Local Haunt, famous author stays in St Augustine bed and breakfasts

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KARA POUND
St Augustine Record Correspondent
Published Sunday, October 11, 2009

 Dr. Seuss once said, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go."

New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Heather Graham agrees. Graham, a Miami-bred mother of five, has been to a lot of incredible places in the hundred-plus books she’s written over the past 25 years.

From vampires to morbid love affairs to ghostly encounters, Graham’s writing is perfect for the Halloween season. And her latest release, "Unhallowed Ground," published this month by MIRA Books, even takes place right here at home. The author has actually chosen the Nation’s Oldest City as the backdrop for a few of her books.

Growing up in South Florida, St. Augustine became a natural stopping place for her family’s road trips.

"People tend to pick on the state of Florida a lot. I think it’s one of the quirkiest states and incredibly cool," Graham said of the area. "I’ve written a series of historical books based just in Florida."

For this recent trip back to her childhood stomping ground, the author sat down for coffee at the local Barnes & Noble before a book signing to talk about "Unhallowed Ground."

As she explained, the novel follows Sarah McKinley, a young tour guide at St. Augustine’s Heritage House, as she buys an old mansion and attempts to restore it.

"I would love to buy the house," Graham said of the downtown home on Aviles Street she was inspired to write about.

And like many places in our little city, the story finds the main character faced with ghosts and historical horror as dozens of bodies are found during renovations of the house. This, too, was modeled after a real- life experience for the author. During one of her trips up, Graham came across an archaeological dig being conducted downtown where bones were uncovered. At the time, it wasn’t clear exactly what (or who) the team discovered, but "Unhallowed Ground" was born.

During the three to four months she spent writing the book, Graham took a few more trips back to St. Augustine — traveling ghost tours, staying at bed and breakfasts, and going into as many historic homes as possible. In her book, she writes, "A house can only be as evil as the people who live there."

And like the heroine of the story discovers, these stories can prove to be a lot more than old legends. As the book progresses, Sarah McKinley enlists the help of Caleb Anderson, a private investigator. Together, they link a current missing person case to the mansion’s dark past.

"It’s a reccurring theme," Graham said of the paranormal genre for which she includes in a lot of her books. "Fiction trends change all the time, and I have to listen to what people are reading."

For now, there is certainly money in writing about the dead — and the undead. Ghost-hunting television programs are gaining popularity, as are books, shows and movies about vampires and other paranormal entities.

"Every time I sit down to write a book, I sit down to write my best book," Graham said.

Whether this is to be considered her best work is yet to be determined by major media outlets and loyal readers, but for St. Augustine, "Unhallowed Ground" is a great Halloween-time read.

Additional information can be found at www.theoriginalheathergraham.com.

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