I don’t write “paranormal novels,” but the paranormal and supernatural do show up in my historical fiction in a variety of ways.
Saint Maggie, for example, contains a near-death experience. Maggie becomes ill and finds herself “lifted up and taken to another place. A wonderful, warm, peaceful light was all around.” In that place she encounters her late husband, John Blaine. When she indicates that she wants to stay with him, John tells her, no. “You need to care for our girls first, and for Eli.” Then he gives her a mysterious message, “There are troubles, Maggie…. Things are wrong. But with the good Lord’s help, you will persevere. You will make things right.” Just what he means gets played out after she wakes up and finds herself in her own bed.
Walk by Faith has a bit of a ghost story in it. In the opening chapter of the novel, Maggie is standing outside as she watched the boarding house burn down.
Maggie knew what she was referring to. Noises she once had attributed to creaking floorboards and a settling house slowly began to sound like someone pacing the hallways. And then, this morning about one a.m. she had been awakened by an insistent pounding on her door. As she struggled out of bed, Maggie had noticed a glow out her bedroom window. When she parted the curtains, she was horrified to see the Gazette shop engulfed in flames. When she realized that the smell of smoke was coming from within her own house, she understood that the boarding house was afire, too.
Later, she broaches the subject with friends Emily Johnson and Matilda Strong, which launches a discussion about ghosts.
“Do you know, someone knocked on my door and woke me up to warn me about the fire? I thought it was one of you, but you were running down the stairs when I came out of my room.”
“We thought you knocked on our door.” Emily frowned. “It wasn’t you?”
Maggie shook her head.
“Well, I know who it was,” Matilda said with certainty. …
“There are no such things as ghosts.” Despite her words, a chill went up Maggie’s spine.
“Begging your pardon, but there are. I seen ‘em at the plantation. And I seen ‘em and felt ‘em here, too.”
Emily pulled her blanket tightly around her shoulders. “My mama said she saw Granny’s ghost. We were living up here and Granny was in Virginia. She had been sold to another plantation and was working in the house kitchen. But Mama saw her. That’s how she knew Granny had passed.”
“Oh, come now,” Maggie argued. “Shouldn’t we leave such superstition behind?”
“This isn’t superstition,” Emily insisted. “These are just things we can’t understand. Maggie, you can’t deny it. All of us have heard those footsteps. All of us heard someone knocking on our doors tonight – and it wasn’t any of us. We know who it was.”
Who was it? Sorry, I can’t say. “Spoilers, sweetie” (to quote River Song from Doctor Who).
Later Maggie finds her journals mysteriously saved from the fire and hiding under a ceramic bowl in her house’s burned wreckage. Maggie eventually raises the subject with Eli who waves it off, because he adheres to his skepticism about all things supernatural. “You needed to account for the strange occurrences, and you did it to the best of your reckoning.”
Eli, of course, has his own encounters with the supernatural. In Walk by Faith, after witnessing the brutality of a friend’s injury and death in a field hospital, he goes outside and rails at God. At the very end of the book, he disavows the possibility of miracles in a conversation with Maggie. However, God is not easily put off by a mortal’s refusal to accept the miraculous. A few paragraphs later, Eli has an epiphany as he presses his hand to Maggie’s abdomen and for the first time feels the faint movement of their baby.
…suddenly the moment was holy because he loved this child even when it didn’t really know him or him it. And that was holy. Love was holy. His child, living in its little wet, warm, dark world had no idea how much it was loved by its father. It was loved simply because it was there, and it was his. And grace washed over him, and he felt himself sinking beneath its waves
Frankie also has an epiphany in Walk by Faith. When as she is working in a field hospital, she looks at the face of a Confederate soldier. Throughout the book, she wrestles with a dislike and fear of the soldiers of the Confederate States of America. But now, as she gazes upon the injured man, she abruptly sees the face of Jesus, and this has an impact on her compassion. Suddenly she isn’t simply serving injured men, she is serving Christ.
Not many supernatural goings-on happen in A Time to Heal but Seeing the Elephant has a few. An example of this are Eli’s nightmares. First and foremost, they are a symptom of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But something breaks into them toward the end of the book, something that works to reduce his fear. However, because he is Eli, this also increases our hero's confusion about who or what was speaking to him. He tries to parse the experience with Maggie later:
“It started like all the other nightmares, but then…” He cleared his throat. “Well, then you suddenly weren’t dead. You were alive. You told me you always were alive and I wasn’t mad but rather afraid and confused and I needed to have faith. And…” He sighed. “Maggie, I got this funny feeling I wasn’t talking to you, but to someone else.”
Obviously, Eli is on a spiritual journey throughout the series. And although I’m not sure where he will end up, but I do know there’s a place in God’s heart even for a man who has an armload of questions.
Finally, we have “The Christmas Eve Visitor,” a short story that introduces Ira Strauss, a mysterious Jewish peddler who shows up at Maggie’s door one worried, unhappy Christmas Eve. He brings with him gifts of an unusual sort and then… well, again, spoilers. Bu who is Ira? What is Ira? It depends on which character you ask. Frankly, I’d like to bring him back sometime. I really liked the guy.
Clearly, I enjoy putting supernatural elements into my stories. They add mystery, they can move a plot along, and they can allow a character to wrestle with their faith.
Perhaps someday I’ll write a story that uses the paranormal and supernatural in a larger way. I might make it the main plot. It all depends on how I’m inspired.
By the way, inspiration itself is sort of mysterious. I mean, break the word down. According to dictionary.com, it comes from the Latin word inspirare, which means “to breath into.” The word’s usage circa 1300 ]expressed the “immediate influence of God or a god.” So, there you go: the supernatural colliding with the natural.
Life is quite mysterious, if you take the time to notice.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder