“The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife” is a classic tale in many ways. Yet you have made it very intimate and human. Do you have a strong connection to lighthouses?
I love lighthouses and I think they come with a romance all their own. They are by nature lonely, isolated places but they are also a symbol of connection. The function of a lighthouse is communication. The light reaches across dark waters to the seeking eyes of mariners. It’s a connection that reminds sailors that they are not alone in the night but the lighthouse’s light is more than that. It’s also a warning. “You are not alone, but don’t come too close. There is danger here.”
Lighthouses are rugged places, exposed to the elements, isolated – just begging to be haunted. They stand at the edges of things. Light and Dark. Land and Water. Civilization and the Unknown. Why shouldn’t a lighthouse stand at the edge of Life and Death as the one does in “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife?”
CA: In regards to the human, and inhuman aspects, you deal very gently with cultural attitudes and a great love. Do you think that if we did have means to supernatural “fixes” that more people would be driven to take desperate measures?
Absolutely, yes. I think we only need to look to science and medicine. People without brain function and with little or no chance of recovery can now be kept alive almost indefinitely. It’s easy to say that in a situation like that the plug ought to be pulled so that families might get on with the grieving process. That’s a cold and rational, if realistic, way of looking at it. I think part of being human kindles the hope that, despite evidence to the contrary, there’s still a spark of the person that we love somewhere inside that body hooked up to all those machines. We’ll use those machines to keep that spark alive.
I think if there was a supernatural (or a scientific) way to bring a loved one back from death, it would be doomed to end badly. If
personality, consciousness and a sense of self could somehow endure beyond death, I imagine death—the whole act of life ending, either traumatically or peacefully—is the sort of journey that might change a person. I don’t think the person you’d get back would be the same one you said goodbye to. You might not recognize them—or worse yet, they might not recognize you.
CA: This tale is about fighting death but on a visceral level, with terrible consequences when a foreign curio comes into play. Do you think that in earlier centuries various foreign objects were seen a mystical or supernatural, only because they were unknown?
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by mythology, legends, and fairy tales. That fascination led me down the road to Egyptology, complete with Howard Carter and King Tut’s tomb. I was fortunate enough to see the Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario back in 1979. I remember pressing my hands and face against the glass cabinet that held Tut’s burial mask. There’s no doubt about it. It was magical.
I think we tend to have two reactions to things we encounter beyond our cultural experience—awe and fear. Usually a combination of the two. Can you imagine the first European to encounter Chinese fireworks? The first native North American to see a gun fired? Curious objects abound and if we can’t figure out their uses it’s easy to imagine supernatural uses. Why are there standing stones scattered all over Britain? Why did the people of Easter Island commit such time, effort and resources into carving and placing their iconic moai statues around their island? How would we really view an alien piece of technology if one fell into our hands? Would we consider it technology or would the workings be so far beyond us that it would be indistinguishable from magic?
Nowadays (look at me using old-timer talk) we have instant access to cultural databases. If we encounter anything mysterious or intriguing from a different culture, we can dissect it immediately, if we choose. In the past researching a mystery would be a length process that might raise more questions than answers which would add to the idea of mystery or the supernatural. I guess what might border on mystical or supernatural now would be googling a person or an object and finding absolutely no information. In our information rich world, that would indeed be odd…almost magical.
CA: While this is not quite a ghost story, have you dabbled in other tales that deal with the dead in one form or another?
I have a number of real life ghost stories that I love to share on stormy nights and around campfires in the woods. While I haven’t written a traditional ghost story (yet…you’ve got me thinking about one, Colleen), I tend to write stories that deal with people who have suffered the profound loss of loved ones and their different ways of coping. I don’t think there’s anything more impactful than the loss of someone close and by exposing a character in a story to that type of loss you get to see what he or she is made of. In that way, I guess, there are ghosts in my stories because my characters are visited by the memories of those they’ve lost and what is a ghost if not the vivid, enduring imprint of someone who has died?
CA: What projects are you working on now?
I have a number of short stories that I’m working on and there are always more short stories waiting to be written. I have a wonderful skeletal novella about the last hours of a Paraguayan dictator awaiting execution that I’ll be fleshing out to novel length some time next year. In the background, I’m always working on a novel. The current novel is called Doc Merl’s Rolling Apothecary. It’s the King Arthur myth transposed to an old west full of rival land barons, displaced Indians, mysterious railway surveyors, sabre-toothed cats who avoided extinction and the weirdly motivated, pan-dimensional Hoodoo men.
Dave Beynon is a writer of speculative fiction of varying lengths and genres. In 2011, his time travel novel, The Platinum Ticket was shortlisted for the inaugural Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize. Dave lives in Fergus, Ontario with his wife, two kids and Willow, a golden retriever who manages every aspect of his life. Find out more about Dave at his website www.davebeynon.com or if Twitter is more your thing, he’s @BeynonWrites. Fair warning, though – he mostly tweets about crappy weather and stupid things that piss him off.