Do You Know When You’re Being Watched?

urban woods

In the woods, hiking alone, I often suffer from attacks of scopaesthesia.

Also known as the “psychic staring effect,” scopaesthesia is the twenty-five-cent word for the sensation that comes over you of being watched but not something your vision has picked up. For example, having the prickly feeling of someone’s eyes on you, causing you to turn and scan to see who it is.

Oh yeah, there are some hikes where I get it bad. When the feeling comes over me, it’s all I can do not to start running blindly. But then I visualize myself tripping on a tree root and all of the squirrels and birds and crickets laughing at my expense. That usually snaps me out of it—along with a long, lingering scan of my surroundings.

But what if there’s more out there than just squirrels… birds… crickets…

Some contentious theories have been expounded and actual experiments conducted to measure what turns out to be an elusive answer as to what, exactly, is responsible for experiencing that knowing.

We have a gaze detection system that makes us sensitive to the positioning of others’ eyes. Also, our eyes differ from animals in that our gaze is more easily detectable: think about the amount of white around our eyes when compared to a cat or a bird, for example. For humans, the white is considered a benefit because it helps us to communicate. But for a predator? They want to blend…

Some skeptics don’t believe that the “knowing” you’re being watched is anything more than capturing some sort of tip-off picked up by our peripheral vision. What that doesn’t account for is the feeling that comes from behind you. Some believe it has to do with a sense at the cellular level—a quantum effect. Researchers have devised tests—some in search of a legitimate answer, others simply to debunk the whole idea altogether.

One center created an experiment that began in 1995, “Do you have eyes in the back of the head?” A whole lot of statistical numbers later, there is evidence supporting that people aren’t imagining that sense of uneasiness they get and urge to turn around to see who or what is watching them.

Regardless of what science can prove or not prove at this point in time, go into the woods. When you feel like you’re being watched, just ignore that feeling and keep on your journey.

And if you find you can’t ignore it, that your body hair is standing on end and tingling like so many Spidey-senses, and your curiosity is just burning and you need to know… Stop. Don’t turn around. Wonder a moment if you’re about to be ambushed. Leave your senses open to someone’s—or something’s—approach. Wait and see if anything happens.

I dare you.

What Seeds May Lie in Dreams: An Interview

In this interview, I talked with Sandra R. Campbell, author of The Butterfly Harvest and Dark Migration, about her just-released novel, The Dead Days Journal. Prepare to enter a radically-upended world… (Excerpt included at the end)

How would you describe The Dead Days Journal

The Dead Days is tragic tale of fear, family and love: a story about facing your fears and believing in yourself. Leo Marrok and her father Vincent are forced to face their worst fears, and the choices they make will either increase their chances of survival or destroy them completely. This story shows how family bonds can be twisted and torn, that blood is not always thicker than water, and how the people you love and trust the most are often the ones who will destroy you. There is also a love story intertwined in all the chaos that demonstrates how your initial perception of someone can be changed by their actions. Outside appearances are not a representation of what is in someone’s heart. The old adage: never judge a book by its cover, applies to the relationship developing between Leo and the creature she calls Halloween.

Judging a book by its cover can be dangerous, for sure. It sounds like you’re tackling some darker themes. Did you initially know this was the direction you were going to take the story, or is it something that evolved from the characters?  

Vincent Marrok was always meant to be a dark character. A man without limitations is dangerous. Not to mention, a man who suffered a lifetime of animosity and excommunication due to his albinism. Add in a lawless world, where the only rules that apply are the rules he makes. At some point, he’s going to cross the line between what’s truly moral and what he believes to be right. Lucky for me the characters were all onboard and helped in creating a story that explores the darkest side of humanity. 

I’m going to ask you a question that I know authors tend to laugh about, but because readers often ask it, it means there is general interest in gaining an understanding. So, here goes: where do you get your ideas? 

I’m not laughing, but your readers may laugh at my answer. As cliché as it sounds, I had a dream. A family is trapped in a house with their enemies breaking down the doors. The father orders his daughter to flee the house. But her only escape is to jump off a cliff to her death. Just as she’s about to leap, she is rescued by her pursuer. This scenario is a far cry from the current story, but the dream planted the first seed. If a dream sticks with me until morning, I use it. The subconscious mind is a powerful tool for a writer.

Do you have plans for continuing this story? 

Yes, I listed this book as Volume 1, so readers know there is a sequel coming. Book 2 will be the final resolution of The Dead Days Journal.

 sandra9 (1) The Dead Days Journal is available now. To learn more, visit Sandra R. Campbell at http://www.sandrarcampbell.com/. Here’s a special excerpt for your reading pleasure: 

I’m alive, but I should be dead. I’m moving but not walking… Someone’s carrying me.

The sounds of the forest were all around me, except there wasn’t a single footstep rustling the forest floor. I only sensed the movement through the person who held me—superior strength and superior grace. I felt his powerful strides advancing as he clutched me to his solid chest, the strong arms that cradled my damaged body.

Can the dead dream? No.

There was no way of knowing how long I’d been unconscious. My memories were slow, spotty, coming back in short blasts of terror that started with the recollection of my father’s demands for a grandchild. I remembered running away, being attacked by a man in a mask, and waking up on the ground alone, the hungry beast dropping out of the tree.

Are the attacker and the monster one and the same?

I tried to recall the struggle. I’d stabbed the strange monster in the gut and made it bleed.

I hurt it.

The monster had retaliated by taking a chunk out of my neck.

It hurt me back.

I cringed as I remembered the terror and the agony I felt while it fed from my vein. An odd sort of throbbing in my neck quickened as my heart raced. How am I still alive? Panic stole my breath and uncontrollable twitches jerked at my limbs. The arms holding me tightened in response, restraining my erratic movement.

