Halloween is Coming and Witchcraft is Afoot…

The Shadows is LIVE for pre-order on Amazon Kindle!

At 99 cents from October 12- November 2, 2014—how can you resist?

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This novel of Gothic Paranormal Suspense is suitable for YA and Old A. It is fast-paced, thrilling and full of menacing shadows. In other words, it’s just right for Halloween!

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This book grew out of a screenplay inspired by a friend I met in England who went to a boarding school way out in the countryside. Her stories about her time there, especially the bit about the Shadows: senior (British Sixth Form)  girls assigned to freshman (Year 7) girls to mentor them through their first year of school, really got my imagination churning. She also felt the place was haunted and was always ill at ease there, and full of foreboding.

One night my friend, (then a film student living in San Francisco) and I got on the phone and started talking about a screenplay based on her boarding school experience and its rather odd traditions and eerie atmosphere. I needed a way into the story and found it by brainstroming character names with her. This was the first time I’d experienced the true power of names to give birth to things—it was almost Biblical in the power of naming something to bring it to life.

As an aside, I have found that once named, characters don’t change easily. In The Lady in Yellow, my editor kept wanting me to change Mrs. Twig to Mrs. Twigge and it just didn’t work. The spirit seems to be in the name to a very great degree.

 

The Innocence of Childhood, the Encounter with Darkness

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Many of protagonists are young in my books. This isn’t an attempt to capture the YA market, it is to create a crisis of consciousness. We all begin innocent and full of trust. For better or worse, part of growing up, whether from child to adult, or from naivete to wisdom, it is the harsh, sometimes cruel confrontaion with the dark side that hauls us into maturity. This was the realization behind William Blake’s poems, Songs of Innocence and Experience. This is where the clash between good and evili is most intense.

At 14 years old, Poppy Farrell is a late-comer to Blight’s Academy. Most girls begin boarding school at 11, but I needed my characters to have their wits about them, to have enough life experience to be able to suss things out. Being a teenager determined to prove her independence, Poppy travel toward the future on her own. Once out of the city, she questions her headstrong nature, for she can’t handle the woods. yet even when a terrified girl comes out of the woods to the train platform warning Poppy: “Don’t go to Blight’s Academy!” Poppy’s pride and stubborness prevail, and she continues on her way.

Blight’s Academy, Founded by Lady Aurora Blight as a residential school for girls

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Poppy and her roommate, the sensitive, psychic Clair Montague, are quickly aware that there is something untoward going on at Blight’s. They befriend Georgie Summerville, a girl whose roommate never arrived, and whose glorious operatic singing voice incites the jealousy of the vain, eccentric Mrs. Sibyl Wick, headmistress of Blight’s. Miss Grimshaw, Mrs. Wick’s assistant runs the school, keeping the girls in line with an iron hand.

Then there are The Shadows: the sexy serpent Vanessa Stevens, assigned to Clair, the plain, sneering Isabelle Lilly, assigned to Poppy who can’t stand having a Shadow in the first place, never mind a horrible girl like Isabelle. The quasi-somnabulistic Goth, Hermione Ashe, is assigned to Georgie. They stick close, especially after Poppy finds evidence of possible murder in the woods.

This is a fun, fast-paced novel with all of our favorite Gothic tropes. Though not romantic lke some of my others, it is atmospheric and intense. Think of Stephen King’s Carrie meeting Dario Argento’s Suspiria without the graphic violence. (I don’t like graphic violence and almost never find it necessary.)

It even has a creepy music box….

The Shadows: Get it Now!

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The Shadows: A Paranormal Thriller, Available in Time for Halloween!

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In Chapter 2, Poppy arrives at Blight’s Academy:

