Some Thoughts on Good and Not-So-Good Ghost Stories…

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The cover of my upcoming anthology of Ghost Stories, published by Wick Press.

At the end of this post is a paragraph from a very very good ghost story that is 135 years old. But, first, I had to work out my thoughts about why I wanted to share it. And, it ties in with the premise for my ghost story anthology.

This is why I do what I do: I have been reading ghost stories and “mystery and suspense” stories and “uncanny” stories and “stories of the supernatural”—since the beginning of 2017, when I first began to narrow a list of hundreds of stories—maybe more—down to a growing longlist and then a shortlist for a 2-volume ghost story anthology—because, I thought, there is something about the stories written before 1920-ish, that were just better. They are better fiction, hands down, and I needed to explore this so I understood it better. After reading umpteen stories from 1780s-1915, give or take, I have come to the conclusion that, it is not about flowery language or “purple prose” or antiquated anachronistic plot structures, etc. etc. It is about being better-educated writers during a time when more was expected of our mind, our manners, our mores, our work ethic (even in writing), our reputation before “the world” (these periodicals made their way around and were widely read).

I had heard that a lot—the “overwrought prose of yesteryear” angle—and I was open to it being correct…and as I went along I compared some ghost stories from that time with some from the 1950s forward and all I could think was: ‘why does it seem that we have dumbed down fiction writing in the ghost story genre to a level of a Sport’s writeup in the Times?’ Nothing wrong with Sports writeups in the Times.

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One of the stories that I will be including in my upcoming anthology: The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told, ed. Sanguine Woods, Wick Press, 2017

But, I don’t want to read fiction like that. I want depth, thoughtfulness, a sense from reading that the author is well-read, the characters, too; I want them drawn in 3D and not over-described.I want atmosphere. And, I want to feel like the entire story took time to build, like a cathedral, not a hut made out of hay bales.

I know some amazing writers today who are writing cathedrals. And I am so thrilled as a reader about it.

I remember reading a quote in college by Henry James, or maybe it was Joyce Carol Oates…about writing the “telling detail”…but I think we still struggle today, especially in genre or “pop” fiction, which can also be very high quality, (sometimes), with telling the “wrong” detail(s). Wrong is a subjective term. Maybe the better descriptor is the “unthoughtful” detail, the “rushed string of details” the ones that sound OK, but that when strung together fall short of showing something cohesive about the character (e.g., the red-head waltzed into the room wearing a black dress cut down to there and orange lipstick, emerald earrings that dangled like stars from her earlobes, a matching bracelet on her right wrist, bright-red patent-leather 10-inch pumps, black nylons like the ones you wore in the 1940s with a line up the back, and a purse made out of the skin of some animal, but oddly, with all of that bling, she wore not a single ring on any of her long graceful fingers, the nails of which were painted “hotlips red”).

I would argue that the only telling detail here, is that she wore no rings. Why? That detail interests me. The others don’t. They are part of a “formulaic” writing style, noir, Roger Rabbit meets Raymond Chandler, but isn’t written as well as Chandler, etc.

I don’t mean to be negative, just reflective about why some stories seem to inspire more awe in me; whereas others feel utilitarian, not unnecessary, just thin.

The writers of the 1800s weren’t writing “horror” or “weird” fiction. Because those weren’t genres yet. They were states of mind or emotion, or behavior. And they made their way into this high quality fiction. What I especially love in these stories, is the way the entire story is treated with such respect—from the pacing to the tension and from the atmosphere to the characters—these writers were grand writers, and they had been brought up not on “the milk of fiction” but on its “meat”. I fear today, we are if not back to the milk, then at least to some protein-shake-gluten-free, non-dairy, lactose-free milk substitute, with vegetable-product thickeners.

I am still on my longlist, because I thought I would find more stories and novellas, sooner. Last night I found two, that may skip the longlist and jump right to the shortlist. I’m so impressed. One is by Sir Walter Besant. I’d never heard of him until today. And, here is a paragraph from the second one, a longer story by “Mrs. Oliphant” (Margaret O. Wilson Oliphant)—and published in a two-part serialized format in a new periodical of the time, that went on actually to become very successful.

