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

Featured Poem: Nothing is Far

By Robert Francis

Though I have never caught the word
Of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.
Though I have seen no deity
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.
A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?
Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.
Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
Between the known and the unknown.

 

Best Books to Bring to the Beach This Summer and Other Bookish News

 

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* Pop Sugar has put together their own list of the 25 best new books to bring to the beach this summer!

* Time Magazine interviewed Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith here.

* The 2018 O’Henry Prize Stories were announced. You can see the full list of winners here.

* I read this opinion piece by novelist Jessica Knoll in The New York Times a few weeks ago and I absolutely loved it! Read it here.

* If you love a A Wrinkle in Time (I’ll admit, I have not read this), I stumbled across this awesome list of 9 other diverse sci-fi and fantasy books you should read.

* Last, but not least check out the longlist for the Best Translated Book Awards ahead of the announcement of the finalists next week.

Enjoying this new series? I’ll be back next week with the latest rumblings in the literary world!

Tower of Dawn

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass #6) by Sarah J. Maas

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.

His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent’s mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.

But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

The first quarter of the book took me awhile to get through. I had some other books to read for my bookclubs and then I was busy and didn’t want to get caught up in the obsessive page-turning that often happens when I read a Maas book. I needed all the sleep I could get to deal with my busy schedule.

I was finally able to devote time to Tower of Dawn when I left for Colorado for Christmas. I got out of the doldrums of the first quarter and by the middle of the book, the novel had hit its stride and I was hooked. I ended up staying up late and finishing it on Christmas Day.

Here’s my verdict: while not as action-packed as other entries in the Throne of Glass series, Tower of Dawn was interesting and I’m glad we have it. We did get some new details that will be crucial to the resolution of the plot. And I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building of the Southern Continent and am glad we got to travel there. I am hoping there may be spin-off series set on the Southern Continent in the future.

Of course, I’m now very eagerly awaiting Throne of Glass #7 which won’t be out until next fall. I am hoping this really is the final book because I don’t think my heart can take anymore. I just need everyone to be happy and Erilea to be saved. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

The Sun and Her Flowers

By Rupi Kaur

From Rupi Kaur, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of milk and honey, comes her long-awaited second collection of poetry. A vibrant and transcendent journey about growth and healing. Ancestry and honoring one’s roots. Expatriation and rising up to find a home within yourself.

Divided into five chapters and illustrated by Kaur, the sun and her flowers is a journey of wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming. A celebration of love in all its forms.

I’ve seen Rupi Kaur’s poetry shared on Facebook and Instagram so I knew it was something I would like. I’d been wanting to get one of her poetry collections, but I’ve been on a book buying embargo (come to my house and you’ll understand). However, I received The Sun and Her Flowers as a gift from one of my bookclubs and immediately started reading it!

Kaur’s poetry is often criticized for not being “artful” enough for poetry, too cheesy, too simple, too Tumblr. But if you’re a regular reader of Isle of Books, you know that I love sharing poems similar to Kaur’s. I am a fan of more modern poetry, particularly those poems from Modernist and Language Poets. This was the kind of poetry I liked in my classes at college and it is the type of poetry that I also write when I’m struck with the urge to write a poem. I think of this poetry as being very accessible to the average reader. You don’t need to have had any instruction on how to read and interpret poems to enjoy poetry like Kaur’s. And that I think is why her poems are so popular with modern readers.

I liked that this collection was divided into sections that loosely interacted with a theme. Some poems were sad, some were empowering, some made you pause a moment, and others made you fold the page down to bookmark it and remember it. Overall, I think it was a good collection and the drawings were a great companion to the poems.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems from The Sun and Her Flowers:

 

i am of the earth
and to the earth I shall return once more
life and death are old friends
and i am the conversation between them
i am their late-night chatter
their laughter and tears
what is there to be afraid of
if i am the gift they give to each other
this place never belonged to me anyway
i have always been theirs

 

*I should also note that this collection is partially about Kaur’s rape and recovery from it. So if you’ve experienced sexual violence, some of the poems in The Sun and Her Flowers might be triggering.

The Lost City of the Monkey God

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world’s densest jungle.

Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. In 1940, swashbuckling journalist Theodore Morde returned from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and an electrifying story of having found the Lost City of the Monkey God-but then committed suicide without revealing its location.

Three quarters of a century later, bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.

Venturing into this raw, treacherous, but breathtakingly beautiful wilderness to confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, disease-carrying insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. But it wasn’t until they returned that tragedy struck: Preston and others found they had contracted in the ruins a horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease.

