Friday, January 4, 2019

Review of Haunted Hills and Hollows: What Lurks in Greene County, Pennsylvania, by Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Kevin Paul

(New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2018). ISBN: 9781942157311
As a reviewer, this book is a perfect storm for me. I have been fortunate to have been mentored by the lead author, and she has recently become my publisher for the paranormal research I do with my wife and other investigators.
The methods and experiences in this book are things that I know firsthand.
I am also familiar with Greene County, PA, having friends who live there. I can attest to its remoteness, feeling of being out-of-time (including a certain road we used to travel where—especially at night—it felt like time stretched and we were on it way longer than we should be), and I have heard stories for many years about their encounters with ghosts, UFOs, and possible parallel dimensions.
Kevin Paul is a life-long resident of Greene County and his family goes back to the earliest European settlers in the area. This gives him intimate knowledge and a level of trust with the locals.
Greene County’s story, similar to the larger western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, eastern Ohio story, is one of pioneer settlers in struggle with Native Americans for land and resources. Lord Dunmore’s war was not far away, in an area that is another paranormal hotspot—Point Pleasant, WV on the Ohio River, famous for the winged cryptid known as the Mothman. It is also an area known for phantom black panthers, UFOs, Men in Black, and other high strangeness. It is an area that some believe was cursed by Chief Cornstalk before his death.
Greene County has many of these same anomalies, with dogmen and Bigfoot substituting for Mothman.
What might be going on? In my work, I am now focusing on portals and parallel dimensions. These phenomena used to be treated as outlandish ideas, but with NASA mapping portals and ultra-hi-tech companies like D-Wave making quantum computers for NASA, Google, and Stanford with the goal of reaching parallel dimensions, we have to make them a core part of the conversation.
So perhaps Greene County is a portal, or has several. It is near the Monongahela River, which, like the Ohio, could increase activity. It is striking the array of phenomena on which Guiley and Paul report.
Greene County also has its share of hollows—bowl-like depressions that usually have houses spaced out by several acres and ringed around the lip of the bowl. Hollows (or “hollers”) are cauldrons for paranormal activity. I lived in one in West Virginia for seven years and we experienced similar phenomena to that related in this book, as well as gathering evidence of at least one portal.
Guiley and Paul have been thorough in their data-gathering approach, from interviews with locals, to historical society and other research, to on-site investigation. Photos of key areas and pencil illustrations by John Weaver of various creatures seen in the area bring us close to the action.
The first part of the book is devoted to the Indian massacres and disturbances of burial mounds. Greene County, like many counties in America, has a history soaked in blood and desecration.
Although I have encountered a wide variety of phenomena, I was surprised by some of the entities described. There are a lobster-thing, lizard men, frog men, mole-things… All seen by seemingly credible witnesses who have nothing to gain by lying. If the area is a portal, then we have much to learn about the beings coming through. Throughout history there have been civilizations reporting anthropomorphic beings like these—too many to dismiss as myths or hallucinations.
One of the more frightening chapters is the ninth, titled “Mystery People and Black-Eyed People.” These entities, which many researchers and experiencers have reported on, are sinister in nature. They include black-eyed kids, Men and Women in Black, shadow figures, and other entities that seem to exist solely to intrude upon and mess with people.
As I have experienced in my decade of investigation, these entities will also do their best to make sure that hard evidence of the paranormal does not get out. They cause mechanical malfunctions, illness, make emails and photos go missing… These sabotage phenomena are reported by a considerable number of researchers, and Guiley and Paul were not immune. The more you investigate, the worse it gets.
For UFO enthusiasts, be sure to read chapter 14. Chapter 15 is “Night Howlers and Forest Prowlers” and chapter 16 takes as its subject “Winged Humans and Dogmen,” which are perfect for the cryptid enthusiast. Mothman aficionados will be interested to learn that Greene County has its own winged humanoid.
The final chapter, “Angry Spirits of the Land,” is a detailed case study highlighting the investigative methods of the authors and the power that hauntings and other phenomena can have over us. Relating the events at a farm where the contractors revitalizing it experienced all manner of phenomena, the story ends with the farm being abandoned, as it had been in the past. Is the ancient, offended being that claims ownership of that land a djinn? Sounds like one. But it might be something else. Something that may be, like the djinn, a part of the worldwide fairy lore.
The authors give us lots to think about.
Haunted Hills and Hollows provides more of what the field of paranormal research needs: credible investigative methods, thorough contextual research, and a respect for both the experiencers and what they are experiencing.

