Into the Shadows with the Lead Investigator of the Ghost Adventures’ Crew, 2011 (VB Books)
Whether you are a fan of the hit TV series Ghost Adventures, or just learning about it for the first time, this telling autobiography by the show’s creator and star, paranormal investigator, Zak Bagans, is quite a story! His experiences have been frightful, his commitment arduous, and his passion and honestly unflagging. A must-read. Below, is the Foreword to Dark World: Into the Shadows with the Lead Imvestigator of the Ghost Adventures’ Crew, Zak Bagans (with Kelly Criger), VB Books, 2011.
There is arguably no topic in human history that incites as much contemptuous disbelief and passionate dedication as the existence of life after death. As humans, it is our natural instinct to belittle what we don’t understand, and then follow with statements of derision and ridicule. Even mentioning that ghosts might exist can cause instant damnation and persecution among the religiously devoted and staunchly pragmatic, which causes many people who have had a paranormal experience to remain quiet about it. Maybe that’s the greatest achievement of the dead: they’ve convinced the world that they don’t exist, so the majority of us are either disinterested in proving it otherwise or too convinced in our own beliefs to recognize a new viewpoint. Yet most of us are at least curious to know what happens when we die; some may say that information is even a right of humanity, that if another world exists after our physical bodies die, then it’s our right to know about it.
I wrote this book for several reasons. First, I want to take you on my seven-year journey through the world of paranormal investigation from the documentary film in 2004 through the many seasons of Ghost Adventures. I want to tell you about the things that didn’t make it onto the screen and dig deeper into the most significant events that did. We sometimes spend four days filming an episode and have to boil it down into one hour, so there’s always stuff we want to show, but don’t have the time to. And sometimes even the most significant phenomena that we capture have to be covered quickly because of time constraints.
Second, I want to use our adventures to address leading theories on life after death….
O the blood-encrusted thoughts!
whirring like blades, wheeling
and whining through the
ambushed mind, unbeckoned;
unhindered, unheeded—how does one
pray to be emptied?
Sly little half-truths; those
brazen whole-truths, eyes
like coals, low to the burning;
“‘tis the hooded chill cloaks the fever!”
Old Wives’, you know;
smoldering blue at the gums…
tooth and blade, chew,
then whirrr; whirrr, then chew—
through the indigo watches
of the night.
The following bibliography identifies and briefly encapsulates in an annotation the content of articles, chapters, books, and other publications concerned with some aspect of the English of southern and central Appalachia from West Virginia south to Georgia. The emphasis is on academic and research-based works, but many popular items are also included, especially ones dealing with vocabulary and names, when not appearing in newspapers. Since many annotations indicate the state(s) on which the study is based, readers are encouraged to conduct on-screen searches for locales and terms such as grammatical features, pronunciation patterns, and others that will show up in either the reference or annotation. Because so many items span multiple categories, this listing is not organized by subject matter.
Abney, Lisa Jo. 1988. “Preterites and Past Participles in the Tennessee Civil War Veterans Questionnaire.” College Station, TX: Texas A&M University M.A. thesis. Categorizes verb forms in questionnaires returned by 52 veterans from East Tennessee, finding that “standard” forms occur 91% of the time.
Abney, Lisa. 1989. “Preterites in Early Southern White English.” SECOL Review 13: 180-93.
Adams, Frazier B. 1970. “Colloquial Speech Forms.” Appalachia Revisited: How People Lived Fifty Years Ago, pp. 47-49. Ashland, KY: Economy. Brief presentation of archaisms. Review: C. S. Guthrie. 1970. Kentucky Folklore Record 16.81.
Adams, Henry J. 1976. “Speech Patterns.” Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 41: 70-71. 104 figures of speech from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
Alderman, Pat. 1972. “Mountain Hollerin.” In the Shadow of Big Bald: About the Appalachians and Their People, p. 64. Jonesboro, TN: Tri-Cities Press.
