elaine watkins

Local author and Leader columnist Elaine Watkins is back with a new helping of local flavor in her third book, “Dinner Date with a Ghost.”

Like her first two self-published offerings -  “Family and Other Oddities” and “Conversations at the Kitchen Table” - “Dinner Date” shares tales from around Tipton County and within her family, but this time, things take a supernatural twist.

Watkins started the book in 2017, but found few personal offerings in her history to contribute. Her family could only boast a single ghost story of its own. While she keeps an open mind about matters and will join in on paranormal tours, Watkins herself remains a skeptic with no personal recollections to share.

When in need, though, always remember: You can turn to your friends. In this age of social media, this can and did include a Facebook post to her friends. She wanted to know their encounters with ghostly phenomena, any legends that lurked in the memories of life-long residents. Her friends list did not disappoint.

“I would get messages that asked, ‘Did you know about such-and-such over here?’” Watkins said at, of all places, her kitchen table. “’What about the gravestone at this cemetery?’”

People would happily help with stories, names, and tips to meet or to contact to fill pages. Robert Fountain of Spectral Tech, a local paranormal investigations organization, and his team appear throughout the tales in a search for understanding the afterlife and an effort to control its effects on this one. At times, they investigate; others, they tell the tales themselves.

The process continued over two years, messages in about legends, but a problem arose. Watkins did not receive enough stories to help fill her latest book. Plenty of folks heeded her call, but a number of them told the same tale, just at a different angle.

What to do?

The answer came one day while the author followed the first rule of writing: Be an avid reader.

“I was reading ‘Southern Living’ one day,” Watkins said, “and there was a comment about how we Southerners love our cookbooks.

“Well, I have a family cookbook, collected recipes from church, and others picked up along the way, and it hit me. Why not combine the two: Ghost stories and dinner?”

So, recipes for homemade appetizers like alabama fire crackers and cowboy cavier prefaced tales of shattered dishes discovered at Upscale Retail in Covington and spirits of the ethereal and the distilled kinds at Covington Liquor. Clint’s cornflake things and old-fashioned tea cakes introduced a ghostly gray-haired visitor to WKBL and an encounter at Old Trinity Church.

Now came the next question: What would you call a collection of ghosts and grub?

Watkins reached out again to her Facebook community with a promise: She would review the submissions and select the finalists, each of which would receive a free copy of…whatever the title wound up.

Watkins soon found herself with 59 possible titles for her latest work. She reviewed the submissions and narrowed it down to her finalists. Inspiration came one night from a nearby source.

“We went to dinner one night at Red Lobster and I asked everyone what they thought the name of the book should be,” Watkins said. “My eight-year-old granddaughter said, ‘Why don’t you just call it “Dinner Date with a Ghost?’ I knew right then: I had my title.”

Rather than let all the other suggestions go by the wayside, Watkins instead chose to incorporate each one into the final edit: At the start of each selection of recipes, she listed a few potential titles with credits given to the creators.

“Dinner Date with a Ghost” is available now through Amazon and in three brick-and-mortar locations in Covington: Midsouth BBQ on Highway 51, the Tipton County Museum on Bert Johnston Avenue and Upscale Resale on East Pleasant Avenue.

Expect something new from Watkins in the near future. She is currently at work on her fourth publication: her first children’s book. That, however, will be for another time, dear reader.

Remember how Watkins’ family only knew one story to share for the collection? Should there be a second such book, she might include a peculiar tale of the cover photo for “Dinner Date with a Ghost.”

As she reviewed the image shot in R. H. Munford Cemetery, Watkins decided she would like to use it for a phone background and took a shot of her monitor. The resulting image, which became the one used for the book, shows an eerie silhouette near one of the place settings in the graveyard.

Paranormal? A trick of the light? Another story to share.

Jeff Ireland is The Leader's sports editor. To contact him, call 901-476-7116 or email jireland@covingtonleader.com.​