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Book Reviews and Author Interviews

On My Bookshelf: The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Angel's Game

Addictive, compelling, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Kept me up at night reading. This is the second book of the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” series.

**SPOILER ALERT**

How much is real vs. what is all a product of David Martin’s tortured mind is up to the reader to decide. This is part of the magic and fun of the book. Compare the scene on p.106 with Cristina displaying the photo of a young girl holding the hand of a man, walking on the beach. She finds it in her father’s possessions after he passes, and she says to Martin: “I don’t know. I don’t remember that place or that day. I’m not even sure that man is my father. It’s as if the moment never existed…” Then, go to the end of the book on p. 529 where Corelli says he is punishing David with bringing Cristina back to him as a child. The moment comes full circle!

David is introduced to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and “Lux Aeterna,” by D.M. draws him in. When he begins reading, he realizes that the mysterious mansion he’s been renting was also the former house of “D.M.,” and that very likely he typed it using the same typewriter that David had recently been using. Creepy!

There are too many story lines and characters for everything to just be in David’s head, I think. But, what about all the deaths – his previous publishers; Pedro; and Cristina? Did David do it? If it is all in his head, how do you explain what happened to the previous occupant, “D.M.,” and all of those interwoven stories?

A story of a madman or a story of man who made a deal with the devil? I don’t know. It’s beautifully complicated. I’m halfway through “The Prisoner of Heaven,” the third installment. Maybe I will know more by tomorrow night!

PW Has Reviewed “America’s Most Haunted Hotels”

http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-7387-4800-9

I could not be happier right now. I have no idea who reviewed the book, but THANK YOU, whoever you are. Wherever you are.

 

On My Bookshelf: The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A shot of my worn and tattered copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the Wind,” complete with “OH MY GOD!” post-its. The Shadow of the WindI write about this book because I loved it, and I want to remember it. In writing, I am forced to reflect upon how much pleasure I derived from reading the book.

It is a gothic tale set in 1945, Barcelona. Daniel, the bookseller’s son, is introduced to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and makes his selection of one book from the labyrinth to take home and care for. In doing so, he finds himself involved in a real-life mystery. You see, the book he selected was written by a man named Julian Carax, and very well may be the last book in existence by Carax. Someone has been finding the Carax works and destroying them.

I love that it is a book about a book! I love the story, but I also love the writing itself, and how Zafon has a style that makes me want to keep reading. The man is a beautiful writer. The “Angel of the Mist” story that begins on page 233 is a haunting touch, as is Maria Jacinta’s detailing of her encounters with Zacarias (begin on page 260), and the storyline of Daniel and Fermin visiting her in the asylum.

I loved this first book so much that I immediately started reading the second book in the series, and I am about 200 pages in to “The Angel’s Game,” right now! To think, I found this gorgeous read because of a visit to the Book Warehouse over the July 4 weekend, where I unwittingly purchased the third book in the series first!

 

 

Book Haul – A Visit to The Book Warehouse

The long weekend last week led me to a stop at an old outlet mall in Savannah, Georgia. As depressing as the center was, there was one hidden gem — The Book Warehouse. The books I chose were all former library books, and were dirt cheap (I think I got all five for under $7.00, which pleases me greatly).

Book Haul - Book WarehouseSo far, I would say I have definitely been getting some bang for my bucks!

I do still use the library (mostly to feel like I’m getting at least some use out of all the taxes I remit), but I have grown more likely to purchase as I age because I find that one of the greatest pleasures is to physically mark the passages I like while I am reading (they frown upon that at the library, by the way, even if you are marking up the very book you wrote, for God’s sake. But hey, I can accept that I just wrote it, and I don’t own rights to mark up everyone else’s copy… I guess.).

For specific purchases, I still prefer to go online via Amazon or Half.com and have things delivered to the house, but there is nothing like the treasure hunt of walking around a retail store and finding books. I see it as a treat, and I love seeing every bookstore I can.

The bottom two books pictured above have already been read. They are:  Death Comes to Pemberley; and West of Sunset (a fantastic fictional account of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last years, while he was working in Hollywood, and penning “The Last Tycoon).”

I have to say, though, that what really makes me nerd out is that 3 out of 5 of these treasures have DECKLE EDGES!

