No Strangers to the Supernatural

Photo by Kai Hamilton

Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? The staff of the Tryon Arts and Crafts School sure do — and they also love the idea of gaining ground on the regional (even national) literary scene. Later this month, they’ll announce the winners of their debut Apparitionist National Ghost Story Competition, the brainchild of Cathy Fischer, executive director of TACS, and program administrators Kai Hamilton and Diana Jackson.

Announced early in the summer, the contest closed in September and prompted “dozens and dozens of [entries] from across the nation,” says Hamilton. “They came from everywhere — Texas, Pennsylvania, Washington.” Because staff is offering a Heritage Award to be given to a resident of Polk County, in addition to first-, second-, and third-place awards, “we did have a lot of local response, too,” he says. The entries, solicited through the website Submittable.com where initial judging is done blind, are being evaluated by a four-judge panel that includes Jack Sholder, director of the second film in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (Hamilton studied directing with him at Western Carolina University).

Judges will favor “a well-written story that contains an apparition or spirit, that creates suspense, and has the ability to startle with an eerie mood that sticks with you,” explains Fischer, citing Algernon Blackwood’s classic novella “The Willows” as one of her favorites from high-school reading. “When we decided to do this competition, I looked it up on Amazon and bought the book to read again to see if it left the same impact. It still gave me the chills.”

“We wanted to embrace the heritage of storytelling in North Carolina and the South,” says Hamilton. (“Speculative” fiction, a highbrow angling of the horror/suspense genre, is even a new concentration at prestigious national MFA writing programs, including Sarah Lawrence College.) “For me, what makes a good ghost story is drama,” he continues. “I especially love stories written in a partially ambiguous nature. I don’t mind horror or gore and all that, but the best have a dramatic sense that just makes your mind wonder.”

Winning stories will be read on October 31 at TACS’ Black And White Show, an exhibit of monochrome art organized by Hamilton. The readings will be accompanied by a fire juggler, fortune telling, and, most seasonally, a “mysteriously ambulating spider.”

The staff are no strangers to the supernatural. “We have a ghost here at TACS that people have felt and even seen,” Hamilton reveals. “And I’ve personally experienced what I call The Hat Man, several years ago at my home. I woke up from sleeping and there he was, standing at my bed staring down at me. Seeing and knowing something like that changes everything we know in life.”

The winning entries for the Tryon Arts and Crafts School’s National Ghost Story competition will be read from 6-8pm on Tuesday, October 31 (373 Harmon Field Road). For more information, call 828-859-8323 or visit tryonartsandcrafts.org.

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