Fifteen-year-old Mari Pujols believes that the baby she’s carrying will finally mean she’ll have a family member who will love her deeply and won’t ever leave her. But when doctors discover a potentially fatal heart defect in the foetus, Mari faces choices she never could have imagined.
This literary, thought-provoking YA is based on true events and navigates a complex and impossible decision that can crush even the bravest of women.
On 12th January we hosted a #RoseBloodBall with A.G Howard (in digital form) and an audience of magnificent bloggers. The highlight of the evening was (google) hanging out with A.G Howard. We were able to ask all the questions we’ve been dying to pose; questions about RoseBlood, her writing style and even which character she would take to prom!
The questions were so good we couldn’t keep the answers to ourselves, so here, friends, are all the questions and answers from our gothic evening of frivolity. Plus some of our favourite snaps!
Q: As I am a huge musical fan I’d love to know if there are any other theatre shows (whether based on a book or not), she would like to adapt or take as inspiration for a future book/series?
A: I’ve considered all of these: Les Miserables, Moulin Rouge and Sweeney Todd
Did you get any Phantom of the Opera songs stuck in your head while you were writing RoseBlood?
No. But I do use music to get in the mind-set of a book. I create Spotify playlists for my books, even ones I’ve not started writing yet. You can listen to them here.
Q: What inspired you to write a Phantom of the Opera retelling?
A: I’ve always been intrigued by the anti-hero, and contemplated a Phantom retelling even before I wrote Splintered. I’d seen other adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera — a lot of them actually — and one prequel that I adored (Phantom by Susan Kay) but not many spinoffs or continuations. Like Splintered, I knew I wanted to make it modern and contemporary to set it apart, while still retaining the elements of the original (gothic in this case). All I needed was a way to explain the Phantom’s longevity…how he had survived so many years. Once I figured that out, I was ready to give Erik a modern stage on which to perform to see what horrors he might stir up.
Q: You’ve created a marvellous adaptation of Alice in Wonderland and now Phantom of the Opera, what’s next on the agenda?
A: A gothic retelling / adaptation of a fairy tale which will take me back to my fantasy roots, with strange creatures and magic in an alternate fairy tale universe. But that’s all I can say about it for now.
Q: What is your favourite opera?
A: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera.
Q: What is your favourite song from Phantom of the Opera?
A: My favourite song is The Music of the Night
Q: Have you watched the Phantom of the Opera in theatre?
A: In Las Vegas.
Q: Do you like to sing, and do you have any particular favourite songs you sing in the shower/kitchen/etc.?
A: I have a terrible voice! Haha. But I do like to make playlists for all my books and sometimes those songs make it into my shower performances.
Q: How do you create your characters? Do you fully plan them out at the start or let them emerge as you’re writing?
A: They’re fully planned out. For each book I write, that’s the most important preparation. It’s crucial that I intimately know the stars of the story before starting the journey, because I write organically and they’re going to be my guides.
Q: What do you love about Rune and Thorn?
A: The fact that they are both very loyal.
Q: What annoys you about them?
A: That it takes them so long to kiss the first time.
Q: What was your favourite scene to write between them and why?
A: The rooftop scene. It’s romantic, and also because it’s when they first see one another face to face and start working together to figure things out. I knew I would have this scene in the book before I started writing because this was always my favourite scene in the movie.
Q: Are there any other fairytales you’d be interested in reimagining?
A: Yes, many. Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel (although it would be hard to top Disney’s Tangled), just to name a few. I’m also interested in more Classical retellings, like Jekyll and Hyde, A Midsummer’s Night Dream and more.
Q: Did you go to boarding school?
A: No, but I did go to a Christian private school where we had to wear uniforms like Rune in RoseBlood. My parents worked at the school and at weekends we had to pitch-in to help clean! My brother convinced me that there was a monster living under the stage in the cafeteria – something that has definitely impacted my writing!
Q: Will you ever come to tour the UK?
A: I would love to! If I can ever save up enough money. I have two kids in college, so it might be a while! Haha.
Q: What was it like writing a reimagining of Alice in Wonderlandthen jumping into a reimagining of Phantom of the Opera? These are two very different stories with very different vibes to them (Aliceis very surreal while Phantomis quite gothic).
