"You've credited the ocean for being one of the best sources of ideas for writing. You recommended that if I had writer's block that I go to the beach and become one with the ocean, and that living walking distance from the ocean was my best bet for curing writer's block. Well, I tried all that and I got nothing. What does living near the ocean give you? Why is living near the ocean so great? How does living near the ocean give you writing ideas? I don't see what it is you are seeing because I still have writer's block and am not getting any ideas. Could you please explain how I'm to get ideas from the ocean? "
What does living near the ocean give me? Why is living near the ocean so
great? I love the ocean. I was born and raised on the ocean, by people
who likewise were born and raised on it, for many, many generations. The
ocean is in my blood. What does it give me? Shells to collect, peace of
mind at the end of the day, serenity, beauty, a sense of place. The
ocean waves crashing ‘round my body are like hugs from an old friend.
Why is it so great? The sights, the feels, the sounds, the smells. The
glistening blue, the cloudy green, the deadly grey, sand in my toes,
sand in my hair, the cleansing salty grit contrasting with the frigid
cold wetness, the cry of the gulls, the screams of the loons, the shrill
call of the killdeer, the salty, misty, musty fog, drenched is hints of
seaweed and crab. I love my ocean in all it’s glory.
The ocean inspires some of my best writing. Inspiration, that is what
the ocean gives me. It can inspire me to write soft beautiful romance,
with its hot summer days and lovers in the sand; or it can inspire me to
write simple stories of the simple joys of children building
sandcastles while puppies chase frisbees in the gentle surf. I could
write those things, most people do, it’s not very hard, I have done it
before, but more often than not, I don’t.
Dark brooding stories of blood and death. Drowning victims, bodies
washing up along the shore, mermen strangling young women with seaweed,
monsters from the deep surfacing to swallow you whole, tourists trapped
at hide tide, dashed to death on the rocks, falling from the slippery
cliffs to lay shattered on in a shell lined grave bones picked clean by
gulls and crabs. That’s what I write.
I could write about seaside carnivals, I
often do. But what side of the carnival to I choose? Happy. Joyful.
Couples laughing on the ferris wheel overlooking the Pier? Children
their faces sticky with cotton candy, waiting in line to ride the
Shooting Stars? Or their demise, as darkness falls, and moon rises over
the cool black waters, revealing the ride operators for what they truly
are: brain sucking zombies, the carnival a trap to lure in tourists for
food, like sheep to the slaughter.
Why do I write, the dark things I write? Why does the ocean inspire such terror?
1978 I have written 200+ short stories, 2,000+ articles, a couple of
comic book scripts, a few dozen short play scripts, 5,000+ blog posts,
several dozen sermons, countless political rants on the injustice of *insert current political topic I’m ranting about here*,
and a few books on folklore, alien abduction, cryptozoology, fulltime
RVing, and life on the streets. The ocean takes center stage in all of
Shifting Sands (EelKat's Twisted Tales)
I write every day. That’s 31 years
of writing every day, or 11,315 days of writing on average 7,000 words a
day, except during The National Novel Writing Month contest when I
write on average 15,000 words a day for 30 days. I’ve already written
more than 7,000 pieces on a range of topics, and the ocean takes the
lead in nearly every one, not simply as scenery, but as an ever imposing
character, overbearing and bearing down on everyone it crosses.
Darkness, sci-fi, gore and horror; once in awhile the occasional romance
gone very horribly wrong. I could have done none of this without my
Most folks look at the ocean
and see warm summer days, children, laughter, lovers, family vacations,
and fun in the sun. I look at the ocean and write pages dripping with
Why do I write what I write? My readers ask me this all
the time. Perhaps the question itself is the answer to which I seek.
Maybe we can answer this question and get this assignment written at the
same time, by looking at two questions my readers have sent me:
“You are such a prolific writer, you seem to be able to
write about anything. I wish I could write like that, but I never know
what to write about. Where do you get your ideas?”
