My friend, and fellow Edmonton author, SG Wong released the third book in her Lola Stark series this week so I invited her to share a guest post on my blog to help celebrate (because writing is a team sport, yo!).
Sandra’s Lola Stark novels are an interesting mix of hard-boiled detective-y noir-y goodness and paranormal fiction (because ghosts!). The series began with Die on Your Feet, continued with In For a Pound and the newest installment is Devil Take the Hindmost. Read about what Sandra has to say about the inspiration for the ghost in her story, and then check out her books by clicking the links below!
The Idea of Ghosts…
A Guest Blog by SG Wong
I set the Lola Starke series in a 1930s alternate-history Los Angeles, which I named Crescent City for the shape of its bay. The idea of Lola and the City grew from my love of hard-boiled fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I made the femme fatale the PI and re-imagined the city of Chandler’s iconic shamus, Philip Marlowe, as a Chinese metropolis. And I purposefully left Lola a non-Chinese character in order to explore her place as the Other in her own hometown.
I could’ve stopped there, of course. I had plenty of angles to ponder and explore, not to mention plan and execute. But then the idea of ghosts came up…
And from an unexpected source, no less.
One day, many years ago, my mum called to tell me she’d been to a medium, a spiritualist who specialized in connecting the living with the dearly departed. She’d gone to visit this medium with her former landlord, Mrs. Wong, who’d also referred my mum.
Now, Mum is a devout follower of Chinese ancestor veneration, so in her heart, she believes that my father resides in the afterlife. (He died in 2000.) She regularly makes offerings in the name of his spirit and she’s even burned a copy of my first book for him—with my blessing—as offerings from the land of the living travel to our dead ancestors via flames and faith.
I’m a believer in reincarnation, though, so she and I disagree on where Dad is at the moment. And in my case, that there even is a “Dad” anymore. As far as I’m concerned, my father’s spirit has moved on to another life.
However, I am also—more often than not, I hope—a dutiful daughter. So when she said, “I visited a medium today and I spoke with Dad,” I replied, “Oh?” in what I’m proud to say was a very mild tone indeed.
“Yes and he’s very happy, honey. He says he’s very content.” My mother cried when she told me that. I started to cry too.
Then she said, “He’s with Mr. Wong.” And my tears dried up.
She wasn’t, of course, talking weirdly about my father. No, as I mentioned, the Mrs. Wong with whom my mum had visited the medium was a former landlord. Her husband, Mr. Wong, had died a few years before my father had. I hadn’t known Mr. Wong well at all. I’d been living abroad when my parents had moved to that apartment. But I did know that my father had—and pardon my bluntness here—detested his former landlord. Just couldn’t stand the man. I’d heard Dad complain many times about Mr. Wong in clear and vociferous terms. I knew Mum had heard it even more than I had.
So why the hell would my father be hanging out with his hated landlord in the afterlife?
My suspicious little brain really got whirring then. This so-called medium was nothing but a sham. Some crooked grifter looking to profit off the misery of the grieving. And I got angry. I remember my face flushing really, really hot with it. Just what had Mrs. Wong got my mum into? And how much had it cost her? I can still feel the scowl on my face as I opened my mouth to grill Mum on the particulars.
Then it hit me.
Mum had cried when she said Dad was happy. She’d cried because she was happy.
In a rush, I remembered why I never argued with her whenever she talked about Dad in the afterlife. Because she was comforted by the idea that Dad had found joy and contentment after his death, things that he’d had such trouble finding while he lived. Her relief was a profound and precious thing. Who the hell was I to trample on it?
So I clamped my mouth shut, took a deep breath, and I said, “That’s great, Mum. I’m glad Dad’s happy.”
(And just so you know I’m no candidate for sainthood, I admit I also added, “What a funny coincidence that he’d be with Mr. Wong, though, eh? Just when you were at the medium with Mrs. Wong. That’s handy.” I know, I know: BAD Sandra.)
At any rate, that whole conversation got me thinking about death and grief, and about the nature of sorrow and comfort. Religion and spirituality offer solace to many of us when we grieve. Yet, we all know people who are haunted by deaths, unable to let go of beloved relatives or lovers or friends. We all know people burdened by deaths that are hard to accept and impossible to understand. Sometimes, we are those people.
I wondered, what if ghosts could haunt people for the best of reasons? To offer comfort and guidance and love. To continue a story that would otherwise be over. Wouldn’t that be something?
With Crescent City, I created a society in which ghosts are a normal part of…life. And death. A dying person can choose to be tethered magically to a living host in a ceremony. It’s usually done out of love, although there are exceptions…
Oh, right. Magic. In Crescent City, magic is performed only by those with the talent to see and use ghosts. There are different categories of talents, but hosts aren’t automatically magic users and those who are not magically-talented can only hear their own ghost, not see them.
Of course, I’m a crime fiction writer, remember? A fan of hard-boiled and noir stories where bad things happen to good people. So I handicapped Lola with no talent for magic and a ghost she can’t abide.
…Did I forget to mention one of my favourite sayings? “Life is hard and then you die.”