The classic literary ghost has certain well-defined characteristics: he or she was once a specific human who died in some particularly traumatic way. Stripped of flesh, the ghost has nothing left but psychological compulsion, whether to reenact the trauma, to communicate what happened, or simply to terrorize the living in revenge. Such ghosts are often visible as a hazy form in antiquated clothing, and their touch may be sensed by living skin, but they don’t have much in the way of corporeality.
Any trope so comfortably established invites departures; if we know what our ghosts ought to be, why not explore what they can become? We know that ghosts can sit on the beds of sleeping children, watching them with shadowed eyes, but how else might they relate to the living? What if the compulsions they enact are not their own, but ours, or if the trauma they carry is not the singular grief of one heartbroken person, but something more encompassing? When I started writing When I Cast Your Shadow, which features its own alternative ghosts—who can only access our world by possessing the living, and who don’t retain any definite form, beyond what the living project onto them—my long interest in the manifold forms hauntings can take became acute.