Today, I interview Mark Leslie, the first of four Ontario authors in Tesseracts 17, and a ghost hunter of a sort.
CA: Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost is of a very popular trope; ghost stories. In fact, we could have had a full anthology of just ghost and zombie tales, so choosing one of quite a few good ghost stories was a bit of a feat. While your tale is of a haunting, it’s jaunty and fun. Why did you choose such a well worn subject to pursue?
Though I have always written horror fiction, I rarely have ventured into what might be considered the standard tropes of the genre. I have avoided writing stories of vampires, ghosts and zombies and other standard and traditional “monsters” that grace horror fiction. But when I have drawn upon then, I’ve tried to approach the story from what feels like a unique perspective. For example, the first successful “haunted house” story I had published was called “Requiem” and was about a man who collected haunted artifacts. The story explores what might happen if a bunch of different ghosts were thrust together and forced into the same space. Sure, it was about ghosts, but it explored a “what if” that intrigued me. In this case, the idea was whether or not ghosts could be territorial in nature.
In a tale I co-authored with John Strickland called “Til Death Do Us Part?” we explored what might happen if a married couple who constantly fought continued to fight and bicker in the afterlife, and what it might be like for their only son who, believing that his quarreling parents had finally come to an end not only witnesses their postmortem bickering, but gets drawn into it, yet again. It’s a very dark humor treatment of the ghost trope.
For “Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost” I took a similar exploration. I imagined an afterlife in which there are those who “live” their afterlife in quiet desperation, and others who seek more, who want their death to be something larger than they are—those are the dead who become “actors” and work at playing legendary ghostly roles. I thought it would be fun to look at the concept of a well-known haunted place, such as the Museum of Nature in Ottawa, or the London Tower, and explore some of the behind the scenes elements, with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at a struggling actor coming to terms with the loss of his long-held skills and abilities to properly perform the roles he seeks to play.
The story, for me, wasn’t about setting up a scary haunting, but rather exploring what it might be like for someone trying to succeed in making that haunting real for humans. So, sure, it’s a ghost story, but it is not one mean to inspire chills in the traditional sense—it’s one that asks the reader to consider the “what if that perhaps ghosts aren’t what we believe them to be, but rather roles that virtually any “talented” dead spirit can play if only given the chance to strut their stuff on the “stage.”
CA: The story touches on drama, and theater cannot be mentioned without invoking the Bard. While you didn’t bring in Shakespeare outright, how involved was he with your vision for this story?
Shakespeare was at the forefront of my mind when I was working through this tale. When you think of Hamlet, you might consider the thrill, for an actor, to be cast in the legendary role, or of the countless various actors over the centuries who have portrayed the prince in various manners and interpretations on both stage on screen.From Laurence Olivier and Peter O’Toole to Kenneth Branagh, Mel Gibson and Ethan Hawke, so many different actors have played this role as well as many other classic Shakespearean roles, each bringing something unique and different to that.
I imagined the dead auditioning to play legendary and classic ghosts in the same manner that actors might audition to do stage runs of Shakespearean plays, and thus the conflict between my protagonist, Patrick, and the surly “casting director” Snyder.
When I was thinking about actors and their desire to seek out coveted roles—after all, it’s much more prestigious to play the role of Hamlet than to be Horatio or, even worse, a role like Barnardo, one of the sentinels who encounter the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the opening scene of Hamlet.
I took the idea of the different roles actors aspire to and thought about what happened when an actor aged. How sometimes the actor could play the “leading man” roles, and how as time went on, he might be relegated to supporting role material. You see the same thing with news anchors and in sporting professions. Great figures that we admire grow old, drift off into the sunset while we seek out younger, fresher ones to take their place.
I tried to imagine how the same thing might happen for spirits playing the roles of various legendary ghosts around the world. I drew upon the lyrics from one of my favourite Rush songs entitled “Losing It” that explores these themes with both a writer and a dancer, and how, as they grow old the precious moments, the echoes of old applause and everything they had built could slowly slip through their old wrinkled fingers, and I had some fun with it as Patrick faced those same things.
CA: Do you believe that ghosts do exist and if so do you think they have a lasting consciousness or are just after-images, an imprint of one’s life? Have you ever experienced an apparition?
I do believe that ghosts exist. As Hamlet expressed to his dear friend Horatio, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies. I’ve never seen a ghost, and, as I have explored in a few different stories that I have written, I believe that ghosts can be both a lasting consciousness stuck down here on earth, rather than being fully and properly released into the ether of the afterlife, but that they can also be imprints left in the universe around us, echoes of things that have happened. In my short story “Spirits” for example, I explored the concept of people leaving their spirits behind in a place they were somehow tied to, even without dying; that a place or moment in time or experience can have such a lasting and important impression that the spirit of a person, of a moment, of an experience, can echo in that spot for eternity.
No, I can’t say that I have ever experienced any sort of apparition; at least nothing that I couldn’t attribute to being over-tired or having an over-active imagination.
And that’s a good thing. Because I’m such a chicken that if I did see a ghost, I’d likely pass out or have a heart attack.
CA: Will we see any more escapades in this style of ghostly realm?
Definitely. I have been kicking around another speculative story about ghosts and the side-effects for those who attempt to control or contain poltergeists. It is, in many ways, a tongue-in-cheek exploration, like “Hereinafter” and “Requiem”—except, though it will contain a slight bit of dark humor, it’ll be darker and a bit creepier in delivery, much like a traditional ghost story.
CA: What else do you have in the works and what themes are you exploring?
I’m continuing to compile non-fiction paranormal explorations. My next book in that series of “stories told as true (a term that John Robert Columbo beautifully described this style of book) coming from Dundurn in 2014 will be called TOME OF TERROR and will focus on haunted bookstores and libraries around the world.
My forthcoming novel from Atomic Fez takes a look at how a teenager might deal with a bizarre death curse, where everybody he gets close to dies some sort of tragic horrific death. That book, ironically, draws a great deal from Hamlet as well as from several texts I admire from several different science fiction and horror writers.
And, on Wattpad, I’m currently rolling out the novel A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK. One might suspect, given that it’s a werewolf novel, that I’m using a popular trope. And I might just be, but the focus of the novel isn’t on the wolf, but on the side effects of being a wolf. The novel opens with my hero, Michael Andrews, waking up as a human in Battery Park with a bullet hole in his leg and no memory of the night before when he was wandering around the city in wolf form. I wanted to focus on how he deals with not having any idea what his canine alter ego was up to, and the various frustrations of dealing with the logistics of having such an affliction while trying to live a normal urban life. It’s a dark humor thriller more than a horror novel, but has been a lot of fun to write. So far I’ve posted up to Chapter Twenty-eight, and the entire thing will be available to read for free here: http://www.wattpad.com/story/3961496-a-canadian-werewolf-in-new-york
Once I finish rolling out this draft I’ll be using reader feedback to do another re-write before either sending it to a publisher or commissioning an editor to help me revise the final version.
Mark Leslie fell in love with storytelling, and, in particular the brand of Twilight Zone style tales he often writes, at an early age, and has been writing pretty much since the first day he discovered the magic of stringing one word after another to create a narrative. The editor of the anthologies North of Infinity II, Campus Chills and Tesseracts Sixteen, Mark has also produced a series of non-fiction paranormal explorations in the books Haunted Hamilton and Spooky Sudbury from Dundurn Press, with more books in that vein in the pipeline. Mark’s One Hand Screaming, published in 2004, contains a selection of previously published short fiction and poetry, and his first novel, I, Death, is slated for publication in late 2014.