The Deckle Edge
The Deckle Edge

Apparently, the deckle edge dates back to the days when you used to need a knife to read a book.  http://www.themillions.com/2010/02/deckle-edge-in-the-age-of-mechanical-reproduction.html

Maybe one day I will write a book that comes out in hardcover with a secret monogram on the cover (the regal Davis family crest, perhaps) and deckle edges. Maybe it will even be good.

On My Bookshelf: A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts
A Head Full of Ghosts

Okay, so if Stephen King says “scared the living hell out of me,” I’m pretty much in.

This is the story of a New England family. Mom, out of work Dad, fourteen-year-old Marjorie, and little sister, Merry, who is eight. Marjorie begins exhibiting some troubling behavior (acute schizophrenia), and eventually the parents turn to their priest when the doctors are unable to help. Soon, a reality show is on the scene and The Possession is brought to television from filming the family’s struggle with Marjorie. The last episode of the show is of course, the exorcism.

What drew me in was Tremblay’s use of beginning the book with an interview, and making it a book within a book, sort of. The author is interviewing grown-up Merry (now 23), and piecing back the events for us. Tremblay uses blogs and reality television to tell the story. What a ride! I still don’t know if it is a possession story or a tale of a fourteen-year old who was mentally ill and exploited by Hollywood. It is left open for interpretation.

My first take was that Marjorie was schizophrenic, but there were elements in the story that had me guessing that conclusion. Things like, Marjorie was going down the stairs in the dark basement, and no one else is down there, but her sister hears more than two feet. Whatever your conclusion is, it will make you think about possession v. mental illness, and how do you know?!

Tremblay uses many horror references throughout the book that make it fun for the reader because you feel like you are on the inside — you “get it.” I won’t spoil the ending, but it will leave you reeling! Fans of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle will know exactly what I am talking about.

And now, having said that, my second take is that the demon was possibly exorcised out of Marjorie, and jumped into Merry, resulting in causing the final act that sealed the family’s fate. Wow. How about that.

On My Bookshelf: The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

IMG_3720
The Library at Mount Char

Hail the Amazon Gods for recommending this book about American Gods while I was shopping the other day! I am sad that I didn’t know about it when it was released last year, but am oh so thankful to have had this experience now. Fans of Neil Gaiman are in for a treat.

In his debut novel, Scott Hawkins has created a darkly weird world of adult librarians, who were essentially kidnapped by Father when they were eight years old and brought into the infinite Library at Mount Char to study and work. The librarians have been trained in twelve catalogues – one category per child, with strict instructions on not discussing/sharing your catalogue with another.

David (master of the war catalogue) and Margaret (master of the dead catalogue) have story lines that are the most violent and brutal, and some of the scenes concerning David, frankly, I could have lived without, but what do you expect from a character who is the master of the war catalogue? His story line is not going to be about eating cupcakes in the park with his girlfriend. The violence is necessary for the subject matter. After all, one does not get to be a God without being burned alive a time or two. As examples of other catalogue subjects, Rachel’s catalogue involves the prediction and manipulation of possible futures. Carolyn is the master of all languages.

So. Back to the plot. Father is dead, and maybe one of his librarians killed him (I don’t want to spoil it for you) and maybe another one of his many enemies killed him. All of the librarians are completely out of touch with humanity and arguably insane now that they are in their 30s. It made me think of our world leaders, and how out of touch they must all be with their respective citizens. (Oh, do you not have the sun anymore? Food is a problem for you now? And I am to understand that you don’t like that?)

I was also quite amused by the zombies in the suburbs. Hey, I know these people! Wait a minute, am I one of these people?! Just kidding. I am pretty sure I am not one of the reanimated dead. But, you never know who your neighbors are…

I think what I enjoyed the most about this read is how Hawkins brought the story full-circle towards the end of the book. We learn more about Father and his relationships with his librarians, specifically, with his protege that he has been grooming all this time to take over his position. Many times, after I am finished with a book, I am still left with a lot of questions that I wish were tied up by the author. Challenging your readers is great, and Hawkins does this in the beginning and the middle. The end is tied up quite nicely for you, and I appreciate that. I want to know what the author thinks he’s written! Tell me a story. Don’t tell me a set of circumstances and then leave me sitting over here pissed off contemplating like a jerk for days on end – “Well, what did it all mean?”

