I’m close to finishing a new novel, a ghost story. I’ve written them before, Something Upstairs, The Seer of Shadows, and even short story ghost tales as in Strange Happenings. Upon reading them, someone inevitably asks me, “Do you believe in ghosts?” My answer, “No, but I believe in ghost stories.”
In western literature, ghost stories have a very long and distinguished history. You’ll find them in Homer, the Bible, in Roman plays. Shakespeare wonderfully begins Hamlet with a notable ghost, Hamlet’s father. Edgar Allen Poe did much to make the genre popular. And on it goes, into the modern era. In a presumptively secular age, they still exist, and certainly, they do in books for young people.
Just recently, I was talking to some fifth graders, and asked them why they liked such stories. A girl answered, “I like ghost stories because they give me the shivers.”
I don’t think that young people like to be truly frightened, but shivers in the context of a safe environment, surely must be delicious. It is the juxtaposition of safe and scary that makes such stories attractive.
Writing them is hard, the task being to make the unbelievable believable. You have to lead the reader to a place that cannot—in reality—exist. It’s all about craft, not belief. If ever there is a genre expressly written to meet the reader’s desire, the ghost story is it.