Torrance’s Ghost Hunter: 5000 words with NaNoWriMo winner Stefanie Allison (Part 3)

My first and foremost concern when beginning a novel is capturing the story before I lose interest.

Your writing career appears to have started in 2010, with “Doing That Thing I Do” published in AWwYP’s “The Coffee Shop Chronicles, Vol. 1: Oh the Places I have Bean”. This was followed up in the fall of 2012 with “One Step at a Time” and “Wine”, published in “WritersReal, Vol. 1, No. 1” by RealWritersMedia, You then won AWwYP’s  “Like a Ton of Bricks” contest – which pitted you in a competition to come up with a 250-word essay that used only clichés to tell a story. Five years later, you “claimed your win” in the 2017 and 2018 NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenges, which tasked you with writing 5,000 words a day for each of the 30 days of November, thereby producing a novel. This steady progress seems to indicate that you’ve set your sights on becoming a novelist. If this is the case (or if it’s not, for that matter), what are you working on at present?

I have three novel manuscripts at the moment—all to do with the paranormal. The paranormal is a very huge blanket term—that covers anything from ghosts (what we traditionally believe to be a person that is no longer inhabiting a human body, although that definition can be flexible), angels and demons, UFOs, extraterrestrial life, humanoid creatures (a.k.a. Bigfoot, Sasquatch, the Yeti, Mothman, Dogman, etc.), elementals (a.k.a. elves, fairies, gnomes etc.), interdimensional/time travel, conspiracy theories, and a great deal more that I couldn’t even possibly conceive of on my own.

My first and third novels (“In Spirit” and “Witness” respectively) are essentially ghost stories—though the first is more of a smorgasbord of paranormal events and creatures and the third has to do with poltergeist activity. The second, “Lightning in the Grass” (due to be renamed “Lightning in the Oak”) is about Irish fairies. My second novel manuscript out of the three is likely going to be my first published novel since the story seems a lot stronger and the rewrites won’t involve as much intensity as the others (the world my protagonist is in is growing increasingly complex the more I brainstorm it, and the third is just simply too new and needs more time to rest before I tackle revisions).

I am researching my publishing options at the moment; most likely, I will self-publish in order to retain my rights over my stories. If I crack down hard, I can get that process going by the end of 2019. In the meantime, I am open to possibilities.

 

I’m glad that you shared the names of your novels. I was only able to find reference online to “In Spirit” (2015). I’m presuming the other two were created in 2017 and 2018 during the NaNoWriMo challenge. Could you provide us with a more in-depth synopses of these books you have prepared, and outline a little of the strategies you are currently considering to get them published?

The three novels (in the order they were written) are “In Spirit”, “Lightning in the Oak”, and “Witness”. All three stories take place (at least in part in the case of the first and second) in Los Angeles County and feature millennial age protagonists. Each protagonist is dealing with more than one aspect of the paranormal (though the focus is more on one than others).

 

 (Warning: spoiler alert!)

The protagonist of my first novel “In Spirit” is already dead and telling her story from the other side of the veil. Pearl is going about her afterlife trying to make a difference for the living but is making more trouble for the people she’s trying to help. Weeks after her death, she meets Alex McKinley, the host of her favorite paranormal reality show, “In Spirit”. Star struck as she is, she also realizes Alex is not as easy to be around when he’s not on his show and finds herself reckoning with his rough-edged, forceful, insensitive personality.

When I was brainstorming for my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, I was trying to think of a subject I knew a fair amount about and was deeply passionate about. The paranormal jumped to my head first (which is how I began to identify as a paranormal fiction author). One of my next thoughts was this: what if, after I died, I got the chance to run around in the afterlife with someone I looked up to and admired in the paranormal? Even if the person I was thinking of is a monumental douchebag at times (I was really trying NOT to call him a douchebag. I couldn’t help myself anymore.)? I would describe this story as a witty, farcical, downright inappropriate at times, yet also sweet, sensitive, romantic, and (hopefully) uplifting story.

This will require several rewrites and I am also positive the plot of the story is going to undergo quite a few major surgeries, but in the end, it’s going to have everything it needs to be a masterpiece and a way to ease people into thinking about life—and what lies after.

In “Lightning in the Oak” (formerly “Lightning in the Grass”), my protagonist Ashley Mellan is a paralegal in Los Angeles who goes to her late paternal grandmother’s house to claim her inheritance: a wooden box with strange Celtic symbols carved onto it. Inside, she finds a beautiful, emerald green Irish gown that fits her perfectly. Upon wearing the dress, however, she finds herself magically transported from Los Angeles to a field somewhere in Ireland. Worse still, she finds herself in miniature size and unable to get home on her own. There, she finds herself living amongst the creatures known as the aés sidhe—or fairies to the common folk.

This is not the Tinkerbell you know and love; the fairies are mischievous (ok, that sounds like Tinkerbell), ale-loving creatures that do not take kindly to human interference—that is, from any humans brave enough to enter the fairy circle where the fairy mound resides, at the base of the mighty oak tree. Patron, a well-respected, if gruff, fairy, helps Ashley adjust to life in the mound—a life with no linear time, no technology, and (almost) no responsibilities. Ashley is elected to save the fairy mound from destruction from humans who want to knock the tree down and build on the field, but certain fairies—namely Fanny, the charismatic, messianic, but psychotic leader—do not want their fate in the hands of a human. Ashley must figure out how to save the aés sidhe she grows to love if she ever wants to return home—and to normal size.

