13 Jul 2015

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Author Interview / Christina Harlin

When a ghost-hunting episode of the popular paranormal web series Othernaturals goes bad, two cast members quit, and Othernaturals producer, telepathic Rosemary Sharpe, finds herself carrying the ghost of an axe murderer on her shoulder. Now she must hire two new members for her team before her show moves on to investigate a haunted dormitory at a state university, all the while keeping her angry companion at bay. Disgraced psychic Andrew Fletcher and renowned healer Kaye Whittington sign on, joining Rosemary’s team that includes an animal empath and his traveling companion Vladimir the cat, a psychic vampire who is more cheerleader than bloodsucker, and a haunted medium who shares head space with his best friend who died twenty years ago. Even the show’s director can see ghosts. Rosemary’s philosophy is that the supernatural doesn’t need to be real, as long as her viewers believe that it is, but her own extra passenger has other ideas about avenging himself on the team that abducted him from his haunting grounds – and on any innocent spirit they may encounter. But Rosemary inherited her famous rock star grandfather’s powerful telepathic ability to control a room. An evil spirit has attached itself to her, but exactly which one of them is in the possession of the other? Passions and paranoia are all part of the package, when filming an un-reality show. Possessed is the exciting first book in the new series by Christina Harlin, author of paranormal thrillers Never Alone and Deck of Cards and the romantic adventures of legal secretary Carol Frank in the “Boss” series. In addition to the book itself, the Othernaturals series also has a website that includes pictures, ghost stories, additional information about the characters, and some fun things for fans.

  1. If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?

Debra, I have to let you know: this was the toughest question of the bunch. I considered many names: Frank Herbert, because he created a detailed, far-distant future for the human race; Ray Bradbury, because while he could write a truly frightening story, he was tender-hearted and romantic too; Shirley Jackson, because she is the author I most closely identify with myself; Daphne du Maurier because wow, what melodrama that woman could write! I’d even work with the first human who carved a story on a cave wall—what an amazing trip that would be. But since this question is open to all possibilities, I choose work with a very dear friend of mine who died at 35 with a lot of stories in him. He had the talent to make those stories happen, and already had a large readership on his pop-culture blog. In our different-but-compatible styles, we worked together on several things before he was lost. We had a project in mind for collaboration: a screenplay about a jigsaw-puzzlers’ convention. I’d love to know how that would have turned out. He's been gone for years, and I miss him to this day.

  1. What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?
I have a day job at a law firm – writing is my passion but steady income has its benefits. I have to work writing in around the 9 to 5 schedule. Saturdays and Sundays find me in front of the computer for hours at a stretch. Weekdays, I write the evenings from 6:30-7:30 or 9:30 to 11:30, with a day off each week for brain rest, unless my brain informs me that she is fine and wants to keep working. At least once a year I’ll have a stay-cation so I can write every day for as long as I like, plus make long-term plans for projects. I sit before my computer monitor at my battered desk, which bears the scars of many moves and un-coastered drinks. I have a tall glass of seltzer water to my left, music playing in my headphones, and a big grey cat trying to sit on my keyboard.

If I become stuck in a piece of fiction, I write essays about movies for my blog The Movie Orphan. This blog has been instrumental in keeping me writing over the past five years, because it is as assignment I gave myself regarding one of my favorite things. Doing this has actually made me a better writer. I can see a difference in what I do now and what I did before The Movie Orphan became part of my life. At one low point, after a bad experience with a publishing company when I was quite seriously thinking, “Screw this, I’m never writing anything again,” blogging movie essays actually pulled me through. I don’t really know how many steady readers my blog has, but find it matters very little to me. Movie blogging is something I do for entirely selfish reasons. I do love to hear from other movie fans and readers, though; they’re always terrific and often have great suggestions on what to write about next.

In the worst-case scenario: i.e., I am stuck in my fiction, and I have no movies to write about, I actually write fan fiction that will never, never, never see the light of day. These embarrassing little vignettes have proven to be quite useful. Sometimes a very good idea for the “stuck” story will spring from what is basically fan-girl Mary-Sue-ing.

  1. What is the hardest part of the writing for you?

Oh, how I struggle with endings. I learned long ago that I need to have an ending in mind before I even try starting a story. If I have no final goal, I will dawdle and meander and wind up with two-thirds of a story that goes nowhere. Had you met me fifteen years ago, you would have found a woman with four manuscripts that were pretty solid all the way to 80% done, and then mysteriously “lost” their last two chapters. I’m not inflexible, as stories will occasionally veer off in other directions, but having a basic plan-of-action on where things will be wrapping up has truly helped me. Once I adopted that rule, I began to finish writing projects. This was quite an accomplishment for me!

In the case of the Othernaturals series, the individual books are more episodic in nature. I feel the books’ conclusions pause the story rather than conclude it. Nevertheless, I have goals in mind for each of the characters, and I’m always working toward them. For example, when we reach the conclusion of a plot thread in Book Six, I hope readers can look back to Book One and see that thread’s beginnings.