“Where do you
get your ideas?” It’s one of the most asked questions I hear. The answer
is simple, I get my ideas from the ocean, and not just any ocean, mind
you, but the Atlantic Ocean, specifically, the cold North Atlantic along
the coast of Maine, usually, specifically Old Orchard Beach, though in
the Twighlight Manor stories, Old Orchard Beach has had Otter Cove, The
Thunder Hole, Quechee Gorge, and The Flume all dropped into it. You will
not find gorges, waterfalls, caves, or neck breaking cliffs in the real
Old Orchard Beach. I take great artistic liberty with grabbing natural
places from all over the world and dropping them down in Old Orchard at
“Is Old Orchard Beach a real place? Why are all your stories set in this town?”
Yes, it is a very real place. The Town of Old Orchard, Maine (originally known as The Garden By the Sea, Quebec, until 1821 when Maineland, Quebec was stolen by America, ripped off of Canada, remained Maine and declared a very reluctant American-hating territory of The United States), is the actual name. Old Orchard Beach, is not the name of the town, but rather is a 7 mile long beach which stretches from Biddeford, through Saco, running the whole length of Old Orchard, and ending in Pine Point/Scarborough.
I was born and raised in Old Orchard, Maine, as were both my parents. My father’s grandfather George Ricker, was the first fire chief, and his many times great-uncle, Thomas Rogers, settled the town in 1548, and I still live on that original piece of land. One branch of my family literally built this town. This is more than just a town, it’s my family's personal history.
No, I don’t set my stories anywhere else. I have agoraphobia. I’ve never been anywhere else.
I have Autism. I write what I know, and this town is the town I know. I know this beach, it’s every curve and wave. I know what it’s like to stand on the shore with a 70MPH hurricane whipping all around me, my skin covered in tiny glass cuts caused by the blast of sand. I know what it is to stand on the shore during a February snow squall, with temperatures -48F.
Locals call me “The Sea Witch of Old Orchard Beach”, a title they give me, not because I am a witch (I'm not a witch at all), but rather a title they get me because they are simply scared shittless of the "crazy woman" who lives in the woods with 200 cats and is rarely ever seen in public.When I am seen in public my inability ro speak (Autism) and my "outlandish clothes" (I'm a life actor) result in awe and terror at the "strange create" that "has emerged from the Ross Forest to stroll on our beach" (words of the Town Manager Jim Thomas in 2007, who accussed me of not only witchcraft but also of being a junx and a poltergiest, claiming that every time I set foot on the beach bad things happened and a lot of people died. Strange hysterical, superstitious man, Jim Thomas was. He's gone now).
My mental, spiritual, and emotional connection with this beach is unfathomable. Here is where I meditate, pray, commune with the spirits. I know the tides, the snails, the sandpipers, the gulls, the tourists. The French Canadians in Speedos, the elderly Floridians in straw hats, the fast talking New Yorkers. The deafening sound of the fireworks, every Thursday night mingled with the crashing waves. The pitch black of night and the thick choking fog rolling in and blotting out every sight, soaking your clothes wetter than a pouring rain, and filling your nostrils with the pungent smell of uprooted seaweed and dead crab. Once in awhile we get the excitement of watching the Coast Guard dredging for dead bodies washed down from the Saco River.
Dead bodies wash up on the beach more often than town officials would like to admit, 5 a year, not uncommon, never less than 3, as many as 10 some years. Not just bodies washing down from the river. People drown in the gully. Parents turn their back on toddlers, letting them swim alone in the gully. Locals don’t go near the gully. They know better. Tourists don’t care. The tourists don’t think about it, I wonder if they even know the danger they are in, should be in the gully, when tide come roaring back in? Do the read the warning signs? Clearly posted, in bright red letters. Swim at your own risk. Dangerous riptide. No swimming after dark. No one thinks about it. Not even when the bodies wash ashore. Neighboring towns don’t care. The papers never say where the body was found, only where it fell in, in some little town no one ever heard of deep in the forests of Northern Maine.
No one knows the dark side of Old Orchard Beach. They see the signs, but no one cares. Danger. Warning. Beware. Riptides. Stay behind the fence. No swimming after dark. Tourists ramble past, not giving the signs a second glance. Why should they bother read a sign? They are here for fun in the sun on their great big family vacation. We don’t want to think about the dangers. Who cares that we’ll be flying one of our own back home in a coffin. It’s the beach, I’m here to swim. They come. They swim. They die. It’s the same thing every year. Tourists are stupid. They have no respect for the ocean and the dangers it brings.
