I was perturbed when the American Library Association announced its intention to drop Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s literature award. The purpose of this action, according to one source, is “to distance the honor from what it described as culturally insensitive portrayals in her books.” As far as I know, no one […]
ellisnelson conducted an interview with TA Sullivan about her book Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp, and we have republished it here for you to read.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TA SULLIVAN
One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir starring Rex Harrison (1947). In it, the ghost of a sea captain comes back for Lucy when she’s ready to pass. I always loved that he came back for her when it was time. Many of us will have heard stories about people getting close to death who see their loved ones, or sometimes angels. Beautiful, satisfying stories. But what if they’re not stories? What if that’s precisely what happens for many of us?
I recently finished “Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp” by TA Sullivan. It’s a fascinating read about her experience as a death escort for the recently departed. As a child she was sensitive, but it wasn’t until she had her own near-death experience (NDE) that her life took a turn and she started to train as a guide for the dead.
Please welcome author and photographer, TA Sullivan. Thank you for agreeing to talk about what is a difficult subject for many.
Can you briefly describe your NDE when you were hit by a van? How old were you then?
What I remember most about the NDE are the emotions—the feelings of loving acceptance and joy that surrounded me like a warm comforter on a cold day. But what stayed with me the most, was the feeling that I was finally at home.
As for my age…well, I was old enough to know better, yet young enough to ignore my own advice. I’d just hit my mid-forties and had no idea what a crazy ride life had in store for me on the other side of that mid-point.
At the time of the accident, had you been exploring any deep philosophical questions or were you at a turning point in your life?
At the time of the accident, my life was in a bit of a turmoil. My mother had just died, my spouse and I had just relocated (changing states and jobs), and one of my close friends had just been diagnosed with cancer.
With everything that was going on in my life, I was feeling somewhat uncentered and scattered. The accident and accompanying experience, actually helped me put things back in perspective. It made me realize just what was important and what wasn’t.
What is the basic role of a psychopomp?
We ensure that the death experience is what the soul (person) wants.
Think of your life as a movie extravaganza, where you are the director and star. The psychopomp would then be the set designer, prop master, and extra in your death scene.
Can anyone take on the role of psychopomp or must a contract be in place prior to an incarnation?
Anyone can function as a psychopomp at any point during their lifetime without making it a full-time commitment, such as I have done. Someone can ask you (at a soul level) if you would be there for them when they die. Often, it is referred to it as a shared death experience. Whatever name you give it doesn’t really matter, though; not as much as your being there for someone who needs you and your support during that transitional period.
What have you learned as an escort that could help alleviate people’s crippling fear of death?
That life is eternal. It doesn’t stop just because the body dies.
This isn’t some abstract belief based on religious teachings. It’s a belief born of experience. I’ve been there (multiple times), and so have you…you have simply forgotten. Let yourself remember. Remember the encompassing feelings of love and compassion; remember the feelings of acceptance and peace; and remember the feelings of belonging.
If you want to help someone overcome their fear, just give them love. John Lennon said it best, all you need is love. Believe in the love, and the fear will disappear.
What are some healthy ways to communicate with loved ones who have died that won’t create the negative energetic cords you caution against?
Communicate, but don’t cling.
Love them, but without strings.
In other words, accept that they are physically dead and not a part of your reality anymore.
Speak to them, if it helps you. But don’t cling to expectations of getting a response or seeing a ‘sign.’ You all have to move on. After all, some souls may wait for you (as depicted in the movie ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’—one of my all-time favorites, also), but others may move on to take on new lives and new families. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you; it only means that things need to change.
Also, don’t expect literal responses to your communications. After all, once released from the physical constraints of our world, most souls aren’t all that concerned with where they stored the insurance policy you can’t find or where they hid that winning lottery ticket.
What is the most satisfying aspect of acting as a psychopomp? What is the most challenging?
The most satisfying part of being a psychopomp is seeing a transitioned soul awaken. It’s the moment that a transitioned soul realizes that he/she isn’t confined by who or what he/she was on Earth. It’s when the soul suddenly recognizes that he/she is more than just Billy Ray, husband and father, or Mary Francis, business woman and wife. When they see the bigger picture, the awe and wonder expressed by them is wondrous. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.
The most challenging part of being a death escort is not interfering. I mean, it’s human nature to want to help; yet, if someone wants to believe that they are completely alone when they die, then we have to remain hidden. Or if someone wants to experience excruciating pain (emotional, mental, or physical); then we have to let them, even though we know we could help them alleviate or overcome it.
