Category Archives: Ghosts of Bliss Bayou

A Visit to the Real Lock Tower – Part 2

In last month’s post,  we looked at the history and exterior of Bok Tower in central Florida, which was the inspiration for Lock Tower in Abby Renshaw’s latest adventure. This month, we’ll open the famous sculpted brass door and step inside.

Tower Bronze Door
Photo by Jack Massa

Note: The inside of Bok Tower is generally closed to the public. In this post, we’ve relied on published descriptions, videos, and photos, and provided appropriate credits.

The Founder’s Room

On the ground floor is the Founder’s Room: vaulted ceiling, marble carvings, colored tiles, iron staircase. Abby’s description of the inside of Lock Tower is based in part on these images:

“… this building is light and full of energy—like a living spirit…It looks like a fantastical palace or some elaborate hotel in a steampunk story”

Founders Room
source: https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/florida-inside-beautiful-bok-tower/bok-inside-looking-out-15feb13/

 

Founders Room Stair
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ykGx6uHKCI&t=109s

 

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ykGx6uHKCI&t=109s
The Many Levels

This page on the official Bok Tower web site describes the levels of the tower interior.

Tower Diagram
Source: https://boktowergardens.org/?da_image=35483

The two levels upstairs from the Founders Room are used for mechanical and workshops. On the fourth level is the Carillon Library. The library contains many of Edward Bok’s writings and also the largest collection of carillon documentation and music in the world.

Carillon Library
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ykGx6uHKCI&t=109s
The Carillon and Bells

Above the Library level is the carillon studio, including a practice instrument for rehearsals. From there, the carillonneur climbs a spiral stair to the actual cabinet for playing the bells.

Bells in Bok Tower
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-YFQgC66f4

This video provides a tour of the carillon and let’s you hear some of its music:

The Rooftop

At the climax of Ghosts of Lock Tower, Abby climbs to the parapet for a final confrontation with her evil opponents:

“My footsteps ring and echo on the metal—the black stairs and catwalks that rise into the belfry. The bells of the carillon hang from beams at many levels, some of the bells smaller than me, others enormous. …. The roof is open space except for the fan and the struts that support it, and the parapet, a walkway twelve-feet wide along the edges.”

Top of the tower with Herons
Source: https://www.everydaybythelake.com/touring-bok-tower-gardens/
Tower from Above
Source: the Youtube Video below.

View from the air

This video from 2016 shows a drone flyover of Bok Tower with splendid views of the surrounding landscape:

Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this look inside the wonderful Bok Tower. Along with its surrounding gardens, the “Singing Tower” is one of the most unique and fascinating destinations in Florida. If you visit our state, and can tear yourself away from the theme parks and beaches for a few hours, it is well worth the trip.

Ghosts of Lock Tower officially launches October 1. But you can
pre-order the e-book, or buy the paperback, now.

 

A Visit to the Real Lock Tower – Part 1

At last, at last, the third Abby Renshaw Adventure, Ghosts of Lock Tower, is about to be published. The book will be posted for pre-order on Amazon by the middle of August. (Watch the Triskelion Books home page for the announcement.)

In celebration, this month’s post takes you on a visit to the real tower in Florida that was the inspiration for Lock Tower. IRL, it is called Bok Tower. (Names in the novel have been changed for the purpose of making stuff up.)

The Tower and Gardens Today

Bok Tower is located on a tall hill amid beautiful gardens in Lake Wales, Florida.

Bok Tower
Bok Tower, photo by Jack Massa

Abby’s description of Lock Tower in Chapter 1 of the novel mostly applies to Bok Tower as well:

Lock Tower might be the weirdest place in Florida.

I know that’s saying a lot.

But picture this: a pink marble bell tower, 23 stories high, set inside a moat full of goldfish. The tower stands on a hill in the middle of the state, surrounded by acres of flowery grounds with ponds, trails, and a visitor center. They say Emanuel Lock had tons of black soil trucked to the top of this sandy hill so they could plant the gardens. These days the place gets its share of tourists—those willing to drive the back roads to discover “old Florida.”

Moat at Lock Tower
Tower moat with giant koi
Edward Bok and the Gardens

As described on the official Bok Tower Gardens website , the tower and gardens were built in the 1920s by Edward W. Bok.

