Please welcome Daniel Hecht, author of the unique and highly suspenseful CREE BLACK series!
Review and Synopsis of LAND OF ECHOES:
In the second outing featuring parapsychologist Cree Black, author Daniel Hecht gets closer to boundless terror than ever. This time Cree is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when her old mentor gives her a call to suggest a case she might be interested in. Involving a teenage Navajo American boy who is attending a school for the gifted in the western desert of the state, Cree wearily accepts the challenge. Upon her arrival, she is shocked to encounter a situation that falls out of all her previously known experiences; it appears that Tommy is possessed. There are also secrets being held by the enigmatic and beautiful owner of the school, adding to the already bewildering and frightening situation. And as Cree attempts to discover who is possessing Tommy, she must uncover the secrets behind this vast and mystical land as well, as danger closes in on her in new and unexpected ways, with not all of them coming from great beyond.
Daniel Hecht scores again in a series that is absorbing, lyrical, and altogether frightening. His exploration of the supernatural, the Navajo culture, and the beauty of the New Mexican desert, all come together in a story that is as enthralling as it is evocative of the shadows that lie underneath our reality. Cree Black is a scientist, a mystic, and always -a woman, one who deserves the love that seems to allude her in her personal quest to set aside her own ghosts. But it’s her strength and character that will draw the readers in, and engage them in her search for truth, hope, and deliverance. This is one series you won’t want to miss.
Interview with Daniel:
1.Tell us a bit about Cree Black. Where did she come from?
The idea of writing novels about a female “ghost buster” came from my neighbor Christine Klaine, to whom I dedicated City of Masks. We were at a gathering, and she approached me – I didn’t know her, personally, yet – and said she had a great idea for a series of novels. Yeah, yeah, I thought; I’d heard this before; sometimes it seems that everyone I meet, especially on book tours, has a great idea for a series of novels. But Christine outlined an enchanting idea, and then caught my attention by suggesting it should be a fifty-book series. Fifty!? Why? Simple: one for each state of the Union.
The idea stayed with me: an empathic, sensitive person, trained in psychology, who manages to be positive and strong despite her great vulnerability to and sympathy for others, who helps other people as she solves mysteries of this world and investigates paranormal events. After a couple of years of thinking about it, imagining of all the terrific stories that could come out it, I began to write City of Masks.
For me, part of the attraction was that the concept would touch upon a lot of very interesting aspects of the world – studying ghosts, after all, requires us to investigate history, physics, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, religion, forensics, superstition, regional culture, architecture, archeology, shamanism, you name it. And writing fifty books would give me a chance to portray fifty different physical landscapes and social environments throughout our amazingly diverse country.
Still, all I knew when I started was my heroine’s name, Cree, which seemed just right (a friend’s sister is named Cree, short for Lucretia).
Cree and her stories are only somewhat supernatural; in one sense, just due to the way Cree thinks of ghosts, the events she deals with can be viewed in a strictly psychological or even allegorical light. To write from Cree’s perspective, I draw upon my research in psychology and neuroscience as well as my own experiences as a student of shamanism, my family ghost stories, and a long-time fascination with the paranormal. She’s a good vehicle to express aspects of my own nature and experience.
2. Why a woman as your main character?
From the start, the idea was that this person would be highly sensitive to the emotions of others – so much so that she could even pick up the residual emotional emanations of the dead. She would be empathic, tuning in to people’s problems and identifying their life passages, and she would serves as a sort of psychotherapist for her clients AND their ghosts.
I don’t like to generalize too much about stereotypical “female” and “male” mindsets – in the end, we’re all human – but for some reason, it made sense that that person would be a woman. I also thought that the kind of problems Cree deals with would be best appreciated by female readers, who might identify with her and recognize some of their own passages when reading about her. My goal with the Cree novels has always been to create stories that are, first and foremost, poignant, compelling, moving, and truthful—and only secondarily suspenseful or scary.
The other question might be, How can a man presume to write a woman character? My father died when I was three, so I was raised by my mother . . . I think she gave me a somewhat “female” sense of interpersonal relations. Also, I think good writers enter a transpersonal state of mind that allows them to understand human experiences they have themselves never had (Chekhov is a great example).
For whatever reason, writing from a woman’s perspective comes easily for me; in fact, one of my early writing projects was a collection of first-person stories from women’s perspectives. I also rely on the good judgment of a circle of advance readers who are mostly women.
3. Why did you begin a series, as opposed to a stand-alone novel?
Two reasons. One was simply that Christine had originally envisioned this as a series, and with so many different settings to explore, so many types of paranormal phenomena to play with, it made sense. There’s endless potential for Cree Black’s set of talents to be challenged in different ways.
The other, frankly, was pragmatic. My first three novels (Skull Session, The Babel Effect, Puppets) were different enough to cause my various publishers some concern. How to “market” Daniel Hecht? What style or genre? They generally want writers to fit in pigeonholes, categories, genres, which for me is a square-peg-in-a-round-hole problem. So I thought I could make my publishers and booksellers happy by writing a long series that had consistency of style and subject. My work still doesn’t fit in any genre – it’s literary, it’s mystery, it’s supernatural—but by writing a series I kind of create my own genre.
4. You’ve obviously done a lot of research for the series; tell us more about where this has taken you.
I love the research aspect of writing! For the Cree books, I made up my mind early on that I’d spend lots of time in each location, so that I could get a real sense for the look and feel of the setting. For City of Masks, I went to New Orleans (where I’d never been), rented a hotel room, opened my laptop, and began. I spent three weeks there, walking the streets at all hours, driving around, eating the food, getting drunk on Bourbon street, stalking at midnight through the incredible cemeteries, listening to the music, going to libraries and police stations, visiting historic houses, interviewing people from street-sweepers to waitresses to cops to historians. I finished the book in New Orleans a year later, during a ten-day visit.