Something slid past my lips into my mouth. I tried to turn my head, working to keep my mouth clamped shut but failing. Nothing stopped the intrusion, which I thought to be a finger, from the size and feel. Whatever he forced me to eat left a sticky residue on my tongue that tasted sweet and bitter, like a bad dessert wine. I wanted to open my eyes to see who carried me, but I couldn’t. So I tried to call out, several times, but nothing came out of my mouth.

He’s taking me somewhere I don’t want to go.

“Is she going to be okay?” It was a man’s voice, a voice I knew. I’m not in the arms of the monster. Jack must have heard my screams. He saved me and now he was taking me home to Ben. A sob of relief pushed past my lungs to escape my mouth.

*Excerpted with the author’s permission from The Dead Days Journal.

Don’t Let Creativity Die with the Wrong Writers’ Conference

For writers attending a writer’s conference, there are very high hopes about learning new things, meeting new people, and gaining that extra spark of motivation. Sometimes, those hopes go unfulfilled.

Waterfront Writers

STOPNEGATIVITYWriters’ conferences are important for new and seasoned writers trying to find their way. You invest with time and money, hoping for inspiration to keep you going. This is a conversation about how the wrong conference can affect your productivity—throw off your writing and dampen your spirit.

S: So, we’ve got that conference coming up—Bay to Ocean—end of February.

D: Yes, and I know we’re both hoping for great things.

S: Especially after that one we attended last April…

D: Dare we name it?

S: Yes, I think we should.

D & S: Conversations and Connections.

S: What was the one thing you learned at the conference?

D: Um, what NOT to do? How about you?

S: I learned how to insult writers who are better, more accredited than me.

D: That’s a very useful skill!

S: I especially want to talk about the first panel session we attended: Faking…

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WIP Blog Tour

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Naomi is a fictional character going through the motions of living her life, when the collective life everyone has known disappears over the course of a few days.

2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set in present day during the last days of summer on the eve of a deadly hurricane and what appears to be a multi-pronged terrorist strike. It takes place mostly in the Annapolis region and shows how people respond to something catastrophic that the vast majority are not prepared for—being self-sufficient.

3) What should we know about him/her?
Naomi Chassen has modern-day anxieties that stem from work and relationships. When she finally has all the reason in the world to be anxious, she actually finds her strength—as the worst is happening and she’s dealing with it, learning to think quickly and react rather than wasting time overly worrying about all potential outcomes.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
The main conflict is at first Man versus Nature, and then Man against Man in an apocalyptic setting, with people making decisions on how to handle survival: work together as a collective or find a way to profit from the situation. In particular, one person is hell-bent on stymying the town’s efforts to hold things together—targeting Naomi.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Naomi’s personal goal is to survive and try to help others do the same, especially a little boy—a stranger’s child—who has come under her care due to a need she sees and steps up to handle, while balancing the creation of an interdependent unit with her friend and her boyfriend as they strive to manage being blockaded in their area, unable to escape, the effects of a biological attack heading their way and civic order beginning to break down. The situation becomes dire as a mentally unbalanced man fixates on Naomi and begins to blame her for his own situation.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The title is Edge of Undoing, and I blog about related topics HERE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
The novel is moving into the revision stage, so 2015 is the goal for publication.

Drawn to the Dark and Creepy

DSC_0634When I was a younger smart-alek, I used to flippantly tell my mom in response to her fears for my safety, “I’m growing up in the house of Chicken Little.”

In case you never heard of Chicken Little, he was the star of his own story: a little chicken who was… chicken. Everything was a potentially disastrous situation, and he was chock full of fear and foreboding. The one refrain he repeated was “The sky is falling!” which has since moved into common culture.

I would chirp that phrase when my every planned move was met with a rundown of all the disasters that could befall me.

Me: “I want to walk up to the store.”

Mom’s face stretches into a mask of horror: “Not by yourself! Some pervert could force you into his van and no one would ever know what happened to you. You should go with a friend.”

Me: “I am going with a friend.”

Mom: “Just you and your friend? Why, they snatch up girls walking together, too. Didn’t you hear about…”

Or, it could be something like a truck’s failed brakes just as I’m crossing the intersection that could carry me out of this world, or some other hypothetical situation. But guaranteed, the scenarios were always grim. Of course, there was truth in these fears, and I’ll give some latitude here. It’s not until you have a kid or become close to your tiny relatives that you really understand–in vivid, nightmarish detail–just how dangerous the world can become in a nano-blink.

My mom inherited her chicken-little thinking from her mom–a serious pro at it. Whenever we told Grandma about an upcoming vacation we had planned, she would ask where to. No matter where we were headed, she would inevitably say, “I just heard on the news…” and then fill in the blank with some catastrophe or strange happening. Tsunamis in Dubuque, Iowa. Forest fires in Daytona Beach. Mountain lion attacks in Charleston, South Carolina. UFO sightings in Dismal Swamp.

I’m not sure what radio station she listened to for news, but it was with a cloud that we’d leave on vacation, knowing Grandma wouldn’t rest easy until our return.

So, I was raised on a diet of the potentially dark and creepy. Because let’s face it, underneath our veneer of civilization and social interconnectedness, there’s a web of the stuff to ensnare us if we’re not careful.

If you have a leaning toward the dark and creepy, please visit a collaborative project I’m involved in at www.waterfrontwriters.com. Our Two Weeks to Rites is featured, and we try to post a chapter a week. We’ll continue to do so, unless of course the UFO’s from Dismal Swamp snatch us up for special alien scientific testing…