Mr. Bok, an immigrant to the US from the Netherlands, became a successful magazine publisher and Pulitzer Prize winning author. He wintered in central Florida and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and the vistas offered by Iron Mountain, a hill located near the exact center of the state.

View from Near Lock Tower
View from Bok Tower Gardens

After purchasing the hilltop land, Bok hired famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. to lay out the gardens.

Garden Path

Garden Trees
The Master Builders

The tower itself was designed by architect Milton B. Medary, with artwork commissioned from expert sculptors, metalworkers, and tilemakers.

Here are a few images of their work.

Heron Relief

 

Tower Clock

Tower Bronze Door

Bok presented the tower and gardens as a gift to the American people on Feb. 1, 1929.

The Bells

The main feature of the tower is the carillon—a musical instrument consisting of 60 bells and the mechanism to play them. The carillon at Bok Tower is among the largest in North America .

For a taste of carillon music, listen here:

Visiting Bok Tower

As Abby mentions, you can visit Bok Tower Gardens today. Head south from Orlando and get on Route 27. It’s about a 90-minute drive.

Gardens Entrance

While in Lake Wales, you can also visit Spook Hill. (But that is another story.)

But what about the Inside?

In general, the interior of the tower is closed to the public. But, to be honest, gaining access is not quite as rare and difficult as it is for Abby to get inside Lock Tower in the novel.

While visiting Bok Tower a few years back, I was standing beside the moat and thinking about how cool it would be to tour the inside. In that moment, I saw two teenage girls walk across the footbridge as if they owned the place, open the tower door, and walk in.

And that was the inspiration for the opening scene of  Ghosts of Lock Tower.

Next Time

In the next post, we’ll look at the interior of Bok Tower, including some fabulous artwork and the spectacular view from the top. We’ll also hear more carillon music.

Adventures in Audiobooks

I am happy to announce that Ghosts of Bliss Bayou is being produced as an audiobook!

Ghosts of Bliss Bayou cover

The ACX Platform

For indie authors, audiobooks represent another avenue for distributing your titles and gaining a wider audience. The ACX Platform makes it about as easy and inexpensive as can be. Using ACX, you can partner with professional voice actors to produce your work and distribute it via Amazon, Audible, and other marketplaces.

How it Works

This is how the process works for an indie author.

  1. You verify that you own the audio rights to your title.
  2. Create a profile highlighting your project. This describes your book and the kind of narrator-voice you are looking for. Also the kind of promotion and marketing you plan to do.
  3. Find voice talent. Here the voice actors are called “Producers.” ACX makes it easy to search for and invite producers to audition for your title. I received four different auditions from some really excellent actors. (You also have the option to narrate the book yourself. But unless you have a great voice and expertise in sound engineering, I wouldn’t recommend it.)
  4. Make a deal. You can pay the producer by completed hour of audio or on a royalty share basis. In royalty share, you have no out-of-pocket cost, you simply split the royalties earned by the audiobook. There is also a combined option, Royalty-Share Plus, where you pay a guaranteed amount per hour to the producer. This is the route I chose.
  5. Review the Audio. You submit your manuscript to the producer, along with a 15-minute segment, called a checkpoint. You review the checkpoint recording first and provide feedback. From there, you work with the producer in reviewing and finalizing the recording.
  6. Distribute and Promote. ACX distributes the finished title through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Depending on the kind of contract you chose, you may have the option to distribute through other channels. ACX also provides guidance on how best to promote your audiobook.

For more details on these steps, consult the ACX web site.

Our characters find their voices

As of today, I have selected a very talented actor and provided her with the complete script of Ghosts of Bliss Bayou. I marked off several sections in the text to serve as the 15-minute checkpoint.

I also provided these coaching tips on reading the dialog for the different characters.