The stakes in the field are high, and one should expect no less.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Review of Visitations & Conversations, by Carole Bromley

(Psychic Book Press, 2018). ISBN: 9781728753348

A disclaimer to start. I am a paranormal researcher who is married to a psychic medium. My daughter is also a psychic medium. Given the sad fact that, in this day and age, a war is still being waged by many in the scientific community and other gatekeepers and cynics against giving any legitimacy to mediumship and investigative study of the paranormal, it may be easy for someone to simply say, as many do when I try to explain these things, that “You already believe, so you cannot be objective.”
That statement makes no sense. I do, however, believe that there is life in some form after death. I also believe there are portals and multiple dimensions and sentient beings that vibrate at a higher level than living human beings and so do not behave according to traditional scientific laws. And I believe that an understanding of mediumship and what we call the paranormal is vital to the progression of the human race beyond its current and very limited way of living. A little research will show you that, for over 60 years, the United States, United Kingdom, and many other countries have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the study and exploitation of these areas.
It is one thing to read a book, and another to experience the author at work. I was lucky enough some months ago to experience Bromley’s way of working by observing a reading she did for my wife. Everything that she discusses in this book about her philosophy, her methods, and her unique, humor-filled approach to psychic mediumship was on display in the reading.
This is Bromley’s second book about her life as a psychic medium. Not having read The Living Spirit, One Woman’s Battle Amongst Ghosts, Spirits and The Living (2009), I am hazarding a guess here, but, judging from the title, it seems she has made the journey to more peace of mind and ease with her gifts since the publication of her first book. This is important, because skills such as Bromley’s are not always appreciated by the majority of the public and the institutions that govern them.
Visitations & Conversations is, to my tastes—and in-line with a currently popular genre of nonfiction—a perfect blend of memoir and case studies/testimonials. With her trademark sense of humor and colorful language, Carole shares her journey from childhood to now—with its many challenges, from financial struggles, to early family deaths, to health issues and the loss of a child of her own—all of which inform her relationship with the realm of the dead in profound ways.
As Bromley states in the opening pages, “I don’t convince anyone to believe in life after death.” This is an approach that I believe is invaluable if psychic mediumship and paranormal research are going to gain more credibility—and the deck is stacked against them for many reasons, including the rampant lies and exaggerations that are part and parcel of so-called Reality TV paranormal shows. My wife and I share Bromley’s philosophy and approach. All one can do is be professional, share the messages received, and maintain peace of mind knowing you are helping people. The end-of-book testimonials would hopefully make any cynic see the value of the work she does.
That, to me, is the core of this book. Through her many case studies, including testimonials from clients, Bromley makes a strong case for how much psychic mediumship helps people make peace with the loss of loved ones, be it through infant deaths, suicides, illnesses, old age, or accidents. Human beings have mystified death to the point that it’s a shadow cast over life. To know that there is life beyond death, that those we have lost are at peace, that they are watching over us, helping us, and helping each other, is a great gift.
Another aspect of Bromley’s philosophy is that “there are no poltergeists or demons I write about.” Entities that can be called demonic are truly few and far between. People often retain their personality after death—as I have seen through my firsthand experiences—and not all are pleasant. This is by and large what people are experiencing when they assume a “demonic” presence. It is an important distinction.
A prevalent aspect of Carole’s journey is the obstacles she’s faced from the establishment and her quest to earn respect. Her credentials are impressive: “I am a Psychic Medium, Reiki Teacher, Past Life Regressionist, Spiritual Teacher, Author, [and] Oracle Card Reader.” She has been practicing her skills and developing her calling for more than 20 years. In any other field this would demand considerable respect. She also relates that she comes from a long line of people with psychic ability. This is the case with other mediums I know.
The final chapter is titled “Science v Psychic Functioning.” It does not go into detail about how government-funded psychological-operations programs (such as those run during the Cold War by the Defense and Central Intelligence Agencies and Stanford Research Institute) spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the study of people like Bromley and my wife, but governments don’t spend that kind of money on programs like Remote Viewing without some foundational belief in the truth of psychic mediumship.
Bromley refers to herself as an “Ambassador” for the deceased, and, if that was a formal position,  I would certainly nominate her. How she treats both sides of the veil with equal respect, how she feels a clear responsibility in working with and representing both worlds, and her embracing her role as intermediary and messenger even when it was difficult in her professional and personal life is inspiring. 

