Postcards from Phoenix: Getting schooled on ghouls in Tryon

Published in the Tryon Daily Bulletin, November 8, 2017

I came to Tryon for Halloween to hear some ghost stories.

I hadn’t been to Tryon in nearly a year and a half—an unexpectedly long absence—but life doesn’t always go as planned.

I had an accident in January in Phoenix, broke my foot and my arm, and while I was recovering from those two surgeries, discovered I had breast cancer. (Go get those 3D mammograms, women friends. One saved my life.)

I couldn’t write more than a grocery list for months because of my broken arm, and even that much writing was painful, so you can imagine how sad I was when I found out about a ghost story competition at the Tryon Arts and Crafts School.

“We didn’t want to tell you about the contest,” said a friend in a phone call, “knowing you can’t write right now.”

I immediately went to TACS’ Facebook page and found the scoop on The Apparitionist, their national ghost story contest, and an exciting new tradition in Tryon’s literary scene.

Two hours later, I was icing my arm and reading the first draft of my contest entry. Thank you, TACS, for getting me back up on that horse. Yes, it hurt, but I conjured up a ghost I didn’t even know I had in me.

I knew the winning stories would be read aloud at TACS on Halloween night, and that planted the seed of a possible trip to Tryon. I was thrilled to find my story on the semi-finalists’ list, and then on the finalists’, and dared to hope a win would get me on a plane to North Carolina. Then it dawned on me: I don’t have to win a contest to go to Tryon. I don’t even have to have a reason other than I want to be there.

No, I didn’t win the contest, but no one could have felt more like a winner than I did sitting in my chair on Halloween night at TACS listening to actors reading the winning stories.

It was great to see the school buzzing with activity, and so great to see old friends and meet new ones. And I’m not sure which were more impressive–the stories or the actors reading them. Hats off to the staff at the school and especially to Kai Elijah Hamilton who seemed to be the head bee that made the contest buzz.

The preliminary judges were local writers and storytellers Dottie Jean Kirk, Lee Stockdale and Katie Winkler, and the finalists were judged by head honcho Jack Sholder whose impressive list of directing credits include Nightmare on Elm Street II. We are fortunate to have Mr. Sholder as our Asheville neighbor, and he’s the founding director of the Film and TV Production program at Western Carolina University where he teaches.

The first place story was “The Bargain” by Vicki Lane who has lived beside a Madison County graveyard for forty years, so probably had ghosts whispering in her ear as she wrote (is that cheating?). Nickengie Sampson blew us away with her performance, demonstrating why this story was the clear winner.

In second place was Joy Peng’s “Let’s Play,” perfectly and creepily read by Michelle Fleming who can be found doing marketing and PR for TFAC when she’s not on a stage. This was Joy Peng’s very first writing competition, so taking second place was an impressive achievement.

Steve Wong of Spartanburg County wrote “A Breach in the Night” which won third place and was read by Martha Hogenboom whose list of theater credits is longer than my broken arm. In full disclosure, Steve wrote an article about me in Life in Our Foothills in 2014, and made me seem really interesting, so I already knew he was a good writer.

The Heritage Award went to Polk County resident Robert Orr for “The Ghost of Three Pee Creek,” and was read by Miles Rice who proved that a story can be both scary and funny at the same time. Hey, what did you expect from a story with the word pee in the title?

It makes me happy to see on TACS’ website that they’ve already made the command decision to hold the contest again in 2018. Details will be posted in March, and the contest opens in April.

So you all have time to start noodling on your scary story, and can mark your calendars to be firmly planted in your seat at TACS next Halloween to be wowed by more winning stories and more talented storytellers. Hey, if I can write a story with a broken arm, what’s your excuse?

I can’t predict the future, but barring more traumatic accidents and cancer treatments, I know where I’ll be next Halloween: at Tryon Arts and Crafts School. I hope to see you there.