  • Abby – (the narrator). She is intelligent, introverted, sometimes very scared, but also determined and brave. Appreciates irony.
  • Shadow Man – An evil entity. Creepy and hissy voice.
  • Abby’s Mom – Strong woman in her late 30s. Loves Abby and worries about her, but is focused on her career. High-achiever, workaholic.
  • Grandma (Kathryn). She is in her sixties, but robust and energetic. An old hippie. Runs an antique shop. Loves Abby exceedingly.
  • Timothy (one scene only, in Chapter 2.) Middle-aged shuttle driver from Belarus who quotes Shakespeare. His accent is described in the text, but don’t sweat it.
  • Ray-Ray. (Molly’s brother). Eighteen, son of the small town police chief and working as a police intern. Plans to become a detective. Serious, low-key personality.
  • Molly – Smart, curious, extroverted, obsessive about finding things out.
  • Violet – Energetic woman in her seventies. Leader of the occult circle, very knowledgeable but a little scattered/distracted
  • Kevin – Studious black man in his sixties. Retired anthropology professor.
  • Franklin (Abby’s friend from New Jersey) – Sixteen year old, ironic, flamboyant gay guy.
  • Fiona Alden-Gathers – In her late thirties, realtor and leader of the fight to save Harmony Springs. Polished, determined. Might have a slight Southern accent.
  • Ghost of Margaret Alden (Maisie) – Voice of a strong elderly woman. Formal (grew up in the early 1900s).
  • Ghost of Annie Renshaw – A young woman (contemporary of Maisie, but died young). Earnest, noble, compassionate.

What’s Next?

Now I am waiting for my producer to starting sending the audio files for review. I hope to have the production released by September, around the same time as the publication of the next Abby Renshaw adventure, Ghosts of Lock Tower.

Meantime, you can check out the award winning Ghosts of Bliss Bayou e-book version, currently on sale for just 99¢.

A Visit to Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp

In Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, the first book of the Abby Renshaw adventures, Abby is a high school student troubled by nightmares and scary hallucinations.

Trying to figure out the source of these apparitions, Abby visits her grandmother in the small town of Harmony Springs, Florida. There, Abby discovers a history of occult happenings and learns that the town was founded in the late 1800s by spiritualists, including one of her ancestors.

The idea of a small town in rural Florida founded by 19th Century spiritualists came to me after reading about Cassadaga which is—you guessed it—a small town in rural Florida founded by 19th Century spiritualists.

Cassadaga Today

Cassadaga is still a spiritualist center, and visitors are welcome. I toured the place with my wife a year ago, and we had a wonderful time.

The entrance to the camp is located on County Road 4139 not far from DeLand, Florida (in between Orlando and Jacksonville).

Entrance to the Camp
Entrance to the camp. Source: GoogleMaps.

The hotel and visitor center stand on one side of the street. On the other side are shops and psychics offering readings. These are “not affiliated with the spiritualist camp.” Everyone wants to be clear about this.

The Cassadaga Hotel  dates to the 1920s. In addition to hotel rooms, they offer psychic readings and healing sessions. The restaurant is called, oddly enough,“Sinatra’s.” The food on our visit was excellent and the atmosphere was atmospheric.

Sinatra's
Dining room of the Casadaga Hotel.
Lecture

The visitor center has a bookstore and a meeting hall. Here you can attend classes and schedule sessions with mediums and healers. We signed up for a introductory lecture and walking tour.

The lecture was given by a young woman who identified herself as “a first level student of the camp.” She used a slide show and talked for twenty minutes about the history of spiritualism in the 19th Century. She touched on Andrew Jackson Davis, the Fox Sisters,  and George Colby, the man responsible for founding Cassadaga. You can read about Colby and the founding of the camp on their official website, here.

Our lecturer also described the philosophy and belief system of spiritualism as it is still practiced in Cassadaga. She said there was an active portal right in the corner of the lecture hall where a boy and girl spirit came through. She had not met the girl but had met the boy many times.

Walking Tour

Following the lecture, our guide led us outside. As we walked down the road, she talked about the hotel and the different houses and their history.

House in Cassadaga
Houses in Cassadaga

This tree outside one of the houses was carved in memory of a child of one of the original families.

Tree Carving
Tree carved with angel and child

Seances, we learned, were often held in attics. There were special windows built into the houses to allow the spirits to come and go.

