“For fans of dark and twisty psychological suspense, Ink and Bone is not to be missed.” —Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author of Most Wanted
A young woman’s mysterious gift forces her into the middle of a dangerous investigation of a little girl's disappearance.
Twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by people whom others can’t see and haunted by prophetic dreams she has never been able to control or understand, Finley is terrified by the things that happen to her. When Finley’s abilities start to become too strong for her to handle—and even the roar of her motorcycle or another dazzling tattoo can’t drown out the voices—she turns to the only person she knows who can help her: her grandmother Eloise Montgomery, a renowned psychic living in The Hollows, New York.
Merri Gleason is a woman at the end of her tether after a ten-month-long search for her missing daughter, Abbey. With almost every hope exhausted, she resorts to hiring Jones Cooper, a detective who sometimes works with psychic Eloise Montgomery. Merri’s not a believer, but she’s just desperate enough to go down that road, praying that she’s not too late. Time, she knows, is running out.
As a harsh white winter moves into The Hollows, Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves to have much more at stake than even the fate of a missing girl. As Finley digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, she is forced to examine the past, even as she tries to look into the future. Only one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.
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Ink and Bone
Squeak-clink. Squeak-clink. Squeak-clink.
Oh my God. Finley Montgomery rolled over in bed and pulled the pillow over her head. What the hell is that?
It wasn’t loud exactly. In fact, it was faint but unceasing and arrhythmic, like the dripping of a faucet in another room. It was its stuttering relentlessness that made it so annoying.
The unidentifiable noise had leaked into her dream, where Finley had been repeatedly turning a knob on a door that wouldn’t budge. In her dream, her frustration grew as she tried in vain to enter the room, tugging and pulling, twisting the rusty knob. Finally, the sound had woken her, tickling at the edges of her awareness as she came to wakefulness, her irritation lingering.
Sitting up, she looked around the mess of her bedroom—open laptop on her desk, stacks of books, laundry in a basket to be put away, more clothes on the floor, boots in a tumble by the door. She was alone, the door closed. She knew that the sound was inside her, not outside.
“Okay,” she said, drawing in and releasing a breath.
Finley focused on the details of her room, listing off what she saw. The gauzy curtains are billowing in the cool breeze. The wind chimes are tinkling outside. The golden sunlight of an autumn morning is dappling the hardwood floor. She took another deep breath and released it. By staying in the present moment, she could—allegedly—control “the event.” This is what her grandmother—who had a way of making it sound so easy, as if it were just a choice Finley could make—had told her. But it required an unimaginable amount of discipline, of psychic (for lack of a better word) effort.
Not that she was trying to get rid of the sound precisely, not for good. At this point, she understood that if she was hearing something—or seeing something, or whatever—there was a reason. It was just that she was trying to train herself to take in information in a time and place that was appropriate for it. She was trying to learn how to set boundaries so that “this thing” didn’t destroy her life. I let it take too much, her grandmother confided. You can do better than I did.
“Not now,” Finley said firmly. “Later.”
The sound persisted, oblivious to Finley’s desires.
Downstairs, Finley’s grandmother Eloise was moving about the kitchen, making the music of morning—the opening of cabinets, setting of dishes, the gong of a pan on the stove. Then wafted in the scent of coffee, of bacon on the stove.
It was fading as Finley climbed out of bed and stretched high, then bent over to touch her toes. Usually Finley took care of breakfast, thinking it was the least she could do, considering she was living with her grandmother rent free while she finished school. But on important days, Eloise made a point to get up early and cook—which was really just so nice. Finley marveled at how different were her mother and her grandmother.
Squeeak-clink. It was fainter still. But what was it? It wasn’t a sound that was familiar to her. As soon as she put her attention on it, it grew louder again. She made her bed, still breathing deep. I am in control of my awareness, she told herself. My awareness does not control me.
As Finley turned toward the window, she saw the shadow, faint and flickering like a hologram, of a little boy in the corner of the room. He sat playing with a wooden train. She’d been seeing him for a couple of days. He wasn’t any trouble, but she had no idea what he wanted from her yet. Choo-choo, he said quietly, moving the train across the floor. She watched him a moment, but when she took a step closer, he was gone, a trick of light.
The woman in the black dress, as usual, stood by the door to the hallway. Finley knew from her grandmother that the woman was Faith Good, a distant relative on the maternal side. Finley did know what Faith wanted. She wants you to be careful, Eloise had told her. Of course, that’s what everyone wanted from Finley.
The sound wasn’t coming from either of them, was it?
Finley stood another moment, thinking, listening, watching. She yanked her thumb away from her mouth as soon as she was aware that she was biting her nails again. Finally, she walked over the creaking wood floorboards, down the hall to the bathroom. She stripped off her pink tank top and gray sweatpants and stepped into the shower.
