Every year, thousands of wannabe actors and writers and directors flock to Hollywood, but not many of them wind up, as I have, as the town's resident demonologist.
Trust me, it was never my plan. But having written a couple of nonfiction books on the history of the occult and black magic, in addition to a few scary novels, I soon found that several TV shows with a supernatural bent were using my work as source material for their episodes. When I called up some of the producers (people who would never, by the way, have deigned to read my spec scripts), I was swiftly invited to come in and consult.
At first, their disappointment was evident. It happened the moment I stepped, smiling and innocuous, through the door. I think they were expecting some skulking creature with sharpened canines and 666 carved into his forehead. What they got instead was this bespectacled guy in a button-down shirt, navy blue sport coat and rumpled khakis. "You look like some econ professor," one executive noted in dismay.
But when we got down to the nitty-gritty, he could see I knew my stuff. His was a show about a super-secret group of paranormal investigators who live in a big house on a private island. Apart from the fact that folks in trouble seemed to have no trouble at all locating, and even showing up unannounced, at this presumably super-secret door, the premise seemed as good as any. But many of the upcoming episodes had questions that the writers and producers needed answered.
"Are devils and demons the same thing?"
"Can angels go bad?"
"How come Hell has nine rings and not ten? Ten would be cooler."
"What's the deal with ectoplasm? Can it leave a stain on furniture?"
While some of these questions actually have answers of a sort (though cleaning up after ectoplasm is especially tricky), there were thornier problems, brought up in writers' room meetings, where the staff sat around mulling over more story-specific mysteries. For instance, in one proposed episode of "Charmed" (a show about three sisters who happen to be witches), the head writer posed the question, "What if the sisters were transported to an astral plane by a trio of monkey wizards... "
He trailed off, while I nodded sagely over steepled fingers, waiting for the rest.
"Would it be possible," he continued, "for the monkeys to steal their witchly powers and use them any way they wanted to on this plane?"
After pretending to ruminate for another few seconds, I issued an authoritative, "No."
Only to get a "Yes, they would!" from another writer, followed by a vigorous debate over the ability of monkey wizards to exercise purloined powers of witchcraft. I wanted to shout, "Hey, who's the demonologist here?" but instead, I sat quietly - Yoda-like - as the partisan battle over this profoundly idiotic plot-point raged around me, and wondering, not for the first time, how I had come to this pass.
But that is the peculiar beauty, as well as the curse, of being a demonologist; you are forever addressing exactly such questions - questions to which there is no right answer - and then having to present some definitive reply, or pseudo-logic, to validate your decision.
"Would a warlock wear a hat to a party? ("Only if it's after six.")
"If a werewolf is shot with a silver bullet, does he automatically die, even if it's only in his arm, say?" ("He can survive if given immediate medical attention, and a tetanus booster.")
"If zombies have no free will, how come they always gravitate to hot chicks?" ("Residual human desire survives in the reptilian core of their otherwise dead brains.')
In the course of this demonological career, I have consulted with many Hollywood movie producers and television execs, and I never fail to be amazed at the respect accorded such balderdash. I mean, I may have written the books, and I'll be the first to admit I love such stuff (give me a good ghost story over any other kind), but that doesn't mean I'm a true believer.
Recently, I was vetting a gypsy curse story, where I was explaining to a roomful of creative execs (a particularly laughable Hollywood title), precisely how a curse is lifted and its malign power redirected back at its progenitor. The room was hushed, a young woman in a tiny skirt was typing copious notes into her laptop, and for a minute or two I actually felt as if I was delivering real information.
Then, a cell phone chirped, and thank god, I was able to snap back to reality, finish my spiel, and retrieve my car from the valet downstairs. Still, I sometimes worry that the day will come when I don't snap back. Unless I'm careful, I might find myself waltzing around town in black robes and eyeliner and doing the full Aleister Crowley bit. My agent has already hinted - more than once - that it would only be good for business.