My Life as a Ghost Hunter(...as published in the introduction to Ghost Stories)Actually, that's a little melodramatic.I’ve done much more ghost story collecting than I have ghost collecting, but my interest in spirituality naturally leads to afterlife curiosity. One of the recurring themes in my work is the exploration of the Big Question: Why are we here and what happens when we die?I don’t really expect to bump into Aunt Mildred’s ghost and she will spill all the secrets of the universe over a cup of tea, but I do think the belief in ghosts is a fascinating social, philosophical, and psychological matter. Whether you don’t believe in anything and think we are here to consume candy and die, or whether you spend most of your day in prayer and meditation, you are probably as close to the “answer” as anyone else.And people from all walks believe—and don’t believe—in ghosts. Some skeptics can be changed with one bizarre incident or encounter, while some curious folks can search for evidence of the afterlife for years before concluding there’s nothing out there.Several years ago, as a newspaper reporter, I went on a ghost hunt at a local historic hotel with a group of paranormal investigators. While the old hotel in the Blue Ridge Mountains was big and spooky, I was most fascinated by the personalities of the hunters, their expectations and their reactions to phenomena that I chalked up to the usual stuff of old hotels—cool drafts, distant humming noises, and squeaky floors.A year later, I hosted a paranormal conference at the hotel, gathering information that I used in my novel Speed Dating with the Dead, where a paranormal conference goes haywire. In the novel, I had to accidentally invoke some demons, because “real” ghost hunting is incredibly dull. You sit in the dark all night with lots of equipment, and then spend several weeks poring through audio and video files to get a few seconds of suggestive information.I’ve gone on several other hunts since, and even hosted another conference, and I still collect ghost stories, but I stopped short of investing in lots of gear. I do think there is potential for devices that correlate many different kinds of data, measuring time, temperature, and location with various other data. And I often use local ghost stories and Appalachian folk legends in my work, such as in The Red Church and my entry here, Drummer Boy.But legends are legends and facts are facts. Even if you line up a bunch of coordinates and statistics and say, “This is a ghost,” what exactly have you proven? You still haven’t answered the Big Question.The hunt continues.Maybe the answer is in this book.
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