I think that is a skill that is quite rare, and I hate it when the author doesn’t address the big “Why” questions.

Great job, Hawkins! This is one of the best books I have read in many years. I am so glad I purchased this one, because I marked the copy up quite a bit, and will no doubt be returning for a second read next summer. This is one that I am betting will read different to me after knowing how it ends.

 

 

 

 

 

On My Bookshelf: The Dead Are Watching, by Debra Robinson

I devoured this book over the course of about 1.5 days. Debra Robinson gives a candid and highly personal account of “ghost stories from a reluctant psychic(as subtitled).” Still dealing with the death of a child, her perspective reads inspiring and uplifting while obviously still feeling and living with the pain from her loss. I would recommend this book to anyone who has recently lost a loved one. I would bet that you will find some peace and consolation from Debra’s book.

I was able to reach Debra from her website, and she was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Chapter 7 (“Never Say Goodbye”) was one of the most touching, powerful chapters in the book for me. You shared some of your personal experiences with your son, James, returning to communicate with you, your husband, and James’s old friend, Tazz. The experience of Gerald and Dwayne in the hospital is quite a tale, but one that I completely believe in based on my own personal experiences and upbringing! Many, many, people of faith will relate to these events, and the one where Maura’s husband left a message on the answering machine. How do you think our loved ones are able to come back and communicate – I almost wonder if it is out of sheer love and determination?!

Yes, I honestly believe it is sheer determination on their parts. In A Haunted Life, I tell the story of finding my dad after his suicide, shortly after James was killed. And how later that day, as I sat with my husband on the couch crying about Dad and blaming myself, “someone” snapped their fingers twice, a foot in front of our faces. We knew it was him, saying “snap out of it, it wasn’t your fault” etc. I think it takes quite some time to gather the energy needed, and also learning to direct it-so anytime we hear these types of things from our loved ones immediately after their deaths, I believe it is from their very strong determination and strength of will that somehow allows them to focus their ability to make themselves known. 

Some of the most captivating stories for me are those where EVPs are captured of unknown spirits having conversations about the ghost hunters! Any theories on the prevalence of this phenomenon? Do you think it is going on around us much more often than we realize, or do you think this is actually quite rare?

It is definitely not rare! This has happened many times to investigators I’ve accompanied. Some spirits seem to recognize their changed “conditions” and some do not. But apparently, our humanity itself attracts them to us. And I have always believed that spirits notice us, our “light” if you will, and those who have a bit more natural psychic abilities show up brighter to them that those who don’t.

While your book contains many uplifting stories, there was one in particular that totally creeped me out! In Chapter 3 (“School for Ghosts”), we hear the story of what was experienced in the basement of an old infirmary/nursing home/poor house from the mid-1800s. Any theories on what the source of the mysterious heavy breathing could have been?

They finally tore that building down and I assume plan to eventually put another in its place. I am curious to see if the new building will carry the same haunting, as many others have done throughout history. No one knows who the spirit was in the basement. We have all conjectured about it, but the fact is, until the spirit speaks to someone about its origins, we may never know. So far, it has been silent.

“The Children of Death” (Chapter 13) discusses a phenomenon occurring in nursing homes, where the spirits of children have been seen/heard visiting patients just a few days before they die. (I would love to see a book from you about this, by the way! That nursing home log sounds fascinating!) Do you think this is a peaceful story, or a sinister story? I can’t decide! There is something about the idea of child spirits that just doesn’t sit well with me, for some reason. I am always suspicious that it is something masquerading as a child.

Yes I totally get the “masquerading as a child” thing–I am also of the same mind and wary of this usually. However, in this case, it literally seems to be a phenomenon seen all over the world in nursing homes. I believe they are true spirit children, and although the nurses were creeped out by it, they too believed it was simply the children’s job to “take them home” when it was the elderly residents time. Some others have even mentioned to me that they thought it could be other elders who passed over, but allowed to come back as they were as children. Interesting thought.

