by David Bain
“Island Ghosts” was the very first Will Castleton story I ever wrote.
I wanted to write something fast-moving, consciously in the style of certain Dean Koontz passages.
And I wanted to write a series character.
I was starting to get invites to small horror and crime anthologies, and I wanted to come up with a character I could enjoy plugging into most any relevant situation or theme.
The first adventure starring psychic detective Will Castleton - then a U.S. Marshal - stemmed from a week-long winter family vacation to Dauphin Island, Alabama.
We rented a house on the shore, celebrated my twins’ second birthday with my parents and grandparents, and - if our math is correct, likely conceived my younger daughter to the sound of the ocean waves.
It was a pretty chill, idyllic week, filled with family, kicked back afternoons on the rental’s oceanfront deck, beer, shrimp po’ boys and occasional trips up and down the mile or two length of the island. I remember waking one morning, the sun playing bright off the waves through the window, to my daughter cheerfully, quietly singing “Happy Birthday” to herself in the playpen/crib. There are a lot of similar cherished little memories from that trip.
I would get up early and write - on a novel that I ended up trashing.
So it goes.
I remember I wrote the first draft of “Island Ghosts” in a single afternoon while I was technically on the clock at the newspaper I was working for. I was covering the town of Albion, Indiana, at the time and would hang out at the library in between meetings and assignments.
That’s one great thing about being a journalist - as long as you’re at the keyboard, typing, no one asks what you’re working on. Surely it’s something important.
And, in this case, it certainly was important - at least to me and my writing career.
Will has gotten me into several anthologies I might not have otherwise landed in.
And he’s seen to it that I always have something - or, rather, someone - to write about.
There’s always a new situation for Will to encounter, and there’s always a new aspect or facet of his psychic abilities - he sometimes calls it a curse - to inflict upon him and explore.
I remember Island Ghosts was turned down by the first anthology I sent it to - the reference to the woman in the hotel room was too violent. She eventually became more fleshed out and a complete (and heroic) character in her own right, several years later, in the story “Phoenix Blood.” I can’t remember who the editor of that particular anthology was - I do know it was someone I admired and wanted to impress - but I took his advice and toned the description down and the story was accepted and published in the first print anthology from Futures Mysterious magazine, a noir staple you’d commonly see on the shelves of your local Barnes and Nobles. (Remember bookstores?)
I remember being particularly happy to appear in that antho, as it also featured Warren Murphy, author of the Remo Williams Destroyer series - I’ve only read one or two of that series, but I was a fan of the movie and, more importantly, I had a friend who had read every book and was simply gaga over the fact that I was in some way associated with Mr. Murphy. Sometimes, for me, at least, impressing our high school buddies with serendipitous stuff like that is about the coolest possible aspect of the writing life.
I eventually decided “Island Ghosts was actually the center of a triptych of piece now forming the Blood Tides collection. The story begged for a prequel, and all I’ll say about the sequel short story is it helps redeem Will’s tragic predilection for getting to the scene seconds too late.
The house we stayed in on Dauphin Island, the one that inspired the house Will Castleton, was swept out to sea without a trace during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005.
Will’s stories, however, remain.
"Island Ghosts" appears in the collection BLOOD TIDES, available on Amazon.