Dad: You called me?
Kelsey: I did! It’s Father’s Day! Happy Father’s Day!
Dad: Oh, okay! Thank you!
Kelsey: Did you do anything to celebrate?
Dad: I did. We had a meal. It was fun. It was fun. We played Family Stories.
Kelsey: What’s that?
Dad: It’s when you sit around and tell family stories. Like we would tell the story of the cow in California.
Kelsey: Oh, the Basic Cow?
Dad: Yes, the cow that Mom almost hit.
Kelsey: Oh that cow! I remember now!
Dad: Everyone remembers but Katie.
Kelsey: She stayed asleep the whole time.
Dad: Or we would tell the story of — I didn’t actually tell this story — the story of the outhouse. Do you know that story?
Kelsey: I’m not sure.
Dad: It’s the one where Grampa pushed over the outhouse.
Kelsey: It’s this the George Washington one?
Dad: Yes, and this isn’t a real story, but he learned in school that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and his father didn’t punish him because he didn’t lie. So he pushed over the outhouse and his grandfather — this was his farm — his grandfather started beating him, and Grampa said, “Why are you beating me, I didn’t tell a lie!” and his grandfather said–
Kelsey: He was in the outhouse!
Dad: Yes, George Washington’s father wasn’t in the cherry tree.
Dad: It’s not a true story. It’s a joke.
Dad: What are you up to tonight?
Kelsey: Well, I sat down to write, but I’m not sure what to write, so I’ve just been staring at the screen for a few hours.
Dad: What are you having trouble with?
Kelsey: Well, these characters are ghost hunters. And this woman walks into their apartment, and she wants them to look for vampires. But they don’t hunt vampires, they hunt ghosts. So one of them says that they don’t hunt vampires, but the other one says that she knows where the vampires are and they can help her.
Dad: Are vampires real?
Dad: Are they famous ghost hunters?
Kelsey: No, they just started out. They’re trying to get people to notice them.
Dad: How did this woman find out about them then?
Kelsey: There was a bank that couldn’t sell this house because of the ghosts. It was falling into disrepair and whenever they tried to fix it the ghosts kept breaking their tools. So the bank got desperate and finally hired them to get rid of the ghosts, so they did, and this woman found out about it.
Dad: How old are they? Are they in their thirties?
Kelsey: No, they’re pretty young.
Dad: So she can comment that she thought they would be older.
Kelsey: I suppose.
Dad: What part are you having trouble with?
Kelsey: Well, the first part. She just walked into the apartment. They’ve all said their hellos and now I don’t know what to do.
Dad: What does the apartment look like? Is it a nice apartment?
Kelsey: It’s a very tiny apartment. It’s a very small kitchen overlooking a living room that’s just big enough for the couch and the desk that’s the center of operations for the business. And there’s a big window, like at Katie’s old apartment, and two small bedrooms, just big enough for a twin or maybe a full-size bed.
Dad: There’s a big window? What does it overlook?
Kelsey: The street, I guess. They overlook a commercial center, with shops and stuff. There’s a movie theater across from them — no, it’s down and around the corner. They live across from a bar.
Dad: So they’re downtown.
Dad: How big is the city?
Kelsey: Small. Like 30,000 people.
Dad: Where is the city?
Kelsey: I don’t know. Somewhere in Virginia or North Carolina. They’re starting to become conflated in my mind.
Dad: Is it near a big city?
Kelsey: I don’t think so.
Dad: If it was near a big city then there would be more business.
Kelsey: But I associate ghosts and hauntings with rural areas. It’s why it’s a smaller town.
Dad: Is it a walk-up?
Kelsey: Yeah, it’s a third-floor walk-up.
Dad: That’s a pretty big walk-up. Maybe there can be a guy on one of the floors who smokes a pipe all day.
Dad: They call him Captain and he keeps explaining that he’s not a captain, he was just a — a navy officer, you know. Not a captain. But they call him Captain anyway. And he tells stories from his time in the navy.
Kelsey: I’m not really sure…
Dad: He can just be some atmosphere, some filler. He smokes a specific kind of tobacco, a sweet-smelling smoke. And he tells stories. He’s a salty guy, he worked on a ship for 40 or 60 years. Does the apartment smell?
Kelsey: It doesn’t smell good. I guess it smells like…carpet cleaner?
Dad: The apartment should be a refinished hotel. I’m taking over your story, I’m sorry.
Kelsey: It’s fine. I think you have a really strong character. You should tell a story about him. A guy who lives in a refurbished hotel and stands in the hallway and smokes a pipe and tells stories to passerby. The stories can all be random things, but they all have something to tie them all together. There’s a story-within-a-story. Not all of them relate to that story, but it can be there.
Dad: Yeah, maybe. I’ll think about it. You should have your characters drink tea. They should offer them tea, like the English do. They’re just starting to talk, and then the kettle goes off. “Oh, excuse me! I left the kettle on. Would you like a spot of tea?” They should say that, just like they say it in England.
Dad: When are you coming to visit?
Kelsey: I should be up in July. James wants to see Old South Mountain, he hasn’t seen it yet. And I want to spend some time with Katie and Lacey. And there’s a board game party we want to go to.
Dad: I miss you. I wish you lived half an hour away, not six hours away.
Kelsey: Yeah, I miss you guys too. But it’s better than when I was 18 hours away in Dubuque.
Dad: And you’re not over two mountain ranges either.
Kelsey: Two mountain ranges? Really?
And the conversation drifts to geography and eventually we both agree that we are tired and say good night.