The motivations of those who investigate the occult are as varied as the techniques they employ. Love, hate, fear and even guilt can propel the occult detective into battle with the unnatural and incomprehensible.

Vera Van Slyke, created by Timothy Prasil, is driven by the latter. Together with her assistant Lucille Parsell, she investigates hauntings of all varieties. And, as with last week’s post by William Meikle, Timothy has stopped by to share his thoughts on his creation… 

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The once-famous mystery writer Fergus Hume was apparently quite fond of the phrase:  “Ghosts went out with gas.”  He has characters say it in his short stories “The Ghost’s Touch” (1899) and “Spirit in My Feet” (1906) as well as in his novels The Pagan’s Cup (1902) and The Mystery of the Shadow (1906).

The line suggests that the quaint, Victorian belief in ghosts has disintegrated under the glaring electric lights of the Twentieth Century.

But Vera Van Slyke knows better.  Growing up in the last decades of the previous century, she developed a fascination for ghost stories.  Her investigations into allegedly authentic hauntings convinced her that ghosts really do lurk among us.

However, it wasn’t until December of 1899 that the real secret to ghost-hunting revealed itself.  Vera and her assistant, Lucille Parsell, investigated a haunted confessional in a Catholic church.  They came to the realization that intense guilt – such as one might find hovering in a confessional – rips holes between the physical and spirit dimensions.  Only then can ghosts appear.

That’s when things get weird.  That’s when Vera and Lucille begin to learn just how far the spirit realm reaches.  Vanity might convince us that only human beings have eternal spirits.  But that’s a dangerous mistake.

Set in the early 1900s, my Vera Van Slyke:  Help for the Haunted chronicles begin with ghosts and poltergeists – but Vera and Lucille increasingly confront new types of otherworldly entities.  The one constant binding them together is the emotion of guilt, since pronounced guilt is what opens the dimensional doorway.  In a sense, then, these stories explore of psychological echoes of immoral behavior.

And who isn’t haunted in one way or another?  We learn about Lucille’s dark past right away.  She was a phony spiritualist medium, taking advantage of those aching for assurance that their loved ones survived death.  This is how the two met.  Vera Van Slyke, you see, is a crusading newspaper reporter – a professional sister of Nelly Bly and Ida Tarbell – and her specialty is sneaking into séances and pulling the sheets off of any fake spirits who arise there.

You might wonder how Vera, who knows that ghosts are real, can easily wave off psychic mediums as a bunch of hooey.  “Ghosts are like cats,” she explains.  “They’re quite real, but they hardly come when you call them!”

Lucille’s life of deception was unique, though, and the two women become friends.  If “friends” is the right word.  Vera can be tight-lipped at times, even with Lucille.

And Vera has a secret.  A secret that festers.

Nonetheless, Lucille seems to tolerate not knowing what haunts Vera, utterly distracted by her quirks.  Vera adores lunch, for instance — and has a taste for beer.  She has a parade of oddly creative sayings.  And, of course, there is Vera’s surprising ability to unravel supernatural and psychological mysteries.

Beginning in January, I will be offering one Vera Van Slyke chronicle per month on my blog:  http://timprasil.wordpress.com/ .  They’re free, and they’re in your choice of .pdf, .epub, or .mobi formats.  Visit me for a full year, and you’ll have deserved the complete collection of Vera’s first decade of cases.

It just might make you want to buy the novel when it becomes available.

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