Review of Zack Bagans’ Halloween Special


I have some guilty pleasures that I hate to admit, and watching travel shows has been one of them. Hence my interest in the Travel Channel. As I recall, the Travel Channel used to be a place for travel shows. That seems to have changed over the years. Travel Channel morphed into the Poker Channel, and it rode on the interest in televised poker matches. Now it seems heavy on “paranormal investigations” with some very light travel thrown in as the investigators visit numerous sights reputed to be haunted. One show that seems to have lasted for a very long time is “Ghost Adventures” led by Zack Bagans and a host of other paranormal investigators accompanied by  a plethora of electronic gadgets.

On Halloween,  after all of the trick-or-treaters had completed their rounds, I parked on the sofa to channel surf, and settled in on Zack Bagans’ Halloween Special filmed in Zack’s own museum in Las Vegas. Who knows, I may place a paranormal investigator in one of my hoped-for novels, so I wanted to tune into this apparent cultural phenomenon. It was supposedly a live ghost hunting episode in the “Haunted Museum” in Las Vegas where Zack has accumulated a number of objects and exhibits that have been the source of huge paranormal activity as a result of some past incident or violence surrounding the object. Because of the supposed dangers involved in this investigation, Zack had assembled emergency paramedics, a few witches he was acquainted with through his travels, a rabbi, some other paranormal investigators he knew. If things really got tough, he had an exorcist on hand. I hadn’t heard of Zack’s museum, but the internet told me he was asking $44 a head to tour his museum. Reviews were generally very positive despite the steep price. It seems most of the guides had some sort of paranormal experience during their work at Zack’s museum. There were a few skeptics expressing themselves in the reviews I read, but most reviews were glowingly positive.  We tuned in.

Zack and his team arrived at the museum with a police escort. The crowd of onlookers cheered wildly. The high point of the show was to be the opening of something called the Dybbuk Box that was promoted as  the most possessed object on the planet. It had something to do with the Holocaust  Hence the presence of the rabbi. There was also a witch in the basement doing various incantations all night. A second witch entered the cellar later in the show. One witch was dressed in black and the other witch was dressed in white. It looked like a conflict between witches was brewing. Peggy, the creepy haunted doll was taken out of her case. A haunted mirror was uncovered. A Ouija board was used by some investigators. Electronic contraptions were spinning and sparking. Incantations were heard from the witches in the basement. Much going on here. The principals of the show said they felt chills and sometimes acted strangely. The investigators often claimed they heard strange noises. The Dybbuk Box was touched and never opened. Zack decided it was just too dangerous. The rabbi was not very concerned with anything and seemed to disappear from view. Nothing happened with the witches. Peggy the creepy doll did not do anything. Paramedics remained outside the museum.

In my own humble opinion, absolutely nothing happened during this show, but Zack and his investigators claimed they got real good evidence for future analysis. I can’t say I enjoyed the show, but I did watch it in its entirety, and felt pretty stupid when I finally went to bed. I didn’t get it, but I got a lot of laughs out of it. I can’t argue with someone who has had a successful show for so long, and operates a museum that costs $44 a person to get in. It is not my cup of tea, but Zack must be doing something right. I may even watch another episode of Ghost Adventures, if the spirit moves me. Saying I didn’t like the show might attract negative entities or put a curse on me, and I don’t have the phone number of my local exorcist.

Writing Groups

I went to my first writing group meeting two months ago and to my second writing group meeting one month ago. I can’t say I am hooked yet, but I will go to my third meeting this coming month. I am new to the novel writing process and had no idea what to expect.  I know I need some type of feedback and perhaps a healthy dose of encouragement since my writing has stalled somewhere between the first draft and the second draft. Here’s what happened in the group.

The first meeting took place in an upstairs room at a bar in a small town about a half-hour drive from my home. It started promptly at 7:00 p.m. but I underestimated the drive time and arrived shortly after the meeting started. The group seemed very friendly and welcoming and I made a very short introduction and then sat down and listened to the main speaker, a successful full-time science-fiction writer who talked about his own struggles and his writing process. He knew what he was doing. The talk was engaging, and generated a lively question and answer period. It was an enjoyable night, and a great change of pace for me. I have learned that writing can be a very lonely endeavor, and meeting a group with similar struggles is encouraging.

Whenever I attend a presentation, I try to pick out one or two “take-aways” from the meeting. In this case, I was a little surprised that my major “take-away” was the use of noise-cancelling headphones. The presenter  actually wrote a lot in a local Wegman’s to avoid the distractions of home and family. He used noise cancelling headphones to screen out ambient noise and listen to some music appropriate to his writing. The headphones also served to send a message to passers-by that he was engaged in serious work and was not to be disturbed. It worked! A second successful full-time writer in the group echoed the value of noise-cancelling headphones.

As a very low-tech aspiring writer, I had no idea of the value of noise-cancelling headphones and went out and bought a pair. Good ones are not cheap, but they do screen out ambient noise. I downloaded a free one-hour sounds of a rainstorm, which seems to work really well for me. I haven’t figured out which type of music to listen to, but for now the rainstorm is doing a great job for me as I write this blog and do the associated work in trying to build an audience. The novel is still stalled, but the engines are starting to run a little bit despite the constant sounds of a rainstorm.

