Ghost Bully: Review and Interview With Author Brian Corley

Ghost Bully by Brian Corley

Roommates can be hell.

Like when they’re late with the rent, late on bills, or constantly trying to kill you.

Jonah Preston thought he knew what he was getting into after signing the paperwork to buy his new home: yard work, a leaky pipe here and there, maybe the occasional squirrel in the attic.

He just didn’t expect to share that new home with a ghost.

Before all the boxes are unpacked, Jonah learns the previous owner, Willard Hensch, committed suicide in one of the bedrooms. It’s bad news, but Jonah and his (corporeal) roommate, Max, take it in stride. Jonah’s just happy to own a home and begin this new chapter in his adult life.

Unfortunately, it’s an incredibly short chapter.

Unhappy with his new roommates, the resident ghost quickly makes his presence known. Like, really known. When Jonah wakes up dead, he knows exactly who’s behind it.

Willard. Effing. Hensch.

For the newly deceased Jonah, that’s where his new chapter truly begins. He will befriend angels, fight demons, and take on a ghostly army in this comic-paranormal thrill ride through the freakish underworld of Austin, Texas. 

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I’ll start by saying this is not the typical book I’d pick up to read. As a rule, I like to stay away from anything with the potential to be scary and I definitely find ghosts scary.

But.

I have been known to make exceptions when the book just sounds too good for me to pass up. That’s why I ended up reading The Passage trilogy, The Dark Tower series, and the Gone series. Ghost Bully was much the same – the concept just sounded too fun, plus I got to meet author Brian Corley at the Superstars Writing Conference I attended earlier this year and learned even more about his creation.

Ghost Bully was a fun ride from start to finish. I only found one or two chapters near the beginning to be mildly creepy. Overall, the book elicited more chuckles than chills and absolutely delivered on the unique premise.

What really made Ghost Bully such a great read for me was that the world-building was on point. I think world-building is something I really care about in the books I read and I know the author has done a good job with it when I start wishing there were more books out so I could spend more time in the world they created. Or if I can imagine the story working as a movie or tv show, I know it’s become real to me.

All of the ghostly details were so fun and clever! It was a little bit like reading Harry Potter, where you’re given information you didn’t know you wanted, but once you have it, you can’t imagine the story without it. The world of Ghost Bully is clearly well-developed beyond the parts of it that appear in the text, which makes me excited for the possibility of there being more books.

The writing itself moves along quickly, delivering joke after joke. Not all of them quite landed for me, but I can be a little slow to get the joke.

Of course, the ultimate test of how much I’ve been enjoying a book is when I compare how many pages I actually read versus how many pages I meant to read. There were many nights where I meant to read a chapter before bed, but ended up putting the book down after three or four chapters because it was now super late. Considering I’ve been running around like a crazy person, you know the book was really holding my attention!

If you’re looking for the perfect book to tote to the beach or pass the time on an airplane, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of Ghost Bully this summer!

As one of my goals for the future of my blog, I wanted to do more author interviews…provided I could find any willing authors haha. Luckily, Brian and I are in the same writer’s group so I didn’t have to twist his arm too much to come answer some questions about his book and his writing!

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What inspired you to write Ghost Bully?

I had a beer with Jonathan Isaacs to talk about his haunted house story. I made a comment that ghosts don’t really think their threats all the way through. We’re afraid of ghosts because they’ll hurt or possibly kill us … but then what? You’d become a ghost too. What if you’re a naturally gifted ghost? Hey ghost, you thought you were annoyed at a guy kicking around the house for a few hours a night? Now you have to deal with this guy forever!

He thought that was a pretty funny take and told me I should write that book, so eventually, I did.

Who is your favorite character in Ghost Bully and why?

Hands down, Cat is my favorite character. I had a much different plan for her when I started the book, but she became such an interesting character during the writing process, that I just had to follow her and adjust the story as it happened.

Who was the hardest character to write?

Although some were definitely more fun than others, I don’t know that any of the characters were hard to write. I probably had more challenges with the scenes themselves. Once I worked out those out, the characters seem to know what to do.

Do you see yourself in any of the characters?

