Welcome to this week’s installment of The Scariest Part, a recurring feature in which authors, comic book writers, filmmakers, and game creators tell us what scares them in their latest works of horror, dark fantasy, dark science fiction, and suspense. (If you’d like to be featured on The Scariest Part, check out the guidelines here.)
My guest is A.J. Colucci, whose latest novel is Seeders. Here is the publisher’s description:
George Brookes is a brilliant but reclusive plant biologist living on a remote Canadian island. After his mysterious death, the heirs to his estate arrive on the island, including his daughter Isabelle, her teenage children, and Jules Beecher, a friend and pioneer in plant neurobiology. They will be isolated on the frigid island for two weeks, until the next supply boat arrives.
As Jules begins investigating the laboratory and scientific papers left by George, he comes to realize that his mentor may have achieved a monumental scientific breakthrough: communication between plants and humans. Within days, the island begins to have strange and violent effects on the group, especially Jules who becomes obsessed with George’s journal, the strange fungus growing on every plant and tree, and horrible secrets that lay buried in the woods. It doesn’t take long for Isabelle to realize that her father may have unleashed something sinister on the island, a malignant force that’s far more deadly than any human. As a fierce storm hits and the power goes out, she knows they’ll be lucky to make it out alive.
A.J. Colucci masterfully weaves real science with horror to create a truly terrifying thriller, drawing from astonishing new discoveries about plants and exploring their eerie implications. Seeders is a feast of horror and suspense.
And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for A.J. Colucci:
The scariest part of Seeders. That’s a tough one. It could be how six people are stranded on a cold, desolate island and start losing their minds. Or the decomposing body they find in the woods. Perhaps it’s the premise of the book — communication between plants and people, based on actual science — because in my book plants don’t just feel pain and emotion; they fight back.
However, for me, the scariest part of the story is what happened while writing the novel. I’d been working on Seeders during the winter months when the towering trees in my neighborhood were bare and loomed like angry giants, staring down at me with thousands of claw branches as I took my morning walks. Lost in my story, the trees seemed eager to attack, and frustrated by the roots that kept them anchored to the ground. I learned from my research that rootedness is their curse. And I did hours of research, every day, getting daily doses of plant facts. Trees and plants feel pain. They can learn and remember. They can signal insects and send chemical warnings to each other. Did you know the lovely smell of fresh cut grass is actually your lawn screaming?
However, as spring approached and their leaves began to bud, the trees didn’t look so frightening. I remember thinking the mighty oak seemed more content, less hostile in the warmth of a sunny day. It came time to tend to my garden, and I got the old snipping shears out of the shed to trim my four foot Japanese Red Maple. It has those droopy branches and its feathery leaves were beginning to touch the ground.
But before making the first snip, I hesitated. After all my research, was I really going to cut this tree? I knew plants, in their own way, felt pain. They reacted to trauma by becoming depressed. Simply cutting one branch would affect the entire plant for hours. Yet, not cutting the droopy branch was an invitation to bugs crawling on the ground. So I snipped it. All seemed fine until a couple seconds after the snip and I heard a squeal. I kid you not. It was a small squeal of pain. Of course, I thought it must be my imagination, but my heart kicked up and I stared bug-eyed at the tree. I held my breath. I tried it again. A second after the snip, I heard the squeal. Now my blood ran cold and my hand was shaking. I looked around to see if anyone was around, even though I was positive the noise came from the tree. I snipped once more, and two seconds later it cried out. I recalled the sound, sort of a high pitch whine and the release of a tiny breath. Like what you’d hear from a baby in a moment of discomfort.
With a tight fist I stood up, and then loosened my grip. There was that sound again. I looked closely at the shears, pinching them closed and letting them snap open. It was the shears, the stupid shears! They were slightly rusted and squeaked when they sprang open. Still, rusty shears or not, I cannot forget that feeling of horror. Thinking, knowing, the tree had shrieked. After everything I learned while researching Seeders, I know we can never be quite sure of what a plant is really feeling, or thinking.
A.J. Colucci: Website
A.J. Colucci is an author of science thrillers, stories that combine true, cutting-edge science with the adrenaline-rush of a thriller. Her latest novel, Seeders, was described by #1 New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston as “Gripping and brilliantly original.” Her debut novel, The Colony, was given a starred review by Publishers Weekly, and Booklist called it “a frightening combination of well-researched science and scenes of pure horror.” A.J. spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter, magazine editor and writer for corporate America. Today she is a full-time author who lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters and a couple of adorable cats. A.J. is a member of International Thriller Writers.