A family experience inspired reporter Finley’s first novel, In the Darkest Time of Night (St. Martin’s, June), a paranormal thriller.
Who in your family gave you the idea for this novel?
To have my mother-in-law, who often holds conversations with sewing in her lap, casually mention that she had once worked as a secretary in an astronomy department for a professor who did alien abduction research, was a true lightning-bolt encounter. She went on to mention that she used to take bizarre messages for him, from people who believed they’d been abducted. I used her to create the character of a woman who quietly served her family, while harboring a secretive, hidden life that no one, not even her husband, was aware of.
You’ve dealt with missing persons’ cases in the course of your work. Did you draw on any actual cases for the novel?
In my career as a reporter, I have written extensively about missing people. I did not want any of the true-life cases I have researched to be reflected in a work of fiction. While I certainly have interviewed detectives repeatedly about their processes of trying to find missing people, I truly wanted to just reflect the courage of the families affected by the disappearances: how they never give up, and fight with every fiber of their being to try and find the people they love. Cases can grow cold, but families never forget.
What did you learn about alien abductions that you hadn’t expected?
I think the singular key fact is the similarities in what people describe all over the world about the abductions and the descriptions of the entities. It’s what I keep coming back to: how can people who live in all corners of the world be describing, oftentimes, the same experiences? These are not people who are attention seekers. So many times they are people who would rather this had never happened to them.
In what way has your work as an investigative journalist affected how you write fiction?
I try to bring as much truth to a work of fiction as possible. The details, as in journalism, are everything. I approach each one of my investigative stories as if I’m preparing for a trial: what do I know definitively? What proof do I have? What holes could a critic reveal? I take the same approach to fiction. Speculative fiction is my hands-down, all-time favorite genre of fiction. And a great speculative thriller makes you think you’re in the real world, safe and warm, propped up by your pillows, only to have the scaled claw reach out from under your bed.