Author Jeff Provine honors us with a visit today. A professor of Oklahoma University, Jeff also runs the university’s ghost tours. Jeff has compiled spooky ghost stories and recently released Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma. Let’s ask Jeff about this exciting new book.
Hello Jeff, thank you so much for coming in. You say, ‘While backpacking around Europe and attending every ghost tour I could find…’ Why ghosts? What triggered this fascination?
Ghosts have always fascinated me, as I’m sure they do anyone who wonders what goes bump in the night or what happens to the human spirit when the body gives out. There seems to be so much more at work in the world than just the material realm, and I’ve always wanted to learn more about it.
You say, ‘I mentioned to a friend of mine the only local ghost story I knew, the “Ellison Hall Ghost”.’ Please tell us a bit about the “Ellison Hall Ghost”
The story goes that a little boy was out roller skating one day in the early 1930s when he was hit by a car (or had an asthma attack, the story differs). With the university infirmary the nearest hospital, they rushed him inside and up to the third floor where the surgery suites were. He did not make it, but apparently he’s still up there. People have heard the sounds of wheels rolling up and down the hall and, sometimes, the bouncing of a ball. The motion sensor lights are famous for going off when nobody’s around.
Wow! That is scary.
You say, ‘She suggested I do a ghost tour of OU; I chuckled and said, “There aren’t enough stories! “Well, I was very wrong. Turns out there are so many stories I picked the best.’ How and where did you discover these stories?
Stories came from a wide variety of sources. My first look was at Internet forums telling local legends about Norman. Once I had a few leads, I dug into old newspaper archives on microfilm, books written about OU, and old yearbooks. Most useful of all was simply strolling from one building to the next, seeing if anyone had experienced something weird. Good ole Oklahoma folk are often quiet, but once they get to telling stories, it’s amazing what we can find out.
You say, ‘Since October 2009, I began informal walks around campus telling the tales.’ How did this start?
It started simply as an imitation of the other ghost tours I’d been on. We met outside one of the buildings and walked along the sidewalk from one story to the next, pausing to tell tales. Over the years, word of mouth, social media, and OU’s Visitor Center have been instrumental in filling up the tours.
You say, ‘My walking tours are seventy-five minutes and open to the public.’ Please share with us some memorable moments.
Since OU is a public space, it’s only fair to tell the stories without charge. Anybody walking by can stop in and listen. At about the hour-mark, people start getting worn down, but there are so many stories to tell!
You say, ‘A voluntary donation is collected on behalf of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Oklahoma.’ Tell us about this cause.
CACO is an organization that operates multiple-bedroom homes where kids from troubled backgrounds can go into a safe place. Each kid gets his or her own room and, often for the first time, their own individual toys. With Halloween being a kids’ holiday, I thought it’d be the best recipient for donations, which give the Ghost Tours all the more reason to go on.
Since Norman’s inception more than 120 years ago as a college town, it has gathered a shadowy history and more than a few residents who refuse to leave. Ghostly organ music and sinister whispers fill school buildings in the night. Patients walk the surgical suites of the old infirmary, which was once a quarantine ward for polio victims. Long-deceased sisters still occupy their sororities—one even requiring an exorcism—and dorms are notorious for poltergeists and unexplainable sounds
About the book. It’s new from The History Press’s Haunted America line’. What prompted you to write Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma?
The History Press caught word of the tours, and they suggested I write a book. It was my first major nonfiction work, and I was excited to tackle it.
What, in your opinion, are the best ingredients of an excellent scary tale?
First, the author needs to establish a setting or character that is relatable. Show that it can happen to anyone or anywhere. Then, introduce the weirdness, go outside of the comfort of normality. Finally build to a crescendo where the mortals and the spirits face-off.
Please share some memorable moment/s from when you wrote this.
While I was writing about the poltergeists believed to haunt students in some of the dorms, unseen spirits tearing posters off walls and shoving students, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the bedroom door behind me slowly, almost silently, open. I jumped out of my chair to find my wife peeking in to check on me and show me a funny YouTube video for a break. I definitely needed a break after that.
Hahahahaha! The book must be scary to have affected you like that! You say, ‘It has all of the scariest stories from the OU Ghost Tour, plus more from around the college area of town.’ Why is this book a must-read? What makes your collection special compared to the available ghost stories?
My stories are collected with at least two independent sources. Rather than spinning a yarn, I exercised my Journalism degree in making it as factual as possible. The stories also show a good deal of history, which gives a deep perspective on places we often just walk by. If this is what happens in a few blocks square in a town in Oklahoma, imagine what happens around where you live.
You have true ghosts as characters!
And you say, ‘Strange sounds, secret societies, and spectres… all just a part of the darker side of OU.’ Aren’t you supposed to be scared? Are you an expert in scaring your tour guests?
Generally the tours are rated PG. It gets freaky when we talk about the choking ghost who repeatedly attacked a student before being exorcized, and people love to share that thrill. I know it’s a good tour when people gasp and, after the story, whisper nervously and excitedly to one another.