Letting the hot water wash over her, she scrubbed herself vigorously, sang loudly—Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.” She was a bad singer, completely tone deaf. But she didn’t care. All these actions kept her present in her body, in her life. And when she was done, the sound was gone. It worked, she thought gratefully as she grabbed the handle and turned off the water. Steam plumed around her, rising, dissipating. She was getting better at saying when—something her grandmother taught but had never herself learned to do. Later, after her exam, Finley thought, she’d deal with them.
Faith and the little boy were both gone when Finley returned to her room to dress quickly—pulling on soft jeans, a black tee-shirt, Doc Marten lace-up boots. She grabbed her motorcycle helmet off the dresser and her backpack off the floor and pounded down the creaky staircase, jumping the last few steps and listening to the walls rattle in response.
Finley, please! her mother would surely chide. But Eloise let Finley be. Finley and her mother were all hard angles, their edges always knocking up against each other, hurting. But Finley and her grandmother fit together like mated puzzle pieces.
She trailed past the familiar wall of family photographs: Finley and her brother Alfie on horseback—Alfie roaring with laughter as Finley tickled from behind; her mother Amanda’s high school graduation day, a grainy, orange-hued shot in which eighteen-year-old mother looked pale and decidedly not joyful; Finley’s grandfather Alfie and her aunt Emily bent over a book while a golden light shined on them through the window.
Finley always looked the longest at that one as she passed. Grandpa Alfie and Aunt Emily were both so present in Finley’s life, though they had both died long ago—killed in a car accident that Eloise and Finley’s mother, then a teenager, had survived but never really got over. Her grandmother never remarried. Her mother Amanda moved away from The Hollows as soon as she could and never came back to live.
Amanda talked about Grandpa Alfie as if he’d been the one who put the stars in the sky. She talked about Emily less, except to say that Finley was just like her—wild, fearless, creative, headstrong. Finley got the sense that it wasn’t a bad thing necessarily, but it wasn’t exactly a good thing either, since Amanda usually said it in anger or exasperation or just wonder.
Amanda hated that Finley was living in The Hollows, with Eloise—both things Amanda had fled. It is driving her absolutely batshit crazy, thought Finley with only a little bit of malicious glee. She dropped her stuff by the door, but not before kissing her fingers and putting them to a picture of her mother and father Philip on their wedding day. Good morning, guys.
In the kitchen, Eloise stood at the stove, a relic that had been there since Finley was small, and according to Amanda, longer than that. The knobs were worn smooth; the cooktop was so brown around the burners that had no hope of ever being white again. The back left burner no longer lit. Like everything else in the house, it was in need of replacement. But Eloise never replaced anything that wasn’t beyond repair.
“Grandma, you need a new stove,” said Finley for the hundredth time. She caught herself sniffing for gas like her mother always did.
“Why?” said her grandmother, turning off the burner. “It still works. You don’t just get rid of an old thing because you want something new.”
“Yeah,” said Finley, “ya do.”
“Hmm,” said Eloise. “Maybe you do.”
Finley wrapped Eloise up in a hug from behind and squeezed gently. Her grandmother was small but powerful, giving off some kind of electricity even though she was skin and bones. Then Finley gave Eloise a big kiss on the cheek and released her.
“There’s nothing wrong with new things,” Finley said.
Eloise offered a patient smile as she brought the pan to the counter and slid scrambled eggs onto two plates. Finley’s stomach rumbled.
“Did you hear it this morning?” Eloise asked.
Finley nodded quickly as she grabbed the orange juice from the fridge. “Squeak-clink?”
“I thought it was something in the basement,” said Eloise. “But no.”
“Can we talk about it later?” Finley asked.
She could already hear it starting up again. She poured orange juice into cloudy glasses. I am in control of my awareness.
“Sure,” said Eloise. She knew the drill, changed the subject. “Are you ready for your exam?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Finley sat and Eloise put the plate of eggs, bacon, and fruit in front of her. She caught her grandmother’s eyes lingering on her bare arms. Even though Eloise didn’t say anything—and never had since the first day she discovered that Finley’s arms were sleeves of tattoos—Finley wished she’d worn her hoodie.
When she first got to The Hollows a little more than a year ago, she’d sought to hide the richly colored dragons and fairies, butterflies, graveyards, mysterious-looking women in long gowns, dark shadowy figures of men and ghouls, a witch burning at the stake, a vicious dog on a chain. Each piece of art on her body meant something—was someone or something she’d seen in her visions or dreams. She’d started getting the tattoos when she was sixteen and hadn’t been able to stop.
“Oh, Finley,” Eloise had said that day. “Your beautiful skin.”
“I’m sorry,” she’d said. She wasn’t sure what she was apologizing for—for the tattoos, for hiding them, for shocking her grandmother. “But this is me. This is who I am.”
