I wrote DEAD CONNECTION a few years ago about Murray, a boy so alienated that he took refuge in a cemetery and so lonely he began talking to the headstones. In the graveyard, along with his dead “friends,” he also developed a rather stormy relationship with Pearl, the cemetery caretaker’s daughter.
During quiet moments or on long drives I would find myself wondering about Murray and Pearl and how their relationship changed after they’d found the body of the kidnapped cheerleader. I would wonder about another character, the troubled sheriff deputy Roman Gates and whether he’d found any peace regarding his only son’s suicide. Since these people wouldn’t leave me alone I decided to join them again right where I’d left them and DEAD INVESTIGATION came into being.
Identifying with Murray, I could see how seductive it could be to talk with the dead and have them for “friends.” Unlike many of the kids at his school where he was considered a loser, the dead were grateful for his company. So, Murray had a decision to make – would he stay with the dead where it’s comfortable, or, would he use his skills in the outside world where he constantly faced the risk of derision and disbelief. What roles would Pearl and Gates play in this process? I wanted to know what Murray would do and why.
Additionally, I wanted to continue an exploration of paranormal abilities. Earlier during graduate school I had an opportunity to study with the New York parapsychologist Lawrence Leshan. He entertained and educated me with marvelously incredible stories of clairvoyants and ghosts and teenage girls who were so energetically upset that they could unintentionally knock objects off the warehouse shelves where they worked. The poltergeist phenomena! Generated by their agitated emotional state. Amazing!
While I literally did not know how to believe these stories, I learned that many of them had been validated by very serious and credible people. Something was going on in our world that was hugely mysterious and impossible to explain with ordinary science. For example, clairvoyants are sometimes useful to families or police in locating missing persons, dead or alive.
Dr. Leshan cautioned that a “real” clairvoyant, a person with observable and testable paranormal skills, was almost always uncomfortable with that ability. They could not explain how they received paranormal information and feared that others would think them liars or weirdos. More, they never knew whether the information they received was accurate or inaccurate. Only “psychic” fakers are eager to publicize themselves and guarantee specific results.
What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?
At one point in the book Murray is captured by one of the criminals, handcuffed and brought to a trailer to be questioned and probably killed. The scene frightened me because the way it unfolded I could not picture how Murray could get out of this predicament. I didn’t believe that I personally could escape from such a dire situation. Since I couldn’t devise any solutions, I stopped writing. It took me a while to remember that I hadn’t actually “planned” for Murray to get kidnapped in the first place. I had just been watching him and writing what I was seeing. Okay, especially since I couldn’t imagine a way out of his dilemma, I’d better keep watching him and see if he could. I began writing again, reporting what I saw. I love that scene for the number of surprises it contained for me, the writer. Who knew?
That said, I’m perhaps most proud of a very brief scene which as usual, I hadn’t planned. Murray gets his first kiss. Earlier in the school year, as a warm-up and get-to-know-each-other exercise, he and his classmates had to pull a folded paper from a bowl and answer whatever question they happened to pick. Murray’s question turned out to be: “Where were you when you had your first kiss?” Murray was desperate. He’d never had a “first kiss” or, for that matter, any kiss from anyone but his mother. He knew he couldn’t answer “at home.” He’d never live it down. A lie came to mind and he said “at the movies” thereby avoiding terminal embarrassment. Writing that incident and the way his first kiss actually came about were particular fun for me, possibly, because I’d received reader mail after I’d written DEAD CONNECTION asking about Murray’s “love life.”
How long did you work on DEAD INVESTIGATION?
Two whole years. I felt I needed to understand the entire story of the crimes committed. I needed to know all the characters’ lives and make sure they rang true to my experience. I believed I needed to know much more than I would wind up including in the book. I wanted every part of the story to seem absolutely real and plausible, as authentic as I could possibly make it.
I had to do research on homelessness and revisit the Mission that I’d come to know during my work with County Mental Health. Regarding the characters, I had some kids along with Murray and Pearl that I really wanted to write about: A girl who discovers she’s a spectacular solo rock climber but can’t tell her parents because they’re afraid to let her do it. A transsexual Filipino boy/girl whose parents are embarrassed and thus send him to live with distant relatives in the town of Riverton where the story takes place. The first year I wrote the story incorporating these characters but I found I could not bring them together with Murray and the cemetery without writing manipulatively, steering the story rather than watching it develop naturally. Long ago I made a personal vow never to consciously bend a story to a plot I’d invented. Instead, I would watch the characters evolve their own responses to difficult situations. Even if that wasn’t where I thought the story was headed, I almost always went with their behavior. In every situation I can remember, good things happened. New story directions emerged that I’d never considered.
In DESERT ANGEL, (2011) I expected my girl character to cross a road, walk up in the rugged mountains and meet an Afghan US army vet who would become her ally. She didn’t cross the road. She turned right . . . and met an entirely different group of people that made for an even richer narrative.
What do you hope readers will take away from DEAD INVESTIGATION?
