Sunday, October 16, 2011

Caves, Karate, & Haunted Insane Asylums by Krista Davis

Krista Davis is the author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries.  Her most recent release, THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE, inched up to number 27 on the New York Times Bestseller List.  Her first book, THE DIVA RUNS OUT OF THYME, was nominated for an Agatha award.

Caves, Karate, & Haunted Insane Asylums
by Krista Davis

So you’re at home curled up by the fire, a cup of steaming tea by your side, your cat and dog snoozing nearby.  You savor the silence and dive into a new mystery.   Before long, the protagonist is on a rope, swinging across a pond inside a cave or drives a car with her hands tied to the steering wheel!  You smile to yourself.  Those authors have such vivid imaginations -- no one would really do that.  Oh no? 

Authors do all sorts of fascinating things in the name of research.  Sure, they look up a lot of information, but sometimes they’re as adventurous as their characters. 

Ellery Adams, (who happens to be tall and gorgeous) thinks nothing of subjecting herself to experiments.  She underwent Botox injections so she could write about them with authenticity!  (Note to self: if my Natasha character gets an eyelift, can I tax deduct that expense if I research it?)  But don’t be jealous of Ellery’s flawless face.  Poor Ellery also subjected herself to tanning spray that turned her pumpkin orange.

Author Sheila Connolly writes about apple orchards.  Sounds so cozy, doesn’t it?  She went on a tour of an abandoned apple orchard where everyone happily helped themselves to apples, only to learn afterward that a murder had occurred on the farm.  Gee, could that be why it was abandoned?  Once, no one had the time to give her a tour of a medieval church.  They gave her the key and she ventured in on her own.

Leann Sweeney has undertaken way too many adventures to list them all.  My favorite was when she had her husband tie her hands to the steering wheel to see if she could still drive the car!  Fortunately, Leann,  husband, and car survived.  It turns out she could still drive, but shifting was a problem.

Crochet mystery author, Betty Hechtman claims she didn’t shoot herself in the foot (or anyone else for that matter) on her research trip to a gun range.  But watch out -- two weekends ago she was asking an ATF agent how to make a silencer.

Mary Jane Maffini didn’t commit any crimes, yet she was voluntarily locked in a cell at the Ottawa Police Station.  If the Chief had known about her little visit to his office, her incarceration may not have been voluntary.  Shh . . . .

I admit that I was very jealous when Julie Hyzy attended a seance.  Apparently a bit of coaxing was needed to persuade her husband to accompany her.  She very thoughtfully sent me a long description of the night’s events.  I was writing the seance scenes in THE DIVA HAUNTS THE HOUSE at the time and was fascinated.  Of course, my seance was different from her experience because it needed to fit the story, but Julie’s fabulous research helped me write it. 

Everyone is jealous of Avery Aames’s research tasting cheeses.  Her learning doesn’t stop there, though.  Avery went on a police ride along in Los Angeles, and regularly works out karate moves for her characters.

Kate Collins may win the prize for being brave.  She took her children underground, quite literally, on a scary spelunking trip through narrow tunnels where they had to crouch-walk. Her intrepid guide had only a flashlight hat and two candles.  They climbed a rope ladder to get up into the cave, and then swung on a rope that dangled over a pond at the end to exit the cave. Her ten-year-old daughter dropped off the rope and into the cold, muddy water!  Kate assures me that it was an adventure they will never forget or stop laughing about.  Did I mention the hundreds of bats?

I am not quite so daring.  Yet when friends were visiting last fall and some of them wanted to go to a football game, I didn’t have to beg too hard to convince my friend, Amy, to visit a haunted insane asylum with me instead.

Calling it an insane asylum is a stretch for me, although the definition fits.  My father worked there for a time when I was a child, so to me, it was simply St. Albans Psychiatic Hospital.  The large and elegant building was originally built as a boys’ school in 1892.  Located high on a hill across the river from Radford, Virginia, it operated as a psychiatric hospital until the 1980s.  

Today the original building is in a sad state of disrepair but the graceful bones are obvious in spite of peeling paint and broken windows.  In an interesting twist, it was purchased by a former patient.  The current owner was sent there as a child and has surprisingly fond memories of being the center of attention.  Since he was usually the only child on the premises, the other patients doted on him and doled out candy.  He told us that he once intentionally ran into a coke machine at full speed so they wouldn’t make him go home!

My only prior experience with St. Albans may be the source of my tiny bit of claustrophobia.  My dad needed to pick something up and took me inside with him.  When we stepped through the front door, it clanged shut behind us and locked.  The doors in front of us hadn’t opened yet.  The few seconds that we were caught caged between them seemed far too long to me.  My dad laughed it off, obviously used to the procedure, but I never forgot it.

