The Paranormal and Me (and the Future of Stranger Dimensions)

By on May 13, 2015 // Unsorted // 12 Comments

Image: ESA/Hubble and NASA/Judy Schmidt via CC by 2.0
Image: ESA/Hubble and NASA/Judy Schmidt via CC by 2.0

You know, last night I was going to post something about the current state of the paranormal, and share some of my personal grievances with it. But as much as I might be annoyed when I hear about yet another pay-walled conference that turns out to be completely bogus, I just don’t feel like it’s my place here to rant.

Besides, I’m the guy who’s written about pineapples on Mars and President Obama’s shapeshifting bodyguards. I’m not exactly a bastion of truth, over here.

So, instead of all that, I thought I’d post something a bit more positive: a quick history of what got me interested in the paranormal in the first place. Let’s start at the beginning.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I was surprised to find out that these books were banned in schools (or challenged? I’m not exactly sure how that works). It’s ironic, too, because I picked up the box set at a book fair in grade school. They were, and still are, three of my favorite books.

If you’re not familiar, the Scary Stories trilogy contains old folklore and urban legends collected and shared by writer Alvin Schwartz. However, while I very much enjoy the stories, the books are probably best known for those terrifying illustrations by Stephen Gammell. I mean, take a look:

Image: Stephen Gammel/Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Image: Stephen Gammell/Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

I was disappointed to hear the illustrations were changed in recent editions. If you ask me, we should allow children to be afraid, sometimes. It’s fun. These are the stories you tell around the campfire, the ones that make you sleep with the lights on. And they scared me in the same way Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes did, or Roald Dhal’s The Witches. That stuff freaked me out.

But I always thought that was part of being a kid.

Anyway, I don’t have much else to say about Scary Stories, except that these were my first real exposure to folklore, outside of a few ghost stories told by family members. But I didn’t really get into the paranormal/unexplained until I stumbled upon the books by a writer named…

Daniel Cohen

Image: Daniel Cohen's Real Ghosts

Image: Daniel Cohen’s Real Ghosts

Daniel Cohen is a prolific writer of children’s (or young adults?) books focusing on paranormal phenomena, though he himself is a skeptic. I have a stack of these.

While I haven’t read any of them in years, Cohen’s books are probably my greatest subconscious inspiration for how (or even why) I write about the paranormal. His books introduced me to UFOs and the Brown Lady and all sorts of strange ghost stories and mysteries. Great Ghosts, Real Ghosts, The Alien Files. Oh, and Southern Fried Rat, another compilation of bizarre urban legends. I’d still recommend all of these.

If anything, I’ve inherited Cohen’s tendency to keep his stories grounded by including alternative explanations and a healthy dose of skepticism.

Yes, it kills some of the excitement and can definitely suck the wind out of a good story, but I think it’s important, you know?

Haunted Heartland


Image: Beth Scott & Michael Norman’s Haunted Heartland

And then we have the books by Michael Norman and Beth Scott. I picked up a copy of Haunted Heartland at a Goodwill however many years ago. It was a crumpled up paperback that I read cover to cover, filled with ghost stories from the Midwest. I remember being genuinely spooked by some of them, and a lot of that had to do with how they were told.

Each story is sourced and neutral, leaving the reader to decide for him or herself whether or not the stories ring true. And that lack of any kind of obvious agenda always left me thinking, well, what if?

If you’re into ghosts, I’d recommend all of their books, as well. I really only mention them here, though, because I feel like it was around the time I was reading them that I came across a certain late night radio show…

Coast to Coast AM

So I’m lying in my bed in the middle of the night, bored to tears. I probably have school the next day (I don’t remember), but that doesn’t matter. I’m a night owl, maybe with a dash of insomnia. I have a cassette player with a built-in radio, so, since I’m bored, I decide to see what’s on around Midnight.

FM? Bad music. AM? Static, a few people talking. Then, I come upon what sounds like an old lady telling a ghost story. Then, a man asking her questions.

I’d just discovered Art Bell.

Now, I won’t pretend that I listened to every episode from then on, but it was a revelation to me. The Internet wasn’t this big thing back then, and I didn’t mess around with it much. So to hear people calling up and sharing their stories, and hearing all these topics discussed was fascinating. No, I didn’t necessarily believe any of it, but belief or truth never really mattered to me – it was exciting and fun and weird.

This is where I learned about the Hollow Earth, and listened to time travelers call in from the future, and heard ghost stories from around the world…

Stranger Dimensions

And those, I think, are my core inspirations, the ones that ultimately led to where we are today. I took all that, mushed it together, and turned it into a blog I update every once in a while when the mood hits me. So where do we go from here?

Well, I’ll be the first to admit: Stranger Dimensions has been pretty slow lately. I haven’t posted nearly as much as I’d like to (I know I’ve said all this before), but to be honest I’ve been taking a bit of a break. I’m almost – almost – ready to start again.

I have a lot planned, though. I’ve been reading more, and spending time actually investigating a few things and collecting sources. I want to delve a little deeper into certain topics, and I’ve already got some new, longer posts underway.

Really, to sum up all those long rants I’ve written but never posted, I just want you all to know that I’m not coming at you with an agenda. I’m not asking anyone for anything, I’m not telling anyone what to believe. I’m just here to talk about the paranormal in the weird way I do.

Anyway, I wonder: what got you interested in the paranormal? Was it a book you read? Something you experienced? Good old-fashioned curiosity? Feel free to share in the comments, and stay tuned!