A: As you pointed out, I had to adjust my mood for this book. Where my Wonderland series is based on what has often been considered a children’s story, RoseBlood is based on The Phantom of the Opera — a romantic horror/ drama about the obsession to be accepted and loved, and unrequited passion turned to madness. RoseBlood is also very character-driven, as opposed to plot-driven, which makes it a slower, more mysterious unwinding of twists and turns than the Splintered books. There aren’t any *whimsical* underpinnings in this one. Instead, it’s darkly romantic and gothic with subtle elements of horror, and the relationships involve more tortured/complex depths.
Q: Why do you think reimagines of fairy tales and well-known/loved stories are so popular now?
A: I think, for one, because dark fairy tales provide a perfect archetype for coming-of-age elements. First, there’s a young heroine (in some cases, hero, but for my answer, we’ll stick with the female lead character) – either troubled, or spoiled like a princess – who needs a quest so she can find her place in the world, become strong enough to face her troubles, and leave the diva days behind. Then there’s the hero (prince), or in some cases, anti-heroes, who will accompany/guide/confuse our heroine on her journey to self-realisation. Fairy tales often teach life lessons in subtle ways, and when drenched in darkness, the lessons become even less obvious, but leave more of a visceral imprint. And let’s not discount the adventure aspect. Fairy tales take place either in a far off land or an alternate earth – and offer an eccentric bevy of secondary characters who help or hinder along the way – which provides the temporary escapism we all need from the very real monsters of everyday life. Our generation is hyper-aware of violence and tragedy due to disturbing images of terrorism, war scenes, and random shootings, etc… touted by the media day in and day out. So it stands to reason that we’d be drawn to The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson versions, which both cater to the idea that “real life isn’t always pretty, so why should fairy tales be?”
Our favourite questions from Twitter:
Q: With which of your characters would you have gone to prom when you where young?
A: Morpheus, because how fun would it be to dance with someone who could fly you to the stars? (Who doesn’t love a bad boy!)
Q: What type of mask would you wear for the #RoseBloodBall? And what colour?
A: One like this, but in purple and red.
Q: There are some beautifully dark scenes in RoseBlood. Is it hard to get in the mindset to write those?
A: It wasn’t hard for me because I use my playlists to help me and I already have a dark imagination!
We have a lot of love for our Young Adult list. Who wouldn’t when we have authors like A.G Howard and Cat Winters! This eclectic Top 5 represents the best of the best from our YA list.
Did your favourite make the cut?
We fell down the rabbit hole with A.G. Howard’s Splinteredin 2013, and we haven’t wanted to come out since. The Splintered series is a firm favourite in our office, including fierce debates over #TeamJeb and #TeamMorpheus. There was never a question of this title not appearing in our Young Adult Top 5!
But don’t take our word for it…
“A beautiful retelling of a classic tale. High concept romance, young adult fiction with huge potential” METRO
“Brilliantly conceived, utterly original and a triumph of modern writing” Books Monthly
“There’s always been something a bit creepy about The Alice in Wonderland story but A.G. Howard’s take on it out Goths Tim Burton” SFX
“Splintered deserves to be read. It does a better job of a ‘dark’ Wonderland than either McGee’s Alice or Tim Burton’s recent sequel” Starburst Magazine
“Overall, this was a really exceptional read. The setting was jaw-droppingly awesome, the characters jump off the page, the adventure was badass in every level and the twist in the end was unexpectedly heartbreaking. Need I say more? If you haven’t read this book yet, you’re missing out on a lot of awesomeness. Read it now!” Books for YA
“Splintered, you’re gothic and twisted but you’re mine. Now let’s officially move you onto my favourite bookshelf”. Reflections of a Bookworm
“Splintered is a wonderful retelling of the original Alice in Wonderland. Readers will love the madness, romance, action, and the dark twists and turns of the story. Howard’s outstanding writing, bizarre but loveable characters and mysteriously fresh tale will take you to a whole world where everything is unexpected yet fascinating.”Say It With Books
“Splintered is an utterly captivating story on so many levels and I am sure is set to be a classic in its own right. A feast for the imagination as well as the eyes”. Book Angel Booktopia
“I could not have hoped for a better renewal of a favourite classic” Realm of Fiction
“I really can’t urge everyone enough to go pick up this highly addictive book, because I can promise you that you’ll not have read anything like it before!” Fiction Fascination
“I was absorbed straight away.” Journey Through Fiction gives Splintered 4.5 Stars
Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers, precisely the problem that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. Surely, she tells herself, it has nothing to do with the fact that she is directly descended from Alice Liddell, the real life inspiration for Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. But when her mother takes a turn for the worse and the whispers grow too strong to bear, Alyssa learns that she’s not mad but she must find the origins of a secret family curse…
Cat Winters’The Cure for Dreaming is pure magic. The elegant proses weave a story of love, rebellion and the power of truth. We cannot praise this book enough, it left us feeling strong, determined and hopeful. The Cure for Dreaming, with a tip of our hat to In the Shadow of Blackbirds, is number two in our Top 5 YA list.