Eloise had rested a gentle hand up Finley’s arm. Some of the art on Finley’s body, which started at her wrists and snaked up her arms, over her shoulders and down her back, was still just a black outline at that point.
“It’s a work in progress,” said Finley.
“Meaning you’re getting more?” asked Eloise. “When are you going to stop?”
Finley had lifted a defiant chin. “When the outside looks like how I feel on the inside.”
Eloise had seemed to consider this. If anyone could understand how different was Finley’s inner life from her outer life, surely it would be Eloise. Who knew better than a renowned psychic medium that the world of the spirit was altogether other from the world of the body?
“Okay, dear,” Eloise had said. “I understand.”
They hadn’t discussed it much since then, and Finley didn’t seek to hide her tattoos any longer. At home with her mother, she would never even dare wear a tee-shirt—because Amanda had no boundaries whatsoever. Or rather, Amanda didn’t think that Finley deserved to have any. Amanda would stare and harp and moan about what Finley had done to her perfect skin, and how could she mutilate herself like that and what kind of life was she going to have and oh my God, what about your wedding day? Because everything was about Amanda and her anxieties, her need to have control, and her dashed expectations—even and maybe especially Finley’s life.
Eloise sat with her own plate. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”
Even though the temperatures were still warmish, Finley could feel the icy lick of winter in the air. When the roads got bad, she’d have to put the bike in the garage and borrow her grandmother’s Prius to get around.
“Yes,” said Finley. “Gorgeous.”
Finley’s mood was growing sourer by the second. That was the thing she still needed to figure out. The boundary setting? The pushing off until such time as she could devote her attention to their needs? It was completely exhausting and tended to make her cranky. As if she had to build a wall of stone every day, only to have it knocked down again.
“You’re going to do wonderfully,” said Eloise. Her grandmother grabbed her arm and Finley felt the warmth of her. She was a giver, a recharger. “At everything.”
Finley forced a smile, taking comfort in the fact that her grandmother was almost always right.
* * *
At the door, Finley pulled on her leather jacket and walked outside to her Harley-Davidson Sportster. The purple gas tank gleamed, filling Finley with a familiar tingle of excitement.
No one wanted her to ride a motorcycle—not Amanda, not Eloise, not the woman in the black dress. Not even Jones Cooper, her grandmother’s occasional business partner, approved. At your age, you think the world forgives mistakes, he’d warned grimly. It doesn’t.
Only her father Phil understood her need for speed and the silence she found there. He knew that the single place she was ever alone was on that bike. Eloise and Amanda hated him for helping her buy it; if anything ever happened to her while she was riding it, neither of them would ever forgive him. But he’d helped her anyway—not just because he was a jerk and liked annoying her mother (which he was and he did). But because he got it; he got Finley. Her father never claimed to understand the things she saw. But he knew all about the desire to run away.
She climbed on and with a kick of her foot and a squeeze of the clutch, she brought the motorcycle to life. Just the sound of it—that deep unmistakable rumble—gave her a measure of relief, like the first drag of a cigarette.
She waved to her grandmother and tried to measure her speed up the road. But once she turned the corner out of sight and the empty span stretched out before her, she opened it up. She couldn’t help it. The bike wanted to go fast; it begged her to push faster, faster.
With the wind racing around her and the engine roaring beneath her, the sound of it living inside her body, she was only herself. All the shackles that held her, all the things that frightened and pained her, fell away. She could think; her own voice was clear and true. All the other sounds went quiet and she was free.
* * *
She found a safe spot for her bike in the parking lot of Sacred Heart College, bringing it to a stop as far from the psychology building as possible, in front of a tall, shading tree that was raining leaves in a shower of gold and red. Students and faculty usually parked their vehicles close to the low glass-and-concrete building, one of the newer structures at the college. But Finley tried to leave the roadster far from other cars when she could, afraid that it would get dinged or knocked over. The glittering purple of the gas tank and the fenders seemed to invite damage; she’d already been keyed. There was something about a motorcycle that drew attention, not all of it good. Except on the road, where other drivers often seemed not to see her at all.
Shouldering her backpack, she slipped her phone from her pocket and checked the time. Forty minutes until the exam, more than enough time to get an espresso from the commissary and go over her notes in the classroom.
“I’m ready,” she whispered to herself. “I’ve got this.”
As she drew nearer to the building, she saw two girls she recognized from her abnormal psychology class. They were walking arm-in-arm, laughing at something they were viewing on a smart phone. She lifted a hand in a timid wave, but they didn’t see her, never glancing up from the screen. Lowering her arm awkwardly, she thought with a sting that she hadn’t made any friends in The Hollows, and she probably never would, freak that she was. Meanwhile, her few friends in Seattle were drifting further and further away, and maybe they’d never been real friends in the first place. Maybe they’d just been people with whom it was easy to get into trouble. And once you weren’t looking for trouble, suddenly you weren’t fun anymore. Her sour mood deepened.
