Historical fiction author Ginny Fite weighs in on the role of ghosts in fiction 👻
When we first started doing these author features, I couldn't wait to hear what our brilliant writers had up their sleeves. And then...in comes Ginny Fite, author of Possession, with a terrific idea to strum up her thoughts on a common dilemma: "What's up with all these ghosts in fiction?"
Well, it turns out, there's a whole lot going on with them!
Here's Milford House Press author Ginny Fite in "Ghosts as Grief Manifested | The Role of Ghosts in Fiction!"
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You never know when a ghost is coming.
There I was, fingers tapping away at my keyboard. And then at my temples.
My character has something missing.
A past undescribed.
A ghost, if you will.
And then, he materializes, no longer an idea but an entity. A truth of my character’s history.
Ghosts, like memories, arrive whenever they want. They can be good, bad, medium, forgettable, romantic—you name it. They can simply be a manifestation of a previous time, or they can have more impact on our present than we even know.
This is also the way of grief.
The ghost story has been around since ancient times--being told orally at first, later being written down. Our imaginations (or realities) have forever been chased by the manifestation of a past feeling—a regret, a loss, a missing piece, something unattainable. Ghosts are lovers who have one more thing to say and dybbuks who possess you. They are Christmas Past, a murdered king, a child desperately trying to guide her father to her murderer, malevolent manipulators of innocent children delightedly driving a new nanny mad, and twins who hang out in the hallway of a closed hotel terrifying a child on a tricycle.
Perhaps most common, ghosts are grief manifested.
Today, I’m going to chat about how the past takes shape in ghostly forms and how to get rid of its haunting.
The role of ghosts in fiction
Ghosts may amplify, explore, explain, and deepen stories. They materialize as “a result of yearning,” to quote David Morgan’s review of Possession. You see what you want to see. Or what you need to see. You see something. The greater the yearning, the longer one grieves, the more solidity the ghost acquires.
This is what happens to my protagonist Sylvie Andrus.
But it’s also what happens to countless others in real life and in fiction.
A ghost can be benign, like Captain Daniel Gregg in the classic film The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. In it, a young widow moves to a seaside village into a house rumored to be haunted by a dead seaman who committed suicide there. When he materializes, he brings with him a chance for Lucy to confront her own experience with death (or grief) and spurs on a chance for Lucy to write a book of his story—to fulfill his remaining desire as well.
Gregg was the original inspiration for the ghost in my novel, but the gruff sea captain with a kind heart wasn’t dark enough for my purposes. I wanted to take this exchange of grief between human and ghost one step further.
In Possession, I needed a specter who would force a widow to do the unthinkable: let go of her dead husband. This is where we see grief making another appearance in fiction--a physical manifestation and a catalyst for change—whether for good or for evil. In my case, I chose evil.
This novel is a direct confrontation of a living being battling a ghost but, deep down, a manifestation of their grief. However, saying goodbye is never easy. Sylvie battles with thoughts of refusal, wishing deeply for her husband to return, even if he came back as something grisly and terrifying. And in this way, his ghost would embody her deepest desire and her greatest fear.
In real life, long-term grief can be toxic; therapists tell us we should let go of our dead in order to preserve our mental health and move on with our lives. But we can fool ourselves into thinking that if we change locales, change homes, change the way we dress, we’ve progressed, when all we’ve done is dress the set differently, and the ghosts of our unfinished business will soon return.
How to get rid of a ghost
This is a big question, especially when you consider that we’re not just talking about a ghostly form here. We’re talking of something internal, something personal—grief manifested.
But with the right approach, the ghosts of our past will lose their haunting of our present, so long as we take the right action.
Sylvie, from Possession, has to figure out how to get rid of the ghost in her house who refuses to go away. At first, she follows the path of ghost-sleuths before her by trying to solve the mystery of what happened to his wife, but instead of her being freed, the opposite actually happens.
She immerses herself deep into her research, becomes obsessed by her writing project (sound familiar?), and stops caring for her son. The ghost nearly possesses her completely as she falls deeper into the trap he set for her.
But if we know anything about grief manifested, it’s that an extrication is possible—that freedom of the ghosts of our past can be lurking just around the corner. I’d love to tell you how my book ends, but hey, why not just find out for yourself?
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About the Author
Ginny Fite, an award-winning journalist and writer, is the author of six published novels including Possession, a humorous book on aging, three collections of poetry and a collection of short stories. A graduate of Rutgers University and Johns Hopkins University, her 40-year career in communications included posts in journalism, higher education, politics, and industry. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and many more.
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