Monday, August 17, 2015

Happy Pub Day!

Tomorrow is the pub day for Jeff Cole and Johnathon Robson's GHOSTLY ENCOUNTERS: CONFESSIONS OF A PARANORMAL INVESTIGATOR!  In this book, Jeff talks about how he became an amateur paranormal investigator, the expeditions he went on, the equipment he used, and the things he heard...and saw...

One of my favorite things about this project is that the Jeff and Johnathon use QR codes in the book that, once scanned, let the reader see the audio and visual evidence they collected during their investigations.  When everything was first being put together, Jeff would send me clips to listen/watch, but I have to admit, I was too scared to!

Here is my interview with Jeff:

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the ghost hunting community.

Mine has been a pretty non-traditional path; life, academics, profession, and writing.  Education has always been an important part of my life, which is extremely ironic considering I was a really crappy student and put off college for about eight years after high school.  A quick caveat that might be of interest to some is the fact that I have ADD, though back in the day (when dinosaurs ruled the world), ADD was neither acknowledged nor recognized as a disorder, so school generally sucked.  

During the intervening years between high school and college, and finding my groove, I worked for the family business and played a lot of (old school) Dungeons and Dragons.  This is where my passion for writing really caught fire.  When I finally went to college, I wanted to capitalize on that passion and became an English major.  Big mistake!  I found explicating the classics to be utterly boring and a supreme waste of time.  So while I was bombing-out in English, I was excelling in what started out simply as an elective; anthropology.  Though I had always had an interest in history, anthropology really nurtured my curious nature.  Digging into the deep past and connecting to humans and culture from hundreds of thousands of years in the past to the present was totally kick ass.  I found a passion and motivation for learning that I had never experienced before.  These passions and motivations really fueled the writer in me, and I found myself really beginning to blossom, particularly as a writer.  This blossoming enabled me to successfully write and win a series of external competitive grants from the likes of the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation and others; something that had never been achieved by an undergraduate at my college.  Though I was aiming for a PhD in archaeology, marriage, parenthood, then divorce plucked me out of the excavation pit and lecture halls to more tradition, money-making avenues in the professional world.  FYI: yes, I was a digger, and the oldest archaeological site I ever worked was an Early Woodland Period habitation site in central Ohio, dated at approximately 500 B.C.

Fast-forward fifteen years and the realm of ghost hunting.  After becoming a single-parent and moving to a small rural community in northeast Ohio, where my son and myself would make a fresh start; for me, teaching middle school social studies (after all, what else is a washed-up archaeologist good for?).  At this same time, the ghost hunting reality television shows were exploding on cable, many of which I watched and truly marveled at.  I think it's fair to say that all of us, to some degree, are very curious of this ghost phenomenon.  Whether from a religious perspective, a scientific perspective, or simple curiosity; it is human nature to wonder what happens to us after we die.  At any rate, in this small rural community, I learned of a shadowy fixture in the town; a supposedly "haunted" building that was built in the late 1840s.  I simply had to learn more, and quite simply, I acted on my curiosity by finding a paranormal investigating team scheduled to conduct an investigation. 

What was your first investigation like?  And what was the scariest evidence you've ever found at a haunted site?

My first actual investigation took place at a municipal cemetery.  A team I was thinking of joining, invited me to participate in a group investigation and I was totally psyched.  It was a weird experience, in so much that I was actually... finally participating in a real ghost hunt, like I had seen on TV, no less in a cemetery of all places.  It was very weird to be (legally) creeping around a cemetery late at night, hoping to experience the paranormal.

I think the scariest evidence came from my second investigation, when I finally got into that local building.  Though I'm hesitant to go into too much detail (please buy the book), I'll say that there was a bit of a physical altercation with one of the team members who was standing behind me at the time.  Okay, here's a teaser; he got shoved... or perhaps decked is more accurate.  At the time, I thought he tripped on something or slipped on the linoleum.  However, it wasn't until we reviewed our audio recorders that the freak-factor really kicked in. 

What is something you hope readers take away from the book?

Quite simply, there's something to this phenomena, though I confess that I'm still struggling to wrap my mind around it.  I also want readers to understand that we are not talking about white-sheeted bogeymen, goblins, monsters or demons who jump out from behind pieces of furniture, purposely trying to scare you.  I prefer to think of these entities as wispy remnants of individuals who have died and for some reason, their shadowy fingerprints remain.

What was it like to write a book like this in terms of storytelling?  Did you feel the use of QR code was essential in bringing reader into your experiences?