Spirit Window
Spirit Window in attic

The tour ended at the temple, which our guide unlocked for us. It is a large auditorium with a stage and interesting pictures along the walls. They hold services here every Sunday.

temple interior
Interior of the Spiritualist Temple
The Fairy Garden

The tour guide also pointed out the Fairy Garden, which had an entrance up the hill and borders a forest. Following the tour, my wife and I walked up there. The energy was somewhat spooky. People had left all sorts of statues, chairs, and shiny baubles.

Fairy Garden
Offerings in the Fairy Garden

We walked in a ways and then felt we should not go farther.

Edge of the Fairy Garden
As far as we went.
Conclusion

If you enjoy off-the-beaten track destinations, and are looking for a little adventure, I can definitely recommend a visit to Cassadaga, Florida.

You can learn more about the Abby Renshaw adventures here.

Jack’s Crazy Writing Life, and the Goddess Hekate

While waiting for beta reader feedback on The Mazes of Magic (the first book in the brand new Conjurer of Rhodes series), I have been making a start on the next Abby Renshaw adventure. My initial plan was to write another novella, perhaps a bit longer than Ghosts of Tamgrove Hallbut still something that could be written quickly.

BUT … sometimes a writer’s plans go astray. Stories take on a life of their own. They grow into unruly children, though we love them for it all the more. The next Abby story (working title, The Secret of Lock Tower) wants to be longer, perhaps a full-length novel. It is growing in several directions at once.

One of those directions, I discovered last night, circles back to the Goddess Hekate.

As I wrote in a blog post in 2016, Hekate was the name given by Neoplatonist occult philosophers of antiquity to a female deity that they conceived of as seated at the portal between the “uncreated fire” and the manifest Universe. This figure was the inspiration for the “Goddess Who Shapes All Things” in Ghosts of Bliss Bayou.

Hecate Image
Goddess Image, possibly Hecate, from antique tile.

But Hekate, of course, appears much earlier in Greek mythology, and is also a Goddess figure honored today by neopagans worldwide. Those interested in learning about the many facets of this fascinating deity would enjoy the book Bearing Torches: A Devotional Anthology for Hekate published in 2009 by Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

I was honored to be included in that anthology under a pen name, Corbin. Here is the poem I contributed, which I will let speak for itself:

Hecate

She stands at the crossroads under the cowl
Of the sky with goblets in all her claws.
Wind flutters her cloak, obscuring the moon,
Revealing the Book of the Laws.

Ruby wine beckons but I dare not drink
In the night with her eyes like coins of gold
Watching and her silence as ominous
And deep as the sea is old.

O seedless vision, Daughter of the Gates
Of Time, is your offer enlightenment,
Your gift illumination or demise?
Which brings the best contentment?

Kind Dark Mother, I will decline all cups,
Slip away, head bowed as in reflection.
Let me walk a bit longer in the air,
Goddess, but which direction?

Copyright 2009 by Jack Massa. All rights reserved.

The Goddess Who Shapes All Things

In Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Abigail Renshaw is a young woman studying magic—a kind of magic formulated by her ancestor and his contemporaries, who founded the town of Harmony Springs in Florida.

Midway through the story, Abby’s grandmother gives her a ring that has been passed down through the family.

She places the ring in my hand, and I feel its energy, like a tiny electric current. The gold is formed into leaves and vines framing a cameo: the white-on-black image of a woman with wild hair, holding a torch.

I’m stunned. “Who is she?”

“Part of the magical lore of the Circle. She’s the Great Goddess Who Shapes All Things.”

Hekate Image
Goddess Image, possibly Hekate, from antique tile.

The idea for the fictional Circle of Harmony came from the so-called “occult revival” of the late 19th Century, a period when spiritualism and magic became fashionable in Europe and America. During this time, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn flourished. The Golden Dawn espoused a system of magic that drew on many occult sources, including Kabbalah, Tarot, and Rosicrucianism.

Another source of the Golden Dawn system was Neoplatonism, a philosophical tradition of late antiquity. A key document of Neoplatonism is the Chaldean Oracles which survive today only in fragments.

The cosmology of Neoplatonism envisions a divine creative fire, which is the source of the manifest universe. Seated at the portal between this uncreated fire and the world we know is a Goddess Figure. In the Chaldean Oracles, she is named Hekate, after the goddess of the ancient Greeks. A good scholarly summary of this topic can be found in this paper by John D. Turner of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

This idea of a Great Goddess who sits at the threshold between the creative source and the manifest world, is also pictured in the Tarot.

