I met Lonnie and Roberta Simpson Brown at a book event many, many years ago. And then at more book events as the years went by. The more I got to talk to them, the more I liked them. That’s the way it is with everybody who knows them. Everybody loves Roberta and Lonnie. Now just to look at her and at him in the picture, you’d think they were just somebody’s sweet grandpa and grandma. They’d never try to scare anybody. At least you might think that – until you read some of Roberta’s stories. Her title as “The Queen of Cold Blooded Tales” is spot on. That’s who she is.
Saturday, we both went to the Barr Memorial Library at Ft. Knox where our event was billed as “Horror and Harmony.” I don’t know which kept people away – the harmony idea or the horror, but our event was not well attended. However, we did give the few who came the whole show. I liked that since I had been looking forward to hearing Roberta talk. The only problem was that Roberta, a storyteller par excellence, is having voice problems and has been ordered by her doctor not to strain her voice doing all those great sound effects in her scary stories. Just as well. I’ve read some of her stories and I might have been hiding under the chairs or running screaming out of the room. Things do not always turn out well in Roberta’s stories. They are the kind of story you tell around the campfire and then nobody sleeps after that because every twig that snaps makes you think some horrible monster is coming to eat you.
Since you all couldn’t be there, I’m going to share some of Roberta’s talk. We’ll start out with the easy stuff. Roberta grew up in the Appalachian area. She says they didn’t have electricity so no television and for years no radio until they got a battery powered one. So, for entertainment, they told stories and mostly ghost stories. Her family seemed to have plenty of paranormal experiences to share. Roberta says they were just good at seeing ghosts and if they didn’t see them, they knew others who had. That made for plenty of great, scary stories.
The Storm Walker
One of the true stories Roberta did share was “The Storm Walker.” It’s not too scary so I didn’t have to run screaming out of the room. Roberta has always been afraid of storms. She still is. She told me at the first sound of thunder she puts down her metal forks and hunts the plastic ones. She does not like storms. That goes back to when she was just a girl in school. She walked from her house to a one room school and often Jim, a neighbor, would walk with her. She always felt safe with Jim, even if a storm was brewing. But then Jim got sick and couldn’t walk with her.
One day a storm was gathering and the teacher dismissed school and told the children to hurry to their houses. Roberta ran as fast as she could, but the wind started blowing hard and the air turned a funny color. Then it started pouring rain and the only shelter she saw was under a big old tree. Now she had been told not to get under a lone tree during a lightning storm, but she was scared and looking for shelter wherever she could find it. While she was crouched there, suddenly Jim, her storm walker appeared, and motioned for her to follow him. She couldn’t hear him because of the fury of the storm. He led her to a little ditch and she crawled down in it and huddled there, but she did look up to see a tornado rip that tree she had been under out of the ground. She waited until the roar was gone before she climbed out of the little ditch. Jim was nowhere to be seen, but she heard her father calling for her as he looked for her after the storm. After he carried her home, her mother and father were bragging on her for knowing what to do with a tornado coming. Roberta told them it was only because Jim came to show her what to do. Her mother looked sad and told her that couldn’t be. They had just heard that Jim died at noon – before the storm hit. That story and many more are in Roberta’s book, The Walking Trees and Other Scary Stories.
The Mashed Finger Story Inspiration
So you can see that Roberta got an early start with her ghost stories. As she says, there are more things than we can understand in our world. But not all of her stories are true. Many of them come straight out of that sweet little woman’s vivid imagination. She’ll hear a story about something and the next thing you know she’s turned it into a really strange story. Take my mashed finger, for example.
Roberta and I are Facebook buddies and she saw my post about slipping in the mud a couple of months ago and mashing my finger. I had to get stitches, have x-rays that showed the tip of my finger was broken and then wear a finger guard for weeks. Just the normal I’m a klutz story. But not for Roberta. Her imagination went wild. Here’s the beginning of the story she has come up with about that mashed finger.
It seems when I slipped in the mud and fell, I shook the ground. That was unfortunate since it woke up the Muddles (not sure I got her monster name right) underground. And then the Muddles started sniffing and smelled the blood dripping off my finger onto the muddy ground. That really got that unsavory creature going and it slithered up out of the ground. I didn’t notice since I was too busy trying to staunch the blood, and then because my finger bone was broken, the Muddles had an entry into my hand and pushed its way up into my brain. That’s where I went screaming out of the room. No, not really, but that’s where Roberta stopped. She’s still working on what that creature is going to do with this poor klutzy woman who slips in the mud, but I’m pretty sure it is not going to be good. She promises to send me a book if she uses the story in one of her collections. You know, I’m not sure I’m going to read it. But I am pretty sure I’m going to walk softly over that strip of muddy ground from now on.
Roberta, the Storyteller
One more Roberta story. Roberta was an English teacher. She taught at the high school level and then after a few years not teaching, went back and taught at an inner city middle school. Tough kids. So tough she said the kids once held a teacher out the classroom window by his heels. When one of the kids asked Roberta what she would do if they did that to her, she looked at him with a very serious expression and told him that if she didn’t die of fright which she might, then she would hunt him down and kill him. She said the surprised kid looked at her a moment and then laughed, and they never tried to hang her out the window. She was able to use her scary stories to help the kids learn about their feelings and about language arts.
So if you ever get a chance to go hear Roberta talk, go. You’ll be glad you did. She has given many presentations to kids and adults alike and she says it is usually the adults, like me, who are ready to run out of the room screaming.
Known as the “Queen of Cold Blooded Tales,” Roberta has told her stories from coast to coast, including performances on National Public Radio, Voice of America and TV’s Lifetimes Beyond Chance. Brown is the author of 10 books, and Scariest Stories Ever Told is her fourth scary story collection from August House. Her chilling stories are set in familiar, contemporary settings like: schools, family rooms, farms, and even campgrounds that create an undercurrent of something very, very scary pulling the reader into the undertow of terror. Roberta grew up on a farm near Russell Springs, Kentucky, at the edge of Appalachia and she graduated from Berea College before pursuing a career in education and becoming a writer. She is married to Lonnie E. Brown, who has co-authored 4 books with her. The two of them currently live in Middletown, Kentucky and enjoy ghost hunting with their friends. In their spare time, Roberta and Lonnie also perform ghost stories at schools and libraries and conduct paranormal investigations with the Louisville Ghost Hunters and The American Ghost Society. Check out her books on her website.
As always, thanks for reading.
I’ll be answering more questions come Wednesday. If you have a question, don’t be shy. Ask and I’ll give my best shot at answering it. But don’t expect any scary stories from me.