The following stories come down from American ethnologist, Frances Albert Doughty, who recorded them in his journal in 1899, and later published them in an article called “Folklore of the Alleghenies”. Doughty credited the source of the story to “one of the oldest residents of Monroe County” who claimed the bewitching events took place duringthe 1840’s:
Not so long ago, in Monroe County, there was a woman who lived down near the sweet springs who was always seen with an old-fashioned bonnet cap on her head; nobody ever saw her without the cap. She was a hard, grim-lookin’ monster. During the rare instance when anybody was watchin’ to see her untie her cap strings, and remove the cap, it was said. they never could see anything underneath it, her very likeness disappearing, until she’d put the cap back on her head.
The Strange Calf
When the old cap-woman first came to Monroe County from somewhere over in Botetourt County it was said, she lived over a small forested hill from a man and his wife who’s two children walked to and from a nearby school every morning and afternoon.
The story goes that an odd calf began to follow the children along the route to school, and had been in the habit of “attackin’ ‘em and bitin’ ‘em, when they was walkin’ to school”. When the children became too afraid to walk to school, their father decided to investigate. One day, about the same time the children would’ve been passing the location where the attacks seemed most often to occur, the father concealed himself one day and was watchin’ to catch the calf. On that occasion it come out and attacked the children on a bridge across a little stream of water. The father chased and caught the calf and cut off its ears with a knife.
Folks in Botetourt County had believed for some time that the old woman was a witch, possessed of some uncommon art. They said she could turn herself into a calf, and had been known to do so on numerous occasions. Interestingly enough, the next time the old woman was seen around town, a crowd mobbed her, and pulled off her cap. As was expected, she was missing both ears!
‘“Hush,” said his mother. “A child your age shouldn’t even know about such a thing. They shouldn’t even let you see those picture shows and horror movies…”
The boy’s grandfather stopped eating and looked up at his daughter, the fork poised in mid-air above the beans that were his supper. “He ought to know. A boy lives this close to Overhill Mountain ought to know about the things that go on up there.”
“He won’t live here all his life,” she said. “He’ll get an education… You’ll see. He’ll go North to live.”
“But it’s daylight, Ma,” the boy said, courage bolstered by his grandfather’s words. “Everybody knows they crumbles up in daylight. I saw a movie where—”
“They don’t die in sunlight,” said the grandfather. “Sunlight robs their strength. They’re things of the night and have no strength in the day—but it doesn’t kill them if they aren’t exposed too long. How long, depends on how strong they are to begin with. But they do hate the sun. I think the reason they’re scared of crosses is that the holy things shine like the sun to them—”
“I don’t want my boy to know about them, Daddy.”
The old man went on, ignoring her. “They do have to go back to their grave, like in the movies, but it don’t kill them to spend a day away from it. It’s the need for that grave, though, that’s strong in them. That and the fear of the sunlight. Those are strong in them and only thing that’s any stronger is the Thirst.”’
– Gerald W. Page, “Thirst”—from The Year’s Best Horror Stories, Series II, ed. Richard Davis (Daw 1972)
Working on my novella The Diary of Xander Tully. It is a frightening tale set in the years before America had become a nation, up in the woods of what is now the border between Michigan and Canada, where French-Canadian settlers have started a fledgling colony led by two old families.
Xander Tulley is a stranger here. His origins are not known to the community. But he is a clever man; he shows the world a practical and rational side; a lover of facts and the path they reveal to truth. But Tulley has other sides. He hails from a foreign land, across the sea. His people are tall, fair of hair and pale of skin. He appears as an artisan printer in the colony of River Raisin, where the villagers have a respect for the past and their heritage (one of the families traces its roots all the way back to a French king).