The only people who really know the dark side of our beach, are those of us, fewer than 2,000 year round residents, who live here on it and actually see the Coast Guard pulling up the bodies. The red and white helicopters, big red ships, little red dignies, yellow police tape closing off the beach....”Nothing to see here, folks, nothing to see,” say the soldiers as they push back the crowds. For many years I have sat in my bedroom window watching bodies being pulled out of the gully, wrapped in red body bags, and loaded into Coast Guard helicopters. There’s a reason why no one who lives here on the beach, actually swims in the ocean. We know the danger. We’re right off the Saco River delta so, any body that falls in the river from here to Canada, is eventually going to wash up on our beach. The Great Saco River and its infamous Saco River Curse. World’s most haunted river. Claims more bodies than any other. And here is where it dumps them. The Saco River coughs up bodies on our beach, like a cow coughing up its cud.
The Saco River Curse is a local legend based on a strange and unexplained series of deaths that have occurred here at the Saco River Delta where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean. The history of the Saco River Curse goes like this:
The York family moved to Saco (Maine) and built a house on the tiny island overlooking a huge waterfall where the Saco River dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. They named the place York Manor of York Hill. On the other side of the river was Saco Island (today known as Factory Island at the Memorial Bridge Crossing). On Saco Island lived a tribe of Native American Indians who worshiped or rather feared a local river demon, Memegwesi, a type of Faerie or water dwelling trickster. On the mainland just a few hundred yards away, was the port where sailors docked (and still dock to this day - and is where I park my Volvo when you hear me talk of parking on York Hill when I visit my dad at his Biddeford apartment).
One night, in 1547, three drunken sailors rowed across the river to Saco Island, kidnapped a baby from the Indian tribe, than rowed across to York Hill, where they threw the baby into the waterfall, claiming that Indians were born able to swim, thus it would survive the fall. The baby's mother followed desperately after them, and jumped into the falls trying to save her baby. Both the mother and the baby were crushed to death on the rocks below. The husband/father was also the tribe's medicine man/witch-doctor/shaman/holy man. Infuriated at the white men for killing his wife and child, he went to the waterfall and called upon the river demon asking it to punish the white men, by killing three white men in the waterfall of York Hill, every year for eternity, so that no one would ever forget what these men had done to his beloved wife and child. To date, no year has passed since with less than 3 deaths in the waterfall at the Saco River Delta on York Hill.
Marquis de La Fayette, resided here during the American Revolution. A vast fort was built on the islands surrounding York Hill. The English Lobsterbacks were rumored to have meet a watery grave at the hands of the river’s demon. Local Fisherman claimed we had won the war against England because the Memegwesi it had been English soldiers who’d killed the baby so long ago.
By the late 1700’s church groups began congregating on York Hill, some claiming to have encounters with not a demon, but rather an angel, others claiming communication with the spirits of long dead Indian chiefs, some claiming Faerie communications, at least one claimed to talk to men from the sun, another said a man from Venus, and some began to call the Memegwesi “The White Salamander” (Salamander being a type of Welsh shapeshifting Faerie), while still others gathered to bless the river and exorcise its demon. Hundreds of attempts were made to remove the curse, and more than 200 new (mostly short lived) religions sprung up and were found here in Saco Bay. The most famous of these were “The Community of Christ”, "The Society of Free Brethren and Sisters”, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (aka The Mormon Church), “The Salvation Army” and “The Shakers” all of which still exist to this day.
By the 1800’s our little haunted river, with its white sands beach, had begun receiving tourists. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln came to Saco Island, hoping to get a glimpse of the river’s “Old Indian Ghost”. His visit would inspire folks to on those new fangled things known as locomotives, for the purpose of ghost hunting in Maine. This spot has been a hotbed for ghost hunters ever since.
