Interview with Arthur M. Mills, Jr.
The Empty Lot Next Door
Arthur M. Mills, Jr.
Xlibris Corporation (2010)
Reviewed by Lisa McCurley for Reader Views (07/10)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Arthur Mills about his new book “The Empty Lot Next Door.”
Arthur M. Mills, Jr. was born and raised in Austin, Texas. One of his numerous dreams was to become a writer. It took him thirty-seven years, but he fulfilled that dream by writing the novel, “The Empty Lot Next Door.” The novel is based on true events of his childhood. He joined the Army shortly after high school and has been serving honorably ever since. He and his wife Yonsun have two children, Arthur and Allen.
Tyler: Welcome, Arthur. I’m really interested to talk to you today. First, let’s clarify for our readers. Is “The Empty Lot Next Door” about a haunting that really happened? Is it fiction or non-fiction?
Arthur: Before I answer that, it’s important to know that the book wasn’t originally meant to be a book. It was originally a research project. For years, I myself wondered if the haunting was fiction or non-fiction. Even as a young child, when I was experiencing the ordeal, I wondered if I was dreaming or if the haunting was actually occurring. I just didn’t know. As an adult, I have told the story countless times and every time I told the story, someone would ask if the story is real. I always answered, “Yes” but deep inside I wasn’t sure. So in October 2008, I sat down and started to search for the answer to that question: is it fiction or non-fiction. I asked my mother, my brothers, and friends about what they know about the house that was rumored to have been destroyed by a fire and about the family rumored killed in the fire. I asked numerous other questions as well. As I conducted my research, the pieces started to come together. I then got my answer: Non-fiction. At that point, my wife told me that my ordeal would make a great book and movie. I started to change gears from researching to writing.
Tyler: Why did you decide to write the book as fiction rather than a straight narrative of your experiences?
Arthur: 1+1 = 2. That is non-fiction. Any other answer is fiction. To me, there is no gray area here. So to be fair, I decided to classify the book as fiction since 20 percent of the story is fiction. I understand that many other ghost stories, including movies, also add fiction to their non-fiction stories, but I wanted to be fair to my readers. I don’t want to lead my readers into thinking everything is real. But I do mention on the cover that the book is based on true events. After all, the book started out as an investigation to find the truth.
Tyler: Did you change anything for the sake of making it good fiction?
Arthur: I did not use the real names of the people involved. Some of the people involved told me they did not want their real names used. One person even told me he/she spent years in therapy to learn to live with what happened. He/she thought the horror and memories would return if he/she reads the book. I also shortened the storyline. In reality, my ordeal lasted for over seven years, but I condensed most of the storyline to a month or so. This change helped the story move at a faster pace. The biggest change dealt with the character Griffin. Griffin was my brother’s imaginary friend. My brother used to sit and talk to his imaginary friend for hours each day. My brother would then tell me about the adventures he had with Griffin. In reality, I didn’t believe those stories. I knew they were made up, but I suspected Richard really believed his own stories. But in the book, I meet Griffin. That didn’t really happen. I never saw my brother’s imaginary friend. I made this change because I wanted my book to appeal to a young audience. The adventures that I mention in the book were as close as possible to how I remember Richard telling me about them.
Tyler: Will you tell us about the first time Ray experiences the ghost in the story?
Arthur: Neighborhood kids told me that a family of four was killed in a house fire that once stood in the empty lot next door. According to the kids, the family was buried in the backyard of the lot. A five-foot wide and three-foot deep hole developed at the site where they were buried. The rumor also mentioned if anyone jumped into the hole where the bodies are buried, the ghosts would appear and kill the one who jumped inside. For adults I’m sure this sounds unbelievable, but for a bunch of seven to eleven year olds, it makes perfect sense. But I only half believed it so I wanted to test the rumor. That night I walked into the empty lot and jumped into the hole and challenged the ghosts to show themselves if they were real. Ghosts didn’t slither out of the hole like my friends said they would. I jumped up and down and mocked the ghosts. I climbed out of the hole and walked home feeling like the bravest kid in the world for dismissing the rumor. Later that night, I was awakened and walked to the kitchen window that overlooks the empty lot next door. I looked out the window and saw a figure climbing out of the hole. My young mind tried to liken it to a dog or the neighborhood skunk. I walked to our back porch to get a better view of the empty lot. I saw a girl-like figure clambering toward the huge oak tree in the empty lot. A neighbor’s dog began to bark which made this figure turn its head to face the sound of the barking dog. I, however, was between the barking dog and the figure. We seemed to make eye contact and she began to make her way closer to me so she could get a better look at me. I asked myself if she were real and she appeared to nod her head up and down as if she could read my thoughts. I then ran into the house and into my room to bury my head into my pillow.
Tyler: What does Candle Face want from Ray?
Arthur: Good question. I’m not sure what she wanted from me. After all, I summoned her to me. So what did I want from her? I wanted the truth. I needed the truth. I needed to know if the rumor were real. But I did challenge her to appear and she did. At first, she was upset that I disturbed her rest. Then I believe she just liked tormenting me. I guess she could have killed me at any time like I suspected she killed others. I am not sure why she didn’t kill me. I guess I was just her toy.
On a larger scale, once I am in a position to write again, I will try to answer this question in more detail. I will research further about whom Candle Face was when she was alive and I will research the previous residents of my house and the house that once stood on the empty lot. I believe I will find the answer to your question then.
