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. 


Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review of The Slenderman Mysteries: An Internet Urban Legend Comes to Life, by Nick Redfern

(Newburyport, MA: New Page Books, 2017). ISBN: 9781632651129
In June 2009, two photo-shopped images of a “made up” entity dubbed “ the Slenderman” were uploaded to the Internet as part of a contest. The creator used as inspiration such well-known horror/paranormal tropes as the Men in Black (MIBs), the tentacled creatures of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, and the Mothman—all of which have been a part of my life as a paranormal researcher, content creator, and experiencer for the past 10 years.
Within weeks, the Slenderman was jumping its frame as a made up monster and appearing in the woods, bedrooms, and computers of people all over the world, culminating in several high-profile murders and attacks in which Slenderman was professed to be the inspiration. By the time of these events, Slenderman was the subject of hundreds if not thousands of short stories and graphic images on the Internet, at horror websites such as 4chan and Creepypasta Wiki.
This phenomenon is complex, with many strands and theories to follow and parse  to make sense of what is happening. Although other authors and journalists have tackled the subject the past nine years, Nick Redfern—author of over 40 books and a frequent guest on television and radio—does a masterful job of pulling together the data, situating it in centuries-old lore and paranormal case files, and interviewing a broad array of researchers and experiencers.
Having experienced both a Mothman-like interdimensional (also in 2009) near Point Pleasant, WV and spectral MIBs that match the description in many ways of Slenderman at a library in North Carolina where my wife and I spent 150+ hours the past two years doing investigations (our book on the subject will be published by Visionary Living this summer), I was in familiar territory as the chapters unfolded. There is no question that this tall, thin, faceless (or distorted-faced) entity dressed all in black exists, passing back and forth between dimensional planes—and over the centuries I believe that it has gone by dozens of names.
Redfern sets out early on to find possible explanations for why the Slenderman phenomenon spread on the Internet and crossed the plane into our reality so quickly (whatever “reality” might mean anymore in the face of increased evidence that we exist in some form of other-controlled Matrix). One explanation is that Slenderman is a tulpa, a term that has been distorted from its original Buddhist origins the same way that the Greek daimon become a demon and satan (an adversary) became the Satan, king of all demons. Another is that it has existed from time immemorial and Slenderman is the latest incarnation.
There are recorded instances of magical practitioners the likes of Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley summoning or creating entities through rituals and their imaginations, as Redfern catalogs, pointing out that these tulpas grow more powerful, independent, and mischievous over time. This is not something you want to mess with.
Two points resonate for me here. First, as a content creator who often works in the horror genre, I know that H.P. Lovecraft experienced nightmares of entities called the “Night Gaunts” that fit the Slenderman archetype and Stephen King has written thousands of pages of stories where monsters move across the veil because of people’s fears and intentions—conscious and otherwise. It has long been whispered that Lovecraft did not so much create his monsters as describe those already existing beyond the threshold. In the kind of synchronicity that often arises when exploring the darkness beyond, I began reading a collection of Thomas Hardy’s supernatural stories while preparing this review and in the first (1881’s “What the Shepherd Saw”) was the following description of a spectre: “his dress being a dark suit … his figure of slender build.” Redfern also shares an anecdote of graphic novelist and ceremonial magician Alan Moore, who saw one of his creations—John Constantine—in our reality once.
The second point stems from my work as a paranormal investigator. It is clear—whether it be the Ouija “mama” personality or spirits (human and non-) that haunt buildings and landscapes—that there are opportunistic tricksters who will wear the visage and take the name of archetypal monsters to suit their own ends. There was a human spirit in the library we investigated that would appear as a sinister clown to my wife, because he knew they frightened her. We have also experienced Shadow People (another model for the Slenderman, especially when it comes to “night terrors”) and other dark entities that have taken the form of familiar archetypes in order to lure or frighten our investigative team in various places.
Another archetype that Redfern explores in detail is the Pied-Piper of Hamelin. This lurer of children is both inspired by and has inspired dozens of other monsters. I believe he is in part the inspiration for the evil Andre Linoge in King’s Storm of the Century. He certainly is for the clown in King’s It.
What is most problematic about Slenderman is that we are not talking about mere lore and legend here, nor is he/it merely a “craze” that comes and goes without real consequence. As mentioned earlier, he/it has been the inspiration for murderers and would-be murderers, some as young as 12 or 14 years old.
Space does not permit details—Redfern lays it all out better than I could here—but of the several cases involving Slenderman the most disturbing and well known is that of two 12-year-old girls who plotted, lured, and attacked one of their “best friends.” Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser are currently incarcerated in mental institutions for 25 and 40 years, respectively, after being tried for attempted murder in adult court in Wisconsin and being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Morgan stabbed their victim 19 times with a 5-inch kitchen knife. According to Beware the Slenderman, a heartbreaking 2017 HBO documentary I watched while reading this book, Morgan has schizophrenia like her father and had become increasingly divorced from reality following the attack.
I was honestly appalled at a sequence in the documentary where there was what could only be termed “fan art” of the two girls with knives, posing with the Slenderman. Dozens of images exist. These images feed the perhaps numerous entities manifesting as this insidious thing.
The stakes are high when it comes to Slenderman, and the consequences of mucking about in his auric field, as it were, are real. Abundant energy—oftentimes the sharp, angry energy of lonely teenagers whose only socialization comes through the Internet—is offered daily to this untrustworthy archetype of sinister origins.  As researchers and experiencers, it is our duty to keep improving our understanding of what is going on. The Internet will only get more powerful and ubiquitous as Virtual Reality takes further hold. How long before someone is literally “scared to death” by some version of this tall, thin, dark-suited entity?
Equally contributive to the deification of those who have done Slenderman’s bidding is the horror film about Slenderman due to be released in August 2018. Where do we draw the line as content creators? Where is our duty to not feed the beast with attention and the potent energy of fear, despite the lure of sure box office profits?
Redfern lays out the facts and dangers for us through thorough research, engaging prose, and a rich array of interviews. As he says in closing, “The trick to beating the Slenderman, and keeping him at bay, is not to think about him. The problem is, that’s not the easiest thing to do. Good luck, though…” (p. 267, emphasis in the original).
If you have a teenager (as I do) who spends a lot of time on websites such as Creepypasta Wiki and has a fascination with other dark and macabre Internet and YouTube channels, this book should be a priority read. I was brought to tears by the genuine surprise and sense of guilt and helplessness of Anissa and Morgan’s parents in the HBO documentary. A little insight goes a long, long way, because those things that lurk at the edge of the woods sometimes steal our children in ways that we know not.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review of The Healing Journey: How a Poor Chinese Village Girl became an American Healer, by Sue Maisano, PhD