When the noise came back it was so loud that it actually startled her, stopping her in her tracks.
Her heart fluttering, she glanced around at the idyllic college campus in autumn, a near-perfect catalog picture of trees and buildings and kids with bright futures carrying backpacks. Nothing dark or odd or out of place. I control my awareness, she said to herself pointlessly. It does not control me.
A swath of gray clouds washed the sun away, and the air grew cooler. Finley kept moving, passing a beat-up landscaping truck parked near the sidewalk. Beside it, an old man in a wide straw hat languidly trimmed stray branches with an enormous pair of clippers. She felt his eyes on her, but his face was in the shadow of his hat brim.
He wasn’t the only one staring. A few feet away stood another man, this one young, tousled, leaned against the wall of the building, smoking a cigarette, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger. Baggy jeans, sweatshirt too big. Looked like he could use a shower. Had she seen him before?
“Nice ride,” he said as she drew nearer.
He had sunken hazel eyes and the determined slouch of the very tall. He must have been over six feet. She did know him, actually. He always sat in the back row of the lecture hall. He had a look about him that she knew too well, heavy lidded and glassy—a stoner like the people she was trying to get away from in Seattle. She could even smell it on him a little, that sweet tang under the tobacco.
“Thanks,” she said, glancing behind her. The roadster was out of sight, but he must have seen her ride in.
“Ready for the exam?” he asked.
The noise had quieted a bit, but she could still hear it. What did it mean? Was she supposed to know why the noise had come back?
She glanced around, but as per usual in The Hollows, there was nothing to see but trees and sky. Not that it was a bad thing, really, the nothingness. She needed a little less excitement in her life, didn’t she? That’s why she’d come here—to get quiet, to study, to learn more about her abilities from Eloise, to figure out what the hell she was going to do with her life. In the absolutely-zero-going-on department, The Hollows seemed happy to oblige.
“Maybe,” she said. “You?”
“I might do okay,” he said.
He offered a smile that managed to be sweet and a little mischievous all at once.
He stuck out a hand. “Jason,” he said.
The sound was gone. She looked around and there was just the landscaper trimming, snip, snip, snip. Finley sensed that the gardener was still staring beneath the wide brim of that hat. She couldn’t see his face really, but she could feel the heat of his gaze.
Dirty old man.
In another life, she’d have flipped him off. But she was trying to invite less trouble into her life. Our choices, even the small ones, all have consequences, her mother always said. Giving some old gardener the finger was probably a fine example of a bad choice.
She was about to go inside instead when she saw them in the distance by the tall oak tree. The Three Sisters—Abigail, Sarah, and Patience, daughters of Faith Good and Finley’s distant relatives on the maternal side (obviously). They had been dancing in the periphery of Finley’s life since she was a little girl, her constant companions, friends, troublemakers, confidantes, and whisperers of secret things. They’d been strangely quiet, in fact mostly absent, since Finley had arrived in The Hollows. Now, here they were. Patience sitting quietly, bent over a book, her dark hair pulled back into a tight bun, collar buttoned up to her chin; Abigail spinning around pointlessly, long skirts and wild auburn hair flouncing, like a child playing a game only she understood; Sarah, pale and blonde, watching her, laughing. As ever, Finley was as pleased to see them as she was wary. What are you up to, girls? And then they were gone.
“I was going to grab some coffee,” she said after a moment of watching. “And go over my notes.”
If he wondered what she was staring at, he didn’t ask.
“Sounds like a plan,” he said. He followed her inside to the small commissary adjacent to the psych building.
The coffee at the commissary wasn’t too bad. She ordered a double shot and sat down at a table by the window, opened her notebook. Jason sat across from her, took out his laptop.
“You’re old school, huh?”
“I guess so,” she said.
She took notes in class, then copied them over when she got home. That’s how her mom had taught her to study. Even though most people had their laptops or tablets in class, tapping all through the lecture, Finley still preferred the black-and-white mottled composition notebook. Things didn’t seem real unless they were written in ink on paper. Words on a screen floated, seemed virtual and insubstantial. Ink sank in and stayed, rooted in the real world.
Finley hadn’t exactly invited Jason to sit, and she was afraid that he was going to keep talking, but he didn’t. In fact, there was something so easy about his energy that she forgot he was there as they read in silence and then walked together to class. He gave her a nod as if to say good luck, and they each went to the seats they had occupied all semester. Then she pushed him out of her head. No boys. She had enough trouble with Rainer, her ex-boyfriend from Seattle who had followed her—unbidden—to The Hollows and was now, annoyingly, tending bar at Jake’s Pub, a cop hangout just off the town square.
