Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spectral Affairs

In July Ellora’s Cave published my erotic paranormal romance novelette "Sweeter Than Wine", with a ghost hero from the early nineteenth century haunting a bed-and-breakfast. A sexual affair with a disembodied spirit presents logistical problems that require decisions to be made—mainly, how do they make love, and how can we arrange a happy ending? Ghosts, by common assumption, can pass through solid objects. So how can a ghost touch a living person? In what circumstances can spirits influence the material world? Poltergeists supply a precedent for physical effects, but how does the process work? We need rules to bolster suspension of disbelief.

In my earlier Ellora’s Cave ghost romance "Heart Diamond", I decided the ghost could have a phantom effect on the world around him anytime but would become more nearly corporeal the more he was infused with psychic energy. He absorbs energy from his mortal lover’s sexual excitement, and the more he arouses her, the more solid he becomes; each of her climaxes makes him more "present." In "Sweeter Than Wine," the ghost gets the power to become solid and feel physical sensations by tasting a drop of the heroine’s blood. (There’s a precedent in classical Greek mythology—shades in the underworld gaining the temporary ability to speak when allowed to drink blood.) There’s a romantic comedy film in which ghosts get the privilege of interacting physically with their human lovers one night a year and are incorporeal the rest of the time. (I can’t remember the title.) Charles de Lint’s recent novel THE MYSTERY OF GRACE uses a similar concept; the dead can return to the mortal plane in physical bodies on the nights of Beltane and Samhain.

Next comes the problem of how to arrange a permanent happy ending for a ghost and a living woman. Three possibilities: (1) give him a body so they’re both mortal; (2) postpone their union until she dies, so they’re both spirits (this happens at the end of THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR); (3) let them carry on their romance indefinitely as ghost and mortal, which is how I ended "Sweeter Than Wine."

In "Heart Diamond," in which the hero “haunts” a diamond ring made from his cremated remains (there’s actually a company that makes these), I decided the method of becoming solid by draining his lover’s psychic energy could be only temporary, because drawing on her too often might harm her. So the status quo couldn’t go on forever, as I allowed to happen in "Sweeter Than Wine," which is intended to be much lighter in tone. In "Heart Diamond" waiting for possible reincarnation—one way of embodying a ghost—wasn’t an option. The source of a "new" body and the ethics of taking over a body pose problems for an author and the characters. It’s not unusual for a ghost to slip into a recently vacated corpse, as happened in the TV series GHOST WHISPERER. This was the solution I chose in "Heart Diamond." For ethical reasons, I tried to make it very clear that the body’s original soul was gone and not coming back.

Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series features a disembodied spirit that becomes an embryo in the heroine’s womb, develops abnormally fast, and after birth grows into an adult male in a supernaturally short time. Yet another solution to the need for a physical body would be to create a robot, android, or golem for the ghost to possess (depending on whether you’re writing SF or fantasy). I haven’t used either of these devices yet.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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