Sunday, December 13, 2009

Guest Blogger Kris Neri - The Mystery of the Paranormal

What if you could have anything in the world you wanted — except the one thing that you wanted most?

That question sparked the creation of one of the protagonists of my new paranormal mystery, High Crimes on the Magical Plane (Red Coyote Press). Combining the supernatural with a mystery is great fun, but it also comes with great challenges. The characters need to work effectively in both realms. Their powers and otherworldly abilities must seem vast enough to be believable within the paranormal framework. And yet they need the same flaws and blind spots as other characters to allow for the growth arcs that readers want. It’s a tough juggling act to create a character that is simultaneously powerful, yet lacking.

Within the world I’ve created, which plays out on the streets of Los Angeles, Special Agent Annabelle Haggerty of the FBI is also a genuine Celtic goddess. While her ancestors have returned to their mythical homeland of Tir na n’Og, their decedents continue to live among us, hiding their true natures. Generations of intermarrying with mortals has diluted Annabelle’s powers, but she has plenty of magical skills left to give herself most anything she wants — yet a burdensome sense of responsibility blinds her to the life she could be living. Too determined to reject the notoriously bad behavior the gods have always engaged in, this resolute goddess keeps her nose so firmly pressed the grindstone, she’s worn it to a nub. 

One of the great advantages of injecting the paranormal into your writing is that you get to address the big philosophical questions in life, such as fate and why we are here, and whether we should welcome into our lives the people we want, or those we need.

Annabelle has little choice about the latter when plump fake psychic and scam ancient deity, Samantha Brennan, crashes into her case. Despite her dubious professional choices and highly eccentric wardrobe, Samantha embodies everything Annabelle’s family believes she should be. While Annabelle is cautious and responsible to a fault, Samantha is joyous, lusty and daring. Only a universe with a twisted sense of humor would put those two together.  

When movie star Molly Claire is kidnapped and made the centerpiece of an inexplicable gangland siege that brings the City of Angels to its knees, these polar opposites are forced to work together, a relationship made harder by the fact that each of those women lives the life the other secretly covets. 

The most enjoyable part of writing a supernatural mystery is choosing the creatures that will populate it. I wanted to draw on beings that were wacky and new. First I recruited Angus, Annabelle’s ancestor, the ancient Celtic god of youth and love and laughter. In Celtic mythology it’s said that anyone who has heard Angus playing his sweet harp is unable to resist him. In my modern world, he becomes a lounge performer, not to mention Samantha’s love slave. 

But I didn’t stop there. I brought in banshees to patrol Griffith Park in Los Angeles, leprechauns that go undercover in schoolyards to spy for Annabelle, as well as flower fairies and dolphins. And I can’t forget the shape-shifter/FBI agent who isn’t from some distant realm, but whose ability to transform himself is the result of some nasty toxins in the air. (Watch what you breathe!)

Ultimately, though, a mystery, even when it contains elements from other genres, needs to hold together as a mystery. It must have sufficient plot twists, strong suspects, rising stakes and some plausible red herrings. Most importantly, we need to feel the outcome of the struggle could go either way, that the villain could outwit our sleuths and evade justice. With a supernatural being, it becomes that much harder. 

But that’s where character flaws and blind spots come in. Annabelle misinterprets her psychic visions, and in her effort to behave more like an ordinary mortal, she overrides her own judgments. We’re left to think that if she and her family of deities are no match for the Demon of Darkness that Annabelle believes is masterminding L.A.'s own Armageddon, a poor little fake like Samantha will have no chance at all. 

It’s a fight to the finish. Along the way, each woman learns something from the one she considers the last person who could teach her anything. Even when you’re a goddess, it seems life holds some wicked surprises.  

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