This reading group guide for Ink and Bone includes an introduction, discussion questions and a Q&A with author Lisa Unger. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction
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A missing little girl. A grieving family barely clinging together. A young woman grappling with her special psychic gift. A secluded, mystical town. These elements combine in Ink and Bone,
the latest haunting psychological thriller from award-winning, New York Times–
bestselling author Lisa Unger.
Although her cold demeanor and canvas of tattoos usually make her an outcast, Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by specters and prone to visions, Finley is often overwhelmed by her increasingly powerful psychic gifts. To better understand and channel these powers she moves across the country to The Hollows, a woodsy upstate town that’s home to her similarly gifted grandmother, Eloise. As Finley begins to adjust to her new life and better reconcile her psychic powers, she and Eloise are drawn into a kidnapping case that’s been cold for months. With a family desperate for answers and even the smallest clue about their little girl, Finley and Eloise discover just how far some folks in The Hollows will go to keep their secrets.Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. “Anyone who asks you to keep a secret from your mom—a teacher, a friend, a stranger, anyone—is not looking out for you. No good person would ever ask you to do that.” How did you interpret this quote in the context of the prologue? How about after completing Ink and Bone
? How might this quote apply to the different parent-child relationships throughout the book?
2. How would you characterize the respective grieving processes of Merri and Wolf? Is one more right or wrong than the other?
3. What was your initial impression upon meeting Finley? Did this first impression change at all throughout the book?
4. “She hasn’t given up. She says that she can feel her daughter’s life force
.” Do you think there is such a thing as “life force”? Is there an instance in your own life when you have experienced something similar?
5. How do Jones and Eloise complement each other? Considering their success, why are they often considered a “last resort” instead of an early option?
6. Considering Eloise’s psychic gifts, do you think she foresaw Finley’s relocation to The Hollows and subsequent involvement with Jones?
7. What role does Rainer play throughout the book?
8. Were you familiar with The Hollows from Lisa Unger’s previous novels? If so, how does its role differ than previous stories? How is The Hollows more than just a setting?
9. Is the dissension between the town and hill folks of The Hollows and the seasonal visitors warranted? Have you ever visited or resided in a similar community?
10. There are a few references to Carl Jung throughout Ink and Bone
. What was your level of familiarity with him and his work before the book? Will you investigate further?
11. Regardless of the tragedy that transpired in The Hollows, do you think Merri and Wolf were ultimately doomed? Does one of them bear more responsibility than the other?
12. Do you think Abel Crawley was born evil or made evil? Who do you think were the bigger victims: his family or the abducted girls?
13. Was Eloise’s arc in Ink and Bone
satisfying for you?
14. What’s your projection for the future of the Gleason family? Did it change from your first impression?
15. How would you explain Finley’s tattoos and her desire to add to her tapestry? How is the title Ink and Bone
fitting?A Conversation with Lisa Unger What are the challenges of developing such a unique setting as The Hollows across various books and novellas? Are you having fun with this type of “world building”?
The Hollows has a life of its own. In a lot of ways I feel more as if I am discovering it rather than developing it. It is revealing itself in layers, both as a physical place and as a kind of character with an agenda, motives, flaws, and appetites. I see it very clearly—from the idyllic main street to the dark deep of The Hollows woods, from the red Victorian house of The Hollows Historical Society to the Java Stop. And yet it’s slippery, something different to each character depending where they are on the spectrum of psychic ability. So it’s shifting, changing, and, yes, weaving its story through novels and short stories. But it definitely is
fun, and always intriguing to see what it’s up to next. The Hollows was introduced in Fragile as ‘up North’ and now has become a regular setting. What’s it like to look back at that line now, considering how far The Hollows has come?
It’s true that when The Hollows first turned up, I didn’t think very much of it. Some place “up North” in the tri-state area. Semirural, semisuburban, close to New York City but very far energetically, it was probably very loosely inspired by the town where I lived as an adolescent. But it could have been anywhere—that was kind of the point. It was just a place you thought was safe, but which wasn’t. And that’s everywhere. Then, like a character whom I get to know over a long period of writing and several books, it has changed and evolved, grown, behaved badly. I enjoy my time in The Hollows—even though it’s a place of dark secrets—because it always surprises me. Like an intimate friend, you don’t always see how much it has changed over the years, you forgive its flaws, and look forward to the road ahead. What type of research did you do and what types of people did you meet to learn about psychics?
Early in my career as a book publicist, I had the opportunity to work with psychic John Edwards. Looking back, I see that he was the inspiration in many ways for Eloise Montgomery. I have also had personal experiences with psychics, which also influenced me. And, of course, I have done a great deal of reading on the subject and continue to explore this area of interest.
