Paul Guernsey’s ‘American Ghost’ is a supernatural comedy-thriller
UNION — Fiction novelists know the pain, more than most people, of the fear of failure and not getting years and years’ worth of painstaking work published and to the right audience. That doesn’t change when you’re dead.
Union author Paul Guernsey explores that concept with American Ghost, which won the Speculative Fiction Award in June from the Maine Literary Awards.
Thumb Rivera, his main character, is a college dropout, a small-time marijuana grower, a petty criminal and a gang member wannabe. Oh, and he also happens to be no longer part of the living.
As a spirit in the afterlife who still dreams of getting a fictional account of his life published, Riviera’s only recourse is to channel his n’er-do-well friends to solve his own murder and literally “ghost-write” his autobiography. Poor Rivera. The best he can get is Ben, an unemployed ghost hunter and Fred Muttkowski, a failed novelist.
This is truly a novel for authors. Not only is American Ghost a murder mystery and a revenge thriller, it’s a darkly comical exploration of the kind of angst every writer knows only too well: when your book and its concepts are no longer in your control.
This is Guernsey’s third novel after a long hiatus. His first novel, Unhallowed Ground, published in 1986, was a finalist for the PEN Nelson Algren Fiction Award. A newspaper writer and magazine editor in his prior career, Guernsey mined those experiences for American Ghost.
“It’s a ghost story, but it partly contains some of my frustrations and numerous observations how tough it is to be a fiction writer in America these days,” he said. “You either have the drive to succeed commercially or you’re not going to make it, so I put quite a bit of that in there, but with a humorous twist. If you adapt with the times, you may not get rich from your writing, but if you find other ways to pay your bills and you work hard at writing, spend a lot of time on it, you’ll find ways to reach your audience with your work.”
Guernsey, who said he was most influenced by the literary horror and subconscious narrative of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, has always had an interest in the supernatural. As such, he has found a worldwide audience through a website he founded dedicated to supernatural fiction.
“I started a supernatural fiction competition four years ago and it’s gone international called The Ghost Story Supernatural Fiction Awards,” he said. “And we just published a book of those short stories that won the contest called “21st Century Ghost Stories.”
Life, they say, is stranger than fiction. Guernsey discovered this real-life plot twist this summer when his Maine Literary Awards award in speculative fiction was initially meant for another author.
According to a press release put out by Joshua Bodwell, Executive Director of Maine Writers & Publisher’s Alliance, While Ka, by John Crowley, was initially awarded the prize in this category, it was later discovered that erroneous residential information had been provided by the nominator — the author’s publisher, Simon & Schuster.
While the Maine Literary Awards are open to all Maine residents, including seasonal/part-time residents, it was learned Crowley did not meet these eligibility requirements.”
“I had been fishing in Quebec, and made it down to Portland for the awards ceremony and then I was surprised to get a call a few weeks later telling me of the situation,” Guernsey said. “As a result, I think that got the book more publicity than if I’d just straight up won it.”
He shrugged. “Strange things happen.”
To read a synopsis go to: American Ghost and support Maine independent bookstores: buy locally.
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org