In the early 1800's the fort was turned into a huge mill factory on Saco Island, and the death toll skyrocketed, as a transvestite serial killer took advantage of the curse and took to rapeing mill girls and then tossing them in the waterfall. The most famous of these murders was the infamous Bean Murder of Factory Island, which resulted in the capture of the abortion doctor who had made a habit of pretending to be a mill girl in order to kill all the women who'd had an abortion. He pleaded that he had been possessed by the river demon and got off with hardly any punishment, only a few months of hard labor, in spite of having been wanting in suspicion of having killed over a dozen young women.
Stories of ghosts haunting the house began to rise. In the late 1800's York Manor was torn down by terror crazed locals who were convinced that the house was haunted by the ghost of the father/husband/medicanman. They believed that tearing down the house would end the curse. The remains of the house were saved, however and the house was rebuilt elsewhere in Saco, where it stands today, in its new giant Victorian apartment building form, next door to the church on Smith Street, behind the Amato's, beside the RiteAid, across the street from Thornton Academy. That big yellow Victorian mansion, is what was once, many years ago, known as the York Manor the cursed haunted house of York Hill. Removing the house from the island, removed the curse from the house, which has had no farther hauntings since it’s move.
In the early-1900's, with the death toll now toppling the thousands, locals decided that it was not the house, but the river itself, which was cursed, and that the only way to end the curse was to destroy the waterfall. Which they did. They tore down the rocks and poured a cement dam in an attempt to stop the flow of the river. All they succeeding in doing was flooding what is now downtown Saco and downtown Biddeford, resulting in the twin sister streets on each town, being renamed “Water St”. By the 1960s where the waterfall once stood, was built a functioning dam and the CMP hydroelectric power station now sits where once sat York Manor at the peak of York Hill across from the Saco Train Station.
Today the tiny Saco River Dam at York Hill, hardly 20 feet wide, is considered the most haunted dam in the world, with a higher death toll than any other dam/waterfall in the world. At a recorded rate of no less than 3 men drowned every year for over 500 years, the death toll is now over 2,000 men (not including women and children) killed on York Hill since 1547. No year has passed with less than 3 white men killed by falling into the dam, and most years 5 death occur, while some years there have been as many as 10 deaths. I have personally seen years with as many as 12 deaths. For centuries fishermen feared go out in Saco Bay in early Spring, instead waiting for 3 men to drown that year, before letting any boat touch the water. Even today no local fisherman will drop his boat in Saco Bay, until after 3 deaths have passed. Every year, they wait. They never wait long. This year, 2012, they only had to wait til March, before the Saco River took its toll: a man beheaded by the train on the rail bridge over York Hill Dam, a boy fell off the dam into the water below just a few feet away, and a whole family missed the turn and perished as their car sailed over the bridge into a watery grave below. My dad lives at the apartment on Water St overlooking the river. We see the Coast Guard dredging for bodies and police rerouting traffic away from Memorial Bridge, several times each year. In spite of the church groups and prayer warriors, who still to this day, are pouring holy oil and tossing rose wreaths off the bridge every June 26th, we have reached 2012, with the curse is still going strong, and the little white crosses along the banks of the river stretching ever onward.
And that is the Saco River Curse.
The Saco River. The river which feeds the Saco Bay Delta. The beautiful beach in the Saco Bay Delta, known to the tourists as The Great Old Orchard Beach, home of the Guinness World Record Plaque which reads “The World’s Finest Sand”. Tourists stop and oogle at the plague, exclaiming, “Oh, look at that! It was voted the best beach!” No. It was not. Scientists trying to explain a rational reason behind the phenomenon that is known as the Saco River Curse, came in and tested the sand, and marveled when they discovered the smallest aka “the finest” grains of sand known to man. Farther up river they found some of the sharpest edged rocked in the world, at the base of York Hill, and during a winter storm, Saco Bay churns up some of the deadliest and coldest waves in the world. It it any wonder that an iceberg took out The Pier in 1917 and another iceberg crashed on shore in 1941 or that a town with 2million summer residents has only 1,800 winter residents and is a virtual ghost town with stores shut down and buildings boarded up? World’s finest beach at the mouth of the world’s most haunted river? Yes, and for a damned good reason. Our beautiful beach. Our beautiful river. It’s dark haunted past, has not demons and curses, but raging white water rapids, a roaring riptide, and wild winter storms to blame.