Research is a way of life for me in many ways. I am an information junkie—constantly reading, watching, taking in as much information as possible from newspapers, books, documentaries. I travel a lot, seek out different kinds of people. So, it’s not like I have an idea for a novel and then start to research. It’s often this ongoing research that inspires my next novel.
But you touch on an interesting point here. My characters aren’t psychics; they’re people
who dwell somewhere on the spectrum of psychic ability. I am more interested in who Eloise and Finley are as women, what makes them tick, what are their quirks and isms, their flaws and strengths, than I am in the fact they can see people and things that others cannot. That research is ongoing, as well.Some of the scenes with the Gleason family are positively wrenching. How were you able to make that pain come off the page? Was it all difficult creating these scenes and scenarios being a mother yourself?
If you’re not deep inside your characters, feeling what they are feeling, then you’re not doing your job as a writer. You can’t expect your readers to feel something that you’re not feeling yourself. So, yes, there were some painful scenes to write.
In a very real sense, I wouldn’t be writing about these kinds of things if I wasn’t trying to metabolize emotion, fear, questions about human nature—family dynamics, matters of identity and what makes us who we are. I work things out on the page, really dig deep inside. Which is not to say that I’ve experienced moments like the Gleasons’ experience, but I have known loss and struggle, felt pain and anguish. So it’s not very hard to empathize with them and paint an authentic portrait of their dark days, while hopefully ushering them to a brighter place. There are some Jungian references sprinkled throughout the book. How did you become interested in his philosophies and teachings?
Carl Jung’s philosophies and teachings are an ongoing obsession for me. You can’t be fascinated by human nature, psychology, the supernatural, and the brain without exploring Jung’s ideas. Ink and Bone
really caused me to delve more deeply into his thoughts on the paranormal.
What I love about Jung is how he embraced the idea of the “paranormal" as an extension of the human psyche. His mother was a psychic medium, he had a near-death experience, a spirit guide that he relied upon, as well as numerous other experiences that fueled his desire to understand this part of the human experience. He felt that the scientific method asked questions that couldn’t always be answered by nature, and that the anomaly should be explored, not rejected. Sometimes it seems that psychics and other alternative methods are the final, almost last-ditch effort to break a case. Do you think there is a place for them earlier in the investigation?
I think there might be a place in investigations for an intuitive or an empath. In fact, I suspect that probably many detectives and investigators have latent intuitive abilities; it’s likely what drew them to investigative work in the first place. This questions touches upon a larger question of why we don’t put more faith in our “instinctive” or “intuitive” abilities. Certainly in law enforcement there are rules and chains of evidence to be followed. But “gut instinct” plays a role as well. A union between real police work and the work of someone attuned to energies would be a formidable pairing. Kind of like Jones Cooper and Eloise Montgomery.
The Montgomerys all have very defined personalities. How do you conceive and develop these characters’ personality traits across three generations?
A long time ago, I stopped thinking of characters as people whom I create and started thinking of them as people whom I meet. And though, of course, I know this is not true—I know that I am the creator and that all my characters are an amalgamation of my thoughts, observations, imagination, and research—it is true to the way that I experience the people who populate my novels. So all of the various members of the Montgomery family—Eloise, Emily, Amanda, Finley and Alfie (and others)—presented to me differently and very vividly. They have been revealing themselves to me in layers, and I have been getting to know them for a while, like any ongoing relationship, and sharing them with my readers.
Might we see more of Finley, Rainer, and Jones in coming books?
Hmm . . . could be! Stay tuned! The female-driven psychological thriller is really having a moment right now with a string of hit novels, TV shows, and films. What’s it like watching, and being a part of, such a moment? Why are readers so drawn to these stories?
It’s exciting. I have been drawn to this type of story since I read my first thriller, Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier—which was published in 1938. This book was one of my earliest influences as a writer, and throughout my body of work there’s a theme of the ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances. So it’s not a new concept. I recognize that theme in the big runaway bestsellers of the last few years, though certainly it takes on multiple forms.
I think people turn to crime fiction or psychological suspense because it allows them to digest in a safe environment some of the things that frighten them. There may be all manner of dark things in those pages, but there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Usually a form of justice is served. This is not always true in the real world. Women comprise a large, if not the largest, group of book buyers. So I think it’s exciting for readers to see a woman more in the role of heroine, in charge of herself, and the center of story. She’s not relegated to the sidelines, or painted as evil because she’s powerful, or in peril needing rescue. She’s the major voice, the actor, the one who may be the victim, the hero, or both. Your books collect elements from a few genres. Is there one that you’ve considered going all in on?
