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An Interview With Martha C. Lawrence
Can you tell us a bit about your psychic experiences?
All my life I've had profound--but sporadic and uncontrollable--psychic experiences. When I was nine I dreamed that my mother was in a terrible car accident. The dream was so vivid that I cried, certain the accident would happen. It didn't...until ten years later, exactly as I'd seen it.
My mom survived the accident. I'm pretty sure I got my psychic ability from her. I wouldn't be here if she hadn't refused to let our family get on a plane to Jamaica when I was four. She balked at the gate, knowing the plane was going to crash. It did, killing everyone on board.
Were you frightened by your psychic experiences, or intrigued?
My first fearful encounter happened when I was twenty. I was home from college for the summer, back in the house where I'd grown up. Although I'd been having psychic experiences since I was a child, at that time in my life I was enthralled with intellectualism and the scientific method. I was doing my best to rationalize away my early psychic experiences as coincidences or products of a vivid imagination. Then, whammo! I'm face-to-face with a ghost, big as life. It scared the hell out of me. Not so much a fear of bodily harm, but fear that I was losing my mind. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychiatrists, people who saw such hallucinations were mentally ill.
How did you get over your fear?
My biggest fear was that if I were truthful about my experiences I'd be lumped with the weirdos and wackos.
Then I discovered Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, and Reflections. Here was a brilliant academic writing credibly about his own psychic experiences. His work inspired me.
How does your psychic insight affect your life and your writing?
Being psychic imbues my life with magic. My friends envy my incredible dream life, which I heavily rely on in writing my books. I never imagined that I would talk publicly about my visions and dreams, let alone write books inspired by them. I think the Elizabeth Chase mystery series is my way of working out my inner struggle with my psychic gift. Exploring the powers and limitations of my unusual abilities through Elizabeth has been a tremendously eye-opening experience.
Elizabeth Chase isn't a particularly ethereal character. She's a real woman with everyday problems and emotions. Why the departure from the traditional psychic?
Because I want the reader to rethink the clichÈs. A lot of people have a knee-jerk aversion to the word psychic-and for good reason, since it's been so badly misused by charlatans and flakes. But parapsychology has come a long way. In the sciences, arguments against psi are dissolving in the face of overwhelming positive evidence. It's only fitting that popular fiction have Dr. Elizabeth Chase, a level-headed psychic trained in the sciences.
People may tend to think that a psychic detective wouldn't be much of a detective because she could simply see whodunit. How is this perception wrong?
That's like saying that a surgeon wouldn't be much of a doctor because she could simply operate. To be psychic is not to be all-powerful and all-knowing. And don't think this doesn't frustrate me! I've had dreams that literally told me what was going on behind my back, and failed to make the connection. Psychics are human, too, with all the wishful thinking and rationalizing that comes with the human mindset.
One of the recurring characters in your series is a Native American shaman named Sequoia, who's a spiritual mentor to Elizabeth Chase. Does he have a real life counterpart?
In fact he does. Sequoia's a composite of several teachers I've had along the path, but the basic character was inspired by a very hip Indian who lives on a reservation not far from my home in Escondido, California.
Your new book, Ashes of Aries, deals with wildfires. Do you foresee a bad fire season ahead?
It doesn't take a psychic to see that growing urban sprawl is creating unprecedented opportunity for disaster. The phenomenon of fire bursting out of the wildlands into suburban housing developments is a product of rampant growth, particularly here in California.
Why did you title this book Ashes of Aries?
Aries is a fire sign, for one thing. Named after the Greek god of war, Aries also gives the reader clues about the novel's antagonist.
Let's talk about your early influences. The haunted house you grew up in was in Rancho Santa Fe, California, is that correct?
Right. The back terrace of my childhood home looks out on the Heaven's Gate mansion, where 39 cult members committed suicide. Growing up in Rancho Santa Fe was strange.
In what way?
It was a bit like coming of age in Disneyland. Imagine a place where the average annual temperature is 70 degrees, the sun shines almost every day of the year, and the median home price is two million bucks. Can you say "sheltered"? I learned early on that money doesn't necessarily make people happy, which may explain why I dared to go into the book business.
Have you ever assisted the police in solving a real life crime?
Not through psychic powers. But I've been a witness for the state in two felony cases. In 1986 my testimony helped convict a serial rapist. In 1993 my testimony-and a mountain of physical evidence-sent a stalker to prison. Let's just say I came by my criminal justice system expertise the hard way. When it comes to crime, I'd much rather get my thrills between the pages of a book, know what I mean?