by Sheila Connolly
I somehow find myself writing a paranormal romance/mystery series about people who see their dead ancestors. Not everyone in the stories, and not all the time. They don’t see random departed strangers either—only people who are direct lineal ancestors. Like me, my characters have a whole lot of them scattered all over Massachusetts, so it keeps happening. Sometimes it’s unexpected, and sometimes they go looking. They’re still learning how the whole thing works.
One problem, though (for me, not for them): when I started this series, I thought it would be a single book. My main character Abby Kimball discovers this unusual ability of hers after she moves to Massachusetts, but it’s a big surprise to her, and she doesn’t understand it. Even by the end of the book, she’s still pretty clueless. How handy for me: I didn’t have to explain what was happening to her.
Oops, the series kind of grew, and the fourth book is coming out shortly. Maybe readers don’t care if they don’t know the nuts and bolts of what Abby is experiencing. But I want it to make sense, and I want to play fair with the readers. I mean, as a writer I feel it’s cheating to just pop in a new psychic ability because it’s convenient to the plot. And I also have to make this phenomenon consistent from one book to the next. That means I have to understand what’s going on.
Oh, right, it’s not real. Or is it? There are plenty of reports on psychic sightings, and plenty of people who dismiss them as hysterical or false. That’s kind of interesting. There are supposed pictures of spirits, but then, images are pretty easy to manipulate (more so now than ever). There are television programs where ghost hunters wander around with electronic devices muttering things like “there’s some significant energy here” but are they for real? Does anybody really know? Or are they just giving us an hour’s entertainment?
I’ll admit up front that I have never seen a ghost or a spirit or a reincarnation or whatever you want to call it. I’d like to. I’ve visited places where I’ve felt that there was something unseen going on, but I can’t prove it. I’ve had extraordinary luck tracking down my own ancestors (for genealogy purposes), so much so that I’d like to think that maybe they want to be found and they’re lending an unseen hand. But try to prove that (I’ll be happy to provide a list of those coincidences if you’re interested)!
So all this leads to thinking about things like how we humans, and maybe more important, how other animals “see” things. Dogs can smell scents in minute amounts, far more than we can. Heck, a vulture a couple of hundred feet in the air can smell carrion on the ground below. Cats can see better in the dark than we can. Some animals are said to sense a coming earthquake, which isn’t mystical but is more likely based on sensing tiny tremors or changes in energy that humans miss.
And what about the things humans can’t see? Take color-blindness: some people are physiologically unable to perceive certain colors. We can prove scientifically that infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths exist—but we can’t see them. But some insects and birds can. Dog whistles are inaudible to human ears, but dogs hear them.
And don’t even get me started on dark matter, which is a hypothetical kind of matter that cannot be seen with telescopes but may account for most of the matter in the universe. The existence and properties of dark matter are inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter, on radiation, and on the large-scale structure of the universe. Dark matter has not been detected directly, making it one of the greatest mysteries in modern astrophysics. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
Just this past week, the Boston Globe published an article by Lisa Randall, who has written a book titled Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs. In the article she says that the goal of her book “was to illuminate the gap between our limited observations and the many barely perceived phenomena that permeate out reality.” Hooray! I am not alone in wondering about the things we cannot see.
So it is that big a jump to believe that there is some lingering imprint or energy from people who have gone before? Okay, let’s assume they don’t show up fully dressed in clothing of the right period, and start a conversation with whoever is seeing them. But what if we perceive or sense something vague, and our mind adds the details to make those whatever-they-ares more understandable to us?
Four books into this series which wasn’t going to be a series, my protagonist Abigail Kimball is still trying to understand, with the help of a few other people (and now a kitten). In the next book (what? There’s going to be a fifth?) I want my characters to take a look at the science. They may not find answers, but at least they’ll learn something.
A 2013 Harris Poll showed that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts. How about you? Have you ever seen anything you can’t explain? Or felt something odd, without any reason? Don’t worry—I’ll believe you.
The fourth book in the Relatively Dead series, Watch for the Dead, will be released this week, as soon as we get it uploaded.