* * *
Finley took her exam, losing time and herself as she focused on the pages in front of her. The squeak-clink had receded to just the faintest whisper on the edge of her consciousness, and for a time she forgot about it altogether.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Ink and Bone includes an introduction, discussion questions and a Q&A with author Lisa Unger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
A missing little girl. A grieving family barely clinging together. A young woman grappling with her special psychic gift. A secluded, mystical town. These elements combine in Ink and Bone, the latest haunting psychological thriller from award-winning, New York Times–bestselling author Lisa Unger.
Although her cold demeanor and canvas of tattoos usually make her an outcast, Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by specters and prone to visions, Finley is often overwhelmed by her increasingly powerful psychic gifts. To better understand and channel these powers she moves across the country to The Hollows, a woodsy upstate town that’s home to her similarly gifted grandmother, Eloise. As Finley begins to adjust to her new life and better reconcile her psychic powers, she and Eloise are drawn into a kidnapping case that’s been cold for months. With a family desperate for answers and even the smallest clue about their little girl, Finley and Eloise discover just how far some folks in The Hollows will go to keep their secrets.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. “Anyone who asks you to keep a secret from your mom—a teacher, a friend, a stranger, anyone—is not looking out for you. No good person would ever ask you to do that.” How did you interpret this quote in the context of the prologue? How about after completing Ink and Bone? How might this quote apply to the different parent-child relationships throughout the book?
2. How would you characterize the respective grieving processes of Merri and Wolf? Is one more right or wrong than the other?
3. What was your initial impression upon meeting Finley? Did this first impression change at all throughout the book?
4. “She hasn’t given up. She says that she can feel her daughter’s life force.” Do you think there is such a thing as “life force”? Is there an instance in your own life when you have experienced something similar?
5. How do Jones and Eloise complement each other? Considering their success, why are they often considered a “last resort” instead of an early option?
6. Considering Eloise’s psychic gifts, do you think she foresaw Finley’s relocation to The Hollows and subsequent involvement with Jones?
7. What role does Rainer play throughout the book?
8. Were you familiar with The Hollows from Lisa Unger’s previous novels? If so, how does its role differ than previous stories? How is The Hollows more than just a setting?
9. Is the dissension between the town and hill folks of The Hollows and the seasonal visitors warranted? Have you ever visited or resided in a similar community?
10. There are a few references to Carl Jung throughout Ink and Bone. What was your level of familiarity with him and his work before the book? Will you investigate further?
11. Regardless of the tragedy that transpired in The Hollows, do you think Merri and Wolf were ultimately doomed? Does one of them bear more responsibility than the other?
12. Do you think Abel Crawley was born evil or made evil? Who do you think were the bigger victims: his family or the abducted girls?
13. Was Eloise’s arc in Ink and Bone satisfying for you?
14. What’s your projection for the future of the Gleason family? Did it change from your first impression?
15. How would you explain Finley’s tattoos and her desire to add to her tapestry? How is the title Ink and Bone fitting?
A Conversation with Lisa Unger
What are the challenges of developing such a unique setting as The Hollows across various books and novellas? Are you having fun with this type of “world building”?
The Hollows has a life of its own. In a lot of ways I feel more as if I am discovering it rather than developing it. It is revealing itself in layers, both as a physical place and as a kind of character with an agenda, motives, flaws, and appetites. I see it very clearly—from the idyllic main street to the dark deep of The Hollows woods, from the red Victorian house of The Hollows Historical Society to the Java Stop. And yet it’s slippery, something different to each character depending where they are on the spectrum of psychic ability. So it’s shifting, changing, and, yes, weaving its story through novels and short stories. But it definitely is fun, and always intriguing to see what it’s up to next.
The Hollows was introduced in Fragile as ‘up North’ and now has become a regular setting. What’s it like to look back at that line now, considering how far The Hollows has come?
It’s true that when The Hollows first turned up, I didn’t think very much of it. Some place “up North” in the tri-state area. Semirural, semisuburban, close to New York City but very far energetically, it was probably very loosely inspired by the town where I lived as an adolescent. But it could have been anywhere—that was kind of the point. It was just a place you thought was safe, but which wasn’t. And that’s everywhere. Then, like a character whom I get to know over a long period of writing and several books, it has changed and evolved, grown, behaved badly. I enjoy my time in The Hollows—even though it’s a place of dark secrets—because it always surprises me. Like an intimate friend, you don’t always see how much it has changed over the years, you forgive its flaws, and look forward to the road ahead.
What type of research did you do and what types of people did you meet to learn about psychics?
Early in my career as a book publicist, I had the opportunity to work with psychic John Edwards. Looking back, I see that he was the inspiration in many ways for Eloise Montgomery. I have also had personal experiences with psychics, which also influenced me. And, of course, I have done a great deal of reading on the subject and continue to explore this area of interest.
