Thursday, January 17, 2019

Reading and Writing About Ghosts



I probably read at least four true ghost story books a year, sometimes (a lot) more, and sometimes less, depending on what I can find. I've been reading this material for so long that it can be difficult to find books with stories that I don't already know. For that reason, I now look for collections of tales shared by those who have experienced something paranormal, since those stories will be new to me.

Lately, though, I've been struggling to get through my beloved books, and I've been trying to figure out why. I think I might have an idea. If you have ever read any true ghost stories, you will know that they center around a place or an incident -- or even series of incidents-- that happened to someone. The story will include all the details that can make your hair stand on end or give you chills. That's the fun part! I think what's been on my mind is that most of these stories don't have any kind of resolution. Most of the time, no one ever finds out why this is happening. Why does this particular ghost haunt this place? Or person? Why does it disturb one special room, or do one specific action every night at ten o'clock? The details are always fascinating, but there are never, or rarely, any kind of explanation behind the haunting.

I think that may be why I write what I do: it lets me gather all the untidy and unexplained bits together and resolve them into one nice coherent story. By the time a reader finishes one of my books, if she or he doesn't understand the story behind the ghost, then I haven't done my job. 

I am currently reading a book of shared ghost stories that was put out by podcasters Tony and Jenny Brueski. Their podcast is called Real Ghost Stories Online and is centered around supernatural experiences that are called in by listeners. And the stories are both fascinating and frightening. But of course, for the majority of the tales, there is no explanation that can be shared. People move into houses and start experiencing unworldly occurrences, and who knows why that is happening?

The Dead Files, my favorite reality paranormal TV show, usually resolves the story, or at least a great deal of it, by the end. So did The Haunting of... with medium Kim Russo. And so did The Haunted Collector. Those shows are always at the top of my list and I think it's because they usually had some sort of conclusion. Don't get me wrong, though. I do still enjoy stories that investigate but do not present an explanation for what is going on in a haunted place. I liked Ghost Hunters and Celebrity Ghost Stories. I like Ghostly Encounters. And on a lighter note, I totally loved The Lowe Files! Those are sort of like "The-Journey-is-The-Point" kind of narratives and are fun in their own right. But I think that the ones that also have an explanation hit a different note with me, and so I go from "That was fun!" to "That was fun and really, really satisfying!" Since we're talking about the supernatural here, even I admit that sounds ridiculous, but there it is.

And so I guess I write my own stories so that there is a known beginning, middle, and end to the main haunting in my novel. (I qualify that because the ghost stories that my characters tell on Thursday night are closer to reality and frequently have no explanation.) But the novels I write will include a resolution to the ghost story. Cassie Valentine and Michael Penfield make sure of that.

And I guess that's the beauty of fiction. It lets me resolve, tidy, satisfy, and complete the story so that everyone goes away with a sense of completion. Unfortunately, life just isn't quite like that.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Do You Believe?

I once talked to a woman who told me that she had seen a leprechaun. She was from Scotland and was visiting Ireland when this happened. She said that she had just finished touring a particular site, although I can't remember if it was a castle or an historic home, and saw a leprechaun standing at the side of the path. She thought it was one of the most adorable little statues she had ever seen, but wondered why it was wearing a blue suit instead of the iconic green one that proper Irish leprechauns wear. And as she stood there staring at it, wondering about its clothing, it walked away and disappeared into the nearby underbrush. This woman was in healthcare. She did years of arduous and scientific study to achieve her position, and she was neither flighty nor prone to hallucinations. But she saw a leprechaun. And I believe her.

I believe there are all sorts of wonders on this planet that we don't know anything about, but sometimes are allowed to get a glimpse. And I feel sorry for all of those people who unhesitatingly snap that such things do not exist and that anyone who sees or experiences something like this is mistaken or crazy or both.

Someone once said to me rather wistfully that he wished he could expand his mind enough to shift his perspective, or something along those lines. I figured he meant he wished he could find it in himself to open up to things that were unexplained. I gather that means that he can't; that he has a knee-jerk response to anything out of the everyday that puts a kabosh on him being able to accept that it could be true. And I think that's amazingly sad. I would struggle to put a cap on my thinking like that. I must be like the Ghostbusters - "ready to believe." Maybe I'm super-gullible, but no one's ever sold me snake oil. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I don't think so. My degree was also heavily based in science. 

Einstein once said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Of course, if you have a brain like Einstein's, you can say something like that and no one is going to call you a fool. At least, not to your face. But maybe he was on to something?

