why I do the weird stuff

No, not that weird stuff!

I mean my biweekly link dumps of witches, occultists, strange/obscure history, and academic papers. Why do I post these (apart from their vague relevance to the work in progress)?

Well, I was a strange child. And I had help.

I grew up on an irregular diet of “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” and the occasional surprise “In Search Of” when it aired at odd times on TBS. Also one side of my family nurtured an interest in UFOs, ghosts, cryptozoology, and other Forteana/paranormalia: I remember reading my grandmother’s back issues of Fate Magazine from around age 8, and books got passed around through the mail and at holiday get togethers.

I think the cryptozoology thing grew out of the usual childhood fascination with dinosaurs. My interest was intense enough that by elementary school I was making papier-mâché Loch Ness monsters and a faked plaster cast of a Bigfoot footprint for school projects.

I can’t remember my teachers’ reactions.

shelf of books with titles about UFOs, poltergeists, hidden animals, conspiracies
A “shelfie” of my weird collection. The old Fate mags have long since worn out and been thrown away.

Various family members expressed everything from skeptical interest to full on belief – dinner table conversation could go on for hours. As a child I was fairly uncritical about it all; as a teenager I became more skeptical but sought out anything that made my eyebrows jump – conspiracy theories, alien abduction, prank religions – for the sheer WTFery, if nothing else. I can’t remember how many times I checked High Weirdness by Mail out of the library (oh hey, now there’s an online version!).

And yes, in the 1990s I was a dedicated X-Phile. So many of the stories were already familiar, and the writers did a wonderful job with the source material!

As an adult I’m more detached but my interest remains, though I’ve grown so hard-headed it’s difficult to believe in anything I can’t hit with a hammer, so to speak. At the same time I recognize that subjective experience is relevant to the experiencer, objectively provable or not. In the end it’s not about aliens or ghosts or witches, but about people and how they integrate the unexplained into their lives.

Still, my inner curious child still aches to know: what really happened? What did they really see/experience/find? Through writing fiction I can speculate with the luxury of  not having to prove anything, and I have the freedom to make up answers.

I could (maybe I will) do a whole separate post about growing up as a history buff. Suffice it to say I’m not terribly surprised that two lifelong interests collided to have me writing about Elizabethan magicians ~30 years later.

What about you? Do you have any childhood obsessions that still inform your creative pursuits today? Tell me in the comments!



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Allison Thurman

Allison Thurman has always made stuff: out of fabric, metal, beads, even exaggerated fencing moves. Of late she makes stories out of weird history, with fragments of pop culture, unsolved mysteries, and science fiction mixed in for texture. She lives in a galaxy far, far away (well, the DC metro area) with too many books and swords.

7 thoughts on “why I do the weird stuff”

  1. I’ve always been fascinated by the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, my next book is going to be set there. I also loved anything to do with UFOs or unexplained phenomena like spontaneous combustion and mysterious disappearances. I have this massive book, The Giant Book of the Unexplained (sadly it appears to be out of print) which I’m always re-reading.

    I’m very scientific and it’s strangely comforting to suspend critical thinking for a while and just indulge in “But what if there really is a plesiosaur in the Loch? What if aliens really do visit Earth?” speculation. Maybe it reminds me of childhood innocence?

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by!

      Mysteries like these invite speculation, and while science frowns on indulging unproven hypotheses (and justly so!) it’s just so damn fun to consider the coolest/strangest/most extraordinary possibilities!

      And while I’d love to know the real story behind all of these, in some cases I suspect we can’t know – perception and memory are so malleable and individual that conclusions are only relevant to the observer.

      I very much look forward to seeing what you do with the Loch Ness monster! Especially if your next book is a romance as well!

  2. I started off with the childhood interest in dinosaurs as well, but was always more interested in what was actually known/theories with solid evidence behind them rather than than the cryptozoology/occult/mysterious path. (you talk about the difficulty of believing what you can’t hit with a hammer now; I’ve been like that for as far back as I can remember and have parental confirmations of it as well … I recall going along with “believing” in things like the tooth fairy and religion because I was supposed to, not because I actually did). So I grew up pursuing info in palaeontolology, zoology, botany, archaeology, etc. … got more into the contemporary life sciences (and then later into chemistry and physics to understand what was behind them) due to frustration with the available dinosaur and other ancient lifeforms materials available to me at the time tended to be all about listing, naming and what was the biggest with very little concept of lifeform/ecology/interaction and integration). Books and publicly/easily-available information have come a loooonnnng way since then. 🙂

    Strangely I connect my liking for sewing (I started when I was five), knitting (which is the current obsession due to the recent explosion in availability of really good materials and tools), and other textile stuff with this … it’s a way of comprehending structure and engineering which, in my head, applies to both made objects and to lifeforms and natural processes. Weird, I know, but I have an inbuilt tendency to see interconnections, analogies, and parallels between many things other people consider separate (used to have my high school teachers shaking their heads and having little consultations when I’d use info from one class to answer test questions in another … I wasn’t “wrong”, just often not applying what I’d learned in the expected way)

    And all this is probably why I ended up being a cataloguer …. the ultimate perfect profession for somebody who sees everything as part of one huge whole rather than as compartmentalized.

    Just to participate in book photo part of this: the current natural sciences and textile bookshelves: http://jlsjlsjls.livejournal.com/1342381.html (bear in mind that not everything is in the bookcases; definitely close to twenty or so knitting books of the “engineering” and “mechanics” kind scattered around my living room due to being read or frequently consulted.

    1. Hey there!

      Actually, what you describe makes sense – your wide interest in all of the sciences dovetails nicely with large structural objects and cataloging, at least to me. All are actions of synthesis: making multiple yarn loops into a whole garment, disparate books into a whole library, different sciences to explain the world.

      You’ve got some real gems there – “The Long Summer” and “The Great Warming” particularly stand out. Before I read the latter I didn’t realize the huge effect climate and weather has on historical events. Very good stuff!

      1. Knew you’d recognize the Fagan books; “The Little Ice Age” (which I originally learned about from you) is in there as well, just obscured at that angle by the larger black-covered books beside it.

        By pure shelving coincidence, just below the Fagans is a marvelous book that ties together climate change and palaeontology/evolution (along with botany, zoology, geology, geography and all the other sciences that are pieces of ecology): Donald Prothero’s “After the Dinosaurs”. Highly recommended; the info in it is just as useful for comprehending nature in the present as for the past. (plus Prothero is always extremely readable … gotta love a scientist who is capable of communicating clearly and also has been known to quote Douglas Adams in his serious academic publications). I think you’d enjoy him.

  3. Weird as this may sound, my first published book was based on my own experiences as a child and up to adulthood…from ET to metaphysics. Poetic license was taken…three times (the follow up novel, however, is 3/4 fiction).

    As I aged, I was happy to realize science never completely turned its nose up…and hence my fascination with physics. My greatest satisfaction comes from seeing how science and fiction are not so far removed one from another!

    1. Hi, thanks for stopping by!

      Not so surprising – I suspect many more people experience the odd and unexplained than ever mention it, let alone write about it. Physics – particularly quantum physics – appears to offer explanations for a lot of strange perceptions, though I do say that as a non-physicist. While I love to speculate part of me hopes to see solid, provable explanations in my lifetime, just for the stability of certainty. But then, there will always be *something* uncanny going on.

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