Today I am thrilled to welcome E.J. Copperman, author of the Haunted Guesthouse Mysteries.
There is a danger in writing about a woman who can see ghosts. (Actually, there are many dangers inherent in writing about a woman who can see ghosts, although none of them are physical dangers, which is a help.) In making up ghost stories, there is the implicit problem that it’s possible to trivialize death. Not something I want to do. In fact, I prefer death not have my home address or even be able to text me.
Writing mystery novels requires a number of elements that, if badly used, create a formula, and if well used, constitute a possible Agatha Award. There should be a puzzle to solve, or else this would be a “literary novel,” which might be the stupidest term ever coined. (What novel is not literary? One on a spoken word disc?) There also, in our fictional work of fiction, should be characters the reader will come to care about. There should be relationships among the characters that grow and evolve as the series—this is going to be a series, or did I not mention that?—continues. There should be plot and dialogue and action and all the things that make any novel fun to read. (Except for the ones that are downright depressing, which show up on Top 10 lists and win awards, but only succeed if the reader is a hair short of suicidal upon closing the cover.)
And there should be some serious jeopardy for the main character. That’s where the danger in writing about a woman who can see ghosts enters the picture.
In the Haunted Guesthouse series (whose latest entry, Chance of a Ghost, published February 5), I write about Alison Kerby, a divorced mom who has purchased a huge Victorian on the Jersey Shore—and it should be noted that the latest installment, as all those that preceded it, takes place pre-Sandy—to turn into a guesthouse. And waddaya know, she finds out the place is infested with two ghosts, assuming two constitutes an infestation.
It has also been established that Alison’s young daughter Melissa and her not-all-that-old mother Loretta are also both capable of seeing the spirits of people who have passed on but haven’t cleared out. And therein lies the rub. If there were one aspect of the Haunted Guesthouse series I would like to take back—and there isn’t—it would be Melissa’s ability to see ghosts.
Sometime in every book I’ve written, there will come a moment when Alison’s life will be in danger, or at least perceived as being in danger. That’s an author’s way of heightening the stakes of the story, of making the reader more uneasy about the outcome, and of helping the reader care more about the character, which is the most important element of the series. But the question begs itself: If Alison dies, won’t Melissa still be able to hang around with her? Won’t Loretta still be able to visit? Wouldn’t Alison have a chance to connect better with Paul Harrison, the ghost trapped in her house, with whom she’s had an uneasy flirtation since the first book?
What’s so bad about dying, anyway?
Now you see the problem: By creating ghosts who aren’t all that scary (Paul hangs out with Maxie, who is volatile and unpredictable, but loyal and a little fragile, too), I have opened a door for Alison that isn’t open to most non-ghost-seeing protagonists. It doesn’t seem like losing her life would be all that big a change in her existence. And if she loses that sense of danger, that dread of dying, if being a ghost is an appealing way to spend eternity, Alison’s jeopardy might just as well be the risk of losing on a game show with Alex Trebec.
I’ve taken a decent number of steps to head off any sense of “ho-hum” about Alison being scared of dying. For one thing, Paul and Maxie have made it quite clear that being dead is no fun at all. They can’t communicate with most people they loved (Maxie’s mom drops by every now and again and they “converse” by computer); they can’t enjoy any physical sensation, including food or drink; they really can’t touch; they don’t know what next level of existence, if any, awaits them.
Also, in the universe the Haunted Guesthouse series inhabits, there are no rules. There is no consistency. Nobody seems to be in charge. Maxie can move outside the guesthouse at 123 Seafront Avenue, but Paul can’t. Paul can mentally contact other ghosts, but Maxie can’t. Some spirits move on to another plane of existence, but not all, and the requirements to do so are unknown.
More to the point, not everyone who dies becomes a ghost.
With that in mind, and the strong possibility that she might not be able to stay with Melissa or her mother, that she might lose everything in death as most living humans seem to do, Alison’s fear of dying is just as strong as it would be if she were unaware of any post-death existence.
Or, at least, that’s how I’m explaining it. If you have a better idea, get writing.
About This Author
E.J. Copperman is the author of the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series, whose recent eSpecial novella A Wild Ghost Chase was published December 31, and whose latest full-length novel Chance of a Ghost was published on February 5. E.J. lives in New Jersey and has heard all the jokes.
Find out more on his webpage here.
Chance of a Ghost
(A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery)
4th In Series
A Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
The Berkley Publishing Group (February 5, 2013)
Published by The Penguin Group
Cover Illustration by Dominick Finelle
Cover Design by Judith Lagerman
Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
E-Book File Size: 552 KB
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Chance of a Ghost (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery)?
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