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Interview with Tim Prasil, Author of Help for the Haunted

Tim Prasil — it rhymes with “fossil” — teaches English at Oklahoma State University. He has written articles printed in many academic journals and co-edited Visions and Divisions: American Immigration Literature, 1870-1930, published by Rutgers University Press. He also writes stage and audio drama, does a bit of acting on the community theater stage, and appreciates the finer beers in life.

Please tell our readers a little about your background. What inspired you to start writing, and what appeals to you about ghost stories in particular?

Tim Prasil, Author of Help for the Haunted

Tim Prasil, Author of Help for the Haunted

I’m very much “a son of the Mysterious Heartland,” having grown up about midway between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois. I’ve moved to the South and to the East, but I keep coming back to the middle. For instance, I got my Master’s degree in Boston—but my Ph.D. in Milwaukee.

It’s hard to say what actually ignited my urge to write and tell stories. All I know is that, as a boy, I forced my friends to act in plays I made up. We charged the kids in the neighborhood a dime to see them. I have mixed feelings about the fact that no video of these productions exist.

Actually, my own writing tends more toward Science Fiction rather than ghost stories. There’s evidence of this in the several audio plays I wrote that were produced by The Decoder Ring Theatre. These audio plays are all available on their website for free listening or free downloading as mp3s. One play, titled “The Crasher,” is a somewhat traditional ghost story. Before inheriting the chronicles of Vera Van Slyke, though, I didn’t really do much with supernatural stories. Now, however, it’s all I think about!

How did you come into possession of Lucille Parsell’s collection of short stories, and what process did you go through to get them published?

I need to relate some history to explain that. Lucille Parsell is my great-grandaunt. She arrived in America as Ludmila Prášilová in 1887, and a Czech pet name for Ludmila is Lida. About seven years after immigrating, Lida became a Spiritualist medium, and that’s about the time she started introducing herself as Lucille Parsell. I sense that it was her way to get back at her mother, who pressured her into the séance racket.

Vera Van Slyke, the focus of the collection, was a reporter in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This was the heyday of Spiritualism, and Vera built her reputation by debunking fake psychic mediums. At one point, she locked horns with my great-grandaunt. But they quickly became friends, and that’s when Lida discovered that Vera was also a hunter of very real ghosts! I like how Vera explained the paradox of debunking mediums while being convinced that ghosts are authentic. She said: “Ghosts are like cats. They’re real, but they hardly come when called.”

Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries

Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries

An avid reader, Lida began to chronicle her friend’s supernatural investigations, something like Dr. Watson penning his adventures with Sherlock Holmes. Lida’s unpublished manuscripts were eventually passed to me—in, of all things, a wooden box meant to sell seeds!

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure the term “short stories” is entirely accurate, since that implies fiction. Yes, I’ve found some fabrication in Lida’s accounts of Vera’s ghost hunts. Names changed to protect the innocent and that. But I’ve also found a lot of verifiable facts. For example, the history of Fort Pitt, which underlies one haunting, can be found in old books. On another case, Vera visited Stickney House, a brick “prairie mansion” built with no sharp corners, and that building still stands. She walked along tunnels deep below downtown Chicago, too, and those are still there.

So are the thirteen ghostly mysteries in Help for the Haunted factual? Are they fictional? A mixture? I honestly don’t know. I present them as I inherited them, and readers can decide for themselves.

That Ph.D. I mentioned is in English, so I felt well-qualified to edit some of my ancestor’s sentences for correctness. In some cases, Lida’s word choices have become, well, not offensive so much as confusing to 21st-century readers. I did my best to preserve Lida’s voice, though. For instance, when she describes her Czech brother, my great-grandfather, as having “twice the nose of an Irishman,” I left that as is.

Over a year ago, I began posting the chronicles on my blog, and that’s how Emby Press found out about them. The publisher came to me, in other words. I checked out the kinds of the books Emby publishes, and I quickly saw that it was a perfect fit for the Vera Van Slyke narratives.

What was Lucille Parsell’s interest in ghosts and Spiritualism? What was her theory about ghosts and violet light?

Lucille/Lida agreed with Vera that Spiritualism was a sham, but her interest in ghosts grew from assisting Vera on her supernatural investigations. My ancestor’s manuscripts affirm that she came to agree with Vera: ghosts are real.

