Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spectral Lovers

I’m working on a short, erotic ghost romance, which is intended to be more lighthearted than “Heart Diamond” (now available in print in the anthology DEMANDING DIAMONDS from Ellora’s Cave), my ghost Quickie from last year. Any romance with a ghostly hero presents the problem of how to consummate love between corporeal and incorporeal characters. THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR unites the pair after the heroine’s death, but most contemporary romance authors won’t want to follow that path. (I’ve read only a couple of books that have.) In the film GHOST, the deceased hero possesses a medium’s body to share a farewell embrace with his widow, but that’s only a temporary arrangement. To possess a living person permanently (unless some motive could be contrived for the host to give willing consent) would be evil. True reincarnation, rebirth as a baby, would take too long for romance purposes; hero and heroine would end up at least a generation apart in age.

One solution is to have the ghost take over the body of someone who has just died. Melinda’s husband in the TV series GHOST WHISPERER recently returned to life that way. At first he had amnesia, remembering neither his own life nor his host body’s pre-death experiences. I used this device in “Heart Diamond,” although in my story the hero’s memory remains intact throughout. Of course, the narrative must make it perfectly clear that the body’s original owner is gone for good. If the process is that easy, after all, why can’t any spirit jump right back in and reanimate its corpse? (Which, by the way, is what folkloric precautions against vampirism are designed to prevent.)

That last question brings up the issue of the theology of spectral apparitions. If a ghost is the actual spirit of the dead person rather than a sort of psychic recording on the atmosphere of a haunted location, why don’t all dead people hang around as ghosts? J. K. Rowling’s readers wondered about this point for the first five or six books of the Harry Potter series, until one of the Hogwarts ghosts answered it. On GHOST WHISPERER the familiar “unfinished business” theory seems to explain why some of the dead linger on Earth. They can’t “go into the light” until Melinda helps them resolve their problems. My fictional theory of ghostly persistence combines this explanation with the idea that surviving as an earthbound ghost is analogous to Purgatory; the spirits have either a task to complete or misdeeds to atone for (or both). I’ve always thought Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ CHRISTMAS CAROL is undergoing a purgatorial ordeal and will be redeemed in the course of facilitating Scrooge’s redemption.

Back to the topic of spectral romance, suppose the ghost can interact with the living person in a tangible way? Some legendary and fictional phantoms can produce poltergeist activity, after all. The ghost in “Heart Diamond” frolics sexually with his still-living fiancée but must draw on her life energy to get the power to become semi-solid for brief periods. In the current work in progress, the ghost will remain incorporeal and use his poltergeist-like powers to enable the heroine to feel his touch. There’s literary precedent for erotic dalliance between the living and the incorporeal dead; in “The Nature of the Evidence” (1923) by May Sinclair, the deceased first wife literally comes between her widower and his second wife. The “climactic” scene occurs behind a closed door. The husband, however, later testifies that passion is much more intense when not impeded by the body.

Then again, if you have your heart set on a lover with a body, alchemy or some form of futuristic science could be used to construct an artificial body for him to inhabit. For a benign ghost, as opposed to the malicious or predatory specter of horror fiction, there are many viable (if that’s the right word when speaking of the restless dead) possibilities.

Margaret L. Carter (

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