Theresa Braun was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and has carried some of that hardiness with her to South Florida where she currently resides. She teaches English literature, Creative Writing and, in the evenings, a college writing course. Traveling, ghost hunting, and all things dark are her passions. Her work appears in The Horror Zine, Sirens Call, Schlock! Webzine, Hardened Hearts, and Strange Behaviors, among others.
Theresa is a remarkable and thought-provoking woman. We spoke of writing, travel, and her interest in ghost hunting.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Theresa! Thank you for chatting with me today.
TB: Thanks so much for having me.
NTK: How old were you when you first became interested in horror?
TB: That’s a really great question. I think I can trace it back to Sesame Street. The Count was one my favorite characters and I’m not sure that I realized he was a vampire. Then, my Scooby Doo days came along and I was a goner. When I was old enough to read I grabbed Nancy Drew and soon graduated to darker YA books from there.
NTK: Did this lead to an interest in writing horror?
TB: I don’t think I knew I wanted to write horror all the way back then. I was also very attracted to unicorns and such. But I think reading horror and watching horror movies and television shows helped to eventually steer me that direction. I’m rather happy that my generation had The Addams Family and The Munsters, as well as Elvira.
NTK: What horror movie inspired you to write? Is it your favorite?
TB: That’s a great question. I think I’d have to say Poltergeist was an inspiration, along with The Amityville Horror. There was a period in my life where I wanted to get my hands on a lot of the classics. The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby are also big influences on me. And I’m really fascinated by The Exorcist. But I also recall watching a lot of horrible B movies like Basket Case, for example.
Laughable horror is like its own guilty pleasure!
NTK: You mentioned The Munsters and The Addams Family. Are these horror comedies your favorite horror TV shows?
TB: I watched The Munsters, but I didn’t like them as much as The Addams Family—probably because they weren’t as dark as the latter.
NTK: Your stories exhibit a certain amount of darkness. Where did you get the idea for “Heirloom?”
TB: That story came from a couple of different sources. I had an idea for that grim past life the main character experiences. And, at the time I had been talking to a good friend who is a therapist. She mentioned one of her patients to me (anonymously, of course). Since she is really petite, I started to put myself in her shoes and played around with the idea of gender power play. Then I started to think how awful it would be if that client/patient was connected to her in a big way, a way that spanned several lifetimes. What kind of lessons could be learned? The mirror kind of came in last. I’ve always had a fascination with them, and with antiques. They’re like these crazy portals, according to people who believe in the paranormal. Funny thing is that my entire living room wall is a mirror. Sometimes I wonder if spirits or energies are visiting me from time to time. Hopefully, nothing like what happens to my protagonist in “Heirloom” will happen to me.
NTK: That’s awesome! And, it’s a little frightening too. You know a thing or two about spirits. Can you tell the Addicts a little about ghost hunting?
TB: Sure, that’s one of my favorite topics. I used to live in a haunted house in Winona, Minnesota, which is the inspiration for my latest novel Fountain Dead that comes out in November. Back then, I didn’t really have an interest in looking for ghosts. I was more concerned with ignoring the goosebumps or the feeling that I was being watched. My dreams were pretty crazy as well. I had several vivid nightmares about these water-logged women who came out of this pool outside, a pool that didn’t exist. Anyway, I’d have to say that the hobby of ghost hunting didn’t take hold until sometime in my thirties. Whenever I’d travel, I’d take the walking ghost tour. (Venice was a particularly amazing tour, by the way.) Eventually, I started getting tape recorders to capture EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) and I snapped a lot of pictures of orbs and weird light anomalies. I’ve gotten some really spooky pictures and some eerie recordings. Some of them sounded rather demonic, to be honest. In Key West, I left a tape player on ‘record’ while I went to sleep. When I woke up, the device was cracked/broken. That kind of set me back a bit for a while. Now, I try to do a lot of my capturing of phenomena with apps on my cell phone, or dowsing rods. Just paying attention to vibes is another really good indicator of activity. That is the short version of my focus on the subject. I’m always on the lookout for new haunted destinations and future places to visit. The Stanley Hotel and the Winchester House are pretty high on the list at the moment.
NTK: Where do you think ghosts come from? Are they manifestations of the departed? Or are they something else?
TB: That has to be one of the deepest questions I’ve been asked in a long time. I think they come from different sources. For me, most paranormal activity is a result of either an energetic imprint of the person or their actual spirit that is at unrest. They are trapped either in a loop, like a videotape, or they don’t fully understand that they need to move on. They might have unfinished business like trying to get someone to solve their murder, or something along those lines. But, I’ve also read that some people are so psychically powerful that they kind of project things onto the physical plane. Some poltergeist activity can be that, for example. Some people think that ghosts can be a manifestation of the mind. Or maybe the spirits are able to use a person to manifest here in this dimension. I think that all of these variations are entirely possible. At a minimum, we are all made up of very strong energy. It makes sense that this has the ability to stay behind after we are gone.
