Archive for August, 2014

AbigailPadget-FRONTcoverA new book! Three characters. Spooky Louisiana setting. Blood.

I don’t live in Louisiana, do not teach history, have never been imprisoned and don’t “believe” in vampires. Yet An Unremembered Grave is the story of a history professor, a prisoner and yes, a vampire, in Louisiana. So what was I thinking?

The History Professor

Danni Telfer was abandoned as a toddler and has no history, which may account for her getting a Ph.D. in the subject. But amphitheater classrooms of bored college freshmen aren’t doing it for Danni. When an ill-advised affair with her department chair results in an invitation by the dean to get out of Dodge for a semester, she scrounges an obscure grant to study the history of cotton in Louisiana. Danni has always been “different,” prone to odd experiences no one else seems to share. And now she’s about to find out why.


“History” in my long-ago formal education was an agony of boredom. Kings, wars, names and dates memorized and instantly forgotten. A wasteland of data actually painful to recall. But I hang out with friends now who are History professors, and from just listening to their shop-talk quickly learned that “history” isn’t like that any more. Approached creatively, it’s a vast cache of stories, most of which do not involve kings, battles or specific dates. Had I to do it over again, I might major in History! Thus is born Danni, an alter-ego whose academic skills I admire and envy even as I create them from the distant perspective of the English major.

The Prisoner

Antoine “Monk” Dupre didn’t murder anybody in Opelousas ten years ago. Yet he was convicted and sentenced to life in Louisiana’s infamous maximum security prison at Angola. Monk, in the company of his cat, Bastet, works as head inmate counsel, helping other men struggle toward freedom even though his own case is hopeless. In the prison hobby shop he fashions exquisite wooden cats in the image of the Egyptian deity for which his own cat is named, only joking that his carvings might have magical power. But all that is about to change.


Once a plantation, Angola is an entire town that, as such, appears on no map. It lies imagesat the end of a single, two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild, snake-infested hills and a treacherous stretch of the Mississippi River. Isolated even now, seething with brutal history and snared in Louisiana’s traditional laissez-faire political corruption, Angola might be seen as the prison exemplar, a fantasy prison embodying all prisons. Except Angola is real. For seventeen years I visited a friend imprisoned there and talked on the phone with him every week. We even wrote and published a short story together. But that’s another whole book, a memoir in progress. For now, Angola belongs to Monk, a desperate man whose life hangs on the skill of a History professor… and a vampire.

The Vampire

sabrewolfThe man, Stephane Grimaud, was born to Basque shepherds near Bayonne, France, before there was France. But Grimaud is no longer a man; Grimaud is a vampire. Staked and buried by a courageous but dying slave during the Civil War, Grimaud has slept beneath the soil of the plantation called Angola for 150 years. When a crew of prisoners grading a golf course for the warden unearths his grave, Grimaud struggles to stand, starving and terrified. He will need help if he is to survive in a world unimagined before he slept. How fortunate that an adept is nearby, one of the mortal humans who see and understand realities beyond the accepted one. Her name is Danni and he knows what she is, but why does she flee from him in terror?


Kids love stories of the occult, witches and vampires, magic and all things outside the quotidian. Most outgrow it. I never did. So it was with fascination that I observed the recent, sudden and unprecedented popularity of vampires in fiction and media. (At this writing there are 10,920 vampire novels listed on Amazon Kindle, most written in the last five years!) What is this about? I dived into the research and came up with a theory. Interest in vampires demonstrably increases during periods of social change. The current time is such a period, a paradigm shift of incomprehensible dimensions, and so of course there are vampires everywhere. But why? Why do people, particularly young adults, crave endless stories of deathless, humanoid beings who drink human blood?

Eureka!  In human blood is encoded the history of the human race. But history is threatened with obliteration by social change, and the blood-coded stories in every individual perish when the individual dies. Vampires cannot die, and so shoulder the task of consuming and preserving human history. The vampire, born of a Balkan folk belief and refined by the minds of many writers, including mine, is a symbol rising from our collective unconscious. Young adults, teetering between the dying world of their parents and grandparents, and the unknown world in which their children will live, are acutely, if unconsciously, aware of the shift. They, and I, long for the vampire, who preserves what we cannot. And so… Grimaud!