I don’t believe in genres. I don’t sit down to write a mystery or a thriller. I didn't begin my journey into The Hollows thinking that there would one day be another layer to the story that would lead me to ask questions about the paranormal. My novels are driven by character voice, and all my stories flow from that place. Where my characters take me, that’s where I’ll go.Ghosts, Guns and Dark Places: Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger in Conversation When authors get together there’s no telling what they’ll wind up discussing. When it’s acclaimed and bestselling thriller writers like Tess Gerritsen and Lisa Unger, you better believe they’re going dark and deep. From nightmares that turn into novels, to how thriller writers are often metabolizing the things that frighten them on the page, from research war stories, to the conflict between science and the supernatural, this conversation took some wild, twisty roads – just like their novels. Lisa Unger:
A couple of years ago, when I was writing FRAGILE, I ran into a character I wasn’t expecting, psychic Eloise Montgomery. I was excited about her. I thought: Oh! A psychic! Even if she’s a fraud, that’s still interesting
. But my characters have minds of their own and she only had a small part to play in that book — yet she stayed with me. She’s had a couple of books since then, three short stories, and in my upcoming INK AND BONE we meet her granddaughter Finley, who has powers of her own. Eloise’s story has told itself in a way that I wouldn’t have expected, and it has led me down some roads I didn’t imagine I'd go as a writer. This is, of course, the joy and the magic of writing. So I was struck while reading PLAYING WITH FIRE that you, too, had walked into some of the same territory. Was it a character, or a story, or curiosity about something else that led you there? Tess Gerritsen:
It was a nightmare! I was in Venice for my birthday, and after a night drinking a bit too much wine, I had a freaky dream. I dreamt I was playing my violin. A baby was sitting nearby, and as I played a dark and disturbing melody, the baby's eyes suddenly glowed red and she turned into a monster. I woke up wondering what it meant -- and knowing there was a story here. Something about the power of music to haunt and to transform people. That day I wandered around Venice and ended up in the old Jewish quarter. There I saw memorial plaques dedicated to the Venice Jews who were deported to death camps during WWII. That's when both parts of the novel came to me -- a story about a 1930s Jewish composer whose haunting melody will nearly destroy the life of a woman violinist 70 years later. I'm already a violinist (strictly amateur) with a lifelong love of music, and that knowledge helped inform the musical aspects of the story.
I find that the interests and passions we've developed during our lives can both inform and inspire our novel writing. Was there anything from your own life that worked its way into INK AND BONE? Some part of yourself that slipped into the character or plot? Lisa Unger:
I love that, that an intersection of your dream life and your waking one led you to write PLAYING WITH FIRE. It’s so true to the way the process works for me, this blend of waking, dreaming, and imagining. The musical elements of your story are so rich and alive that I thought you must be a musician, or someone with a deep knowledge of music. Which is where, I suppose knowledge and passion move in.
There’s some blend of all of that, as well, in INK AND BONE. I have an enduring fascination with the idea of psychic phenomena in the Jungian sense, that it might be considered a natural extension of normal human ability. In my other life in publishing, I had a chance to work with psychic John Edwards. And I was struck both by his abilities and how normal he was, how he could just be your cousin from Long Island. In a weird way, though this was many years ago, he was the inspiration for Eloise Montgomery. The fictional town in which INK AND BONE is set, The Hollows, first showed up in FRAGILE, which was very loosely based on a real event from my past. Though I didn’t see it at the time, The Hollows shares certain similarities with the place where I grew up. So, in a lot of ways I suppose I’m dreaming on the page, the real and the imagined get twisted into fiction. Tess Gerritsen:
I'm afraid my science training prevents me from straying too far into the paranormal. I always (boringly enough!) want a logical explanation for everything. In that regard, my character Dr. Maura Isles is very much like me; we both want science to give us all the answers and we're bothered when it can't. Ironically, I love reading paranormal fiction, and wish I could write it, but it's like I have a form of writer's block about it. Just when I'm on the verge of crossing over into a paranormal tale, that nagging scientist in my head yanks me back.
That's why I'm so impressed by writers who can pull it off, and so convincingly. Your stories manage to merge the real and the spooky so perfectly, that I sometimes feel like I'm in the middle of a feverish dream when I'm reading them. I remember racing through CRAZY LOVE YOU and my sense of reality kept shifting in different directions. It's as if you opened a psychic curtain and let us peek through into a universe that's invisible to most of us.
I'm intrigued by the fact your character in INK AND BONE was inspired by your work with psychic John Edwards. I love hearing about the research that writers must do to make their stories convincing. In fact, research is the part I enjoy most about writing, because I can delve into new worlds. As a writer I've attended autopsies, watched the CT scan of a mummy, and scouted Boston for the best places to dump a body. What lengths have you gone to get the details right? Lisa Unger:
Wait! Don’t give too much away! I’m deeply engrossed in PLAYING WITH FIRE. Of course, I had an inkling that your scientist’s mind would resist the supernatural. But I do sense more than a passing curiosity, Dr. Gerritsen! Science and the supernatural are not necessarily at odds. There is so much we don’t know about the universe and the human mind; there are more questions than answers. I suppose I believe anything is possible, which might be why I’m willing to go into the unexplained with my characters.
