Kay Sundstrom was registered for the 2012 Haunted Mansion Retreat, but wasn’t able to join us. She’s one of the two contributors to The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two that I haven’t met yet.
Kay received a Stegner Fellowship in poetry from Stanford University. She’s been published in various magazines and anthologies. She was born in Southern California and now lives in Keaau, Hawaii.
Q: Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
KS: The first was when I was eight. I was playing hide-and-seek with my friend Patty. The house was dark, except for my mother’s sewing room. I was searching for Patty in the back part of this sprawling house when I heard a voice saying, “I’m here, I’m here,” in a dry whisper. I thought it was Patty, so I followed the voice until I was in between the wall and my parents’ bed. There was noting there. It may seem silly, but I felt evil. I was stunned, then I ran screaming. As it turned out, Patty was hiding in my mother’s sewing room on the opposite side of this long house. Both she and my mother said that neither one of them said anything.
When I was 22, I participated in my first Wiccan circle. I simply remember blacking out. Everyone else in the circle said—very sincerely—that I simply stood there with a blank look on my face and answered questions that I couldn’t have known the answers to in a voice not like my own. I was out, so I don’t know if what they said was authentic.
Q: What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?
KS: The Whaley House in San Diego is reputed to be very haunted for such a staid, respectable matron of a house. From I have read, she is a boarding house for ghosts.
Besides other reported ghosts, there is “Yankee Jim,” James (aka Santiago) Robinson. He was convicted of attempted grand larceny in 1852. They dragged him out and hung him on a gallows off the back of a wagon in the yard. The local newspaper reported that he “kept his feet in the wagon as long as possible.” The other ghosts are much more tame, but then, they have less to complain about.
For some reckless reason, I decided to visit the Whaley House on Halloween night with a group of friends. At one point, I felt I was being choked. I was gagging, which I thought was horribly unfair, since I felt pity for the poor man. In a horribly embarrassing moment, I started screaming like a banshee. The docent simply looked bored.
Q: Have you ever ghost-hunted anywhere else?
KS: I have never officially gone ghost-hunting, but I do love older places: houses, cemeteries, churches, historical museums. Yes, they can be menacing at times, but other times there is something reassuring that other individuals’ hands have used a spindle, loom, compass, or cornhusk doll. Maybe time is not completely linear. Maybe a thread connects us.
Q: What inspired the poem you wrote for The Haunted Mansion Project?
KS: “Possession” was initiated by the image of an albino snake and a terrified, desolated bride waiting. Then my weird little mind did what it does and I got caught up in images and trying to find a way to fuse them. Often my writing deals with women who have been abused and retribution. Also, I simply love images. One of my mentors said he thought I thought in images. They are breath, although that may sound too sentimental.
In some of my writing, I have fused Mad King George, Mayan myth, asylums, dirt-poor sharecroppers, and the Vestal Virgins. In one of the novels I am working on, a very dark urban fantasy, I am attempting and hopefully will succeed on fusing five distinct eras into a coherent whole. But sometimes I feel I am juggling five china plates, desperately hoping that none will break, while keeping up a patter, like a Barnum & Bailey performer competing with the “The Wild Alligator Man from Bora, Bora: Touch his teeth if you dare.”
Q: What’s coming up for you next writing-wise?
KS: I am working on two other novels, around 15 short stories in various stages of completion, and a swarm of poems and short shorts. What I need to do is to focus and simply finish what needs to be completed and then edit the hell out of it. But I also need to submit. I have only done so maybe five times in the last ten years. They were accepted, which was wonderful, but I am still very nervous. I think I am less nervous about ghosts than I am about submitting.
Q: Do you expect to come to the next Haunted Mansion Retreat in 2015?
KS: I dearly hope to attend in 2015, if I can.
Interested in the next Haunted Mansion Writer’s Retreat? You can follow updates at http://hauntedmansionwriters.blogspot.com/.