Jeremy Finley’s superb debut, The Darkest Time of Night, was a political thriller that morphed into something much less down-to-earth (if you’ll pardon the pun). As Lynn Roseworth searched for her missing grandson, she was forced to come to terms with her work as a secretary for a professor devoted to extraterrestrial research, and the terrifying possibility that it may have something to do with her family’s crisis.
In Finley’s sequel, The Dark Above, Lynn’s grandson is now an adult and desperate to put what happened to him as a child behind him. But after his identity is exposed, he must find others who have had his same experiences to prevent a dark future.
While there are certainly elements of “The X-Files,” “Stranger Things” and other sci-fi thrillers in Finley’s books, the main inspiration came from a surprising place: his mother-in-law.
She was the last anyone expected to be responsible.
After all, my new novel, The Dark Above, is a supernatural thriller that begins 15 years after a child vanished in the woods under mysterious circumstances. As disasters begin to unfold across the world, the fractured family of that boy must overcome their own internal struggles to uncover the sinister reasons of the global epidemic.
As the book releases this month, I anticipate the question that I got last year, when the first book in the series, The Darkest Time of Night, was released. People would ask where the idea for all this came from, and I’d just nod in the direction of an elegant woman, Sudoku stashed in her purse, her fingernails expertly cleaned to remove the dirt from her garden.
“Your mother-in-law?” was the usual response.
After all, Linda (last name withheld because she shies away from attention) is, perhaps, the absolute last person on earth you would ever think to inspire novels based on terror from the stars.
You’ll find her curled up with Ann Patchett’s latest novel, not with a Stephen King paperback. And as far as dark obsessions go, she does tend to vacuum when her house isn’t dirty. She enjoys quilting and baseball and politics.
And she also once worked for one of the nation’s foremost experts in UFO research.
I delight in telling people that fact, just to see their eyes bulge out of their heads.
At least mine did when I first heard it, all those years ago standing in her kitchen surrounded by her collection of primitive antiques.
Nonchalantly, loading the dishwasher, she mentioned how when my father-in-law was in law school, she needed a job, and fast, to make ends meet. There was an opening for a secretary at the university’s astronomy department, and she scored the job.
She talked about how nice the professors were, but remarked how strange it was to take messages for one of them. The calls, she recalled, were bizarre, from people who saw things in the sky and swore that they, or others they knew, had been taken.
I scraped my jaw off the floor as she told of how that professor would later have a cameo in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as Spielberg used him as a consultant, then later as an extra in the final scene when humanity makes contact with alien life.
That professor was none other than J. Allen Hynek, who would become one of the country’s most famous UFO researchers, whose notoriety would including coining the phrase “close encounters of the third kind” to describe people seeing creatures inside a craft.
My mother-in-law’s life would veer in a different direction after leaving that job, raising five children, establishing her own successful small business and ultimately becoming a grandmother of 18.
But her brush with something truly otherworldly got my creative juices flowing. What if an unassuming grandmother had knowledge about missing people that not even the FBI or police were aware of? What if she, and only she, could unravel what happened to her vanished grandson?
When I called to tell her and my father-in-law about the book deal, they both cheered. I then let on that the idea for the books came from her days as a secretary for a UFO researcher.
“Oh,” she laughed. “Oh my.”