Research is a way of life for me in many ways. I am an information junkie—constantly reading, watching, taking in as much information as possible from newspapers, books, documentaries. I travel a lot, seek out different kinds of people. So, it’s not like I have an idea for a novel and then start to research. It’s often this ongoing research that inspires my next novel.
But you touch on an interesting point here. My characters aren’t psychics; they’re people who dwell somewhere on the spectrum of psychic ability. I am more interested in who Eloise and Finley are as women, what makes them tick, what are their quirks and isms, their flaws and strengths, than I am in the fact they can see people and things that others cannot. That research is ongoing, as well.
Some of the scenes with the Gleason family are positively wrenching. How were you able to make that pain come off the page? Was it all difficult creating these scenes and scenarios being a mother yourself?
If you’re not deep inside your characters, feeling what they are feeling, then you’re not doing your job as a writer. You can’t expect your readers to feel something that you’re not feeling yourself. So, yes, there were some painful scenes to write.
In a very real sense, I wouldn’t be writing about these kinds of things if I wasn’t trying to metabolize emotion, fear, questions about human nature—family dynamics, matters of identity and what makes us who we are. I work things out on the page, really dig deep inside. Which is not to say that I’ve experienced moments like the Gleasons’ experience, but I have known loss and struggle, felt pain and anguish. So it’s not very hard to empathize with them and paint an authentic portrait of their dark days, while hopefully ushering them to a brighter place.
There are some Jungian references sprinkled throughout the book. How did you become interested in his philosophies and teachings?
Carl Jung’s philosophies and teachings are an ongoing obsession for me. You can’t be fascinated by human nature, psychology, the supernatural, and the brain without exploring Jung’s ideas. Ink and Bone really caused me to delve more deeply into his thoughts on the paranormal.
What I love about Jung is how he embraced the idea of the “paranormal" as an extension of the human psyche. His mother was a psychic medium, he had a near-death experience, a spirit guide that he relied upon, as well as numerous other experiences that fueled his desire to understand this part of the human experience. He felt that the scientific method asked questions that couldn’t always be answered by nature, and that the anomaly should be explored, not rejected.
Sometimes it seems that psychics and other alternative methods are the final, almost last-ditch effort to break a case. Do you think there is a place for them earlier in the investigation?
I think there might be a place in investigations for an intuitive or an empath. In fact, I suspect that probably many detectives and investigators have latent intuitive abilities; it’s likely what drew them to investigative work in the first place. This questions touches upon a larger question of why we don’t put more faith in our “instinctive” or “intuitive” abilities. Certainly in law enforcement there are rules and chains of evidence to be followed. But “gut instinct” plays a role as well. A union between real police work and the work of someone attuned to energies would be a formidable pairing. Kind of like Jones Cooper and Eloise Montgomery.
The Montgomerys all have very defined personalities. How do you conceive and develop these characters’ personality traits across three generations?
A long time ago, I stopped thinking of characters as people whom I create and started thinking of them as people whom I meet. And though, of course, I know this is not true—I know that I am the creator and that all my characters are an amalgamation of my thoughts, observations, imagination, and research—it is true to the way that I experience the people who populate my novels. So all of the various members of the Montgomery family—Eloise, Emily, Amanda, Finley and Alfie (and others)—presented to me differently and very vividly. They have been revealing themselves to me in layers, and I have been getting to know them for a while, like any ongoing relationship, and sharing them with my readers.
Might we see more of Finley, Rainer, and Jones in coming books?
Hmm . . . could be! Stay tuned!
The female-driven psychological thriller is really having a moment right now with a string of hit novels, TV shows, and films. What’s it like watching, and being a part of, such a moment? Why are readers so drawn to these stories?
It’s exciting. I have been drawn to this type of story since I read my first thriller, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier—which was published in 1938. This book was one of my earliest influences as a writer, and throughout my body of work there’s a theme of the ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances. So it’s not a new concept. I recognize that theme in the big runaway bestsellers of the last few years, though certainly it takes on multiple forms.
I think people turn to crime fiction or psychological suspense because it allows them to digest in a safe environment some of the things that frighten them. There may be all manner of dark things in those pages, but there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Usually a form of justice is served. This is not always true in the real world. Women comprise a large, if not the largest, group of book buyers. So I think it’s exciting for readers to see a woman more in the role of heroine, in charge of herself, and the center of story. She’s not relegated to the sidelines, or painted as evil because she’s powerful, or in peril needing rescue. She’s the major voice, the actor, the one who may be the victim, the hero, or both.
Your books collect elements from a few genres. Is there one that you’ve considered going all in on?
