Connecticut native receives rave reviews for third book
"Books worth waiting for" could be the slogan of novelist John Searles, who has attracted a large number of fans and approving critics, despite publishing only three books over the past decade.
Unlike many popular novelists, who maintain a book-a-year pace, Searles doesn't have a series character or even a fixed genre guiding him into his next story.
Add a deliberate writing pace to what was until recently a full-time editing position at Cosmopolitan magazine, and a part-time gig on NBC's "Today" show, and you have a good explanation for the nine years that have passed between the publication of "Strange But True" and his much-lauded new novel, "Help for the Haunted" (William Morrow, $26.99).
"I look at all of those other writers and I'm very envious," Searles said of the steadier pace of some of his peers.
Since it appeared a few weeks ago, the raves have been piling up -- a reviewer in the Washington Post compared Searles' smart but troubled 14-year-old heroine, Sylvie, to Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
The Connecticut native will be talking at the Darien Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16.
"Help for the Haunted" is almost impossible to synopsize, but contains elements of mystery, suspense and the supernatural in a tale of the struggles of the two teen daughters of famous demonologists who are murdered in a Maryland church.
Searles moves the reader back and forth in time to show us what it was like for Sylvie and her older sister, Rose, growing up with parents who drew large audiences in their lecture appearances around the country, but who caused the girls to be mocked by their school classmates.
Although the couple in the book might suggest famed Connecticut "ghost hunters" Ed and Lorraine Warren to local readers, Searles stresses the fact that his story is in no way based on their lives or work.
"I was just interested in what it would be like to be the children of parents who have made a career out of the paranormal," Searles said. "The fun of (fiction writing) is taking something that is tangled up in your mind, but then coming up with something very different on the page."
Searles believes in storytelling as an imaginative exercise that can carry him far away from autobiographical fiction. He also believes many of us are capable of identifying with all sorts of people we know.
As one of four siblings, Searles had the chance to experience life through their eyes as well as his own.
"I've been asked how and why did I write from the point of view of a teenage girl. But I joke that I kind of am a teenage girl," he said, adding that he was very close to his sister, who died just before her high school graduation.
"That left such an impression on me," he said. "I was so young to be faced with such an enormous tragedy. ... I think I've channeled some of the essence of her (in the novel)."
Searles' parents divorced in the wake of his sister's death.
As the writer told Publisher's Weekly in June, "I did have a great, warm family, but we had some bad things happen."
While writing "Help for the Haunted," Searles was plagued by self doubt -- "Will people think it's too weird?" -- so he has been relieved by the strong critical response so far.
"When my publicist read me that (Washington Post) review, I was blown away and really speechless," he said.
The author agrees that it isn't easy to describe "Help for the Haunted," since it doesn't fall neatly into any one genre.
"My hope is that people will just want to keep turning the pages," he said.
Searles admitted that writing "Help for the Haunted" didn't come easily, especially with his other job obligations, but that the experience was so rewarding that he has now drastically cut back on his commitment to Cosmopolitan.
He's ready to become a full-time fiction writer.
"This summer, I started something that is still in its early phases that I'm really excited about, and I've been promising everyone that it won't be another nine years," he said, laughing. "You won't see it next year, but it will be in a reasonable amount of time."