If you know a medium, want to know more about mediumship, or have questions about life after death, this is an excellent resource. It is also a strong example of how a sense of humor enhances both the memoir and the memoirist’s life and work.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Review of Chuck Regan’s Beneath the Fungoid Moon: Tales of Cosmic Horror and Other Oddities

(Rayguns and Mayhem/Kindle Direct Publishing, 2018).

I have known Chuck Regan and his work for a long time. Three decades, actually. I started as a fan of his comic books, including Nether Age of Maga—a post-apocalyptic vision that’s everything from Plato to P. K. Dick. His skills as an artist—he’s known for his attention to detail and authenticity in his science fiction–based designs—translate successfully into prose. Regan has always had fun using made up words and he incorporates just the right amount of pop culture references in his work to give us grounding in the odd.
Regan’s vision has always been dark, but with touches of comedy and hope in all the right places. He opens his About the Author section at the end of this collection by saying he’s technically not an author because he has yet to publish a novel. But I’ve read several of his longer works in whole or in part, and “author” certainly applies. He is as much a technician of the craft of storytelling as any author I know. He’s even created a workbook for writers of long-form stories called Give Your Hero Bad Breath: A Character, Plot and World-Building Workbook that I have incorporated into my starting routine for new stories.
Beneath the Fungoid Moon is a collection of seven short stories, each with an opening passage about the history of the piece. For budding writers and those who want to see how the sausage gets made for writers in the thorny world of publishing, these introductions are invaluable.
The first story in the collection is “They Bite.” Before I share my thoughts, I have to say that I. Love. Tropes. I received a custom t-shirt for my fiftieth birthday this year that says, “You say trope like it’s a bad thing.” Tropes are our gateway into something new so that, no matter how bizarre or unfamiliar the story, there are things onto which we can grab hold. They are the mile-markers in a genre.
“The Bite” packs a lot of tropes into a tight, terrifying tale. It’s got hordes of angry insects; the meta- and micro-storylines of a city defending while a family defends; plenty of psychological aspects that explore the metaphors that make good horror so resonant; the destruction wrought from economic greed; the Star Trek red-shirt expendability of emergency medical personnel; and the attempted escape in the family vehicle—to name the most prevalent.
And Regan isn’t shy about it. At one point he writes, “Dan was scared his father might be losing it like they did in the old disaster movies.” Because that’s most likely how it would/will be when the bad stuff starts to go down. Social media will be flooded with posts saying “It’s just like in… [film, book, TV show].” Because writers help society Rehearse. Call it empathy, vicarious living, willing suspension of disbelief… Robert Heinlein and other masters of sci-fi were on retainer with the Department of Defense. If they could dream it, the military–industrial–intelligence complex could build it. And they have.
“Embrace of the Jabberwock” is an homage to both the Lewis Carroll poem and the works of HP Lovecraft (of which I can only say, don’t dismiss the possibility that Lovecraft was more of a reporter than a fiction writer). Regan really captures the underground nerd culture of hackers and online gaming aficionados (I have two of the latter sleeping off an all-nighter upstairs in my house as I type. Quietly…).
If Lovecraft was writing in the twenty-first-century uber-tech landscape, he would have written this story. Here we have the Web, the Deep Web with all its many horrors, and then the Beyond-the-Web, which could be a partial driver for the other two. Especially if you see in the data-eating AI tree all the grasping tentacles of Cthulhu.
This story weaves together not only Carroll and Lovecraft but films like the Matrix and Into the Mouth of Madness and the wacky world of back-alley occultists.
And we are left with the lingering question so often posed by Stephen King and perhaps evidenced in the Slenderman phenomena: can we, if we write these things well enough, actually pen them into existence? Maybe we already have.
“Friday Night Karaoke” is a riff on Purgatory. I love the focus on the nature of music to trigger memory. Regan’s vivid character descriptions are fully on display. It’s also a fun homage to the 1980s music scene, especially for a guy who’s just turned 50—I may have mentioned that—and grew up on the iconic songs that are woven into the story. Regan also does a fine job of revealing an illuminating backstory.
The next two stories are horror Westerns, a sub-genre that I have started working in because, with the deep metaphoric landscape that has always been the heart and soul of the Western, comes plenty of opportunity and overlap to play with the mechanisms of horror. The first story, “Headhunter” uses the trope of the bounty hunter and the second, “Jester’s Bliss” (which my literary website first published a version of about 10 years ago), uses as its frame the traveling carnival, although the parallel storyline of a frontier family being attacked on the trail is just as strong. Regan’s sense of physical landscape and vivid detail (again showing his background in visual art) makes this a perfect sub-genre for his talents.
The final story, “Rafter Man,” is a tapestry of many of the tropes in the previous stories, and is the only one told in the first person—via a Poe-esque, unreliable narrator who juices up the ride. This psychological mind-trip works well alone but is the perfect button/summation for the collection.
You can learn more about Chuck Regan and his writing, illustrations, and workbook at http://www.chuckregan.com. There will also be updates on some current long-form works he is creating, including a series of six novellas he describes as a “Superhero Noir.”

