Julie Rieger, the President, Chief Data Strategist, and Head of Media at 20th Century Fox, just wrote a book — but it's not the book you think. Given her stature in corporate America, Rieger could have easily started her writing career with a book about being a badass woman in the workplace. But this executive-turned-author's debut comes in the form of The Ghost Photographer, a witty and unapologetic memoir about Rieger's forays into the world of the paranormal.
I see you, shaking your head at the mere insinuation of the spectral realm. Rieger was once like you. "I was a skeptic before it happened," Rieger told Refinery29. Rieger never expected she would, one day, regularly take photos of ghosts with her iPhone and develop a psychic antenna.
Then, Rieger's mother and best friend died in close succession, and Rieger started receiving messages from the "other side." As Rieger's psychic abilities sharpened and her house became “Grand Central Station of ghosts,” she wrote notes for the memoir she knew she had to pen. “Professional writers go on journeys or adventures so they have something to write about. I was on one and felt like I had no choice but to write about it,” Rieger said. "I needed to tell my story to serve others.”
Rieger came out at work twice. First, as a lesbian. Then, as a paranormal explorer (her office is full of crystals). With the publication of The Ghost Photographer on October 9, she's coming out on an even grander scale. Refinery29 spoke to Rieger about her journey from Oklahoma native to executive to ghost photographer, and beyond. These are the juiciest takeaways.
On the catalyst for her paranormal explorations:
"Grief is what kickstarted the whole journey. I lost my mom to Alzheimer’s. When you’re grieving, you’re in chaos. The chaos can make you rethink what you believe in and who you are. I started to shed all the rigidity about my belief systems. I was a skeptic before it happened."
I'm always looking for ghosts in the photograph. I can’t help it. It’s now a compulsion.
On her method of dealing with ghosts in the house:
"It was like Grand Central Station of ghosts in our house for a while. It got a little unruly. Some people have rules in their house — no shoes, no running, hats off at dinner. So, I set up a 10 rules for ghosts called Julie’s Ghost House Rules. The first one is the most important for people scared by ghosts: 'I am in charge, and this is non negotiable.' My second rule is: 'Only ghosts that serve the highest good of all people and animals are allowed to enter.' Any ghost with ill will can’t even cross the threshold of our driveway. No ghosts allowed in the bedroom. No way man, you’re out. They’re allowed to be in photographs, though.
"They listened to me. Everything calmed down once I exerted my humanness. That’s a really important thing for people to understand — you can be in charge."
On ghost photography:
"Ghost photography was the inciting event, when everything turned for me. That's why I call the book that. Do I take pictures of ghosts on a regular basis now? Somewhat. I'm always looking for ghosts in the photograph. I can’t help it. It’s now a compulsion."
On how her psychic abilities interact with her work life:
"I take a lot of cues from colors. The day that the Disney acquisition of Fox was announced was the first day I ever saw a pink color appear during my morning ritual. That day, I led with my heart. There were a lot of people who were freaked out and scared. Most of the people that I work with knew about this [side of me] because I bring my whole person to work. People here have been fantastic, they’re rooting for me. Will there be people who avoid me at the commissary? Probably. Because they're afraid I know what’s really going on with them."
On the craziest stories that didn't make the book:
"There was a hilarious story about a friend of ours [Rieger and her wife, Suzanne] that had passed — that's a sentence you don’t hear often. 'I have a funny ghost story.' Who says that? Our friend Pana came to visit me in the house. She opened the door, came in, and made an audible noise. In life, Pana was someone with whom I had to have a strict rule in the house, which was: Close the door. She always left damn door open. It was an ongoing thing. Lo and behold, in spirit form, she left the door open just to play with me. When we cross over, we’re still us. She’s still funny. She was making a point. Now, that’s the story I tell about Pana, not the torturously long illness she dealt with.
"Also, it sounds weird when I say it out loud, but we have an olive tree in the front yard of our house. I call him Oliver. I’ve communicated with Oliver. During a big drought here a few years back, he told me about a device — a contraption to make — to help keep him fed that involved putting a bucket in the root system. It worked. He’s thriving."
On the most accurate ghost movie:
"The movie Ghost captured so many of the important things. I loved the arc of Whoopi Goldberg’s character. She was faking it, then it became real. I know what that feels like. All of a sudden, an empty room is now full. Or I’ll get this buzzing in my left ear, and I’ll have to tell the spirits to step away because they’re too close, and I can’t hear them. The movie also showed Patrick Swayze's character moving a penny — ghosts can do that."
On what her mom thinks of the memoir:
“I have a great connection with my mom now. My mother was hilarious in life and is so funny in spirit. She calls it her book. She’ll ask things like, ‘How's my book doing, baby?’"
On writing the memoir:
"I certainly went through some questions in my mind as I was writing it. This does sound kind of crazy. Then, I got to this very comfortable place of, 'Why would I hold anything back?' I know I’m not the only one. Once I started telling people my stories, they couldn’t interrupt me fast enough to tell me theirs. The whole idea of this memoir was to provide a mirror for folks. You read it, and you see yourself. You can start navigating your own world."
On how her position at 20th Century Fox lends her story credibility:
“My job revolves around empirical data. When you do what I do, you have to be very objective and very straightforward. And when you're objective and straightforward, it’s hard to imagine that person would spend four years making up a story like this. The senior level that I hold in corporate America has allowed people who believe in the paranormal to actually become validated."