October is the traditional month for Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Legged Beasties and Things That Go Bump In the Night. Lately, I've had a lot of experience with those things in the writing sense if not in reality.
Spirit guides were really popular with mediums in the early twentieth century, but they were frequently children or historical figures like Native Americans. I knew I wanted something different for Rosie’s spirit guide. As I started writing, Skag took on a definite personality—snarky, sophisticated, and dry. He reminded me of someone, but I wasn’t sure who. Then one night it hit me as I was watching old movies—Addison DeWitt, the exceedingly nasty, exceedingly funny gossip columnist in the classic Bette Davis movie, All About Eve. Addison, played by George Sanders, was absolutely perfect. And since Skag was a shape shifter, I could have him assume Addison’s appearance and use his acid delivery.
Of course, there were some definite problems with using Addison as my spirit guide. A critiquer of one of the early versions pointed out that few of my readers under thirty would have heard of George Sanders or even All About Eve. She suggested using Simon Cowell instead. But that raised a couple of problems for me. First, I’m not a big Simon Cowell fan myself. And second, I couldn’t see using a living person as the avatar for a very old ghost. Besides, the fact that neither the heroine nor the very skeptical hero were familiar with George Sanders became an important plot point.
When I started working on Book 3 in the Ramos Family trilogy, Happy Medium (coming on January 21, 2014 from Berkley InterMix), I decided I wanted Skag to stick around. My hero in Happy Medium, Ray Ramos, is faced with a very nasty ghost with boundary issues, and Skag is the only one with the information that can save the day. He’s more an advisor this time around, but how many families have their own supernatural pipeline? If you’ve got to have a ghost hanging around, Skag is definitely one of the best.
Here’s the blurb for Happy Medium:
Love is good for the soul… unless it’s one that you’re trying to exorcise.
Ray Ramos has a problem–the King William District mansion he and his business partner purchased for a fast renovation needs more work than expected. Ray could use a quick infusion of cash. Enter Emma Shea, assistant to Gabrielle DeVere, the star of American Medium. Gabrielle is looking for San Antonio houses to use for her televised séances, and Ray’s fixer upper seems to fit.
When Gabrielle does a sample séance, Ray and Emma become the target of a touchy ghost with no respect for boundaries. After Ray learns his family has a special affinity for ghosts, the two decide to investigate the haunted house. It doesn’t hurt that Emma is immediately attracted to the laconic Ray or that Ray is intrigued by the buttoned-down beauty who seems determined to hide her considerable assets behind sober business suits. But can the two of them fight off a vengeful succubus bound to the house while getting a lot closer than either of them planned?
And here’s a short excerpt from Medium Rare where Rosie meets Skag for the first time:
“Who’s there?” she called and then felt like kicking herself. Nothing like letting the potential burglar-rapist–serial killer know you were awake and aware that he was there.
“Good evening.” The voice was faintly accented, slightly British, definitely masculine and . . . vaguely familiar.
Rose peered into the darkness at the corners of the room. A lot of darkness, actually. More darkness than she’d been aware of before. In fact, it was the darkest freakin’ bedroom she’d ever been in.
Not what she’d call a plus at the moment.
Her hand scrabbled around the night table, trying to find her cell phone. She flipped it open, squinting at the keys in the darkness.
“Please don’t bother,” the invisible man said. “You don’t need the police. Besides, you’ll find you can’t get service in here right now.”
Rose stared down at the glowing screen. No bars. How the hell could she have no bars? She’d just made a call this afternoon from the living room.
“Sorry,” the man said mildly. “It’s me. You won’t be able to get service while I’m in the room with you.”
She took a deep breath, lowering the phone to the spread. Calm, stay calm. “Where are you? Step out where I can see you. And do it slowly—I’m armed.” She picked up her book, a hardback fortunately. Assuming she could hit him, he’d probably have a lump.
“Throwing things at me won’t have any effect. Except to increase your own sense of satisfaction, of course.”
She gritted her teeth. She really hated being the straight man in this exchange. “Show yourself anyway.”
“I already have. You’re just not looking in the right place.”
Rose licked her lips. Okay. You’re okay. “Give me a hint.”
She raised her gaze slowly to the ceiling of the room. At the far end, something glowed a dim yellow-green, like some kind of night-light. She squinted. The yellow light became a blob, then seemed to elongate, becoming vertical, stretching from the ceiling halfway to the floor, perhaps five feet or so. Slowly, the light began to change, becoming bluish white, then gray, then resolving, very slowly into the outline of a figure.
Rose’s hands closed tightly on the coverlet. Her breath seemed to catch in her throat as her pulse hammered.
The figure became more clear. A man. Shortish. Stocky. Wearing a blue jumpsuit with a white undershirt showing at the V-neck. Hair slicked back, high forehead, deep-set eyes . . . Holy shit! A deeply satisfying wave of exasperation washed over her.
“Hannibal Lecter?” she snapped. “Really? Are you kidding me? Hannibal Lecter? What kind of sick joke is this? Get the fuck out of my bedroom!” Amazing how the combination of terror and annoyance made her sound like she was in control.
Hannibal Lecter floated a couple of feet away from the foot of her bed. His expression seemed vaguely disgruntled. “I was trying to find an appearance you were familiar with. I thought you’d like it.”
“Who are you?” She took another deep breath, trying to slow down her pulse. “And why exactly shouldn’t I just get the hell out of here right now?”
“If you walk out now, you’ll never know why I’m here, will you? And don’t tell me you don’t want to know.” Hannibal moved back a few paces. “Give me a moment and I’ll come up with something else.”
Lecter’s face became indistinct, the edges softening, blurring, then disappearing altogether. Slowly, he became a blob of light again. Rose stared, feeling slightly giddy, as if she’d been holding her breath too long. After a moment, the light elongated again, new features appearing in the face. Instead of the blue jumpsuit, the man now wore a tuxedo. The face was long and narrow, the hair parted at the side, nose slightly bulbous, narrow mouth spread in a faint smile. He raised an eyebrow. “Better?”
“I suppose. Who are you now?”
“George Sanders as Addison DeWitt. Won an Academy Award for All About Eve, one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. Your generation has forgotten him. Typical.” He had a pronounced British accent.
“All right.” Rose flexed her fingers, letting the spread drop. “So who are you really? And why are you here? And when will you go away?”
“To begin with your last question, I’ll go away after we’ve had our little talk.” George whatever-he-was reached into his pocket and extracted a cigarette in a cigarette holder. It was already lighted. He inhaled deeply and blew a cloud of smoke at the ceiling.
“Don’t smoke in here,” Rose said automatically.
George gave her a patronizing smile. “I hardly think this smoke will bother you.”
“So what are you—a ghost?”
George frowned slightly. “In a manner of speaking. I suppose it’s easiest if you think of me that way.”
“Are you haunting this house? Did you die here?”
He blew another cloud of smoke. “I died elsewhere. A very long time ago. And as for haunting this house, no. If you leave this house, so will I. I suppose you could say I’m haunting you.”