Ariel Allison

Although she speaks and writes, Ariel Allison is first and foremost the wife of Ashley, and mother of London, Parker, Marshall, and Colby. She has a penchant for adrenaline-infused madness such as rock climbing, running marathons, and jumping off bridges – as if raising four pre-school boys were not adventure enough. Her first novel, Eye of the God, released in October 2009, from Abingdon Press. In addition, Ariel is also the assistant director of the nationwide book club, She Reads. When not immersed in a book, changing a diaper, or rescuing her dog from the death-grip of a toddler, you can find Ariel loitering in her little corner of cyberspace at She also ponders on life and literature at She and her family make their home in Texas, which is, according to her husband, the greatest state in the union.

Exploiting the Familiar

All good suspense authors have one thing in common: They exploit the familiar. The best writers take things we’re sure about and alter our confidence in them: that the family dog is friendly, that all vampires are bad, that no one would dare pick a fight with Jesus. A number of best-selling writers are adept at this form of literary manipulation.

While growing up, most of us had a dog—a floppy-eared, drooling mutt that became a member of the family. We smile when we think of him. And Stephen King knows that. So what did he do? He took Cujo—little boy’s best friend—and turned him into a man-eating monster. He played on our sense of familiar and successfully changed our perception of the family dog.

Before Stephanie Meyer introduced us to the Cullens, vampires were always the enemy. And yet, with a flick of the pen, she made us like them—root for them, even. She took a familiar subject and shifted our perception to match her own. Can vampires still be the bad guys? Sure. Are they always the bad guy? Not anymore.

Until Dan Brown got snarky with Jesus, the idea of a novel that tried to unravel the tenets of Christianity seemed implausible. Unthinkable even. And yet he took a familiar painting—The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci—and had the masses questioning what they believed. There was certainly a thunderous revolt at the ideas he presented (with good reason), but he was nonetheless successful in exploiting a familiar object to his own advantage.

Whether we agree with the content of those novels, or the author’s worldview, we cannot dispute that the tactic works. And for a suspense author, it is a valuable tool. Authors can use two ways to exploit the familiar: ask questions, or alter behavior. Stephen King allowed Cujo to get rabies and become a crazed mongrel. Stephanie Meyer created a coven of vampires that go to extraordinary lengths to protect humans instead of kill them. Dan Brown peppered us with questions about the deity of Christ.

The point in exploiting the familiar is to change the reader’s mind. Sometimes the familiar object is the crux of the story, and sometimes it’s just a means to get there. Regardless, the author uses it to make us consider things the way they do.

So how does it work, exactly? When the premise of a story is based on a familiar idea (or person or object), the reader is instantly at ease. We know what the story is about. Or we think we do, at any rate. With my first novel, eye of the god, I took a familiar object—the Hope Diamond—and wove a story around its legendary curse. Most people have heard of the jewel, it is the most viewed museum object in the world, after all (boasting more visitors than the Mona Lisa each year—an astounding thirteen million, in fact). And most people are aware that it has a colorful history. According to legend, the Hope Diamond was once the eye of a Hindu idol named Rama Sita. When it was

stolen in the seventeenth century, it is said that the idol cursed all those who would possess it. A quick glance at its owners, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, give the appearance that there is indeed something to the tale. A familiar object with a familiar curse. It was ripe for the picking—and once picked, exploited.

But I didn’t just want to tell the story of a big, blue, cursed rock. I wanted to make it deeper, more intriguing and significant than simply a diamond owned by some of history’s most notorious figures. I wanted to make the tale of the Hope Diamond relevant to my culture, and my faith.

So I started asking questions. What do all these “cursed” owners have in common? Why would anyone become obsessed with a diamond? Is there really a curse? If so, is it self-inflicted? Where does greed play into the story? I asked questions and I altered the perception of a diamond that is familiar to a large number of people. When all was said and done, and the dust finally settled over the last great adventure of the Hope Diamond, I questioned if the “curse” that has haunted its legacy was nothing more than the greed of evil men who bring destruction upon themselves. No god chiseled from stone can direct the fates of men, nor can it change the course of His-story.

An author’s faith—or lack thereof—ultimately determines where they lead readers after exploiting the familiar. For those who follow Jesus, it’s a heavy responsibility. We aren’t just telling stories, we are retelling The Story. And as we introduce a sense of familiarity to those who read our words, we have a great opportunity to lead them back to the most familiar thing of all: Jesus.

eye of the god