Sure, a few actually. At first, Jonah made a lot of the same decisions I would probably make. I wanted to ground the first act/haunted house story in a little bit of realism. I’d try to make a real decision in the moment and then puzzle out how that would back fire on me, or just ask myself what I would do if faced with the same situation. Like I would totally spend money on an exorcism solution, then look for a free back-up plan as well.

Max makes the jokes in real time that I’d probably only think about once the conversation was over. He’s quick, and funny—and who I’d like to be in the moment (except stranding Jonah alone in the house—although leaving was clearly the smart decision).

Unfortunately, there’s some of me in Willard as well. All the bad stuff, but none of the backstory. I can only hope that some of the people in my life are as forgiving as Jonah.

The city of Austin is practically a character itself. Why did you choose to set the book in such an interesting city?

I just took the “Write what you know” advice. There are a million obstacles to writing your first book, and I figured I’d remove the story’s setting from that list. Also, I’ve lived in Austin for close to twenty years, and love living here.

Not to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but if you suddenly woke up as a ghost like Jonah…what would you do? Would you take your door? Or hang around for a little while?

That’s a tough one. The door shows you everyone you’ve lost so far in your life as well as the prospect of rest on the other side. Jonah lost his father and could see him there, however, he’d also just had his life cut short. At twenty-five, he didn’t have a lot of money, and he hadn’t quite figured out what to do with his life. He was mostly potential—and Willard stole that from him. So he’s dealing with all of that as well as the promise of revenge he made to Willard.

Me? I’d have a hard time passing up the opportunity to catch up with my dad and grandfathers, plus I’m really big on naps.

Had you written a book before this one? Nope, this was my first one. I was a songwriter a long time ago, and wrote a lot of those, but this was my first book.

What authors have inspired you on your writing journey?

I show my hand in the book here too, but I’m a huge fan of Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, and Terry Pratchett. Also, Brandon Sanderson has his BYU writing classes on YouTube, and I think I’ve taken four years worth of his classes. It’s an incredible resource, I’d recommend it to anyone.

What was your writing (and rewriting) process like?

I had three weeks between jobs last May and felt like that was about one week too long to just sit around and sleep all day, so I gave myself a temporary job—to finally sit down and write the damn story I’d been thinking about for a couple of years. Surprisingly, I was able to crank out a rough draft during that time, but it looked a lot different than it does now.

I did three major revisions before handing it over to a developmental editor who taught me a lot during the process. Everything from basic formatting, to major structural issues, he was great to work with.

I received some additional input on the first act of the book that spurred another major rewrite to opening chapters. Ghost Bully had four different beginnings, I think. A couple of characters didn’t even exist until two weeks before I handed in the manuscript for a Copy Edit. All in all, there were about twelve different revisions over six months.

TL;DR: three weeks for rough, about six months for everything else.

Do you use a computer or write by hand before transcribing?

Computer for writing, I type much faster than I write by hand, but I’m constantly jotting down ideas for the story on scrap pieces of paper.

I hand write the outline as well as character sketches on paper, though. Something about pen on paper, feels a little more creative for me in that part of the process.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what do you like to listen to?

Not really, my mind starts looking for patterns in what’s playing instead of focusing on the page.

That said, there were some nights when I listened to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis while editing. In particular, the scenes with DeeDee and Jeremy as well as (weirdly enough) the scenes where Jonah and team tried to psych themselves up for battle.

What did you edit out of this book?

Tons.

Writing, for me especially, is rewriting. I think I took around thirty thousand words out after the developmental edit, and put forty thousand back in. The first two beginnings of the book started at the title company with Jonah meeting Max for Tex/Mex before going to the house, and now we begin at the house. I kept getting feedback that people just aren’t interested in title companies … can you believe that? People don’t want to read about the process of closing on a house? I kid. It was obviously great advice!

Nicole Alvarez wasn’t in the original plan, but I’m glad she’s there now, and the cemetery scene as well as Masephson’s “Tour of Heck” were also added … and I’m glad. Those are a couple of the more memorable scenes for me.

Biggest takeaway from the journey to become a self-published author? [do you prefer the term indie?]

