I’m excited about my new book, The Man with the Crystal Ankh. It’s the first in the Hollow Oak trilogy.
When I sat down to think about what truly inspired my writing of this book, one of the answers surprised me. When I was a kid, I was obsessed with this Bearenstain Bears book called “The Bearenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree.” It was one of those books that came with a cassette tape (dating myself here), allowing kids to listen to it read by a voice actor with all kinds of cool sounds effects.
Turns out, some folks have posted the audio (along with the book images) on YouTube:
The tree in the children’s book in many ways mirrors the hollow oak in The Man with the Crystal Ankh. Both trees have a major presence in the story, so much so that characters find themselves attracted to the trees despite their spooky natures. In the Bearenstain Bears book, the tree contains a literal assortment of rooms, trap doors, staircases, and dungeons all within its barky enclosure. (Like the TARDIS, it’s much bigger on the inside!)
In the fictional town of Hollow Oak, the oak itself is a centerpiece of the town, currently standing on the front lawn of the town’s oldest high school. Like a tree in the town where I currently reside, the fictional hollow oak is referenced in the oldest town land records and played a role in many historical events—in this case, directly tied to the storyline involving the characters’ ancestors.
When we “grow up,” we lose the ability (time? desire?) to see beyond the literal. To an adult, a spooky old tree is simply that. To a child, it holds all manner of wonders. Maybe that’s the reason I like Doctor Who so much. His tiny little TARDIS contains infinite possibilities.
In my Hollow Oak series, my main character, Sarah, finds herself going into a near trance while playing the violin. Doing so relaxes her mind enough that she becomes receptive to the things around her that normal “adults” tend to ignore. (At this time of year, I’m reminded of the bell that rings for children but not for adults in The Polar Express.) This ability opens her to experiences closed to everyone around her—sending her on a supernatural wild goose chase to find out the mystery of a late custodian and her relationship to the town’s sordid history.
Whenever someone asks me how I can be so creative all the time, I think it’s because I’ve never lost my sense of childhood. Although at times I have to shut my mind to the magical possibilities of this world, when the business calms, even for a few minutes, I can’t help but let my imagination run wild. After all, my head is much, much bigger on the inside.
Everyone’s heard the legend of the hollow oak—the four-hundred year curse of Sarah Willlougby and Preston Grymes. Few realize how true it is.
Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.
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