You must be an excellent speaker! ‘Professor Jeff Provine sheds light on some of the darker corners of this historic campus and the secrets that reside there.’ I can see your deep love for this campus. Share with us your historic OU.
Even though I didn’t know it until I graduated, I’m a fourth-generation OU student. My great-grandfather went there for his pre-med degree, my grandfather for mechanical engineering, my mother for accounting, and finally me. Since I finished my degree, I returned for a Master’s and have been teaching there every year as an adjunct professor. It is a vibrant campus with lots of history and possibility.
‘The Mysterious and Macabre of the University of Oklahoma. A noisy ghost in Cafe Plaid, chittering sorority spirits in the basement of Casa Blanca, and a Pioneer Woman wandering the Duck Pond.’ Do you have any interaction with these secrets? Any medium ability, or have you ever sought a medium’s assistance?
I’ve never seen a ghost, and I’ve never heard or witnessed anything that, as a skeptic would say, is scientific proof. On the other hand, I have tagged along on an investigation, and there have been some unexplainable happenings. I’ve talked with several folks who claim medium abilities, but I’ve never been with them while consulting with a spirit.
If you could, which character/ghost did you want to meet the most, and why?
Mex the Dog, buried at the 50-yard line in the football stadium. He sounds like a good dog.
If you were to interview a ghost, which questions would you be curious to ask?
First and foremost, I’d have a lot of questions about the death process and the afterlife. Once my curiosity there was settled, I’d like to learn more about the specifics of history. What was Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency like? What do they think of cultural norms these days?
Would you like to elaborate on any of these tour talks of yours?
Mildred Andrews Boggess was our Professor of the Organ from 1938 to 1976. She was a very type-A personality who got things done. She established the Master’s organ program, holds the record for most students winning nationals, and started the fund for the cathedral-style organ that is today named in her honor. When the music hall was renovated, they moved out all of the old organs, and apparently prompted her to come back to the school. They say you can hear organ music playing in Holmberg late at night from her.
Ellison Hall is our most haunted building on campus. The little boy is the most famous, and from the paranormal investigators I’ve interviewed, he’s not alone. There is a nice nurse with an EVP saying she’s from Memphis, a stodgier nurse, a female ghost, and a trickster. A pair of psychics who went into the basement (which was once the morgue when it was the hospital), said that there was something bad beyond the hatch leading to the steam tunnels. One said she wouldn’t go in there even if they paid her.
In 1986, a fourteen-year-old there on a summer program got into in the basement of what is also known as “Cate Cafeteria.” He was playing with the dumbwaiter, the little elevator used to take things up to the ground floor so they wouldn’t have to be lugged up the stairs, apparently trying to ride it. He was too big, however, even if he squeezed in backward. Unbeknownst to him, someone upstairs hit the “call” button, and the elevator began moving up even with the doors open. He tried to escape, but got caught by his neck and was decapitated as the elevator moved past the wall shaft. They say his spirit is still down there.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Campus Ghosts is the product of asking people their stories. The world around us is jam-packed with amazing history that we rarely think about. Pausing to look deeper into our surroundings and those around us makes our lives so much richer. There are stories everywhere!
Thank you so much for your time, Jeff. Best wishes for the book and the tours!
Carnival of Cryptids, an exciting fantasy anthology, is about to hit the market, and I have been honoured to read its preview. In the coming weeks, every Aussie Saturday, I will post an interview with each of the book’s seven awesome contributing authors along with my mini review. However, due to the recent Australia Day, this first entry only is out on an Australian Monday.
Hello Jeff, thank you for visiting with us. Would you be so kind to give readers a one-sentence synopsis of “Carnival of Cryptids”?
Carnival of Cryptids gives seven stories about creatures man was never meant to know.
How real are your characters?
My characters are larger than life, but show their human weakness. I started from the genre of pulp with an adventurer, and the sense of awesomeness definitely carries through with the crafty native and the dashing hero.
What inspired you to write this short story? When did you know you just had to write about Mapinguari?
I’ve always been fascinated by the cryptid I chose, the mylodon or giant ground sloth. I remember seeing a picture of it in an ancient mammals children’s book I had as a kid, and I’ve never lost my fascination with this enormous yet seemingly gentle creature. Whenever I heard more stories about it, such as conquistadors supposedly fighting one, my interest grew. When the cryptid theme was given, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about.
How long did it take you to “Where’s Captain Rook?”
I worked on prewriting for about two weeks from initial idea to a mental draft. The first story I had in mind was nothing like the result: the protagonist changed, the theme deepened, and the twist appeared. When I had it all mapped out, I sat down and hammered out the story in a long afternoon. It was such a wonderful feeling to end the day having created something.
And having created something worth reading at that!
How did you come up with the title?