Definitely prefer the term indie. It’s kind of an Austin badge of honor—from Willie Nelson to Rick Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, we just go for it.

I’m still on the journey, in my opinion, but my biggest takeaways so far is to be the biggest student of the game as you can. From writing to marketing—find out everything you can. YouTube is an incredible repository of knowledge, and talking to other authors has been tremendously helpful as well.

Ghost Bully has only been out for a few months, but what has been the coolest moment so far of having a book out in the world?

Probably like any creative endeavor, it’s just nice to see people enjoy the work.

What’s next for Jonah, Cat, Max, and the Psy-Kicks?

Plenty! Thanks for asking. Ghost Bully is book one in a series of five books, and there will be a series of short stories as well. Hope to have one of the shorts out this summer, and book two out in early 2019.

Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?

On my website, www.brian-corley.com or on Twitter and Instagram as @nicebookbrian

Writing Project Wednesday: Tesla, Edison, and The War of Currents

While the feud between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison predates my novel-in-progress, it’s still a fascinating story that few people are familiar with in present day. If you’re a younger person, you’ve probably seen The Oatmeal’s lengthy comic which summarizes Tesla’s life and also mentions the famous feud. You can see that full comic here.

I’m going to summarize the issues and introduce you to the major players in The War of Currents. For an extended look at the issues, I recommend Tesla Vs Edison by Nigel Cawthrone, a well-researched book that really covers this issue in depth. Eventually, I’m going to do a post ranking all these different Tesla biographies since I’ve read so many of them.

Ok so first things first as we dive into The War of Currents:

-This is Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor who was born in Serbia in 1856. He arrived in America in June of 1884. At this time, he had already been experimenting with the alternating current (AC) motor. After he failed to raise money to back his invention, he accepted an offer from Charles Batcherlor to go and work for the Edison company in New York.

-This is Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison was a genius inventor who was born in Ohio in 1847. Edison either invented or improved upon a number of things we still use today like the lightbulb. In 1884 his electric company was busy lighting up New York with direct current (DC) power.

-Nikola Tesla went to work for Thomas Edison in 1884 and stayed for nearly a year. All the while, Tesla continued to work on his AC motor.

-When Tesla left Edison’s employ, he became to file his own patents. Tesla applied for patents on his AC motors, which were ultimately granted in 1888.

-This is George Westinghouse. George Westinghouse was an inventor turned entrepreneur who was born in New York in 1846. Westinghouse invented the air-operated brake for railroad cars. In 1885, Westinghouse decided to develop an AC power system. In 1888, Westinghouse purchased Tesla’s AC motor patents. Tesla then became a consultant with the Westinghouse Electric Company.

-Meanwhile, Westinghouse and Edison were fighting The War of Currents with their rival electric companies and rival power systems.

-Edison claimed that AC power was dangerous. In February 1888, Edison published an attack on Westinghouse and AC.

-Enter a fourth player, Harold P. Brown. Brown was an electrical engineer who also published an attack on Westinghouse and AC power in June of 1888. Brown knew he needed an ally so he called on Edison, who accepted.

-Brown then began to stage demonstrations that involved shocking animals with DC and AC power. Brown electrocuted dogs, calves, and horses to prove his point that AC was dangerous.

-In 1888, New York adopted electrocution as its preferred method to administer capital punishment.

-Brown was then hired by the prison system of New York to design its electrical equipment. Naturally, he decided to use the Westinghouse AC generators.

-In May of 1889, William Kemmler was convicted of murder and was set to become the first person to be executed by electrocution. Kemmler’s lawyers protested that electrocution was an inhumane punishment and the defense team began to dig into Brown’s background which later revealed that Brown was working with Edison. Nevertheless, the sentence was upheld and Kemmler was executed in August of 1890.

-By 1890, The War of Currents largely began to wind down. The Panic of 1890 caused by the collapse of Barings Bank in London created havoc for both Edison and Westinghouse. Faced with financial trouble, Edison General Electric and Thomas-Houston merged, Edison was dropped from the name, and the new company become General Electric. At this point, Edison also stepped away from the electric lighting business to focus on other things. By the end of the century, AC would become the undisputed winner in The War of Currents. The rivalry between Tesla and Edison continued for the rest of Edison’s life, though not quite at the same magnitude.