Vera realized that guilt underlies all of the hauntings she investigated, and with that as a constant, she theorized that intense guilt punctures the membrane between material and spirit realms, allowing spirits to cross dimensions. The chronicle titled “Skittering Holes” explains how Lida’s musician friend witnessed “purple halos” in his room at night. Further inquiry proved that these were the same ruptures that Vera speculated are caused by piercing guilt. She learned how specific musical vibrations—a B-flat and high-G played on oboes—pull those holes into the violet edge of the visible spectrum. This struck Vera as a bit crazy, but it also became one of her trusted methods to confirm that supernatural activity is possible at sites said to be haunted.

The spectral edition of your Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries website offers actual newspaper reports on ghosts published in U.S. newspapers between 1875 and 1925. In total, you say you found 150 articles. Which are some of your favorite and why? What was the strangest?

I’m approaching 175 articles now, and I sense I’ll easily find at least 200! I post one every week on my Ghostly Mysteries site, so I’ll be doing that for many, many weeks to come.

In some cases, the reporter’s skepticism comes across with humor or outright sarcasm. One article from the 1920s, for example, is about a ghostly flapper who’s so pretty that several young men say they wish she haunted them. However, the majority of the articles are presented with simple, “dry” reporting. These are my favorites—because they are the strangest! In an 1883 issue of Ohio’s Belmont Chronicle, there’s a short report of a death and another about some snow damage. Wedged between these routine reports is this: “Bridgeport is said to have a haunted house. Tables are said to move about without any visible agency, doors are rapped upon, and noises of all kinds are heard throughout the house. . . .” What is this telling us about the public perception of ghosts in that era? My favorites are the ones that treat ghosts as if they’re as ordinary as snow damage. I’m utterly baffled by them!

On your website, you list a bibliography of 19th- and early 20th-century non-fiction works addressing ghosts. Did you notice a trend in these sources? What is the main difference between these books and contemporary books on the subject? How did you locate them all?

The more-than-50 books and magazine articles there are so diverse that it’s tough to find solid trends in them, though answering questions such as “does God allow ghosts to return?” pop up again and again. Of course, some of the writers say ghost sightings are merely psychological illusion while others say such sightings are too universal to dismiss easily. I confess I’m not up enough on contemporary ghost books to catch the differences, but I think I’ve provided a very good resource to anyone exploring exactly that. I located my sources through good, new-fashioned Internet searching. Advanced searches at Google Books was my main method, setting the dates and hunting for key words such as “specter,” “phantom,” “en rapport,” and such.

How can our readers purchase Help for the Haunted? Where can our readers go to find out more information about this book and your other writing?

Help for the Haunted is available for Kindle at Amazon—and the print version will at Amazon in a matter of days. Once that print version is out, I’ll announce it on both of my sites: Tim Prasil: Inventor of Persons and Vera Van Slyke ~ Ghostly Mysteries. At the latter site, I offer free Vera Van Slyke chronicles for free on a monthly basis, and both sites have links that will let you follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter.

By the way, there’s another Vera Van Slyke ghostly mystery still to come, one that’s novel length! It won’t be ready for some time, but it’s titled Guilt Is a Ghost.

Sorry guys, this page is copyright MysteriousHeartland.com, 2015. You do not have permission to copy this for any reason. Please learn how to cite your work. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Tim Prasil.

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Comments

  1. Tim Prasil says:

    Since completing this interview, the print version of Help for the Haunted has become available. It’s at http://www.amazon.com/Help-Haunted-Tim-Prasil/dp/1940344247/ref=la_B00UJW3WSG_1_2_title_0_main?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427146993&sr=1-2

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  2. Fascinating. This is a great interview.

    Like

Trackbacks

  1. […] I discuss Help for the Haunted and other ghostly issues at the wonderful Mysterious Heartland website. Find the interview here! […]

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  2. […] this month, we asked you to submit your ideas for paranormal memes. Our friend Tim Prasil went above and beyond the call of duty and sent in several submissions, including this one. It’s […]

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  3. […] this summer, we asked you to submit your ideas for paranormal memes. Our friend Tim Prasil went above and beyond the call of duty and sent in several nice submissions. A friend posted this […]

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