D.J. MacHale is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Pendragon series. He has written, directed and produced many television series and movies for young people including the cult-favorite TV show ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK. His work has been seen on Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, HBO, Showtime, PBS, Discovery Kids and the broadcast networks. D.J. lives with his family in Southern California.
By D.J. MacHale
Ghosts. What supernatural creation has been written about more than ghosts? Not vampires. Blood suckers go through a renaissance every ten years or so before they get buried again, waiting for the next sunset. Werewolves? They’re a tricky bunch that tread the line between frightening and silly. How about zombies? They have a creepy-kitsch to them but it’s hard to get them to do anything more than stumble around with various degrees of mayhem on their simple minds. Mummies? They’ve become action stars. None of those creatures can hold a flickering candle to the good old, chain rattling, bump-in-the night, “must have been the wind”, ghost.
But what is it that makes ghost stories so timelessly appealing? It’s because ghosts are all about possibility, and possibility is what makes a story scary. The most frightening moments in a scary story come when you wonder what might happen. That’s when your mind starts to mess with you. I’ve always found that the people who are most effected by ghost stories have vivid imaginations. All a storyteller has to do is put them into a potentially spooky situation and their imaginations take it from there. A corridor lined with doors is terrifying, even if nothing ever jumps out. A simple sound in the night hearkens the potential arrival of an unwanted visitor. Even the simple act of arriving home to find an empty house sends active imaginations to the conclusion that something evil must certainly be lying in wait. With ghosts, you never know what that truth might be.
That’s the beauty of a ghost story. There are no set rules. The story, and the ghost are mysteries. Who is the ghost? Is it evil or friendly? What does it want? Why is it here? What has it got to do with me? Or this house? This room? This blood-stained knife that just so happened to be hidden in the floorboards of my bedroom?
As a writer, a ghost story not only provides many opportunities to create scares, but also to tell a compelling tale. Ghosts never haunt “just cause”. There’s always some wrong that must be righted, some unfinished business that must be completed, some information that must be delivered, or some revenge that must be taken. And of course, those stories always impact the living characters in the story. When I made the show “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” for so many years, writers would always pitch me stories about some specific boogie-man. I’d always say: “That’s cool, but who are the characters the boogie-man bothers?” Often their answer would be some form of “Who cares?” Well, I did. I think a good story, any story, has to be about characters who you would be interested in following even if they didn’t become part of a supernatural event. Once you care about your characters and want to know what happens to them, introducing them to the boogie-man drives the story through the roof.
That’s another beauty of ghost stories. They evolve with the times. Or not. They can be reflections of contemporary society or bring you back to an ancient era. If we’re talking genre, ghost stories can be western shoot-em ups, outer space-operas, period costume pieces (from any place or period), gritty urban dramas or laugh out loud comedies. It’s all been done and it will continue to be done because ghosts are so versatile.
Having said all of that, there is something that is often maddening to me about ghost stories. Why is it that if a ghost is able to make an intriguing stain mysteriously appear on a carpet that is a clue to who killed him, why can’t that same ghost make the stain say: “Bill killed me. And my will is under the mattress. Love, George. P.S. Sorry about leaving my dirty socks in the hall.” It’s that kind of question that I am going to address in my Morpheus Road trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of classic ghost-story elements and mysteries, but over the course of the three books I’m also going to explore the whole phenomenon of ghosts, and how they might be able to do the kinds of things they do. It’s a fun place to go, because when you start opening up those particular creaky doors, the potential for what can happen in a ghost story suddenly becomes even greater.
Morpheus Road: The Light is the first book in his new young adult series and the book is is already available in stores.
Synopsis (Product Description):
Marshall Seaver is being haunted. In the first installment of this chillingly compelling trilogy, sixteen-year-old Marshall discovers that something beyond our world is after him. The eerie clues pile up quickly, and when people start dying, it’s clear whatever this is – it’s huge.
Marshall has no idea what’s happening to him, but he’s soon convinced that it has something to do with his best friend Cooper, who’s been missing for over a week. Together with Coop’s sister, Marsh searches for the truth about what happened to his friend, ultimately uncovering something bigger than he could ever have imagined.
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