Smells Like Teen Spirits

(With apologies to Kurt Cobain.)

When I first started writing professionally, I’d just come off over a decade working as a flight attendant—a job where my life was ruled by strictly enforced dress code guidelines and early morning wake up calls. Which is probably why I assumed that after seeing my books on the shelves, my second favorite part of the gig would be a tie between my writer’s uniform of sweatpants, a T-shirt, and slippers—and the office hours of whenever to whenever.

So color me surprised when research trumped all.

Based on my affection for leisure wear and sleeping in, not to mention my completely abysmal performance when it came to researching papers for school (plenty of former teachers will back me on that), it’s safe to say it was a twist no one saw coming.

But unlike those boring old homework assignments, the kind of research I do now is the sort that actually interests me. And the fact that it’s all for the betterment of the books, provides the perfect excuse to pardon myself from the normal, everyday routine in order to dive head first into a big pool of strange.

For The Immortals series, as well as its spin-off Riley Bloom series—both of which deal with teens immersed in supernatural phenomenon—I plowed through a huge stack of books on reincarnation, chakras, psychics, mediums, Wicca, the afterlife, ghosts, auras, mystical dimensions, crystals, near death experiences, past life regressions, and so on. And was completely amazed by the way each topic just sort of fed into the next, until they all fit together like pieces of a giant metaphysical puzzle.

Though as much as I enjoyed all the reading, it wasn’t long before I found myself in need of something more. As a self-confessed, non-psychic person, I needed to find a way to write about my ghostly and gifted characters with as much authenticity as possible. So when I heard about a three-day psychic development seminar taught by world famous medium and bestselling author, James Van Praagh, I was quick to sign up, hoping I might have my own brush with the paranormal that I could then feed into the books.

Despite my initial excitement, I have to admit I entered that hotel conference room with a healthy dose of skepticism. Sure I was hoping to be wowed—to receive meaningful messages from long dead ancestors—but unlike the rest of my fellow classmates, I was pretty convinced I didn’t have any psychic skills to enhance. Armed with notebook and pen, I was there to chronicle everyone else’s experiences. It never occurred to me I might have a few of my own.

So when we were told to partner up for a telepathic exercise and I found myself sitting across from a woman with friendly eyes and a quick smile, I fought the urge to apologize in advance, feeling sorry that she got stuck with such a dud of a partner.

Instructed to sit with our knees nearly touching, she, having volunteered as the Sender, closed her eyes and concentrated on an object—any object—there were absolutely no limits on what it could be—while I, cast in the role of the Receiver, tried to decipher just what it was she was thinking.

I closed my eyes as directed, and busied myself with wondering just how long I was expected to keep up the ruse. Should I stop wasting her time and out myself as a non-psychic interloper? Should I pick some random object and at least pretend to participate?

After seriously considering my options, in the end, I choose to go with it. And it wasn’t long before I found myself obsessed with two very insistent words that just wouldn’t quit, and a third that was insistent, but still strong.

I squirmed in my seat, feeling way too embarrassed to say them out loud. But the minutes were mounting, and it was all I had to go on, so I finally ventured a guess and said, “Um  . . .could it possibly be . . .a fluffy . . .white . . .dog?”

Her eyes snapped open as a look of amazement sprang to her face. “That’s it!” she cried, hands clapping with excitement. “That’s exactly what I was thinking—with emphasis on the fluffy and white!”

Well, how about that?

I’d just made the transition from the Psychic Development Loser I was sure I would be, to a valid participant with fuel for my books.

As the weekend wore on, I had a few more experiences that not only helped shape some of the ideas I eventually wrote about, but also helped shape the way I now view the world. And though I never actually saw any dead people, I haven’t ruled it out either.

Alyson Noël is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 17 novels, including The Immortals and Riley Bloom series, as well as the upcoming Soul Seekers series, set to debut in May 2012. You can visit her at


Back to the top of the page


This post is closed for comments.

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.