Today, I am lucky enough to post a guest post by Helen Stringer author of Spellbinder and Midnight Gate, she is one of my daughters favorite authors. I love good ghost stories and although I haven't read this book yet, I can't wait to read it and find out why my daughter rambles on and on about it. :)
It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed . . . until everything changes.
A Traveler’s Guide to the Land of the Dead
Ghosts. You say the word at this time of year and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about: spirits. The wandering souls of the dead. Wraiths, who are either unaware that they are deceased, despondent and waiting for some wrong to be righted, or angry and ready to do the job themselves. Once said wrong has been righted or the fact that they have shuffled off the ol’ mortal coil has been pointed out, the ghosts are ready to cross over to the “other side.”
People tend to be a good deal more vague about what constitutes the Other Side. On TV shows and in movies it’s usually portrayed as some kind of misty tunnel with a light at the end and a bunch of smiling relatives waiting, arms outstretched, as if death were the portal to some kind of eternal Thanksgiving dinner.
None of this ever really appealed to me. It all sounded terribly dull and sort of anti-climactic. Of course, once I started looking into it, I discovered that this idea of the vengeful spirit is relatively new and that for earlier generations spirits simply “were.” In most cases the tales of white ladies, mysterious riders and the vast herds of phantom animals that haunted the crossroads, bridges, rivers and stiles of our ancestors’ landscapes didn’t have lengthy origin tales attached. The actual place was usually more important than the entity that lingered there. Crossing points were seen as sites where the veil between the land of the living and that of the dead was at its thinnest.
The terms “land of the living” and “land of the dead” are important here, because prior to the late 19th century the concept of “heaven” had little place in ghost stories. Perhaps this is because the very concept of wandering spirits is much more ancient than any organized religion and reflects a more visceral time when the line between the real and the imagined was far more blurred than it is today.
All of this affected the view of life, death and the worlds beyond our own that Belladonna Johnson and Steve Evans discover in Spellbinder and The Midnight Gate.
I started with the concept that the only difference between the living and the dead is that the dead are sure that we exist. Death isn’t the end. It isn’t a journey to some beatific la-la land. It’s just another stage of life. Of course, the transition would probably be a tad disturbing, which is why I created the small purple charnel sprites who wait beneath the earth and help the newly dead to get where they’re going. This help consists of places to rest, sandwiches and cups of tea. The charnel sprites are one of the few supernatural creatures that I invented for the books – they really ought to exist, though!
The Other Side where the dead dwell can be anything they want. For Elsie and Belladonna’s parents and grandfather it’s a version of their home town. The land of the dead is vast, however, because everyone and everything that has ever died is to be found somewhere. (Hence the mammoths in the park.) Once there the dead discover that they can move backwards and forwards from this new world (where they are as solid and real as when they were alive) to the land of the living (where they are ghosts, seen only by a few). The only condition is that they must choose a single place to haunt and cannot manifest anywhere else. Belladonna’s mum and dad select the family home so they can continue to raise their daughter. Elsie picks the school, the site of her greatest triumphs. (That last one created some problems when I needed Elsie to leave the school and travel to the ruined Fenchurch Abbey in The Midnight Gate!)
The belief in a place where all the dead reside is nothing new – it was familiar to the ancient Greeks and Romans, as well as to the Norse people, where Niflheim was but one of the nine worlds that made up their world view. From a story-telling standpoint it is ideal, of course, because this version of the netherworld provides for both good and evil and the mortal traveler must use the same caution with an inhabitant of that realm as they would use in navigating their own day-to-day world.
As Spellbinder begins, Belladonna is still getting used to her ability to see ghosts. By the end she realizes that they serve an important function for those who are still alive, and that without them her world is somehow empty – as if all the trees had suddenly vanished. Of course, the fact that Steve can now also see the spirits of the dead makes things a lot more bearable…as does the news that there are Chime Children everywhere, all with the hidden ability to see the denizens of the other worlds and just waiting for someone (or something) to trigger their second sight.
But that’s another story for another day…
You can find out more about the author on her Website.
Now on to the Giveaway: