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The Haunted Life of Mystery Writer Juliet Blackwell

Photos by Joseph Schell

Originally published on California Home + Design

In truth, Oakland author Juliet Blackwell shares a lot of traits with Melanie Turner, the contractor she created who stars in her nationally bestselling Haunted Home Renovation series. Both have anthropology degrees, both work on the restoration of historic homes and both encounter ghosts on a regular basis. But there are key differences: While the fictional Turner character communes with spirits only on jobsites, the flesh-and-blood Blackwell claims to live with ghosts in her own home. As she prepares to release her latest mystery, Home for the Haunting, the author opens the doors to her private residence and clues us in to life (and death) inside the California Craftsman.

The idea to write the addictive series of mysteries starring a spirit-attracting renovation specialist came to Blackwell (a decorative painter by trade before she became a full-time author) while she was high atop scaffolding working on the ceiling of a Victorian mansion in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. “The painters are often the last people in the building, and we are always rushing to get the job done,” she says. “I was working in an old house at 3 a.m. and it was making all kinds of creaks, moans and groans, as old houses do, and the idea for the series came to me.” Here she works at her desk in her own 1911 home in Oakland. The vulture, nicknamed Harry, is a permanent fixture. “He is a great companion to a mystery writer,” she says. “He reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe, of course.”

As Blackwell, who has penned two other mystery series and short story anthologies in addition to the Haunted Home Renovation series, purchased her own house in 1996. Blackwell started to renovate the house (in the living room, shown here, she removed six layers of wallpaper to get to the original plaster and celebrate the original molding), she noticed the usual creaking and groaning that can be attributed to the settling timbers of antiquity. But there were other sounds that were harder to explain. “While in this room, I hear the sounds of methodical, very deliberate footsteps overhead,” she says. “It happens about once a month, and guests hear it too.”

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