The scarlet letters of Blight’s Academy were framed in fancy curlicues along the top of the gate. A great square lock in the center, where the two wings of the gate joined in the middle, was bound with a chain.
Poppy peered through the bars at a long, long drive.
She moaned with weariness. Though she’d arrived at Blight’s, her destination still seemed so far away.
She shook the gate. Of course no one was here to let her in. It was after 9 o’clock.
Poppy took out her phone and opened it. The light was out. Dead. Her phone was dead. But how could it be? Temper flaring, she almost threw it on the ground.
The cold was beginning to penetrate. She wrapped her arms around herself and jumped up and down to get her circulation going. What was she to do?
There was a caretaker’s cottage under a clump of trees just inside the gate. A large bell hung from the gatepost with a long rope attached. Poppy gave up feeling guilty about the lateness of the hour, and pulled the rope.
Clang… clang…. clang echoed loudly in the darkness.
Out of the cottage, into the chill and damp, came an old man carrying a lantern. He held the light up and squinted into Poppy’s face.
“Well?” he said.
“My train was late. I missed the shuttle. I’m a new student here.”
“I suppose you expect me to believe that. I suppose you expect me to let you in.”
“Please do, sir. It’s very miserable out here. I’ve come such a long way.”
Poppy held her satchel with its badge of Blight’s Academy under the old ma’s light.
The old man squinted and set his lantern down. He made a great show of producing a key ring, looking through his keys, and fiddling with them before he undid the chain and pulled it through the bars. Then, with a long, black key, he stabbed the great lock, turned it with a squeal of iron, and pulled the gate open.
“I suppose you’re all right,” he muttered, moving aside to let Poppy in.
“Thank you, sir.”
“We’ll see how much you’ll be thanking me a week from now.”
“What do you mean?”
The gatekeeper ignored Poppy, looping his arm through the key ring and picking up his lamp.
This stonewalling made Poppy more nervous than she already was. “What do you mean, sir?”
“You run along now. Don’t pay me no mind. Just scurry along.”
Poppy felt depressed. The long drive went between rows of trees and intervals of lawn, lit only by misty globes of light. The school building must be very far away because she couldn’t see it. The girl’s voice played in her head. Don’t go! Don’t go to Blight’s Academy! Turn back!
Thunder rolled like a great wind in the sky. Lightning flashed.
What if the girl on the platform was right? What if Poppy were making a terrible mistake to continue toward Blight’s?
Still, she’d come so far. She had no choice but to move on. She grabbed the handle of her suitcase and her satchel and started up the drive.
“Pretty red hair you’ve got there,” the gatekeeper called out. “Take my advice and mind your Ps and Qs.”
Poppy felt a wave of apprehension. Minding her Ps and Qs was not her strong suit.
As she watched the old man limp back to his house, a rustling sound drew her attention to the clump of trees behind it.
The old man waved his lantern toward the sound. “Get off you two. I won’t have you playing your tricks around here.”
Poppy stared woodenly at the dark hollows of the trees, wondering who was there. The thud of the cottage door closing, told her to get moving. It was late.
Hefting the now leaden satchel onto her shoulder, Poppy trudged warily toward the school. Her feet dragged uncertainly. Glancing at a mist-filled holly tree standing alone on the lawn, she couldn’t help thinking how ghostly it looked in the moonlight.
Goosebumps traveled up her arms. Maybe she should go home.
There was movement, the whisper of feet over grass. Peering into the gloom, she saw the shadows of two small boys running to hide behind the holly tree. She stopped and waited to see if they would come out and speak to her. When they didn’t, she left her bags and went to look behind the tree.
There was no one there, only a length of red worsted yarn woven like a cat’s cradle over the holly leaves.
What strange little boys. Was this one of their tricks?
Unsettled, Poppy backed away and returned to her bags on the drive.
There was a slight dip in the drive, then a rise and finally, there, up ahead, was the vast, Neo-Gothic facade of Blight’s Academy. It’s gables, turrets and chimney pots, battlements, tall, dark windows and grand entrance gave Blight’s the dual air of a stately home and a prison for the insane.

 

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Read the first chapter here! This is a work in progress.

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The Shadows

1

1

Poppy Farrell knew she should have turned back at the start. One delay followed another, but having settled into a window seat on the third late train, she felt she had no choice but to continue on. The train was taking her toward Surrey, to one of the most prestigious all girls’ boarding schools in England, Blight’s Academy. At Poppy’s old school, one of the boys had set fire to the rubbish bins, catching a puddle of petrol alight. That was enough to send Mum on a campaign to get her into Blight’s.

Traveling into the countryside, woods grew close against the tracks. Poppy could see them through the windows on both sides of the train, trunks close together, branches arching over like a tunnel. Poppy didn’t like woods. She was a city girl, a London girl. She didn’t trust trees.