* Some of you may have noticed I included AC/DC’s logo in my title image for this week’s Writing Project Wednesday. The story goes that Angus and George Young noticed the initials AC/DC on their sister’s sewing machine and thought that would be a cool name for a band!

Next week, I’m going to talk about one of Colorado Springs’ creepiest unsolved murders!

 

Authority

By Jeff VanderMeer

After thirty years, the only human engagement with Area X–a seemingly malevolent landscape surrounded by an invisible border and mysteriously wiped clean of all signs of civilization–has been a series of expeditions overseen by a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten: the Southern Reach. Following the tumultuous twelfth expedition chronicled in Annihilation, the agency is in complete disarray.

John Rodrigues (aka “Control”) is the Southern Reach’s newly appointed head. Working with a distrustful but desperate team, a series of frustrating interrogations, a cache of hidden notes, and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, Control begins to penetrate the secrets of Area X. But with each discovery he must confront disturbing truths about himself and the agency he’s pledged to serve.

In Authority, the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, Area X’s most disturbing questions are answered . . . but the answers are far from reassuring.

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In many ways, I liked Authority better than Annihilation. One of the major reasons is that Authority is nowhere near as creepy as Annihilation. Rather than take place in the mysterious Area X, Authority deals with the Southern Reach, the government body in charge of Area X.

Van De Meer loves to give his main characters thought-provoking names. Ghost Bird in Annihilation. Control in Authority. I read the word “Control” so much it actually started to sound like a decent name. And of course there was a delightful little riff with CTRL and Control.

Authority goes a long way towards putting some explanation to Annihilation and the secrets of Area X. But of course, not everything is resolved and we get new questions with no answers. Some people found this book to be slow or even boring. While it’s true I didn’t gobble this book down in one sitting, my pulse wasn’t at an all-time high, either.

Oh and the ending of this one is a doozy. Be sure to have Acceptance standing by so you can start reading.

All the Light We Cannot See

By Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

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I had seen All the Light We Cannot See make the rounds on the blogs and win the Pulitzer prize before my book club picked it.

I knew it was set during WW-II which made me uneasy. I just am not a fan of reading about this time period, even though the last time WW-II era book we read, The Book Thief, I loved. I wasn’t in a hurry to start it this book so it sat on my bedside table for awhile.

Once I did start the book though, I was hooked. The chapters are very short (a few pages at most) and the writing exquisite. I heard that Doerr author worked on this book for over ten years… I guess that’s enough time to really polish your sentences!

This book never seemed to slow or get boring, just wrapped me up in beautiful sentences that seemed to describe life in a way I never could. The intertwined stories of Marie-Laure and Werner were both very enjoyable. One a blind girl, daughter of a humble museum locksmith, entrusted with an in incredible secret. The other, an orphan in Germany, tapped by an elite Nazi school for his brilliance with radios.

Highly, highly recommend this book! Probably one of the best I’ve read this year and I feel like I’ve read a lot of great books in 2015. Bonus: All The Light We Cannot See will look stunning on your bookshelf. The cover is absolutely gorgeous!

Also, my next trip to France will not only have to include Mont Saint-Michel, which I’ve dreamed of visiting for years, but now Saint-Malo.

The Hunt For Atlantis

By Andy McDermott

Archaeologist Nina Wilde can find long-lost Atlantis, helped by reclusive billionaire Kristian Frost, his beautiful daughter Kari, and ex-SAS bodyguard Eddie Chase. But a powerful and mysterious organization opposes revealing the secret submerged for 11,000 years. Others have already died — Nina’s own parents. From the streets of Manhattan, Brazilian jungle, Tibetan mountaintop, to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, they race to save all human life on earth.

This book is exactly my cup of tea. An ancient secret, a book so action-packed it’d make a better movie, racing to the save the world, yup, that’s a book I’d enjoy.

And this one was exactly what I’d hoped it would be. I didn’t want to stop reading it, I just wanted to keep going and see what they discovered.

The dialogue wasn’t as horrid as it can sometimes be in these types of books. Eddie Chase was pretty funny all on his own.

