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

Posted by on May 13, 2015

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

Image: Janine/Flickr via CC by 2.0
Image: Janine/Flickr via CC by 2.0

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!



Like this article? Subscribe to the Stranger Dimensions mailing list to receive updates whenever a new post is added. It's free, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Post by Rob Schwarz

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.