Michelle Belanger is an American author, singer and prominent advocate of the vampire lifestyle community, a self-described “psychic vampire”.
JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today is Michelle Belanger, paranormal expert and soon-to-be debut novelist. Welcome, Michelle, and congratulations on the novel.
Michelle Belanger: Thank you, and I’m glad we were able to find a few quiet minutes to do this.
JMW: Me, too. Now, you are one of the world’s great experts on paranormal, what first excited your interest in the subject?
Michelle Belanger: I grew up with a family where those sorts of experiences were the norm rather than the strange thing. And so I didn’t even think about them as unusual until I’d become school-age and among other children, finding that other people did not have dreams that came true, didn’t see spirits, didn’t have the experiences that I had, at least not to the frequency that I and my family did. And at that point, I wanted to learn more about what other people believed, if it had been studied. And so at a very early age, I became a veracious reader on the topic and frequently, would argue with the librarian at the public school as to my right to go read the books in the big kids section, so that I could educate myself.
JMW: Did you realize then it would become your career?
Michelle Belanger: I knew at four that what I wanted to grow up to be was a writer. I wasn’t sure what shape that would take, but both story telling as well as the use of language for communicating, for teaching, for spreading knowledge, that has fascinated me since the moment I could do anything with letters.
JMW: But the paranormal aspect of it, did you realize that would be your life’s work?
Michelle Belanger: I knew it was going to have to be a part of it, because it’s a part of who I am. It’s a daily fundamental part of my experience. So even the fiction stuff that I read as a kid, if it didn’t have some element of the occult or the paranormal or supernatural twist to it, it didn’t hold my attention as well as the other things, because it didn’t reflect my own life.
JMW: And when you decided that it would be your career or did you decide it would be your career, and did you just sort of flow into it?
Michelle Belanger: I made a decision in college. In college, my intention had been to become a professor and to teach and spread knowledge that way, but it became apparent at the time that there was a great need for an articulate, educated person or persons to communicate rationally ideas about supernatural and paranormal experiences, and particularly, the vampirism and psychic experiences that I’ve had my entire life. And at that point, and it was 1994 to 1995, I made an active decision that this would be what I would do with the rest of my life.
JMW: And how did you prepare for the career? Was it just a natural follow on from what you’d been doing or was it something that once you decided it would be your career, you actively prepared for?
Michelle Belanger: I started by doing a magazine. I ran Shadow Dance, and that was actually between 1991 and 1996. And while Shadow Dance was primarily fiction and poetry, it gave me the network I needed among people for whom the idea of vampires, ghosts, psychic experiences were a real fundamental part of their lives in addition to things that inspired their fiction. And from that, the International Society of Vampires began, the newsletter, The Midnight Sun, and a number of other little branches into groups, and orders, and practices. And from there, it just sort of blossomed.
Michelle Belanger: Conspiracy of Angels has a lot of roots tying itself back to Paranormal State and my experiences with Paranormal State. There are experiences you have in the field. There are psychic experiences that you can’t really distill adequately into non-fiction. And there are a lot of ideas and theories about how things really work that are truly what if, but I still wanted to explore them. I still wanted to tell tales about some of my experiences that let me stretch my creative wings a little with how I might interpret it. Again, the what ifs of the paranormal, the what ifs of the supernatural.
I was on one of the Paranormal State cases, kind of sidelined, because most of my work was psychic. I’d already done my walk-through, and I had nothing better to do but sit there with my notebook, and this character who did a lot of the same things that I did and went, and helped people, and did investigations, and had perceptions of this other world, this shadow side of reality, and Zach took shape. There’s a lot of influences of urban fantasy, people who I look up to as writers, from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro to Jim Butcher, a lot of film noir influences, and I wanted to play as much as I had devoted nearly 20 years of my life at that point to also educating.
JMW: A noble goal, but I have one concern. You are a tremendous expert in the paranormal. You were on Paranormal State. You’re one of the world’s great experts in vampirism, and we’re talking urban fantasy. I suspect that there’s going to be vampires in this, and did that create any conflict for you?
Michelle Belanger: Yes, there’s vampires just like there are psychics, there’s ghosts, there are instances of possession. And one of the things that I know just dealing with people is people who have real experiences, genuine experiences, generally, are also interested in the fictional aspect of things. We read stories that tell stories that compel us, because they reflect aspects of our life. Most people are perfectly fine navigating the line between real and make believe, they know the difference. And within the vampire community, a lot of the vampires are very involved in a certain level of vampire fandom. They like the art types. They like the stories that we’ve told about this character, that they grew out of folklore, that we’ve adopted the word for.
With the understanding that it’s not 100% who we are, we don’t sleep in coffins, and then scream, and back away from garlic and the cross. It’s not like that. It’s a word. It’s a label. And so while I had a little concern, because there’s always hardliners in any community, that a few of them might be a little funny about my vampires are blood drinkers, and that’s not something that I necessarily do in my regular life. I was concerned that some of them might have a problem, but I’ve had plenty of beta readers with it, and most of them are excited.
I also took a few pages from True Blood’s book, where they made an active exploration of our community before they put it on the page. One of the things I love about urban fantasy is the verisimilitude. It’s here, it’s now, it’s our world, and so the stories we tell with it, even though we know it’s wizards, and wizards like Harry Dresden don’t really exist, we still want Harry to also deal with like some Wiccans and pagans who are just like the Wiccans and pagans we know down the street.
