Elizabyth Burtis never sought to write a paranormal thriller about an alcoholic ex-priest who must conquer his (literal) demons to save the soul of the only woman he ever loved. In fact, she never meant to write about demons at all. Though she wasn’t possessed by demons to write the book, she concedes that she was, in a way, possessed by the characters themselves.
“What’s interesting is that the initial idea ended up getting totally cut from the story because the characters took over and made up the story themselves. This story started out from Maya’s (the main character’s love interest’s) perspective and it wasn’t supposed to be the whole business of demonic possession. It was really supposed to be more about the paranormal investigation. And then Maya’s story came out and then Gabriel’s (the protagonist’s) story came out. Gabriel took over and they started this love affair, which I hadn’t intended. They really took over. At one point I was struggling with this section of the story because it didn’t have enough tension and I just sat down and had a conversation with Gabriel and he told me what I should write. I know I sound like a lunatic. That is what happened.”
The final product is the tale of former exorcist Gabriel Wolfe. A former priest, he enjoys a quiet life in Hollywood as a consultant on horror movies until the night he meets superstar paranormal investigator, Oliver Fitzpatrick, and his strange sister, Zan. What follows is the unravelling of his life, as he is flung into a world of demons and dark magic, culminating in the kidnapping and demonic possession of Maya Carmichael, his business partner and only friend. With no other options in sight, Gabriel reluctantly seeks help from the only person he can turn to, his old teacher and mentor, Father Paolo Sebastian. Enlisting the help of Father Sebastian and Professor Frank Harper, Gabriel goes on a hunt to find and confront an Arch Demon to save Maya. His success will hinge on whether Gabriel can face and defeat his demonic nemesis. If he cannot, she’ll be lost forever.
A Los Angeles area native Elizabyth Burtis is no stranger to the paranormal. The primary locations in the book, Los Angeles, California, and Bahia, Brazil, provide not only the perfect backdrop for her paranormal thriller, Demonology: Book of Gabriel, but were also the locales where she herself experienced paranormal events and an exorcism.
According to the author, Los Angeles, and the area of Hollywood in particular, are rife with hauntings and paranormal events, making it the perfect setting for the tale of ex-priest Gabriel Wolfe and his battle with the demons that pursue him.
“I used to work in West Hollywood so I know that stretch well. There’s a whole scene where I describe Sunset Boulevard and that straight verbatim from walking along there in the morning everyday. A lot of West Hollywood, I’m very familiar with that area, that whole stretch from the Chateau Marmont down past the Skybar onto the Viper Room. That’s pretty specific along Sunset. I used to work over on the corner of La Cienega and Sunset, so I would walk by there every single day. I think I touch on the Mann’s Chinese Theater and there’s a lot of landmarks in Los Angeles. I wandered around the West Adams district for a while which is one of the historic areas in L.A., east of Hollywood, and I took that neighborhood as where I would imagine the Greenwood Mansion would be, although there are no houses like that at all around there. Having lived in Los Angeles for so long there are just so many neighborhoods where I could just bring the flavor of the whole thing. I mean I can see every street, so when Gabriel is going up the Fairfax area where Maya is, up to where Oliver lives in the Hollywood Hills, I can almost see the route he would take.”
Says Burtis of her experiences in Southern California, “L.A. is absolutely chalk-full of haunted stuff. I grew up in a haunted house and I’ve lived in probably five or six of them. I’ve run into so many haunted situations that I think there are more haunted houses than non-haunted houses at this point. For example, in terms of Hollywood, Hollywood has all kinds of stories of things and places that are haunted. I mean, the ghost of Rudolph Valentino is known to haunt three different locations in L.A. It’s become almost a good thing to have a haunted house.
I wrote this book when all the paranormal investigation shows where in their prime. You still have paranormal teams all over the place investigating houses and trying to come up with irrefutable proof of life after death. So there’s a little bit of that Hollywood ghost busting kind of thing (in the book). That going in and setting up a whole paranormal investigation and shooting it on film. I was able to contact two teams and have them at my house just to get an idea of how it actually works. They have all kinds of technical consultants on films so why not an exorcist?”