This story is 135 years old. You tell me if it doesn’t read like the best literature published today. Purple prose? Outdated style? I don’t think so. And this is just one paragraph. Imagine the whole story, about the solemn, wandering ghost of a woman, long-dead—Stay tuned for The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told, ed. Sanguine Woods, December 2017.

“They asked me to come at Ellermore when we parted, and, as I have nothing in the way of home warmer or more genial than chambers in the Temple, I accepted, as may be supposed, with enthusiasm. It was in the first week of June that we parted, and I was invited for the end of August. They had ‘plenty of grouse,’ Charley said, with a liberality of expression which was pleasant to hear.

Charlotte added, ‘But you must be prepared for homely life, Mr. Temple, and a very quiet one.’ I replied, of course, that if I had chosen what I liked best in the world it would have been this combination: at which she smiled with an amused little shake of her head. It did not seem to occur to her that she herself told for much in the matter. What they all insisted upon was the ‘plenty of grouse;’ and I do not pretend to say that I was indifferent to that.

Colin, the eldest son, was the one with whom I had been least familiar. He was what people call reserved. He did not talk of everything as the others did. I did not indeed find out till much later that he was constantly in London, coming and going, so that he and I might have seen much of each other. Yet he liked me well enough. He joined warmly in his brother’s invitation. When Charley said there was plenty of grouse, he added with the utmost friendliness, ‘And ye may get blaze at a stag.’ There was a flavour of the North in the speech—of all not disclosed by mere words, but also by an occasional diversity of idiom and change of pronunciation. They were conscious of this and rather proud of it. They did not say Scotch, but Scots; and their accent could not be represented by any of the travesties of the theatre, or what we conventionally accept as the national utterance. When I attempted to pronounce after them, my own ear informed me what a travesty it was.”

– Mrs. Oliphant, “The Lady’s Walk,” Part I, Longman’s Magazine, 1882

Pandemonium: Lost Souls ed. Anne C. Perry & Jared Shurin, 2012

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Table of Contents

Pandemonium: Lost Souls • interior artwork by Vincent Sammy
13 • Introduction (Pandemonium: Lost Souls) • essay by Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry
17 • An Experiment in Misery • (1898) • short story by Stephen Crane
29 • Quality • (1912) • short story by John Galsworthy
37 • Amanda Todd • (1898) • short fiction by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman [as by Mary Wilkins Freeman]
45 • The Professor • (1917) • short fiction by Calista Halsey Patchin
53 • The King is Dead, Long Live the King • (1928) • short story by Mary Coleridge
61 • P’r’aps • (1919) • short fiction by Charles Bayly, Jr.
67 • Ixion in Heaven • (1833) • novelette by Benjamin Disraeli
91 • The Demon Pope • (1888) • short story by Richard Garnett
103 • The Outcasts of Poker Flat • (1869) • short fiction by Bret Harte
115 • Miranda Higgins • (1885) • short fiction by William Atwell Cheney
123 • Christopherson • (1906) • short story by George Gissing
137 • Emperor Norton • (1868) • short fiction by May Wentworth
147 • The Secret of Goresthorpe Grange • (1883) • novelette by Arthur Conan Doyle [as by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]
167 • A Butterfly in the Fog • (1919) • short fiction by Latrobe Carroll
179 • Marooned • (1917) • short fiction by Robert W. Chambers
193 • Hepaticas • (1915) • novelette by Anne Douglas Sedgwick
213 • The Prisoners • short fiction by John Reynolds
227 • The Devil’s Age • short fiction by David Bryher and Franchun Beltzarri
231 • The Four-Fifteen Express • (1866) • novelette by Amelia B. Edwards
255 • The Parrot • (1900) • short fiction by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman [as by Mary Wilkins Freeman]
265 • A Double-Dyed Deceiver • (1905) • short story by O. Henry