Pay attention: You might learn something that might just save your life in the bizarro years to come.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Review of Ken Hart’s It was a Small Affair

 (Pensacola, FL: World Castle Publishing, 2018), ISBN: 9781629899985 (print edition)

It has been my pleasure over the past six years or so to review Ken Hart’s science fiction novels. This will be my third. My previous reviews were of Behind the Gem and The Eyes Behold Tomorrow.
Hart brings a lot of heart to his sci-fi. His previous two novels deal with family and reproductive issues and his stories explore what happens when distinct binary groups—be they male–female, human–nonhuman, or past–present—interact.
His latest novel, It was a Small Affair, focuses on the third binary—past–present.
The past is the confrontation at the Alamo in 1836 between the Mexican general Santa Anna (whose derisive remarks after the battle provide the novel’s title) and Travis, Houston, Bowie, Crockett, and Co. Texas’s independence from Mexico was at stake, and the Texans were badly outnumbered.
There is a great deal of romanticism and myth that surrounds the Alamo. It has been the subject of many books (fiction and nonfiction), films, and TV mini-series.
So what makes this story different?
The science fiction time-travel.
The present is 2010, and the players are a less than stellar Army Infantry platoon about to embark on a training exercise. Led by the narrator, Sergeant Webber—a veteran with experience in Afghanistan and something to prove—the platoon winds up (through the kind of vaguely defined phenomena at work in most science fiction) at the Alamo in 1836, 13 days before the final engagement.
Hart, who did tours in Vietnam and Desert Storm, interweaves his abundant knowledge of military organization, tactics, and equipment throughout the narrative, adding plenty of reality to all of the fantasy. He has obviously also done exhaustive research on the Alamo and its key personalities, for each are nuanced and all too human. There are very few commanders in the story who seem healthy enough in mind to be responsible for leading men into battle.
This has always been a fascination for me, especially when it comes to Grant and Sherman in the U.S. Civil War—two men who had been failures in everything else in their lives.
As I mentioned, Hart does not spend a lot of time on the nuts and bolts of the science fiction and I believe his novels benefit immensely from it. His explorations are psychological—the behavior of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances— coupled with plenty of action, which keeps up the pace.
As a reader, you could get hung up on just how the platoon is transported or why more of a fuss isn’t made by those in 1836 over the fact that they are from the future. I encourage you to let those aspects be. It is clear that this well-equipped group with a military truck and plenty of advanced technology IS from the future and, with thousands of Mexican soldiers bearing down and harassing with cannon less than 200 defenders, Travis and company are more concerned with how Webber and his men can help them—especially when Webber very honestly tells them what the outcome will be if history is not changed.
Ah—that old sci-fi chestnut—changing history. Star Trek’s Prime Directive comes to mind. But, again, in the midst of what we know is coming for what history has told us are the “good guys” in this confrontation, we are more interested in changing a bad outcome—of seeing justice done—than what the consequences may be for doing so.
This is exactly the dilemma for Webber and his men.
The secondary plots—the infighting between those in charge of the Alamo and Texas; a couple of disgruntled minority soldiers in Webber’s platoon—reinforce the main themes and raise the stakes. We truly do care how it all turns out.
As far as that goes… the Prologue and Epilogue handle the whys and what-fors of the time-travel aspect. The Epilogue also hints at possible sequels for Webber and his men.
It was a Small Affair is an example of how a talented author, historical fiction, and sci-fi time-travel can all come together to make for a high-stakes, fast-paced, entertaining reading experience.
If you are interested in learning more about Ken Hart and to order this and other titles he has authored, visit www.kenhartscifi.com
           


