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Ghost stories

Tara Hudson’s debut novel uses the backdrop of southeastern Oklahoma to tell an eerie, ethereal, young-adult paranormal romance.

Jenny Coon Peterson June 8th, 2011

Tara Hudson
3 p.m. Saturday
Full Circle Bookstore, 1900 Northwest Expressway, 842-2900

Tara Hudson has never seen a ghost. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a ghost story to tell.

Take this one, for instance: “When I was a kid, my grandparents took me to this incredibly creepy place,” Hudson said. “It was in a clearing in the middle of this forest (in southeastern Oklahoma). It was this overgrown field surrounded by a wrought-iron gate. When we got inside, it was full of these brokendown headstones, and I had no idea why we were there, except it was creepy-cool.”

That cemetery, which she learned as an adult is her family cemetery, plays a major role in her debut novel, “Hereafter,” which follows a ghost, Amelia, as she tries to solve the mystery of her life and death, and figure out what to do next.

“It’s such an odd place,” said Hudson, who will sign copies of her debut on Saturday at Full Circle Bookstore. “I couldn’t get out of my head, ‘I wonder how lonely this place is at night?’ It’s in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by graves, almost completely forgotten about. Can you imagine waking up there? That image has always stuck with me, and it’s what influenced my original story in college and influenced me to definitely go back to that with ‘Hereafter.’”

That original short story was written while she studied studying English literature at the University of Oklahoma. But life after college for Hudson, much like life after death for her main character, took its own course.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Hudson applied for graduate school after completing her undergrad at OU, but, she said, “I didn’t want to read any more classic literature.”

Instead, she went to law school. She now works for Chesapeake Energy as a landman, but she missed writing.

“I hadn’t really written anything other than legal memos and briefs for five years,” she said. “One day on my lunch break, I was talking to a girlfriend about how much I missed it, and she said, ‘Well, write something.’ So I just wrote a scene out and based it loosely around a short story I’d written in college. I sent it to my two best friends at the end of my lunch break for them to read and they loved it; they wanted more.”

What she wrote actually became the first chapter of “Hereafter,” and, oddly enough, is one of the chapters that received the smallest amount of editing.

While the college short story was not young-adult, “Hereafter” is.

“It’s funny, I didn’t really think of it as YA, but it’s about teens,” she said.

Hudson finished the book in six months — writing, she said, on “a lot of lunch breaks, weekends, nights” — while also being a new mom. After landing an agent, she sold the novel in just eight days.

The resulting debut novel is a ghost story that’s more cerebral and spooky than frightening. And, this being a YA paranormal romance, the swoon factor is most definitely there, written in an intriguing style at which Hudson excels.

It’s also set firmly in Wilburton and Robbers Cave State Park, giving it a very real sense of place.

“Southeastern Oklahoma is an eerie place. It’s really hilly, there’s lots of caves, it’s very wooded,” Hudson said. “It’s just sort of a spooky place, and you always get a feeling there’s someone watching you. In my head, that someone happens to be Amelia.”

With “Hereafter,” an idea that sprouted from those early memories of an overgrown cemetery, setting the story in southeastern Oklahoma was a given, but she said she’d love to set future books in the state.

“I definitely want to continue writing Oklahoma as a setting,” she said. “I want to explore other places.

I think Oklahoma has a lot to offer in terms of spooky settings — just cool places you can put people.”

For now, however, it’s off to other settings. “Hereafter” is the first in a trilogy, and the second novel, which she just finished, will be set in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

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