The Case of a Cruising Phantom – S. H. Marpel – The Author Show
Author Show Radio Interview Q&A – Fiction Writing Revealed
Captured from the live feed – answering some of these submitted questions from Author Show Radio. Not all of these questions were answered in the show itself, in order to fit into its 15 minute format – but they all are answered below.
Do visit the link at the end, where there are many free books available, as well as a list of other books published by this author.
Tell us about this book?
The Ghost Hunter series is about a mystery-writer who has arranged a quiet day job tending a remote farm in order to devote himself to his craft. One day he is interrupted by two spirit-guides who hire him to help solve the personal mysteries of ghosts, to help them move on. He goes along with this as they are attractive and need his help, plus he gets full rights to the stories.
While new ghosts are added almost every episode, new characters also show up from time to time. They come in and out as part of the team. And as needed to solve the mystery at hand. This follows the successful mystery model where you have a couple of main characters, and a support team.
Who did you write your book for?
Readers who want classic entertainment, to be transported out of the normal, ordinary, polluted, caustic world that impinges on us daily – who want to enjoy simple, easy to read, clean books in the short snacks of time we have. Readers that want to get a break from everything around them – just for a little while, to enjoy a short read where good always triumphs.
Is there a central message in the book?
Your world is what you think it is. Inspiration, backed by action, can take you wherever you want to go.
If you had to choose, what would you say is the single most important idea you’re sharing in your book that is really going to add value to the reader’s life?
Any situation can be solved if you approach it with open-minded optimism and honest humanity.
If you could compare this book with any book out there we might already be familiar with, which book would it be and why?
Ray Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” and G. K. Chesterton’s “Father Brown” series. Common people solving situations around them with just what they have at hand – and just being ordinary humans put into extraordinary situations.
How can you say your stories are alive and re-write themselves between re-readings?
It’s the core philosophic ideas buried in them. Any good book gets you thinking for days afterwards. The ideas in these books can help you think differently about life and how things interact. When you pick up that story again, you’ll see things in a different light, and find nuances in the story and the character’s interactions that you didn’t see before. Every time, even when you wind up knowing the story by heart.
How do you write such interactive characters and fit all that action into a short story?
Like Stephen King said, “stories write themselves.” And in “Writer’s Journey”, Chris Vogler took it further to say that stories are alive. Vonnegut and Bradbury interviewed their characters to see their opinions and views about the situations. My stories bring themselves to me as a simple “what if” – and then I ask the characters to show themselves to me and tell me the story as they see it. Ghost Hunters has a team of people and spirits that all have their own back story, their own flaws. When you tell them about the idea you got, then they have their own approaches to what they would do to solve it. Like those script read-through’s where you get all the actors into a room to see the story for the first time. Their interpretation is what’s key.
Beyond that, I follow Alfred Hitchcock and Elmore Lenard – and work to leave out the dull and boring parts. There are Western models on what viewers and readers want in their stories. Like long-running TV series. So good writing is really good editing. If I’m getting bored or disinterested in writing, then I ask the characters to cut to the chase and tell me the next exciting part. There is usually a strong hook at the beginning, and then a developing rise with cliffhangers through out, and a twist at the end like any good short story. All in a fifteen-minute read.
What does the Ghost Hunter series seem to have that keeps people coming back for more?
All the characters are alive. You don’t see cardboard cutout characters. They are all short stories, so every conversation counts. And no author out there that I know of actually treats ghosts as “guest stars” for that episode. When the Ghost Hunter team comes to solve a ghost’s problem, you get to see the entire scene that the ghost is stuck in. Sometimes, it’s a problem that one of the team has. So every story is new, just not the same basic plot over and over. That’s how Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories are much different from “Murder, She Wrote”. The long running TV show had basically the same murder-mystery each week, while Holmes would be solving different crime types. No Doyle story was never like the game “Clue”: Professor Plum in the Library with the Lead Pipe. Ghost Hunter series avoids the “mystery procedural” in favor of exotic human-ghost interaction.
Ghost Hunters has new and different situations, since the ghost has their own specific story.
You watch a lot of long-running TV series to study story arcs. What are a few of them that inspired the Ghost Hunter series?
Ghost Whisperers was up there, along with Star Gate and Quantum Leap. Then there are Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and its Angel spin-off. The point is finding how the characters change over time, and having wildly new situations every week. Star Gate and Quantum Leap had this built into their theme. Ghost Whisperers had some character arcs, and were the first to explore the idea of ghosts having very human needs, but tended to be a procedural drama, like Perry Mason.
Why do you think people like amateur sleuths as a break from CSI-type detectives?
