Best-selling romance authors Karen Robards and Jude Deveraux, have each written more than 40
romance novels over their extensive careers. In this exclusive Q&A, they discuss the ghostly characters in their most recent books.
Jude Deveraux: Karen, I’ve
been looking forward to talking with you about your Charlotte Stone series ever
since I read the first book, The Last Victim,
over the summer. We both include ghosts in our stories, but our ghosts are so
Karen Robards: With The Last Victim,
it wasn't even a case of me being inspired to write about a ghost. I started
out to write a straight-up thriller about a psychiatrist, Dr. Charlotte Stone,
who studies and hunts serial killers. Near the beginning of the story, a very
handsome, charismatic convict named Michael Garland is knifed in prison and
dies in Charlie’s arms. At that point, he was supposed to be out of the book.
But he was such a strong character, so full of life, that he refused to leave.
He came back as a sexy bad-boy ghost, to terrify and haunt and annoy and
eventually fall in love with Charlie.
My editor had no idea that the big bad serial killer
villain was going to morph into a ghost who was a continuing character, the
love interest, and the eventual hero. I think she was shocked. But I loved
Michael, and I think she ended up loving him, too. So what can I say except, sometimes ghosts happen?
JD: Do you find it
difficult to incorporate suspense and serial killers into your romance novels?
KR: At their
heart, my books are thrillers, so the mystery and suspense story line is there
from the beginning. The hot and sexy romance arises from the interaction
between the characters as they fight to survive and save lives. The romance is
not secondary, but it comes to life in a way that is organic to the thriller
JD: I love writing suspense too!
Sometimes I wish I’d started in that genre. I still think about writing some
mysteries under another pen name.
my experience with True Love was a
bit different. The inspiration for my ghost came from living on Nantucket. From
the way the island looks, with all the old houses, to how the people talk about
events in history as though they just happened -- everything about Nantucket
reminds a person of the past. It’s like stepping back into time. When I decided
to write a book set on the island, the only thing I knew for sure was that it
was about a ghost named Caleb. I went from that single idea to creating his
KR: So Nantucket lends itself to
JD: Completely! Right now I’m trying to
decide if I can write the third book in the Nantucket Brides trilogy and not
have a ghost. Can I do it? I’ll have to wait and see. And I imagine that a
psychiatrist like Charlie Stone has lots of opportunities to encounter
apparitions while on the job?
KR: Charlie has
what she considers a most unfortunate ability to see ghosts. She chose to study
serial killers in a prison setting because she believed that she was less
likely to encounter ghosts in a controlled environment. It was working really
well until Michael died in her arms. After that, she had her own personal,
me, the fact that a ghost has so much flexibility can be a double-edged sword.
If Michael can see and talk to the ghosts of murder victims, then why can't he
simply ask them who killed them? I've had to limit him in interesting ways.
JD: It was a tough problem for me as
well. I knew my ghost was aware of some things but I also had to come up with a
story where he needed the help of people who were alive. If he knew everything,
he wouldn’t need anyone, and that was no story. It took some planning on my
part, but I came up with a plot that required a young woman who wasn’t one of
his relatives to bring all the characters together.
KR: The major
difficulty with incorporating my ghost Michael is that Charlie is the only one
who can see and hear him. Charlie can see the recently, violently departed, and
being in the presence of such spirits makes her sick and nauseous. Michael no
longer has that effect on her, but he can be bothersome in lots of other ways. Many
times there will be two entirely different interactions going on in each scene:
Charlie talking and responding to the living, and Charlie also talking,
responding, or sometimes ignoring the very vocal Michael, and any other ghosts
who might be present as well. It makes for interesting writing!
JD: It’s difficult for my characters to
keep all the secrets about their ghostly interactions too. In the movies that I
see and books that I read, people start screaming at the very idea of a ghost. But
I wanted to take the other side. How does the ghost feel? I’m sure he didn’t
want to be a ghost.
KR: In fact, my
ghost, Michael, wants his life back. He misses the pleasures of the flesh:
food, sleep, sex. He is falling in love with Charlie, and knowing that he can
never have her is becoming an increasingly large source of pain in his
JD: I wanted to put some of the ghost’s
loneliness in there as well. Did it hurt his feelings to have people screaming
at the sight of him? I wanted a ghost
who was more of a human than the usual chain-rattling, up-to-no-good character.
KR: Well, the ghost in your book True Love is much more gentlemanly than
my character, Michael!
JD: That’s true! My ghost had to be
unthreatening because I was very curious about how a child would react to
seeing him. I even included a scene when my hero, Jared, was a little boy. He
used to run back and forth through the ghost and laugh. To him, his grandfather
was a person, nothing creepy about him. He just didn’t happen to have a body.
KR: That reminds
me of my own personal experience with a ghostly visit, which happened when my
oldest son was a little boy. He and I were sitting in the TV room of our 120
year old house one night, and we both saw a man in a white, puffy, pirate style
shirt with a droopy black mustache walk past the TV room door. As there was not
supposed to be anyone else in the house, I immediately jumped up and rushed to
the hall to see who on earth it could be. No one was there. I searched the
house. No one was in the house besides the two of us. The doors were locked.
But to this day we agree on what we saw. Have you ever seen a ghost?
JD: Many years ago I was driving on the
highway and I saw a sign for some monument. I thought I’d pull off and walk
around some. When I got there for a few moments I was in a sort of
trance in which I could hear and feel many women crying. It was a hot day but I
was so cold my
teeth were chattering. When I got to Denver I did some research and found that
had been put up because during a coal mining strike the tents of the workers
had been set on fire and many people had died, a lot of them women and
children. I wrote about that in my books Twin
of Iceand Twin of Fire.
KR: I've had other
personal experiences with ghosts through my research into the field. I've met
Sylvia Brown and John Edwards, both noted psychic mediums, and I've talked to a
voodoo priestess in New Orleans. I’ve had my palm read, which was surprisingly
accurate. My gauge is if they can guess what I do for a living, and this palm
reader could. I visited a medium who claimed to be in touch with my dead
father, and that was pretty accurate, too. As much as possible, I try to keep
the paranormal activity in the books within the realm of established research
on the subject. I find it very interesting, and of course I want to make the
Charlotte Stone books as authentic as possible.
JD: I’ve also done a huge amount of
research on paranormal activity. For my books, I’ve read a lot about past life
regression and how what happened then affects today. I am fascinated by the
idea that our fears come from the past. For example, if a person is deathly
afraid of water, maybe he drowned in a past life.
KR: In your
reading, what was the best ghost story you encountered?