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Review of The Black Diary: M.I.B., Women in Black, Black-Eyed Children and Dangerous Books, by Nick Redfern

(Lisa Hagan Books, 2018). ISBN: 9781945962110

Embedded in the upper righthand cover of this book is a red and white warning label: “Just picking up this book invites them in.”
Given the publishing industry’s penchant for sexy marketing strategies, it might be easy to dismiss this warning label as more of the same—a clever ploy on the part of the publisher to grab your attention and get you to buy the book.
But I know better.
And that’s what this review is about.
First of all, Nick Redfern is one of the most respected and published authorities on the subject of the paranormal, and the enigmatic (Wo)men in Black. I have read several of his books, and, having spent the past nine years studying and experiencing the paranormal, I have no reason to question anything he reports in them. He mixes field experience, interviews, and extensive research into his work, in the kind of self-checking triangulation that many investigators could learn from.
Second, and even more important, I know several of the people whose stories are quoted at length in the pages of The Black Diary. I also know them to be solid, honest folk with a genuine interest in the paranormal. I have been privileged to do field investigations with some of them.
Third, and most important, I have experienced many of the phenomena discussed in this book.
The Black Diary couples Redfern’s experiences—ranging from hard-to-explain-away synchronicities to damage to his apartment to threatening phone calls—with firsthand accounts from people who have contacted him or whom Redfern has met during his extensive travel and interview schedule.
At the heart of this complex mystery of the (Wo)Men in Black (this is the third in a trio of books Redfern has published on the subject) is just who or what they are. This question has been asked by researchers of the paranormal for decades, including by Fortean researcher and journalist John Keel. Answers are slow to come.
If you are interested in these oddly dressed, oddly behaving, weird-looking entities who drive classic black cars and seem to be unfamiliar with modern technology and at times even the most fundamental of cultural ideas, The Black Diary is for you. The range of visitations and experiences is considerable—they can turn up anywhere at any time and disappear again as quickly, instilling fear and wreaking havoc in a matter of moments.
Right in line with the debate about nuts and bolts/flesh and blood versus ultraterrestrial phenomena (from UFOs to Bigfoot), the (Wo)Men in Black mystery is deepened by two age-old nagging questions: Who or What Are They? and What do They Want?
I doubt it’s all one thing. In some cases, military-industrial-intelligence complex misdirection and intimidation seems to be in play. In others, it seems like they’ve crossed into our plane through a portal or other dimensional door and leave the same way, evoking a sense of dream-like disorientation in the people who encounter them. Oh, and speaking of—they will invade your dreams as well.
How’s that for menacing?
It’s all in the book.
My experiences with the Men in Black have been of the spectral variety, in a library in North Carolina my team recently investigated over the course of two years, and on the road home from an investigation in Point Pleasant, WV—an MIB hotspot. The phenomena reported in this book—the clothes, the facial features, the menace, and in one instance violence (choking a spirit trying to intervene on our behalf)—were right in line with our experiences in the library. The mysterious appearance (out of thin air) of a 1974 Eisenhower Silver Dollar, two UFO sightings in tandem with MIB appearances, and our encounter with a hairy, fanged interdimensional deepened the mystery of our encounters with the phenomena that are the Men in Black.
The Black Diary provided some context and a reminder that we are not alone in what we’ve seen.
The MIB are insidious, and not to be messed with unless you know what you’re getting in to—and perhaps not even then. The documented experiences in The Black Diary, collected by Redfern between 2014 and 2017 but spanning decades, are necessary reading. At times they bring warnings to forget what you’ve seen and keep silent; at other times they seem as keen to investigate a site or sighting as you are; at others their behavior is so bizarre as to defy rationale explanation.
The Black Diary includes some of each and plenty more.
Here’s a final suggestion. If, when you start to read this book, the phone rings in the middle of the night with all 0s or 1s on the caller ID (as has happened to me after several investigations)—don’t pick up.
You can’t say you weren’t warned.


