Michelle Belanger is a nonfiction author, a member of the vampire community, and a psychic seen regularly on the television series Paranormal State. She’s been featured on programs on HBO, the History Channel, and CNN Headline News, and teaches classes around the country on dreamwalking, energy exchange, and spirit communication. Her non-fiction includes Dictionary of Demons and Psychic Dreamwalking.
As someone who traipses blithely between supernatural non-fiction, novels, and reality TV, I find myself working within an eclectic mix of material broadly defined as “paranormal.” Your house is haunted? That’s paranormal. Got a demon possessing your plucky little pug? Paranormal. Djinn, doppelgängers, faeries, even Sasquatch all fall under the paranormal umbrella. While at one time the term “paranormal” may have only been applied to literature involving ghosts, hauntings, and spirit mediums, the genre has come to be the bastion of all things weird, and it is glorious.
I happen to live at the crossroads of the weird, collecting demon names for aspiring authors and exorcists alike and exploring reputedly haunted locations to better understand what walks their shadowed halls. Urban Fantasy and paranormal genres appeal to me because they integrate aspects of my daily life, and a certain amount of blurring the lines not only grabs my attention in a fictional work, the blend of fact with fantasy seriously ups the impact of the author’s crafted world.
The following six titles delve into some of my favorite aspects of the paranormal, and as an added bonus, they are incredibly rewarding to read. Spanning everything from children’s literature (Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book) to horror (Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts), their authors blend paranormal fiction with well-researched fact and folklore to craft stories that are both compelling and immersive.
If you have not read Gaiman’s award-winning yarn of Bod and his adoptive family of supernatural beings, you are in for a treat. Technically written for a younger audience, The Graveyard Book holds layers of meaning that make it both relevant and enjoyable for readers of all ages. Gaiman’s take on ghosts, as well as his presentation of less widely-known paranormal critters, such as the Wolves of God, will inspire readers to dig more deeply into the myths and folklore that lay at the foundations of this masterfully crafted world. Bod’s power of dreamwalking is drawn directly from a practice attributed to certain psychics, and Gaiman took the time to research and integrate the mechanics as they are understood. Bittersweet, whimsical, and downright scary at times, Bod’s story of struggle, survival, and coming-of-age lingers like a sweetly struck chime long after the covers of this slim volume are closed.
As someone who has worked in the weird world of paranormal reality TV, I found Tremblay’s chilling tale of mental illness and possession especially relevant. Visceral and unnerving, A Head Full of Ghosts raises pertinent questions about what is paranormal reality and what is all in our heads. An integral part of this exploration involves a very modern intersection of social media, reality TV, and the public display of private lives. The admittedly unreliable memories of Merry keep you guessing throughout, and the issues raised by the book’s events will keep you up late long after you’ve finished reading.
This is a nostalgic read that I return to again and again. Butcher is one of the recognized masters of the Urban Fantasy genre, and this installment of his iconic Dresden Files is a testament to his skill. Mingling rapid-fire action, witty dialogue, and larger-than-life acts of magic, Butcher shines most in those intimate moments when ordinary people are challenged to survive extraordinary events. This character-driven aspect of his tales helps Butcher sell some of the wildest paranormal exploits — such as Harry’s epic ride through Chicago on a reanimated T-Rex. Yeah, that happened.
I’ve got a thing for necromancy as well as classic noir, so it should come as no surprise that I loved the world Blackmoore crafted for his damaged, unrepentant protagonist, Eric Carter. Gritty, brutal, and more than a little bleak, Blackmoore’s LA is an unforgiving tangle peopled by vampire junkies, reanimated gangsters, and a disenfranchised djinn. And that’s to say nothing about the scheming death goddess, Santa Muerte. The sequel, Broken Souls, holds up, and I am eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
Part ghost-story, part home-coming, this first installment of Galenorn’s Whisper Hollow series introduces us to hereditary spirit shaman, Kerris Fellwater, and her magickal inheritance. Weaving a world rich with spirits and secrets, Galenorn brings Whisper Hollow alive in complex and chilling ways — and if the principles of magick governing the spirit-world seem remarkably cohesive and true-to-life, there’s good reason. Galenorn herself in a witch, and before her success as a best-selling author of paranormal and urban fantasy stories, she penned non-fiction books on her practices and beliefs. A series about magick, written by a real witch. How meta is that? (For more books on witchcraft written by a real witch, check out Ellen Dugan’s Legacy of Magick series. While she doesn’t like to brag about it, Dugan is the go-to witch for several popular fiction authors when they’re researching genuine magickal practices, and she brings her years of expertise to bear in the craft of her own fictional world.)
This is non-fiction, but don’t let the title fool you. Colin Wilson’s seminal work on the history of the strange falls firmly into the subject matter we currently label “paranormal.” Wilson was a writer who traversed the boundaries between fiction and fact, sprawling across genres throughout his writing career with an ease that leaves me envious. Written in 1971 and reviewed by such luminaries as Joyce Carol Oates, Wilson’s exhaustive work presents an overview of intriguing historical figures from Rasputin to Aleister Crowley as well as delving into questions about the reality of psychic phenomenon and spirits. Whether or not you buy into Wilson’s posited “Faculty X” which, to his mind, could prove the legitimacy of paranormal experiences, this book is informative and provides rich fodder for anyone crafting a world with supernatural elements — or looking to better understand the inspiration for many of the fictional worlds they enjoy.