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strawgirlNEW3I’ve never written about this, the darkest of the Bo Bradley mysteries. I haven’t because anything I can say is likely to anger a few people, but they aren’t likely to read my books anyway so why not?

Strawgirl is on a promotion right now – 99 cents from 8/8 to 8/15. Please tell your friends unless they’re among the few referenced above.

So here’s the upsetting idea from which this book grew – The only difference between psychiatric delusional states and “sanity” is the absence or presence of consensus. If one person thinks something irrational is true, that’s a delusion and a psychiatrist must be called. If many people think something irrational is true, societies will respond as if it is. Witch hunts and McCarthyism are examples, but Strawgirl was spun from much more recent stuff.

I went to work as a child abuse investigator in the late eighties, in the wake of the McMartin Preschool “Satanic/Ritual Child Abuse” madness. And I use the term “madness” deliberately. The case, which involved accusations of satanic child sexual abuse with fantastical elements such as children being flushed down toilets to secret underground tunnels where they were molested in the presence of circus animals and murdered babies, went on for seven years. The McMartin criminal trial was the most expensive in American history but, not surprisingly, resulted in ruined lives but no convictions.

The mass hysteria did result, however, in enormous federal funds pouring into “training programs” which would enable child advocacy professionals to recognize evidence of satanic child abuse. I was one of those professionals and had no choice but to sit through mandated satanic abuse workshops. Really.

In one of these we were told to scour record collections in the homes of clients for

Ozzy Album Cover

Ozzy Album Cover

those by Ozzy Osbourne (heavy metal rock personality), as these were indicative of satanic influences in the home.  That night my teenage son and I  joked about burying album covers in the yard to avoid being arrested as satanists even though he was never into heavy metal and didn’t own a single Ozzie record.

But not everybody was laughing. The mindless hysteria endured well into the nineties, spreading across the country and wrecking hundreds of lives. And there are still individuals and organizations who, in the absence of any evidence whatever, seriously believe in satanic ritual child abuse. This is madness, but because it is espoused by several rather than one, it is not so-labeled. Nobody was or is dragging these individuals and groups off to see the shrink.

So I wrote Strawgirl, in which bipolar child abuse investigator Bo Bradley (who really does live with a psychiatric disorder) must battle the undiagnosed craziness of mass hysteria around satanic/ritual child abuse. Complicating her task is the opportunistic psychologist, Cynthia Ganage, who’s riding the craziness all the way to the bank, and Bo’s own supervisor, who’s determined to use Bo’s psychiatric diagnosis to end her career.

An Extraerrestrial

An Extraterrestrial

I wanted to point out that special interest groups, sometimes called “cults”, are usually harmless and often interesting, so created the “Seekers,” people who believe in or hope to see extraterrestrials. Eva Broussard, a half-Iroquois psychiatrist who studies the Seekers, becomes Bo’s new psychiatrist. And of course Dr. Andrew LaMarche, whose interest in Bo is far from professional, is again at her side despite her unorthodox methods. But without the courage of one homeless man, probably living with schizophrenia, Bo would not have been able to solve this case.

In real life people labeled “mentally ill” carry the stigma of crimes committed by thousands who are perfectly “sane” as well as the highly-publicized few committed by a handful of their number. In Strawgirl, a bipolar social worker, a homeless mentally ill man and a renegade psychiatrist revered by a cult, combat an epidemic of societal madness to protect a child.

It’s a dark novel with unpleasant details presented graphically. The villain is vile, but he isn’t crazy. Bo is sporadically crazy, but she isn’t vile. Both exist in a world distorted by a dangerous mass delusion that has passed, but pockets of which still exist and can flourish again in other forms, at any time.

Cornell historian George Lincoln Burr is often quoted as having said, “… that the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.” If only that were true!





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