So I wanted to be able to have that place where you tread the line and make the story even more compelling, because it encompasses certain aspects of the real world as we know and experience it. Now, if objections come up, I anticipate some objections on a couple of levels. Not just the vampires, I have a transgendered character in the book, Saliriel. And Sal, I didn’t start off with the intent of putting coins in the social justice warrior thing to just try to have more diversity. This was a character who this simply was part of their identity, and I spent some time really thinking hard about whether or not I would want to include it, because there’s a lot of controversy with that.
But for the same reason that I didn’t shy away from including an aspect of vampirism and having some nods to community things, but also recognizing that this is fiction, these are characters. So I let Sal be exactly who and what Sal is, who’s kind of Machiavelli in Garters, and when people see that, and have questions about how and why and the choices, I know what those choices are, and I’m not gonna have a problem having that conversation.
Actually, I would like to have that conversation, because that conversation means that people have read it, have asked questions, have been engaged, and in any writing fiction or non-fiction, there’s that subtle reason that you do it. You do it, because you want to see people engaged, even if that means that the initial dialogue is an argument. At the end of it, if we’re talking, we’re communicating, and each of us can learn something.
JMW: It’s all about the communication.
Michelle Belanger: Oh, I love it.
JMW: You were on Paranormal State for five, six years?
Michelle Belanger: Yeah, it was I think five seasons, five or six years. I did some stuff behind the scenes before you saw my face on the camera, and I was on through to the end when we pretty much just kind of tapped out. It was a great experience. I’d never set out to be on TV. It was sort of by default, by accident. I ended up on television because of the vampire stuff as an advocate, as a liaison to…
JMW: As an expert.
Michelle Belanger: As an expert. Well, and also to speak for people who might not have the freedom to put their face in front of a camera and say, “This is who I am.” And a little bit of the same thing was going on with Paranormal State. Eilfie Music and Josh Light were fans of my writing, and they were the ones who reached out and were like, “Hey, we would like the angle that you can lead to things.”
Now, I was not initially on there as a psychic. Now, most people who watched the show would be surprised by that, but I came on as an expert. I came on because of my occult background. I came on, because every time Eilfie and them ran up against something that they were confused about, I’d get a phone call at 3 in the morning and they’d be like “Hey, we’re in the back woods in Maine, and we think that there might be some sort of Native American thing. What tribes are around here, and what might this be?”
And I’d be like Bobby from Supernatural, going through the books in my library, going “Hey, well, if it’s these people then it might be this thing. If it’s this tribe, if you could find tribal elders, your best bet is to ask what they think about the land, but here’s this myth that I can find.” And then they found that I could do the psychic thing. And while it’s kind of a parlor trick, you blindfold yourself, you walk through a place, and you say what you pick up.
And I did it, because it helped the families. I did it, because I really wanted as clear a test of my own abilities as I could get short of going through a lab or something at the Rhine Institute. Picking up impressions when you’re someone who’s also intuitive and perceptive, as authors have to be, if you’re a writer, you watch people, and there’s so much information people give you just in their day-to-day stuff. But walking into a house blindfolded, I know that I don’t have the visual cues, I never cheated, and they would keep as much stuff, pretty much I wouldn’t even know where I was going half the time. I’d have a hotel, that sometimes if they could put the hotel across state lines, they would. And I’d walk in, and I would rattle off whatever came to mind.
Sometimes we would finish the episode, and they’d put me on the plane and send me home and never tell me if I was right, wrong or just sounded crazy. But being able to match the feel of the accurate information, to know that mind feel of those perceptions, and be able to catalog how an accurate psychic impression of a space feels, and then get the verification from someone outside of me was the most validating and instructive experience I could possibly have. And I love that whole period of my life for that reason.
JMW: It sounds like you miss it. Does your YouTube channel fill the void?
Michelle Belanger: I do miss it, and the YouTube channel is there in part to fill the void. I believe that information should be free. There’s still a lot of questions that people have, and they reach out, and that seems to be the most efficient way to try to reach back and answer as much as possible.
JMW: What are you working on now?
Michelle Belanger: Obviously, the Conspiracy of Angels series, the Shadowside series. Book two is already done. Book three is in the works. I’m still compiling stories for a Haunting Experiences 2. I’ve had a lot of questions and requests to do a Dictionary of Angels as a companion to the Dictionary of Demons, but I will be honest, that will be a long process, because there was a great deal of research that went into that. I still think that Gustav Davidson has really done the best Dictionary of Angels that is out there, so until I feel that I can do something that is better than that on some level, I won’t attempt it.
JMW: So that’s a recommendation for folks interested in the subject?
Michelle Belanger: Yes.
JMW: We’re just about at the end of the interview. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Michelle Belanger: Not a whole lot. Anybody who has questions about what I am or what I’m doing should probably go over to the website, Michelle Belanger Website. If you want to find me online, I’m really active on Twitter, and occasionally, in addition to lengthy YouTubestuff, I will post periscope stuff, just quick little things where I may rant about something. But other than that, I’m happy to have gotten a few minutes to chat.
JMW: Great. Well Thank You Michelle. And thank you for BuzzyMag.com.
Interviewed By Jean Marie Ward
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Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.