Friday, August 3, 2018

“Horror with a Heart”: A Review of Locker Arms, by Zakary McGaha

 (KGHH Publishing, 2018). ISBN: 978-1-912638-27-7
In Danse Macabre, Stephen King postulates that great horror has at its core a collection of dark tropes gleaned from our reptilian brains and deepest primordial fears. In other words, it is all about character. Following the journey of an interesting, relatable (which is different than likeable) character as he or she crosses the threshold into a subterranean (literal or metaphorical) world of monsters to be battled and souls to be saved is the essence of well-constructed horror.
Applying this idea, the debut novel by Zakary McGaha, Locker Arms, is a success. Set in modern times but with a strong ‘80s feel (think Stranger Things meets Heathers meets Teachers), this splatter-fest of a tale centers around two sets of characters—one the students of your typical suburban high school and the other their teachers. The latter are joined by Henry, one of the (anti-)heroes of Locker Arms—a washed-up, aging never-was who had big dreams of making it in music after he left this very same high school decades before the story begins.
Henry’s return has almost everything to do with the unsolved mystery of a girl who disappeared into a locker when he was a student. In Henry’s mind—where we spend a good bit of time—if he solves the mystery, he just might solve his life.
Henry’s analog among the students is Tommy, a working-class kid who sounds and acts like Henry, just decades later. I kind of regret that they never do meet. This is your typical American town, where mostly everyone wants to get out but only some do—and then they come back.  
Tommy’s girlfriend is Autumn, a girl with a brain and a future who continually wrestles with the question of whether or not she is slumming-it with Tommy, who lets her down more often than not simply by being himself.
Tommy and Autumn are not the only kids in a quandary. Emily is a hypersexual fantasizer with a dark and active imagination. For all those in favor of the literal or metaphorical castration of males in the era of “the Donald,” she’s your ultimate dream-girl. Emily enters the story at just the right time in the second act to liven things up as the inevitability train starts rolling toward an ending reminiscent of Cabin in the Woods.
The teachers in Locker Arms will seem familiar to you too. Like Henry, they have a love–hate relationship with the high school and the town. They fancy themselves writers who never got the chance, who never had the material.
Until, decades after the first incident, another girl goes missing in a locker.
McGaha tells a vivid, well-paced story, using the under-used and at first hard to get used to present tense. It livens up the pace and, despite literary dogma to the contrary, helps to create complex characters and heightened suspense. His use of first person also allows him to shift points of view quickly and efficiently, making the story engagingly cinematic. We get bits and pieces of the story from multiple characters, which also contributes to the energetic pace.
What is most impressive about this novel from a young, inexperienced novelist (McGaha is a college student) is how much humanity emerges through the horror. Students or teachers, the characters in Locker Arms are thinking all the time—about unexpectedly heady things along with the “what have I done/will I do with my life?” kinds of questions. They are also given to wry observations like “why are they called textbooks; don’t all books, excluding art-books, have text”?
As good horror should, McGaha’s story makes the uncertainties of the characters’ lives just as scary—if not more so—than the monsters, which, as one would expect from splatter horror, are physically violent but that’s about all. The fact that arms are coming out of lockers and snatching people away is not important—it's what this change in circumstances does to their victims’ lives that drives the narrative and ultimately matters most.
Reading the interview with McGaha in the back of the book, it is no surprise that he has far-ranging interests across the arts. Like many of Stephen King’s characters, McGaha’s characters are trying to write or otherwise create their way out of their tiny, frustrating lives. Both adults and students are writing about the macabre goings on while the budding peddlers of cut-rate cinéma vérité record it all on their cell phones. The detachment from the horrific in the modern age is palpable—hence the outsized ending. It takes a lot to shake these characters up (and most modern readers/viewers as well).
For this reason, and in common with the third act of most splatter horror—or any boundary-pushing storytelling, including the standup routine of a raunchy comedian—Locker Arms gets increasingly sexually and violently explicit as it nears its end. The situation around the characters—who have all shown hints of their depravities and fringe fantasies throughout—has by now seriously deteriorated, so it all makes sense, and I thoroughly enjoyed the descent (literal and metaphorical) into madness they all undergo. As the story entered the third act, Oingo Boingo’s “Nasty Habits” and “Private Life” were playing repeatedly in my head.
In short, Locker Arms is an entertaining ride well worth taking. And, in doing so, you’ll be supporting the efforts of a promising young writer with much of interest to say. 


