A Minor Gem: Julian Hawthorne’s “The House Behind the Trees”

Unearthing the UnearthlyJulian Hawthorne’s literary career never really got out of the shadow of the literary career of his revered father, Nathaniel. It’s tough to compete when one’s daddy wrote The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, after all. This is despite the son’s having written considerably more: “He out-published his father by a ratio of more than twenty-to-one,” says Gary Sharnhorst in a biography of the younger Hawthorne.

Sharnhorst also describes Julian as “a writer of modest talent . . . who tailored his tales to the demands of the market in the heyday of sensational fiction.” This is evident in “The House Behind the Trees,” a ghost hunter tale that is probably more interesting for the parentage of the author than for anything in the story itself. Continue reading “A Minor Gem: Julian Hawthorne’s “The House Behind the Trees””


4-Question Interview: Loren Rhoads

present-tensionsIn a recent online discussion, I tried to boil down the difference between occult detective fiction and urban fantasy to simple math: “5 vampires per 7 billion humans = occult detective. 1 billion vampires, 1 billion werewolves, 1 billion zombies per 4 billion humans = urban fantasy. There’s an error margin of + or – 17.”

Loren Rhoads is blurring that formula — as well as the division between those genres — with her occult detective fiction. On her website, she explains that she’s written “a series of urban fantasy short stories about Alondra DeCourval, a young American witch who grew up in London. Alondra travels the world, battling monsters.” But the author’s take on urban fantasy doesn’t seem quite so monster-heavy as my formula suggests. She explains this while answering the 4 questions that I’ve asked of many writers keeping the occult detective tradition very much alive today. Continue reading “4-Question Interview: Loren Rhoads”

Dolly Desmond: Reporter and One-Time Ghost Hunter

Dolly Desmond was the lead character in a 1914 movie serial titled The Active Life of Dolly of the Dailies. There were twelve episodes in this series, produced by the Edison Company and directed by Walter Edwin. In the title role was Mary Fuller, who also happened to star in what is considered the very first movie serial, What Happened to Mary (1912).

As were a few other serial heroines from the 1910s, Dolly Desmond was “noteworthy less for her extraordinary beauty than for her daring and resourcefulness. This woman would often perform her work in a male-dominated arena, winning the day with confident self-reliance and an imaginative capacity seemingly unavailable to her male peers.” Specifically, Desmond was a reporter in that era of brave, adventurous reporters carving a place for professional women, journalists who included Nellie Bly and Ida Tarball.

Continue reading “Dolly Desmond: Reporter and One-Time Ghost Hunter”

Deceived by H. Macaulay’s “The Detective” (1870)

Unearthing the Unearthly

Skimming through an 1870 short story called “The Detective: A Tale of the Old Walton House,” I spotted clues of supernatural events occurring. Given the title, I felt very hopeful that I had come across yet another piece of fiction that crosses supernatural and detective genres — ideally, resulting in another early occult detective to add to my Chronological Bibliography thereof.

But I had been deceived. Tricked. Bamboozled even. The title detective in H. Macaulay’s tale is actually the supernatural being, and it’s called “the detective” because it haunts — or shadows — the protagonist as a detective might do. This is all explained up front: Continue reading “Deceived by H. Macaulay’s “The Detective” (1870)”

4-Question Interview: Tony Walker

present-tensionsWhile hunting for ghosts on the Web, I came across a site titled simply: Ghost Stories. It’s “a blog to discuss, present, curate and review classic ghost stories, Gothic fiction and Weird Tales,” and it’s managed by Tony Walker.

Tony is also a writer, and the plot of his novel Unreal City is introduced this way: “Hard-boiled detective Christian Le Cozh is hired by a man who thinks his wife was killed by a vampire.  Le Cozh is sceptical but he needs the money. He accompanies his client to a graveyard at midnight to persuade him to get medical help. Then things go wrong and he has to hunt the beasts, before they hunt him.”

Continue reading “4-Question Interview: Tony Walker”

4-Question Interview: C.A. Verstraete

present-tensionsI met author C.A. (Christine) Verstraete during the October Frights Blog Hop of last year. I quickly ordered her new book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, intrigued by the notion of turning the most famous matricidal/patricidal figure in American history into an occult detective. Though I admit I haven’t yet read the novel, it seems like a very promising next step from — and a clever spin on — Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) and his Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010).


A mystery runs through Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, a sinister puzzle that Borden must solve. As I say, she’s presented as an occult detective, and as I do with my Vera Van Slyke chronicles, Verstraete interweaves historical fact with supernatural fiction in this novel. Her other work has been published in various anthologies and magazines, including Mystery Weekly, Siren’s Call and Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime. She’s also the author of a young adult novel, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie.

Continue reading “4-Question Interview: C.A. Verstraete”

4-Question Interview: John Linwood Grant

present-tensionsAs one gets to know John Linwood Grant, one learns certain canine-related words. Lurcher, for instance. And since looking that up, I now know what a sighthound is. I’m a better man for it.

Really thin dogs — think greyhounds and whippets — appear a lot on John’s website, greydogtales, which is dedicated to “weird fiction, weird art, and even weirder lurchers.” There’s a lot of information about authors working in the occult detective cross-genre and related areas of supernatural fiction. Like myself, John both writes about the stuff while also writing the stuff. His The Last Edwardian series is rooted in the same era as my Vera Van Slyke chronicles, but his stories are based much more on a cast of characters. He’ll introduce you to them.

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4-Question Interview: Brian P. Easton

present-tensionsBrian P. Easton grew up on the south end of Illinois — with its corn and coal. He writes about werewolves. I grew on the north end of that state — with its corn and cows. I write about ghosts. And, of course, Abe Lincoln was a vampire-hunter. We’re pretty much ready for any supernatural contingencies in the Prairie State.

Brian has written a trilogy of novels about a character named Sylvester L. James: Autobiography of a Werewolf Hunter, Heart of Scars, and The Lineage. A prequel is nearing completion. I asked Brian to answer my four usual questions to introduce us to his werewolf hunter. Continue reading “4-Question Interview: Brian P. Easton”

4-Question Interview: Robert Valentine and Jack Bowman

present-tensionsAbout the time that I was writing scripts for Marvellous Boxes, my Twilight Zone-ish audio drama anthology, Robert Valentine and Jack Bowman were already winning awards for their work on The Springheel Saga. This audio drama series is told as a trilogy of trilogies: three episodes establish The Strange Case of Springheel’d Jack, three more continue The Legend of Springheel’d Jack, and the final three episodes reveal The Secret of Springheel’d Jack.

It’s a series I’ve been enjoying and recommending for a few years now. Yes, it features a distinctive occult detective character named Jonah Smith. However, I’m more drawn to the high quality of the writing, the cinematic feel of the production, and the performances of the actors — most all of them with lengthy and impressive credentials.

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4-Question Interview: Josh Reynolds

present-tensionsI have a special fondness for the characters and world that Josh Reynolds has created for this Royal Occultist series. Its interplay of history, mystery, supernatural chills, and a good bit of humor, I hope, are key ingredients of my own Vera Van Slyke ghostly mysteries. And while Vera, no doubt, would have much to discuss with Charles St. Cyprian, the spotlighted holder of the position of Royal Occultist, I’d much rather see her share a beer with Ebe Gallowglass, St. Cyprian’s snarly assistant.

But I’ll let Josh clarify what I’m talking about.

Continue reading “4-Question Interview: Josh Reynolds”