Lovers & Other Monsters ed. Marvin Kaye, 1992, TOC

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ix • Introduction (Lovers and Other Monsters) • essay by Marvin Kaye
3 • Journeys End • (1957) • short story by Poul Anderson
12 • Share Alike • (1953) • short story by Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean
24 • Teacher • short story by C. H. Sherman
33 • A Nightmare • poem by Christina Rossetti
34 • The Songs of My Young • short story by Dan Burrello
43 • Minotauress • (1991) • short story by Darrell Schweitzer
54 • A Matter of Taste • (1984) • short story by Parke Godwin
60 • The Wild Wood • (1957) • short story by Mildred Clingerman
71 • The Colonel’s Choice • (1891) • short story by Arthur Conan Doyle
82 • A Secret • short story by Julia L. Keefer
90 • Gentleman on the Top Floor • (1965) • short story by Frederick Laing
93 • Twenty-Six Men and a Girl • (1918) • short story by Максим ГорькийQuestion mark (trans. of Двадцать шесть и однаQuestion mark 1899) [as by Maxim Gorky]
107 • Ellen M’Jones Aberdeen • poem by W. S. Gilbert [as by William S. Gilbert]
111 • A Sunday in December • short story by Joan Andelman
115 • The Old Woman Who Dragged Her Husband’s Corpse • (1989) • short story by Jessica Amanda Salmonson
119 • Laura • short story by Carole Buggé
137 • Minnie Field • short fiction by E. P. Conkle
143 • The Pearl of Love • (1925) • short fiction by H. G. Wells
149 • The Strange High House in the Mist • [Dream Cycle] • (1931) • short story by H. P. Lovecraft
158 • Let No Man Dream • short story by Paula Volsky
169 • Princess • (1988) • short story by Morgan Llywelyn
173 • The Lady’s Maid’s Bell • (1902) • novelette by Edith Wharton
192 • The Satyr • short story by Toby Sanders
194 • Don Juan; or The Elixir of Long Life • short story by Honoré de Balzac (trans. of L’élixir de longue vie 1830)
213 • The Legs That Walked • (1953) • short story by Justin Dowling
220 • The Bridge to the Liver Pies • poem by Saralee Kaye [as by Saralee Terry]
222 • The Black Wench • (1985) • short story by Ray Russell
240 • The Blue Eye • short story by Guillaume Apollinaire (trans. of L’œil bleuQuestion mark 1916)
242 • The Master of Rampling Gate • (1984) • novelette by Anne Rice
258 • The Deadly Ratio • (1948) • novelette by Theodore Sturgeon (variant of It Wasn’t Syzygy)
287 • Will the Real Dennis Casper Please Stand Up? • short story by Amy Wasp-Wimberger
301 • Expedition • (1956) • short story by Fredric Brown
303 • Tripping the Light Fantastic • short story by Dan Potter
312 • The Fiend • (1964) • short story by Frederik Pohl
318 • Happy Hour • (1991) • short story by Marvin Kaye
329 • Horace, Nellie, and the Computer • poem by Richard L. Wexelblat
331 • I’m in Marsport Without Hilda • (1957) • short story by Isaac Asimov
345 • Moonflower • short story by J. Timothy Hunt
355 • The Language of Love • (1957) • short story by Robert Sheckley
369 • Berenice • (1835) • short story by Edgar Allan Poe (variant of Berenice—A Tale)
377 • A Passage in the Life of Mr. John Oakhurst • (1903) • short story by Bret Harte
396 • In the Morgue • (1923) • short story by Dashiell Hammett
399 • Himeros’s Daughter • short story by Thomas D. Sadler
408 • A-round the Corner • (1950) • short story by Josef Marais
410 • Voices in the Coalbin • (1990) • short story by Mary Higgins Clark
419 • The Maiden • (1947) • short story by Ray Bradbury
421 • A Thing of Beauty • (1963) • short story by Wallace West
428 • The Douglas Tragedy • poem by Anonymous
431 • The Permanent Stiletto • (1889) • short story by W. C. Morrow
442 • In the Shadows of My Fear • (1988) • short story by Joan Vander Putten
449 • Blue Eyes • (1919) • short story by Maurice Level (trans. of ” Mes yeux ” 1904)
455 • The Lady and the Tiger • (1948) • novelette by Jack Moffitt
487 • Selected Bibliography and Filmography • essay by uu

Chamber of Horrors: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Table of Contents

