allowed him to fish. “pretty much where I wanted and when I wanted. I wanted,” and he took full advantage of the opportunity, searching for fish in the streams and rivers from Maine to Alaska, in the Caribbean oceans in the Pacific and on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far east of Russia.

The cover of “21st Century Ghost Stories, Volume II” edited by Paul Guernsey de Warren.

He has published novels and memoirs, won a 2018 Maine Literary Award in speculative fiction for his novel “American Ghost,” and taught creative writing at Unity College in central Maine, until the pandemic interrupted. his teaching career.

These days he is editing The ghost story (theghoststory.com), where he collects and shares ghost stories of all kinds, and for the second time he edited an anthology of contemporary supernatural fiction, “21st Century Ghost Stories, Volume II”, published by the Kingdom- Uni Wyrd Harvest Press in August. This follows Volume I, released in 2018, and precedes Volume III, scheduled for 2024.

In a recent publication, the Boston Globe described the book as “strange and clever and upsets ideas of what a ghost story is, and expands, with verve and unsettling quirk, what it can be.”

All of the stories have won or received honorable mentions in the Ghost Story Supernatural Fiction Award or Screw Turn Flash Fiction Competition, which Guernsey administers through its website from its home in Warren. To celebrate Halloween, it will announce the winners of the Fall Supernatural Fiction Awards on its website on Sunday.

He launched his first competition in 2015, on demand. Ghost stories, speculative fiction, and magical realism have been interests since college, and over time he became aware of many other writers who liked to write these kinds of stories but struggled to publish them.

“I knew that before I started this there were a lot of people – serious writers, published writers, award winning writers – who liked to write this kind of story but once you wrote it there was no not a lot of markets for it. . If you are familiar with literary magazines, some will publish some sort of realistic magical story every now and then, but that is usually not what they are looking for. It’s the exception rather than the rule, so there aren’t many markets for it, especially the paid markets, ”Guernsey said in an interview in a Brunswick pub.

Guernsey pays $ 1,500 to the winners of the Fiction Prize, which includes short stories of 1,500 to 10,000 words, and $ 1,000 to the winners of the Flash Fiction, with short stories of 250 to 1,000 words. It added the Flash Fiction Contest in 2016 and each takes place twice a year – and receives hundreds of submissions from around the world for both. It pays the winners and finalists with an entry fee, which is $ 20 for the longest stories and $ 15 for the shortest.

Ghost stories and their many manifestations have a long tradition in English literature and have remained popular because of their ability to transport readers and writers to a place other than everyday reality, Guernsey said. “The thing about them that intrigues serious writers the most, or for me or most of the people who contribute to the contest, there can be a deeper level in a ghost story. Someone can read the story and say that the ghost or the ghostly or the supernatural element, whatever it is, is scary, but at the deepest level the ghost or the supernatural element is a metaphor for something. something else that happens in a protagonist’s life – a problem they experience or struggle with a memory. Another big problem is regret. Lots of ghost stories, deep inside them there are a lot of regrets.

Guernsey got involved with Wyrd Harvest Press via social media. A friend had put him in touch with a UK-based folk horror revival band, and he approached the administrator to publish poetry with supernatural themes. The administrator, Andy Paciorek, has also published books and invited Guernsey to submit his poems. They ended up in Wyrd Harvest’s haunting poetry anthology, “Folk Horror Revival: Corpse Roads”. In a volume that included “Poetry of the Dead” by Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Robert Burns and William Butler Yeats, Guernsey had its own section with over a dozen poems.

Artist and collaborator, Paciorek began to illustrate the stories Guernsey had selected for its website. Fairly quickly, Guernsey suggested that Wyrd Harvest publish the ghost stories he had collected through his assistance in an anthology of contemporary ghost stories. The first volume came out in 2018, giving Guernsey a sense of accomplishment. “It’s good to publish these people online and give them money, but for a lot of people, a print publication is still the gold standard,” he said. “There is something magical about having a book that contains your story, and you can show someone, ‘I’m in this book.’ “

Lesley Bannatyne helped judge the current series of ghost stories. Courtesy of Lesley Bannatyne

Massachusetts writer Lesley Bannatyne’s non-fiction books on Halloween history and folklore have earned her recognition as an authority on the subject. She also writes fiction, and with her Halloween experience, she naturally turned to writing stories with supernatural themes.