The story needed something memorable and pulpy but not as garish as “The Adventure of the so-and-so.” Using the first line of “Where is Captain Rook?” proved excellent as the now-first line became a haunting, “He’s dead.”
Hey, we have something in common in that! I picked most of my chapter titles the same way.
Tell me your favorite line in this story.
I love the conclusion hinting that the magic of the Amazon had something to do with causing World War II. “Wars need rubber.”
Thank you Jeff.
Who would you say have been the most influential authors in your life? What is it that really strikes you about their work?
Jules Verne and H.G. Wells have always been great influences to me. I love Verne’s attention to detail, explaining how an 1860s submarine worked, down to the chemistry of its electrical system. His adventure stories really showed me how to plot. Wells’ variety of topics and exploration of reasonable outcomes from fanciful “what ifs” are great. Establish the rules of the world, and the reader will trust you no matter how weird the bug-aliens of the Moon are.
And you sure have the vivid imagination to support that!
What story would you like to share about the joy, challenge, or hardship of writing?
Writing always struck me as the same as the old actor’s adage, “If you don’t have to do it, don’t.” It’s not easy. Sitting at a screen typing for hours or writing by hand until you get cramps is tough, but there is no deeper sense of completion I’ve ever felt than finishing a story. It’s the good kind of tired where, at the end of the day, you look back over your handiwork and smile.
Congratulations on completing this short story!
Who gives you the most encouragement? Why is that important to you?
My friends have always been great encouragement simply by listening to my “crazy ideas” whenever I have them. They’re a great set of sounding boards and make me question it from every direction to understand fully my own seedling of an idea. My best friend Chad, an engineer, and my wife, Courtney, a writing major, are two of the best for coming up with new angles.
What are you working on right now? Tell us your latest news.
Whenever possible, I’m continually at work on my Alternate History blog and my web comic. I’m hoping to complete both by this summer, editing and compiling This Day in Alternate History into a single collection and relaunching The Academy with “director’s commentary” on the process of web comic creation.
How do you see writing, Jeff?
If anything, I see it most as a way of life. It doesn’t pay the bills, but I’ve always hoped it would. Someday my life dream is to just sit and make stuff up all day, every day.
With your imagination and talent, I’d say keep going! A lot of people are sure to find your work entertaining.
Now, how much do you have in common with your protagonist Paulo?
We’re both meek, but we plan for the long game in a tricksterly fashion.
That cunning twist at the end! Never saw that coming 🙂
What are your hobbies?
Writing, definitely. On top of that, I like building things, remodeling, and watching tons and tons of movies.
Movies? With your imagination, I guess it’s worth taking up screenwriting to entertain more fans. Check out “The Screenwriter’s Roadmap”, highly recommended. What is your other profession, by the way? When do you find the time to write?
I teach college Composition courses as well as other classes I have developed, such as the History of Comics and Comic Books and a biography of Charlie Chaplin. I write before class, after class, on days off, evening, and pretty much any time I don’t have something else scheduled.
Tell us a bit about who or/and what matters to you.
I got married a month ago, and Courtney’s definitely a major part of my life. Things are just better when she’s around. I think spirituality and morality are two of the most important things in anyone’s life. Personally, I find meaning in accomplishing things, which keeps me busy trying to start, work on, and complete projects.
How has your published work influenced others and their attitude towards you?
I think it inspires hope. I’m just an average guy, and if I can sit down and do something I want to do, why can’t they live out their dreams, too?
I agree. We all need a purpose; it’s a great feeling to be looking forward to our tasks.
What one thing is important for your readers to know about you? Why?
Ideas come to me like a little seed popping inside my brain. “What if this?” Then, it grows and stretches and consumes until I have to write it out, tell someone, share the seed so it grows beyond me.
Any tips for us on reading and/or writing?
Patience, infinite patience. Sometimes you’re working so hard you can’t stand it; other times you’re waiting for emails to be returned or rejection slips in the mailbox. Either way, be patient and keep plugging along.
You’re a saint!
Thank you so much for your time, Jeff. And best wishes in all the things that you do.
Jeff Provine was raised on a Land Run farm in northwest Oklahoma. He lives with his wife of one month and two kitties in a home he remodeled. Come check out Jeff’s website, his ebook ‘Dawn on the Infinity”, his steampunk adventure series of Celestial Voyages.
Following is my mini review on “Where is Captain Rook?”
The year is 1938 and jungle guide extraordinaire Paulo Nativo prepares his boat for Captain Rook at the border of the Venezuelan jungle and the wide Amazon River. Upon his arrival, the brash explorer from Chicago announces his destination and the purpose of their expedition, commanding Paulo to take him up the river regardless of the guide’s strong reservations. What dangers await them deep in the jungle?
WHERE IS CAPTAIN ROOK is one fine short story. Provine’s vivid details of the exotic setting and his ability to develop rich characters within the short span as the plot unfolds are engaging.
Watch out for the anthology’s release later this week. It’s all for charity, specifically the American’s National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.