On October 31, 1900, the mesmerizing Henri Reverie will perform his hypnotic feats.
Stand when commanded!
Speak when commanded!
Think when commanded!
Let Monsier Reverie control your mind & who knows what you will see…
Olivia Mead’s father wants to elimiate her rebellious thoughts. But the hypnotist he hires to stamp out her independence ends up giving her a gift: the ability to see people are they really are.
Monsters. Victims. Madmen. Friends.
Terrifying and enlightening, Olivia’s visions tell her who is trustworthy and who is dangerous. But only she can find a way to make her mind her own again.
“I feel like you should all read and love The Cure for Dreaming. Because it was honestly a perfect book. The writing is gorgeous. Which I knew it would be. And the story is full of heart and so perfect. And the characters. Sigh. Cat is amazing at writing characters that I fall in love with. So yes. You should all go pre-order this book right away. Because you will need to read it when it comes out in October. It will be worth it.” Five Star review, Carina Olsen – blogger
” The ending was bittersweet, it made me feel both sad and hopeful. All in all, The Cure for Dreaming was a deliciously compelling read full of atmosphere and allure.”The Page Turner
‘For those of you wanting to fall in love with reading again, this is certainly the book for you. There is nothing that keeps you glued to the pages quite so strongly as injustice and a small group of people who rally against it, which this book has in spades. Try as I might to find fault with the story, I was unable to, so it would be completely unfair to judge this book to be anything other than a five out of five and a must-read.’ 5* review on The Bookbag
‘The Cure for Dreaming proves the potential, relevance, and importance of YA fiction. It’s entertaining, educational and mystical. YA naysayers may have just met their match.” Starburst Magazine
“With great imagination, an interesting twist, historical photographs, and a fresh voice, Cat Winters is a true talent to be celebrated. Whatever this author writes, I want!” Kate Ormand, author
“After this, there is no more doubt: Cat Winters is an unstoppable literary force. She does her research, she combines fact with simply marvelous fiction, she touches our hearts and somehow teaches us all a valuable lesson in the process. What more could we possibly want?” The Nocturnal Library
“A truly mesmerising read, this is one you won’t want to miss out on!”Opinionatedcupcakes, blogger
‘The book is a timely reminder that political equality of is hard fought for and hard fought against’ – SFX Magazine
“Olivia is everything you could ask for in a character” The Daily Prophecy, blog
Elena is a fighter, a survivor – but never a victim. This isn’t just the story of anorexia. It’s the story of a person. This is Elena’s story.
Elena Vanishing is a bit of a departure from our traditional YA publishing, but this powerful memoir, paired with it’s companion Hope & Other Luxuries written by Clare B. Dunkle; Elena’s mother, is a reading experience unlike anything else. Reading this story of desperation and ultimately hope from two sides of the same coin creates a raw and honest portrayal of a families struggle with a life-threatening eating disorder.
Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia.
Deep, emotional, but ultimately hopefully Elena Vanishing has added another level to our YA list and as such earned it’s place in our Top 5 YA books list.
Corinne Duyvis’ debut novel, Otherbound is a wholly unique story. It takes place across two minds, two worlds, two genders that come together in the blink of an eye.