Do you think that paranormal investigators or ghost hunters are putting themselves in danger when they go out seeking to engage with something? Is there such a thing as “safe” if you are doing the spiritual work to keep your armor up? On Page 32, you touch on setting ground rules, and that you’ve had to do this in your own house over the years. Do you think it is one of those things where, if you believe the rules work, they stick? (Just as a caveat, that’s my line of thinking – it is the belief and the confidence when giving them, I feel).

I do believe people put themselves at risk whenever attempting to contact the other side. Some spirits are totally benign as you know, some are not. So, yes, I think it is important to have a spiritual basis for dealing with these things. I am of the school of good and evil–I simply believe we are in a war between the two and our choices matter, and will put us in danger if we’re careless or flippant about it. A Haunted Life tells the deeper story in my case, how too many “coincidences” led me to believe there ARE no coincidences…I believe in the Light and the Dark-and you don’t want to attract the attention of the Dark.

Chapter 18’s “House-Ghosts” gave me pause when I was reading the story of Teri and “Old MacDonald.” Teri found her daughter having a conversation with someone that she couldn’t see, but whose voice was coming through over the baby monitor! It really makes you wonder how many children are actually having conversations with actual spirits, while the adults around them label it as playing with “an imaginary friend,” doesn’t it?! Do you think there is any danger or anything that a parent should be concerned about if they find a child engaged in one of these conversations?

I want to think most of these childhood ghost friends are harmless, but then again, knowing what I know, it worries me. If I was a parent with an imaginary friend problem, I would investigate it further and then do whatever necessary to send the spirit away from my child. It’s just unnatural, and I don’t believe it is good for either child, or spirit!

I know the psychic sense is not something that you can turn on and off at command, but I am wondering if you have any advice for people that are looking to develop their own psychic abilities? (My Dad used to always tell me, basically get in tune with nature, and meditate sort of while hiking/walking).

Some families are simply accepting of the abilities (mine was) and I think that makes them natural from a young age. Also, those who suffered abuse or trauma at a young age seem to have abilities stronger-to keep them safe, I believe. If you want them, and practice, they will increase.

What can you tell us about how you work as a writer and your writing process? (Are you a pen and notebook person, or strictly a typist? Morning or night person? Write on a schedule, or as the mood strikes? How long does a book take you to complete?)

I use a laptop so no pen and paper for me! I started writing my first book A Haunted Life in 2012-and will have my 8th book out this year. I have several publishers both fiction and nonfiction, and I do about two books per year so far. I have a bestselling post apocalyptic series right now titled “Red Death: A Post Apocalyptic Thriller” written under pen name D.L Robinson, about surviving an Ebola pandemic that wipes out most of the world. I am starting on book 3 right now, and it will bring natural disasters and other problems into the mix. I found writing to be a wonderful release, after losing my son and father so tragically, and I really love it.

Tell us how to keep up with you/where to find you and a bit about your upcoming release dates for new books.

Below are my sites:
Goodreads: https: //www.goodreads.com/author/show/6981130.Debra_Robinson

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Debra-Robinson/e/B00BMHA032/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Website: http://www.debrarobinson.net

Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/debra-robinson/11/71a/336/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/debrarobinsonauthor?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/reb_robinson

Red Death http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TZHRS86

Amazon http://tinyurl.com/ly6dgor The Dead are Watching

Amazon http://tinyurl.com/ctrljjg Haunted Life

 

On My Bookshelf: Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities, by Michael Kleen

Fall gives me back to school fever, and when I found out that Michael Kleen’s new book combined my love of ghost stories with my longing for school days, I had to get a copy. One of the themes of the book that really struck a chord with me is the importance of legend-tripping in college. Some of us outgrow it, I guess, but even if we do, I think we replace it with another form of travel or even possibly another thrill-seeking activity.

From haunted libraries and theaters, to even your very own dorm room, any area of the campus might have an associated legend. I caught up with Michael and he very kindly entertained my questions below:

Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities

I love your explanation of legend tripping as a form of escapism. “By confronting the imagined horrors that await them at their destination, participants expect to be changed in some way.” What are your thoughts on the importance of continuing this tradition into our adult lives?

