Amelia Cotter is an author and storyteller with a special interest in the supernatural, history, and folklore. Amelia lives and writes in Chicago but is originally from Maryland, where she earned a degree in German and History from Hood College. She has appeared on various radio and television programs, and regularly presents at conferences and events. Amelia shares her love for the many wonders of the world, while hopefully inspiring others to explore it, through her books, stories, poetry, and other writing. Visit her official website at www.ameliacotter.com, or write to her any time at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please tell our readers a little about yourself. Where did you grow up? How did you first become interested in the paranormal? Looking back, did you ever think you would become an author living in Chicago?
“I grew up in Maryland, where I developed a love for and fascination with history, abandoned places, and ghost stories. I first became interested in ghosts when I read the Scary Stories series by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell, and later got into ghost hunting at the ripe old age of 11 when I started exploring a local abandoned haunted house called “Walter’s House.” Walter and his infamous house are, of course, the subject of my first book, This House: The True Story of a Girl and a Ghost. And no, I never dreamt I would come to Chicago at all. I came here on a whim in 2008 and established myself here so well that I call it home and can’t quite imagine living anywhere else. It was a long, hard road to author-dom as well, and yet I’ve still achieved everything I had hoped to just in the last five years. I’ve paid a steep price for that hard work, a lot of personal sacrifice and blood, sweat, and tears, but it’s been, and continues to be, worth it. I’m established now. And it’s an incredible feeling to be a recognised member of this city’s writing and folklore community.”
In your book Maryland Ghosts, you described living in a haunted house at Hood College. What was that like, and what did you experience there?
“Living at the German House (a language immersion residence for students of German) was one of those situations where I didn’t even realise how haunted it was until after I left. I lived there for two and a half years and during that time, the ghost hunting stuff kind of took a back seat to my studies, although the interest remained solid. But it was ironic that I lived surrounded by almost daily paranormal activity and had to just, sort of, let it go. I mean I had to. It’s so much easier to seek out places to “hunt” ghosts than it is to manage living in a very haunted place. I like to separate work and play! I had some sleepless nights there: footsteps and frightening sounds, such as scampering and scratching, several of us saw floating balls of light that resembled the static on a television, two of us had almost exactly the same very vivid night terror. It was intense at times, but it was also college, so there were a lot of distractions and we just had to deal with it. If I moved into a place like that today, I’d probably last about two weeks around that nonsense. Don’t tell anyone, but I do scare easy…”
Your first book, This House, was remarkably successful. What inspired the story of Nora and the ghost called Walter?
“My experiences exploring Walter’s House, which included my first and so far last sighting of a full-bodied apparition, have stuck with me all my life for many more reasons than just my interest in ghosts. That was such a special time of wonder and discovery, that cusp of adolescence when the world starts to open up. My imagination ran wild every time I went into that house, which was located on My Lady’s Manor out in horse country in Baltimore County, next to the Manor Tavern restaurant. I still dream of the house and of Walter. I can still see him very vividly and although he may have lived hundreds of years ago and I obviously never knew him in life, his positive presence has continued to inspire me over the years.”
A third edition of This House was released in July by Breaking Fate Publishing. What changes have you brought to the new edition, and can we expect any new revelations?
“The new edition has some formatting and editorial changes. The manuscript is nicely re-polished. One of the big questions I’ve gotten over the years is whether I ever did research to discover who Walter actually may have been (if his real name even was Walter), and the answer is still no. The book clarifies a few things and adds a few little extra tidbits. Mostly it traces my/Nora’s fascination with wanting to know who Walter is, but the point is not to actually find out. It’s my/her dedication to cherishing that bond and desiring to know that I intend to resonate with readers.
The house was torn down when I was 12 and the thought to go to a local archives or historical society never crossed my mind at that age. Today, I don’t really want to know. I enjoy letting that experience be what it is. Ghosts, as with love, are mysterious and I don’t prescribe to the notion that everything needs to be researched to death. Today it’s all about evidence, evidence, evidence in the ghost hunting community. I’m a writer, so I like a good story and I like not knowing. That’s the heart of our interest in this subject matter: the thrill of the unknown. The experience I had with the house and Walter was everything it needed to be. I know enough and my heart is happy. If someone else ever wanted to look into it, I’d give them my full blessing. So far, no one has come forward with interest.”
What was the strangest or most unusual thing you have encountered during your time as a tour guide for Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours?
“I did see something after a tour, but I don’t count it as a ghost. I understand ghosts to be the spirits of dead people. This was something…else, which I saw in my kitchen at around 4 a.m. after a particularly intense tour. I don’t want to say exactly what, for fear of people thinking I’m crazy! Tour nights depend on the group of people on the bus. Some tours are fun and lighthearted, full of laughs, and some are pretty serious, filled with people who are interested in the subject matter or really touched by some of the tragedies we cover. I believe whatever followed me home came from the area around the Hull House. That land is haunted, by things that I don’t think have to do with the Hull family or Jane Addams and the incredible work she did there. There’s just some bad juju around those parts and I think I got a little hitchhiker, so to say. I saw it in a fleeting moment and haven’t seen anything like it since.”
Reflecting on the ups and downs of your own career, what advice would you give other aspiring authors? What do you look for in a book of ghost lore?
“I tell other aspiring authors to treat the publishing world as a business and take themselves seriously as authors and professionals. Writing is an art but making it in the business takes an extra skill. It’s a skill that can thankfully be acquired or is already there, and I encourage writers to bring all of their past networking and marketing skills from their other jobs and professions into the fold (even customer service experience). Also, do lots of research, be persistent and organised, and have hope. Making it in the publishing world CAN be done. If I did it, you can do it. Be brave. As for what I look for in other ghost books, I like books that toss in personal accounts and give more than the general background of a haunted place. I like an engaging mix of history, lore, and peoples’ personal experiences.”
Do you have any new projects in the works? How can our readers find out more information about your books?
“I am in the process of having a second edition of both Maryland Ghosts: Paranormal Encounters in the Free State and Breakfast with Bigfoot, my children’s book, published. I am also in the early stages of negotiating a deal for a Chicago-themed book, which I will stay hush-hush about until I have more details. I also publish poetry regularly. Folks can go to my website at ameliacotter.com, friend me on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter (@AmeliaMCotter) to stay involved with what I’m doing. I also tell people to request me as your tour guide on a Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tour, and I have some upcoming fall conferences and television appearances in the works.”