Those of you who are not authors may or may not know this, but one of the most common questions writers get asked is, “Where did you get the idea for this story?” Considering I’ve just launched my newest book, SHADA, the first book in the EMBER COLE series, I expect to hear this question a lot.
Well, let me share with you a secret. At least one of the core episodes in SHADA is based on a personal experience. A paranormal one.
That might shock some people who know me. After all, I’m the author of a Christian fiction book, MOST LIKELY. And furthermore, those who’ve bothered to do any digging know I’m a Messianic Rabbi In Training (MRIT). (Though it’s more like In Waiting these days.) People who read this might say to me, “Hold on! Aren’t you kind of a religious guy? Are you really saying the paranormal is real? You, a guy who believes in God?”
Well, let me tell you my own personal tale. My brush with the paranormal, as it were.
You see, I haven’t always been an MRIT. A few decades ago, I was a kid, like anyone else. Bright for my age, perhaps, but not always wise. We’ve all been there, right?
Now, I loved to read from the my earliest years. And once a topic caught my attention, I’d devour stacks of books until they became repetitive and had nothing new to teach me. That’s how I became almost an expert on old films, TV shows, and radio dramas and comedies that had gone off the air long before I was even born. I studied dinosaurs, the planets, archeology.
And, of course, like most young boys, eventually my fancy turned to monsters and ghosts and the like. Whether it was Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, vampires, werewolves, UFOs or haunted houses, once my attention gravitated there, I had to read everything I possibly could on the topic.
For a period of time, séances fascinated me. Why? Just the very idea of being able to talk to people who lived before you did was tempting. What entranced me about séances was the same tantalizing question that Jeni Taylor poses to her friends at the opening of SHADA:
Eventually, I became so excited by the possibility that I shared the idea with my sister. We sat down and made up a list of everyone we might possibly want to talk to. My sister was three years younger than me, so she couldn’t think of many people. That’s okay. I’d soon filled up two sides of a sheet of paper with different folks.
I had dead musicians, dead politicians, military leaders and other historical figures. I know Abe Lincoln was on my list. So was Elvis Presley. The problem for an imaginative kid like me wasn’t coming up with names, it was narrowing the list down.
I didn’t prepare as well as Jeni, Ember, Willow and Shada. When it became clear we were going to attempt a séance of our own, we simply waited for a time when our parents were going to be out of the house for a while. My sister wanted to invite two of her friends over, because she knew Elvis was on my list and her friends would want to talk to him, too, if we actually made contact.
This was the late 1970s, mind you. Elvis had died only a couple years prior to my little séance brainstorm. He was still quite popular, and some kids still remembered him and missed him.
I was maybe twelve at the time. It’s hard to remember for sure. That would have put my sister at around age nine. Her friends were ten and seven. I think I agreed to let them come just so we could have a group of four for the séance.
Now, as much as I’d read about séances, I’d never been to one, nor did I have a clue how to properly conduct one. I knew it would be good to have a candle or two lit. I knew the room had to be dark. And I knew, or thought I did, that we needed at least four people. How did one conjure forth a deceased spirit? As far as I knew, you just called them forth.
I figured the worst that could happen was … nothing. I was wrong.
Anyway, one day my parents announced they were going into town to get some groceries. That guaranteed us at least an hour to ourselves. Paulette asked if she could call her friends and have them come over. Mom and Dad agreed, and left before they arrived. We were just beyond the age when we needed a baby sitter for short trips like this; or, at least, I was.
Once my sister’s friends arrived, we gathered the candle and matches and went up to my sister’s room, where we’d decided to hold the grand event. I had my list of names with me. It took some time to calm my sister’s friends down. They were all excited. We argued a bit about who to call forth first, but finally settled on Elvis.
Never once did it enter our minds that those who are dead, even if they could hear us, might have better things to do than come and chat with a bunch of pre-teen kids. Sure, they might have been too busy in life to have time for us, but now? They had eternity, right? It also never entered our minds that there might be, at any given time, dozens of other groups of kids, and maybe even some adults, attempting to call forth the same exact folks at the same exact time.
I think we assumed the omnipresence of God somehow extended to anyone who was dead. Or something. Maybe we were just too young to know any better.
Anyway, after a lot of hassles, we got settled, got the candle lit, and began our little séance. I hadn’t kept track of time very well, but I knew we need to “get the show on the road,” as my parents might say.
So, there in the candle-lit dark of my sister’s bedroom, the four of us joined hands. I began, for some reason, by reciting the Lord’s prayer. Not sure why. Then I cleared my throat and said the following:
“We call to the spirit of Elvis Presley. Elvis, if you are here, please give us a sign. Let us know you’re with us.”
What happened next scared all of us. But to understand it, you have to appreciate a few facts first.
First of all, my parents were not much into rock and roll. They loved country, polkas, ragtime, big band music, gospel, and jazz … but mostly, country. They had never before owned anything by Elvis Presley.
Second, you must understand that we lived in a small enough house that we ought to have heard my parents pull up and come in the house, returning early from their grocery run. But none of us did.
Third, you need to realize that what happened next took place perfectly on cue. As in, within a couple seconds from the moment I finished saying, “Let us know you’re with us.”
Here’s what we heard: The sound of Elvis Presley singing “Blue Hawaii.” And it was coming from downstairs!
We all screamed. My sister’s two friends turned five shade paler than pure white, jumped up, and ran down the stairs, past my confused parents and out the door and all three blocks home. Their mother and father didn’t let them come over for another visit for a month.
My sister screamed, too. I screamed a bit less, but I did scream at first. In the confusion, though, the candle got knocked over onto an old blanket we’d spread out and I had to put out the flame before it really caught on fire. As I was doing that, my sister high-tailed it out of the room and down the stairs.
The next thing I heard was my mother’s stern voice: “Craig Allen Hansen! Get down here right now!”
Being only twelve, and with all the commotion that had been caused, I had no choice but to confess to the whole thing to my parents. Fibbing about what we were up to didn’t even occur to me. I told them all about our séance plans and how, right when I asked Elvis to let us know he was with us, the music had started.
My mom told me their side of the story as my dad silently sipped coffee, his eyes sparkling with mirth.
When they went in to get groceries, there had been a stack of records on sale, most of them only a couple bucks, which was really cheap for album-length music, even back then. So, out of the blue, Mom decided to grab some Elvis records, even though she hadn’t listened to him much when he was alive, except for his gospel stuff.
When they pulled in the drive and carried the groceries in, Mom wanted to hear “how the record sounded,” and the first thing she did, even before hollering, “We’re home,” was put the Elvis record on.
Right as I was asking for a sign of his presence.
It was freaky, weird timing. Pure coincidence.
And it scared both my sister and me enough to know that séances are nothing to mess around with.
There are echos of that personal paranormal experience in SHADA. Whether the girls in my novel learn the same lesson I did, well … that would be telling, wouldn’t it?
But now you know, as Paul Harvey often said, the rest of the story.