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.
I can imagine the dolls whispering ‘First positions, everyone!’ as they heard you returning . . .
What kind of book did these hard-skeptic, affronted readers think they were getting? I digress…
I tend to assume concrete explanations for mysterious things (the journalist in me, I guess) however, I think it would be foolish to assume we as a species already know absolutely everything about how the universe works. So, my thoughts can be summed up with my favorite Hamlet quote. “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” (I know there’s a “Horatio” in there but it’s more quotable without the name. Sorry, Shakespeare. )
p.s. Your doll test would have scared the daylights out of me as a kid. Maybe that’s why I grab onto the concrete, because to do otherwise is too scary!
I have always thought of novels that intertwine the supernatural with the concrete world to be much more fascinating than the standard “whodunnit” mystery novels. I am much more intrigued when a story leaves me with just a little doubt.
Your doll tests freaked me out a bit at first, but your dolls assured me it was just a phase you were going through and that I shouldn’t worry.
Scott, it’s funny how when you’re a kid you want your dolls to be alive, but when you’re an adult, you really hope they’re not…
Dale, I agree, both as a reader and as an author. Opening a story to the supernatural broadens plot possibilities. It makes me think in different ways. Of course, adding supernatural elements doesn’t mean I get to do whatever I want. Plot points still need to feel organic to the story. But the “what ifs” are intriguing!
Kristina, I tend to think that some of the vitriol I get from “affronted readers” is based in fear. Thinking outside the concrete, as you point out, CAN be scary. For some people, it can rock everything relied upon to get through life.
But that’s a whole other blog post …
See, Bob? You knew they were alive, too!
I’d be a fool to think otherwise . . . 🙂
Will you ever finish the Angel Cafe trilogy? Or is Newport the 3rd book? I loved both of the first two books.
Hi, Tammy! The Angel Cafe trilogy was finished years ago. Alas, the Simon & Schuster imprint that published the first two books no longer publishes fiction, so I’ve been unable to find a publisher for the third. I’m sorry I left you hanging! But — you never know, right? It’s nice to “see” you here! Thanks for asking.