I can be lazy, so when several scribe friends wanted to waste a whole day of our one-week writing retreat by visiting Cassadaga, Florida, the Psychic Capital of the World, I quickly agreed. I thought the whole idea of psychics to be silly: "Don't they already know we're coming?" But we'd been working long hours for several days and any reason to goof off sounded good, even a road trip to a town of mind readers.
Guess who had his life changed.
No, I am not kidding. And I'm sharing this personal a story because I hope the lady's lesson for me might also help other writers. A swift kick in the pants never hurt anybody I know.
Maybe you've heard of the place, or even been there. I first learned about Cassadaga during the drive from a sunny Florida beach into the state's swampy interior: Seems the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp was founded over a century ago by a self-proclaimed "trance medium," George P. Colby from New York State. George said he was guided to the spot by his Indian spirit guide. Today, Cassadaga is a busy, apparently thriving home for professional fortune tellers, psychics, palm readers and true spiritualists -- men and women who, according to their guidebook, practice "science, philosophy and religion based upon the principle of continuous life."
That doesn't mean they're vampires; it's more of a reincarnation thing. And I learned a lot more about it during my private session.
A dozen places offered to tell our future or mend our psychic cracks, but three of us were drawn to one place in particular. We all said it looked friendly, welcoming. One of my friends went first, and she came out twenty minutes later astonished and speechless. I paid my money.
I walked into an odd but warmly decorated room. Brightly colored blankets and trinkets and colored rocks covered all surfaces. Incense burned near an empty chair, and I sat across a cloth-covered table from one of the most astonishing people I've ever met. Not her looks; not her dress. Not even the words she eventually spoke to me. What I encountered in her presence and no one else's, before or since, was a physical sensation of caring. This benevolent, welcoming lady exuded a golden spirit of kindness. She was there to help me.
She held my hand and asked why I'd come. Did her touch feel magical? No. It was the feeling I had from being in her presence -- what I've already described. Maybe her assistants pumped drugs into the air vents. I don't know exactly, but when I explained why I'd come -- a lack of success at my fiction writing -- she told me about an internal conflict and pointed out the correct path. I knew instantly she was right.
"Your spirit guides are a monk and a Viking," she said. "You must listen more to the Viking."
I'm not going to talk about my family's history, or say another word about spirit guides, but if there are such things, monks and Norsemen could easily be following me. I took her advice in a less supernatural way, however: I decided Vikings work harder than monks. They also try harder. By listening to the Viking, she meant I needed to write more stories, read more books, study more craft, meet more people, go after my dream with a sword as well as a pen.
It shouldn't surprise readers to hear the technique worked. I had an agent in a year or so, a book published not too long after that. Clearly, something about that visit to Cassadaga changed my life. I believe that Viking kicked me in the ass.
Former newsman Jack Getze is Fiction Editor for Anthony nominated Spinetingler Magazine, one of the internet's oldest websites for noir, crime, and horror short stories. His Austin Carr Mysteries BIG NUMBERS, BIG MONEY, BIG MOJO and BIG MOUTH (a short story) were published by Down and Out Books in 2013 and 2014, with another novel BIG SHOES scheduled for 2015. His short fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, The Big Adios and the 2014 anthology, Down, Out and Dead.