The second meeting I attended was much the same structure. This time, I arrived early enough to have dinner with the group before 7:00 p.m. which helped to meet people in a more informal setting. The invited speaker was a publicist, and talked about the world of publishing and marketing books. To me, this is a very depressing message. Writing your book is one thing, marketing it is almost a full-time job, particularly if you are not facile with the wonderful world of social media. My “take-away” from this meeting was that you need to get familiar with social media early on because there is a steep learning curve to master the nuances of various platforms. So I will try to keep up with this blog, partly to learn the process and make my inevitable mistakes before I am involved in any book launch.

Next month is a critique session where the members submit work for critique. That should be highly entertaining but intimidating at the same time. These people appear to be very good writers.


Stay tuned.



“Hawaii” by James Michener: Books Matter

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 11.43.12 AMThis isn’t a book review, but rather a personal story of how one book influenced my life and continues to exert a huge influence on me to this day.

Over 40 years ago I bought a copy of a book in San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, “Hawaii” by James Michener. I was a young Naval officer then, and was about to make a trip From San Francisco to Hawaii on an aircraft carrier on the way to Vietnam, and the book looked like a good thing to read along the way. No television or internet in those days at sea. Unfortunately, the trip to Hawaii turned out to be a “bad trip” to use a term from the 60’s. In a period of 5 days a lot of things happened from the mildly unpleasant to the really terrible. The mildly unpleasant: I learned you can get very seasick even on such a large ship as an aircraft carrier, I broke my leg. Then the really terrible: a plane crash on the ship, large fire, man overboard, several deaths. Bad stuff to be a part of for a 22-year old kid. I looked back on what helped me get through that and it was certainly a lot of prayers, and a very good book “Hawaii” by James Michener. Each night, his book put me in another place for a short time, and since then I read many of his other books. Prayers and “Hawaii” got me through some tough times.

Fast forward a few years. The school at which I started my teaching career gave James Michener an honorary degree. I had the privilege to shake his hand and thank him for what “Hawaii” did for me. I told him it was a real “coming of age” for me. I did get a small smile from him. He liked what I said, and he moved on to shake the hand of the next person in a very long line on a very hot day. I felt like I met Babe Ruth that day.

My daughter recently got married at the James Michener Museum. My daughter and her husband chose this James Michener Museum for reasons of their own, and it turned out to be a lovely venue. They knew nothing of my connection with this book. In addition they were going to Hawaii for their honeymoon. I couldn’t help telling this story at their wedding and giving them a copy of the book “Hawaii” as a small, but very sentimental wedding gift. The coincidences and the connections still kept coming. The edition I bought had an introduction from Steve Berry, a thriller writer my wife and I both met several years ago at Thrillerfest in New York City. Steve Berry helped me put together a pitch for the novel I am in the process of writing today. He wrote a damned good introduction to one of my favorite books of all time.

“Hawaii” will keep a reader going for a while. It is over 1,000 pages long and full of very small print. If you have a love for the sea, as I do, go to a bookstore and read Michener’s first sentence. His words are magnificent. Better yet, buy a copy and have a really great read.

Review of “Murder as a Fine Art” by David Morrell

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Author: David Morrell


Publication Date: May, 2013


Publisher:  Mulholland Books


ISBN: 978-0-316-21679-1


Agent: Dystel & Goderich Literary Management

Source of Book: I borrowed this book from my local public library. I had never read any of David Morrell’s works, and was impressed by his presentations at Thrillerfest. He is best known for his debut novel “First Blood” in which he introduced the character Rambo.

Blurb: Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to the ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprints for the killings seems to be De Quincey’s essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In “Murder as a Fine Art”, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.

(Source of Blurb: Inside dust cover jacket)

Review:  “Murder as a Fine Art” shows a true master at work. David Morrell, author of “First Blood”, which introduced the Rambo character, is a scholar as well as an author. This book is as much of a learning experience as it is a thriller. Morrell teaches us a lot about Victorian England, and this was, for me, the best part of the book. In addition, Morrel uses a complex story structure, writing a good bit of it in third person omniscient point of view, seldom used currently, but widely used in Victorian times. He intersperses this with some first person point of view using a strong female character via excerpts from her diary. I learned a great deal about Victorian England, as well as a lot about the craft of writing.

I was a little less impressed with the plot, however. Morrell starts his first chapter with a very vivid description of several murders including the killing of a small infant. The book certainly has a dark side to it. The story eventually explains the psychological reasons behind this. I found it intriguing that the protagonist was an opium-addled author who outwits a much younger and stronger villain, but towards the end of the book, the cleverness of the protagonist and the ease with which he eventually defeats the villain were a little too much for me. Please do not get me wrong, this is a very good thriller, just a little too much cleverness and too much psychology for my taste.

If you have the stomach to get by the description of the gruesome murders in the first chapter, this is an entertaining, well-written thriller. The real strength of “Murder as a Fine Art” is the rich detail of the setting, Victorian England. The book is incredibly well-researched, and Morrell’s use of third-person omniscient point of view is a great example of a master writer at work. If you like your thrillers laced with a great deal of very pleasurable education, and you have an interest in Victorian England, you will enjoy this thoroughly.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:

Purchase Link:  Murder as a Fine Art