To be honest, part of me regrets not having become a parapsychologist. Isn’t that a real career?
NTK: It is! (Courses are available at the University of Edinburgh.) What do you think of Ed and Lorraine Warren?
TB: I think they are really interesting. How courageous of them to go into some of the most active locations to try to find answers about the paranormal activity. There have been times that I’ve been skeptical about them, but why wouldn’t you call these experts to help you out? Although, I think that some of the Hollywood versions of them have made them look a bit like caricatures. Some have even made them farcical.
NTK: Did any of your later experiences become fodder for your books? Did you write about Venice? Or Key West?
TB: I try to weave as much of this stuff into my writing as I possibly can. I’ve used parts of the Venice experiences, but haven’t really tapped into that fully. Probably will return to it in the future. The haunted house novel is probably the experience that I’ve written the most about. It’s rather personal, since when I was writing it I had the house in mind the whole time. I was surprised at how much really came back to me. I hope readers enjoy it. As far as travels and the paranormal things I experience, I keep really detailed journals. That way I can look back at it for both the memories, and also for fiction material. A recent trip to Transylvania turned into a vampire story, for example. Even though I didn’t set out to write a vampire story, I couldn’t talk myself out of it. I’d say that trip offered more inspiration than most. The Key West trip wasn’t that eventful, paranormal wise. Other than the recorder breaking on me, not much else happened. However, the Key West ghost tour is pretty fantastic. Lots of weird stuff happens in Florida!
NTK: Are your characters usually based on real people?
TB: Not always. However, I like to look to real people to give me some material I can work with. I pay attention to the news and watch a lot of supernaturally rich reality shows. There are so many of them that are great. I do think that my most well-rounded characters have some tether to reality, though. They are either partly linked to people I know or are an aspect of myself. Write what you know, right?
I’m also not immune to listening in on strangers’ conversations in public. And I’m sure I’m not the only writer who does that.
NTK: Do you exert much control over your characters? Do they do things you don’t expect?
TB: I’m making that up as I go along, since by nature I’m somewhat of a control freak. I like to have control over myself and things around me; however, the older I get, the more I’ve had to just go with the flow often. There are times when there is nothing you can do about the traffic jam making you an hour late. I’ve had to give the same license to some of my characters. A few times I push them into corners and they scream at me—metaphorically, that is. I have a few writer friends who talk to their characters. So, far that hasn’t been my experience. Most of the time when I don’t let my protagonists do what they need to do, I hit a writer’s block that doesn’t clear until I delete the problematic scene and rework the mess I’ve gotten them into. So, they don’t talk to me, but they do throw up the red flags for me to see.
NTK: Indeed. Do you belong to a community of ghost hunters? Is there such a thing?
TB: If I had the time, I’d totally search those out. I imagine they exist. That is totally something I’d be willing to look into at some point in the future. Right now, I feel like I barely have time to write.
Not enough hours in the day!
NTK: What does the future hold for you? What books and stories do the Addicts have to look forward to?
TB: One of the projects I’m looking into is putting together a collection of short stories. As my brain is recovering from finishing my latest novel, I’m wondering if I’ll write a sequel. I’ve set it up that way, just in case the inspiration strikes. Otherwise, I’m hoping that the muses have something else cooked up for me. I have several notebooks and journals I can scavenge through. To make a long story short, I’m looking forward to what story needs to be written next. It’s hovering in the ethers as we speak. I just need to tune in. It’ll probably be something ghostly. And it will probably involve a romance.
NTK: As you know, season 13 of HorrorAddicts is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?
TB: Ah, so many curses to choose from! Those Egyptian pharaoh stories are pretty intense. Imagine discovering a tomb and thinking you hit the jackpot, only to die a short time later? And, who would think that would really happen to them? Although that is scary, I think that the more mundane curses can be the worst ones. What I mean is that whatever we say to another person can have a lifelong effect, and if negative, can curse a person to suffer with those words. Someone’s life may even fulfill a negative prophecy as a result. I tell my students to always think about that when they speak, especially when it comes to bullying. We also discuss that in literature, too. When Mercutio dies and curses those two houses that has a detrimental effect on Romeo. It can be that simple. I heard on the radio that a woman told her kid that words are like toothpaste out of the tube. You can’t put it back, once you’ve spoken. Therefore, we need to be careful when wielding our words.
I’ve played around with this idea in some of my stories. Dialogue can get rather interesting from time to time. Muhahahahahah!
NTK: (Laughs.) Thank you for chatting with me, Theresa! That was fascinating.
TB: This has been a lot of fun! Thanks so much for this!