Is the work energetically draining? Do you wake up exhausted?
There are times when I’m so drained by an experience that I just want to spend the next day in bed or simply lazing around the house. But there are other times, times such as when you get to see and share that awe of awakening with a soul, that it energizes and elevates you. Then the next day seems brighter and nicer, and I feel more energetic and full of hope and joy.
How do you protect yourself emotionally in difficult cases (i.e. deaths of children, murders, accidents, etc.)?
I used to find myself emotionally drained and my aura shredded from all the turmoil that I encountered. However, as I’ve grown into this role, I’ve learned more (and better) techniques for creating safeguards (barriers, cocoons, walls) around myself to keep the backlash of emotions away.
When you touch someone to see what type of experience they want, you need to have a filter, of sorts, in place. This ‘filter’ enables you to keep out the physical and emotional trauma that the person may be going through so that you can focus on what the lesson is the soul is trying to create.
The filter is like any other barrier that many empaths and intuitives instinctively learn to erect around themselves. It allows a limited amount of energy from other people to filter through…just enough so that the empath or intuitive can relate, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed. In the case of death escorts, we must learn to focus these filters so that we can pluck out the information we need without becoming overwhelmed by the situation or the people participating in it.
Do you know anyone else (in person or online) who is doing this work? Is it lonely or isolating?
I met another death escort online a while back. He had shared a comment on an online article, and something about the way he worded things sort of gave me a start. So, I contacted him directly and as we chatted, we recognized the shared connection. It was nice being able to discuss things with someone who understood the ups and downs of this ‘job,’ and who grasped why we wanted to do it, anyway. We also shared some of the ways it brings weirdness into our otherwise mundane lives (getting pulled across in the middle of the day, which might mean telling your boss you’re not feeling well, so you can answer the ‘call,’ that sort of thing).
We continue to communicate once in a while. In fact, he’s even found a couple more like us, so we now have a group of 5 that we can share our triumphs and sorrows with. It’s nice. We were a group of 6 for a very short while; however, TJ died soon after joining our group and my friend had the privilege of escorting him across. Very surreal.
What are you currently working on?
My current writing project is book 2 of my paranormal romance series.
The first book, “The Past Rekindled,” will be coming out this November. “The Past Rekindled” has Terra McGinley dividing her time between writing how-to procedures and escorting visitors to the astral plane. Her new partner is a by-the-book, hard-to-deal-with transitioner with a secret, whom she finds attractive, yet exasperating. But when one of her charges contacts Terra directly for help, she encounters Death, who has his own plans for her. Now she must decide who she can trust with her life and her heart – past love or new partner?
It kind of reflects my own life (but without all the drama), inasmuch as I’m also a techwriter and a death escort, but Terra has a much more twisted sense of humor than I do…
Thanks for joining me today to talk about your role as a psychopomp and your writing! For more about TA Sullivan’s work and books, check out her links below.
My blog, Tas Through the Looking Glass, can be found at https://taslookingglass.wordpress.com/ and contains book reviews, essays on the paranormal, and wanderings of my mind. I also have another blog called Insights and Awareness (https://michaelreadings.wordpress.com/), which is a cosmic Q & A site—I, and other intuitives and psychics try to answer readers’ questions.
Book trailers are a wonderful way to help you market yourself and your books. They are great for those who do speaking tours, as you can run them before and after the speech, which helps to get the audience into the spirit of your topic. And when it comes to book fairs or conventions, they are especially useful. Running one or more book trailers at your booth or table, attracts people’s attention and makes them come over to see what’s happening.
While fancy videos may look slick, not everyone has the skill or the courage to take on such a task. Yet, hiring someone else to create a book trailer may be outside your budget. However, creating a basic book trailer isn’t overly complicated, and can still look slick and professional if you take your time, think about what it is you want to convey regarding your book or speaking topic, and use a bit of artistry.
Creating a basic book trailer starts with building a presentation. Most computers come with built-in presentation software; however, if yours doesn’t, you can find presentation software online (some of it can be downloaded at little to no cost). Try to ensure that you select a presentation application that allows you to create a video file.
A book trailer presentation requires a mix of images, text, and audio.
Images can be drawings, gifs, or photos. However, be sure to ascertain whether the images you select are owned by you or free for you to use (copyright free, released under Creative Commons CC0). Some sites that have such images available, are:
Google Image Search (Filtered by Usage Rights): Not every photo or image you find on Google can be used for free. But after you search, click the Search Tools button, and then select Usage Rights. Under Usage Rights, select Labeled for Reuse or Labeled for Reuse with Modification. Then make sure to check the attribution requirements. Always give credit when required.