Every time Nolan closes his eyes, he doesn’t see darkness. Instead he’s transported into the mind of Amara, a girl living in a different world. Nolan’s world is our world, full of history tests, family problems and laundry; his parents think he has epilepsy, judging from his frequent blackouts. Amara’s world is full of magic and danger and she’s a mute slave girl who’s tasked with protecting a renegade princess. Nolan is an observer only in Amara’s world — until he’s not. At first, Amara’s terrified by this new presence controlling her. But they eventually learn that the only way to protect the princess and escape danger is to work together. It’s a fascinating premise, clearly and compellingly written and imagined.
This incredible story will carry you to places you don’t expect and is an essential addition to our Top 5 YA books list.
“Gritty and violent at times, this is an intelligent, satisfying YA novel.” 250th anniversary issue, SFX magazine.
‘I really enjoyed it and and for the readers looking for some more diversity in their books, I highly recommend Otherbound, because there’s a big chance this is the book that you’ve been waiting for!’ Irisjexx
‘Otherbound is magical ‘ you’ll read the first page and before you know it the book has ended and you’ll want to start again.’ Luna’s Little Library.
‘Otherbound is not just your standard heard-it-all-before book and run of the mill characters. In that way and in so many others with its enthralling and vivid factors, it’s truly one of the best Fantasy books I’ve read in a while and reminded me why I love these types of books. With adventure, a captivating journey from a contemporary world to fantasy, Otherbound will surely be on my five-star reads recommended list for a very long time.’ Pretty Little Memoirs.
“With diverse relatable characters and relationships that are constantly in danger and on the run, with twists and betrayal and a complex world and complicated characters who actually swear, Otherbound was an intense journey.’ Kirstie Marie Jones
“A really great modern fantasy read for all ages!” LGBT YA Reviews
A classic from our YA list, The Storyteller is a dark addition to our Top 5 YA reads. This novel shows Antonia Michaelis moving in a bold new direction: a dark, haunting contemporary novel that is part mystery, part romance, part melodrama.
Anna and Abel couldn’t be more different.
They are both 17, in their last year of school, but while Anna lives in a nice old town house, her father a doctor, her mother a literature professor at university. Abel, the school drug dealer, lives in the big cage-like tower blocks at the edge of town, full of people without work, without money, without future.
Anna is afraid of him until she finds a child’s doll that he has dropped and, in returning it to him, realises that he is caring for his six-year-old sister on his own. Fascinated, Anna follows the two and listens as Abel tells little Micha the story of a tiny queen assailed by dark forces. It’s a beautiful fairytale that Anna comes to see has basis in reality. Abel is in real danger of losing Micha to their abusive father, an insistent social worker, and to his own inability to make ends meet.
Anna gradually falls in love with Abel, but when his ‘enemies’ begin to turn up dead, she fears she’s fallen for a murderer.
Is your favourite not here? Let us know which of our books you think should be in our top 5, & why you love it so much!
Her protagonist in Nobody’s Secret was based on Emily Dickinson.
Her protagonist’s in Always Emily were based on Charlotte and Emily Brontë.
Her protagonist in The Revelation of Louisa May was based on Louisa May Alcott.
We asked Michaela MacColl about her love affair with these classic authors.
Why Classic Authors?
I chose to write about classic authors because of a chance conversation with a librarian. One of her students had just finished reading Promise the Night, my novel about Beryl Markham’s childhood. The student came to her and said “I want to read more. The author mentioned Beryl Markham’s memoir, West With the Night. Do you have that?”
I was floored. My book had led this kid to an amazing piece of literature. I had got her hooked on Beryl Markham the author, and she wanted more. I could give her more!
So I pitched an idea to Victoria Rock, my editor at Chronicle. Literary mysteries. And I mean literary in its classic sense – my protagonists are teen versions of famous writers. I find (or make up) a mystery (usually murder if I can find a body) and write the story in a way that recalls that author’s literary style. So Emily Dickinson finds the body of an enigmatic stranger in Nobody’s Secret – their meeting is a riff on Emily’s famous poem, I’m Nobody, Who are You? In Always Emily, Charlotte and Emily Bronte’s personalities are as different as their masterpieces. The sisters have to come to a meeting of minds on the moors as they both get hold of a mystery from different ends. The story’s based on a local scandal and of course there’s a handsome stranger, reminiscent of Heathcliff. And my latest, The Revelation of Louisa May finds sixteen year old Louisa May Alcott trying to juggle a philosopher father, missing mother, invalid sister, a fugitive slave and a romantic interest all at once in 1846 Concord Massachusetts. When someone is killed (and believe me, he needed killing!), Louisa is the only one who can investigate and clear her famous friends, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and even her father, Bronson Alcott.
