The Poor Quality of Hauntings, or, Why Ghosts Need to Try Harder

I don’t believe in ghosts.

Yes, I wrote a ghost story, and yet I do not believe in ghosts. What’s curious is that, while I’ve felt this way all along, I didn’t really want to say it before. I know that ghosts mean a lot to a lot of people. They signify a connection with people who have gone before—and this I respect completely. The thought that the dead are with us is important to many, many people.

When I say I don’t believe in ghosts, I do not mean any religious interpretations of an afterlife. I’m not talking about or even getting near that subject. I mean ghosts. I mean manifestations of human beings no longer living. I don’t believe in them because claims of ghostly behavior have been exhaustively researched. (They really have—don’t let anyone tell you that, “Science isn’t interested.” Science is totally interested, and much work has been done on the subject.) There isn’t a haunting out there that hasn’t been debunked.*

And I write this knowing that maybe fifty percent of you—maybe more!—will immediately reply that you do believe in ghosts. Some of you will believe very strongly. You might feel that if the belief in ghosts were taken away from you, you would lose something. I would argue that once we clear away some superstition, some mental clutter and fear, we could actually see marvelous things that really do exist. Reality is extremely weird and wonderful. Ghosts are actually really boring in comparison with the Island of Misfit Toys that is the universe. 

But let’s talk about hauntings for a minute… because that’s how I came to write The Name of the Star. I went on a historical tour of Parliament to get some background information when I started to notice that the guide kept pointing out things that were haunted. This room was haunted, and that tower, and that old chapel, and that place that’s now a parking lot. Ghosts everywhere.  It bothered me. I felt that these ghosts had no place on my factual, historical tour. And the more they mentioned the ghosts, the more lame the ghosts seemed. They’d make cold spots in rooms. They made doors open. They made stairs creak. This, in my opinion, was not good ghosting. If you’re a ghost, you should be able to do better stuff that cause a draft or open a door.

I felt there had to be better. So I started looking. I read a lot about ghosts. I watched every single show on ghost hunting out there. AND THERE ARE A LOT OF THEM. I have seen them all. Don’t even bother asking me if I’ve watched [enter name of ghost hunting show you like]—I’ve watched it. I looked for something better, but I never got it. I saw people experience cold spots, doors opening, creaking noises, “weird feelings,” and the like, all filmed in night vision so that everything in green and everyone has glowing eyes. And at the very height of the action! A pen would fall or something and everyone would yell “GHOSTS!” and that would be it.

I was distinctly underwhelmed.


I was distinctly underwhelmed.

I demanded a higher quality of ghost. Because, even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I like ghost stories. I like lots of stories about things I don’t believe in. So I set about writing a story in which ghosts cause BIG PROBLEMS. No falling pens or creaking doors. I wanted ISSUES. And so began Name of the Star.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to share a bit of research about ghosts, and ways in which our brains (and occasionally other people) trick us into thinking we see them.

Again, I write this with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that many of you will read these words and say, “BUT I KNOW GHOSTS ARE REAL!” Awesome. Write to me and tell me how you know. I LIKE GHOST STORIES!

(And do I even need to tell you to pre-order The Madness Underneath? See that purple thing on the top of the page? CLICK ON IT OR I’LL HAUNT YOU FOR REALS.)


* I expect this statement will get some objections. But I stand by it. And so does Science!