With her experiences in multiple haunted houses, Burtis began to feel like she won some kind of “ghost lottery”and she began to recognize the signs that the less experienced tend to overlook.
“….Everyone has different experiences. It depends on how intuitive you are. People are energy and ghosts are energy and houses often pick up things. For example if you have a house made of a lot of wood it’ll pick up energy from the people living there, from the environment. Or you can have sort of a vibe that you have a sentient ghost.
I identified a couple of different types at one point. There are house memories which is basically residual energy that is locked up in the walls, in the furniture, and the floors and that might come out as an apparition that happens at the same time, at the same date on a regular basis, that would be the house remembering that event as opposed to a real ghost. Then you might have more sentient ghosts, they move around independently, they might do things like move things around. You might find cupboards open. I’ve noticed smells. I’ve noticed just the scents. For me, the thing I’ll notice, it’s almost like for me when somebody walks into a room and you’ve got your back turned to them. You know that there’s someone there without hearing or seeing them. That’s kind of the sense I get, that there’s somebody in the room with me. Sometimes there are cold spots, noises. I’ve heard voices. It just depends. It depends on the ghost. I personally don’t see apparitions all that often but I have family members who see them pretty often. I think it just depends…It depends on what you’re willing to sense really.”
Although she didn’t start out with an interest in categorizing paranormal phenomena, Elizabyth came to realize that the more you know about what you’re dealing with, the better you are at dealing with it in the future.
“I’d say my interests in identifying these types of ghosts started with… I lived in a particularly haunted house in Santa Cruz. That was back in the day when I didn’t know any better. So I contacted it (a paranormal entity) with a Ouija Board and I ended up unleashing something that was not a ghost, and very nasty. It followed me around for about ten years. This is actually one of the reasons why I know about Brazilian exorcisms because that’s how I ended up getting rid of it. I was exorcised in Brazil, strangely enough.
But that led me to realize that there’s more than just one kind of ghost. So through research and from my own personal experiences I started putting together categories and I did them for my own interest and to be okay that I’m living with a house memory, that’s not some nasty thing that’s gonna start throwing things at me in my sleep or worse, try to possess me.”
Just as her experiences in Hollywood shaped the creation of the world of her main character, Gabriel Wolfe, so too did the world of exorcisms Bahia, Brazil.
“The places in Brazil that inspired me in this book are in chapter 1, when I went to Bahia and there’s a whole scene where Father Paolo watches a sparrow carry a cockroach in the middle of the night. That actually happened just on the coast, we were walking along the boardwalk, watching this cockroach. That was one of the more specific ones. A lot of my travels in Brazil, in Rio and Bahia are used again in the book.
When I went to Brazil I had some interesting experiences there. In Brazil I learned that every culture has a different way of dealing with demons. There are demons in a lot of different cultures and they’re not just limited to Christian and catholic religions. There are demons in the Buddhist religion and Native American religions, Voodoo, and Candomblé, an Afro-Brazilian religion that I was exposed to in Brazil. Most other religions treat exorcisms, demonic possessions, like we would treat a cold, while the Christian and Catholic churches treat it like you would treat terminal cancer. And it has to get to that point before they will do anything about it.
Within the Catholic Church in order to prove that somebody’s possessed by a demon they have to go through a lot of hoops and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s a demonic possession, while other cultures will notice that there’s demonic possession a lot sooner and they’ll get rid of it, they’ll do an exorcism and the exorcism won’t be this horribly violent thing that you see in all the exorcism movies. That happens, yes, but that’s based on terminal exorcism. In other non-Christian or catholic religions the object of the possession will know he or she is possessed but the demon hasn’t been able to really get a strong hold of the person so it’s easier to get rid of them. That’s the difference. An exorcism in other cultures is like treating a cold as opposed to being hospitalized for a terminal disease.”
Demonology: Book of Gabriel is the first installment of a four part series chronicling the story of Gabriel Wolfe.