Writing materials

Sometimes writing a book is going through hell

When George Mason University alumnus Miriam Van Scott, BA English ’92, was working as a freelance writer in the mid-1990s, she was looking for an article about the afterlife and was frustrated with the resources she had. was using. She realized what she needed was a compendium of all things related to the underworld – so she wrote one. The result was “The Encyclopedia of Hell” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998). She followed it with “The Encyclopedia of Heaven” in 1999.

Miriam Van Scott. Photo provided

During her career, Van Scott has provided content for History Channel, Sy-Fy, The Learning Channel, ABC News, Paramount Entertainment Group and others, and she has written more books. Her research into the afterlife has yielded more material than the Encyclopedia could ever contain, and she recently revisited some of that content for her latest book, a young adult novel called “Bandun Gate” (Dark Stroke , 2022).

Van Scott’s research and writing on the dark side of things makes her a popular podcast guest, especially around Halloween. We recently spoke to him about what it means to be an authority on hell.

How did you come to write the “Encyclopedia of Hell”?

I was researching an article on afterlife beliefs – before the internet, and it took forever. Finding the specific information I needed required digging through dozens of sources—religious texts, myth stories, art studies, pop culture works, movie books, and more. in all the different categories. A reference book like that didn’t exist, so I wrote one.

What was the research for this book like?

Hell’s Encyclopedia was compiled when the internet was still in its infancy, so most research was done through original sources and interviews. I spoke with exorcists, former cult members, clerics of different faiths, artists, authors, filmmakers, law enforcement, and others who had something to contribute. My favorite interview was with Clive Barker, writer and director of the films “Hellraiser”, “Candyman”, “Books of Blood”, etc. He gave me fascinating insight into why people are obsessed with the mob, and when “Hell” was published, he even sent me a nice handwritten note of “congratulations.”

You said in interviews that some of your interviewees warned you about digging into such topics? What were their warnings, and are you doing anything to protect yourself?

book cover with fire

While researching the encyclopedia, several people warned me that delving into such a dark subject could have nasty consequences. A detective who has investigated “satanic” crimes said the details and photos he shared would probably give me nightmares. They did it. And one priest advised me against messing with Ouija boards or “conjuring” rituals, noting that light experimentation offers the perfect “in” for demons hoping to wreak havoc. Friends and family were just worried that spending so much time learning about the tortures of the damned would take an emotional toll. My strategy for coping with these perils was to limit the time I spent on the truly awful things, to have as little interaction as possible with anything provocative, and to pray often.

Was there anything about the research that surprised you?

One of the biggest surprises has been people’s willingness to share their own personal, often graphic stories of practicing witchcraft, seeing ghosts, participating in “demonic” orgies, and other disturbing behaviors. It amazed me how when I told people I was writing a book about hell, the response I often received was, “Do I have a story for you!” followed by stunning narratives, most of which could not be used in the book for various reasons. On the other side of the spectrum were those who looked at me like I was psychotic when they learned about my book. One woman even suggested that I go to past life regression therapy to determine if I had been a serial killer in a past life.

You moved to Charleston, South Carolina, a town you called “haunted.” Was the move intentional due to the history of the area?

Our family started vacationing in Charleston, SC in 1997. We loved everything about the city, including its bizarre history. I have always enjoyed exploring the area and uncovering the dark secrets hidden in the shadows of Charleston. Getting close to ghosts was definitely part of the appeal that brought us here.

The cover of your latest book, “Bandun Gate”, says it’s “based on real events”, can you tell us about that?

photo of a door in the woods
Photo of the gate in the South Carolina woods that Miriam Van Scott encountered while hiking. Photo by Miriam Van Scott

In addition to using real interviews and data from my research on The Encyclopedia of Hell, “Bandun Gate” also incorporates real people and events into the storyline. These include a Charleston woman who was so evil that no cemetery would agree to accept her body for burial, Gullah legends of ghosts who steal and “carry” the bodies of unsuspecting victims, and a real door that I encountered that was built to keep out evil spirits. The overall plot involving my daughter being in terrible danger was inspired by a chilling phone call informing me that she had been kidnapped and would be dismembered and then sent back in pieces.

Oh no! Is she okay?

Yes she is fine ! By the time I got the call, Abigail had been kidnapped, she was working as a prison guard, and there were some pretty hardened criminals and gang members who regularly threatened her. Fortunately, the kidnapping turned out to be a hoax. She is doing well and is currently working in law enforcement in the Charleston area.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a young adult thriller about a 16 year old girl who claims her younger brother has a very unusual paranormal ability. Their father thinks it’s an illusion she invented to deal with her mother’s death. When the boy is implicated in the death of one child and the disappearance of another, the family’s dark secrets are exposed, forcing them to deal with the disturbing fallout.

To learn more about Van Scott’s work, visit his website at miriamvanscott.com.