She had to change trains again at East Grinstead. She’d hoped it was a proper town. Instead, she was left alone on an isolated platform. Behind her was a station house as grey and closed and empty as if it hadn’t been serviced in a hundred years. And encroaching all around, leaves rustling in the wind, were the woods.

For some reason, a boy setting the school on fire wasn’t half as frightening as being out here alone. Why did the trees seem to be watching? Perhaps the bits of sky looking through the leaves gave her this impression. She was just being silly.

A gust of wind rushed up her back. She shivered with a sudden chill.

It was already twilight. The air was heavy, as if it was going to rain. If she hadn’t missed her connections, she would have gotten to Blight’s in time for supper. She let go the handle of her suitcase, set down her satchel, with its Blight’s Academy logo of a school building inside a ring of black thorns on the flap, and checked the time on her mobile phone. The light flashed up like a signal. It was almost 7:00!

Where had the time gone?

“Ridiculous!” she mumbled, annoyed at how long this trip was taking.

She put the phone back into the pocket of her brown corduroy jacket, pulled her long, layered auburn hair off her neck, and pulled the collar up. Her feet in their little tan cowboy boots, skinny jeans tucked in, felt firm, planted, the rest of her at sea.

There was a bench under the eaves of the station house, but Poppy felt too uneasy to sit down. Besides, she was reluctant to step back from the sight of the tracks and their promise of the next train. Across the tracks, and a little further down, was another deserted platform, and more woods.

It was so quiet. Poppy wasn’t used to quiet. As if by magic, a single light came on under the eaves of the station house, lighting up a schedule posted by the shuttered window. Taking out her phone again to check the time, Poppy strolled over to look at it.

“Next train… 7:45… It’s so late!”

The trees across the tracks went still, and seemed to stare. Poppy scanned the area for signs of human life, then worried about who might show up. She was all alone out here. What if some gang-bangers came along? Or…

If Poppy allowed it, her imagination would get the better of her. She’d read too many mysteries and crime novels. Watched too many horror films. Her mum never understood how such a young girl could be interested in all that morbid stuff. But for Poppy it wasn’t morbid. She just liked to puzzle things out, solve things, such as how to get to her first day at a new boarding school on her own. She didn’t know the train would drop her off in the woods, and she’d have to wait for ages by herself. It reminded her of that old film, The Blair Witch Project.

Now she wished she’d let Mum drive her.

You’re always so headstrong, Poppy…

Mum’s constant litany.

What am I going to do with you?

Her younger sister Daisy, chiming in: You always have to have your own way!

But she was fourteen. It was time to be independent. She was an Aries, after all.

She needed to talk to her mother, so punched in her phone number at home. Mum would probably throw a wobbly knowing Poppy was out here alone in the wilderness, but what could she do? The phone rang and rang. The answer phone came on.

You’ve reached the Farrell residence. Please leave a message.

“Not!” Poppy fumed and hung up.

From somewhere came a screech. Heart hammering, Poppy hoped it was a train coming. She looked up and down the tracks both ways, but saw no light. Another screech came, this time she could tell it was coming from behind her, in the woods at the back of the station house.

It must have been an animal.

A high, shrill cry echoed up through the trees. Ah! Ah! Ah!

Perhaps it was an owl. They had owls in London. In the back garden,

A splat of rain hit her face.

Thunder rolled, long and loud, then fading off.

Poppy buttoned the top button of her jacket, tugged her collar close again, and headed for the awning of the station house. The bench was coated with a thin layer of moss. Looking for a bare patch of whitewashed board so as not to ruin her jeans, she sat down.

Eeeeeeeeee!!!!!!

Where was that train?

Sounds of breaking branches and strange noises coming from the woods sent her rocketing to her feet. Shaking with raw panic, she inched her way out to the platform, into the rain, and stared at the darkness between the trunks of the trees.

The single light from the station house shone on something white coming through the woods. Two hands appeared, pushing the branches apart. The scratched face of a girl came through, and then her whole body followed.

Her long blonde hair hung in hanks; her dress was torn. She was shaking as bad as Poppy was who just stood there, gobsmacked.

“Who are you?” Poppy shouted over the thunder that crashed. A sheen of lighting blanched all color from the frightened girl’s face.

