How many times have I announced the completion of my book and the research project it describes--eight, nine? I started working on it in earnest sometime in 2009, and first published in 2011. From that time until now, I continued to stumble upon new evidence, and make new connections, and I found myself revising the book daily. For years. The evidence chapter I fit most of this new material into, burgeoned until it is now several hundred pages long.
My options were to pull it off the market and wait until it was completed; to revise it less often; to present only a fraction of the evidence; or to re-write it completely in a linear fashion, either based on the chronology of my subject's life, or the chronology of the research process. I didn't want to pull it off the market, because I never knew when it was finished. I didn't want to leave less-than-current versions online for sale, because I wanted people to get the best information (and because some of my hypotheses had been corrected). As for a re-write, that was going to be a "bear," first of all; and secondly, I wanted to be completely transparent, by telling the story of the research process, itself. The entire process.
Finally, I admit there's a compulsive element to it. Having found well over 600 of Mathew Franklin Whittier's published works--where his sole biographer estimated less than 70--I knew I couldn't mention them all. But the overarching goal was to demonstrate, through these newly-discovered pieces, that my past-life impressions of him, stated before I could possibly have seen this evidence, were accurate. I wanted to prove reincarnation, and this case in particular. I had no-one studying me--I was studying myself. The only way to convince anyone else that I had actually accomplished the task, was to tell the entire story of my research process, from beginning to end, as transparently as possible. Where I revised a theory, I left in a trace of the old one, and admitted it was revised. Where I discovered something that disproved a speculation, I said so, and vice-versa, when I proved one. When a past-life impression that I had stated at the beginning of the project was proven as actual, I brought that in (with foreshadowing, when appropriate) as it occurred.
In this way, the book is like an archeological dig, where the entire process is recorded. You can see what the excavation looked like at two inches down, and three inches, and six inches. Where the bones were placed; where the pottery, and so-on. And you can decide for yourself whether I came to the most logical conclusions--whether my conclusions were supported by the evidence as it emerged.
Another reason the book is as long as it is, is that I knew I was writing for the future. I may very well not be here when this book is noticed and taken seriously. People will be trying to shoot it down, by digging into the history looking for contra-indications. I want to beat them to it. For example, some writers appear to have borrowed Mathew's style, or even stolen his works directly. One or two of these inserted their own material into them. So you have an opening that was written by Mathew, a portion in the middle written by the new author, and Mathew's closing. Or, they may have used only the opening--but what they inserted into it is something Mathew never would have written. He was deeply compassionate for the underdog, and he worked against slavery up until Emancipation. But some of these authors were slavery sympathizers, and they would insert something cruel or disrespectful to blacks, in the middle of Mathew's humorous sketch.
I don't want scholars of the future coming upon this, deciding it was Mathew's work by various style clues, and announcing that he was a closet racist! That's just one example. So, for better or worse, I attempted to beat the critics to the punch on just about anything that they could use against me, in the historical record. At least I found enough examples to show anyone defending it, how to proceed.
Instead of re-writing it in a linear fashion, stripping out the redundancies and drastically reducing the number of examples, I chose to go back in and make it as easy, and as fun to read, as possible. This is somewhat akin to what I had to do with my documentary, "In Another Life: Reincarnation in America." I was dealing, there, with an intangible subject, which was very difficult to show visually. Thus, I had a lot of interviews and not too much else. Normally, one would rely on re-enactments, but being on an absurdly low budget, I couldn't afford them. I managed to create a handful of extremely brief ones, with volunteer actors--people waiting in line to be read by a palm-reader, for example, or a little boy playing with his blocks. But my answer to this dilemma was not to place a music bed behind the interviews--that seemed manipulative, to me--but rather, to shoot and edit the interview footage in such a way that it really sparkled and hit home. I did that with the interview technique, first of all, which I gleaned from my counseling training. Primarily, it means you are really interested in the person, and you listen attentively. He or she can feel that you "get" them, at which time they become inspired and begin to hold forth for you. In that footage, there will be a few seconds where they are tapping in--and that's the few seconds you want. Secondly, you ask the right questions, drawing out the comments you are hoping for; and lastly, in editing, you choose the best-of-the-best-of-the-best, eschewing all else.
It works, for those viewers who are open-minded and sincerely interested. People who are unconsciously fighting the idea that reincarnation could be real, shut it out and experience boredom. They said the film was "too much talking heads." But I could have had the interviewer address them by name, and tell them something about themselves that nobody else could know, and they'd still have tuned it out (as happens with psychic readings all the time).
So I made the text of my book, as long as it was, shine. I went over it with a fine-toothed comb, not once but several times. This, also, delayed completion, especially with a book of this size.
I also used a lot of illustrations. I knew, after a few hundred pages, that there was no way I could ever print it physically. So at that point, once it is defined as being solely an e-book, the sky's the limit on illustrations. One can treat it as half-documentary at that point. And I discovered some incredible portraits and other types of artwork. Ebay was my friend in this endeavor, as was an artist I discovered through an online freelance service. Can you imagine that I was able to hire the artist who did the last cover for Punch Magazine? He wasn't cheap by my standards, but I could swing it. I hired him twice--once to illustrate Mathew's flagship character, the Archie Bunker prototype, "Ethan Spike"; and then again, to illustrate a humorous poem which I believe that Mathew published in "Punch." And, personally, I suspect that this artist worked for that magazine before. I think I know who he was...but in any case, here I have a present-life artist, who worked for Punch, illustrating a Punch poem from 1851, which I'm pretty sure Mathew submitted to them. And he did a truly superb job--the man's a genius.