Because of what I do and where I tend to go, I usually am around people who believe what I believe, or are at least open-minded to the idea that leprechauns and other little people, Bigfoot and other types of creatures, ghosts and other sorts of paranormal beings, all exist. When I meet someone who can't even admit the possibility, I find it fascinating as much as I find it to be sad. Did they grow up in a family where talk about these kinds of things was squashed immediately? Did something happen to disillusion them so badly that any thing that can't be seen, touched, or otherwise tangibly experienced can't exist? Were they lied to so badly and repeatedly that they can't take someone else's word for it, even if that someone is a practicing dentist? (I knew a dentist who saw Bigfoot while out in Oregon.)

My father was a doctor and as hard-core a skeptic as you could find. I think he figured I was a little mad, but I always got good grades at school so that was okay. One day I asked him if he thought spontaneous human combustion was possible. I had just run into the concept and was freaking out internally at the thought. He asked me what it was and when I told him, he just said, "I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often" because medically speaking, it made sense to him. OH NO! That didn't ease my anxieties at all. On the other hand, it made me think he was a lot cooler than I had previously thought.

I'm not sure where skepticism comes from. It's almost like a skeptic is too afraid to try believing in something. Maybe they don't want others to think they're silly or unrealistic. Maybe they once believed in something that turned out not to be true, so they don't want to get fooled again. Maybe they don't want to appear too gullible, I don't know. I also don't know where my willingness to believe almost anything might exist comes from. Maybe I'm silly and unrealistic? But the view from behind my eyes allows a breadth and depth to my worldly landscape that is just so much more fun! So I guess I'd rather be flighty and silly than serious and so down-to-earth that I can't buy into the weird stuff. Besides, believing in all this is kind of part of my job description.

So how about you? Do you believe?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Brain Finds Stories for Idle Minds


I remember posting previously that when I’m not actively working on a book, my brain will start to come up with stories that play out while I dream. Since I’m currently between tales, I had one of those dreams the other night.

As with most dreams that fade after waking, the details are a bit fuzzy. But there are some things I remember clearly. For one thing, I dreamed I was spending time with a friend from my high school days. We were in town for someone’s wedding. Now, this particular friend happens to be gifted in that peculiar way that so many of my friends seem to be. In fact, there are times that she is flat-out scary. If I were to tell her that she ran the gamut from “psychic” to “psycho” she’d just laugh at me and probably agree.

So in my dream, she and I had gone for a jog. This is not something we’ve ever done, but it is in line with something we would have done at one point. And while we were running, she…disappeared. I mean, she simply vanished. She was about three strides ahead of me one moment, and the next she was nowhere to be found. My dream-self looked for her: checking ahead to see if she’d gone into sprint mode; looking down the next alley (we were city jogging in my dream) to see if she’d turned a corner; glancing behind to see if I had somehow passed her. But no, she wasn’t anywhere around me.

Then the scene completely switched and I was alone, in bed for the night. Something had awakened me from sleep and in the brief second from deep sleep to full wakefulness, I realized there was someone else in the room. Someone no longer of this world, so to speak. I was aware of it and it was aware of me. So I did what any normal person would do: I pulled the blankets up over my head and willed it to go away. It didn’t want to be ignored. I could hear it moving around on the other side of the bed, shifting things, knocking against the closet door, rustling alongside the mattress as if it were walking right up against the blankets. At one point, it even turned on the light and I could see brightness through the covers over my face, but I ignored that and at last, after a few more bangings and rustlings, it went away.

And all while this was going on, my dream-self was aware that I was dreaming and also aware that something in my real bedroom was making real noise and also flashed a light. The light can be explained, even in the real, wide-awake world. We charge our phones on a night-table that’s up against the wall and every time my husband gets an e-mail, which is frequently—even in the middle of the night, his phone screen lights up like a Hollywood premiere, so I imagine that is what I was seeing, whether awake or asleep. The noises, however, stand on their own.

I’m not surprised I would dream about a wedding even if it stayed in the background. That’s coming up in a future story. And I’m not really surprised I would dream about a nocturnal visitor from beyond the grave. They’re on my mind all the time anyway. I assume this is just my writing brain telling me to get out of holiday mode and get on with it, already. Lord knows the house has been telling me the same thing.

Scenes and dialogue have been coming to me so I guess I’d better make a start very soon. Otherwise the dreams will keep coming. And I can’t even talk about my last waking dream this morning…