Authors often talk about that rare, visceral moment where the kernel of a story or a character just flies in out of nowhere and smacks you upside the head with such force that you cannot ignore it. The story demands to be told, or the character demands to be talked of, and you really can’t do anything about it.
In my case, this character was a British Victorian named Elliot Smith. One day when I was about nineteen, I looked into my head in pursuit of daydreams, and there he stood. He gave a little bow, tipping his hat to me, and then waved.
It was an astonishing moment for me. I actually gasped. I sat straight up in my chair and held onto the edge of my desk as another mind suddenly appeared inside of my own. It was like a quickening, I would guess–an awareness of another life existing concurrently with mine, and I was overcome with the need to give voice to it.
At first, the writing was a bit slow. Elliot was a shy thing, and as I coaxed stories and names and experiences out of him just a little at a time, I had to keep chronological notecards, color-coded by the people they involved, because I kept forgetting who people were between conversations. But as he developed, and became more open with me, the notecards became less necessary because his voice became a constant presence in my day. Whenever I had the time to write…or, more often, when I didn’t…there was his voice.
One year in, and I knew about his friends, his wife, his son, and his schooling. Another year, and he was ready to speak on his childhood poverty and homelessness, the loss of his son, and his struggle for respectability. Two years or so after that, he came out to me, and discussed his polyamory, his husband, and his process of self-acceptance.
And then something incredibly interesting happened.
Just like I had become aware of his story, he became aware of mine. He started to feel his way through modernity, placing his experiences and personhood into new categories, thinking about changes and stasis in politics, human rights, and human identity between the Victorian period and now. And once he was no longer trapped in the 1840s, moving about more freely–more ghost-like–he became quite lonely.
He needed a mate.
After first, I sort of just waited, hoping for that lightning strike that would reveal another complete and complex character. But, that was a bit naive.
So, I set about creating a new ghost who I thought would be good for us both–the perfect and hilarious foil to Elliot’s dangerous politeness and grumpy cheer. Someone who would startle him out of his careful approach to the day and grant me some moments of much needed levity at a difficult time in my life.
Bridgette failed. She just plain scared the pants off him.
But Marcus. Marcus intrigued him, despite the fact that he spoke very little English when they first met. Elliot’s church Latin gave them a good go at conversation, and Marcus’s stubborn decision to set up shop as a permanent part of my reverie meant that Elliot had to accept his presence whether he liked it or not.
Turns out he liked it.
They’re married now, Marc and E, despite the massive age difference. (I guess “ghosts” don’t mind such things.)
They spend a good deal of time at home with me, still. Elliot is a carpenter among other things, and he’s built them a house together over the years, real enough that when I shut my eyes I can feel like I’m lazing on their studded-leather couch or soaking in the sun in their breakfast nook. That I’m cuddling their odd assortment of pets, playing darts with E, or chatting with Marc while he cooks.
But they also discovered that they can travel further afield, soaking up new experiences in what I call ghost-world–a sort of alternate plane of existence that maps onto the Earth. Out/in there, they have a lovely son, Jeremy (age 4), and an eccentric sprite of a daughter, Mira (age 7). They work two days a week at their offices in Ghost Toronto at a fashion-mecha called Afterlife Magazine and Modelling Agency (AMMA), Elliot as a model and Marc as a designer, and telecommute arduously the rest of the time. They have their own line called Junius-Smith (JS) Design, a range of charitable work, and the JS Home for Children. They travel internationally and they also cozy in at their family home outside of Toronto where they keep up with a new set of friends.
They are hilarious, touching, human, ephemeral, autobiographical, and vicarious, all.
They’d make a great web comic if I could draw anything the same way two times in a row. But I can’t. So, instead, I’ve done two things in order that everyone else can get to know them like I have.
First, on this site, you’ll see me record their conversations from time to time. I’ve also given them free reign to comment on the site, or post an article now and again. And you are welcome to ask them questions here, both about their lives then and their afterlives now.
But…you can also check in with the boys on Elliot’s own blog called True Facts from Ghosts. He updates bi-weekly with topics from his life and afterlife, and he’s really witty about it, so I recommend you stop by.
I used to think this was all really weird.
I still do.
But it’s also awesome.