When Tulley becomes curious about a tale of an odd grouping of stones located in the deep woods that begin about a mile northeast of the village, he is drawn to the site. There is no visible path to the outcropping, and reaching it is difficult unless you know the woods, and the way. The stones circumscribe what appears to be a gash in the earth, an opening some five paces across at its widest. The villagers don‘t appear to know of the spot, its history, or the fact that a grove of trees surrounds the area in almost a perfect circle. They are deciduous trees, “evergreens”—-and they are the only trees in the wood that turn the color of glowing embers when autumn steals the light from summer and creeps toward the winter solstice.
The story of the woods is old. Some things—some geographies, secrets—-some stories—-lay quiet and undisturbed for a reason. Xander Tulley has been dreaming about the burning trees. His preoccupation with learning the history of the Wood leads him to seek out an indiginous tribe that once dwelt near the area, but has since moved higher north. It is in the tribe’s legends, wrapped tight within in an ancient language, that Tulley begins to see a story form in the forgotten shadows of time, one that once breathed life, and should now be left alone.
Xander Tulley reaches a proverbial fork in the road, where he may learn more about himself than he ever cared to know; and where he will be faced with making the hardest decision he will ever have to make.
“Ever accidentally come across a collection of stories that hits the spot dead on? You don’t know the author and you’ve never glanced at any reviews. You have no expectations. Because sometimes the blues shivers our spines, we’d picked up J Malcolm Stewart’s The Last Words of Robert Johnson. Anything about that haunted bluesman seemed a good start. Very neat title story, yep, with a setting that interests us, the States in 1920s and 1930s. Eerie, historical and laced with potential and actual horror. High marks so far…
So, quick glance at the second story – totally different, but easily as well written. African fables, the wives of Death, clicking their knitting needles… We were sold. We read the whole collection, and thought, hmm, wonder if we can find this guy? Well, we did.
J Malcolm Stewart turned out to be a friendly, talented author from the US of A, with other fiction and writings on offer. He was more than happy to talk to Grey Dog Tales Press, so we went for it. We talk quite a bit about his background, his work, and key themes as we go, so you don’t need us to ramble on any more. We ‘re most pleased to present today’s exclusive…”
At the end of this post is a paragraph from a very very good ghost story that is 135 years old. But, first, I had to work out my thoughts about why I wanted to share it. And, it ties in with the premise for my ghost story anthology.
This is why I do what I do: I have been reading ghost stories and “mystery and suspense” stories and “uncanny” stories and “stories of the supernatural”—since the beginning of 2017, when I first began to narrow a list of hundreds of stories—maybe more—down to a growing longlist and then a shortlist for a 2-volume ghost story anthology—because, I thought, there is something about the stories written before 1920-ish, that were just better. They are better fiction, hands down, and I needed to explore this so I understood it better. After reading umpteen stories from 1780s-1915, give or take, I have come to the conclusion that, it is not about flowery language or “purple prose” or antiquated anachronistic plot structures, etc. etc. It is about being better-educated writers during a time when more was expected of our mind, our manners, our mores, our work ethic (even in writing), our reputation before “the world” (these periodicals made their way around and were widely read).
I had heard that a lot—the “overwrought prose of yesteryear” angle—and I was open to it being correct…and as I went along I compared some ghost stories from that time with some from the 1950s forward and all I could think was: ‘why does it seem that we have dumbed down fiction writing in the ghost story genre to a level of a Sport’s writeup in the Times?’ Nothing wrong with Sports writeups in the Times.
But, I don’t want to read fiction like that. I want depth, thoughtfulness, a sense from reading that the author is well-read, the characters, too; I want them drawn in 3D and not over-described.I want atmosphere. And, I want to feel like the entire story took time to build, like a cathedral, not a hut made out of hay bales.
I know some amazing writers today who are writing cathedrals. And I am so thrilled as a reader about it.