First, a little greater sense of awe at how mysterious our world can be. There is both so much we know and so much we don’t know. We are at the beginning stages of understanding time and space – illusive concepts that we often take for granted. Our world is spectacular whether we look very very large or very very small, and occasionally things occur that are “impossible” but apparently true. If people are fearful, they dismiss those phenomena. Fearful people are rarely amused by peculiarities. I hope readers will relish the idea that some of the events we don’t presently understand are as fascinating and valuable as many things we are able to comprehend. I hope readers will be occasionally puzzled or curious and enjoy that experience.
Second, I hope readers of DEAD INVESTIGATION develop a greater respect for “unusual” kids. In at-risk schools and psych hospitals I worked with many kids who came from difficult homes. Everywhere they got the message that they didn’t fit. Internalizing that message sometimes led to self-destructive acting out and depression. Schools can be mean places for someone who’s a little different. As adults many of us learn that “diversity” makes our lives richer, but earlier, in middle school and high school where we were developing our identity, we often looked for people whom we admired and spent most of our time with people who were like us. That’s cool, except . . . if it leads to putting down other kids who are a little outside the mainstream. When we do that, we miss whatever that kid has to offer and at times what they bring to the table is pretty remarkable.
What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?
To create a new story, rely less on your thinking and more on your imagination. Thinking involves reasoning and planning and sequencing and deciding and similar cognitive processes. Though these tools are very useful in revising and editing, they may not be helpful in finding inspiration for fresh fiction.
Imagination and inspiration occur when we surrender, relax, let go of controlling thoughts and simply observe the situation that interests us. For instance: What will the girl do when she’s jogging one morning and comes upon the body of a class rival on the side of the path? Instead of reasoning, jog along with your character, watch what happens when she realizes that the lump she’s looking at is a body. No, not just a body. The body of a girl she knows and doesn’t like. What does the runner do? Does she scream? Is she shocked mute? Does she run away? Yell for help? Back off a few feet and call 911? What is she thinking?
Picture yourself completely absorbed, watching this scene in a movie theater. Really, you are watching a “movie” but it’s created by your own vast store of visual and tactile and auditory memories. Your own executive neurons are combing through your own huge knowledge/experience database looking for new and relevant associations to offer as you continue to relax and let the story unfold in your imagination.
Fall into the screen. The picture evolves and the action reels out. If you get to a blank place, relax. Take a deep breath and wait. Keep looking until the jogger does the next thing or has the next thought. (Sadness, fear, and guilt mixed together maybe?) If you can, keep from asking yourself questions like . . . . . . . .
––What should she do? ––What’s the best thing to do? ––What would make the most interesting behavior?
The things you push to make happen, the plots you make characters conform to, aren’t likely to be as fresh and effective as things that come to you when you’re watching your character alive and interacting with a challenging situation.
One more thing. Editor Deborah Brodie gave me a piece of advice that I use every day. -- WRITE DESSERT FIRST. -- Write what you’re excited about, what gets you out of bed and over to your computer in the morning. That mindset kick-starts your creativity.
ABOUT THE BOOKDead Investigation by Charlie Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A companion to Dead Connection, from the Edgar Award–winning author.
In this standalone sequel to Charlie Price's acclaimed debut novel, Murray is a boy who lives in a cemetery and can talk with those buried beneath the tombstones. He'd rather no one knew, but word got out once he helped solve a fellow student's murder. Now people think he's nuts, or want to use his ability for their own ends, or don't care that he might not want to get tangled in another police investigation all over again. But there's been a brutal killing—maybe more than one—and Murray may be able to help unravel the crime, although not without risking his own life.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORCharlie Price graduated from Stanford in the late 60’s and has lived in Italy, New York City, Oakland, and Mexico before settling in Northern California. His thirty-five years of experience working with adolescents ranges from teaching in street schools in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, to group therapist on locked psychiatric units, to Academic Dean in therapeutic boarding schools.
Charlie published his first book, Dead Connection, with Roaring Brook Press in 2006. His subsequent books have been published with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Roaring Brook’s sister printer in the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, based in the famed Flatiron Building in New York City.
His books have received excellent reviews and several recommendations from the American Library Association. In 2011, his third book, The Interrogation of Gabriel James, was awarded the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery. His next book, Desert Angel, was optioned by a major TV and film company. Charlie is published by Random House in the United Kingdom and Thierry Magnier in France.
In the past few years Charlie Price has appeared at the Record Searchlight Book Club Series, the Tehama Literary Festival, several writers’ forums, a number of Northern California schools, and book signings. He has also been a judge for teen-writing contests like San Francisco’s Teen LitQuake. Charlie has lectured at New York’s New School Forum on Writing for Children, has given SCBWI workshops in Asilomar and Northern California, and has been featured in the Shasta College Distinguished Writer Series. He has also spoken on a panel at the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English.
In addition to writing, Charlie has a parallel career working at the local and national level as a leadership consultant, executive coach, and management trainer. More information can be found by visiting our Coaching and Consulting page or by contacting Charlie Price directly.
Charlie has been delightfully married to psychotherapist/artist Joan Pechanec for thirty-plus years and has a twenty-nine-year-old daughter, Jessica Rose, living in Portland. In spite of abundant flaws, he’s a decent guitar player and fly-fisherman who lives on a river in Northern California.
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