Christi Nogle’s Beulah is an absolute banger of a horror novel. The Stoker Award nominee for Best First Novel puts a classic ghost story inside an old schoolhouse being renovated by a family desiring a new start, and it’s narrated by a young woman named Georgie. Narrated incredibly well. Georgie is perceptive and intelligent, clearly at qualms with her mother, distant around others, protective of her little sister Stevie. And she’s deeply honest with us, the readers, allowing us inside her thoughts. All this comes through in the tight prose:
I think of different art pieces sometimes that will show what I’ve seen, that will make someone understand and believe me, but these are idle thoughts. I would not know where to begin.
Georgie, in this moment, is talking about the ghosts she sees. But the twist of the story is that Georgie has seen ghosts for so long that it’s almost normal in a weird way. And I love this. I love how Christi Nogle writes from Georgie’s perspective and lets us see what it’s like to be a young woman who can see otherworldly things and has come to some sort of (fragile) acceptance of this gift:
Echoes of ghost-children having recess at midnight would probably seem super creepy to some people–and it probably should have felt that way to me–but it seemed perfectly logical that they would be here. A weird building like this would make an impression on them in life that would linger in death. And these had been happy times for them, all told. I closed my eyes to listen, and the listening made me smile.
So Georgie sees ghosts. And she’s kinda just rolling with it … until her family moves into an old schoolhouse to start over following a rough patch. Until Georgie realizes her younger sister can see them, too. Until this “gift” turns deadly. I won’t spoil much more, but I will say this: one of the things I love about Nogle’s writing is that I started to feel comfortable with the ghost sightings at first, too. Georgie’s narration settled me into a sense of normalcy … and then things turned, and I realized that Georgie and her sister were in real danger.
Dark Pathway: Think “Casper,” but Worse
I love how Christi Nogle normalizes the ghosts that Georgie sees. It’s such a fun idea that I want you to try it. Set ghosts aside because Nogle’s book is already pure fire. Instead, think about what other mythical monsters or creatures might exist in some sort of parallel realm. Develop a character that can see one of these creatures, but here’s the rub: your character isn’t actually afraid. In fact, your character has seen these creatures so often that it’s just kinda … normal. What does your character’s daily life look like? How does seeing this creature (or creatures) change the way your character lives their life, and how has your character adjusted?
Once you’re that far, you can turn it into a story by answering a single question: What changes in your character’s life that suddenly puts them in danger? It doesn’t have to have anything to do with this invisible creature! It can be another external threat. It can be a car accident, or a school bully, or a tornado that roars through town (ooooh I like that last one!). Whatever the inciting incident, let it affect your character’s unique “gift” … and turn it into danger!
Ken Brosky is the author of The Beyond, a horror novel available through Timber Ghost Press. His work has been published in Grotesque and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, among others. He’s currently working on a screenplay and a new novel.