I fell in love with all these women when I wrote these books. They may not have had exciting lives, but their work more than makes up for that. Emily Dickinson hardly left Amherst and spent the last 20 years of her life as a recluse, her poems still feel modern 160 years later. Emily Bronte died young and never married. Her only published novel was Wuthering Heights. But Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s love story doomed by jealousy and revenge still resonates with audiences today. Her sister, Charlotte, was intensely pragmatic and a bit of a household bully, but wrote perhaps the first first-person novel that explored a woman’s feelings in Jane Eyre. And Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women written in 1869 has never gone out of print and has spawned at least four movies (with a new one in production). Louisa was raised in devastating poverty due to her father’s principles (that involved him not working for a living) and her life’s goal was to be rich from her writing. Little Women and its many sequels made her a millionaire.
Ironically, everyone of my subjects so far were profoundly influenced by one writer… Jane Austen. For Emily, Jane proved that a woman could write. Charlotte envied Jane’s success, but thought her books were bloodless and lacked passion. And for Louisa, well Jane Austen showed her that a woman could make a handsome living with her pen. By the way, the next literary mystery from Chronicle? Jane Austen finds a body!
A few weeks from now, my husband and I will pack our modest bags, shine the lenses on our respective cameras, and sail through the air toward Krakow, Poland.
“Your new novel is set in Krakow!” my friends say, almost a chorus now.
“No,” I say.
They wink. They smirk.
No one believes me.
Indeed, it is true that I carry the world into my stories. That I believe in landscape as character. That I have rarely been able to leave my travels alone. Into my memoirs and novels I’ve floated El Salvador, Juarez, the south of France, Barcelona, Portugal, Seville. My two most recent books—Going Over and One Thing Stolen—begin, like so many others have—in a foreign place that alerted and surprised me.
Going Over, which is set on opposite sides of the wall in the Berlin of 1983, was inspired by a trip I took in the summer of 2011. It was nearly an accidental trip; Croatia had long been the plan. But in the final moments of planning, I stopped pressing computer buttons, lifted my head, and said, to my husband: “What about Berlin?”
I’d heard about the Berlin’s colour from friends who had traveled there. I’d heard about the collisions of the newly raw and the steeped history. I’d heard that you could walk for miles. I’d read Book of Clouds, Chloe Aridjis’s Berlin novel, which suggested the power of that city’s skies. Tugged toward Berlin, we went, and once you are in that fabled city, once you have touched the remains of that wall, once you have gotten yourself lost in the Turkish community, once you have sat on graffiti steps with graffiti artists, you are in. I returned home with photographs and a more quickly beating heart. Months later, in a conversation with my editor, Tamra Tuller, the idea for a Berlin novel based on an actual East Berlin escape attempt was born.
The idea for One Thing Stolen, which is set both in West Philadelphia, where I teach (at the University of Pennsylvania), and Florence, Italy, emerged from merging of memories, the discovery of a book called Dark Water (Robert Clark), and an inexorable need to tell a story about artistic passion and a rare neurodegenerative disease. I’d been to Florence more than once. I’d seen the art and (again) the colour. But it wasn’t until I read Dark Water, about the terrible 1966 flooding of the Arno, that I realised that Florence as a city had endured the kind of treacherous loss faced by those succumbing to bewildering cognitive decline.
To tell this story, I returned with my husband to Florence. Rented an apartment off of Santa Croce plaza so that I might recreate that apartment in the novel. I set off to meet the Mud Angels—the heroes and heroines of that flood—so that I might build into my story an authentic Angel. I spent an afternoon learning leatherworking so that I might reliably create another character who is a leather genius. I walked and ate and took photographs—long before dawn and long after midnight. I walked looking for the details that would keep my imagination vivid throughout the long writing and rewriting process.