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About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. He manages Stranger Dimensions in between changing aquarium filters and reading bad novels about mermaids.

  • a baby duck

    My dad gave me a copy of The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian when I was little. Not because he was into magic nor forteana, but to distract me. I remember getting lost reading about Saint Patrick’s purgatory and the nokke. The People’s Almanac also sparked my interest in forteana, even though I knew nothing about Charles Fort.

    Further interests ranged far into the occult, also reading about unusual phenomena, until I found Fortean Times in the early 1990’s. At the turn of the millennium I had an embarassing skeptic/atheist phase until I began writing at The Anomalist. PH showed me there was more than phenomenology like ghosts, UFOs, and sasquatch, introducing me to the philosophy of forteana and anomalistics. Phenomenology is just a distraction, akin to siddhis luring people from the path of enlightenment.

    • Rob

      Interesting stuff! To be honest, I probably do fall under the phenomenology side of things. I guess it really comes down to what you’re looking for in the paranormal: entertainment (or, as you say, distraction) or an actual search for truth. I’ve never really looked into the work of Charles Fort, though. Maybe I should.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Brandon Ryan

    My first dip into the paranormal was the tv show “Sightings.” I watched every episode as a kid, and the short time it was on Syfy, I watched before bed. (Terrible idea generally.) This sparked my interest, and then I started getting books from the library on various monsters and UFOs. It is weird because I am the only person in my immediate family who believes in the paranormal.

    • Rob

      I’d never heard of Sightings (I don’t think), so I looked it up. Seems like my kind of thing. Sad I missed it.

      I did spend a lot of time back in the day watching Unsolved Mysteries, though. There’s something about the style of those old documentaries, too, that made stuff uniquely believable.

      Even though I’m not a serious believer in most of this stuff, I’m also the only one in my family who’s into the paranormal. I guess, to many, it’s just a hobby like any other. Thanks for sharing!

  • liebowitz

    I began at the young age of seven, when my much older tween sister introduced me to the “Universal” horror movies. I was hooked. I watched every horror movie available on TV at the time. I also watched the “Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” reruns, as well as the then current “Night Gallery”. That lead to a natural progression into the lore that these TV shows and movies borrowed from: vampire and werewolf legend, hauntings, poltergeist activity, spontaneous combustion, cryptids, UFO accounts, etc.
    I began reading the likes of Hans Holtzer and J. Allen Hynek, both researchers in fringe phenomenon. This was in the mid-60s to early-70s, when there was very serious interest in the paranormal. Many Universities at the time had departments of parapsychology, so this all bordered on the edge of legitimacy to my young mind.
    Then I had a friend who experienced a haunting, along with members of his family (mother and father) begrudgingly backing up his story. That was intriguing (and thrilling) enough to keep my interest. I studied the occult and paid attention to anything of an esoteric nature. I also continued my love of horror fiction and weird tales.
    In the last twenty five years I’ve become less involved (even though I lived in a home that if pressed, I would have to say I can’t explain everything that happened there), and take the subject with so many grains of salt that I really can’t swallow it anymore… however, the hope of some confirming revelation of the paranormal in the future (as well as the fun of the fantasy, I must admit) keeps my ear to the ground and my head in the clouds!

    • Rob

      The Universal horror movies are great. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but both the H.G. Wells novel and the film of The Invisible Man really creeped me out. My favorite’s probably The Mummy with Boris Karloff. I actually watched Creature from the Black Lagoon not too long ago.

      The Twilight Zone is also a big one. I like that kind of science fiction the most, and we don’t really see it, anymore. We need Rod Serling back. Him and Richard Matheson.

      Thanks for sharing!

  • luke

    simply put i lived in a house that was very haunted, and then like you I started to listen to Art Bell when I got older.

    • Rob

      Thanks for sharing, Luke! Here’s to hoping that Art Bell’s new show brings back some of that old magic…and lasts longer than two weeks!

  • Katie

    I really enjoy keeping updated with this blog, not because I believe these specific stories but because it opens up the ‘what if’ questions in other areas. There’s a difference between being open-minded and gullible, and I think it’s wrong when people completely dismiss the paranormal and weird.
    Please carry on posting!

    • Rob

      You’re absolutely right, Katie. Not everyone who entertains these weird stories or ideas are gullible. They’re just approaching the paranormal with an open mind. That’s more or less how I’ve always viewed it.

      It does bother me, though, when those big “announcements” happen and end up being long cons. Thing is, I actually like some hoaxes and sharing stories that probably aren’t real, but I worry sometimes that I’m also contributing to the bad side of the paranormal when I do that.

      But, like I said, I’m not telling anyone what to believe or trying to lead them on. I’m just doing what I do (and I’ll definitely always be posting something).

      Thanks for reading!

  • Kym Crowley

    One Xmas my dad was somewhat low on cash so we three kids were taken to a toy store and told that we could pick one thing. I stumbled upon my first set of Tarot Cards and was completely intrigued. I was in and it just spread from there.
    Used to buy Fortean Times magazine in the 70’s. Read Colin Wilson’s The
    Occult etc. And as you quite rightly point out, it’s exciting, fun and just
    plain stimulating. Also many thanks for the site. Nice work…

    • Rob

      It’s so bizarre that you mention Colin Wilson’s The Occult, because I literally just picked up a copy of it today. Recently been thumbing through the Directory of Possibilities, as well…

      Anyway, thanks for sharing and following my website! I appreciate it.