Sonia Gensler: “Why Ghosts?”

Many thanks to Sonia Gensler, author of The Revenant, for stopping by to guest blog. Her book has many elements — historical fiction, romance, the supernatural. But at its very heart is a ghost story.

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“Why Ghosts?”

I get asked this a lot.

Maybe I seem too mild-mannered to enjoy a good scare. Or perhaps when people hear that I’ve written a ghost story, they fear I am addicted to the occult.

Truth is, I don’t know if ghosts actually exist. I would never rule out the possibility, but their existence in our reality isn’t what’s important to me as a writer. Even if someone proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that ghosts weren’t real, I’d still be fascinated by the idea of them.

It wasn’t always this way. I had a low tolerance for anything spooky when I was younger. Even mildly scary movies would rob me of sleep for days. It certainly didn’t help that my dad’s house seemed haunted. One late night, when just my stepmother and I were at home, she told me of working on a sewing project in the basement and hearing loud footsteps upstairs. When she called out from below, nobody answered. As soon as she returned to her sewing, the footsteps started again. She got so spooked that she armed herself with a pair of scissors and stormed up the staircase, demanding to know who was there. But she was the only one in the house. The only living one, at any rate.

After hearing her story, I didn’t get a decent night’s sleep in that house for years. I avoided ghostly movies and stories like the plague.

It wasn’t until I was in college that my attitude began to change. I read The Turn of the Screw for a Gothic literature course. The book gave me the creeps, but I was fascinated by the governess’s plight – how could she protect two vulnerable children from a vengeful ghost? The fact that the children actually may have needed protection from her gave the story a delicious twist. I devoured all the Gothic novels we read, attracted to the notion that the gloomy settings and supernatural elements might actually be a reflection of the characters’ own repressed emotions and dark urges.

The first ghostly movie I saw in the theater was The Others – a stylishly spooky film that appealed to me because of its complex characters. I was captivated by the mystery and shocking reveal, but what stayed with me was Grace Stewart’s emotional arc. Her grief, confusion and denial, as well as her fierce and destructive love (reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw), haunted me long after the film ended.

I’ve been hooked on ghost stories ever since, entranced by the idea of an emotion so powerful that it transcends death, lingering as a residue – or better yet, in full-fledged ghostly form – to haunt the living.

I’ll conclude by sharing some favorite ghostly books and films. I’d love to know if any of your favorites are listed below. And feel free to share additional suggestions you might have for me!



For the comments: What are your favorite ghost stories?

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