By Kathryn Mackel / Thomas Nelson
Boston psychiatrist Susan Stone receives a phone call from her stepmother in Colorado. Her father Charlie has broken his leg and needs her to assist with his horse farm. Still reeling from her husband’s recent death and son’s suicide, Susan reticently returns for a short time. Having left Colorado behind, along with acidic family memories, Susan struggles with the change of venue. Will she be able to face her past and strangle the demons that threaten to consume her?
Charlie, relegated to a wheelchair, asks Susan to deliver the foal when his prized Arabian is due to give birth and the veterinarian doesn’t show up. She does the best she can, but as a result of her imperfect method, both horses near death, needing further medical treatment. After receiving a verbal barrage from the stable girl, Melissa, Susan jumps on another horse and rides into the hills, seeking refuge from her mistake. She half hopes never to return, but instead of ending it all, she is thrown off her horse near a dark cave. What she finds there will change her world forever.
A young man without a name is bound in chains. He has no memory of who he is or how long he has been there. Can Susan help him, and in doing so relieve the guilt of failing to help her own son? She uses psychiatric techniques to draw out the stranger’s memory, but the answers make her even more confused. And who needs therapy more, him or her?
Another mystery surrounds the ranch: the discovery of charred remains. No one knows what on earth could cause such horrific effects. As sheriff Rick uncovers more clues, he suspects that the murders have something to do with the stranger. But what? Who is the man, really, and how is he connected to the murderous burnings?
One important background character provides supportiveness and kindly wisdom throughout the story– Jeanette, Susan’s stepmom. Her rocklike stability makes the others question their faith or lack of it. It’s interesting to see how Melissa, Rick, Charlie, and the stranger react to her.
This tale ultimately revolves around the unseen. Evil lurks around us, and most of the time, we can’t see it with the naked eye. But it is still in a battle with good. Which will we choose to ally forces with? Are we ready to encounter the evil within ourselves, as well as without?
I recommend The Hidden on the grounds of its high suspense, spookiness, and positive thematic elements. The author approached many topics including depression, suicide, suffering and forgiveness in a thought-provoking manner, leaving me fodder to mull over well after the last page was turned.
Now for the author interview (thanks, Kathryn!):
1. Where did you get the idea for The Hidden?
It’s hard to answer this without giving away the twist of the story. So I’m going to be a bit vague and say that, after reading a couple of seldom-discussed verses in two of the epistles, I got the concept for the plot. What was always important to me was not trying to explain these scriptures—because I can’t—but to use them to explore forgiveness.
From the moment I first conceived of the story, it had to be in Colorado and had to involve horses. I mention that because I’m from New England and don’t ride. It’s a curious thing about stories—sometimes they seem to take their own life, beyond the author’s control.
2. This is a supernatural tale, yet you hold the main theme as
forgiveness. What do you hope the reader takes away from the story?
In The Hidden, Susan Stone is abused by a mentally-ill mother and neglected by a father who can’t cope. She leaves home, choosing to be estranged from her family for thirty years. Rather than acknowledging her pain and injury—which is significant—she compensates by becoming the ‘perfect’ mother. The irony is that she was a good mother and, as a widow, single-handedly raised a gracious son. Yet when faced with his decision to do something she was against, she rejected him in the same way that her own mother had been rejected.
I believe the hardest people to forgive are our parents. Because of that, it can be very hard to trust a loving Father. Even a believer walking in faith may not admit that but allow bitterness to fester deep down, where he or she doesn’t have to deal with it.
When we’re gravely injured psychological, emotionally, and spiritually—like Susan Stone—we simply can’t get out of our own way. That pain is real, and our Lord knows that. When we pretend otherwise, or running cursing in the other direction, bitterness grows and grows until it becomes toxic. Redemption is not about changing the past but about changing us—giving us a new life, a new hope, and the power to forgive.
If even one reader comes away seeking forgiveness—and the divinely-given power to forgive—than I’ll have done my job.
3. What is your favorite and least favorite thing about writing?
My favorite thing is when I hit my stride. That means I know my characters, have found the voice for the novel, and I know where I’m going. What I love about this is that this is where craft leaves off and inspiration takes over. (Not that craft isn’t always important.) This is the time and place where the Holy Spirit can supply the vision—where I can find Christ in my writing. For example, the scene in Outriders when Brady kneels to give the giant Jasper a clear shot at his neck was not something I planned. But, beyond my rational-writer control, for a moment I knew that Jesus would do this if he were in this situation. And so Brady did. When I experience writing a moment like that, I am blessed beyond words. And I pray my readers are blessed when they read those moments.
My least favorite thing is writing synopses. My fiction students would be delighted to know I have been through this agonizing process recently in preparing a proposal for a series I’m writing. It’s a whole lot easier to critique them than to write them. This proposal was tough because I had to summarize the series as a whole, plus three books (with only one written), plus where the series could go from book four on. Then I had to write a full synopsis for book one. A good exercise for someone who teaches fiction, but painful!
4. Is it difficult to write across genres? Explain.
I have bounced around, haven’t I? I’ve done blockbuster Sci-Fi, family, and suspense screenplays for Hollywood. Supernatural thrillers and fantasy for adults. Sports and Sci-Fi for kids. A writer doesn’t ‘choose’ genre so much as write in areas he or she has aptitude and inspiration. If someone asked me to do romance or chick lit, I’d fall apart.
What is very difficult is working on different projects at once. Right now I’m working on a kids’ sports book, a screenplay, and a thriller novel. Sometimes I feel like my mind is stretched like a rubber band, then snapped.
5. What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m writing the screenplay for The Hidden for Namesake Entertainment. I’ve worked with them before (Can of Worms, Hangman’s Curse). They’re about to bring out Ted Dekker’s THR3E and are making Peretti/Dekker’s HOUSE right now. Trackers comes out in October. That’s the sequel to Outriders (The Birthright Project). And I’ve got a couple of projects out in proposal form.
6. Is there anything else you'd like to say to the readers out there?
Thank you for supporting Christian fiction. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
To those of you who are writers, don’t give up. Work on your craft. Be fierce with your weaknesses and just as fierce developing your strengths. I just read the acknowledgements for Colleen Coble’s latest (out this fall) FIRE DANCER. She speaks about those “long first seven years when no one wanted to buy anything”. Now she is a premier writer of romantic suspense.
Writing is often such a lonely, thankless job. Hold to your vision, work on your craft, and when you face rejection, keep going.