Writing the Paranormal

Paranormal mystery is kind of the rage now. Cozy mysteries with a paranormal edge, whether about ghosts, vampires, psychics, or mediums are all the rage. When I decided to try my hand at writing a mystery, I didn’t know it would have a ghost. It hadn’t really occurred to me to write a paranormal cozy, but my fantasy roots weren’t going to be denied and before I knew it, I had a ghost as a character and there were paranormal investigation techniques in play.  When I told a few friends what I was working on, they all assured me that paranormal mystery was really hot. Was it? I thought I should take some time to see what else was in the market, what other authors who wrote in the paranormal mystery genre were doing. But what I found, over and over, was that ghosts, especially in cozy mysteries, didn’t act like ghosts. Or the people interacting with them weren’t normal people, but were psychic descendants of witches or had some other gift of mediumship that allowed them to interact with the ghost characters as if the dead were living and breathing entities.  

After more than a decade of doing actual paranormal investigation, the fictional ghost that blithely floats through the wall and starts chit-chatting with the main character as though they’re at a cocktail party (Does anyone even have cocktail parties anymore?) absolutely drove me nuts. I found myself forcing my way through ghosts who materialize out of the ceiling, ghosts that tattle on eloquently in modern slang despite being two-hundred years old, ghosts that just speak their minds, even if only the newly-fledged-witchling main character can hear them. And rarely did I find a character who wasn’t gifted in some special way in order to interact with the dead. And over and over, I found myself putting books down and groaning. Even the most skilled medium will tell you that’s not how it works, and the most experienced ghost hunter may go their entire career without a single sighting of a ghostly mist, let alone a solid apparition that stops in for a chat.

With Kami, I wanted to present something much more akin to the experiences that those of us who research the paranormal are familiar with. That meant starting with, not necessarily a skeptic, but a character who is able to quantify her experiences with the paranormal through a critical and analyzing eye. I wanted Kami to be normal, not some magical grandaughter of a mysterious Gypsy clan or half-vampire or witch who suddenly comes into her powers. She’s the lower-middle class daughter of divorced parents, taking law classes by night, working in a law office by day. She’s a skeptic, but a healthy one, and doesn’t lose her nut when faced with circumstances that she can’t explain. She can take her understanding of law and bend it to the rules of science for experimenting with the paranormal events she is faced with. 

The other thing I decided that I wanted to do was present a variety of paranormal experiences that matched more closely to reality than the majority of paranormal mysteries on the market. Many people, even if they don’t technically believe in ghosts or the paranormal, have had experiences with recently deceased loved ones, those little messages that say “Hello, we’re okay, you’re okay, don’t worry.”  so I knew Kami had to experience that kind of ghostly experience, as that’s the most common. I also needed to show her doing an investigation and trying to communicate with a spirit in a “trapped” situation, where the messages are unclear, the sensations hazy, and the reaching out happens through the thick fog that separates the living from the dead. Basically, what every paranormal investigator literally worth their salt is trying to do.

I think I’m halfway afraid of going this more realistic route with the Kami books. My friends and family who know my fantasy writing might be disappointed that the ghosts aren’t more like the more dynamic ephemeral creatures in my fantasy writing, and my new readers who are used to the interactions depicted on “Medium” and “Ghost Whisperer” may end up sorely disappointed when an investigation doesn’t give more than a cryptic clue.  All I can say is that when it comes to the departed around us, and the mixture of art and science that is ghost hunting, things are never as clear as we might hope, not even for the most open-minded. 


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