Pixabay: Pixabay is an easy-to-use, royalty-free, attribution-free, stock photos site. You can search and download any of the images. (The download resolution size is restricted unless you create a free account. Once you do that, you can download any of the sizes available.)
1 Million Free Pictures: 1 Million Free Pictures offers thousands of high-resolution, free stock photos for with no sign up required.
Unsplash: Unsplash has a collection of high-resolution stock photo that you can use however you wish.
Pexels: Pexels has high-resolution stock photos that you can use without restriction.
Splashbase: Splashbase has a wide selection of free high-resolution images. Their videos, however, require royalty payments.
(There are many more sites, but these are the ones that I’ve used.)
Basic book trailers are wonderful tools in marketing your books.
The audio can be background music, a voice over (explaining the topic or providing an enthusiastic outline of the book), or a combination of the two. Most computers come with built-in microphones, which you can use to add speech to your presentation. Some presentation software packages include different medias such as image and music files that you can use in your presentations. You can also go online to find royalty-free music files that you can use for your presentation.
Following the instructions of your presentation software, create the presentation slides using your images, text, and audio. Try not to over-do the font selections (stick with one, maybe two), and avoid too many different transitions or animations. (Remember, you want to engage the user, not make them dizzy.)
Once the presentation is done, save it as a video file.
Then, the next time you attend a book fair or convention, you can use the continual loop feature to engage potential readers. Set up a laptop or tablet in an artistic and easily viewed location on your table. When the people step up to check out the video, you can show them copies of your books, engage them in a conversation, and perhaps create a new fan of your work. Even if you eliminate the audio (or didn’t include any), the moving images will still attract people’s attention.
A few puns to brighten up your day:
- The fattest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
- I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.
- She was only a whiskey maker, but he loved her still.
- A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
- No matter how much you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery.
- A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
- Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
- A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. It’s being looked into.
- Atheism is a non-prophet organization.
- Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: ‘You stay here; I’ll go on a head.’
- I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
- A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab center said: ‘Keep off the Grass.’
- The soldier who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran.
- A backward poet writes inverse.
- In a democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes.
- If you jumped off the bridge in Paris, you’d be in Seine.
- A vulture boards an airplane carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, ‘I’m sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger.’
- Two fish swim into a concrete wall. One turns to the other and says ‘Dam!’
- Two people sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
- Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, ‘I’ve lost my electron.’ The other says ‘Are you sure?’ The first replies, ‘Yes, I’m positive.’
The Writer’s Mentor by Ian Jackman, Editor
Scene and Structure by Jack M. Bickham
Summary Both books purport to offer advice and insights to help you improve your writing.
While neither of these books was worth keeping, at least “The Writer’s Mentor” lived up to its title. It’s quotes and anecdotes made me realize that even well-known authors can sometimes struggle with a story, maintain a regular 9-to-5 job despite being published and lauded, and don’t always consider writing as less than a full-time, underpaid vocation.
After reading this book, I felt mentored. I truly felt as if someone with more experience and a different perspective took my hand and said, “Look, others have felt like you feel, and others have gone through what you’re experiencing.”
However, if what you’re looking for is step-by-step instruction on how to write, “The Writer’s Mentor” is not the book for you. But then, neither is “Scene and Structure.”
Jack M. Bickham, author of “Scene and Structure,” is (supposedly) a well-known author. I, however, have never heard of him or his books. Despite that, I went through this book hoping for some nuggets of insight that might help me improve my own manuscripts. Unfortunately, I failed to find anything useful.
As a technical writer, I expect a certain amount of usefulness and help in a how-to book. (It’s why they’re called how-to books or self-help manuals.) What I found was dense passages of rhetoric and mind-numbing paragraphs that had to be read several times before I could glean his point. These were combined with self-promoting examples from his books, which did little more than shout, “See what a great writer I am?”
I don’t normally disparage the use of one’s own works when giving examples or helpful tips (heck, I do it myself), but in this case, I think it was greatly overdone. In addtion, the examples were not always applicable to the point he was striving to make.
So, if you’re seeking wisdom and instructions on how to improve your writing, skip both of these books. If, however, you need a morale boost, then at least try “The Writer’s Mentor.”
