Perfect Setting for the Paranormal, by Mara Purnhagen

What’s the perfect setting for a ghostly Young Adult novel? For Mara Purnhagen, it’s Charleston, South Carolina! Read Mara’s guest post to find out why she chose this historic city for her new Harlequin Teen book, Past Midnight….

by Mara Purnhagen, author of Past Midnight (Harlequin Teen, September 2010)

I am not a “true” Southerner, but for almost ten years I was lucky enough to pretend I was. After my husband (then fiancé) took a new job, we left the Midwest to begin the next chapter of our lives in South Carolina. I remember being surprised by the red clay soil and plump palmetto trees. The heavy accents caught me off guard, and it was months before I figured out that “buggy” meant grocery cart. The South was new, it was exciting—and it was the perfect setting for a novel.

We lived in an ideal corner of the state: an hour from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, two hours from downtown Atlanta, and three hours from one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever visited: Charleston, South Carolina. When I began writing Past Midnight, I knew that Charleston would play an important part. It’s a city with history and personality, noise and nature. It is also the home of more than a few ghost stories featuring everything from decapitated Confederate soldiers to mysterious lights emanating from the centuries-old cemeteries.

It’s easy to imagine the people who once walked the cobblestone streets or sat on their wide porches, fanning themselves against the afternoon heat. It’s also easy to imagine that those former residents still hang around. Ghost Tours are a popular tourist activity in Charleston. Groups of excited people meet at sunset to explore the Old Jail or one of the historic cemeteries. I love excursions like this because they can be inspiring. What better way to face your fears than with a happy group of people, all armed with cameras and a sense of adventure?

I was intrigued by the rich history of ghost sightings in the town. The older restaurants and inns boast at least one resident spirit who likes to play pranks on the customers. But in all of my visits to Charleston, I never experienced anything paranormal. I was open to the possibility, though, and being open meant my mind could wander. It wandered into a first chapter.

Like myself, the main character in Past Midnight is also not a Southerner. Charlotte has spent her life traveling with her family and doesn’t call any particular city or state home; for her, home is wherever her family is filming their paranormal documentaries. But when her older sister chooses to attend college in Charleston, Charlotte gets to spend her summer in the city, surrounded by historic mansions, busy beaches, and horse-drawn carriages that make their hourly trips through downtown. She doesn’t believe in ghosts—until something happens in a local café that makes her question their existence.

I’ve never met a ghost, but every time I visit Charleston, I keep my eyes open and my camera ready. It’s not just the perfect setting for a book—it’s the perfect setting for an encounter with the paranormal.

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2 Responses to Perfect Setting for the Paranormal, by Mara Purnhagen

  1. Interesting book, but I prefer the reality of the issue. If you get a chance watch v Something Unknown by Renée Scheltema, it can be useful if you are trying to write a book like this as well.

  2. Ha! I loved the bit about the “buggy”. I’m from Alabama and never questioned the use of the word until I read this. I suppose my Southern roots come into my writing in ways I don’t even realize.

    Great post!

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