I recently posted a link on Facebook to an article announcing that a haunted mansion was for sale. This kind of story is catnip for writers, but it’s not to everyone’s taste. A good friend immediately replied. He is an adamant non-believer and seemed disturbed by my post. Having grown up in a secular household, in which all things paranormal, supernatural and religious were treated with equal parts amusement and distain, I enjoy this kind of story. But for people brought up in religious homes who then take up a rationalist point-of-view, any indication that I might believe in ghosts is disturbing.
I often wish I were a believer — in ghosts, spirits, saints, demons, demigods, in Shiva, Zeus… and most of all in the ancient Egyptian cat goddess: Bastet. But I’m not a believer. I’m an amuser, an intriguer, an explorer and, most of all, a writer. I’ve had a love affair with classical mythology since my childhood and never found the stories of Jason and the Argonauts or Leda and the Swan (AKA Zeus as a big, beautiful, sexy bird) to be any less, or more, believable than Moses parting the Red Sea.
One of the great things about being a writer is that you get to be inside the heads of characters. In order to tell most stories, writers must venture outside their own experiences and belief systems.
Yes, yes… I hear that objection coming. There are many subgenres out there in which the writer’s job is to reflect back at the reader their shared world view, like an infinite series of mirrors in which nothing breeches the agreed to rules. I’ve tried reading some of these and they make me crazy. The assumption that everyone, or all the good/positive/likeable characters share the same religious, ethical and/or philosophical stance is infuriating.
I like characters in conflict and I definitely like having friends with whom I can disagree about fundamental questions. These differences contribute to my education and to my work as a storyteller.