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2018). ISBN: 9781942157236
A spiritual practitioner and healer that I am serving as book editor for emailed me a few days ago after attending a writer’s conference. “I got a literary agent,” she said. “But he says that Eat, Pray, Love memoirs are out. No one wants to hear your story.”
No one wants to hear your story. What a horrible view of things. Plus, it’s a falsehood. No one wants to hear your story. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Telling (and thereby owning) your story, to paraphrase Brené Brown, is one of the bravest things that anyone can do. Stories are the stuff of which we are made, as fundamental to our makeup as atoms and cells. Governments, religions, multinational corporations, and the military are expert storytellers. They have raised it to a high art (in collusion with the media), making it more necessary than ever for those with alternative, holistic, and healing views to tell their stories.
If anyone needs proof about the importance and value of story, they should read Dr. Maisano’s book. Heavily weighted to memoir, with self-help aspects reserved for the end, The Healing Journey is exactly as advertised in both title and subtitle.
It follows the classic three-act structure of the Hero’s Journey, as explicated by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell decades ago, with a clear cycle of Separation (leaving China), Initiation (graduate schooling, marriage, children, and career paths), and Return (the part of the journey when the Hero shares what she has learned with the “village”).
In a time of controversy over immigration and the path to U.S. citizenship, Dr. Maisano tells an underdog’s tale of determination against all odds. From her childhood in China to her defying the predictions of the so-called experts and attending the best possible schools at each level of her education, The Healing Journey reminds us that the fundamentals we were taught (and perhaps I am showing my age here)—honesty, integrity, self-discipline, respect for family, and commitment to education—do bring to fruition our hopes and dreams.
The Separation of Maisano’s hero’s journey comes when she decides to go to America for her graduate work in biology. Every high school junior should read this section. She diligently ignores the advice of “friends” urging her to aim lower, identifies the right program, reaches out to its lead professor, and makes a case for herself. As with all her levels of schooling, Maisano did not test well on her entrance exams, so it was her commitment to her career path and persistence that got her into the school she wanted to attend.
From there it is a blur of marriage, three children, and the struggles that come with being a postdoctoral fellow with a small salary and long hours. This is the major arc of her Initiation into adulthood.
Along the way, she amasses considerable knowledge and experience that leads her toward a different path. This kind of decision—especially for a married mother of three with a new mortgage and a nervous husband—takes tremendous courage. It truly is the hero’s path. It is following one’s Bliss—sat chit ananda in Sanskrit. People often mistake the word Bliss to mean “easy” or “pleasantly spiritual,” but it is rarely easy to change paths, to start over, to say that all that came before was a Prologue to something new.
And what this new path leads to for Maisano, most importantly, is her Return. She wanted to do more to help people—to guide them in finding their passion and their path. To help them achieve their full potential, despite all odds. This book is just one aspect of her work.
These are the strengths of The Healing Journey and, as you can see, they are many. If you are struggling to find your path, or have found it and are unsure how to make the commitment to change direction and fully follow it, this is an excellent book for you.