If ghosts exist, then it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to find them haunting a mental hospital.  St. Albans has been the focus of a number of paranormal investigations, some of which you may have seen on television.  It even has its own Facebook page  Twitter page! and

Seven Hills Paranormal Society says St. Albans is the most active site they have investigated.  They specifically mention shadow people and unexplained noises.  Investigators from Seven Hills, as well as many other individuals, have reported that someone touched them when no one else was there.  Hearing voices and footsteps is not uncommon.  Assorted paranormal investigators have recorded eerie electronic voice phenomenon and have seen apparitions.

Alas, I have to confess that Amy and I didn’t experience any weird moments on our tour of the facility.  Instead of being scared, we came away distressed about the deterioration of such a lovely building.  I will say that it’s huge, much bigger than I ever suspected.  Stairs twist and turn, and it would be easy to get lost on the many levels and various wings.  We visited during the daytime, but there were plenty of rooms that required flashlights.

If you happen to live near the New River Valley of Virginia, St. Albans is offering haunted house tours in October, as well as public paranormal investigations from 1 AM to 5AM on October 22nd.

This amazing video was taken at St. Albans by Grave Concerns Paranormal

And now for the scary part.  When Amy and I returned from our haunted asylum adventure, we showed our photos to our friends who had gone to the football game.  It wasn’t until a year later when I was writing this blog and going through the photos carefully that I noticed this!  Apparently we weren’t alone . . . .  Eeek!

Surprise!  A wispy spot around 11 o'clock near the middle.

I haven't done anything to the photo.  This is an enlargement.  You 
can see that the wisp isn't a spot on the wall because it's visible in 
front of the open cabinet door.


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi, Krista, Welcome! This is a wonderful piece, Thank you!

There was a mental hospital in the town where I grew up. All the wonderful old red brick gothic buildings have been razed, and there's now a luxury hotel resort in its place. There have been reports of odd things being felt and seen in one particular part of the hotel. But not by me (darn it).

jenny milchman said...

Oooh, very eerie, Krista! I think yours sounds the most fascinating of all--although the hands-tied-to-the-steering-wheel is for sure runner up :) The bats, though--you gotta admire the family who laughs over that!

Kaye George said...

I forget who had her husband drive around with her in the trunk. And someone else (or maybe the same person?) had her husband duct tape her hands and/or feet while in the trunk and then she tried to get out. I think she couldn't. These poor husbands!

I love this post!! The adventures and the spooky stuff!

Janet Bolin said...

Mochie let you put a costume on him! What a cat! I'm glad I read this post during daylight hours . . .

Kuzlin said...

Cool picture! I loved reading the article...nice to know that the authors I read really try for that realism in their stories...makes them even more enjoyable.

Julie Hyzy said...

Whoa!! Cool picture, Krista! I would love to tour an insane asylum.
Great post!

Daryl Wood Gerber a.k.a. Avery Aames said...

Love the pictures. Love all the other stories of what authors do for research. Love Mochie in costume with "mom" in whiskers. Cute!!!


Mary Kennedy said...

Krista, this is a great blog!! Mochie is adorable in his little hat, I was trying to read his expression. "Look what Mommie's done to me!" Really cute. I saw a tv show featuring the paranormal events at St. Alban's...very interesting...goosebump times!!

Krista said...

Hmm, my comments are disappearing! They'll probably show up in a bunch later.

Kaye, thanks so much for inviting me. I'm worried that St. Albans will also be razed. I hope not!

I read today that you should never ask a ghost to touch you because you might regret it. But maybe you should try when you're in the haunted hotel!

~ Krista

Krista said...

Jenny, I think we all draw the line somewhere. At least St. Albans was mostly above ground and I didn't see any bats!

~ Krista

Krista said...

Kaye, you couldn't pay me to crawl into the trunk of a car! Now that's really scary!

~ Krista

Krista said...

Janet, Mochie was very cooperative! Okay, I *was* a little surprised. Maybe he thought he could fool real mice?

~ Krista

Krista said...

Kuzlin, we really do go to lengths to be accurate and authentic! : )

~ Krista

Krista said...

Julie, it's too bad we don't live closer. We would be going to seances and taking ghost hunting classes! LOL!

~ Krista

Krista said...

Avery, I love being a kitty for Halloween. There's something about those whiskers . . .

~ Krista

Krista said...

LOL, Mary! I was trying to read Mochie's expression, too. He's such a wonderful cat and so agreeable!

~ Krista

Coco Ihle said...

Krista, I really enjoyed this blog post. So cool to have several authors share their experiences, as well. Absolutely LOVE the photo of you and your kitty! Soooo cute!! Thanks for sharing!

Krista said...

I'm so glad you liked the post, Coco. My friends have done some interesting things!

~ Krista

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I love the post, Krista. What we do for love and murder! Oh boy.