I remember reading a quote in college by Henry James, or maybe it was Joyce Carol Oates…about writing the “telling detail”…but I think we still struggle today, especially in genre or “pop” fiction, which can also be very high quality, (sometimes), with telling the “wrong” detail(s). Wrong is a subjective term. Maybe the better descriptor is the “unthoughtful” detail, the “rushed string of details” the ones that sound OK, but that when strung together fall short of showing something cohesive about the character (e.g., the red-head waltzed into the room wearing a black dress cut down to there and orange lipstick, emerald earrings that dangled like stars from her earlobes, a matching bracelet on her right wrist, bright-red patent-leather 10-inch pumps, black nylons like the ones you wore in the 1940s with a line up the back, and a purse made out of the skin of some animal, but oddly, with all of that bling, she wore not a single ring on any of her long graceful fingers, the nails of which were painted “hotlips red”).
I would argue that the only telling detail here, is that she wore no rings. Why? That detail interests me. The others don’t. They are part of a “formulaic” writing style, noir, Roger Rabbit meets Raymond Chandler, but isn’t written as well as Chandler, etc.
I don’t mean to be negative, just reflective about why some stories seem to inspire more awe in me; whereas others feel utilitarian, not unnecessary, just thin.
The writers of the 1800s weren’t writing “horror” or “weird” fiction. Because those weren’t genres yet. They were states of mind or emotion, or behavior. And they made their way into this high quality fiction. What I especially love in these stories, is the way the entire story is treated with such respect—from the pacing to the tension and from the atmosphere to the characters—these writers were grand writers, and they had been brought up not on “the milk of fiction” but on its “meat”. I fear today, we are if not back to the milk, then at least to some protein-shake-gluten-free, non-dairy, lactose-free milk substitute, with vegetable-product thickeners.
I am still on my longlist, because I thought I would find more stories and novellas, sooner. Last night I found two, that may skip the longlist and jump right to the shortlist. I’m so impressed. One is by Sir Walter Besant. I’d never heard of him until today. And, here is a paragraph from the second one, a longer story by “Mrs. Oliphant” (Margaret O. Wilson Oliphant)—and published in a two-part serialized format in a new periodical of the time, that went on actually to become very successful.
This story is 135 years old. You tell me if it doesn’t read like the best literature published today. Purple prose? Outdated style? I don’t think so. And this is just one paragraph. Imagine the whole story, about the solemn, wandering ghost of a woman, long-dead—Stay tuned for The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told, ed. Sanguine Woods, December 2017.
“They asked me to come at Ellermore when we parted, and, as I have nothing in the way of home warmer or more genial than chambers in the Temple, I accepted, as may be supposed, with enthusiasm. It was in the first week of June that we parted, and I was invited for the end of August. They had ‘plenty of grouse,’ Charley said, with a liberality of expression which was pleasant to hear.
Charlotte added, ‘But you must be prepared for homely life, Mr. Temple, and a very quiet one.’ I replied, of course, that if I had chosen what I liked best in the world it would have been this combination: at which she smiled with an amused little shake of her head. It did not seem to occur to her that she herself told for much in the matter. What they all insisted upon was the ‘plenty of grouse;’ and I do not pretend to say that I was indifferent to that.
Colin, the eldest son, was the one with whom I had been least familiar. He was what people call reserved. He did not talk of everything as the others did. I did not indeed find out till much later that he was constantly in London, coming and going, so that he and I might have seen much of each other. Yet he liked me well enough. He joined warmly in his brother’s invitation. When Charley said there was plenty of grouse, he added with the utmost friendliness, ‘And ye may get blaze at a stag.’ There was a flavour of the North in the speech—of all not disclosed by mere words, but also by an occasional diversity of idiom and change of pronunciation. They were conscious of this and rather proud of it. They did not say Scotch, but Scots; and their accent could not be represented by any of the travesties of the theatre, or what we conventionally accept as the national utterance. When I attempted to pronounce after them, my own ear informed me what a travesty it was.”
– Mrs. Oliphant, “The Lady’s Walk,” Part I, Longman’s Magazine, 1882