April 30, 2008
Weird Massachusetts: Your Travel Guide to the Massachusetts's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets
By Jeff Belanger
Publisher: Sterling (April 2008)
Pages: 256 - Price: $19.95
Interview by Lee Prosser
Ghostvillage.com author interview
Jeff Belanger is one of the most talented and articulate authors writing today, and he is an expert in the area of the paranormal and supernatural. His books are always educational and enjoyable to read, and each book charts out new directions. His latest book is full of insights and comments, and he shares them all with the readers in an inquisitive, conversational manner, which adds to the innate charm of his writings. Jeff Belanger is the founder of Ghostvillage.com. Let me start by asking, what inspired you to write about weird Massachusetts?
I was born in this strange place we call Massachusetts, and though I've lived in several other states during my lifetime, there must be some reason I was drawn back to the Bay State. Maybe I moved back to see the Red Sox finally break the curse, maybe it was the witchy powers of Salem that put a spell on me, or maybe it was the many ghostly legends that seem to hide around every Colonial stone wall… whatever the reason, I came back and call this place home once more.
Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote that "if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes back at you." You could easily swap "weird" for "abyss" in that quote. You might owe Nietzsche an apology, but I'm sure he'd grant your pardon (if he was still alive… which he isn't… so it probably doesn't matter). I've noticed as my writing career progresses, I've developed an ear and an eye for the unusual. Either I find the odd, or it finds me. I'm not sure anymore, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Finding the weird near where you live is about the most fun you can have without the use of illegal substances. My inspiration for Weird Massachusetts was drawn from every legend, every bit of history, and every person I've had the chance to swap stories with here in the Bay State.
What do you think of the future for Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran's "Weird series?" Are there other states, possibly countries, in the works? How do readers contact them to share stories? How did you come into contact with them?
There are many other "Weird" books in the series with new books coming out pretty regularly. Mark and Mark started the whole "weird" idea many years ago when they produced a photocopied pamphlet for their friends in New Jersey. They sought out the oddities in their home state and called their "zine" Weird NJ. Weird NJ evolved into a magazine, the magazine into a book, then there was their Weird U.S. book, which was the first weird book I contributed to; there was Weird Hauntings, which I also contributed to; and many other states started getting their own books. Mark and Mark then co-hosted the Weird U.S. TV show on the History Channel -- it would seem the world has gone weird. As for other countries, I know Weird England was recently published, and I wouldn't be surprised to see others come out in the future. If folks want to share their own weird tales, they can visit the series' Web site: www.weirdus.com.
Weird Massachusetts, among your many books, is certainly one of your most creative to date. How do you keep the creative flow so fresh. Do you have a special muse or goddess whispering in your ear?
I believe in the Muse. I have no doubt about that. In Stephen King's memoir, On Writing, he notes how the more you write, the more you work, the more the Muse tends to visit. I completely agree. The more you look for stories, the more you investigate the unknown, the more ideas that naturally come to you.
Was research more involved in this book, and more time needed to cover areas?
In some respects, researching Weird Massachusetts was easier than some of my other books because I live here. I know the weirdoes (I not only mean that with the greatest affection, but I count myself among them). If I didn't know an area of the state, I knew who to call. I had a lot of fun reconnecting with my friends and colleagues, and traipsing through the woods and urban jungles of the Bay State.
Your section on "Witches" was another intriguing and enjoyable part of the book. Do you rank Massachusetts alongside California and Missouri as a state containing an abundance of Witches? Are you a Witch at heart, or maybe a lucky Shaman on walkabout?
Massachusetts has Salem, a town synonymous with Witches and witchcraft. As one local Witch put it, "Witches don't have a Mecca, but we have Salem." I don't know if I'd consider myself a Witch, but I certainly believe in magic. Plus, while interviewing famed Salem Witch, Laurie Cabot, she paused at one point, squinted at me, and said, "I think maybe you have a little bit of witch in you." Maybe we all do. I accept that.
What was your feeling about the House of the Seven Gables?
Being a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne, I was thrilled to visit the house that inspired his famous book. Stepping inside that building is like walking back in time two centuries. Some also say it's haunted. What's interesting is that right across from the House of the Seven Gables is the house Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in. The museum had the home moved to that location several years ago. That building is believed to be haunted by Hawthorne's mother who has been seen sitting on the front steps of the building sobbing over the loss of her husband.
This book seems more autobiographical in tone. Do you see yourself turning more to autobiographical writing in your future ghostly and paranormal explorations?
Weird Massachusetts is a travel book. When I was getting ready to write this book, I read some other travel books as well as some of the other "Weird" books in the series. To write about travel, you need to submerse yourself in a place and then convey as much of your experience as possible, because that's exactly what your reader will hopefully experience. Over the years, I've been growing more comfortable in sharing my own thoughts and experiences in odd locations. I want to always work to remain objective, but I also can't discount the sights and sounds I encounter for myself.
What was it like working with Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, and how did the book devise such a remarkable array of illustrations and photographs?
Mark and Mark are great guys. They know weird inside and out, and, they have a deep appreciation for the nuances of this planet we live on. Great architecture and fine museums are all well and good, but it's the legends, oddballs, and curses that make a place truly special and unforgettable. The Marks also have a great team of artists and graphic designers working for them. Those are the folks that made the layout, art, and photography come alive in Weird Massachusetts.
When will you write a paranormal novel for publication?
I have this idea for a novel that I've been kicking around for over a year now. The problem is I have my regular work and other books that continue to get in the way of my working on it. One of these days I'll get back to it!
Does living in weird Massachusetts add to your ongoing interests in the supernatural landscape?
We're all a product of our environment to some extent. I'm no different. Being surrounded by so much history, some great old buildings, and people who cherish their legends and lore definitely keeps me interested in the paranormal side of life.
Do you foresee a time when you might live in another state?
Sure. So far I've lived in five different states in the U.S. I'll go where the tide takes me. I have no grand plans to stay put or move on.
What did you personally hope to achieve with this new book?
My first seven books focused on the paranormal. Weird Massachusetts has allowed me to show my funny side, my interest in travel, and branch out in the paranormal beyond ghosts. I covered UFOs, cryptids, mythology, urban legends, and the generally weird quirks of Massachusetts. I hope the book helps show that I'm more than just the ghost guy.
What is your next book project?
My next project is a children's book called, Who Is Haunting the White House? The President's Mansion and the Ghosts Who Live There. The book is also being published by Sterling and is intended for middle readers (ages 9 and up). I'm using ghosts as an innovative way to teach history. I'm hoping that this is the only the first book in a series of kids' books. Plus I have a few other projects cooking in the book department (I usually do)… stay tuned!
Does it surprise you over the years how rapidly Ghostvillage.com has expanded and brought in new readers to the world of the paranormal and supernatural?
Back in 1999, Ghostvillage.com was just a few Web pages. Today we have over 50,000 pages. I'll take credit for starting the Web site, but today there are many contributors who make the site what it is. I'm always amazed at how many people come to visit us, how many share something they've experienced, and how the community comes together for those who need a place to discuss the supernatural. Though I have no crystal ball, I think our future will be even bigger and more interesting as more people find out about our village.
Thank you and many wishes of good luck on your new book, Weird Massachusetts.