I did the same thing for Land of Echoes. I went to Arizona (where I had also never been) and lived for a couple of weeks with new friends on the Navajo reservation. I met their families, talked about Skinwalkers and Wolves, discussed healing Ways, ate Navajo fry bread and roast mutton, went for long walks and fabulous horse rides, drove around, prowled through Anaszi ruins, visited places important in Navajo history, interviewed professors and police and mining engineers and sheepherders, walked out on the mesa at night and looked at the stars. A year later, during another ten-day stay, I finished the book where I’d begun it, in the same little room attached to my Navjo friends’ horse barn.
For me, the hands-on, footwork-oriented, talk-to-people research is the fun part, but I also do a lot of reading, a dozen or more books per novel. I read about regional history, local supernatural lore, architectural styles, local plants and animals, biographies, etc. (I also steal people’s telephone books.)
5. The settings, first New Orleans and now the New Mexico desert, seem to be almost as important as your characters. What is it about these two places that spoke so strongly to you?
In general, physical landscapes are very important to me; each conveys unique “feelings” or moods – Cree would say each is inhabited by certain kinds of ghosts – that I think shape the human events that transpire there. I like being able to bring my readers to the places where the story is happening, for them to be able to see it vividly in their mind’s eye.
New Orleans and the Southwest both have rich, colorful, multi-cultural histories. I chose them because they are places where historical and cultural forces have converged, clashed, mixed, merged – there’s always a lot of intrigue and drama and texture where that collision has happened. Both have strong, and very different, local supernatural traditions. For purely selfish reasons, I also wanted to go someplace completely new for me, someplace exciting to explore and learn about. One of my favorite feelings in life is to find myself functionally lost in an absolutely new, strange place. Your eyes and ears seem to wake up, you don’t know what’s around the next bend; in the books, I’ve tried to bring some of that feeling to readers.
6. What’s the most fascinating aspect of the paranormal that inspired you to integrate it into your fiction?
Well, to start with, I’ve always been a paranormal afficionado. When I was a kid, I devoured Charles Fort’s books on unexplained phenomena, I marveled at Edgar Cayce’s prophecies; I drove myself crazy speculating about UFO sightings and abductions. I studied J.B. Rhine’s parapsychology experiments at Duke University and repeated them at home with my friends. I loved cryptozoology and reports about the Yeti, Sasquatch, Loch Ness monster, Mokele Mbembe, and the rest of the mysterious menagerie. I yearned to possess the powers of Mesmer and the fakirs, and wondered what they told us about the capacities of the mind. I shuddered with morbid delight reading histories of the Salem witch trials, squirmed at Medieval histories of possession and exorcism, and pestered my elderly aunts to tell yet again our true family ghost stories.
Most kids go through a similar period, during which they realize just what a strange place the universe is. It’s human curiosity at its most urgent and open-minded. We all intuitively know the world is big and strange and mostly hidden. I wanted to bring some of that sheer tantalizing wonder into my books!
Since childhood, I have also had many “paranormal” experiences, many of them in the course of studying shamanic disciplines, when I’ve lived alone, outdoors in wild places, for long periods of time. I’ve eaten sacred mind-altering plants and gone on long vision quests. I think of these events very differently than most people; for me, the term “magical” serves better. It’s not the weirdness or scariness that interests me; it’s that in anomalous or unexplained experiences, I catch a glimpse of the mystery beyond the physical world. If I am lucky, I learn something that truly contributes to my being able to live a good life, be a wise and good person, solve real problems, help others. This is Cree Black’s ultimate goal, too.
What matters to me now about the paranormal is what it teaches us about life. In this sense, it doesn’t matter whether “ghosts” are provably real; like “God” or “America,” what matters is how our belief in them, or our experience of them changes us or makes us who we are. I hope readers can enjoy Cree’s adventures even if they don’t believe in ghosts; if they come to view them as she does, it doesn’t matter whether they are literally “real” phenomena, psychological states, or instructive allegories.
7. Tell us a bit about your writing habits.
I get up and write every morning. Burn out after three or four hours, spend the rest of the day lurching around in a post-verbal haze, trying to recover, and doing other writing homework like reading research, copy-editing, correspondence, and promotion. I have three kids who are adept at filling up any free time that might occur.
I started and finished both Cree Black books in the settings where they took place, with months of writing at home in between. It’s a good way to (mentally) launch a book!
8. Are there any particular authors who inspired you to create such unusual storylines?
I’ve been influenced by many writers throughout my life, from Shakespeare to Dickens to Hemingway to Bellow to Andre duBus to Thomas Harris to Michael Connelly, and I’m an avid mystery and thriller reader who admires different things about many writers. But I honestly can’t say that any of them influenced these books, in subject or style – they’re unique!
9. What’s next for Cree Black?
I’m not telling! The great thing about Cree is that her adventures can vary widely – one story might have a more historical focus, one a more forensic one; she might deal with a more mystical sort of problem or a truly horrific or dangerous situation. But, as for setting: Cree’s on the West Coast this time.
DANIEL HECHT was a professional guitarist for twenty years. He took up writing in 1989 and received his M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1992. Since then, he has published three novels: the bestselling Skull Session, The Babel Effect, and the first of the Cree Black series, City of Masks, a BookSense 76 pick.