  1. When and why did you first start writing?

This compulsion to write was apparently something I was born with. My mother, who has always been so wonderfully supportive, tells me that before I actually knew how to write, I drew stories in pictures. I have a suitcase full of things I wrote as a child and teenager. I wrote my first book, though I use the term loosely, when I was 12, on a spiral notebook in multi-colored magic markers. There’s another early effort – an espionage adventure, if you can believe that—that was my first effort on my best Christmas present ever, a Smith-Corona typewriter. This was my hysterically bad attempt to be a 14-year-old Ian Fleming when I didn’t even know how to drive a car. The terrible typing is the very least of its problems. For all its faults, however, it is a complete story, so I must have had the awful ending in mind before I started.

Writing is one of my favorite things to do. I would continue writing stories even if they were never to see the light of day. That was the case for a long time! Simple fear, of criticism, rejection, or exposure, kept me from making any real efforts to put my writing out in the world. Age and experience bring perspective, thank goodness. Eventually I realized that if I did not at least try to share my stories, I would someday regret it. I made my anal-retentive lists, gave myself deadlines and assignments, and got serious about the business of writing books.

  1. How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I’m a sucker for paranormal stories and love to write them. Few of these stories were of sufficient heft to create an entire book, or at least seemed so to me—which is an evasive way of saying that I was having trouble with endings again. A couple of these stories actually did make it as their own books, but as for the rest, I simply didn’t know what to do with them.

My son Jake and I are big fans of paranormal investigation shows. As we watched many episodes of ghost hunting, I realized that my paranormal story ideas needed that kind of cohesiveness. Why not create series of stories about paranormal investigators?

All I needed then was a team. Mentally I made a list of several supernatural gifts I found intriguing. Seven characters stepped into those places then proceeded to turn my expectations upside down. Here are a just a few examples: I thought team leader Rosemary Sharpe was a gorgeous, gregarious telepath and have since learned she has a dangerous dark side and a real issue with impulse control. I wanted a vampire on my team, but a real Nosferatu would be over-the-top in this context, so here came Sally Friend, a bouncy, cheerful young woman with a serious sun allergy, who thinks of herself as a vampire because she feeds on the energy of others. I expected little Judge Duncan to be a shy, bullied boy, and he surprised me by being a charming, confident stage actor. I'm desperate to rescue Stefan, I'm growing to truly respect Andrew's inner kindness, and the moral opposition of Kaye is going to be trouble, I can just tell, despite how much I admire her.

Can you tell that I love these people? They’re like friends of mine now, and I wouldn’t insult them by saying they were mere fiction. Since they became real to me, I've had no trouble engaging them in all the paranormal stories I've imagined through the years.

At that point, I needed only to go on a few ghost-hunting expeditions myself to get a real feel for the game, with Jake along as my photographer and as, to be honest, the guy I can hide behind. That's been so much fun, as well as being a great learning experience about human nature and the stories we create. I plan to continue visiting haunted places for that very reason.

  1. Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?

I love to read. I wish I had more time to do it! My preferred genres are fantasy, thrillers, crime dramas, historical romances, and simply great novels. Right now I’m reading There’s No Place Like Here by Cecelia Ahern and a book my son recommended to me, Yahtzee Croshaw’s comical apocalypse tale Jam. I’m also re-reading Hannibal by Thomas Harris. Like most avid readers, I usually have more than one book going at a time.

  1. Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?

In my own experience, nothing has held me back more than my own fear. In my case, that’s an ongoing fight. I hope that once I survive enough battles, I’ll win the war. I am very lucky to have a terrific husband and son; their combined support and bravery have helped more than anything else. Therefore, I hope that aspiring writers have support behind them. Use that support. It’s priceless.

You may hit bumps in the road, bad ones that make you reconsider most of your life’s choices and writing in particular. Remember that after a time, when the hurt has lessened, you’ll be better equipped than before. I’ve learned a great deal from experiences that I thought would crush me – first and foremost, that they failed to crush me.

I offer this advice whenever I’m asked, and perhaps it is a big “Well, duh!” moment, but it was something I had to learn for myself. This is a rather brutal truth: the formal publishing industry doesn’t care about your talent or dedication as a writer. Publishers want to know if they can sell your work and make money. That is the bottom line. Though it feels cold, it’s not personal. It’s just business. Wonderful, if you can be both talented and lucrative – but a lot of writers are out there, in competition for limited resources. Current publishers are very cautious and only buy what they consider “sure things.” Once I fully grasped this, I stopped taking rejection quite so hard and moved beyond the traditional publishing paradigm.

The Internet has opened an entirely new world for authors. I used to feel that self-publication was an amateur conceit, something in which only bad writers with delusions of grandeur engaged. That is no longer the case. Yes, easy self-publication has resulted in a hundred thousand new books every week or so. That’s the downside, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I personally think the world can use all the stories it can get. I like to believe that the stories which deserve recognition will make it there.

Nor does your writing have to be books. My son Jake creates detailed plots for role-playing games, and hopes to publish them when they are perfected. Blogs, at the very least, are great writing practice. Serial stories or narratives with art can be put on YouTube. You have a webiverse of opportunity. Go nuts with it!

This leads me to my final bit of advice. It is always said, “Write what you know,” but I prefer to say, “Write what you love.” If you are enjoying what you’re writing, it shows. What’s more, if you are enjoying yourself, a lot of the pressure goes away. It ceases to matter so very much, whether you make a book deal or sell 10,000 copies or get reviewed by the New York Times. Then, when good things do happen, they're just gravy on your potatoes. You’re doing what you love, and how can you ever regret that?