by Caren Crane
I know there are those among the Banditas and Bandita Buddies who long for the chills from things that go bump in the night. I have a special treat for you, my terror-loving friends. My guest today is Alexandra Sokoloff, whose first book The Harrowing was nominated for both the Bram Stoker and Anthony First Book awards. Alex's latest release The Unseen deals with parapsychology, poltergeists and...well we'll get to all that shortly.
Welcome to the Lair, Alex!
Thanks, Caren and Banditas! I am thrilled to be in any lair, but especially this one.
I am the first to admit I am a big old chicken about reading scary books anymore. As a young woman, I read Stephen King and Anne Rice books at an alarming rate, but stopped somewhere in my 20s. So I was curious how my chicken-hearted self would take to The Unseen. I'm happy to report that I made it through without any night terrors or flying leaps into bed! Of course, I read it mostly in the break room at lunch. *g* What is that attracts you to the dark side of writing?
I actually think The Unseen is my "safest" book so far for those who are sensitive to that scary stuff. There are some good spooky chills, but it's more romantic and mysterious, too.
I always loved reading the darker, ghostly books - gothics, Anne Rice, the Brontes, Stephen King, Ira Levin. That all seems to start young. But I also did a ton of musical theater, so it wasn't all dark in my childhood! I guess I was always sensitive to the fact that scary things happen - I myself was almost abducted by a child molester when I was eight, but realized something was terribly wrong with the man and luckily, I got away. Others of my friends were not so lucky. So that was my first brush with true evil, and it started my obsession with the idea of a constant battle out there between good and evil. I love books and movies that acknowledge evil does exist, often in the form of people gone bad, but that have a strong theme of good people fighting it and triumphing. That's what I explore in my books.
Oh my, you learned that lesson far too young. It's easy to see why the good vs. evil theme is such a strong one for you. I was intrigued by The Unseen for several reasons. Much to my husband's dismay, I have long been fascinated by all things "woo woo" as Tawny would say. When I was a kid in the 70s, astrology and psychic exploration of all types were big, even without drugs! So setting The Unseen at Duke University (just down the road) which had a fully-functional parapsychology department for decades was a real hook for me. What made you choose Duke and the work done there as the basis for a book?
Just like you, I got hooked on the psychic stuff as a kid back in the 70's, which was, let's face it, all about that mind-expansion thing! I must have heard about the Rhine ESP experiments when I was just 9 or 10. I remember my little sister doing a science report about the Rhine experiments - she even made her own Zener ESP cards.
Then, way later, several years ago, my screenwriting partner and I were doing a movie assignment, adapting a book about a famous poltergeist experiment, and we decided to set the story on the Duke campus because of the whole history of the parapsychology lab, and I took a research trip to North Carolina to check out the campus and just fell in love with it - it's so Gothic and spooky - actual gargoyles! - and that great chapel. (By the way, that was the film assignment that drove me to write my own first novel, The Harrowing.)
But the spark that, uh, lit the fire of The Unseen, was my significant other handing me an article in the paper about a lecture on the Duke campus called: "Secrets of the Rhine Parapsychology Lab". He told me - as he is wont to do - "You should go to this." And he was right. At that lecture I learned that when the lab closed down in 1965, seven hundred boxes of original paranormal research files were sealed up and stored in the basement of the graduate school library, and were only just opened up after 40 years.
Now, is that a story or what? What the HELL is in those boxes?
So I pitched that to St. Martin's as my third book and they flipped for the idea, and there you go.
I would love to know what's in those boxes, too! It was a great idea that you turned into a riveting book. I loved the feeling of uncertainty throughout The Unseen. The heroine is quite a skeptic about the paranormal activities she sees (or doesn't) and she is also not sure who to trust. A big theme in The Unseen is what the characters want to believe. This seemed to include not only the paranormal stuff but also what the characters believed about each other. I am always tempted to rush to answer questions in my books, which is a suspense killer. *g* Was it hard to write a book where you had to leave so many questions open-ended as to what really happened or who could be trusted?
It was hard, thanks for asking! Because the thing about a poltergeist is that there is no concrete explanation, really. It could be the psychic projections of a troubled adolescent, it could be an aspect of a traditional haunting, it could be extra-dimensional entities, it could be sheer human fraud. So I had to create a situation which could be any one or all of those things, and as usual, I wanted to keep readers guessing all the way through about what was really going on (an author friend of mine calls my books "whatdunits") - while providing a great roller coaster ride - and then resolve the mystery in a scary and satisfying way.
And of course, on the human side Laurel is very damaged from her recent experience with discovering her fiance cheating on her, so it's difficult for her to trust anyone. That whole issue is what she has to resolve personally in order to grow. She wants to believe in psychic phenomena, and believe in people again, but is protecting herself, possibly for good reason.
Now that everyone's curiosity is piqued for The Unseen, what other spooky projects do you have in store for readers?
I just turned in my fourth book for St. Martin's, Book of Shadows, which I just love - it's about a Boston homicide detective who has to team up with a mysterious and of course very sexy witch from Salem to solve what looks like a Satanic killing. Again, crossing real life with the paranormal! I'm doing a paranormal trilogy with Heather Graham and Deborah LeBlanc for Harlequin Nocturne, and an anthology of four interconnected novellas with Heather, Sarah Langan and Sarah Pinborough. All three of my first books, The Harrowing, The Price, and The Unseen will be available in England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand starting in October. And I'm just finishing up my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors book, based on the story structure methods I teach on my blog. Hmm, no wonder I'm tired!
I'm tired just hearing how busy you are. It's a great thing for us readers, though! Any last thoughts for the Banditas and BBs?
The Unseen explores psychic phenomena like hauntings, poltergeists, precognitive dreams, and crisis apparitions (seeing a loved one at the moment of death or extreme trauma). I treat the subject very realistically (and even stayed in a notoriously haunted mansion in North Carolina for a week to add that extra layer of realism!)
So my questions for our readers today are all about that. Have you - or someone you know - ever had a precognitive dream or experience? Some kind of visitation from a dead loved one? A ghost or haunting experience? Experience with ESP or telepathy? Let's hear it!
We'll pick two commenters randomly to win a signed copy of The Unseen and a signed copy of my first spooky ghost story, The Harrowing (inspired by a poltergeist experience I had when I was 16).
Thanks for having me here, and thanks for sharing!
For an extra chance to win a signed copy of The Unseen, just sign up for Alex's newsletter at her website: http://alexandrasokoloff.com, where she gives away a book a week.