Tyler: In the book, Ray has other problems regarding his family situation. Will you tell us a little about his family relationships?
Arthur: I was the youngest of four brothers. My two oldest brothers didn’t spend much time at home, but when they did, Richard and I didn’t want anything to do with them. They picked on Richard and me quite a bit. But in all fairness, that’s what brothers do. Maybe not to the extent my brothers picked on us. My mother and stepfather worked long hours and were not aware of all the things that were going on around the house.
Tyler: Arthur, when did you first tell someone about your experiences with Candle Face, and why did you stay quiet for so long?
Arthur: The first person I told about my experiences was my wife. We were in Germany at the time. I was within a few hours of deploying to Kosovo for a six-month deployment. As I was packing my gear in the living room, I looked up and saw little handprints on the living room window. Once I saw the handprints, I started to recall the terror I experienced as a child. I recalled the handprints that Candle Face left on all the windows of the house. After I snapped back to the present, my wife asked me what was the matter. I then told her the whole story. That was a big mistake because I was leaving for Kosovo in a few hours and she would have to be alone for at least six months. My wife told me she had to sleep with the lights on for a month. I believe I kept quiet so long because I repressed the memory soon after the ordeal was over. Those handprints on the windowsill in Germany released those memories and I began to wonder if those memories were real or not.
Tyler: Arthur, I understand these experiences took place in Austin, Texas. Is the empty lot still there today? Do you know of other strange experiences or any of the lot’s history since your childhood?
Arthur: There is a house on the lot now. A house was built on the lot around 2006. I don’t know the residents there, but I did send them a letter and a copy of the book. I haven’t heard back from them.
Tyler: In the book, do you give the address of the house, or do you prefer readers don’t know about its location?
Arthur: I mention the street name only: Ben Howell Drive. I don’t want curious readers to bother the current residents.
Tyler: Do you know of any stories of hauntings at the house after your family moved out?
Arthur: My stepfather sold the house to one of his children. He had some young children who lived in the house. My stepfather never mentioned any hauntings. But I will look further into this.
Tyler: What made you decide to write and publish the story now?
Arthur: I attempted to research my ordeal back when I was stationed in Kosovo in 1999. But I didn’t get far because I just didn’t have the resources to conduct the research. I attempted the research again several times since, but again, my military duties prevented me from moving forward. My time in Korea is also very busy, but I knew that if I didn’t do the research now, I might have to wait several more years, maybe even after I retire. So I decided to sacrifice my sleep to finally answer the question: Was Candle Face real?
Tyler: While many people like ghost stories, others are skeptical and dismissive. What do you hope will be the response to the book? Do you think the book will change anyone’s mind regarding the existence of ghosts?
Arthur: It is okay for people to be skeptical and dismissive of my story. Remember, I was skeptical of my own story as well. That is what propelled me to start writing in the first place. However, my mind changed from skeptic to believer as I gathered the facts of the story. Even if my readers remain skeptical of the ghost story, I hope they learn one of the underlying themes of the story: prevention of suicide. My brother Richard gave so many signs that he was in serious trouble before he committed suicide. But no one did anything about it because we just didn’t know what to look for. If my readers become more aware of the signs of suicide and learn to talk about them, then my book will be a success.
Tyler: After you finished writing the book, Arthur, how did you feel? Did you feel you had worked through your trauma from childhood, or experienced some release, or just some understanding of what had happened?
Arthur: All of the above. I had wondered my whole life whether the ordeal was real. My research and novel answered that question. I stared at my computer screen for hours in awe when I came to the realization that it was all real. It was very therapeutic. It was like I rid myself of a life-long cancer.
Tyler: Arthur, when I introduced you, I said that you had wished to be an author for thirty-seven years. Was that wish always tied to writing about this experience, or did you want to write about something else initially?
Arthur: I wanted to be a writer since third grade at Dawson Elementary School in Austin, Texas. It must have been 1983 when my teacher, Mrs. Haddock, read the class the 1964 book, Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” After she read the book, she instructed the class to write a one-page sequel to the book. As we wrote our stories, Mrs. Haddock walked from student to student and read over our shoulders. One by one, she praised each student for a job well done. She approached me and read over my shoulder. I just knew she would grab my paper, crumble it, and toss it in the trash. Instead, she took it and read it aloud to the whole class. She made me feel like a million bucks. I knew I would be a writer some day.
Tyler: Do you plan to write more books, and if so, will you continue to write about hauntings or about something entirely different?
Arthur: I plan on writing a prequel to “The Empty Lot Next Door.” The book will deal with who Candle Face was before she died and how she died. However, I would like to make this book as real as possible so I need to conduct a lot of research. In order to do this, I need to spend time in Austin researching city, media, and library records on the history of the house that burnt down and on the history of my house. It will take a lot of research and time.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Arthur. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information we can find there about “The Empty Lot Next Door?”
Arthur: My website is www.TheEmptyLotNextDoor.com. You can find a detailed description there of the book, you can purchase the book through the website, you can watch book trailers, and even watch a two minute international TV special about the book. You can read book reviews as well. I even have a FAQ section that answers questions that are most often asked of me.
Thank you again for the interview, Arthur. I wish you much luck with the book and your continued research into the haunting.