I’m always amazed, in all of your books from HARVEST to GRAVITY, to the Rizzoli and Isles series at the depth of your knowledge about so many things. Most writers are explorers. I like to think of myself as a spelunker, shimming into the dark spaces between things I don’t understand to try finding answers. So, yes, research (and life) is an important part of the process.
I’ve taken a concealed weapons course (and absolutely hated the feeling of firing a gun). I’ve interviewed a woman who claimed to be a ghost hunter. One of my closest friends is a retired Federal Agent who, if he doesn’t know the answers to my million questions, can always find someone who does. I lived with a New York City police officer for eight years – okay, so that was a relationship, and a pretty bad one at that. But in the end I just wound up with a good knowledge of police work and fantastic recipe for roast pork -- which I guess is something. I’ve been lava tubing in Iceland (not sure where that’s going to turn up, but I’m guessing it will). Recently, I’ve become obsessed with birds. I’m an information junkie. I’m constantly reading non-fiction in all areas with a special focus on psychology, addiction, trauma, biology and the brain. For me, more than the nuts and bolts of procedure, it’s human nature and the mind, and where those things intersect with nurture and spirituality, that fascinate me. Much of INK AND BONE is laced through with those themes.
Are there themes that you find come up again and again in your novels? Have you ever been surprised by a recurring question or idea that surfaces without your realizing it? Tess Gerritsen:
I love your research tales! I too hated firing a gun. I was painfully aware that if I was the slightest bit careless and didn't stay in control of where it was pointed, someone could die. I also learned how difficult it is to be accurate with a handgun. I certainly understand how cops can fire a dozen rounds -- and still miss their target.
When I'm writing, I'm thinking primarily about characters and plot, and it's only in retrospect that I understand what the theme might be. You asked whether I've been surprised by recurring questions that seem to surface in my books, and the answer is: yes, absolutely. Thriller writer David Morrell once told me that novelists often address their own childhood traumas in their books. For instance, a writer who never felt his father loved him may write book after book about heroes trying to please authority figures. When Morrell told me that, a light bulb went on in my head, because I realized it was true for me as well. When I was a child, I adored a family friend named Uncle Mike, who served very much as a father figure for me. He was a gentle soul who counseled me about school, life, and love. Then when I turned eighteen, Uncle Mike was arrested for murdering his sister-in-law. I was stunned because I never saw that violent side of him, and it led me to question whether anyone
is who they seem to be. That's the theme I return to again and again -- which smiling face hides the monster? In a way, it's a universal theme for crime writers, the evil that lurks in the hearts of seemingly ordinary human beings. Lisa Unger:
Very early in my career, I heard David Morrell speak and his wise words struck a chord with me, too. When I was fifteen, a girl I knew was abducted and murdered. We lived in a small, supposedly safe town, the kind of place you move to give your kids a happy, suburban upbringing. And then, on a day like any other day, a girl walking home from school fell victim to a monster. I never saw the world the same way again. The theme of the lost girl runs through almost all of my novels in one way or another, never with my intending it and always obvious to me only after the book is done. I think most of us are metabolizing fear on the page, and looking to put order to the chaos we perceive in the world. Maybe that’s why people read crime fiction, as well — because there’s a beginning, middle, and an end where some kind of justice is served. Not always so in the real world.
I’m writing pretty close to the bone. I follow the voices in my head, and so far they’ve all been pretty dark and twisted, wrestling with questions of identity, struggling with everything from addiction to body dysmorphic disorder to hauntings. I have a voracious curiosity about people and all the different things that make us who we are. If someone else turns up with something different to explore, I’ll certainly honor that. For me that’s the joy of writing, following character voice wherever it takes me.
I think next up for you is a new Rizzoli and Isles entitled STRANGE GIRL. Any tidbits you would like to share? Tess Gerritsen:
I can't share tidbits yet because the story keeps changing on me and I never know how it's going to morph. That's the trouble with writing by the seat of my pants -- I never know where the ride will take me.
Tess Gerritsen is the acclaimed and New York Times
bestselling author of PLAYING WITH FIRE and the upcoming STRANGE GIRL featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles (characters that inspired the TNT television series “Rizzoli and Isles.”) Lisa Unger is the author of fourteen novels of psychological suspense, including her upcoming release INK AND BONE (June 7, 2016), and the paperback release of CRAZY LOVE YOU (March 29, 2016). Her books have sold over 2 million copies worldwide, and have been published in 26 countries. Both authors have dark thoughts and very nice husbands who are never afraid to come home to them at night.