Victoria Loustalot, ’03, recently wrote her third book, “Future Perfect: A Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic.” Loustalot’s first book, “How to Say Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir,” was part of Patricia Fels’ English curriculum. “Future Perfect” was one of five books featured in Amazon’s December book highlights.
Q: What made you decide to write another book?
A: It was all thanks to my friend getting married and wanting to go see a psychic.
The psychic gave us all readings that were so descriptive — she attached times, dates, genders, names — and I thought, “Oh, that’s really wild.”
And then five or six months (later), so much of what she told us came true.
Then I was just like, “Oh man, what do I make of this?” It was so unexpected since I’d been so cynical.
I found myself chatting about it with co-workers or other friends of mine, and I noticed something really interesting — people really responded to this experience I was telling them.
Often, folks would wait until later, pull me aside privately and say, “I didn’t want to say anything in front of everyone else, but I had this crazy experience with a psychic.” It was people I never would have expected, lots of highly educated people.
Everyone was sort of quiet about it. It was like everyone seemed to have the same dirty little secret. Then the light bulb went off in my head: “Oh, there’s totally an audience here.”
Most books on the subject fell into two categories. Half were by people who believed they had psychic ability or were practicing astrologers, who were building a brand. The other half were written by people who were highly, highly skeptical and who were writing to debunk the myths around these phenomena.
There was room for a book that fell somewhere between those two extremes.
Q: What was the research process like?
A: Once I had established there was a gap in the market, the real research began. My research involved more than 100 interviews with psychics, astrologers, shamans, clairvoyants, intuitives, police detectives, private investigators and individuals who went to astrologers and psychics regularly, as well as individuals who had been scammed by fraudulent psychics out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
(I also researched and interviewed) neurologists and people with medical backgrounds, scientists who study the brain and the impact of meditation on the brain and what happens in our brains and our bodies physically when we tap into religious ideas, spiritual ideas, practices and rituals.
I also read scientific articles about profiling, the way we assess people and make assumptions about them and the way we read people or situations. All of this comes into play when you think about how a psychic reads people— how much of it is an “ability,” and how much of it is being super observant and telling people what they want to hear?
I did things like participate in shamanic drum circles and group meditations where you try to tap into your spirit guide. Not a lot of those group activities made it into the book, but they were certainly a big part of the research.
I (read) as many books as I could get my hands on — books on religion and spiritual practices, books written by psychics, books on astrology, books on different cultures and their approaches to shamanic practices.
So (the research) was trying to untangle all those different practices — what their similarities were, where they lined up and where they diverged. It was a lot of interviews, a lot of books and a little bit of travel. But for the most part, it was a lot of conversations.
Q: How did you decide what information to include?
A: That’s really one of the hardest things about nonfiction. Just because it happened or because it’s true or because you did that interview and it took you six hours to transcribe, it doesn’t necessarily mean that any part of that experience or any of those quotes belong in the final piece.
(Everyone I interviewed) was so incredibly generous with their time, ideas and beliefs, but there were certain individuals who I spent time with whose words and philosophies resonated with me more than others.
The people I featured were individuals whose work found itself at the intersection point of not just some psychic or astrological ability but also ideas of philosophy, science, the mind, the brain and religion — recognizing that all those different strands are seeking to answer the same questions about meaning, purpose and why we’re here.
The individuals I interviewed that saw similarities between astrology, Buddhism and Greek philosophy, for example, were the people that I was much more interested in spending time with and giving more space in the book.
Q: Is there any information or activity that didn’t make it into the book that you’d like to talk about?
A: I interviewed a couple of really terrific police detectives and one private investigator. Their work was really fascinating, but only one of them was willing to speak on the record. Although, I did allude to some of the things I talked about with the two who weren’t willing to speak on the record.
Law enforcement has a lot of experience with scam artists. A lot of what we explored was interesting but also felt familiar or expected. Like yeah we know there’s scam artists, we know that there are people who ask for a lot of money and tell you some nonsense about your future, and so that felt less compelling to me because I felt a lot of my readers were going to come to the book already sort of knowing or believing that. I was more interested in focusing on the things that ran counter to common knowledge so to speak — the experiences that couldn’t be explained so readily.
I did thoroughly enjoy the interviews with the detectives and private investigator and the video footage of undercover work they had done to get fake psychics on camera doing their scam to get them arrested. The whole notion of “How is it really a scam? We all know that the future can’t be told, so, if you give someone $200 and they give you a reading that doesn’t come true, isn’t that just your own fault?” was interesting to explore.
A lot of those questions — how you actually get a fake psychic arrested and prosecuted and how you build that case — are really interesting, but belong in a different book.
Q: How did you put all this information together to write the book?
A: When I originally set out to write this book, I assumed and hoped it would be my least personal project to date. I really wanted to write a nonfiction book that didn’t involve me at all, which, now looking at the finished product, is comical because it’s extraordinarily personal and extraordinarily vulnerable.
When I started interviewing these psychics and mediums, every single one of them made our interview personal because that’s what they do for a living. Anytime I would ask them a question, they would inevitably find a way to answer it using me as an example.
When I sat down to transcribe these interviews, there was no way to write about these interviews and these people without acknowledging things they had said about me and my life, and whether they were true or not.
Sitting down to write it and figuring out the balance between the personal and the public and the private was very tricky — I really just had to go by instinct.
