With a message from the dead
On a journey you’ve been led.
Another message from a stranger
Holds an answer, comes with danger.
A riddle, a puzzle in plain sight.
An answer, a vision in black and white.
You’ll know the where but not the why.
Beware the place one comes to die.
ZOLTAR KNOWS ALL
Carol J. Perry, Be My Ghost, Kindle Loc. 222
My unexpected interview with Carol J. Perry started when I downloaded Be My Ghost on a whim. By the third chapter, I was underlining sections of the text, knowing that I’d interview the author. It’s the type of book that puts me in my happy place.
It’s a mystery, but with enough fantasy that my own reality fades with the turn of the page. The supernatural elements (ghosts, of course) are more droll than scary, and it’s a cozy mystery, set in a beach town. I liked the main character, Maureen, and her dog, Finn—a golden retriever. Who wouldn’t? I wish I had a backlog of this series to binge read. But—this is the first book in the series. So, I’ll have to wait, and I hope there will be many more to follow.
Please welcome Carol J. Perry to WWK. E. B. Davis
Losing her job at a big Boston department store must have been quite a shock to Maureen. Did she know it was coming? Did she have any back-up plans?
She should have known it, shouldn’t she? Big stores are closing all over the country. Maureen was kind of cruising along in her comfortable life until the store was actually closing down, having going-out-of-business sales—selling the store fixtures. By then it was a little late to do much about it except look out the window at the winter-is-coming weather and wonder what the heck she’s going to do about it. Happened to me once. I was ad manager for a big N.E. store. Kept on writing though. I wrote articles for magazines and newspapers until I figured out that writing mysteries were more fun!
Although Haven, Florida in the book is located near St. Petersburg, it’s not near the major attractions or major highways. Did you pattern Haven after other towns?
I sure did. Several of them. There are quite a few “Haven-like” cities and towns in Florida. Readers of Be My Ghost who’ve visited Florida might recognize bits and pieces of Gulfport, Safety Harbor, Cedar Key, Sanford, Fernandina Beach and a few others. All of these places still retain their old-fashioned charm, and lots of travelers like to visit them because they’ve avoided too much change.
We learn early in the book that Maureen and her parents have been to Haven before. What connection does that visit have to her return visit as an adult?
When Maureen was 12, they made a trip (to Disney World, of
course) and stopped in Haven. They
went out on a fishing boat and Maureen caught a fish. There was a nearby restaurant where visitors could get their catch cooked, so she and her parents ate there. She found out when she took over the inn that the bartender’s mother had owned such a place back then and who knows? He might even have cooked her fish. To add to the plot, Penelope Josephine Gray, her mysterious benefactor had a photo of 12-year-old Maureen posing with that fish!
Ms. Gray’s lawyer, who contacts Maureen to tell her she’s inherited a century-old inn in Florida, mentions that it’s supposed to be haunted. How does Maureen react to this information?
She (politely) scoffs at it, insisting she doesn’t believe in ghosts. He says that, of course, he doesn’t either. She’s in for a surprise—actually more than one. She and her dog Finn have been in their new home a very short time when they both meet up with a shocking one—I loved writing about that ghost, and you can be sure you’ll meet her again in future Haunted Haven mysteries.
Readers meet four residents of the inn early in the book. They are colorful characters whom Ms. Gray allowed to live there in exchange for their help in operating the place. How do they contribute to the inn’s operation once Maureen takes over?
George and Sam and Molly and Gert are elderly and occupy rooms in exchange for their housekeeping and handy-man work. Maureen could easily rent the rooms for much more than she’s realizing from their help, but being soft-hearted, she can’t very well throw them out, can she? Anyway, they come in quite handy in many ways Maureen hadn’t expected they might. (They’re pretty funny too, and you’ll definitely see them in future books.)
Maureen discovers a dead man in a rocking chair on her front porch the very day she arrives at the inn. Actually, Finn discovers him and rocks him out of his chair. Did Finn think the man was alive?
Finn had flunked his guide dog test for being too curious and too easily distracted. This was a case of Finn being too curious. He pressed his nose against the man’s knee—probably just sniffing like nosey dogs do—and the guy pitched forward and onto the floor—quite dead.
When Maureen meets Elizabeth, the inn’s manager, the woman seems passive-aggressive toward the new owner. Maureen discovers early on that Elizabeth is a really poor manager of the inn’s expenses and that Elizabeth doesn’t seem to care that she’s put the place on the verge of bankruptcy. How does Maureen plan to handle this oncoming crisis?
Penelope Josephine Gray inherited the inn from an anonymous donor—same as Maureen did. She inherited a pile of money along with it. According to the lawyer, the money is due to run out shortly, and he advises Maureen to sell the place. Ms. Gray apparently didn’t know anything about running an inn and allowed Elizabeth to do whatever she wanted. (We learn that Elizabeth thought SHE would inherit the place and planned to sell it as soon as the money was gone.) Maureen has other plans, and although she has no experience as a hotelier, she is determined to learn and to restore the inn to its former glory when the rich and famous used to stay there.
