Hi, Maggie, and thanks for inviting me to your blog! I’d love to tell your readers a bit about writing paranormal mysteries.
I feel a bit like I’m in a Monty Python sketch when I say there are two parts to a paranormal mystery: the paranormal and the mystery. But working both of these together can be tricky. Mystery readers expect certain rules to be followed, and those rules can’t be violated by the laws of your paranormal world. And in order to suspend disbelief on the paranormal side—ghosts and demons and vampires—the writer needs to ground the reader somehow in a “real” world. This means being as accurate as possible, where you can.
But first, let’s tackle the paranormal.
There are lots of ways to approach fantasy. You can take the J.K. Rowling route and build off existing legends, or you can create your own world, with its own rules. In my paranormal mysteries, I decided to stick to “real world” magical rules and philosophies. This has given me the chance to research magic – from alchemy to shamanism—and it’s been tremendous fun, giving me an excuse to step away from my writing desk and talk to modern day magical practitioners.
However, one challenge is that magical practitioners today often don’t agree with each other about magical history or about how things work. So in the end, I go with the “answer” that makes the best story and that
For example, in The Alchemical Detective, I wanted to include demons. There’s a branch of magic called Goetia which looks at demons as projected parts of the self. And if we can learn to control our dark parts, our inner demons, we can direct them to a better purpose. Goetic magicians exert this control through magical ritual. As a writer, I wanted to show my heroine Riga Hayworth’s internal conflict, and thought this concept would do the trick. But then I spoke with a demon hunter, who strongly disagreed with this. For her, demons are real dark entities. This perspective would add more action to the story. So in the end, I split the difference, with the heroine dealing with flesh and blood demons that mirrored her own internal struggles.
Because I’m writing about the paranormal, I really try to make the “normal” parts of the stories accurate. It’s a funny thing in books, but readers who will happily accept fairies or ghosts will get really annoyed if I say something incorrect about, for example, the way a gun works. And I get it—you’re taking the reader on a journey and if a fact gets messed up, the reader is pulled out of the story. So writing a paranormal mystery becomes a balancing act between reality and fantasy.
For example, my first published novel, The Metaphysical Detective, is set in the San Francisco Bay area, a real place. My favorite pie shop, knitting store, and wine bar are all in the book (though I used different names for the businesses to protect the innocent).
I also try to keep the police procedures as “correct” as possible. I’m lucky because through my martial arts class, I’ve met some police officers who’ve been very generous with their time. And my martial arts instructor has helped plot out the fight scenes.
One thing I will absolutely not do in my writing, is have a fantasy solution to a murder mystery. Although my stories are a mix of mystery, fantasy, and romance, the puzzle has to be fair to the reader. There will always be a trail of “real” clues to a “live” murderer, which the heroine and reader can solve together. Crimes committed by ghosts are not allowed!
About Kirsten Weiss
Kirsten Weiss is the author of the Riga Hayworth series of paranormal mysteries: the urban fantasy, The Metaphysical Detective, The Alchemical Detective, The Shamanic Detective, and The Infernal Detective.
Kirsten worked overseas for nearly fourteen years, in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. Her experiences abroad not only gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature, but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives.
Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.
Kirsten has never met a dessert she didn’t like, and her guilty pleasures are watching Ghost Whisperer reruns and drinking good wine.