I am delighted to welcome author Ariel Swan to my blog. Ariel is a fellow member of team Aponte Literary, represented by our wonderful agent Victoria Lea, and also writes about ghosts. I recently had the great pleasure of comparing thoughts and notes on this topic, and we decided it would make a great blog post.
And, after hearing about Ariel’s work, I am very excited about it!
Thanks for having me D.B.
Thanks for joining me, Ariel. Ghosts are wonderful symbolic devices in literature (not to mention the human experience). They remind us of our own mortality, yet also provide hope that some part of us ‘goes on.’ They are a link to the past, and sometimes bring omens for the future. They can be benevolent spirit guides or can terrify us through hauntings. What roles do ghosts play in your work and why were you drawn to ghost lore?
Overall, I used ghosts as a link to the past and they are benevolent. However, there are different kinds of ghosts. In my first novel, DISTILLATION, the ghost is cognizant and reaches out to the main character, haunting her so she can help the spirit. But in my second novel, COLD SPRING FIRE, the ghost is instead a creation of guilt. It is not cognizant, but rather like a dream of the living that seems to speak to us, but is really only our own subconscious trying to make sense of what we already know.
I have always been drawn to ghosts, perhaps because I grew up in an old Victorian, the perfect haunted house type of place, and both my mother and my sister, who is much older than me, were always talking about the place having a sort of presence of its own. I reported, as a child, a few strange encounters, which they framed as ghost encounters. An example being, when I was about five or six, I awoke to see the silhouette of three men shadowed on my curtains. My bedroom was at the end of a long hallway. The men were whispering in urgent tones. When I asked the next morning who had been there, my family was quite taken aback, as it was only the three of us girls living there. So…I guess I am drawn to ghosts and ghost lore, because I grew up with them.
Oh, I love the idea of spirits being a manifestation of guilt, and how wonderful to carry a bit of childhood inspiration into your writing life! While many of the spirits of the departed that inhabit my fictional universe fit traditional mythos – e.g. disembodied, often invisible specters – some of my more powerful spirits can assume corporeal form for a time and commune with the living. Some of your ghosts link to the world of the living through sensory means. Tell us a little about clairessence and how it inspired the interaction between your protagonist and the ghost who is drawn to her in DISTILLATION.
In DISTILLATION, Alice, is a clairvoyant who not only has visions, but can “smell the memories of the dead,” this is a form of clairessence, “seeing” through the sense of smell. This grew out of the idea that ghosts do affect the senses; those moments when we hear something on the wind or in the creak of a house or just the air shifts and we can sense something else is happening. Ghost stories are always full of sensory experiences and this to me seems to be the way the spirit world can connect with our physical world. This is how I enable Alice to connect the past with the present.
What a great device to engage readers as they experience a haunting through the senses of your protagonist. Ghosts also represent unfinished business, be it their own due to an untimely death, or through the universal human desire for justice. Indeed, people often speak of being haunted by regret over past actions, and many religious beliefs incorporate the idea of a reckoning in the afterlife. Do you incorporate any of these themes in your ghostly tales?
Absolutely. My ghosts are all about reconciling the past, but from different points of view. Alice Towne moves to a colonial era house, she is immediately inundated by the scent of peppermint. She soon unearths the bones of an infant in the ancient cellar and encounters the spirit of a woman. Other smells accompany the woman, like pond water and fire, the peppermint however, seems to be connected to a man who is very much alive. Alice has to help her ghost rest by solving the mystery in DISTILLATION, which has implications for her in the present.
But in COLD SPRING FIRE, it is the living who must reconcile with their own pasts in order to find peace for themselves. Andrea Silver and Lailie Killian try to help a friend in trouble through witchcraft, and end up, so they think, accidentally killing him in the process. Their lives from that point on are burdened by not only guilt, but also by the demons of their troubled childhoods. When the body of the missing boy surfaces from the depths of a bog in the town they grew up in, Andrea and Lailie return to face what they have done and to free both themselves and the spirit of their friend.
Random question just for fun – dark chocolate or milk? Whatever is available, as long as it is chocolate, but I prefer dark – especially with nuts of some sort.
Dark is my favorite, too, and hazelnuts are always a plus. Top three absolute favorite books? This is a hard one. I have so many favorites, but here is the list that comes to mind right now: The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver, Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman, and The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger.
I’ve had The Time Traveler’s Wife on my TBR list for a while, so it’s definitely moved up in the queue thanks to your recommendation. Thank you so much for the wonderful interview. After hearing about DISTILLATION and COLD SPRING FIRE, I cannot wait to read them! To learn more about Ariel, please visit her website and blog. You can also connect with her on Twitter @AMSwan.
Ariel Swan grew up first among ghosts in an old Victorian and then came of age on the shores of a New England lake where she continued to hear voices in the wind and trees. These gifts stayed with her as she worked through two degrees at the University of Massachusetts, dabbling in literature, sociology, creative writing, and as many playfully wicked adventures as she could conjure. Eventually she settled on a career as a high school English teacher with the clichéd dream of writing over summer vacations. When she moved to a hill town, where the earth itself seemed tinted with enchantment, the seeds of her first novel, DISTILLATION, took root. Ariel loves small town lore, old houses, and rural New England settings. Her writing crosses genres, mixing the mystical with the literary, centered on women’s themes, strong atmosphere and vivid characters. Currently, she teaches English and creative writing in western Massachusetts where she lives with her husband, three cats, and a small flock of happy chickens.