An interview with ‘Haunted Ohio’ author Chris Woodyard

Chris Woodyard grew up in the Columbus area but has lived most of her adult life in the Dayton area. She is the author — and publisher — of several series of books on the ghosts and ghostlore of Ohio:

• “The Haunted Ohio” series: “Haunted Ohio,” volumes 1 through 5, as well as “Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio” and “Spooky Ohio: 13 Traditional Tales” for younger readers and storytelling.

• “The Ghosts of the Past” series, including “The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales,” “The Headless Horror: More Haunting Ohio Tales” and the third volume, which expands coverage across the United States, “The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past.”

• “The Victorian Book of the Dead,” a macabre collection of the morbid and the mournful from the Victorian era.

• “A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales,” not about ghostlore per se, but a collection of short stories that Woodyard calls “neo-Edwardian … think Downton Abbey meets Dexter.”

After high school, Woodyard first attended Bowling Green State University to study library science, but then transferred to Ohio State University where she earned a degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Woodyard says she’s worked as a housecleaner, a church organist, a technical editor and writer of children’s textbooks, and owner of a vintage clothing store that, she says, was indeed haunted.

Since 1991, though, Woodyard has been focused on writing and publishing her ghostlore series. She lives with her husband in the Dayton area in a house that she says is most definitely unhaunted. “Writing about ghosts is one thing, but I don’t want to live with them!” Woodyard says.

Woodyard has retired from making appearances at book fairs, schools and other events, but you can find out more about her and her book series at her website, www.hauntedohiobooks.com

Q. What are you currently working on?

A. I’ve focused on Ohio for a long time. My most recent book gathers historical ghost stories from across the country. I enjoy digging into old newspapers, old spiritualist journals to research stories and try to determine if there’s a real story, or just something that’s made up — a yarn, so to speak.

I like to call myself a Fortean — after the writer Charles Fort, who researched and wrote about spiritual phenomena. (Charles Fort, 1874-1932, wrote numerous, popular books, some of which are still in print today.)

I also like to call myself a “completist,” in that I want to research and gather every detail I can on a given story.

Lately, I’m also writing fiction about ghostly events and hauntings. My favorite character is Mrs. Daffodil. I’m planning to keep writing about her.

Q. It’s interesting to hear you talk about researching ghost stories to discover if they are real or not, and also talk about writing fictitious ghost stories. Where are the lines for you? Do you think of the stories you’ve gathered as “real” or not?

A. All of my books, until the short stories of course, have been non-fiction, as in I didn’t create the stories, but the stories are documented as being stories that others tell and re-tell and often believe.

I freely admit that I see spirits. They look as real and solid to me as living people. I find it unnerving and odd, and I’ve had some startling experiences.

And yet, I also say I remain neutral on whether ghosts are “real” in the way we usually think of things as being “real” — provable, identifiable. Am I seeing spirits of people who once lived? Am I experiencing a neurological phenomenon? Am I experiencing something that science can’t yet explain?

I don’t know. That’s why I remain neutral.

But the stories I’ve gathered over the years are real to the people who’ve experienced and shared them.

Q. When did you first experience seeing spirits?

A. When I was about four or five. My father was a scientist and my mother was a practical homemaker. If you couldn’t see it, test it, or duplicate it in the lab or the kitchen, then it wasn’t real to them. So, of course, they didn’t believe me when I told them about my experiences.

But then, after I went to college, I came home for a family reunion. My paternal grandfather started talking about how he could see spirits! And that this was something his own father experienced, too. I never knew this was something of family trait until then.

My daughter also occasionally sees spirits.

I read somewhere once that one in 10 people say they can see spirits. My own view is that we’re all somewhere on the spectrum of being sensitive to spirits. One of my close friends calls herself “spiritually blind and deaf,” meaning she can’t sense anything supernatural, from the spirit world or extraordinary in that way. I guess I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Q. So, you’ve embraced this aspect of yourself in a practical way. But what inspired you to gather, document and publish stories of ghostly phenomenon?

A. Actually, I wanted to be a writer starting in first grade — when I created a story about a witch!

Shortly after moving to the Dayton area, I wanted to get to know the region as thoroughly as possible — there’s that completist side of me, again. I couldn’t find a guidebook at the time, so I ended up writing one, “The Wright Stuff.” It was super regional, so I self-published it. But in its day, it did well and had a bit of a following.

Not long after that, I was in my local library — where the librarians had been helpful as I researched my first book — and one of them mentioned that sometimes patrons asked for books on area or Ohio hauntings, but none were available that they knew of.

I set off to write one. I thought it would be quick, with limited interest. That book was “Haunted Ohio,” and it came out in print in 1991. But here I am, 25 years later, still researching, writing and publishing books through my company, Kestrel Publications.

The completist in me knew I had to gather ghostly stories from all 88 Ohio counties. That took up the first five books. I’ve kept going since then!

Q. Tell me more about self-publishing in 1991, which was definitely early days for self-publishing compared to now, when it’s relatively easy to self-publish.

A. That’s right — 1991 was long before CreateSpace at Amazon.com or other such resources.

Well, again, I knew that national publishers wouldn’t be interested in a book about Ohio ghost stories.

I read everything I could about self-publishing. There definitely wasn’t as much available as there is today. I met a representative from a printing company who helped me find a local typesetter and I found a printer in Cincinnati who’d produce the books. I did everything a traditional print publisher would do — hiring the typesetter, visiting the print company to review proofs, setting up a basic business model.

Now, writers who want to self-publish can have ‘print on demand’ copies created through various services — if five people want the book, five can be printed; 20 buyers, 20 copies, and so on. Or they can opt to skip printing all together and create ebooks.

That wasn’t the case in 1991. After my first “Haunted Ohio” was printed, the minimum print run of books was delivered to my garage.

Q. And how many books was that?

A. 10,000.

Q. Wow!

A. I know! No one would do that now.

But then, that was the only choice.

So I looked at all those copies and I thought, “I have to sell these!” I went to book fairs, sent out press releases, and so on. All 10,000 were sold, and now the book is in its 12th printing. All of the books have done well.

For a while, I had several employees and ran a catalog of ghostly books, not just my own but other writers.

It turns out that readers from outside Ohio are interested in Ohio ghost tales, and Ohio readers are interested in ghost tales from other locations.

Q. There are other writers now gathering and writing about ghost stories. And there are popular television shows that focus on ghost stories and hauntings. How do you feel about that?

A. Great! I’m all for anyone who wants to research and write about ghost stories doing so. Again, that completist side of me — one person can make it a quest to gather all of them, but one person can’t do it.

Q. Do you have tips for writers — whether they’re focusing on ghost stories or not?

A. Yes. Write. Don’t talk about it. A page well-written a day is a book a year.

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