The girl’s eyes slid from Poppy to the satchel still sitting on the platform. The girl opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“What? What’s the matter?” Poppy grabbed her suitcase and satchel and took them under the awning. “Are you all right?”

The girl jumped, then looked back at the woods, the leaves now pattering in the rain. She stretched her hand out toward Poppy, pointing her finger at the satchel.

“Don’t go there,” she said. “Don’t go to Blight’s Academy.”

“What?” Poppy couldn’t believe her ears. Blight’s was a highly regarded boarding school. Mum said so.

“Don’t go there. Please, don’t go to Blight’s Academy! Go back! Go home!”

“But, why?”

The wind blew the girl’s long, straight hair over her face and seemed to blow her words away, for though her mouth was moving, Poppy heard nothing.

A loud whistle and a beam of light on the tracks heralded the train. It was going in Poppy’s direction.

“The train’s coming,” Poppy cried over the din, running to get her suitcase and satchel.

“Don’t go!” the girl shouted. “Please, listen to me!”

The train pulled up with a loud screech. Poppy opened a door in the last car and shoved her bags inside. She had one foot on the steps when thunder banged like a china cabinet falling over. The girl’s face went livid white, her eyes so black, and her lips so red, she looked ghastly.

“What are you going to do?” Poppy shouted. “I’m leaving.” She shut the door.

The train jerked and squealed and began to go. Poppy grabbed a seat and watched the girl through the window. She was running around on the platform, waving her arms around, when a dazzling streak of lightning came down. The train was too far down the track to see what happened next, but Poppy thought she heard a horrible, gut-wrenching scream.

“Oh my God,” Poppy murmured. She put her hands over her heart to stop it hammering. How awful for that girl. It was like she was mad or something.

Poppy got up to stash her suitcase in the luggage rack, and realized her legs felt like overcooked pasta. She just got it stowed, and was slipping into a seat with her satchel, when the door at the end of the car slid open.

A tall, burly fare collector came in, hand out for her ticket. He had a little ticket- selling box hanging on the front of his blue uniform making Poppy think of a toy wind-up monkey.

“Got your ticket, miss?” he asked.

“Yes.” Poppy pulled the ticket she’d bought at Victoria Station out of her jacket pocket, and handed it to him.

“Where you getting off?” he asked.

“Blight’s Academy,” she said. A moment ago, she’d have been proud to say those words, but that girl coming out of the woods and acting crazy had shaken her confidence.

The fare collector frowned and nodded. “Of course. It won’t be long now.”

“Sir, did something bad happen there? I mean—-I met a girl on the platform—-”

“I don’t know,” the fare collector said, lifting his nose as if to avoid a bad smell. “I haven’t heard a thing.”

Poppy studied the man as he slid back out through the door from whence he came. He’d say that to anyone. Even of he had heard something bad, he wouldn’t say what it was.

Poppy slouched down in her seat. Occasionally she looked out the dark, rain-spattered window, back toward the platform where that poor girl had been raving and hopping around, wondering what had sent her ’round the twist. Hopefully, someone at the school would tell her what was going on. Perhaps the girl had been expelled, or something.

The lights flicked on overhead. Poppy sat up and looked around. She was the only passenger in the car. The dark zipped past the windows, and once in a while, a patch of clear, moonlit sky whizzed past.

She opened her satchel and took out a book she’d bought on the internet with her allowance money: The Biggest Secret by David Icke. This was her biggest secret: Poppy adored conspiracy theories. These were the best mysteries of all. They made her think.

As she closed the satchel, the logo of Blight’s Academy stared up at her: a ring of black thorns around a red-brown school building that looked like a castle. For the first time she noticed, just above the door, a tiny five-pointed star.

The logo was a bit scary, she supposed, with the thorns and the star. But weren’t most hedgerows full of thorns? Hadn’t she heard they were meant to keep intruders out?

That girl back there was off her rocker. That was all.

There was a theory at the back of Poppy’s mind, about the Web of Wyrd. She’d heard about it in a film and then looked it up on the Internet. It suggested that all events in the world were connected, especially evil ones; that certain people were thrown together along the strands of the web, and tragic events played out. Poppy hoped she hadn’t been caught on the same strand as that girl back there.