“Witness” would fall under the thriller category; Jacob Hunter inherits a large, crumbling mansion from a distant relative overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Palos Verdes that is occupied by an energetic ghost that Jacob names Achilles. Moving out isn’t an option since Jacob is recently unemployed due to layoffs and is barely scraping a living as an Uber driver. As threatened Jacob feels from the ghostly activity, Jacob cannot invite a paranormal investigation team to his home; Achilles knows a terrible secret about Jacob’s past—one that could destroy his life, if he lives long enough to regret it.

As serious as Jacob’s situation is (and would be, dark secret or no), he does find himself in quite a few hilarious situations—some involve his much younger, clingy neighbor Amber, a few that involve paramedic Diana Mansfield, Welsh-born researcher Dennis Geaney (both of which have secrets of their own—not the least of which is their budding love for one another), and Jacob’s love interest, police officer and lead paranormal investigator, Paul Killian.

One of the things (among many) that I’m proudest of with this story is that it’s featuring my very first LGBT main characters (Jacob is bisexual; Paul identifies as gay). “Witness” is my way of standing up for us paranormal investigators; we abide by scientific method as much as possible, we are dedicated to what we do, we want to share our passion with the world, and we want to help people feel a little less like they’re crazy—especially when the shit happening in their home is already driving them crazy. “Witness” is my NaNoWriMo win from 2018, so it is definitely in for deeper revisions and rewrites.

 

And the strategies you are considering to get these works you’ve written published?

Right now, the first thing for me to do is begin editing and rewriting “Lightning in the Oak” since it will require less research and intense revision as the other two (though not by a large margin). I’m also taking this time to educate myself on the process of becoming self-published (I made this decision because ultimately, I want to be able to have control of my work instead of paying thousands of dollars to a publisher who might make decisions that undermines my messages in my novels). I’d also like to start a blog that chronicles my journey from writer to published author, but I don’t want to begin that until I have a published book to my name (I can start writing blogs while I’m in that process, however).

 

How much research do you do into the traditions and histories that your stories are based on?

At the start of each novel, I usually do just enough research to be able to build the world the story takes place in. My worry is that if I get too deep into research in the early stages that I will get wrapped up in the specific facts and lose the story. My first and foremost concern when beginning a novel is capturing the story before I lose interest.

After the initial first draft is down and I know what the story is, then I can work on the research. Especially in the case of “Lightning in the Oak”, I may need to reach out to other researchers that are more familiar with Irish fairies and other elementals to have a firmer grasp on what we know so far to give it as much factual base possible. I also consider all of the investigations and the events I attend to be research as much as books and internet articles, but I can watch how the paranormal unfolds in real time, and I have people who are considered the greats of the field around me and available anytime I have questions.

I do try to aim to make everything as based in fact as possible, even if it’s fiction. I feel that because I am representing my fellow paranormal investigators, I owe it to all of us to give as accurate of a description as possible for my stories.

 

Aye, lads and lasses… ’tis the summit of Ben Mcdui, where the Big Grey Man awaits… Photo by Richard Webb via Wikimedia Commons

What’s the favorite fact or tradition that you’ve uncovered?

This past August in MiParacon (another wonderful event where I get to prance around with my paranormal heroes!), I was listening to a panel with a husband and wife team of investigators, and the wife said something about how déjà vu (the feeling you’ve seen or experienced something but you don’t have actual proof of it) is your higher self remembering your life plan before you entered into this reality. Truly mind blowing wasn’t hearing that; it was days later, walking around Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, looking to my right and seeing a truck unloading and motorcycle riding by—and thinking (no, knowing!) that I’ve seen that scene before. I hadn’t ever set foot in Michigan before this trip!!!  This phenomenon even happened again during the Strange Escapes event this past March! Even though it was just a small thing (I was just looking down at the floor at someone’s bag), it reinforced my belief that in pursuing the paranormal, I am living my soul mission here on earth. There are so many things I’ve learned over the years, but this shows just how personal it really gets sometimes—and that makes it so much more to me than just an intellectual pursuit. It’s not just learning what kinds of beings are out there or what strange things can happen; it’s discovering deeper truths about our existence that go beyond the regular 9-to-5 to which many of us have sadly capitulated.

 

Do you have any favorite paranormal phenomena that you’ll like to incorporate into a story in your next work? (Maybe stories like that of the Headless Valley on the Upper Nahanni River in Canada’s Northwest Territories, or the supposed UFO base located in Dulce, New Mexico…)

One day when I was supposed to be doing something important, I caught myself internet surfing for other paranormal phenomena besides ghosts (even though that’s clearly my passion, and several more of my future ideas revolve around ghosts). I came across an article about a Scottish legend called “Am Fear Liath Mòr” (please don’t ask me how to pronounce that), but it translates roughly to “Big Grey Man”. I don’t think it’s real; even the light Wikipedia search is lending itself to the phenomena as people mistaking their shadows and footsteps for a creature. However, I always thought the name was cool and Am Fear sounds like a really awesome name for a new novel.

I also want to look into any humanoid creatures that are supposed to be roaming around my home state; each state, I understand, supposedly all have mysterious creatures running around, and I figure they could maybe help spruce up an old story that I abandoned years ago. Michigan is also supposed to be crazy full of humanoid creatures (Dogman I think is the state humanoid creature), and I would love to write a story surrounding Lake Superior. There’s even a conspiracy theory story I’d love to write based on a crazy dream I had about the Russian government trying to kill me and a few other paranormal investigators off.

I love the word “totality” and I know that’s going to be a title for a future novel one day if I can find any paranormal stuff that happens around eclipses (I’m an in the closet astronomer).