Most people know I'm a history buff. Kind of obvious from the books I write. But I'm also a science geek. I read Science News. I watch NOVA on PBS. I grew up with the Franklin Institute practically in my backyard. I've been known to get up at 3 am to watch a meteor shower. And once I poked a pin hole in a Xerox box, held it up in front of a sunny window, and showed everyone at my office job a solar eclipse.
The geek genes came from my dad, who used to take us rock hunting, stargazing, birdwatching, you name it. Back when America was gearing up to go to the moon and our local library had a weekly kids' program about NASA rockets, he'd bring us and sit in himself. When Star Trek made its debut, he watched it along with us. And family lore says that he and his brother Charlie had a respectable turtle skull collection. As I clean out the house (see my blog on Clutter a couple weeks ago), I expect to find that collection in the cellar.
When I created the character of Beth Ann Lee, I didn't plan on her being a geek. She simply was one, from the start. Part of it, I suppose, came from my own frustration at seeing so many girls turned away from math and science at a young age, merely because someone thinks females aren't supposed to be good at those subjects (Hello! Marie Curie! Jane Goodall! Sally Ride! to name a very few).
I've been asked why, if I like science all that much, do I put something as unscientific as ghosts in my books? I've been asked this by folks who fancy themselves scientific thinkers.
Okay, call me crazy (lots of people do), but isn't the whole point of science to try to explain the unexplained? So my standard answer, when asked if I believe in ghosts, is that I believe in the possibility of ghosts--just like I believe in the possibility of life on other planets and undiscovered life forms on this one. Ghosts aren't out of the question, just not proven or for that matter, disproven. I can bend my brain around ghost theory a lot easier than I can string theory (if you don't know what that is, picture something a physicist might dream up after eating hallucinogenic mushrooms).
I've been reading up about ghost hunters who do their research armed with electromagnetic field meters, infrared and ambient thermometers, motion sensors, digital voice recorders, cameras and other serious technical equipment. I applaud their collection of data, but frankly, most of them need to think more scientifically. They point to an "orb" (what appears to be a ball of light in a photo) and call it a departed human being. I'm not saying it isn't, just that I don't see a clear line of evidence and logic between the phenomenon (the orb) and the conclusion. I could offer other theories. I said I believed in the possibility of undiscovered life forms--maybe that's what an orb is. Or, like the aurorae, an effect of solar wind on Earth's magnetic field. Or simply a trick of light and humid air.
No ghost hunters I've met seem interested in explaining the physical conditions that creates an orb. Why wouldn't ghosts be subject to the same laws of physics, even if they exist in another dimension? (String theory says other dimensions are possible--or maybe you just feel extra-dimensional after eating those mushrooms.)
Anyway, will some scientist out there please work on ghost phenomena? Stop wussing out because you think the world will laugh at you. I'm guessing there's a Nobel Prize in store for the mind who cracks this mystery.
To answer the question: Why do I put ghosts in my books? Ghost tales are probably the oldest form of storytelling. No civilization known to history has been without ghost stories. People like them because they're entertaining. Me? I write ghost stories because I like them. And I put science in my books because I like that, too. They can go together.
Oh, and to my cousins, Uncle Charlie's kids? When I find those turtle skulls, you're entitled to half. Only fair.
Live long and prosper,