I don’t believe in genres. I don’t sit down to write a mystery or a thriller. I didn't begin my journey into The Hollows thinking that there would one day be another layer to the story that would lead me to ask questions about the paranormal. My novels are driven by character voice, and all my stories flow from that place. Where my characters take me, that’s where I’ll go.
Ghosts, Guns and Dark Places: Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger in Conversation
When authors get together there’s no telling what they’ll wind up discussing. When it’s acclaimed and bestselling thriller writers like Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger, you better believe they’re going dark and deep. From nightmares that turn into novels, to how thriller writers are often metabolizing the things that frighten them on the page, from research war stories, to the conflict between science and the supernatural, this conversation took some wild, twisty roads – just like their novels.
Lisa Unger: A couple of years ago, when I was writing FRAGILE, I ran into a character I wasn’t expecting, psychic Eloise Montgomery. I was excited about her. I thought: Oh! A psychic! Even if she’s a fraud, that’s still interesting. But my characters have minds of their own and she only had a small part to play in that book — yet she stayed with me. She’s had a couple of books since then, three short stories, and in my upcoming INK AND BONE we meet her granddaughter Finley, who has powers of her own. Eloise’s story has told itself in a way that I wouldn’t have expected, and it has led me down some roads I didn’t imagine I'd go as a writer. This is, of course, the joy and the magic of writing. So I was struck while reading PLAYING WITH FIRE that you, too, had walked into some of the same territory. Was it a character, or a story, or curiosity about something else that led you there?
Tess Gerritsen: It was a nightmare! I was in Venice for my birthday, and after a night drinking a bit too much wine, I had a freaky dream. I dreamt I was playing my violin. A baby was sitting nearby, and as I played a dark and disturbing melody, the baby's eyes suddenly glowed red and she turned into a monster. I woke up wondering what it meant and knowing there was a story here. Something about the power of music to haunt and to transform people. That day I wandered around Venice and ended up in the old Jewish quarter. There I saw memorial plaques dedicated to the Venice Jews who were deported to death camps during WWII. That's when both parts of the novel came to me a story about a 1930s Jewish composer whose haunting melody will nearly destroy the life of a woman violinist 70 years later. I'm already a violinist (strictly amateur) with a lifelong love of music, and that knowledge helped inform the musical aspects of the story.
I find that the interests and passions we've developed during our lives can both inform and inspire our novel writing. Was there anything from your own life that worked its way into INK AND BONE? Some part of yourself that slipped into the character or plot?
Lisa Unger: I love that, that an intersection of your dream life and your waking one led you to write PLAYING WITH FIRE. It’s so true to the way the process works for me, this blend of waking, dreaming, and imagining. The musical elements of your story are so rich and alive that I thought you must be a musician, or someone with a deep knowledge of music. Which is where, I suppose knowledge and passion move in.
There’s some blend of all of that, as well, in INK AND BONE. I have an enduring fascination with the idea of psychic phenomena in the Jungian sense, that it might be considered a natural extension of normal human ability. In my other life in publishing, I had a chance to work with psychic John Edwards. And I was struck both by his abilities and how normal he was, how he could just be your cousin from Long Island. In a weird way, though this was many years ago, he was the inspiration for Eloise Montgomery. The fictional town in which INK AND BONE is set, The Hollows, first showed up in FRAGILE, which was very loosely based on a real event from my past. Though I didn’t see it at the time, The Hollows shares certain similarities with the place where I grew up. So, in a lot of ways I suppose I’m dreaming on the page, the real and the imagined get twisted into fiction.
Tess Gerritsen: I'm afraid my science training prevents me from straying too far into the paranormal. I always (boringly enough!) want a logical explanation for everything. In that regard, my character Dr. Maura Isles is very much like me; we both want science to give us all the answers and we're bothered when it can't. Ironically, I love reading paranormal fiction, and wish I could write it, but it's like I have a form of writer's block about it. Just when I'm on the verge of crossing over into a paranormal tale, that nagging scientist in my head yanks me back.
That's why I'm so impressed by writers who can pull it off, and so convincingly. Your stories manage to merge the real and the spooky so perfectly, that I sometimes feel like I'm in the middle of a feverish dream when I'm reading them. I remember racing through CRAZY LOVE YOU and my sense of reality kept shifting in different directions. It's as if you opened a psychic curtain and let us peek through into a universe that's invisible to most of us.
I'm intrigued by the fact your character in INK AND BONE was inspired by your work with psychic John Edwards. I love hearing about the research that writers must do to make their stories convincing. In fact, research is the part I enjoy most about writing, because I can delve into new worlds. As a writer I've attended autopsies, watched the CT scan of a mummy, and scouted Boston for the best places to dump a body. What lengths have you gone to get the details right?