Legend tripping, like all rights of passage, is important during adolescence and early adulthood. These trips to “forbidden” locations, confrontations with real or imagined danger, and proving one’s bravery to his or her peers can have a lasting impression on individuals and groups of friends. I recently read an insightful argument that ghost stories are intimately tied to nostalgia. Many adults who engaged in legend tripping during their formative years probably retain very powerful memories of those events. I know I do.

Continuing to seek out mysterious places in adulthood is a way to reconnect with those memories, perhaps even to reconstruct them with a new group of friends, or to share that part of your life with someone new. We can develop very real emotional connections to these places, even physical connections (such as writing your name on a wall, for example). Revisiting an abandoned building or bridge where you wrote your name as a teen allows you to encounter a visual reminder of your past.

Do you find the idea of a haunted library unsettling or oddly comforting?

I love libraries and old books–places where you can literally smell the history. When I was a kid, I used to enjoy looking in books to see the last date they were checked out. Sometimes that was several decades ago. I like the idea that something of the past remains, like a spiritual manifestation of a custodian of this collective knowledge. So to answer your question, yes, I find it comforting.

What legend do you think is the most far-fetched or hard for you to believe, and which do you find the most believable?

I treat all legends as equally believable and far-fetched, because I’m not very interested in questions about the truth or falsehood of legends. All legends are acts of creative storytelling. You could have one legend about the ghost of a suicide victim at college and it be completely made up, or you could have a legend that was based on a real suicide, but elements of the story are fictional. You have to, at some level, assume all these stories are false. However, there is a legend about a dorm that was designed to fly safely off its foundation in the event of a tornado, and I think that’s pretty far-fetched.

When I was reading the stories of the librarian ghost in Williams Hall, I was thinking to myself: “Wait a minute. That sounds likeGhostbusters!” Then you wrote the exact same observation a few sentences later. Do you see this type of phenomenon often when conducting interviews, as far as witnesses seemingly being influenced by popular culture and the media when they are reporting their stories? If so, do you think it is an innocent happening, or do you think people sometimes just mirror what they think they are supposed to say they saw based on what they’ve seen in the movies and may have already read in print?

I think media is very influential when it comes to legends and ghost stories. Let’s say someone actually sees a ghost, or encounters something they can’t explain. How do they describe something that may have only happened for a few seconds out of the corner of their eye? There may not be words in the English language suitable to describe what the person encountered. So they pull examples from popular culture–movies, TV shows, newspaper articles, stories they heard from other people–to fill in the blanks. People do this when describing crimes as well, and that involves an actual physical event! It’s been shown that reports of encounters with ghosts and UFOs increase when articles in the newspaper or TV news reports focus on those subjects. It’s not clear, however, whether people just feel more open to talking about those experiences, or whether the media somehow influenced them to be more susceptible to having those experiences. I do know that when a legend in one part of the country becomes popular in the media, it has been known to spread to other parts of the country. Those are called migratory legends. The crybaby bridge and vanishing hitchhiker motifs are just two examples of that.

Speaking of interviews, have you ever come across a participant who seeks payment in exchange for a story? If so, how do you handle this?

I have not encountered that, but I would not be opposed to paying for a story if it was something that was really crucial to my research. Some people just need that extra motivation. You always have to be careful, however, of people who are just coming forward with a story for financial gain. You can find someone to say anything for the right amount of money.

It’s a dark and suddenly stormy night and you find yourself trapped outside alone in the elements on your way back to your dorm room. Do you seek shelter in the archives of the haunted library or run for cover into the tunnels?

Hm, I would definitely seek shelter in the haunted archives. That sounds a lot cozier and you’re less likely to run into jumbo sized sewer rats.

I’m captivated by the Capital Hotel. Any news or tales you can share that didn’t make it in the book?

Yes and no. Pretty much everything I know about Vishnu Springs and the Capitol Hotel related to its importance as a legend tripping destination for students from Western Illinois University is in the book, but there is a lot of history I left out because it was just meant to be an overview. So nothing new to report, unfortunately. I would like to know when WIU intends to open it back up to the public.

