by Sharon Gerlach
“A great flame follows a little spark.” – Dante Alighieri.
I used this quote in a novel I wrote in 2008, and for some reason it’s stuck with me; I guess because it can be applied to so many situations. In my book, I used it in reference to the start of an amazing lifelong relationship.
In writing, that spark can be an incredible journey of words, a wondrous well of ideas that sets fire to the imagination and leaves in its wake not ashes, but prose lovingly crafted and meticulously researched.
I can pinpoint exactly when I fell in love with the paranormal: my mother watched this certain movie several times when I was very small—the title escapes me; I think it was called Ghost Story—and one part still stands out in my memory to this day. The young couple in the movie had a figurine on their coffee table, and at one point when they walked out of the room, murmured words and cries could be heard from the little statue.
It gave me chills. My flesh prickled into goosebumps. I was afraid to go to sleep. I was wary of figurines. My stomach filled with anxious swooping sensations when I thought of that part.
I loved it! And from that moment on, I was hooked.
My first story wasn’t penned until the sixth grade, and by then I was firmly entrenched in the adoring ranks of paranormal junkies. My father was the projectionist at the Air Force base theater where we were stationed, and the siren song of scary movies was more than I could resist. Likewise, my book collection was populated with titles from leading paranormal and horror authors. That irresistible love of all things unexplainable found its way into my first story and almost one every after it.
Got a good vampire story? I’m there. Werewolves? Even better. But the best of the best, the crème de la crème, the most chilling of the paranormal, is the unseen world that interacts with ours, most of the time without our even being aware of it. And why is it the best? Because unlike vampires and werewolves, the angelic realm is real. What could be more chilling in fiction than something that could actually happen?
Last year we watched the movie Paranormal Activity. For those who don’t know, it’s about demonic torment and possession, told from the viewpoint of a webcam and a handheld camcorder. It’s not an action-packed thriller and the spooky parts were quite understated until the very end. But I literally did not sleep well for a month and a half, and my fear of the dark—always just barely held at bay anyway—was large and in charge for several months, because it was so realistically presented…and I believe it can happen.
My belief in the unseen realm around us is rooted in my deep-seated faith, and even though my paranormal stories are secular, that faith seeps in and insists that I keep things true. When I sat down to write Malakh (my novella about angels just released on April 8 ) I didn’t have a specific supernatural being in mind. It wasn’t until I had defined the main human character, Suzanne, that I was able to determine what I needed from my antagonist: cunning, superior knowledge, superior abilities—but he couldn’t be invincible.
Angels lent themselves nicely to the task. While they have knowledge humans might not, they aren’t all-knowing, and while they are stronger than humans, they are not invincible. People believe in them, tend to accept them more easily than they would a vampire or a werewolf, which heightens the suspense and the awe of the story. Their first appearance in my work was long before Malakh, and Malakh won’t be their last performance.
In the meantime, I watch countless movies and read countless books about the paranormal—many about angels, delving into Bible scripture and commentary to keep them as true—and as chilling—as they can possible be.
The great flame is my lifelong love of the paranormal, started by the spark of a single eerie movie when I was a toddler. I’m happy for the opportunity to make you turn on all the lights in your house, and make your skin pucker into goosebumps.
Sharon Gerlach spent her early childhood bouncing across the United States as the youngest daughter of an Air Force sergeant. Settled in the Pacific Northwest since 1975, there’s nowhere she’d rather live. Indeed, she’s so determined to stay that she’s crammed her tiny urban house with so much stuff that it would be too expensive to move.
Sharon lives in eastern Washington State with her husband, two of her three children, her infant granddaughter, seven cats, and a fat, lazy Border Collie.
Share Sharon’s writing life on her Blog