People do want to—and need to—hear your story. Dr. Maisano has proven this once again, and done it in a very inspiring—and inspiriting—way.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review of Parting the Veil: How to Communicate with the Spirit World, by Stuart and Dean James-Foy

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2017). ISBN: 9781942157212
More people than ever before (at least in modern times) believe in the existence of ghosts. Popular polling organizations such as the Pew Research Center are reporting that as many as 50% of the population believe in ghosts and some 20% have actually seen one. Just twenty years ago, in the mid-nineties, this number was 9%.
The mid-nineties were also the time of Dionne Warwick hawking the Psychic Friends Network on late-night TV while Miss Cleo—and her fake Jamaican accent—solicited more laughs than legitimate interest in the fields of mediumship and psychic arts.
In the 2000s we had mediumship enter the mainstream consciousness through the TV shows Medium with Patricia Arquette and Ghost Whisperer with Jennifer Love Hewitt. John Edward also had his platform reading non-fiction show on TV and mediums such as James Van Praagh and Theresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) were gaining a considerable following.
As a paranormal investigator and experiencer married to a gifted professional medium and father to a teenager who has seen ghosts at least since she was old enough to talk (which means probably before), I am interested in learning as much as I can about the art of mediumship. I have read several books by John Edward and was called upon to edit my wife’s recent book, Living the Intuitive Life: Cultivating Extraordinary Awareness.  My studies and experiences served me well when I was hired to write a screenplay based on the true story of the Berardis, a family of mediums from upstate New York.
My own psychic abilities are limited, but slowly developing. If the conditions are just right, I am able to see spirits, at least partially (normally just the head and a bit of one shoulder). I am also developing my clairaudience, which means to be able to hear spirits. Developing these skills not only helps me to better understand what my wife and daughter have experienced their entire lives, but also to become a better paranormal investigator.
Given these circumstances, I was eager to read Parting the Veil. It did not disappoint. The James-Foys have studied with the best mediums England has to offer, and—as demonstrated by their individual stories that open the book—they have been experiencers since childhood. They came organically into their vocation much like my wife, wanting to understand and enhance their natural abilities so they could help others.
Parting the Veil is truly a beginner’s guide, taking the reader and potential practitioner through a historical survey of mediumship from its roots in ancient times and the Spiritualism movement of the 1800s into modern times. The fundamentals of developing the art and craft are explained in accessible and encouraging language. Even if you do not want to do readings or hold séances, the early chapters will help your understanding of this often misunderstood and at times demonized field of practice. The exercises are conveniently blocked off in grey-scale boxes so they can be easily found and returned to as one continues to work with them.
Although I have used some form of each of the exercises in Parting the Veil for the better part of a decade (and the visualizations for even longer in my work as a theatre and creative writing teaching-artist), I was impressed with the tone and detail provided by the James-Foys. If you are like me, and have some prior experience, you will still find much of value here.
In the chapter “Laying the Foundation” there are excellent explanations and exercises for strengthening both your aura and chakras. Again, these are valuable practices for anyone wanting to live and full and healthy life, physically and spiritually.
As one would expect, the exercises become more challenging and complex as the book progresses. I appreciate the focus on not only opening oneself to spirit but closing the door for protection and mental rest as well. This emphasis gave me confidence when working with the exercises to open the third eye (something that has frightened me in the past) and to further develop my clairaudience (as a professional writer I am often bombarded with voices in my head; when I am not in a place to commune with spirit or the Muse, it is comforting to have the ability to turn that mechanism off). I shared the exercise on developing clairaudience with my wife and it enabled her to better receive the spoken messages from spirit during her readings with clients.
Chapters 7 and 8 offer exercises for meeting and working with your spirit guides and for meditating. Once again, these are essential tools for any spiritual practitioner. Through my training in shamanism and other spirit-world journeying techniques I have worked with similar exercises for nearly two decades and the James-Foys have infused their unique take on these exercises with a powerful energy. It is clear that their training and experience are both at a high level, steeped in tradition but also benefitting from their unique and complementary voices.
Next, the book provides descriptions of and instructions for using such tools as Ouija boards, scrying (dark) mirrors, table tipping, and séance trumpets. All of these tools have had their share of criticism through the years; the authors do an excellent job of addressing them point by point and offering thorough guidance in using these tools correctly and protecting yourself in the process. In the section on scrying mirrors they mention Rosemary Ellen Guiley (who also wrote the Foreword). Guiley is one of the world’s foremost experts on all things paranormal and spiritual. I have one of Guiley’s handmade scrying mirrors, along with her book, The Art of Black Mirror Scrying, and I recommend both to anyone interested in learning to use this powerful tool for spirit communication.
The remainder of the book looks at private and group readings and séances. This last section is particularly thorough, from the space needed to the types of people to invite, to the décor and timing of bathroom breaks.
If the Pew polls are any indicator, acceptance of mediumship and acknowledgment of life beyond the boundary of life and death will continue to grow, as will the demand for able practitioners to minister to the needs of those who wish to contact their deceased loved ones. I have seen first hand on many occasions the immense healing power of such contact.
If you are called to be a medium, I cannot imagine better initial guidance than that provided by Parting the Veil. And for those that wish to enhance their spiritual life and practice this book is also recommended.