In the beginning, it is explained to the reader that the legends are retold as a way of explaining strange occurrences and are passed on in order to warn or inform others. And yet, the most chilling truth of all is presented later in the form of the fate of Shannon McNamara. “As Shannon McNamara’s murder taught a whole generation of my fellow EIU alumni, you can be intelligent, popular, athletic, and happy, and evil might still find you.” This sentence stuck with me, and still covers my entire body in chills. This is the scariest story to tell in the dark because it is real, and there is really nothing you can do to guard against it other than stay strapped, I guess. This isn’t really turning into much of an interview question, but I guess I just want to listen to you talk about this theme/truth some more.

We like to think of the college years as carefree. For most people, it’s a time to party, experiment, and reinvent yourself before moving on to adulthood. It is definitely all of those things, at least in contemporary American society. But there is the flipside of the coin. Some students experience loneliness, social rejection, disappointment, failure, and broken hearts. Most of the legends and ghost stories on college campuses focus on these unfortunate individuals. Ghost stories tell students, “this could happen to you if you’re not careful,” which is an especially poignant message among people who are still in denial about their mortality. But as you point out, this turns out to be a false hope. In reality, tragedy also befalls normal, happy, and well-adjusted students. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to prevent a killer from striking, or a tragic accident befalling someone. That is the real horror. It is a reality almost too horrible to face, so we tame it by turning it into a story with a neat little moral at the end.

Any upcoming announcements? Any updates on the witchcraft in Illinois book?

I’m currently deployed overseas, so I don’t have any upcoming events. My book on the cultural history of witchcraft in Illinois is still in review at the publisher. It is an academic publisher, so the editing and revision process is especially long. Even though it can be discouraging at times, in the end, I think this process will make it a much better book. As for right now, I’m continuing to try to promote Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges and Universities as best I can.

Tell us how to keep up with you.

People can keep up with me through my websites, http://www.michaelkleen.com and http://www.mysteriousheartland.com.

On My Bookshelf: The Ghosts of Chicago, The Windy City’s Most Famous Haunts, by Adam Selzer

I picked up a copy of Adam Selzer’s The Ghosts of Chicago a few weeks ago when I was scouting locations for my upcoming project (Haunted Hotels).

Selzer

He is absolutely hilarious, which is very hard to be in this genre. I knew I was going to love his book when on page 3 of his Introduction he talked about seeing Scooby-Doo as a kid and thinking “driving around in a van solving mysteries was the way to live.” Don’t we all still think that thought?!

Adam is a tour guide and historian, and I love his explanation for authenticating evidence (pointing out that the official records, newspapers, and even surviving relatives cannot always be relied upon). In addition to educating me, he kept me plenty entertained with his musings about what it is like to ride a bus in Chicago (Page 125: “I sometimes think I must have a sign on my back reading, Tell Me About Judgment Day”). I can so relate to that just about every single time I wind up in the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport.

Here is what Adam had to say about ghost evidence, the famously haunted Congress Hotel, and the rumors about the upcoming season of American Horror Story: Hotel.

I love how you explain to readers in your Introduction that there is no such thing as “good” ghost evidence, only “cool” ghost evidence. Page 11 contains a note to ghost hunters about gear and equipment. Can you elaborate on that a bit for us?

I think most of those gadgets are just toys, at best. More often than not they’re just devices for tricking yourself into thinking you saw a ghost. There’s almost always another possible explanation for photos, sightings, recordings, everything. Equipment readings, that much more. None of this stuff is going to hold up in court or convert the unbelievers – even with the best of the stuff, people just have to take your word for it that you didn’t fake it. That’s part of why I hate it when people ask me to analyze their photos. I don’t want to have to accuse them of faking things! But sometimes even the fact that something can be explained doesn’t mean it isn’t cool.

What do you think about the Congress Hotel today? The legends are fascinating to me. I wonder if it would be your nomination for the most historic haunted Chicago hotel, or if there is a less famous haunted hotel that you would recommend for travelers.

If the Congress isn’t haunted, no place is haunted. But as its fame as a haunted spot has grown in recent years, the amount of nonsense stories going around is skyrocketing. I think that every time someone calls and asks for the most haunted room, they just give them some random room number and then the people go online and say “room 441 is the haunted one!” This all comes out of nowhere. But it’s not like we NEED fake stories about the place; there’re plenty of stories about it already.

Chapter 3 educates us about The Eastland Disaster, which was a ship that tipped over in 1915 and killed anywhere from 844 – 1200 people. What are your thoughts about some of the residual experiences that you’ve had near the LaSalle Street Bridge?

