I was one of those kids who knew my dolls were alive. I figured that whenever I left the room, they relaxed and chatted casually amongst themselves. (I ignored the idea that this could happen while I was asleep. The thought of them dancing around while I was present crossed the line into terror, and I wasn’t going there.)
Although it was obvious to me that dolls were alive, the outside world did not agree. So, I set up a series of tests to prove it. There was the “location” test, where I noted each doll’s specific place and pose before leaving the room (they were so good at staying still!). When I returned–usually abruptly, aiming for the surprise factor–one or more of my dolls had always neglected to snap back to her original pose. There was the “hunger” test. Since dolls never got to eat, it made sense that when left alone, they’d be hard-pressed to resist a cookie strategically placed in the middle of the room. Sure enough, careful examination always revealed a discreet nibble or two, more than enough proof for me, but maybe not enough to convince the doubters.
Oh, how I wanted to convince the doubters…
I don’t think I was a weird kid (I’ll leave that to you). Most kids are like this, able to intertwine “real” and “not real” at will. Those boundaries solidify for each of us in different ways for different reasons. Fortunately for me, I’m a writer. This has allowed me to keep the boundaries flexible for a long time.
Each of my three published books involves the supernatural. As with the thought of dolls parading about in my presence, I’m not comfortable writing horror. I lean more toward allowing a paranormal layer to co-exist with physical reality in a matter-of-fact way. For some of my characters, this reflects the world as they understand it to be. Other characters are not as accepting–nor should they be if there’s any hope of moving a plot along.
I’m used to my characters’ responses to the unseen in my books. I was less prepared for the reactions of some of my readers. For a very small number of them, the supernatural element in my stories isn’t simply unbelievable or even merely fictional…it’s downright offensive, a siege on their five senses and everything they know to be true. For these readers, that boundary between tangible and intangible has progressed beyond solid to something utterly impassable. They let me know that not only have I failed to pull the wool over their eyes, they’re insulted that I even tried.
Humans come in layers. We can rotate between belief and doubt over the same issue(s) throughout our lives. We’re also capable of believing and doubting simultaneously. This was true for me every time I left the room before each doll test. I’d announce loudly to the dolls that I knew very well they were alive, so if they wanted to hang out or eat a cookie or do whatever it was living dolls did, their secret was safe with me. I knew that if by some sad chance the dolls weren’t alive, they wouldn’t hear me anyway. But if they were alive…they might reveal secrets I’d never know if I didn’t take the chance and ask.
Even if the doll tests didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, they did help put into perspective some of the unexplainable events that followed in my life. I’ve learned that not everything has to be explained. I’ve also learned that there’s no point in trying to convince those who doubt.
Best of all, I know that suspending disbelief is worth the risk.