Because they involve the reader more. Most of the best-known and still-selling mysteries have amateur sleuths – Holmes, Poirot, Ms Marple. You get from reading these an idea that “maybe with a little practice, I could be that good.” The police procedural is very set into the interactions between the detectives and criminals. And because the CSI-type shows are set in location and their team, it tends to be the same show over and over. Amateur sleuths can go anywhere and aren’t bound by city policies and procedures. “Murder, She Wrote” did that. But they also aren’t protected by those policies or laws, either. So there is more risk involved. The reader can join in and try to guess ahead of the writer’s clues, which adds to the fun.
Do you find mystery writing easier than other genres? Why or why not?
I enjoy writing in most genres, but work to always have an adventure, some romance, and a mystery in every story. One of those three main structures will be dominant in any story, but all the breakout and blockbuster stories have all three, as do the perennial bestsellers. So a really good writer is constantly working to improve their craft in each story structure. You can see the shifts in these stories. “The Case of a Cruising Phantom” is a detective mystery, re-enacting a crime scene for a ghost who didn’t understand how she died or who did it. “The Ghost Who Loved” is more a romance, but is still a mystery. “Spirit Mountain Mystery” is more an adventure, but still solves the mystery by the end.
Did your environment or upbringing play a major role in your writing and did you use it to your advantage
That’s why the main character in most of these stories is based in the Midwest. You actually can get a lot of data about cattle grazing and Midwestern flora. But one review pointed out that the Midwest has a lot of mysteries in it that are seldom explored. Probably more than bigger cities, since local police forces and sheriff departments don’t always have the resources for solving everything.
There is also a very common sense approach to dealing with characters and how they interact. They act more like family and follow the “Golden Rule” to get along with each other, regardless of differences.
When you do see scenes in big cities, like “A Case of Missing Wings”, it’s often in Hollywood/L.A. as I spent a great deal of time in that area.
Can you tell us about your genre and why you prefer to write in that genre?
I’ve found I like the paranormal sub-genres because they allow me to explore some ideas that only show up in New Thought or self-improvement books. Writing fiction allows me to test these ideas out a little more. This avoids the tropes of werewolves and vampires, although I do have a fair bit of magic that’s used. Again, that goes back to key ideas like Nightingale’s “We become what we think about.”
Tell us your most rewarding experience since publishing your work?
Getting readers that simply tell me in a review or an email that they really liked one of my stories or books. So much of a beginning author’s output has to be blind faith. And finding that certain of these books were more popular leads me to invest more time into those types of stories and those characters. Feedback is very welcome.
How would you describe your writing style?
Pulp Fiction. I write straight from my mind to the page, then revise, proof, and publish. Usually, I start off with the cover and the marketing hook, so I know the story is going to work. Then I copy that into a text document, and proceed with the story hook, then straight through to the end. I revise as I go, then proof and revise as needed to polish it up.
This is close to how Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, Bradbury, and Erle Stanley Gardner started out. Sometimes, I only have the opening scene in front of me, and then I have to ask the characters for “what happened next?” Sometimes, I can’t get to writing the story right then, but get curious about what happened, so they’ll start telling me the rest of the story while I’m doing something else, like checking cows in their pastures or driving into town, or sitting at an auction.
There are no careful plotting, no first or second drafts. Just straight head, second star on the right.
Who influenced your writing the most?
Other than studying both classic perennial sellers that I’ve mentioned earlier – mostly the writers who started in the pulps – it’s probably Dean Wesley Smith. I’ve never read any of his books that I know of, but he has a big blog and lots of courses that cover real basics.
Based on your experience as a writer, what one recommendation would you make to authors just starting?
Study everything you can. Then throw it all away. Write with your own voice, which only shows up after you’ve written a lot. That’s why short stories are the most efficient way to start. You can test and learn all the finer points.
Are your characters pure fiction, or did you draw from people you know?
Yes and yes. These characters often will act in certain circumstances like people I’ve worked with or around. Good, bad, or indifferent. After a lifetime of working around various people, you start seeing types that keep showing up. And borrow certain mannerisms, even combine them to help a character become as real as possible.
Are you more of a character artist or a plot-driven writer?
I’m story-driven. The best definition of “plot” I’ve seen is: “Two or more purposes interacting, somewhere.” That’s a story, too. You get a situation, some characters to resolve it, then let them tell you what happens. You, as the writer, just include the non-boring stuff. The story will tell you what you need to know. Just write it the best you can.
Other than selling your book, what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Validate the model of building a backlist and audience through prolific writing and publishing.
Who should buy this book?
Anyone and everyone who wants to invest simple-to-read and clean fiction that transports them into exciting worlds – that they can read over and over.
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