Katie Williams’ ‘Absent’ explores reactions to death
The ideas for Katie Williams’ books come from many places — things the author overhears, her past experiences, other authors’ novels and stories, purely from her imagination.
“My teacher Charlie Baxter gave me the most useful tip for generating story ideas: You close your eyes and allow an image to rise up in your mind. It can be anything; let’s say footprints in the snow. Then, you ask yourself questions about this image: Who left those footprints? Where were they headed? The story will come from your answers,” Katie told Cracking the Cover.
Katie used this technique with her latest novel, “Absent.” The book tells the story of 17-year-old Paige, who dies in a freak fall from the roof during physics class and finds her spirit bound to the grounds of her high school.
“I was curious about the idea of writing a story that took place in a confined space — I love boarding school stories and locked-room mysteries — and so I closed my eyes and saw an image of kids after hours in an empty high school” she said. “I asked myself: What are they doing there after school is closed for the day? And then I thought, Maybe they’re dead.”
The prologue of “Absent” is both sad and dark, but it was truly Katie’s bridge into the larger story.
“I wanted to start with something I’d explored in ‘The Space Between Trees,’ the community’s reaction to a death, this swirl of voices,” Katie explained. “So in the prologue we get everyone else’s ideas — ‘Death is this. Death is that.’ — recounted by the one person who actually knows what death is. This is where I found Paige’s voice.”
People are drawn to stories about ghosts because we don’t know what happens after we die, Katie says. We can only guess. “Ghost stories help us deal with our anxieties around our own mortality, and I think ultimately they try to teach us not to waste our lives worrying about what comes after. I actually wrote a guest post about this topic earlier in the blog tour!”
Katie didn’t want the ghost aspect of “Absent” to come across as gimmicky or trendy, particularly because paranormal is so popular right now. “I wanted to tell a story about real-life emotions and experiences, and using the ghost world was my way to do this,” she said. “I hope readers aren’t just entertained by the plot or dazzled by the supernatural, but that they actually feel something for the characters’ experience.”
*Read a complete transcript of Katie Williams’ interview with Cracking the Cover.
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