October 17, 2018

The Talking Dead

By Linda Hughes

When a reviewer wrote that the real main characters in my latest romantic suspense novel, Secrets of the Island,were the dead people, it gave me pause. True, there is a lot of discussion in the family-oriented mystery about ancestors long dead but, still, I don’t think they overshadow the living characters. After more thought, however, I felt pleased that the reader noticed the importance of the generations of deceit that embattled this family. It caused me to consider something I do when I write; I pay attention to the deceased.

Even when the dead aren’t part of the story, I’m always considering “what went on before” my story starts. What makes these characters do the things they do? At least in my head, I need a foundation to make my story rise out of the dust.

Author Jude Deveraux said, “There are no new stories. It all depends on how you handle them.” I agree, which is why paying attention to the past can help create a story today. Studying real history and reading everything I can get my hands on about an era and a place are critical to writing. But even more important is putting me – my body and mind and heart and soul – into the real-life scenes of my fiction.

I once had a college history professor, Dr. Tom Dyer at the University of Georgia, who said internet research is fine, if that’s all you can manage, but nothing can replace going to the places you’re researching, to feel the souls of the people who lived there in times gone by. For example, for my novel Secrets of the Asylum, I toured the former Northern Michigan Asylum, a gigantic nineteenth century Victorian-era structure that operated for almost ninety years.

I’d already read everything I could about it, but nothing compared to walking through the beautifully constructed building, crumbling with decay but its past glory still apparent. I could hear the voices of the thousands who had been committed to those rooms. Their stories seeped out of the walls, pleading to be heard.

It made my writing better.

So, my advice to you as a writer is to put yourself into the scenes of your stories, whenever possible, and then when you get there pay attention to the history not only of the place but of the people who lived and died there. Not the history book versions, but the real-life stories. Let your senses guide you as you breathe in the past. Let your heart take down the paths of those who lived there before; let your writing capture the feelings you had while there.

Writing isn’t only about sitting in a chair. Sometimes it requires that we get up off our duffs and go somewhere. It requires that we listen to the lives of dead people. And it requires that we expand our perspective to accept doing just that.
Award-winning author Linda Hughes ' new romantic suspense novel is Secrets of the Island, set on historic Mackinac Island, Michigan. It's precursor, Secrets of the Asylum, won an eLit bronze award and was a finalist for the Silver Falchion award. For information on all of Linda's fiction and non-fiction books, visit her website at [,], Twitter @lghughesauthor, Instagram lghughesauthor, and Pinterest /lghughesauthor. Her memoir writing website is at

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