Everyone always says, “Write what you know.” Unfortunately, that always left me thinking that perhaps I wasn’t cut out for writing. Because the only thing I’m an expert at is writing. It’s what I’ve done all my life (when I’m not reading). I’ve written how-to manuals, white papers, poems, test scripts, short stories, reports, analytical summaries, and, yes, books.
Then, the other day, I attended a presentation on creative writing and the presenter said, “Write what you’re passionate about. You can always learn what you don’t know.”
That statement not only made more sense to me, it freed me.
So, I made a list of the things I’m passionate about. I then made another list of the topics I’d love to learn more about. Mixing those two lists helps me build my stories. For instance, I’m passionate about alternate healing methods (I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve been dabbling all my life, so I do have extensive knowledge regarding herbs, crystals, and techniques like Reiki). If I combine that with my desire to learn more about sailing ships of the 1700’s and 1800’s, I can build a story around a healer at sea. It could be a fantasy, a romance with historical flashbacks, or an historical romance. No matter what genre I select, using this method would allow me to easily combine my passion and my desire to learn more, while creating something interesting and compelling for my readers.
According to the presenter, that’s exactly what happens when you write about your passions. That excitement and enthusiasm that you have for your story comes through in your writing. It ignites something in your readers helping them relate to and feel the emotion you embedded in the tale. And capturing the readers and drawing them into the story world is really what we all want as authors.
Now, this way of writing isn’t for everyone—it’s especially not for those who are more keen on producing quantity rather than quality. That’s because the learning part can sometimes take months. It all depends on just how much knowledge you need to make your story convincing. If the character’s shipboard travel only spans one or two chapters, then you don’t need much knowledge. If, however, it spans the entire book, then the more knowledge you obtain, the easier it is to sprinkle in those tiny details that make your story world believable.
And that’s why most writing teachers or mentors will say, “Write what you know.” Because it’s the little details that can make or break the story world for your readers. If, for instance, you know nothing of sailing ships, it will often come through in the details (or lack thereof). For instance, if you state that your character came on deck to help with the lines or sheets, and then you have him or her fussing with the sails, immediately shows your lack of knowledge. (The terms ‘lines’ and ‘sheets’ refer to the ropes used on a ship.)
Usually, what you’re passionate about is also something you know a lot about. If you’re passionate about horse racing, you usually know a lot about race courses, race horses, and the betting process. This allows you to include the necessary (and correct) terms and details throughout your story. It also lets you infuse your story with all the enthusiasm you have for the sport. This in turn ignites a passion in your reader for your characters and story.
Therefore, if you’re willing to take some extra time when writing your novel, combining your passion with what you want to learn about can help you create an extraordinary book for your readers.
Summary: Dr. Pip Lipkin has lived for 12,000 years, incarnated many times as man, woman, and even as species beyond our world and senses. But he’s here for a reason: to pay restitution for an ancient crime by working to save humanity from certain destruction. “Ascending Spiral” is a book that will take the reader to many different places and times, showing, ultimately, that our differences and divisions, even at their most devastating, are less important than our similarities.
“Ascending Spiral” takes you on a journey through the past and present of Dr. Pip Lipkin, a psychologist and counselor. In so doing, it gives you a view of the experiences and ways in which each of us develop and grow through our different lifetimes on Earth.
In each life we interact with many of the same souls repeatedly as we learn what the expression “an eye for an eye” really means. Throughout the book, Pip experiences love, hate, war, depression, incarceration, and slavery, all while searching for that one moment when enlightenment sparks an awareness in his soul. Each moment of awareness brings his soul more light and a greater ability in making love-filled choices instead of fear-based ones.
Once I stepped beyond the prologue and into the actual story, I was hooked. The characters were vibrant and as alive as you and me. With every choice made, and every battle fought, I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what would happen next.
Even if you don’t believe in reincarnation or past lives, you can enjoy this book by simply looking at it as an historical adventure novel. I found that the historical accuracy combined with the great pacing made for an entertaining read. The only time the pacing bogged down (for me) was toward the end when the story popped back into (almost) current time. What I mean by that is, we joined with Pip as young adult in university. However, soon after we jumped back to Pip as a child. I became a little confused with the story here, because of the age hopping, but once we got back to Pip as a young man, the story smoothed out again.
Overall, this is an excellent adventure for those who just want a good story; an extremely thought-provoking book for those contemplating the bigger question of “why are we here;” or a wonderful book for those wishing to explore the idea of past lives and reincarnation.