As the book came into form, the storytelling was really very natural.  It's a chronological memoir that reflects my own personal experiences.  Though I had never previously been involved in ghost hunting, I felt my academic and professional archaeology experiences kept me very grounded in reality and fact.  Though I'm not a skeptic, I was, and continue to be very skeptical of a lot of paranormal claims.  I think this a perspective most readers canl relate to.  The use of QR codes in the book is absolutely essential and represent the real buttress of the book.  Without the QR codes, I'm essentially asking the reader to believe everything I say/write and have experienced, and in the realm of paranormal inquiry, at least to me, asking folks to simply believe me, is asking too much.  Rather, I hope to earn the trust of the reader with my honesty and candor, and allow them to come to their own conclusions.

So much about your book is not just about ghosts, but about history.  Do you think that there is more to ghost hunting than simply trying to track down evidence of the paranormal (not that that is a simple goal!)?

For my part, historical context is as much a part of the story as the ghosts themselves; you can't fully understand and appreciate one without the other.   I believe a closer, more thorough focus and understanding of the history and the historical context of a haunted location often provides insights into the nature, sometimes even the identity of the ghosts that inhabit a site.  I also believe a serious focus on history and context illustrates the distinction between a paranormal investigator vs. a ghost hunter.

Tell us about your journey to publication.  Yours was a very winding route!  Do you have any advice for authors about the submission process, non-fiction authors in particular? 

And how; talk about the long and winding road!  Ghostly Encounters was more of a diversion that unexpectedly germinated.  As you know, I was struggling with a well written proposal and healthy, highly-polished chunk of manuscript for a young adult book about the peopling of North America.  Though the feedback was extremely positive, no one wanted to pull the trigger and green light the project.  After multiple tweaks, revisions and many rejections, I became extremely frustrated and simply had to shelve the project.  I was at a point that I was beginning to hate the project and this I knew was very unhealthy for me.  It was at this same time that I was getting my first tastes of paranormal investigating.

One of the driving forces behind writing Ghostly Encounters was also a reaction to some of the popular ghost shows.  With a few exceptions, it seemed most of the programs were centered on individuals who were more interested in achieving pop culture stardom (what I now call para-celebrity) than the actual investigating.  History seemed to be glossed over and some of the para-celebs seemed more intent on behaving stupidly to illicit a paranormal response or event.  I dare you to lay on this autopsy table for an hour by yourself, or let's take the murder weapon back into the haunted location and see what we can stir up.  Though the behavior might have made good television, I found a lot of it unprofessional, even insulting, and like most people, I don't like having my intelligence insulted.  By extension, if I found their behavior and methods unprofessional, why should I believe anything they presented as evidence?  This was the seed for this project; I wanted to write an honest and mature treatment about this phenomenon, based on my own experience and from my own perspective.  I want to respect my reader, earn their trust and hopefully lend some credibility and intellectual honesty to this field of inquiry.  Thus, a book was born.

Do you have any advice for authors about the submission process, non-fiction authors in particular?

Absolutely!  I think it's imperative to understand that both writing and getting published are (1) mutually exclusive, and (2) process-oriented.  To get published you have to be a good writer... so write with a reflective and critical eye.  Your proposal and outline also needs to be as clean and tight as your sample chapters.  I highly recommend Chuck Sambuchino's "Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript" (Writers Digest Books).  I also recommend engaging one or two freelance book consultants and pay to have your materials reviewed; critical objectivity is essential.  When you finally have all of your materials ready to go, that's when the agent search begins, and any agent simply won't do.  My relationship with Prospect Agency is based on my alignment with Carrie and what she was looking for.  Remember, this adventure started out in archaeology and prehistory for young readers; so my search of The Writer's Guide to Literary Agents was more of a research project; distilling the tens of thousands of domestic agents down to about fifty possibles, all of whom I queried.  It really is a numbers game; if you limit yourself to querying only half a dozen agents, you're probably not going to be successful.  Pardon the cliche but "go big, or go home."  From the fifty query's, about half a dozen agent-candidates expressed interested in the project, and from the final six, I chose Carrie... and have never looked back or regretted my choice.  Getting a contract for Ghostly Encounters proves that my agent choice was in fact the right decision.  I think another agent; less interested in me and my overall writing career, would in all likelihood have written me off after I shelved the archaeology project.  So from North American prehistory, we effectively pivoted to ghosts and ghost-hunting.

Any advice for new ghost hunters or writers?

For both new ghost hunters and writers; research is essential.  Not all ghost hunting groups are equal, nor are all agents and publishers.  If you're an aspiring investigator, you may get quickly frustrated with a team that doesn't take investigating seriously enough, or perhaps they take it too seriously .  If you're new to the scene, focus on learning and having some fun, and yes, having fun is a big part of the experience.  To the writers; it's all about organization and discipline, and as a man with ADD, discipline remains a challenge I work through on a daily basis.  Work smart; plan your work and work your plan!  You WILL succeed!

If you're interested in learning more about what ghost hunters do or just want to be freaked out, make sure to order a copy of the book and check out their website!