Tough one – I’ve seen and heard some weird stuff around there, but it’s such a busy area that it’s particularly hard not to think it must have been something else. But here’s an interesting thing: the LaSalle bridge wasn’t there in 1915, but there WAS a pedestrian tunnel under the river at LaSalle. A lot of people are said to have died in it during the fire in 1871. The tunnel is bricked off now, but it’s still down there someplace.

The upcoming season of the popular television show – American Horror, has announced that their new theme for fall 2015 will be “Hotel.”  There has been some internet buzz that the inspiration for this theme was H.H. Holmes. If this is true, how do you imagine all the ways that the show will get this completely and totally wrong? 

Oh, geez, I hadn’t heard that…. Holmes’ building was briefly called “the World’s Fair Hotel,” but it wasn’t a hotel in the modern sense of the word. There was no front desk, no lobby, no check-in times, no nightly rates. It was more short term apartments. The third floor was added specifically for use as world’s fair flats, but I think the main idea was that it gave him a reason to raise money from investors. Most people in that building lived there for months at a time, I’m not sure much was EVER done on the third floor. It wasn’t structurally very sound.  People tend to get just about everything about Holmes wrong; the story we hear about him now is sort of taking all of the wildest theories tabloids could come up with at the time and assuming they were all true. And it got pretty nuts. He’d been out of the building for a year and a half when they started investigating, and there were a couple of weeks where they were just saying “We found some rope – was he hanging people? We found a board with a nail in it – was THAT how he did it?” It was out of control, really. The whole idea of him preying on Wold’s Fair victims came from one offhand line in a New York paper. It was just a wild theory of what he COULD have been doing.

What is your favorite place to take travelers to and why (both paranormal travelers and tourists in general visiting Chicago)?

The Congress is a fun one – even putting all the paranormal stuff aside there’s history in ever nook and cranny of that place. They’re not as apt to give me the run of the place as they used to be, though. As business has picked up (and the number of people asking about nonsense ghost stories has increased) they’ve gotten less accommodating. But I can still usually show people the ballrooms. I also like to show off places like the law library high up in the Daley center, the old swimming pool in the Intercontinental, and the old mansions down on Prairie Avenue.

What is the most over-rated sort of tourist trap of Chicago? Where do the locals like to eat?

Navy Pier. I’m never sure what the point of that place is; it’s just a little off-site place to keep the tourists. Locals don’t generally go to places like Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, etc.  Everyone gets their own favorite neighborhood spots after a while. I like a place called Pie-Eyed at Chicago and Milwaukee.

Do you consider yourself a paranormal enthusiast, ghost hunter, or a folklorist (or what term do you think is best if you even identify with a label?!)

I usually prefer “historian who specializes in places that are supposed to be haunted.” I’m always afraid to say “ghost hunter” because then people imagine me running around in old buildings shouting “Come at me, bro!” And I’m pretty skeptical about paranormal or supernatural explanations for things – these things usually turn out to be something else, and I know that very well, even though it doesn’t keep me from having fun on investigations. I’m fine with letting my imagination run away with me in the heat of the moment.

What were your biggest challenges in writing this book? Looking back, how was your experience with the publishing process, and what have you learned over the years about publishing and marketing?

Trying not to ramble, if I remember right! It’s been a while since that one, really. I haven’t even been with the tour company in the book in years now. But it was a fun one; it was my first sign of just how much easier nonfiction is to promote than fiction. I’ve learned that repeatedly. I mean, I had a book about silent film production in Chicago out through a university press last month. It got more press in one week than my last three novels combined.

Take us through your writing process for a non-fiction book. (Do you write by hand or always type? Do you keep a writing schedule? Do you have a certain number of drafts you complete before turning in final copy?)

Hand write? How old do you think I am? Haha. I type and type. I usually get up in the morning and go right to the coffee shop and write until I’m done. Then I work at my desk at home in the evenings. With nonfiction there’s a lot more research in the middle.

Tell us how to keep up with you and about your upcoming projects/happenings.

Your best bet is probably the Mysterious Chicago blog – http://www.mysteriouschicagoblog.com

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