In fact, Tim Prasil writes fiction, plays, and the occasional limerick. He also researches quirky genres of fiction from the 1800s and early 1900s, from occult detective fiction to tales of sinister hypnotists. From this research, Tim edits entertaining and informative anthologies. In 2017, he started Brom Bones Books as a publishing “cottage” for his work. Visit brombonesbooks.com to learn about Tim’s upcoming projects.
One more thing. Tim Prasil rhymes with “grim fossil.” Flattering, ain’t it?
Guilt Is a Ghost: A Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mystery:
In 1899, a séance was held at the Morley Mansion in Boston, Massachusetts. The millionaire Roderick Morley was desperate to contact his murdered friend. He hoped to clear himself of suspicion by identifying the true killer. The séance went horribly wrong, though, and Morley left the room—to commit suicide.
By 1903, the Morley Mansion was deemed haunted! The new owner hired Vera Van Slyke, an odd but brilliant ghost hunter. With her assistant, Lucille Parsell, Vera quickly realized that, to banish the ghost, the two would have to solve the murder.
But a fugitive murderer wasn’t the only shadow cast over the Morley Mansion. A fake medium had performed at that séance, a shame-ridden woman who called herself “Lucille Parsell.”
Sometimes, guilt is a ghost that can never be banished.
Did something in the real world inspire Guilt Is a Ghost: A Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mystery?
There was nothing specific in terms of the main plotline, but one key story event involves a Spiritualist medium being debunked. Of course, that really happened from time to time in the late 1800s/early 1900s, which is when the novel is set. In addition, there are two main characters who were real people: William James, the Harvard Psychology professor who also pursued “psychical research” (now known as paranormal investigation) and William B. Watts, the Chief Inspector at Boston’s Criminal Investigation Bureau. I mention actual cases handled by Watts—from Jack the Slugger, a street thug who killed some of his victims, to Francis Truth, a faith healer who conned people on a national scale. I also used a 1903 map of Boston to get names and places right.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
I’m torn between two scenes. Guilt Is a Ghost is more a mystery than a spooky ghost story, but I did include a scene that’s pretty eerie. One character recounts living alone in the novel’s haunted house and having a series of encounters with a crouching phantom, one with dark splotches instead of eyes. (I tried to represent this apparition on the book’s cover.) The other scene involves my ragtag team of crime-fighters, introduced one by one throughout the novel. Toward the end, they assemble at a tavern called The Pitcher and Coach to discuss how they’re going to expose the criminal mastermind—and the terrible dangers that go with their plan. Partly, I like these characters a lot, so it’s fun seeing them join forces. Partly, I like that The Pitcher and Coach is a sideways reference to Cheers, the Boston bar in the TV series. (Yes, my tavern gets its name from a pitcher for serving beverages and a horse-drawn coach—but in Cheers, the bartenders are Sam Malone, who had been a pitcher for the Red Sox, and Coach, who had served as a his coach.) Similarly, I tossed in nods to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and even The Great Gatsby.
To test whether or not Vera could sustain interest and evolve through several adventures—and to make sure I wouldn’t wind up repeating myself—I wrote Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries. It’s a composite novel/short story cycle that includes thirteen discreet yet interwoven supernatural investigations. The many positive reviews at Amazon assured me that Vera could easily sustain a series.
Having discovered that, I then went back and wrote Guilt Is a Ghost as a novel, which I realized it was probably meant to be all along.
That said, I’d like to mention that readers can start with either book. Help covers 1899-1909; Guilt opens in 1899 and then jumps to 1903. Timewise, they overlap—and each book fills in some details of the other. If you prefer traditional novels, you might start with Guilt Is a Ghost, which delves deeply into Vera’s first meeting with Lucille Parsell, who becomes her “Dr. Watson,” and then presents their investigation of a complex haunting that, in important ways, resulted from that meeting. If you’re partial to short stories, you might begin with Help for the Haunted. They’re very much companion books.
What do you have planned next?
Right now, I’m editing an anthology called Ghostly Clients and Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction. Vera Van Slyke is in the occult detective tradition, along with characters such as Agents Mulder and Scully of The X-Files or Sam and Dean Winchester of Supernatural. The book I’m currently working on traces the deep roots of this narrative tradition and, along the way, presents some interesting challenges to the standard history of mystery fiction.
Further down the line, I’ll add more novels to the Vera Van Slyke series.