Writer lets the characters come out in supernatural thrillers.
Christina Harlin is a people watcher.
As an author of paranormal stories, including the new “Othernaturals” series, she tours haunted houses and spooky cemeteries with her son, Jake, who acts as her bodyguard, photographer and assistant. The locations inspire her to be sure, but it’s the people watching that really sparks her creativity.
“I’ve met so many interesting people,” she says. “They have great stories to tell and come from all walks of life. I can just hang back and listen to them talk, but I’ll share that I’m a writer and what I write about if someone asks.”
Before Harlin could write words, she drew pictures to tell stories. Then she scribbled on the backs of forms from her dad’s office, then wrote longhand before she started typing on an electric typewriter.
“I write even when no one sees it,” she says, “because it’s fun!” She writes in the paranormal genre because she believes the world can use more magic.
“It’s nothing to be afraid of. The fantacist in me loves being able to make things go the way I think they should, but I don’t always have control. What’s really fun is when a character in a book fights me.”
Harlin, whose day job is at a law office in Kansas City, is a proud Missouri native. Her family has been here for four generations and she’s lived in the central part of the state, has spent summers on a farm, and has lived in Jefferson City. She now calls Platte City home and has lived in Kansas City for 25 years.
“I love my state,” she says. “Everything I write happens in Missouri. I adopt certain towns, but of course I rename them.”
She and Jake have recently toured the Atchison cemetery, the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City, Longview Mansion in Lee’s Summit and Vaile Mansion in Liberty; but the scariest tour for Harlin was Belvoir Winery in Liberty.
“It was chilling!” she says. “Thank goodness for Jake. He’s braver than I am.”
Harlin says she experiments on every tour; sometimes she brings an EMP detector, sometimes she follows someone other than a tour guide into areas she’s not sure she should be in. That’s what she and Jake did at Belvoir Winery.
“The winery itself is beautiful but the outlying buildings—once used as a mental hospital and retirement home—are terrifying. The entire escapade was like a ghost story unto itself.”
Oddly—or perhaps poignantly—enough, Harlin was scared into taking writing seriously.
“Hearing nice things is flattering and humbling and it encourages me to keep writing,” she says. “But what really inspired me was losing a friend when he was 35. He wanted to be a writer. That scared me; what if I never tried? Not long after he died I tried self-publishing.”
Harlin took a few creative writing classes in high school and college, but she hasn’t really studied writing. Instead she reads “lots of good books” and credits other writers for teaching her how to construct a sentence, structure a plot, and sprinkle details in just the right places.
“Reading is truly the best education,” she says. She reads romance novels—her guilty pleasure—and mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, and anything with interesting lords and ladies. She’s a sucker for anything by Steven King and mysteries by Elizabeth George.
“The truth is, the stories I write are squirming to get out. There are little people living in my head; they party and have a good time together. Because of that I usually start with characters; that’s the most important element. Then I’ll rough out an outline and jot down a few details. Then I listen to the characters. I love when they go free range. They frighten me on occasion, but what really makes me happy is when they do something I’d never expect.”
Harlin says she wouldn’t be able to write as much as she does without the unwavering support of her family. Her husband and son and her mother “are nothing but supportive” and have always believed in her, even when she questioned herself.
“My husband, Bruce, is my conscious,” says Harlin. “He cracks the whip and sits on my shoulder, and he pushes me to keep going. My mother is on the other shoulder. She’s an eternal optimist.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Harlin’s advice to aspiring writers is to accept as much support and help as possible.
“And if you know someone who wants to write,” she says, “be the support they need. Encourage them to go for it!”
Harlin’s work includes the new “Othernaturals” series; the next book will be out in Spring 2016. Learn more at ChristinaHarlin.com or follow her on Facebook and Goodreads at GoodReads.com/author/show/1391999.Christina_Harlin