When I was writing the manuscript for Ghosts of Romances Past I wasn’t sure it would ever get published. After all, how do you write a Christian “ghost” story without somehow offending a major portion of your reading audience? And since there’s nothing in Scripture to support the idea of departed spirits dispensing helpful advice to the living, I knew I’d have make some creative decisions to keep this idea from edging into the secular market.
From the start, I intended for the book to be a modern re-telling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, but with a humorous edge and a rekindled romance at its heart. My heroine, a spunky freelance illustrator named Alice, thinks she’s on the right track for happy-ever-after with her “perfect” boyfriend, Warren–until he surprises her with a ring and a question!
Still reeling from the unexpected proposal, Alice takes a tumble down the restaurant staircase and receives a nasty blow to the head. An injury with some very unusual side effects: visions of three female ancestors, women whose own romantic experiences seem to point Alice’s destiny in a different direction. Namely back to her first love, a fellow artist who just happens to be her current collaborator on a workplace assignment.
So here’s what I came up with:
1) Make two of the three so-called “ghosts”–Alice’s Aunt Phylis and Grandmother Ruth–alive and well, and therefore unable to haunt anyone. But instead of seeing them in their current forms, have Alice see them as years younger, the way she remembers them looking when she was a child. This way, it’s more like they’re “memories come to life” than supernatural beings.
2) Since the third “ghost” Alice encounters (her great-great grandmother, MaryAnne) is long dead and never actually met her, make sure they never have a dialogue exchange. After all, Alice has no memories of MaryAnne and wouldn’t be able to “imagine” her voice, mannerisms, or personality in a way the reader could find believable.
3) Alice’s visions of these women should lead her to something real and concrete–like faded letters and journal entries that contain the truth about her ancestor’s romantic experiences. She views discovering these truths as an answer to her prayer for guidance and credits God for opening her eyes to the lessons of the past.
Probably this sounds complicated but I hoped it would work–and it did! It took a LOT of editing, but the story’s most unique angles stayed intact, along with its somewhat edgier plot twists. Because aside from the whole supernatural thing, I faced one more obstacle in the world of Christian Romance Fiction–the fact that only two of the three “ghosts” has a happy ending to their love story.
But the trick remained of how to make Alice’s encounters with these female “ghosts of the past” anything but paranormal. Unlike the spirits in Dickens’s tale, I needed something that could be explained as divinely inspired, something readers would consider to be a sign from God rather than a phantom messenger.
Would traditional romance readers be okay with so many broken hearts and failed chances? I wasn’t sure, but it couldn’t be changed, since it’s those very disappointments that prompt Alice to seize her own chance at romantic destiny. A big part of me hopes readers will enjoy seeing something that deviates just a little from the norm, a story that bends the rules without breaking the standards that set the Christian Fiction industry apart.
Here's an excerpt of Ghosts of Romances Past:
Ghosts were watching Alice Headley.
Photos that crowded her mantelpiece, a cacophony of people and places. Smiling faces and somber expressions, a handful blurred by shadows or grainy blemishes. A black and white image of her grandmother hoeing a garden plot; a color one of her favorite aunt, wearing a smile and a yellow silk dress.
They were friendly ghosts, on whom Alice bestowed a smile as she designed creations for Storyhour Books, one of North Carolina’s most respected publishing companies. Right now, the ghosts were watching Alice argue with her collaborator. Or perhaps argue was too strong a word for the playful tones that laced their lively exchange.
“How about a rainbow?” Jamie Lewison leaned towards the canvas, his brow furrowed in concentration. “Or maybe a couple of beating hearts overhead—something I can animate with the CG software.”
“A little cliché, don’t you think?” Alice let her brush play between her fingers as she studied the image of two lovebirds in green and pink, perched on a branch with wings intertwined and cheeks pressed close together. “I mean, romance isn’t all sunshine and flowers.”
“Well this is for Valentine’s Day.” Her partner’s dark brown eyes sparked with good humor. “Or do you think the most romantic day of the year is a cliché, too?”
“Of course not,” Alice said, tucking a stray curl beneath her do-rag. “It just seems like art should reflect more about real life.”
He snorted. “We are talking about the same project, right? A cute, colorful motif that fits the bill of requirements for a kid’s storybook website?”
“Well, maybe we shouldn’t be encouraging hopeless romantics.” She spun her stool around to face him, her chin tilted in defiance. “That’s how it starts, you know. Kids see stuff like this and they grow-up expecting the fairytale to come true.”
“So what’s wrong with that?” A boyish grin cracked his features. “Some of us like believing in fairytales. I still make a wish on the occasional falling star, for instance.”
“That’s exactly what I mean.” She turned away from the crooked smile that threatened to break down her careful philosophy. “And I still say these little birds are perfect as is. It’s an image that conveys loyalty, security, affection. That’s all most people can really expect out of relationships.”
You can buy Ghosts of Romances Past by Laura Briggs at Amazon or Pelican Book Group.
It's giveaway time!
Laura has graciously offered to give one lucky reader a PDF copy of her novel Ghosts of Romances Past. Between now and March 12 leave your name and email address in a comment below and she'll contact the winner!