 

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I really liked that they went beyond just discovering Atlantis….they found Atlantis AND so much more. It was a nice update to this story of Atlantis, giving something fresh to a mystery that has been so speculated about.

The one thing I thought was a little off, was that they didn’t address why the bad guys were trying to stop them from finding Atlantis or particularly why the Frosts wanted to find Atlantis, until halfway through. That seems like kind of a big thing that should have been addressed much earlier in the book.

 

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I’m definitely going to be reading more Andy McDermott, especially since The Hunt for Atlantis is the first in a series featuring Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase, trying to find and protect the world’s greatest secrets.

 

Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America

By Allen Hornblum, Judith Lynn Newman, and Gregory Dober

During the Cold War, an alliance between American scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and the US military pushed the medical establishment into ethically fraught territory. Doctors and scientists at prestigious institutions were pressured to produce medical advances to compete with the perceived threats coming from the Soviet Union. In Against Their Will, authors Allen Hornblum, Judith Newman, and Gregory Dober reveal the little-known history of unethical and dangerous medical experimentation on children in the United States.  Through rare interviews and the personal correspondence of renowned medical investigators, they document how children—both normal and those termed “feebleminded”—from infants to teenagers, became human research subjects in terrifying experiments. They were drafted as “volunteers” to test vaccines, doused with ringworm, subjected to electric shock, and given lobotomies. They were also fed radioactive isotopes and exposed to chemical warfare agents. This groundbreaking book shows how institutional superintendents influenced by eugenics often turned these children over to scientific researchers without a second thought. Based on years of archival work and numerous interviews with both scientific researchers and former test subjects, this is a fascinating and disturbing look at the dark underbelly of American medical history.

I had the honor of helping to do a small piece of the research for this book while an undergraduate at UCSD. Jonas Salk, the creator of the Polio Vaccine, was a big beneficiary to the school later in his life and as a result, much of his research files ended up in the UCSD Archive Collection. If you’ve never done archival research before, it is fascinating and rewarding. Getting to work with old texts and documents is like a treasure-hunting dream.

Upon receiving Against Their Will from the authors, I was excited to get to read the whole story. I know what I’d read and seen, but it was just a very small part of the puzzle.

I suppose you could say this is a difficult book to read. I think that while doing the research that I did, I kind of got desensitized to it, as sad as that is to say. But I want to make it clear that this is by no means a happy a book. It contains the chronicles of medical researchers in America and how their research trials, while ultimately contributing to vaccine research and our larger body of medical knowledge, were conducted on innocent children, some of them just days-old babies.

This is a great overview of the face of medical science post-WWII. We’ve all of course heard of the terrifying experiments the Nazi doctors conducted on their Jewish prisoners. Some of us have heard of the Nuremberg trials and the subsequent introduction of the Nuremberg code. But what you don’t hear about is that essentially the same was happening and continued to happen, in America. It seems that most doctors felt that since their intentions were more “honorable” than the Nazis and would ultimately be of more benefit to society, certain facets of the Nuremberg code could be overlooked. Though as this book points out, if you look at the hard evidence of what these scientists were doing, it isn’t all that much different than what the Nazis did.

Radiation treatments, shock therapy, involuntary sterilization, psychological bullying, castration, ringworm, lobotomies. These are only a few of the many horrors that awaited institutionalized children in America. Young children were often forced into the experiments, will little or no consent by the parents or children themselves. These experiments sometimes resulted in death, maiming, extreme psychology disturbance, and lasting health issues that weren’t or couldn’t be corrected.

Much of what we know about science and disease and how the human body works, comes as a result both of the Nazi experiments on the Jews and the American Scientists experiments on institutionalized children, adults, and prisoners. As Against Their Will argues, certainly we have a gained a lot in our knowledge, but did we pay too high a price for it? In the quest for knowledge, did our American Scientists strike a Faustian bargain with the Devil?

The book sums it up best with this closing line:

“Scientific progress and the medical advances it fosters is a process we can all celebrate, but the attainment of such triumphs on the backs of children and other powerless groups makes their realizations all the less impressive and praiseworthy”.