My YA manuscript EXTRAORDINARY LIES is a feminist-themed, paranormal suspense novel tallying 98,000 words. Set in San Francisco during the Cold War at the end of the Vietnam War, Extraordinary Lies weaves in true events from history, paranormal abilities and a twist spy component. Similar comparable reads might be e. Lockhart’s We Were Liars and Oliver’s Before I Fall, mixed with maybe Umbrella Academy and Stranger Things. So what’s EXTRAORDINARY LIES about? Well, lies and truth and everything in between.
Julia and Charley may come from two completely different worlds, but they’ve been called the same names all their lives. Psycho. Liar. Witch. It’s the price of being a supernaturally gifted female in sexist, narrow-minded 1971.
Until they’re invited to join the Stanford Research Institute. There, a team of scientists are conducting experiments on people like them—people with the ability to tell the future, read minds, move objects without lifting a finger.
Prior to that, Julia thinks she has a comfortable, normal life: a devoted boyfriend, a wealthy lifestyle, and the prestige of being one of those Cavanaughs. But her family doesn’t tolerate troublemakers—like her Aunt Sabrina, who disappeared years ago amid rumors of mental instability and something … unnatural. When Julia catches her boyfriend cheating, an uncontrollable power bursts out of her, sending two people to the hospital. To cover up the scandal, Julia’s family sends her to the Stanford Research Institute, (SRI). In denial and hoping to be sent home, Julia refuses to cooperate with the scientists’ tests.
Charley, meanwhile, is thrilled to be at SRI. She doesn’t want to read palms in her parents’ diner forever, and she’s being paid to escape her podunk hometown. She justifies leaving her kid sister with their drugged-out parents by telling herself she’ll send money home, but her good intentions evaporate after she meets some of the other study participants. She admires the glamorous Katerina, makes friends with earnest do-gooder Cord, and can’t keep her eyes off sexy Henry. Charley doesn’t see why SRI even bothers with that spoiled brat Julia.
Then suspicious things start happening at SRI: one student leaves in an ambulance; spinning blades appear out of thin air in dorm rooms; and Julia sees visions of her missing aunt. She and Charley must start cooperating if they’re going to keep everyone safe and solve the mystery of Aunt Sabrina’s disappearance.
Even as Julia struggles to accept and control her powers—and Charley her selfishness—it may be too late: the U.S. military and foreign spies have begun waging war over control of SRI’s assets. With extraordinary lies being spun all around them— about who they are as young women, about who anyone is and wants— Julia and Charley find a way to make their way to a secret military facility where Sabrina is being held. After being captured, Julia and Charley find a way to rescue everyone by learning to trust their power—and each other.
EXTRAORDINARY LIES offers a rare dive into the mood and vibe of the 1970s. But the story also appeals today's YA reader with page-turning suspense and mystery and paranormal elements. At the same time, the novel brings in relevant themes around feminism and the real-world thread of the Russian interference, spying and American democracy. It has two strong female protagonists who are fighting for a voice and truth in a sexist society.
I wrote the novel after my husband showed me a Flipboard story on a Russian psychic named Nina Kulagina who claimed to have psychic powers. When American officials discovered the USSR’s research into her supposed powers, they began funding investigations into supernatural phenomena at the Stanford Research Institute. Real story! There began my journey in blending info from CIA documents with a whole lot of fiction from my very strange brain.