Lisa Unger: Wait! Don’t give too much away! I’m deeply engrossed in PLAYING WITH FIRE. Of course, I had an inkling that your scientist’s mind would resist the supernatural. But I do sense more than a passing curiosity, Dr. Gerritsen! Science and the supernatural are not necessarily at odds. There is so much we don’t know about the universe and the human mind; there are more questions than answers. I suppose I believe anything is possible, which might be why I’m willing to go into the unexplained with my characters.
I’m always amazed, in all of your books from HARVEST to GRAVITY, to the Rizzoli and Isles series at the depth of your knowledge about so many things. Most writers are explorers. I like to think of myself as a spelunker, shimming into the dark spaces between things I don’t understand to try finding answers. So, yes, research (and life) is an important part of the process.
I’ve taken a concealed weapons course (and absolutely hated the feeling of firing a gun). I’ve interviewed a woman who claimed to be a ghost hunter. One of my closest friends is a retired Federal Agent who, if he doesn’t know the answers to my million questions, can always find someone who does. I lived with a New York City police officer for eight years – okay, so that was a relationship, and a pretty bad one at that. But in the end I just wound up with a good knowledge of police work and fantastic recipe for roast pork which I guess is something. I’ve been lava tubing in Iceland (not sure where that’s going to turn up, but I’m guessing it will). Recently, I’ve become obsessed with birds. I’m an information junkie. I’m constantly reading non-fiction in all areas with a special focus on psychology, addiction, trauma, biology and the brain. For me, more than the nuts and bolts of procedure, it’s human nature and the mind, and where those things intersect with nurture and spirituality, that fascinate me. Much of INK AND BONE is laced through with those themes.
Are there themes that you find come up again and again in your novels? Have you ever been surprised by a recurring question or idea that surfaces without your realizing it?
Tess Gerritsen: I love your research tales! I too hated firing a gun. I was painfully aware that if I was the slightest bit careless and didn't stay in control of where it was pointed, someone could die. I also learned how difficult it is to be accurate with a handgun. I certainly understand how cops can fire a dozen rounds and still miss their target.
When I'm writing, I'm thinking primarily about characters and plot, and it's only in retrospect that I understand what the theme might be. You asked whether I've been surprised by recurring questions that seem to surface in my books, and the answer is: yes, absolutely. Thriller writer David Morrell once told me that novelists often address their own childhood traumas in their books. For instance, a writer who never felt his father loved him may write book after book about heroes trying to please authority figures. When Morrell told me that, a light bulb went on in my head, because I realized it was true for me as well. When I was a child, I adored a family friend named Uncle Mike, who served very much as a father figure for me. He was a gentle soul who counseled me about school, life, and love. Then when I turned eighteen, Uncle Mike was arrested for murdering his sister-in-law. I was stunned because I never saw that violent side of him, and it led me to question whether anyone is who they seem to be. That's the theme I return to again and again which smiling face hides the monster? In a way, it's a universal theme for crime writers, the evil that lurks in the hearts of seemingly ordinary human beings.
Lisa Unger: Very early in my career, I heard David Morrell speak and his wise words struck a chord with me, too. When I was fifteen, a girl I knew was abducted and murdered. We lived in a small, supposedly safe town, the kind of place you move to give your kids a happy, suburban upbringing. And then, on a day like any other day, a girl walking home from school fell victim to a monster. I never saw the world the same way again. The theme of the lost girl runs through almost all of my novels in one way or another, never with my intending it and always obvious to me only after the book is done. I think most of us are metabolizing fear on the page, and looking to put order to the chaos we perceive in the world. Maybe that’s why people read crime fiction, as well — because there’s a beginning, middle, and an end where some kind of justice is served. Not always so in the real world.
I’m writing pretty close to the bone. I follow the voices in my head, and so far they’ve all been pretty dark and twisted, wrestling with questions of identity, struggling with everything from addiction to body dysmorphic disorder to hauntings. I have a voracious curiosity about people and all the different things that make us who we are. If someone else turns up with something different to explore, I’ll certainly honor that. For me that’s the joy of writing, following character voice wherever it takes me.
I think next up for you is a new Rizzoli and Isles entitled STRANGE GIRL. Any tidbits you would like to share?
Tess Gerritsen: I can't share tidbits yet because the story keeps changing on me and I never know how it's going to morph. That's the trouble with writing by the seat of my pants I never know where the ride will take me.
Tess Gerritsen is the acclaimed and New York Times bestselling author of PLAYING WITH FIRE and the upcoming STRANGE GIRL featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles (characters that inspired the TNT television series “Rizzoli and Isles.”) Lisa Unger is the author of fourteen novels of psychological suspense, including her upcoming release INK AND BONE (June 7, 2016), and the paperback release of CRAZY LOVE YOU (March 29, 2016). Her books have sold over 2 million copies worldwide, and have been published in 26 countries. Both authors have dark thoughts and very nice husbands who are never afraid to come home to them at night.