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9 • Wood • (1976) • novelette by Robert Aickman
28 • The Bird • (1916) • short story by Thomas Burke
34 • A Thing About Machines • (1961) • short story by Rod Serling
51 • A Woman Seldom Found • (1956) • short story by William Sansom
54 • The Squaw • (1893) • short story by Bram Stoker
64 • The Cloth of Madness • (1920) • novelette by Seabury Quinn
83 • The Sea-Raiders • (1896) • short story by H. G. Wells
91 • The Dunwich Horror • [Cthulhu Mythos] • (1929) • novelette by H. P. Lovecraft
125 • Dad • (1976) • short story by John Blackburn
129 • The Cold Embrace • (1862) • short story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon [as by Miss Braddon]
137 • Royal Jelly • (1959) • novelette by Roald Dahl
158 • The Boarded Window • (1889) • short story by Ambrose Bierce
162 • Earth to Earth • (1955) • short story by Robert Graves
166 • A Warning to the Curious • (1925) • short story by M. R. James
179 • The Night of the Tiger • (1978) • short story by Stephen King
190 • The Interruption • (1925) • short story by W. W. Jacobs
200 • Back from the Grave • (1958) • short story by Robert Silverberg
210 • The Derelict • (1912) • novelette by William Hope Hodgson
230 • Vendetta • (1923) • short story by Guy de Maupassant (trans. of Une vendetta 1883)
234 • Edifice Complex • (1958) • short story by Robert Bloch
242 • The Red Lodge • (1928) • short story by H. Russell Wakefield
252 • Mary Postgate • (1915) • short story by Rudyard Kipling
264 • The Cradle Demon • (1978) • short story by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
270 • The Horror of Abbot’s Grange • (1936) • short story by Frederick Cowles
283 • Sredni Vashtar • (1911) • short story by Saki
287 • The Wall • (1976) • short story by Robert Haining
296 • An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street • (1853) • novelette by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [as by J. Sheridan Le Fanu]
313 • The Whining • (1974) • short story by Ramsey Campbell
319 • Berenice • (1835) • short story by Edgar Allan Poe (variant of Berenice—A Tale)
326 • The Finless Death • (1921) • short story by R. E. Vernède
335 • And the Dead Spake • (1922) • short story by E. F. Benson (variant of “And the Dead Spake …”)

102 Classic Stories of Horror, TOC

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Table of Contents

1.The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
2.Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
3.The Shunned House by H. P. Lovecraft
4.The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
5.Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
6.Southern Horrors by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
7.The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs
8.The Vampire by John William Polidori
9.The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
10.The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce
11.The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
12.The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood
13.Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker
14.The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
15.Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker
16.Four Weird Tales by Algernon Blackwood
17.The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
18.The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck
19.The Parasite by Arthur Conan Doyle
20. A Thin Ghost and Others by M. R. James
21.Clarimonde by Théophile Gautier
22.The Book of Were-Wolves by S. Baring-Gould
23.The Mummy’s Foot by Théophile Gautier
24.The Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan by Unknown
25.The Evil Guest by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
26.The Ghost Ship by Richard Middleton
27.The Parenticide Club by Ambrose Bierce
28.Three More John Silence Stories by Algernon Blackwood
29.The Golgotha Dancers by Manly Wade Wellman
30. Each Man Kills by Victoria Glad
31.The Invaders by Benjamin Ferris
32.The Garden of Survival by Algernon Blackwood
33.The Haunted and the Haunters by Edward Bulwer Lytton
34.There is a Reaper … by Charles V. De Vet
35.The Room in the Dragon Volant by Le Fanu
36.The Monster by S. M. Tenneshaw
37.The Waif Woman by Robert Louis Stevenson
38.The Return Of The Soul by Robert Hichens
39.The White Feather Hex by Don Peterson
40. The Herriges Horror in Philadelphia by Anonymous
41.Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James
42.By the Waters of Paradise by F. MARION CRAWFORD
43.The Shadows on the Wall by MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN
44.The Corpus Delicti by MELVILLE D. POST
45.An Heiress from Redhorse by AMBROSE BIERCE
46.The Man and the Snake by AMBROSE BIERCE
47.The Oblong Box by EDGAR ALLAN POE
48.The Gold-Bug by EDGAR ALLAN POE
49.Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams by WASHINGTON IRVING
50.Adventure of the Black Fisherman by WASHINGTON IRVING
51.Wieland’s Madness by CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN
52.The Golden Ingot by FITZJAMES O’BRIEN
53.My Wife’s Tempter by FITZJAMES O’BRIEN
54.The Minister’s Black Veil NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
55.Horror: A True Tale by Anonymous
56.The Unknown Quantity by Anonymous
57.The Armless Manby Anonymous
58.The Tomtom Clue by Anonymous
59.The Case of Sir Alister Moeran by Anonymous
60.The Kiss by Anonymous
61.The Goth by Anonymous
62.The Last Ascent by Anonymous
63.The Terror by Night by Anonymous
64.The Tragedy at the “Loup Noir” by Anonymous
65.THE PHANTOM ‘RICKSHAW by R. Kipling
66.MY OWN TRUE GHOST STORY
67.THE STRANGE RIDE OF MORROWBIE JUKES
68.THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
69.”THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD”
70. THE EMPTY HOUSE by Algernon Blackwood
71.A HAUNTED ISLAND
72.A CASE OF EAVESDROPPING
73.KEEPING HIS PROMISE
74.WITH INTENT TO STEAL
75.THE WOOD OF THE DEAD
76.SMITH: AN EPISODE IN A LODGING-HOUSE
77.A SUSPICIOUS GIFT
78.THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY IN NEW YORK
79.SKELETON LAKE: AN EPISODE IN CAMP
80. THE BOLTED DOOR By Edith Wharton
81.HIS FATHER’S SON
82.THE DAUNT DIANA
83.THE DEBT
84.FULL CIRCLE
85.THE LEGEND
86.THE EYES
87.THE BLOND BEAST
88.AFTERWARD
89.THE LETTERS
90. FILMER by H. G. Wells
91.THE MAGIC SHOP
92.THE VALLEY OF SPIDERS
93.THE TRUTH ABOUT PYECRAFT
94.MR. SKELMERSDALE IN FAIRYLAND
95.THE STORY OF THE INEXPERIENCED GHOST
96.JIMMY GOGGLES THE GOD
97.THE NEW ACCELERATOR
98.MR. LEDBETTER’S VACATION
99.THE STOLEN BODY
100.MR. BRISHER’S TREASURE
101.MISS WINCHELSEA’S HEART
102.A DREAM OF ARMAGEDDON

