It’s hard to believe that it’s already 2022, a full three decades since I first pitched the idea for what would become my first book. The work gathered descriptions of the afterlife from diverse sources --- religions, mythologies, artworks, literature, music, pop culture --- together in one volume. The Encyclopedia of Hell was eventually picked up by St. Martin’s Press (Macmillan) and published in 1998.
Promoting the book ran the gamut. One day I was being interviewed about ancient texts on ABC News, the next I’d be dishing underworld puns on SyFy (back when it was still ‘Sci-Fi.’) Easily the weirdest appearance I did was the Don and Mike Show, a syndicated ‘shock jock’ radio program. The two men spent most of the time asking me which celebrities I thought would be damned to Hell (despite my repeated insistence I’m not qualified to judge individual souls,) then speculating on the tortures each would suffer in the bleak hereafter. Throughout the interview they referred to me as the ‘Hell Lady,’ a nickname that took me years to shed.
My personal interactions took a strange twist, too, during the Encyclopedia of Hell days. From the very beginning, when people learned I was writing about the inferno they’d react in one of two distinct ways: they’d either become uncomfortable and change the subject, or their eyes would light up and they’d share some salacious tale of dabbling in witchcraft or seeing a ghost or having a vision of the netherworld. Some provided pictures or other documentation of their horrors. A few left me rattled to my core.
I kept notes on these incidents and used many in my upcoming novel Bandun Gate. The book incorporates a variety of actual events --- threats against my daughter, unsolved murders, paranormal activities in South Carolina’s Sea Islands --- and weaves in the remnants of my Encyclopedia of Hell research. And now I’m getting the same odd looks I did thirty years ago when word got out about my dark subject matter.
Just last month, I went to a party where a woman asked me about my soon-to-be-published book. I gave her the basics: it’s a fact-inspired story involving an ill-fated trip to a haunted Charleston site, it involves grave peril to my daughter’s life, there’s lots of madness and murder and malice within the tale.
She stayed silent for a moment, then asked, “have you ever had past-life regression therapy to find out if you were a serial killer in a past life?”
And just like that, I’m the ‘Hell Lady’ again.