Meet the "Ghost" Writer
Doug Alderson sets his spooky tales in swamps

Book Overview

Originally published October 30, 2007, Tallahassee Democrat

By Kathleen Laufenberg

Deep in the swamp, in the black soup of night, a ghost hovers. He's waiting - but for what?

For a deliciously spooky tale, of course, for it's almost Halloween. And if his ghostly digs are near Tallahassee - in Tate's Hell, perhaps - he's a lucky apparition. Naturalist Doug Alderson is ready with some suspense-filled tales. Alderson's latest book, "The Ghost Orchid Ghost and Other Tales from the Swamp" (Pineapple Press), came out earlier this year.

The long-time Tallahasseean has two other books out, too, one on paddling some of Florida 's waterways and another on his experiences leading cross-country walks. But this book grew out of his days as a summer-camp counselor at the Tallahassee Museum , where he worked for about a decade (both as a naturalist and camp counselor).

"I started leading groups of kids on trips, and when they were away from the distraction of television and video games, to entertain them and keep them from wandering off, I started telling them stories," the 50-year-old said. "I often made stuff up on the fly. I'd take a personal story that was true, but it would end up going into fiction to make it scarier and more interesting."

The 19 tales in the book are aimed at first-graders through adults, he said, and many are based on his personal expeditions into various Florida swamps. All the stories are liberally sprinkled with truthful observations and information about such topics as wild orchids, cypress trees, mosquitoes, panthers, Florida 's native Seminole and Miccosukee Indians, and historical information, too. They're more suspenseful than they are scary.

"I used Doug's book for several of my summer camps," said Lauren Greene, the program manager of Dunwoody Nature Center north of Atlanta . "Each day of camp, we read one of his stories. I read it aloud to them in a darkened room with a flashlight as directed by Doug. That makes a big difference, I think. It was fabulous."

Each story includes some read-aloud tips and an estimated reading time. The tales aren't "super scary" either, Greene added. Her campers, ages 6 to 8, were drawn in by "what's going to happen next, and the possibility of what might happen."

"I think it's the mystery of it that they enjoy," said Alderson, who is the field director of the state's Saltwater Paddling Trail. "It's something that takes them beyond their ordinary senses and their normal experiences."


"The townspeople called her a witch. She lived alone in the swamp for as long as anyone could remember. People reported seeing strange lights and hearing animal sounds coming from her cabin, and on several occasions, she was spotted pulling dead animals off the swamp highway and carrying them away. One month, when she didn't come into town for supplies, a brave man checked on her and found her dead. He buried her behind the cabin, said a quick prayer, and hurried home before dark. That was that, except it wasn't. People reported seeing the same eerie lights and hearing the same type of animal and bird calls coming from the house."

Tallahassee Democrat Photo of Doug Alderson

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