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The Big Thrill Discusses SPECTRAL REVELATIONS With Ellen Butler

Book Cover: Special RevelationsIs Karina’s missing aunt on vacation…or on the lam?

Karina is trying to keep her mind on getting a cosponsor for a bill, but it’s tough with her Mom blowing up her phone. By the time Karina finally stops hitting “ignore,” Mom is frantic. It appears Karina’s Aunt Vera has disappeared, fibbed to her employer about the reason for her absence, even abandoned her beloved cat, Nightshade—which is completely out of character. Karina would bet her favorite pair of designer shoes that Vera is in some kind of trouble.

However, when Karina hauls her cookies from D.C. to historic Williamsburg to search Vera’s house, she finds nothing suspicious. Except for a mischievous Civil War ghost who scares the bejesus out of her and keeps trashing Vera’s office. Until Karina realizes his seemingly random ectoplasmic tantrums have a purpose—revealing key evidence.

Ellen Butler

Something is definitely fishy, but the clues aren’t adding up. And as the spirit’s visitations become more urgent, Karina calls on reinforcements for help—her latest squeeze Rick Donovan and her sister Jillian. Because the cops are following faulty leads, which could put Vera on the wrong end of an arrest warrant … if she’s found alive.

​Ellen Butler recently spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her mystery, SPECTRAL REVELATIONS.

Can you pinpoint a moment or incident that sparked the idea for this book?

Aunt Vera’s ghost was inspired by Lieutenant Disosway, a ghost who is said to haunt the Palmer House, near the Capitol Building at the end of Duke of Gloucester Street. I read about Lieutenant Disosway in The Hauntings of Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown, by Jackie Eileen Behrend.

In her book, Behrend recounts a haunting tale told by the Tuckers, a family who once lived in the Palmer House during the late 1800s. The Tuckers recounted a gentle soldier in Union garb who would turn up sitting in their parlor smoking a pipe. Further research led the Tuckers to identify the ghost as Lieutenant Disosway, who was appointed as a federal provost marshal to oversee the city of Williamsburg at the ripe age of twenty-four. He was billeted to Palmer House.

However, one night, inebriated Union soldiers began harassing some of the local ladies. Disosway ran to Market Square to put a stop to the threats. Unfortunately, this angered one of the drunk soldiers. He pulled a pistol and shot Disosway on sight. The lieutenant was carried back to Palmer House, where he died two hours later.

A novel is such a major undertaking; there’s the writing of it, of course, then you’re spending months and months revising, polishing, and then promoting it. How did you know this was the book you wanted to spend the next couple of years on?

When I began the sixth installment of the Karina Cardinal mysteries, it looked very different from the book I ended up writing. A third of the way into the original novel, I realized the book simply was not coming together the way I’d envisioned it. Some might call this writer’s block and plow through with a “never give up” attitude. I was finding it too depressing to sit down at my computer every day. When I realized, I wasn’t enjoying my own story, I threw in the towel on the failing book.

After three months of banging away at a failing idea, I remember staring at the blank screen nonplussed. Without an idea for the next installment for Karina, what on earth was I going to write? All of Karina’s previous stories came to me organically, with some sort of kernel of fact which bloomed into a novel. Now, I was trying to pull a storyline out of thin air. It’s not as though I didn’t have any ideas. I had too many, and I became immobilized trying to make the decision on which direction to follow.

Griping to my husband about my roadblock, he asked me, as a Halloween Queen, why I’d never written a ghost story.

Yeah, why hadn’t I?

We’d just moved to Williamsburg, VA where ghost stories abound. There must be half a dozen different operators of ghost tours in the area, and plenty of books on the subject. From there, my scrappy little research brain went wild. In two weeks, I had an outline, and SPECTRAL REVELATIONS was born.

I knew I was on the right path when I realized writing was fun again. And Karina’s antics were making me laugh.

Were there any particular books, movies, or songs that were knocking around in your head while you were writing this one?

Books on colonial Williamsburg.

In addition to a great read, what do you hope readers will take away from this story?

I hope they are inspired to visit colonial Williamsburg.

What can you share about what you’re working on next?

I’m moving away from Karina Cardinal on to a new character—a young college graduate in the 1950s trying to make her way into serious investigative journalism, who runs into plenty of patriarchal roadblocks.


Ellen Butler is the international bestselling author of the Karina Cardinal mystery series. Her experiences working on Capitol Hill and at a medical association in Washington, D.C. inspired the mystery-action series. Book critics call the Karina Cardinal mysteries, “intelligent escapism” and “electrifying yet light-hearted and humorous.” Butler also writes historical spy fiction. Her WWII spy novel, The Brass Compass, won a 2022 Speak Up Talk Radio Firebird Book Award for historical fiction. The second book in the duology, Operation Blackbird: A Cold War Spy Novel, is inspired by true events, and won a Next Generation Indie Book Award gold medal for historical fiction. Reviewers are calling it “riveting,” and, “a thrilling adventure.”

To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.

Spectral Revelations with Ellen Butler