Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.
Paranormal Existence: An Interview with Terri Bruce
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Hmmm, that’s a toughie! Good question! I actually did have a mentor for a while, a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man named Charles Grosky. He was the leader of the writing group I joined when I decided I wanted to start getting serious about writing and attempt to get published. He was a great writer and a fabulous critique partner. He had a gift for giving feedback gently but firmly. He’d often just say, “I know you can do better than this” and that was enough. Sadly, he passed away from lung cancer in 2011. I don’t know that he can ever be replaced.
Which part of research for the series was the most interesting to you?
Oh, it all has been! My not-so-secret secret is that I’m a huge geek. One of my favorite subjects is mythology and the origins of myths. For the Afterlife series, I wanted to write a story that combined all of the afterlife myths and customs from every culture and religion on Earth. So researching all of that is fun for me—writing is the actual work/hard part.
I’ve found out so many fascinating things while researching this series. At one time, it was illegal to bury someone in a shift made of linen—not because it was bad luck or anything like that, but because it was attempt to boost up the wool/woolens industry! So some of the customs that we have and folk lore/myths are actually based on pretty banal reasons but then those reasons get lost to history and supernatural motivations are assigned to them.
Another interesting story I found was an ancient Egyptian story about the god Ra, disguised as a cat, sitting in a garden, protecting a sacred tree of knowledge from the god Apap, who was disguised as a snake, and who would bring darkness to the world if he ate the fruit of the tree. Sound familiar at all? Yeah, a precursor story to the Garden of Eden. I love uncovering earlier versions or even the historical origins of myths—not because it shows these later versions to be false or untrue, but simply because it reminds me we are all connected. These stories, no matter how they may change over time, are our collective wisdom and experience and speak to universal truths about man’s struggle, no matter when or where we live.
What did you find most challenging about writing the second novel of a series?
There are two parts to writing a series that I’m finding challenging (I’m working on the third book right now and am having the same challenges that I did with the second): the first is balancing not boring the readers who read the previous books but not confusing the readers who haven’t. That is, balancing back story/reminders of what happened in Book #1 with boring info. dumps. Nothing drives me crazier than t.v. shows that flashback to stuff that happened in THE SAME EPISODE like we didn’t just see what happened (and I’m not talking mysteries where they often flashback to show us more details or something we might have missed the first time; I’m talking about characters reminiscing/remembering stuff via flashback that just happened)! So I don’t want to do that to my readers; however, if someone picks up Book #2 or Book #3 without having read the previous book(s), I don’t want them to be totally lost either.
The other thing that I find challenging is not giving away spoilers when talking to people because, as the writer, I’m actually one or two books ahead of everyone else. For me, Thereafter was done a year and a half ago, so it’s old news and I tend to blab about it as if it’s old news, forgetting that no one has had a chance to read it yet. I have to be really careful when doing interviews and such not to reveal stuff that’s happening in Book #3, since that’s where my head is at. It’s really hard!
Let’s talk about the thing that readers see first: your book covers. I pick up your book and look at the cover. What do you want me to see?
Great question! The cover of Hereafter I actually really love…because of spoilers for Book #3 that I can’t reveal! Ahhhh! I told you it was hard! Let’s just say that if you’ve only read Book #1 (Hereafter), the cover of Hereafter means one thing. Once you read Book #3, it will mean another/you’ll understand the symbolism more. For both covers, I’m hoping they convey a sense of fantasy or mystery, but also of longing and melancholy.
What is the set-up for Thereafter?
Thereafter is the second book in the series. In the first book, Hereafter, we meet Irene Dunphy who has died and is stuck on Earth as a ghost. In the second book, she has crossed over to the afterlife, but finds herself unable to move forward because she doesn’t have a coin to pay the ferryman to take her across the river.
How does Thereafter fit in with Hereafter?
Both books are part of the Afterlife series, which will be six books total. Each book is meant to stand alone (no cliff-hanger endings or dangling plot lines), but should be read in order as each successive book builds on the previous ones. The series follows the main character Irene Dunphy as she navigates the afterlife, trying to find peace with herself and a place where she belongs.
Aside from your main character, who is your favorite character in Thereafter? Why?
My favorite character in the series is Jonah, hands down. I just love how dry and literal he is at times—there’s a scene where he’s celebrating the ancient Roman festival of Parentalia and he sends Irene the traditional offerings, which include “cereal.” To the Romans, cereal meant grain, but Jonah takes the word literally and sends Irene a box of Captain Crunch.
My other favorite character is Gao—he is based on a real, historical figure and he originally had a much bigger role. He’s sort of a blip in the book now, but I’m hoping I can find a way to work him into the story again, because he has so much potential. I just love that he’s based on a real person and there were a lot of cool things about him that fit the story so well, so I have a particular fondness for him.
Your biography (readers can find it above) mentions that you live in a haunted house. Do you know who the ghosts are? Do any of them remind you of the main character in this series?
Our house is really weird in that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of records of it. If you put our address into Mapquest or a GPS, it sends you an empty field in a nearby town, rather than to our house. But if you put in any of our neighbors’ addresses, it will direct you correctly. About fifteen years ago, the town produced a book with information on every historical property in town; our house (which is at least two hundred years old) is the only one that’s missing from the book. The historical society maintains files on each historic property in the town; our house has a file there, but it’s empty. There’s nothing in it. When we first moved in, a lot of people, including the state road inspector who works in a town over an hour away from us, all said, when we told them where we lived, “Oh, I know that house!” When asked why, they would look uncomfortable and say, “Oh, no reason.” Let me tell you, this was all a little unsettling! I tried to research the deed of the house and the deed is a muddled muss that disappears after (before?) 1850, even though the house is older than that. So, all my attempts to research the house have been stymied. Whoever the ghosts are, they are keeping their secrets.
Thanks for sharing with us, Terri. It’s been a blast!
Nothing in life is free. Turns out, nothing in the afterlife is, either.
When recently-deceased Irene Dunphy decided to “follow the light,” she thought she’d end up in Heaven or Hell and her journey would be over.
Boy, was she wrong.
She soon finds that “the other side” isn’t a final destination but a kind of purgatory where billions of spirits are stuck, with no way to move forward or back. Even worse, deranged phantoms known as “Hungry Ghosts” stalk the dead, intent on destroying them. The only way out is for Irene to forget her life on earth—including the boy who risked everything to help her cross over—which she’s not about to do.
As Irene desperately searches for an alternative, help unexpectedly comes in the unlikeliest of forms: a twelfth-century Spanish knight and a nineteenth-century American cowboy. Even more surprising, one offers a chance for redemption; the other, love. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to have either if she can’t find a way to escape the hellish limbo where they’re all trapped.