Tarot High Priestess
from the Waite-Rider tarot deck created by Pamela Colman Smith.

Early in Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Abby comes across this card in a reading.

But my eyes are drawn to the crown position—the High Priestess. I’ve read that she’s actually a goddess, seated on her throne at the place of balance between the positive and negative polarities of the Universe. I stare at her serene face and her robes. In the picture, the robes turn into a waterfall and then a blue stream that flows away. It flows down through all the other cards that have pictures of water—the Stream of Life that gives birth to everything.

Late in the novel, when Abby is in deep trouble, she encounters the Goddess again, in a vision. Like all magical guides, the Goddess does not solve her problem, but gives her knowledge that might help her solve it herself…

She stares at me, calm and gentle. “What would you ask of me?”

I didn’t expect that. “Umm. There is an evil spirit who wants to kill me—and other people who are dear to me. I must learn how to banish him or…defend us from him.”

She considers before answering. “Behind me are the hidden sources of creation. The river of the Universe flows at my feet. I sit at the gateway between two pillars—light and darkness, love and strife. The contention of these forces causes all things to be. To wield the highest magic, you must station yourself at this gateway, the point of perfect balance. Then your will can shape what flows into manifestation. So all things are possible.”

Hecate as triple goddess. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=604834
Hekate as triple goddess. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=604834

A Visit to Harmony Springs 2 – Downtown

In Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, Harmony Springs is a small town in Florida with an occult history dating back to the late 1800s. This idea was based on several places in Florida, which were actually founded as spiritual or Utopian communities— including Ruskin, Estero, and Cassadaga.

But the inspiration for how downtown Harmony Springs looks came from visiting another old Florida town, Micanopy. This post has some pictures taken in Micanopy, to give you the flavor.

Early in the book, Abby describes looking at the town on Google Earth.

…The historic downtown looks exactly the same, and it’s amazing—a few blocks of old shops and commercial buildings, the streets lined with huge, twisted oak trees draped in moss. And Victorian houses with wraparound porches and pointed turrets. The street-level pictures make me all warm and nostalgic. I feel this ridiculous yearning to be there.

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In a later chapter, Abby is walking downtown on her first morning in Harmony Springs.

While yesterday was overcast and humid, today is hot and dry. Sunlight filters through the oak leaves and casts wavy shadows on the ancient, broken sidewalks. The buildings and overgrown yards all look like they haven’t changed in a hundred years—not since the time of Annie Renshaw. But the modern world is also right in my face: cars and pickup trucks driving by, advertisements in the shop windows for the theme parks in Orlando…

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This, by the way, is the Herlong Mansion in Micanopy, now a bed and breakfast. Some sources claim it is haunted.

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Late in the story, Abby and her friend Molly sneak into the town’s historic cemetery at midnight.

We cruise down a winding path of hard-packed sand and crushed dead leaves, past gravestones and monuments, some well-tended, some overgrown. Black branches reach over us like twisted fingers. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I can sense all the spirits sleeping around us.

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A Visit to Harmony Springs

In Ghosts of Bliss Bayou, the town of Harmony Springs was founded near a group of natural springs in central Florida. An early inspiration for this setting was a trip my wife and I took in October 2014 to Silver Springs State Park, outside of Ocala, where you can still ride the famous glass-bottom boats.

silversprings1

In Chapter 7 of Bliss Bayou, Abby and Molly take a kayak tour of the headwaters of Harmony Springs. Here are some pictures that closely match Abby’s descriptions.

We paddle against the current, up along the swampy shoreline. Oak and ash trees stick straight up on the banks, eighty or a hundred feet tall.

silversprings2

The water is crystal clear, and I can see the bottom—sand and rock, with underwater grasses waving in the current.

silversprings3

Molly points out a wide fissure marked by tiny bubbles escaping to the surface.

“I think that one is Love Spring,” she says.

Each spring is a vent where water gushes up from the aquifer deep underground.

silversprings4

As we glide down the opposite shoreline, I suddenly suck in my breath. A four-foot alligator is sunning on a dead log.

“They don’t bother you if you don’t bother them,” Molly assures me.

silversprings5