I wrote a lot of the chapters almost sort of as independent essays and then tried to find a way to interweave them after the fact. It definitely wasn’t a case of sitting down and saying, “All right, page one and page two all the way to page 300,” or whatnot.
The first draft was 355 pages. I ended up cutting a lot out of that first draft.
It was like I had the puzzle pieces, but figuring out how they fit together was a lot of trial and error. Like printing everything out and putting it all on the floor and saying, “OK maybe I take this section and put it here.” It became a very physical tactile experience, like each page was a puzzle piece on my living room floor and I was trying to piece it together — which is not a method I necessarily recommend, though it eventually was effective.
Q: Can you tell us about being one of Amazon’s featured books?
A: Amazon highlighted five books on Dec. 1 for the whole month as a sort of recommended booklist. The other four books were all various kinds of fiction, so the only nonfiction book they had selected for the month of December was mine, which was cool.
So anyone who was an Amazon Prime member or who had agreed to allow Amazon to send them emails would get various email notifications about my book along with the other books featured for the month.
What’s interesting is that the book didn’t come out until Jan. 1. But since it was the featured pick for Amazon, it was available for purchase and shipped throughout the month of December.
That was interesting because on the one hand it wasn’t out yet, but on the other hand, it kind of was — at least in the world of Amazon. So I sort of had one foot in the publication door and one foot not quite out yet.
Psychologically, I was thinking, Oh, no one’s going to read this book until January. I have a little more time before I get the onslaught of reactions.
But then people were reading it a month before I thought they were going to, so I had to catch up emotionally.
Q: What did you think of the reviews?
A: The reviews are such a funny thing. because you never really know what to expect.
I actually think all reviews are terrific. I really celebrate the ones that think the book is wonderful, the ones that think the book is terrible and everything in between. If people have a strong reaction, it means that they’re wrestling with something that it hit a nerve — and that’s the whole point.
I want people to wrestle with uncomfortable emotions, to have strong reactions. If I’m not getting that reaction to the book, then I feel like I didn’t write the best book that I could.
I’ve gotten some really good reviews, some bad reviews and reviews from complete strangers who take the time to look me up on the internet, find my website and reach out to me.
When the messages from my website come through in my email, I can see that they’re from my website. And, for the most part, if someone is going to take the time to reach out and figure out how to get in contact with me, it’s either because they loved the book — so the message is going to be really heartfelt and moving — or they really hated it — and they want me to know that I’m the worst person in the world.
So I get these messages in my inbox, and, before I open it, it’s like, “well, someone either thinks I’m amazing, or just, the scum of the earth.” So it’s like let me let me put on my helmet, fasten my seatbelt and get ready for this message.
But really, I don’t mind it, I think it’s wonderful. I’m just happy that people are engaging with the work
Victoria Loustalot, ’03, reads her newest book, “Future Perfect: A Skeptic’s Search for an Honest Mystic,” while recording for an audiobook. (Photo courtesy of Brilliance Publishing)
Q: Has the book changed you as a person?
A: I’m a completely different person now than I was when I started this book in a million different ways. Spoiler alert: I’m a believer.
I started this book highly skeptical, and I finished the book in this place of wonder of the universe and the fact that we get to be here and have this existence. I really believe that there is a higher force, a higher energy, a source of power that is greater than human beings that’s out there.
There have been so many things in the course of writing this book — incidents that happened that I wrote about — that have made me come to see that everything is for us, everything that happens to us is for us.
What I mean by that is it’s part of our individual journey, our process for learning, growing and expanding.
If you believe that everything that’s happening to you is serving some sort of purpose, then that suggests there’s a higher power orchestrating this or that there’s something bigger than all of us. That’s the thing that I find reassuring, comforting and really beautiful.
I didn’t think that I was going to come out of this book believing, but too many things that I can’t explain have happened. And, even if that wasn’t true, I’ve come around to the idea that we obviously don’t know for sure.
But, believing in the wonder and magic just seems like a much more fun way to go through life. So, why the hell not? If you have two options, I think I’m going to go with the fun one.
The last thing that I would like to talk about is a quote from Philip Pullman, (who’s) a wonderful British writer (that’s featured) in the book. He doesn’t believe in God but he does believe in magic, which I thought was really interesting when I first read it.
But, (now that I’ve finished the book), I would challenge Pullman. I would ask him, “What’s the difference between God and magic?” I don’t actually think that there is one.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
A: With this book, so much of what I was writing about was happening in the moment, like I was live-tweeting. So I had no distance from it emotionally or physically. I was just trying to get it down on the page as the ideas unraveled.
It was such a different way of writing than I’d ever done before. It made me feel extraordinarily vulnerable because I didn’t know how things were going to evolve; I was taking a leap of faith.
I feel like a different person having written this book. The journey and experience are on the page, and it’s scary, vulnerable and raw, but that’s really cool.
This book is for anyone interested in growth and expansion, in wrestling with those ideas of spirituality and why we’re here. It’s not a book just for people who are interested in psychics or mediums. I hope that it starts a new journey for them; that would be my biggest wish even if that journey is slamming the book shut and saying the book is awful — that could still set them on a new sort of thought process.
Loustalot will be coming to Country Day on Friday, Feb. 1, to discuss her new book. The event, called “Happy Hour with Victoria Loustalot, ’03,” will be held in the Matthews Library from 5:30 to 7 p.m. To RVSP, click here.
—By David Situ
Originally published in the Jan. 15 edition of the Octagon, now with online-exclusive information.