It all started, as it so often does these days, with a tweet:
I’m a skeptic by nature, but I love ghost stories and legends. They’re a lot of fun, even if I don’t really believe them.
That said, I never want to see anyone offer a picture with “orbs” in it as evidence of ghostly activity again. Remember, you can’t spell “orbs” without “bs”.
— Berthold Gambrel (@BertholdGambrel) May 29, 2018
This was probably too glib on my part. I’ve just gotten sick of so many alleged real-life hauntings where people say “We think the place is haunted because there are cold drafts and when you take pictures in the dark with a flash, you see orbs.”
If you take pictures of anything in the dark with a flash, you will almost certainly see orbs. Here’s one I took during a rainstorm in my front yard:
Anyway, that isn’t the important part of the story. The important part is that Mark Paxson replied to this with a comment about the Marfa lights, a phenomenon which I had never heard of. I’m not sure how, as it’s exactly the sort of weird, Coast-to-Coast AM-ish paranormal Americana that I love to read and write about.
Well, Mark has written about them, in a short story called, in fact, The Marfa Lights. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s a very well-crafted story. It has a memorable narrator and a well-paced plot advanced by gradual revelations.
I haven’t read the other short stories in the collection yet, but I can already tell you that it’s well worth picking up. Partly, this is because the first story is so good. And partly, it’s due to a piece of advice to writers that Mark gives in his brief preface. I won’t say what it is, except to say it reminded me of one of my favorite movie quotes: “There’s a whole world out there of other people’s tales, if you’d just care and listen,” from Jane Got a Gun.
To recap: I made a lame joke on Twitter, but as a result I got rewarded with a story of a weird ghostly phenomenon and a nice new book to read. That wouldn’t have happened without social media. Mark and I would have no idea of each other’s existence without social media. (Thanks, Carrie!)
I’ve blogged about this before, but this week seemed particularly bad for social media. There were quite a few stories about it being used for lots of despicable things. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like almost any technology, it has the potential for both good and evil. I keep coming back to this timeless quote from Edward R. Murrow, speaking about television in 1958:
“This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box.”
Thank you for making me a part of the good side of social media. I just commented on somebody else-s blog about how evil social media has become. So, this is a good antidote. And thank you for reading The Marfa Lights and for your kind words about the story. As I tweeted last night, you inspired me to go back and read the story. It’s not perfect, obviously, but I still enjoyed reading it and remembering that I was able to write like that. I’m struggling with how to these days, but maybe I need to read more of my old stuff and see if I can recapture it.
Thanks again. You are a part of the good part of social media for me as well.
My pleasure. It’s a really good story. And thanks very much for the Twitter share.
Just downloaded your book, thanks to Kindle unlimited it was the right price.
Always nice when something good comes out of social media! Thanks for the mention.
My pleasure! You are unquestionably one of the best people on social media, so I wanted to be sure and mention you. And thank you for sharing this on Twitter. Have a great day! 🙂
Aw, thank you, blushing over here. Right back atcha. Have a great day yourself!
Way back in the day, I was running track at a small West Texas college. We drove all over Texas for cross-country and track meets, driving by Marfa many a time, usually at night and the upperclassmen when I was a freshman used to tell about WWII bomber pilots that were based close by tried to pin point where the lights were coming from and never could. In the three years I ran track and all the times we passed by the tiny town, never saw any lights and thought the guys were pulling my leg. I’ve run across too many accounts of people seeing them to scoff now.
The Wiki page claims it’s some kind of reflection of automobile lights, but the ghost/alien “Twilight Zone”-esque explanations are much more fun.
Yes! Another story to read! And I’m pretty sure that the picture from your yard shows a constellation falling, lol. Edward R Murrow lived for a time in Pawling, NY, the place I have loved the most, so the quote is extra special to me. As always, I love your blog.
Thank you. 🙂