When I hold these books in my hands I am holding some semblance of my own discovery and adventure. I want that for my readers, too—to take them somewhere, to invest them with something, to show them the world beyond themselves, to do something meaningful with story.
Will meaning happen to me in Krakow? Will I find the start of something? I’m leaving all expectations at home. I will allow the city to happen to me.
“The Metropolitan Theater simmered with the heat of more than a thousand bodies packed together in red velvet chairs. My nose itched from the lingering scent of cigarette smoke wafting off the gentlemen’s coats—a burning odor that added to the sensation that we were all seated inside a beautiful oven, waiting to be broiled. Even the cloud of warring perfumes hanging over the audience smelled overcooked, like toast gone crisp and black.”
Cat Winters returns with another spectacular novel; The Cure For Dreaming. Just like In theShadow of Blackbirds(now out in paperback) the evocative story is offset by archival images dotted throughout the chapters.These images give tangible context to the story and they add to the general splendor of the package. When you remove the printed jacket to reveal a deep purple and silver leather-esq hardcover you know you are in for something special. Even the font, on creamy white pages, draws you in.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. pp.78-79
The Cure For Dreaming seamlessly stitches together history, vivid characters and a story you can’t put-down. In this case, Cat seamlessly blends the struggles of the women’s suffrage movement with hypnotism, Dracula and a vivacious protagonist.This is a book not to be missed.
i. Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. pp.164
ii. Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. pp.40
iii. Image Credit: Courtesy U.S. National Library of Medicine. pp.90
But don’t take our word for it…
“I feel like you should all read and love The Cure for Dreaming. Because it was honestly a perfect book. The writing is gorgeous. Which I knew it would be. And the story is full of heart and so perfect. And the characters. Sigh. Cat is amazing at writing characters that I fall in love with. So yes. You should all go pre-order this book right away. Because you will need to read it when it comes out in October. It will be worth it.” Five Star review from Carina Olsen.
“The ending was bittersweet, it made me feel both sad and hopeful. All in all, The Cure for Dreaming was a deliciously compelling read full of atmosphere and allure.” Five Star review from The Page Turner
“For those of you wanting to fall in love with reading again, this is certainly the book for you. There is nothing that keeps you glued to the pages quite so strongly as injustice and a small group of people who rally against it, which this book has in spades. Try as I might to find fault with the story, I was unable to, so it would be completely unfair to judge this book to be anything other than a five out of five and a must-read.” 5* review on The Bookbag
”The Cure for Dreamingproves the potential, relevance, and importance of YA fiction. It’s entertaining, educational and mystical. YA naysayers may have just met their match.” Starburst Magazine
“With great imagination, an interesting twist, historical photographs, and a fresh voice, Cat Winters is a true talent to be celebrated. Whatever this author writes, I want!”- Kate Ormand
“After this, there is no more doubt: Cat Winters is an unstoppable literary force. She does her research, she combines fact with simply marvelous fiction, she touches our hearts and somehow teaches us all a valuable lesson in the process. What more could we possibly want?” -The Nocturnal Library
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division. pp.344-345
Hmm, I’d probably say my favourite is the very first one I remember learning as a kid: Where do sheep go to get their hair cut? The bah-bah shop!
(I didn’t say it was a great joke, but it was hysterical to me when I first learned it.)
3.What film character are you most like?
Sally Albright, from the classic romantic comedy WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. Like her, I’m a notoriously picky eater who sometimes takes a while to order her food, plus I was friends with my husband before I ever fell in love with him.
4.What is the first book you ever read?
The first book I remember being able to read out loud by myself is NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS by Irma Joyce. It uses entertaining animal drawings and poems to teach lessons about stranger danger, and I most certainly didn’t talk to strangers because of it!
5.Would you rather be hypnotised or attend a séance?
Hypnotized. As much as I love ghost tales and tours of haunted sites, the idea of communicating with the dead through a séance terrifies me. I’d be frightened of either interacting with an actual ghost or getting swindled by a fake medium, as what happens to my IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS protagonist. However, I did hold séances with friends as a kid.