Murder, Intrigue and Romance at a Haunted Luxury Resort

March 1998
(Started January 1993 – Finished March 1997)

I began working on “Ghostal Shores” shortly after finishing my second novel, Vampire’s Kiss. “Ghostal Shores” was inspired by numerous things. Four are obvious to me: a trip to Inverness and the Point Reyes Seashore (the setting); visits to Disney World’s haunted mansion (one of my all-time favorite rides); convention trips, on which I tagged along when I was young, to the Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia; and working at the Tahoe Season’s Resort in South Lake Tahoe. During the “off” season, the bar might be totally deserted, with only the ghosts of customers echoing through the lobby.

MANY aspects of the bar are used in Ghostal Shores’ Clifftop bar. The original setting was to be Los Angeles, more a “theme” bar/restaurant than a resort, but a visit to Point Reyes resulted in a switch to north of San Francisco. I thought the people In San Francisco were eclectic (Berkeley has a school for psychics), which went along with the eccentrics who would visit the haunted place, now growing into a resort. Once I’d decided on the resort, I thought I’d give the local ghosts something else to worry about: their beloved home could become a timeshare. While working at Tahoe Seasons, I’d been through several tumultuous changes in interval vacation ownership. Becoming a timeshare, instead of just a hotel, might change the complexion of the resort.

MY original theme was to make a tourist trap from Hell, where benevolent Old West ghosts were overwhelmed by malevolent gunslingers, horse thieves and card-sharking ghosts. Pinnacle wanted a horrific storyline, although as much psychological as physical, to follow along the line of Dawn of the Vampire and Vampire’s Kiss.

I completed the outline, sent in some sample chapters, and received some good suggestions from editor Jennifer Sawyer, mainly to cut down on the number of characters. This led to combining Angela the lawyer with her native American friend to create Angela Starborne. Actually, this character was moved and altered from “Demonbear.” Another suggested change was made: to keep the early contact/touching between ghosts and people to a minimum, making later contact more important and exciting. Thanks, Jennifer.

JENNIFER offered a verbal contract. She was excited about the story and said a contract would be sent in the mail. About a week or so later, she called again: Pinnacle was no longer interested in the book. The horror market was failing, so Pinnacle was curtailing its line. (The book industry does this; something dips, so they cut back. It dips more, so they cut back even more, and so on and so on, creating a downward spiral.)

I was crushed. I thought I finally had found a groove, creating a book per year or so with a publisher who liked my work. For worse or better, this derailed my writing career for a while. I focused on writing less horrific stories to see what would happen. I worked on The Magic Bicycle Amok, and on revising “Ghostal Shores,” making it less horrific and more mysterious-a supernatural thriller with romance and humor along with suspense.

THE previous theme dealt with an angry Native American spirit avenging his people and the pollution of our once great land. I decided to change that theme, making the interactions between ghosts and people the main point — that people caught living in the past, dominated by their past, were much the same as ghosts, which are trapped and unchanging; static; dead. We should live life in the present and look forward to the future. This, of course, changed the story, making it easier to add whodunit aspects, humor, and deeper characters. I no longer worried about the number of characters, adding back in Angela’s psychic friend Candy. All the above changed the story, now dubbed “California Ghosting.” It and The Magic Bicycle attracted Otter Creek Press’ interest. Actually, along with The Vampire Hunters Club, in some ways this manuscript helped found Otter Creek Press.

TO add depth to the characters, I did research on Goldfield, Nevada, and Bodie, California. The latter is a ghost town. Goldfield is not far from being another, but in the late 1800s and early 1900s the resort there was very luxurious. After seeing that hotel, which is supposedly moved in the story, I decided that Ghostal Shores’ founders would not rebuild the hotel but would construct a brand new luxury resort. I designed the resort after The Greenbriar, a sprawling palace of luxury in West Virginia. Back in the old days in mining towns, fires were frequent and very devastating. I decided that many of the shopkeepers would die in an arsonist’s fire. Goldfield had miner union problems that required the National Guard to quell, which added more fuel to my story.

California Ghosting, despite its setting, is character driven. As I mentioned before, Angela was adapted from a character in “Demonbear,” but she was inspired by a lady-friend in the corporate world. I added the Indian heritage and changed her profession. Blasing partly came from a Tahoe neighbor who worked security electronics. As I wrote more and more, Angela seemed to be the more interesting character, so she became the main character.

HELLER’S origami habit was probably taken from Bladerunner. Broderick is a conglomerate of valets and butlers from “Family Affair” to “Arthur.” Editors who read an early version of the story complained Broderick was not British enough, so I watched “My Fair Lady” and conducted research on speech and history of the British Empire. I think Eva probably came from “Dallas” or “Dynasty.” The Texas banker in the story is an “extreme” version of my accountant, who wanted to be the in the story. I have no idea what inspired the “alchemist” Cannon, who is many people’s favorite character. I always saw Lon Rictor as a very mean, very nasty, evil Clint Eastwood.

AS I said, I changed the villain of the story from angry Native American spirits to a malicious gang of old west spirits, doing what they’d always done-terrorize the local spirits. Even that changed. Somehow, Sean Heller, the owner, became connected by a relative to the main villain’s past. The plot thickened. The leader of the gang would grow vengeful.

I needed to add further tension to the romance, so I added a female ghost interested in Blasing’s body. This, of course, wouldn’t go over well with her ghost boyfriend.

TO intensify the murder storyline, I added plenty of suspects, from an illegitimate female heir and crooked security guards to a covetous psychic. I liked the weird psychics, so I added more of them. They seemed to fit perfectly with the rich and the strange who visited Ghostal Shores.

THE writing process, the act of creating and recreating, is amazing. The story had grown from a simple horror novel to a murder mystery with lots of characters, alive and ghostly. The romantic tangle became a triangle or even quadrangle. The odd psychics and romance added humor. The hauntings added suspense. All of this created a unique blend of elements that makes California Ghosting very unusual: in-depth, full of character, funny, poignant, thought-provoking, mysterious, suspenseful, gripping, and even a little scary.