November 1, 2010

The Paranormal Going Mainstream

The Mystical Goes Mainstream Creepy creatures aren't just for Halloween anymore. For those looking for an escape from reality, the paranormal genre has never been more popular. By Molly Guthrey October 30, 2010 Twin Cities If you want to pitch a book idea to editor Brian Farrey about teenage ghosts or vampires, you'll have to wait until 2011. Farrey, an acquisitions editor for a local publisher of teen fiction, is haunted by a steady stream of vampires, angels, aliens, werewolves, fairies and other fantastical or supernatural beings. 'In the past month, I'd say about 60 (percent) to 70 percent of what I'm seeing is paranormal or fantasy,' Farrey said of the incoming queries and manuscripts he handles for Flux, a new imprint of Llewellyn, the New Age and fiction publishing house based in Woodbury. 'I'm oversaturated, so I'm not reading any more paranormal or fantasy through the end of the year,' Farrey said. 'Right now, I'm looking for something realistic.' The rest of us, though, can't get enough of escaping reality: Fantasy and the paranormal have so enchanted American pop culture, it might be difficult to tell Halloween apart from any other day. Even Animal Planet, which used to focus on cute pets, now offers up shows on all sorts of "creatures," from poltergeists to werewolves to viruses. Spooky segments like "Terror at Maple Dale Farm" on the paranormal series "The Haunted" and "Lair of the Lizard Man" on the supposed docudrama "Lost Tapes" might serve a need. "People feel so saturated with news and facts these days, they want to believe that some things are still mysterious," said Keith Hoffman, executive producer of "Lost Tapes." It also feels good to just scream sometimes. "We're on our computers and our phones all day, we sit behind desks," Hoffman said. "Sometimes, we want more primal experiences." Our affection for the dark side is apparent at the Twin Cities Magic & Costume Co. "Zombies lead the way, followed closely by vampires," said Jim Berg, general manager and co-owner of the St. Paul shop. The zombie boom doesn't surprise Berg. "A month ago, the annual zombie pub crawl had its largest participation ever," he said. The "Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer, of course, has made vampires fashionable for a few Halloweens. "Fangwear now comes in metallic fashion colors, like hot pink," Berg said. Werewolves, though, could be the new vampires. "A girl who was about 10 or 11 years old came in yesterday and was ecstatic to find a werewolf costume," he said. "She was going to wear it to school." Eleven-year-old trendsetters are one thing, but even scientists are showing more interest in the supernatural. Radio personality Ian Punnett of St. Paul has seen more acceptance of the unexplained in the 13 years since he began hosting weekend shifts of "Coast to Coast AM," a nationally syndicated, overnight talk radio show that explores topics such as UFOs, life after death and other strange occurrences. "When I first started hosting 'Coast to Coast,' the discussions about a subject like near-death experience were very anecdotal," Punnett said. "Thirteen years later, there are now vast amounts of academic peer-reviewed research on this topic being done in hospitals around the world. ... Some of it has to do with the failure of science to be able to prove all of its claims, like this causes cancer or this doesn't cause cancer. We now realize that science doesn't have all the answers. People, including doctors and scientists, are more open to ideas and possibilities." In the midst of a shaky economy and all its repercussions — struggles to keep homes, access to affordable health insurance, coping with pay cuts and layoffs — it's a time when people are seeking direction in alternative ways, said Pam Marko of Gentle Healing Hands, a provider of intuitive readings and energy balancing. "Everybody is in a place of fear, and when you start to lock into that fear, you don't see any possibilities," Marko said. "When things get crazier, I get busier, because people are looking for a new direction. As a healer, it is my job to be present with you, to keep the space around you open, to keep you open to the infinite possibilities that are in front of you." Veteran author Brent Hartinger certainly was open to the possibilities: Now that paranormal romance is a hot genre, he dusted off an award-winning astral projection teen love story he wrote as a screenplay in 1999. At the time, his attempts to pitch it to Hollywood fell flat. "I put it aside and then took it out a year or two ago because of what's going on in publishing," Hartinger said. The story, "Shadow Walkers," will be published by Flux in February. It should have plenty of company. "If you go into a bookstore into the teen section, that's all you see anymore: fantasy and paranormal books," Hartinger said. "There's a whole section on vampires alone."