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

“An Investigator’s How-To Handbook”: A Review of The Van Meter Visitor: A True & Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown,

By Chad Lewis, Noah Voss, and Kevin Lee Nelson (Eau Claire, WI: On the Road Publications, 2013). ISBN: 978-0982431467

Thanks in large part to horror films and cable “reality” paranormal shows, the immense amount of time and effort legitimate paranormal investigators spend in libraries and historical societies chasing down leads is largely ignored. Most people are only interested in the “sexy” aspects of the haunting or cryptid visitation—who got chased, frightened, possessed, or injured? What dark menace is lurking in the corner? Are there “jump scares” as the investigators walk insane asylum hallways in the green glow of night-vision technology? Viewers don’t realize that paranormal investigators are in large part journalists and historians, tracking down the history that provides the context for the paranormal phenomena at play.
One of the world’s best known paranormal investigators was John Keel, of Mothman fame. He was also a journalist. So was his counterpart in the film The Mothman Prophecies. It is the journalist’s instincts for finding the hidden facts buried beneath or adjacent to the known ones that drive the good paranormal investigator. Christopher O’Brien’s Stalking the Herd, about cattle mutilations, is a thick, exhaustive testament to the value of mining newspaper clippings, police reports, and other firsthand accounts.
My forthcoming book, Watch Out for the Hallway: Our Two-Year Investigation of the Most Haunted Library in North Carolina, co-authored with my wife Tonya, a talented medium, owes as much to dozens of hours of research as it does to the 150-plus hours we spent investigating the library itself. There were plenty of dead ends, but also corroborations and finds in the form of documents and photographs that made all the hours worth it, illuminating the messages we heard and physical phenomena we experienced.
So I can appreciate the work that the three authors of The Van Meter Visitor put into this volume. I am taking my time with this aspect of the book because there are a surprising number of negative reviews of the book that sadly confuse indispensible research with “filler” of some kind. I hope this review serves in part to undo some of this mistaken criticism.
Lewis, Voss, and Nelson (all of whom have impressive resumés in the field, as evidenced by the About the Authors section) situate a limited sighting of winged, horned cryptids over several nights in the small town of Van Meter, Iowa in 1903 in a series of expanding circles of interest. As one would expect, they begin by laying out the history of Van Meter, as well as all of the major players—the town’s business owners and other prominent citizens—who encountered the creatures. In this first section, appropriately titled “History,” they relate the story, which is fascinating reading, recalling similar winged cryptids like the Mothman, but with its own unique twists. This section is authored almost entirely by Lewis.
The second section, “Theories,” is as strong as it is because the authors took the time to provide plenty of historical, geographical, economic, and human context. We already feel, 40 pages in, that we know and trust both the people of Van Meter and the authors themselves. In the “Theories” section the three authors look at a variety of possible explanations, including a primer on cryptids (featuring several similar cases such as the Jersey Devil), another on large birds of prey, the UFO/Alien connection that is prevalent in many cryptid sightings (such as of Mothman, Bigfoot, and Skinwalkers), thunderbirds and thoughtforms (the latter of which is currently of great interest because of the Slenderman phenomena), and ultraterrestrial theories (a standout survey chapter that runs 30-plus pages; the section on quantum physics and the holographic universe demonstrates that the authors are using all of our modern tools in their work).
The three authors all contribute chapters to the closing section, “Final Thoughts.” Their summations responsibly explore a number of possible explanations and there are no firm statements made about what the citizens of Van Meter encountered 115 years ago. Their theories all connect back to the information from the previous two sections.
Overall, The Van Meter Visitor serves a dual purpose: as a primer about the Van Meter mystery that allows the reader to pick up where the authors left off in their investigation, armed with abundant historical, sociological, and cryptological context (the two appendices offer a list of businesses operating in Van Meter in 1903 and an array of local and national newspaper accounts of the incident) and also as a handbook on the components—and countless hours—that go into a thorough paranormal investigation.
As if these two aspects were not enough, an extra bonus is the Foreword by the recently deceased author of over 80 books on the paranormal and spirituality, Brad Steiger. The book also features abundant historical photographs of the people and places in Van Meter, many provided with help from the local library, which help to close the century-plus time gap for the reader.
The Van Meter Visitor is a textbook example of how to do a thorough investigation written by seasoned, passionate professionals who bring to light a fascinating cryptid that has not yet gotten its fair share of attention and consideration. It should be a part of any investigator’s or enthusiast’s library, alongside Keel, Guiley, Redfern, Steiger, and the rest of the pillars of the field of paranormal investigation. Kudos to the authors on a job well done.