I remember that I was at work in 2015 when I first saw the story of Douglas Preston’s trip into the jungle of Honduras to find a real lost city come up on Facebook. I just remember being in awe that there are still lost cities left to find and that somehow one of my favorite authors got to go along on the journey to find one. To me, that was complete author goals: to not only be a best-selling novelist, but to also have the opportunity to go on such an incredible journey. Of course, now having read The Lost City of the Monkey God, I am 100% certain I would be bitten by a fer de lance within 0.5 seconds of walking into the jungle, but that’s not going to stop me from romanticizing the idea of being an author/adventurer.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been two of my favorite authors for a long time now. I think I must have been 14 or 15 when I read Relic, the first book in the Special Agent Pendergast series. Since then I’ve read nearly all of their other books, including their individual works. It’s actually surprising to me that I waited long enough to buy this book that it’s now come out in paperback. But it worked out well because it was on the bestseller shelf at the airport in Las Vegas when I needed to buy a book.

For those of you who are avid fiction readers, rest assured this is one of those works on non-fiction that proves to be as interesting and engaging as a work of fiction. Preston’s storyteller’s gift is on full display in The Lost City of the Monkey God as he tells the story of The White City in five parts: quest, discovery, exploration, aftermath, and my favorite section of the whole book, connecting past to future.

On its surface, this book is about the discovery and exploration of one of the few untouched places remaining on Earth. Preston and a team of scientists journey into the Honduran rainforest to find a city that has been lost from time for over five hundred years. But, as all good storytellers know, finding the lost city is only part of the story. The more interesting part of the story is determining why the city was abandoned at all and left to the march of time.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but let’s just say that that line of reasoning has profound and chilling impacts for our modern society. Especially as, at the time I’m writing this blog post, the President seems more interested in fighting with professional athletes over Twitter than helping the people in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

I have not read read either of these, but I suspect if you enjoyed either of Jared Diamond’s books, Guns, Germs, and Steel or Collapse, you will enjoy The Lost City of the Monkey God. Both were referenced in the book and as both have long been on my TBR list, I can safely say this book will appeal to Diamond fans.

And I would be remiss if I closed this review without mentioning the “horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease” that Preston and others on the trip contracted in the jungle. While not as frightening as the way ebola is depicted in The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, the diseased that Preston et al picked up is almost more terrifying because it’s another example of how looking to the past can have frightening implications for our future.

 

Jade Dragon Mountain

Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart

On the mountainous border of China and Tibet in 1708, a detective must learn what a killer already knows: that empires rise and fall on the strength of the stories they tell.

Li Du was an imperial Chinese librarian. Now he is an exile. In 1780, three years of wandering have brought him to Dayan, the last Chinese town before the Tibetan border. He expects a quiet outpost barely conscious of its place within the empire, but Dayan is teeming with travelers, soldiers, and merchants. The crowds have been drawn by the promise of an unmatched spectacle; an eclipse of the sun, commanded by the Emperor himself. 

Amid the frenzy, Li Du befriends an elderly Jesuit astronomer. Hours later, the man is murdered in the home of the local magistrate, and Li Du suspects it was no random killing. Everyone has secrets: the ambitious magistrate, the powerful consort, the bitter servant, the irreproachable secretary, the East India Company merchant, the nervous missionary, and the traveling storyteller who can’t keep his own story straight. 

Beyond the sloping roofs and festival banners, Li Du can see the pass over Jade Dragon Mountain that will take him out of China forever. But he cannot ignore the murder that the town is all too eager to forget. As Li Du investigates, he begins to suspect that the murderer intends to kill again. The eclipse is coming. Li Du must solve the murder before the sun disappears. If he does not, then someone, perhaps Li Du himself, will never again see its light.

This was my suggestion for book club this month, but I actually chose it because I almost bought the second book in the series, The White Mirror, in a book shop in Estes Park, Colorado. When I realized there was another book, I bought News of the World instead. I was pleased when my book club chose my suggestion of Jade Dragon Mountain because I was still thinking about this series and how interesting it sounded.

I loved this book from start to finish. A historical fiction mystery set in China? Yes please. This book delivered on all fronts and was really even better than I had imagined it would be. The world Elsa Hart created was absolutely beautiful, elegant, and exotic. The mystery didn’t feel forced, but natural and I neither suspected the culprit, nor saw the final twist coming.

I learned a great deal reading this book, which is always fun. I can’t think of any others books I’ve read that are set in China except for those by Amy Tan. It was fun to discover a new author and one with as intoxicating a style as Elsa Hart.

My edition of this novel had an interview with the author and well as information about some of her source materials for the book. She has really lived an interesting life and I enjoyed reading about that as well as the books that helped with her research…including some that made it into the pages of Jade Dragon Mountain!

I’m excited to keep reading about the adventures of Li Du in The White Mirror – now on my short list of books to purchase (though I’m at that point again where I should really not be buying more books….)

Also, I really, really, really love dumplings and tea. The descriptions of both in this book ignited some major cravings! Anyone have a favorite place for dumplings in San Diego?