C.L. Gaber paranormal fantasy novel Ascenders tells the story of Walker Callaghan, who finds herself in a strange school with absolutely no homework, no rules, and no consequences. So what's so special about the 17-year-old girl who doesn't want to go to heaven nor hell? Well, first of all, she's dead in the real world, but she ends up in The Academy, a middle realm where teenagers have one thing in common: They were the morning announcement at their high schools because they died young.
These students are now caught in a purgatory zone, where life hasn’t changed very much. In fact, this special teen limbo looks a lot like life in a quaint Michigan town complete with jocks, popular girls and cliques. It's not a coincidence that the music teacher is a guy named Kurt who "used to have this band."
Ever since Gaber had a wild dream in Los Angeles, the story idea for Ascenders played out in her mind like a movie...with a clear beginning, middle and end, then she immediately began writing the novel when she woke up the next morning, and it took her a year to complete the book.
Interview with C.L. Gaber
Since The Ascenders is an epic love story, how do you express themes of love in your work? And what makes it epic?
I think every love story has some epic-ness in it. Daniel and Walker are characters of strong convictions. They don’t want to fall in love. They don’t want to deal with their emotions in the beginning. And they don’t want baggage. Of course, when they fall, they fall hard. And each is protective, strong and vigilant in their need to save the other from harm. Both put it all on the line to be with each other. There is also a sweet tenderness to their love story. They don’t have much including the most important thing of all, time. They don’t have a life to promise each other. They really do have to steal the moments to be together and explore this new thing they’ve found in each other.
What makes the limbo world in "The Ascenders" different from the real world? And kind of dangers are present in a society between life and death?
The limbo world in Ascenders is a lot like the real world. The premise is that the human mind doesn’t fully “gel” until you’re 24—a scientific fact. So when teens die young they go to a place that looks familiar to them. I like to think of it as they moved to Michigan. In fact, Walker, the main character, doesn’t know she’s dead, but she is given a list of rules for this new realm. She asks, “There are actual rules for living in Michigan?” Of course, as the story progresses, the climate, the geography and the expanded view of this place is quite unusual and often frightening. There are dangers everywhere, but the most dangerous thing is to think, speak of or plan to go back to the living realm. The dangers there for the recently deceased are terrifying.
What are the fantastical elements of your novel?
The book switches in the middle from this special realm to Walker and Daniel returning as ghosts to their former life. The portal between these two worlds is pretty epic and involves a certain serial killer’s liar. Of course, he’s now working at the school, paying off his debts to humanity, which begs: What is the scariest place in any school? There are many fantastical elements to this realm and what it looks like, smells like, feels like…and, of course, the whole idea that it exists. The Academy, which is the main school in the realm, is like Hogwarts on steroids. You never know who or what will pop up? As the series progresses, others schools are introduced including one for teens with oddities.
What do you think is the primary conflict of "Ascenders"?
The conflict is on several levels. There is an internal conflict for the main characters of Daniel and Walker. First, they have to come to terms with dying young and being robbed of all the firsts – first real love, graduation, starting out in life, marriage, kids, old age. For Walker, there is also the fact that she hasn’t had sex with anyone in life. Then there is a major conflict brewing as Daniel died in a plane crash with his wealthy father piloting a private plane on Christmas Eve. His 16-year-old brother Peter and sisters, Jenna (14) and Andie (12) arrived with him to this realm. But their youngest brother Bobby, 5, is an Earth Bound Spirit, stuck at the site of the crash. Why? His big brother Daniel told him to never to anywhere without holding his hand. Daniel must go back to the living realm to find him. Walker gets to a point where she has nothing to lose and joins him. Walker also needs to absolve her mother of any guilt over her death.
As a journalist, do you use a lot of what you've gained from your experience to create the characters of "The Ascenders"?
Absolutely. The teachers in this school are famous dead people. I’ve interviewed many of them over the years as a film feature writer for the New York Times Syndicate and Chicago Sun Times. When Robin Williams shows up and speaks, I have a tape of him saying those words to me in an interview. Heath Ledger is a teacher. Let’s just say the stories he tells…true. Same with other famous dead teachers including Jerry Garcia…wait, don’t want to reveal too much here. As for the phenomenon part of the book, I’ve also ghost written many, many, many books for spiritual and psychic individuals. I’m big on truth or possible truth here. The metaphysics in this book was vetted by some top names in that field. I was especially curious about different society’s views on why young spirits couldn’t return to the living realm. And I found some chilling answers. With little Bobby, Daniel’s brother, stuck at the site of his death, I asked why. And the answers are in the book.
Why do you think the age of individuals who can enter the world of Ascenders matters?
It’s a place for teens and those in their early 20s to mature, learn, grow and deal with unresolved issues. The fact that they did die young plays is key because they were cheated their life. They have to play a certain amount of catch up before they can move on. Some move on quickly, which is also an issue. What if you fell in love with a person in this realm? What if one moved on before the other?
Do you have an endgame in mind for the series?
Absolutely, in fact, I wrote the last three paragraphs before I wrote the first paragraph. I promise that if you have someone special in your life who has passed on then this ending will rock your world in a major way…and offer comfort at the same time.