One can not live on the edge of the ocean at the mouth of this monstrous river, without being affected by the river which feeds the bay. Each year tourists come in millions. The packs and herds, they flock to our shores in droves. Our beautiful, deadly, dark, bloody beach. They come and go oblivious, so few ever know. And then they read my books, and ask in utter horror, Why? Why do you write this great wonderful place, in such a dark, horrid light? How could this place of utter beauty inspire you to write such utter horror? How? Why? Because I know this beach. I know this river. I know the dangers that lay in wait. I know the deeper story, the one you do not see. You see the surface beauty of the crystal blue waters, but I see the deep dark truth, that lay in the rocks below. You come and go. I live here every day. You see only its natural beauty. I see it’s every drop.
People think it’s creepy, my morbid fascination with this little known dark side of this beach. Every town has its secrets. Little skeletons in the closet. The Town of Old Orchard depends on The Old Orchard Beach, and its 2million yearly tourists to survive. It’s a ghost town in the dead of winter, businesses boarded up, homes shuttered, fewer than 2,000 residents by the time snow falls. This town needs tourists to survive. You think the tourists would come swim on a beach that spits up a few dozen dead bodies each and every year? Town officials go, hush, hush, not too loud, we don’t want to scare away the income. So the tourist come with their money, and a few must die to keep our town alive. Only the locals know our beach’s dark little secret.
I love this beach. Everything about it, the good, the bad, the ugly, the utterly unmentionably horrible. It is raw, unforgiving, unpredictable, wild, untamed, mesmerizing, beautiful. I write horror. Vampires. Zombies. Ghosts. Farrdarigs. Phookas. RedCaps. Bloody, bloody Faeries and Mermen from the deep. Haunted mansions clinging to rocky cliffs threatening to throw themselves into the depths of the foaming waves. Bloodthirsty mermen, pulling their victims to cold watery graves. You only see this beach in the bright days of summer. Come back in the winter and see it frozen over. Come back in the fall and brave the blasts of wind, feel the sand as it slices through your tender skin. Come in the spring when you can see nothing for the fog. This cold, icy, foggy beach has atmosphere. The atmosphere here is the perfect setting for horror, especially the horror I write. You can look out over the fog and almost see the ghost ships, the vampires, the fish men from distant galaxies...it is the perfect setting for the dark, gloomy, brooding, bloody Poe-esk stories I like to tell. The beach is the story itself and I am the one it has chosen to tell its tale.
I didn’t choose this beach as a setting. It chose me. The stories come to me as I stand on the slick, jagged granite, listening to the gulls screaming bloody murder through the fog. The little hermit crabs scurry across my feet in search of dead rotted flesh, begging me to write of the murder victims the hide in the tidal pools. Looking down from the rocks, into the drop offs on the other side, the gleaming silver eyes of seals and fish peer up at you though the dancing kelp, but are they fish and seals, or mermen and selkies, lurking, waiting, starving, thirsting, for the unsuspecting human to venture too close to the edge. The tourist who washes up mangled on the shore, did they really slip and fall, or did a cold icy hand reach up from the deep, and yank them down under by the ankle? Beware foolish travelers. Beware of the deep. For little men lie in wait, your flesh they come to eat.
Where do I get my ideas? Everywhere. I just open my eyes, my ears, my heart...I look around me, I listen, I feel, I smell, I see, I touch, I taste, I empathize, and I write it all down. Every bit of it. I am what I write. I write what I am. Everywhere I go, the beach, the store, the library, here in college, there is something to see, something to hear, something to write. My life is where I get my ideas. That is how I choose my topics. I can write about anything, because the world is full of everything. But the ocean, my ocean, the riptides of Old Orchard Beach, nothing can set a fire under my pen, better than does my beloved white sands beach. I love my ocean. And so, when you ask the question, what does living near the ocean give me? This is what living near the ocean gives me. A blessing. A glory. A history. A curse. A horror. It is my inspiration. The gift to write of terrors, dark and deep. The ocean gives me my career, my life, my inspiration for all I do, for I am a writer, and tales of this ocean is what I write. I would have it no other way.