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The ‘Ghost’ Writer, By Kurt Anthony Krug

This interview with IAMTW member STEVE PIZIKS was published in the Ann Arbor News.

Novelist Steven Piziks of Ypsilanti originally researched plague rooms for a completely different writing project, but the idea turned out to be ideal when he was commissioned to write a Ghost Whisperer novel.

His Ghost Whisperer: Plague Room, which will be released Tuesday, is based on the CBS series, Ghost Whisperer, now in its fourth season and starring Jennifer Love Hewitt as Melinda Gordon, an antiques dealer who has the ability to see and communicate with the dead. She helps them resolve whatever is keeping them on Earth and helps them “cross over” to the hereafter.

“Back in the days before people fully understood how disease was spread, death by smallpox or tuberculosis was even scarier than it is now,” Piziks said.
“In some larger, wealthier households, the room of a person killed by disease was sometimes simply closed up and the door plastered over to prevent anyone else from getting sick. Sometimes the corpse was left inside. After a couple of generations, everyone would forget the room had even existed, especially if the house changed hands,” explained Piziks, 41.

“I read about a couple who bought a Victorian house, intending to renovate it. They realized there was something off with the measurements in one of the hallways, and they found a door that had been covered over.”

“They broke through and found a child’s bedroom, complete with bed, clothes, and dusty toys, all over a century old. A plague room. No skeleton in the bed, thank heavens, but the image stayed with me, and when the Ghost Whisperer contract came my way, I knew I had the perfect plot device.”

In Plague Room—the third book in the Ghost Whisperer novel series (The Haunted and Revenge have already been released)—Melinda has some competition named Wendy King, another woman who has the ability to see and communicate with the dead, except Wendy forces them to cross over.

“It’s torture for the spirits, but Wendy doesn’t realize this. Meanwhile, Melinda is hired to handle an estate sale’s worth of antiques. In the old mansion where the antiques are housed, she comes across a particularly frightening spirit that can’t cross over,” said Piziks.

“Wendy unexpectedly shows up and bludgeons the ghost into the light—except this only makes the problem in the house worse. Melinda has to deal with Wendy’s unwitting cruelty and a newly-unleashed evil that has the power to devastate the entire town. And there’s a plague room, of course.”

Piziks is no stranger to writing novels based on TV series, such as Star Trek Voyager and Battlestar Galactica (the current series). He’s also written movie novelizations of 2003’s Identity and 2004’s The Exorcist: The Beginning.

One of the challenges he ran into when writing this book was learning that Ghost Whisperer doesn’t have the fan following those other shows have. If Piziks needed to fact-check something quickly, he didn’t find any fan sites on the Internet with detailed plot summaries of each episode, as he did with Voyager and Galactica. Instead, he had the DVDs of the series, particularly the first season which is when his novels occur, to fall back on.

However, since Ghost Whisperer is set in the present, it made writing it easier.

“I didn’t have to explain any science. I didn’t have to figure out why some bit of futuristic technology couldn’t solve the conflict. And the cast of Ghost Whisperer is much, much smaller.

Melinda, her husband, Jim (played by David Conrad in the TV series), and Andrea (Aisha Tyler) were the only characters I had to get ‘right,’ said Piziks. “There was less continuity to worry about, since I was working with the first season. All the other characters I created myself, which meant they could do whatever I wanted them to do.”

Piziks had to make some tweaks here and there by request from CBS.

“I called Wendy an exorcist, and they wanted her to be called a medium instead. And at one point, I had Melinda flee a house, leaving Jim behind because he was unconscious and too heavy for her to carry. The studio said Melinda would never leave Jim behind, no matter what, so I had to come up with a way to get him out of the house, too,” explained Piziks.

One of the best things about writing Plague Room is that Piziks wasn’t restricted by a big budget, unlike the show’s writers.

“I was able to use more ghosts, new settings, fun flashbacks, and some really cool supernatural struggles between Melinda and Wendy that would have been too expensive or difficult to do on the show,” said Piziks. “That’s always fun—my imagination can go places the TV show can’t, and the readers can come along.”

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