Maria Branson, the protagonist of my latest novel, Robbed of Soul, sees ghosts. No, she’s not psychic. She suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being in solitary confinement for eight months in Tehran.
Before doing research about solitary confinement and PTSD, I worried the whole “seeing ghosts” thing was too crazy to belive. Would my readers believe my protagonist was really that far gone? But after researching the subject, and learning how truly awful solitary confinement is to the human psyche, I knew that my character’s internal struggles were similar to many challenges real people with PTSD face.
Take, for instance, the true story of Sarah Shourds, a 32-year-old hiker arrested by Iranian troops after straying onto the Iran border. Two months into her incarceration, she began hearing phantom footsteps and seeing flashing lights. She spent most of her day crouched on all fours, listening through a gap in the door. The experience left her with horrible PTSD.
Studies show 30 to 40% of veterans with post traumatic stress syndrome report auditory and/or visual hallucinations. And you don't have to be a veteran. There are stories of journalists and television reporters who have PTSD as well, many of whom also experience hallucinations. Months after it happened, one Pulitzer Prize winning journalist kept hearing the voice of an American soldier whose dead body he had photographed.
In Robbed of Soul, the CIA has put Maria Branson “out to pasture.” She becomes the police chief of a small Southern Utah town called Kanab. (A wonderful place to visit. See your chance to win a vacation there below.) A week after Maria arrives in Kanab, the mayor is murdered and she has the task of finding the killer. Doing so, makes her face fears she had hoped to forget. But things get worse when her ghosts turn real.
Rescued but psychologically damaged from a failed mission, ex-CIA officer Maria Branson takes the job of police chief in the quiet town of Kanab, Utah. Rest and relaxation are the doctor’s orders. She gets neither. Instead, a missing mayor, the spirit of a dead Aztec warrior, and the over-confident-yet-attractive head of Search and Rescue await her in a town whose past has almost as many secrets as her own. As Maria investigates a modern-day murder, she disturbs a world of ancient legends and deadly curses. Yet most lethal of all is Maria’s fear someone will discover just how empty her soul really is.