David Icke had a theory that the royals practiced black magic and had done so for thousands of years, that maybe, they’d created the Web of Wyrd to run the world their way. Was that a conspiracy theory, or what?

She sighed. How her friends would laugh if they knew what went on in her head! There were no conspiracies, really, but the coincidences were amazing.

The woods were pressing against the train on her side of the car, branches sliding against the windows. Poppy flinched away. Why did the woods frighten her so much, but not horror films, or these conspiracy things? It was only nature. It wasn’t like the woods really were full of witches or something.

When were they going to get to Blight’s? Would she find her way in the dark? Would the shuttle be waiting at the next station to pick her up? She checked her mobile phone for the time.

8:20.

God, she was late! Would they even let her in?

She thought back to the first delay in London: some drunk hurling themselves off the platform in front of a train at Camden Town tube station had held everything up. Why would anyone leap in front of a train? It had to be painful as hell, and besides, if someone wanted to kill their self it seemed damned rude to cause everyone to be late.

Then there was that girl on the platform back there.

What happened to her?

Was it a coincidence that, on a single journey, two people had fallen off the platform? Or was it the Web of Wyrd?

Whistle blaring, the train lurched around a bend, knocking Poppy over on her seat.

Oh my God!

Poppy covered her ears at the memory of the girl’s scream. She wondered if the girl had been struck by lightning, and was lying dead on the tracks. Hopefully, she’d made it across to get the train going the other way.

Poppy groaned. She was sick worrying about it.

The train blasted its whistle again, and slowed.

A bell was ringing.

“Blighton-Moss Station! Alight here for Blight’s Academy shuttle service.”

Poppy stuffed her book back into her satchel, then hurried to retrieve her suitcase. She was waiting at the door when the train screeched to a halt.

 

 

 

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Caught Between Good and Evil: Occultism in Gothic Fiction

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I thought for a long time about whether to write this blog post because it comes in response to a fan of Gothic Romance who seems to have been put off of ME because of the occult themes in The Lady in Yellow. My intention is not to have a go at her—-she’s entitled to her response—but to address a larger issue that is very pressing and important in this Social Media world. Nor is this post addressed to her or about her.

Many people these days seem unable to tell the difference between fantasy and reality, or understand the difference between an artist and their creations.

This is understandable considering how many chidren are stuck in front of the TV set before they have the ability to understand what they are actually watching.

The internet is an author’s dream as far as speeding up the process of reaserch for a novel. The trick is to ba able to tell the difference between good information and misguided, if not diliberately falsified information. The exceeding immaturity of many commentors on the internet makes it a minefield on many levels. It is this group who will grab onto the smallest detail and twist it into a validation for whatever their obsessions or issues are with no regard for the CONTEXT in which the information is presented.

The areas most rife with these trolls are conspiracy research and the occult.

I’m very new to the internet, by the way. I didn’t get on until 2009. So I know what a mine field it is because I had to learn fast and had many coaches….

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A prime example of this immature view, especially as applied to the arts, is the perception that because the ACTRESS Mia Farrow played the devil’s mother in Rosemary’s Baby, it must follow that she’s a Satanist in real life.  Does it follow then that if I play Lady Macbeth in a play that I go around conspiring to murder people? This whole mind set is ludicrous, yet some people will put these allegations on the web as fact!!!!

Oddly, the fact that Rosemary  in the film was FIGHTING  and RESISTING the Dark Occultists is never mentioned. Nor are Mia’s other film roles ever brought into the conversation because they have nothing to do with devil worship! Only The Omen gets a mention (as if she only made two films to express her love of evil) because this kind of cherry-picking backs up tabloid-infused so-called thinking of the childish.

I thought Bearing False Witness was condemned by the Ten Commandments.

Research into the Occult Does not Make it a Way of Life

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The Lady in Yellow is set in Victorian England. It involves a werewolf curse. It is Romantic Suspense with a dose of Horror, ie: Gothic!

Historically, Victorian England was a hotbed of Spiritualism. Table rapping, trance mediums, ectoplasm manifestations, conjuring the dead (necromancy) and various other psychical experiments were all the rage. Thus, it is true to the historical period to have evidence of these practices in my novel The Lady in Yellow. Does it mean I sit around playing with Ouija Boards all day? I wouldn’t touch a Ouija Board with a ten foot pole! I know how dangereous they are. This very trickiness makes them great for buidling suspense in a novel.