The “Old-Fashioned” Literary Ghost Story Has Risen from the Grave—The Fellow Travellers & Other Stories by Sheila Hodgson!

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I usually have trouble finding modern ghost stories I like. I prefer the longer, old style of prose from the past. But I am thrilled to discover this collection. Sheila Hodgson wrote these in the antiquated style, which seems to have been forgotten, unfortunately, or, worse, relegated to remain imprisoned in a specific time that we are now past. Here is an excerpt and the Contents of this 1998 collection. I haven’t yet discovered which story contains that thing with no eyes on the cover. 😬

Table of Contents

Introduction
The Villa Martine
The Turning Point
The Lodestone Childermass
The Backward Glance
The Boat Hook
The Fellow Travellers
The Hand of Gideon Chant
Echoes from the Abbey
Here Am I, Where Are You?
The Smile
Come, Follow!

Introduction

“It began in a pub near Shepherd’s Bush. Several of us, scriptwriters at Television Centre, had been debating why the ghost story is so much more effective on radio than on television; why unseen terrors prove far more alarming than explicit visual horrors. Even in the hands of such a master as Nigel Kneale, there is a real danger that once you show your haunting phantom, one or two people in the audience will fall about laughing.

What frightens you may strike me as ridiculous; what terrifies me may cause you to hoot with derision. Fear is personal. I am not talking here of mass panic, which is a different matter altogether —a kind of infectious hysteria —but rather of icy, isolated dread, the conviction that one is utterly alone yet something has gone bump in the night. As a very small child I got lost under the bedclothes, and to this day feel a horrid frisson every time I read ‘Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’. That face of crumpled linen, you see.

As a result of our pub argument, I wrote to Broadcasting House suggesting that I adapt one of M. R. James’s stories for radio. I got a letter back saying thank you, they believed all the good ones had been done already. I checked with the Public Library. They were right.

Continue reading

The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told in Two Volumes (ed. Sanguine Woods), 2017 & 2018

final-large1My new book is coming this December from Wick Press. Check it out! And follow Wick Press on wordpress to stay up to date!

Source: The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told in Two Volumes (ed. Sanguine Woods), 2017 & 2018