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How a Dead Author Finished His Books

When Frank R. Stockton (below) died in 1902, he left a legacy of 23 volumes of stories for adults and children.  His first book, Ting-a-Ling, a children’s book, was published in 1870.  His most famous book, The Lady or the Tiger, was published in 1884.  Because of its uncertain ending, that book would become required reading in many high school English classes, something for students to debate.


Apparently, Stockton still had a number of stories to tell when he died, because he went on to dictate seven stories, all assembled in a book published in 1913 titled The Return of Frank R. Stockton. It was produced through the automatic writing of Etta De Camp, a resident of Schenectady, New York who worked as a legal secretary. 

Upon reading a newspaper article about automatic writing early in 1909, De Camp decided to give it a try, patiently sitting with pad and pencil.  After some time, she felt a “thrill” go from her shoulder to her finger tips as though she had been touched by an electric battery. “To my utter amazement the pencil began to move,” she recalled. “I watched it, fascinated, for I was absolutely sure I was not moving it myself.  It seemed as though my arm and hand had become detached from my body and did not belong to me.”

At first, she got only circles and scrolls, then some illegible words.  It was not until her third night of experimenting that the writing became readable and expressed thought. The first message came from an Indian calling himself “Blackfoot.”  A week or so later, she received several messages from her father, who had died 12 years earlier.  The messages were for her mother and contained much information that De Camp knew nothing about.  However, her mother confirmed them as fact.

De Camp was informed that the discarnates were writing through the “law of vibration.”  She recalled fighting off the trance condition, but recorded that she was in an abnormal state when the writing came through.  She had no idea what the next word would be until she saw it on the paper.  In one case, as her hand wrote, the words, “Who said we were d…,” she assumed the last word would be “dead,” but was surprised when the word turned out to be “drunk,” which proved to her that her conscious mind had nothing to do with the writing.

On March 23, 1909, De Camp’s hand wrote in a handwriting different from her own:  “I am Frank R. Stockton.  I have many stories I wish written out.  I am glad I can write them through you.  I have one I wish to write called What Did I Do with My Wife. We will go on with it now.”
After Stockton first took control of her pencil, De Camp felt intense pain in the forehead between her eyes, “and I felt a sensation in the left side of my head as though another mind was crowding into my own.”  However, the pain subsided and the first story was completed.  Three days later, Stockton wrote another story, My Wireless Horse.  Stockton advised De Camp that best results could be obtained if she would write an hour or two each morning at a fixed time.  He told her that when she felt a pain behind her ears it would be a sign that he was ready to write.  He explained that he was anxious to go on to the next plane, but that his brain must be relieved of the stories before he could progress further.  “We must be freed from all earth vibrations before we can go on,” he wrote through De Camp’s hand.  “The mind carries too many memories for me to get free.  I must write out my book and my stories before I can get beyond the earth-vibrations which keep me here.”

Prior to becoming an instrument for Stockton, De Camp knew nothing about him, although she had read The Lady or the Tiger during her school years.  She claimed only a faint recollection of it.  While apparently realizing that subconscious memories could not be completely ruled out, De Camp was certain she had no creative literary ability of her own and that she was not controlling the pencil. Moreover, she claimed that she never saw the stories in her imagination and had never really cared for humorous stories, even as a child. She further recalled that she often resisted the writing sessions, and when she did she would awaken in the morning in a dazed condition, as though drugged.  She felt as though she were enveloped in a thick fog.  The greater she resisted, the stronger the force became until she was finally compelled to take the pencil and write in order to find relief.

Upon learning of her experiences, some friends cautioned her about continuing. She was told that there were low-level spirits who delight in masquerading under the name of some well-known person and that the spirit claiming to be Stockton might very well be one of them.  If that is possible, she reasoned, then it must be equally possible for an honest spirit to represent itself.  “I have never for one moment doubted the genuineness of the spirit claiming to be that of Mr. Stockton,” De Camp reported.  “The serious objects of his return, the development of some higher sense enabling me to feel the personality of this entity so strongly, and to know its characteristics so well, make Mr. Stockton, to me, as real as anyone I know in earth-life.”

At a sitting on August 5, 1909, Stockton wrote that he had been searching for years for the right person to continue his stories.  “I am very fortunate in finding you, my dear madam, as you are sensitive to my vibration, and so I reach you easily,” he informed her. “We are in perfect accord, and, together, will do a great work, and teach the old world what can be done even after the so-called end of man.”

At times, De Camp had difficulty in achieving the passive state necessary for effective communication.  Stockton told her not to think at all while writing, as best results are obtained when the conscious mind is not allowed to interfere with the subconscious.  “The struggle for me to overcome the opposition of your conscious mind has been very great,” Stockton counseled her.  “The strain on you has been severe also.”

Apparently, Stockton still held on to his ego as he insisted that De Camp not take credit for the stories or pass herself off as the author.  “These stories are not yours nor do they belong to anyone living on your plane,” he admonished her.  “They are mine and I shall never consent to their being sold under any other name.”  He also asked that ten percent of the proceeds from the sale of any book be given to his estate.

When De Camp questioned the frivolous and humorous nature of the stories, Stockton explained that his objective was to show that people passing from the body to other planes of existence do not suddenly change temperament and personality.  “I am no more capable of writing serious stuff now than when in the body, and if these stories were not written in a humorous style they would not be recognized as mine.”

Stockton further told De Camp that he felt like a clown at the circus because some of the greatest writers the world has ever known were waiting to find an instrument through which they could write.

When Dr. James H. Hyslop, (below) a psychical researcher, heard the story about De Camp and Stockton, he decided to investigate. He was told by the editor of Harper’s Monthly that the stories produced by De Camp’s were very much in character with those of Stockton.  Hyslop then arranged for De Camp to sit with Minnie Soule, a trance medium he had been studying.  Though Soule knew nothing about De Camp, who sat with her incognito, Stockton communicated through Soule and gave some personal history unknown to De Camp or Hyslop, but later verified as true, and also confirmed that he was the source of her stories, adding that her subconscious sometimes distorted what he had tried to say though not to any great extent.


Hyslop observed that there were many touches of personal character and wit coming through, but he asked Stockton for more evidence of personal identity.  Stockton replied:  “I really have a desire to do a certain kind of work, but deliver me from the class who cut up their relatives to see how their corpuscles match up … I think I won’t do for your business at all, but personally I have no fight with you.  You can go on and save all the critics you can, but don’t send them to me when they die … I had my share of them while I lived, and I wash my hands of the whole lot.”

After Stockton departed, George F. Duysters, who had been an international lawyer and De Camp’s employer before his death, began speaking through Mrs. Soule.  He, too, offered veridical information to confirm his identity. “It is especially significant that both personalities should appear to communicate,” Hyslop reported.  “They are not in any way connected with each other in life, and [they were not] relatives of Miss De Camp.”

Stockton’s story suggests that it is best to transition from this lifetime with no unfinished business as it might very well be difficult to find a living human to finish it for you.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow book

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