Well, all of this, as it appears, is for future audiences to enjoy. I have been able to generate little interest, today, even though I have been cranking out these "Update" entries for years. I think the writing in them is of a quality which would match a past life as a writer. In other words, I have been demonstrating a matching past-life talent, right in front of the public, in full view, as it were, for years. People who might say, "show me," are being shown the entire time. But what you refuse to believe, you can't see.
How do I feel about the final product, if it is indeed final, now? I am somewhat dismayed at the length. A friend of mine, who is also a lay scholar, told me, "No, no, don't pay any attention to that. Put in all your evidence." I think that's correct. People who aren't quite serious enough to read all of it, can enjoy as much as they want to read; whereas scholars who are truly serious about it, have all the evidence with which to evaluate it. I'm not going to write a "lite" version.
Otherwise, I am deeply pleased with it. Some of the evidence I uncovered, in this last 7-8 years, astounds even me. For example, on Ebay I purchased a set of tiny, broken carved deer, presented as having once belonged to Mathew's famous brother, John Greenleaf Whittier. Later on, I discovered a travelogue Mathew had written, including several installments from Europe, which was claimed by and for someone else. Eventually I was able to prove that it was actually Mathew's work; but in the course of reading the entries, I found one in which Mathew is in Lucerne, Switzerland. He comments on the amazingly tiny and detailed carvings, including of local animals, some of them less than half an inch long. He seems to think that several artisans carve them, but he might have gotten that impression even if only one or two master craftsmen could create pieces that small. I say that because I was never able to find anything like them online. I even wrote to a carving musueum in Switzerland, sending them photographs, but never heard back from them.
So when I read Mathew's comments about these carvings in Lucerne, I took a closer look at the two I had on the shelf, in the little box-within-a-box they came in. Sure enough, they were half an inch long; and it turns out they weren't deer, they were chamois. Well, I've written about this before, including the provenance I hypothesized for them. But it very much appears that Mathew must have purchased these as a Christmas gift for his sister, and they were passed down until I bought them on Ebay, not knowing what they were; and then found a mention of them in Mathew's own travelogue. The place where the seller purchased them at an estate sale, matches the last person in the chain whom I hypothesize would have owned them (author John Townsend Trowbridge).
This was by no means the only synchronicity I experienced in this study, especially as regards finding evidence pertaining to Mathew's life. I attribute much of it to Mathew's soul-mate Abby, who passed in 1841, helping me from the astral realm. You can attribute it to anything you like, but if you read the book, you will see that there are quite a few of them!
As for the literary gems, Mathew was a philosopher/comic, like George Carlin of my generation, Jon Stewart of the next, or Lee Camp, who is the up-and-coming monarch of the genre. I can occasionally get an appreciative laugh out of Camp on Facebook, because that past-life talent can still spark in me at times. Normally, if I was asserting such a thing, I would give an example. But there is something in me that balks at dragging a sample of humor in front of an audience, in order to prove it to them. Humor is best when spontaneously shared between friends. I don't want to get into a situation, here, where I provide "proof" that Mathew was funny, and the reader stubbornly digs his or her heels in and says, "Not funny." But throughout these several hundred pages, I have liberally sprinkled examples of Mathew's best work. I have told my readers here a hundred times, these examples are well-worth the price of the book. Apparently, none of them believe me, since they don't purchase it. Someday, people will catch on and blame me, saying, "Why didn't you tell us?" But I did...
In so many different respects, it's a fascinating book. The only two drawbacks I see, are that it is absurdly long, and that it proves reincarnation hands-down. I remember, once, seeing a football game in which the winning team continued to rack up points until they were 50-something to 2. That's nothing compared to how this book proves reincarnation. So people who feel that reincarnation being solidly proven would shake their world view like an earthquake, and who do not have that driving urge to discover the truth at all costs, are going to dip into my Updates, but will certainly not consider purchasing my book. After all, when I assert something in one of these Updates, by-and-large you can brush it off as a "bit of undigested beef." But the book is not so easy to dismiss, not if it is studied carefully, thoroughly and respectfully.
Then there is the length. This is not a novel, where you have to finish it in order to find out "who done it." I start out telling you who done it, and then I prove it. But one of the more recent revisions I made, was to go back in and create frequent subheadings for each new topic introduced in the narrative. That means you can read--at random, if you want to--each subheading like popcorn. Read as many as you like. Set it aside, come back to it. You may not get quite as much from it as the one who reads it all the way through, but you will get much more than your money's worth, I guarantee. That is, I guarantee it if you are open-minded. I guarantee nothing for the person who has his mind shut tight against reincarnation being possible. For him or her, I guarantee only boredom.
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "Children's Waltz," by The Free Design,
from the album, "Sing for Very Important People"