The inn is run down and needs maintenance and renovation if its ever going to be restored. Maureen uses her business planning skills to develop money-making ideas to keep the inn afloat. How does she plan to do that?
She has both long-term and short-term plans. Short term—she just has to bring in enough to keep up with current expenses. She puts bartender Ted in charge of menus for the restaurant and buying from wholesalers instead of the local market. (She makes him “Executive Chef.”) They begin to advertise lunch specials with simple paper flyers and begin to attract new business. Ms. Gray was a hoarder—the hoard was in a warehouse, and Maureen plans a giant yard sale. Long term—she has plans to name rooms after famous guests who once stayed in them—along with some serious re-decorating. First, she needs to get rid of a ghost who has taken up residence in one of the suites!
Why are the ghost hunters a double-edged sword to Haven?
The ghost hunters bring a certain kind of clientele to town. They bring TV cameras and all kinds of recording gadgets and special cameras. Townspeople like their privacy. They keep quiet about their ghosts—and there are plenty of them in Haven! They fear that the boulevard will be full of magic shops and ghost stores—sort of like Roswell is all about flying saucers and Salem is chock full of witch stores.
Maureen has kept the fortune card she got from an old Zoltar machine. The predictions on the card seem to be coming true. How does Maureen react?
She has mixed feelings about this card. Should she just throw it away and forget about it? It’s tempting, but sometimes the words on the card seem to make perfect sense. Sometimes she convinces herself that these are simply coincidences. After all, it’s just a silly card out of a machine from a fun house arcade. How can it be anything more? She wonders. We wonder. Keep reading.
Lorna was at her most beautiful back in those days, so she chooses to appear as she did in the films—in black and white. She’s very interested in fashion, and likes the fact that Maureen was once a sportswear buyer. She frequently “borrows” Maureen’s clothes—and is not adverse to visiting hotel guest’s closets to borrow theirs too.
Suite 27 has a horrible reputation. Maureen doesn’t know until after she’s situated her office there. Why is everyone so afraid of the suite when Maureen seems not to be?
Maureen learns that there is a supposed ghost there everyone calls “John Smith” because that’s how he signed the guest register back in the 1970s. People who rented Suite 27 say he came out of the closet and sat on their beds, crying pitifully for his Mother. Although Maureen has experienced drops in temperature in her office, and has even seen dents in a box as though someone had sat on it, she has not really experienced seeing or hearing John Smith. She does eventually have reason to believe the stories are true—and then she must figure out how to send John Smith away!
Bogie and Bacall, Ms. Gray’s cats, make peace with Finn, but they don’t seem to like ghosts. How do they treat Lorna?
They tolerate her. Bacall thinks it’s funny to walk right through Lorna. Bogie pretends she isn’t there.
Maureen talks to Finn and even sometimes explains idioms to him. Does Finn understand her?
I think he does and so does Maureen—even though all he ever says is “woof.”
When Maureen becomes a suspect in the murder, she is represented by Nora, another lawyer in the practice that handles Ms. Gray’s will. Tell readers about Nora and her defense approach.
Nora is well acquainted with Frank Hubbard, the officer who is so suspicious of Maureen. She says he’s a “bulldog” once he gets an idea about a case. (Maureen explains to Finn that “It’s not that kind of bulldog.”) Nora painstakingly proves step-by-step that Maureen had no motive. They have to come up with a suspect who HAS motive and they find more than one—which adds to the mystery but clears Maureen.
What kind of research did you have to do to write about ghosts?
I learned a lot about ghosts—but most particularly about ghosts who haunt hotels in Florida! I was amazed at the number of “haunted hotels” I found. Some of that research shows up in the book. For instance, over in Fernandina Beach there’s a saloon called the Palace. It’s haunted by a bartender called “Uncle Charlie” who worked there before he died. Some nights, they say he still plays the piano—even though the piano’s keys have been encased in Plexiglas for years. Uncle Charlie inspired Billy-be-doggoned-Bailey who plays the old player piano in the restaurant at the Haven House Inn. (Billy was even once photographed by a ghost hunter, but nobody is talking about that.) Also, in Fernandina Beach at the Florida House there’s a sad-looking man who sits on beds—just like John Smith. The hotel that inspired the inn in my books is the Peninsula Inn in Gulfport, Florida. I was surprised and delighted to learn that the Peninsula is haunted too—by a friendly ghost called Isabel. She is a bed-bumper ghost and has a little ghost cat who wanders around the hotel at will.
Well, we’ve got to get that old place fixed up somehow, and raise the money to do it on a budget. Maureen is having photos made of some of the famous people who signed the guest registers and will post them in the suites that bear their names. She already has reservations for the Babe Ruth Suite. (The registers themselves are going to an autograph dealer for big bucks after she gets copies made.) She’s met a couple of interior designers who have become friends. They’ll be back to help with the do-over. It’s Maureen’s first Christmas in Florida and Christmas lights on palm trees are a big change from New England’s snowy winter scenery. There may be a bit of romance in the air, too, with handsome chef Ted. I can hardly wait to write the next book—working title is High Spirits—and we’ll meet some new ghosts in the town’s old movie theater. Hope to see you there!