Four on the Floor with Mitchel Whitington
Four on the Floor with Mitchel Whitington
[This interview originally appeared in the November 2017 edition of Ramparts, the monthly newsletter from Castle Walls Editing.]
Writer and lecturer Mitchel Whitington, born in East Texas, has explored haunted locations all across the United States, and on top of that, Mitchel lives and works in a haunted house (The Grove) in Jefferson, Texas.
Mitchel’s body of work includes Ghosts of East Texas, A Ghost in My Suitcase, Haunted Texas Highways, and Diamonds of Death.
This Halloween, on an appropriately stormy night, I had the pleasure of meeting Mitchel and touring his haunted (and beautiful) home. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed meeting the man himself.
Said to be one of the most haunted locations in Texas, your home (The Grove) would seem to be the ultimate residence for a writer. What has it been like writing in such a richly historic atmosphere?
The stories of the former owners of The Grove are very inspiring to me. It was built by a businessman who was in Jefferson when the city was still being carved out of the wilderness. A freed slave bought the house in 1885, and he’d gone from being someone else’s property to one of the most respected businessmen in town.
Each of the owners contributed to the history of The Grove, and I realize that without really being aware of it, I’m writing my own life’s story into the annals of the house. I’ve got to say that all that is extremely inspiring — I’m actually living a part of this house’s history.
When I was working on my writing many years ago, I often wrote at the food court of a local mall in the Dallas area. There were dozens of conversations going on around me, people were smoking (it was a different world back then), the Muzak of the mall was piped over speakers, and eventually I still managed to produce a sellable book.
Life is much better now. I write in a quiet, historic home heavily steeped in history, with a number of resident spirits looking over my shoulder … how could it not be inspiring?
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most (research, writing, rewriting, etc.)?
My favorite part of the process is the research. I enjoy writing — a lot — but when I’m doing research I feel like I’m trying to solve a puzzle, looking for leads and clues.
I enjoy it so much that I sometimes wonder if I would have made a good police detective, putting together all of the pieces to solve a crime. Being a writer is a lot safer, though, so I’ll just keep moving along the path that I’m on.
You’ve dedicated a good part of your life to preserving your beautiful home so that it will endure for future generations. Is this desire to preserve the past part of what drives you as a writer as well?
Actually, I don’t think so. My drive to preserve The Grove is because I feel a huge responsibility toward it as the current owner.
We recently rescued a basset hound who had been dumped out on Highway 49 near Jefferson; the dog had a terrible case of heartworms, had never been spayed, and had a number of other health problems.
When Bella became part of our family, we took care of all her health issues and have proceeded to spoil her — the baby that once no one loved has become one of the most loved bassets in the world.
I kind of feel the same about The Grove. It sat empty for a number of years, waiting for someone to love it, and as its current caretakers, I feel a responsibility to nurture the house.
I had a passion for writing long before I discovered The Grove, however, and I think that if I were homeless and living under a bridge I’d be collecting paper scraps and pieces of pencils so that I could write. My drive to write is as strong as my feelings for The Grove, but they’re separate things. It’s just that living in the house provides a wonderful and inspiring backdrop.
Speaking of living and working in a haunted house, what scares you? Are there any authors whose works you find particularly terrifying?
After 15 years at The Grove, supernatural occurrences don’t scare me at all. We learned early on that there’s nothing bad or evil here, but instead we feel really blessed that we get to have a peek into the “other side” on a fairly regular basis.
What scares me more than anything else are humans. There are people in the world who do terrible things, and they are the ones who wander my nightmares.
As to authors, well, I love the master: Stephen King. But while his supernatural stories like The Shining and Christine greatly entertain me, it was Misery that made me lose sleep!