Guernsey selected its new “Corpse Walks Into a Bar” as the winner of a 2020 competition and included it in the anthology. As the title suggests, Bannatyne’s story is about a corpse walking into a Dorchester bar – and asking to be buried. It’s based on an old Irish ballad, and Bannatyne was drawn to both the gruesome humor and the idea of ​​a guy carrying a talking corpse looking for a suitable resting place. It’s a fun story, full of local flavor, about the things we carry, and how and when we choose to put them down.

“Corpse Walks Into a Bar” will also be the first in a collection of Bannatyne short stories under the title “Unaccustomed to Grace” that Texas-based Kallisto Gaia Press will publish in March 2022. After winning the Ghost Story contest the last year, Bannatyne asked Guernsey if he wanted help judging, and he accepted the offer. She helped select the current winners, who will be announced on Halloween.

“It was fascinating to do and something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Bannatyne, who lives in Somerville. “I submit a lot of stories as a fiction writer – you post them wherever you can. It was an opportunity to see how the writing contests really work.

Guernsey did the first round of reading and sent Bannatyne the stories he thought were suitors. She read a few dozen stories and struggled to pick a winner. As a judge, she has learned that writing contests come down to personal taste. “The ones that stay with you and sink into you and give that wonderful feeling of ‘wow! “, those have reached the top,” she said. “But they were all so good. One is not better than another. At least half could have won the contest, and they were all good in different ways. It was fascinating to see the extent of what supernatural fiction is. “

Lara Tupper, who lives in the Berkshires of Massachusetts and grew up in Boothbay Harbor, won an honorable mention for her story “The Mission Bell” in a 2019 contest, and it’s also in the anthology. Hers is a subtle supernatural story, all based on the lyrics of the song “Hotel California” by rock band The Eagles. She uses the song’s mysterious and eerie nature (“The Last Thing I Remember I Was Running For The Door / Had To Find The Passage To Where I Was Before”) to tell the larger story of Lucy, who walks down a dark, deserted road with a dead cell phone, a broken down car behind her, and a blinking motel in the distance. It’s a surreal little story about Lucy’s experience at the hotel.

Lara Tupper wrote “The Mission Bell” with the Eagles in mind. Photo by Elaina Mortali

In addition to being part of the anthology “21st Century Ghost Stories”, “The Mission Bell” was included in Tupper’s short story collection, “Amphibians,” published last March by Leap Frog Press. This is her third book, after “Off Island”, in which she imagines Paul Gauguin painting on Monhegan instead of Tahiti, and “A Thousand and One Nights”, on her life as a cruise ship singer.

It was during this career at sea and as a lounge singer in hotels abroad that she came up with the idea of ​​using “Hotel California” in her writing.

“Hotel California has been in demand everywhere I’ve been,” she said. “It was a very popular song – that and the song from ‘Titanic’, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ by Celine Dion. I couldn’t quite hit the high notes that Celine Dion handles so easily, but I could do a decent version of “Hotel California”. I sang this song so many times, the lyrics took root, but I had no idea what the song was about. Nothing. “

When it came time to write, she broke the song down line by line and built her story around it.

She appreciates Guernsey’s open approach. “It’s a wonderful literary site that Paul maintains, and I love his vision of including these very different types of ghost stories in the anthology. He doesn’t have a narrow view of what constitutes a ghost story. Mine is subtle, so I appreciate that it has this broad definition of what constitutes the supernatural, ”she said.

For his part, Guernsey enjoys where the writing has taken him, from Connecticut to South America to Warren and various places around the world. Now 66 years old and no longer a teacher, he has more time for his own writing and traveling, what he aspired to in his early days and what he has managed to achieve throughout his career.

This winter, he plans to explore Argentina to further develop his long-held interest in magical realism, which has roots in Latin America and which he began exploring during his college days – and to fish. “All over South America there is a lot of mythology,” Guernsey said, “and what Argentina has that most South American countries don’t have is fishing. trout.”

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Margarita B. Bittner

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