It is right to ascribe the Werewolf phemenon to Satanism because, as I learned on the internet, as well from the folklore I’ve studied all of my life, that Werewolves, and all shape shifters, are Initiates into advanced Satanic practices based on Dark Shamanism. Does it follow that I worship the devil and go to evil rituals because I describe, in a story-telling way, the true origin of the Werewolf?

Maybe I am a Werewolf. Oooo! That’s scary!

I am interested in origins, in the primal. I go deep into any subject I study looking for the root source.

 

Chateau Villaneuve-Lembroon

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The spark for The Lady in Yellow was this mural on the wall of a chateau in the Auvergn in France.This is not the only sinister mural in that castle. There are Hell Mouths and all kinds of ritualistic images. This chateau was photographed by Simon Marsden because it was known to be haunted.

This Lady in Yellow in the mural became the character of Sovay in my novel, while the house became the root of the Werewolf Curse in my story.

As you develop a novel, many facets of your imagination engage and almost everything you ever experienced, or even picked up subliminally, may coalesce  around images, symbols and themes to create the story. I am often amazed at what comes up in the plot, things I never knew I knew. Characters I think will be minor, may take center stage. Others will show sides I did not expect and think things I never thought before. This is why a novel can take so long to write because you have to stage manage all these elements.

As in Rosemary’s Baby, the Fan of Gothic Fiction seemed to miss the whole point of The Lady in Yellow. Victorian England was not only awash in Spiritualism, but was a powerfully Christian.  My heroine, Veronica Everly, was raised in a Catholic orphanage by nuns. She is profoundly Christian. Setting her up against the Dark Occult forces at Belden House provides an opportunity to create fantastic tensions and conflicts, with a moral battle between good and evil in which love fueled by selflessness and courage wins. In fact I wondered, at one point, if I couldn’t sell this book to Christians.

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So I have been quite shocked to have been personally dismissed because the Reader assumed wrongly that I must be promoting Satanism because I used it in the novel. To set the record straight: I hate Satanism. I hate evil and destruction. I am against all abuse. I am actually quite strongly Christian, and that is a deep subject. I hate the fact that I feel a need to write this post, but this is not the first time this has happened to me.

While living in London I was in a play, Babalon, in which I played Marjorie Cameron and the demon, Babalon. I took the role because I hadn’t done any acting for a long time and it seemed like it would be  fun. I didn’t initially want to do it because I didn’t want to engage in anything to do with Aleister Crowley.  But I did accept in the end… who knows why. It sent a wrecking ball through my life.

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Because of this part I played one night on the stage at RADA, some people assumed I was into Cameron and Babalon and Crowley. No one asked me. But the truth is, I had no idea who Jack Parsons was, or Cameron, or Babalon. In 2005, I didn’t even know how to do a google search to look them up. The others involved in the play showed me pictures and things, but aside from the script, I had no idea what I was involved with. Yet people assumed, like Mia Farrow and Rosemary, that this character was somehow an expression of who I am and how I live my life. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, having learned more about these characters from Pasadena, California I have been horrifed to have been involved in glamorizing them on any level.

I have another blog, Winterspells.com, in which I explore the occult as an intellectual interest and as a way to try to understand why I have been drawn to magic and occult subjects all my life. I have been psychic and clairvoyant from birth, but had never been particularly dark, and never evil. I tried to find evidence of witchcraft in my family tree,  to no avail. I looked into my home town in Massachusetts. Perhaps.

I do pick things up in the ethers.

Did Somebody Say TV?

After years of soul searching for the very root cause of my resonance with White Magic, and the Shadows it casts, I have recently come to the conclusion that its source was television.

There are on youtube lots of the old TV shows I grew up watching: Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, Thriller... In watching a few of them again, I experienced very deep emotional reactions like fascination, attraction, repulsion, dread, the sense that I have been haunted by some of these black and white 1960s American images, and that they disturbed something in me. Our TV time was strictly limited in those days, but those small doses were profound.

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I’m not trying to bow out like a coward about my exploration of dark subjects. Just setting the record straight, something I’ve needed to do for a long time.

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