Category Archives: Readings in the Genre: Hauntings


How sad is it that I’m one of the last generations that new what the cards are for in the opening sequence?  I remembered the toys for this movie and I remembered the Stay Puft marshmallow man.   It was therefore, not only a pleasant end to the course, but a wonderful refresher.  Yep, I’m hoping the rumors are true that they’re getting back for a third one just because the first is so funny.

Let’s see, what makes this a ghost story?  I’ll try to recount as many as I can.

  • Moving objects
  • Mist creature
  • Ectoplasmic
  • Exploding eggs
  • Demonic voices
  • Demons in the fridge
  • Creepy guy going after the girl
  • “Psychic” medium
  • Possession

So much fun.  Oh, thank you for assigning this at the end of the course.  I needed some Bill Murray to liven it up from Lovely Bones and Ghost Story.


Response to A Christmas Carol

I’m actually pleased to read this again and outside of the Christmas holiday.  Of course the lessons within the story are just as present and effective now as ever.  But it was fun to analyze this for the Ghost story aspect.

My favorite element of the ghost story in A Christmas Carol is that no only do we have the spirits of past, present, and future, but Scrooge becomes a ghost to haunt those other times.  It’s the best of ghost stories and Lovely Bones mashed together.

Including this story in with the required readings just drives home one of Scott’s points from the beginning of the class.  We were asked to talk about what makes a ghost story for us and most of us fell into the trap of saying it had to be scary.  A Christmas Carol is not scary to the reader.  At least not thriller scary.  You could argue that it is morally frightening for Scrooge and the reader because that’s the point.  But being afraid because a ghost is haunting you? No, that wasn’t the point of the book.  But it is a great end to the course of readings.  Ghost stories are another facet of genre fiction that can be used to teach a moral.  That’s how I would write ghost stories.

Real Haunted House

The assigned post for this week is to blog about a real haunted house.  Yep, had to research this one.  I’ve never spent the time “researching” haunted houses before.  Most of what I found aren’t real haunted houses.  Instead they were haunted house attractions for Halloween.

While not a house, there is one location out here in Utah I’ve heard about.  It’s a haunted hospital.  The hospital is in Tooele (pronounced To-will-ah), Utah and is now used for ghost hunts, tours, and they also have a fright tour.  Here’s a picture of the hospital.

Haunted Hospital in Tooele, Utah. Photo from Asylum 49

I only knew about this place because a lady I new at my last job went on a ghost hunt.  Sadly their group didn’t see anything when she went.

As you might expect, as a hospital there are many spirits that have apparently found their eternal residence there.  In looking this up I’ve learned that the hospital featured in Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel.  And it apparently was used to film The Stand by Steven King.  Huh, how about them apples?

It has the (to someone like me) seemingly common mists, orbs, EVP recordings.  However, there is one part of this place that sounds really interesting to me.  A portal.  Yep, there is a spiritual portal where apparently they dead want to go to thinking it is the way to heaven.  The story goes that a spirit by the name of Maria guards the portal to keep others from crossing it.  Mighty helpful lady.

But there’s also a dark entity there believed to be the spirit of Wes, a former patient who passed away there.  He apparently doesn’t want to cross over.


I picked this place for the post for two reasons:

1) It’s local and probably not as well known by my classmates (you never know)

2) I can see the idea that a hospital would have many instances of paranormal activity and could provide for quite a story for someone living and sensitive to such activity.  I also think it’s interesting that while so many people do not like the feel of hospitals that there would be spirits that hang around it.  That could be interpreted in different ways depending on what you want to happen in a story.  With the plethora of instances in the hospital, it would be interesting to write a story about someone who (unlike most of the visitors) does not use technology in any way to communicate with the spirits.  Personally that’s a hangup I have with ghost stories.

Let me know if you have heard of this place or have or will visit it.  I’d like to read actual accounts.

Thoughts on the movie Paranormal Activity

If I could get away with a one line response to the movie for class I’d say: Some things you just shouldn’t mess with. The recent attacks in Boston and attempts to poison political officials should remind us all that there is enough negative and evil stuff in the world that why does anyone need to invite more of that into their life.

I think that one of the qualities of ghost stories that is so effective is the unknown. Most of the time you aren’t going to see anything. Whereas monsters and killers you have a higher chance of actually seeing them. Both types of stories can use the surprise jump out at your ploy. But ghost stories don’t have to show you what it was and still scare you.

I’ve posted before what I don’t like about ghost stories. I really have a hard time accepting that departed people will come back to haunt and scare us. As a religious guy, I just think that our loved ones move on to other things. They may come see births and weddings, but I expect that they’ll be busy most of the time. As for the evil people who lived here? I hope in swift eternal judgment and punishment.

Having said that, this is what worked for me in the Paranormal Activity movie. I like that the psychic came and said there are spirits and then there are demons. Again, as a religious guy, I believe that Satan has his followers that, due to their rebellion, are unable to have bodies so they prey on those that would either welcome their presence or play around with stuff they shouldn’t. There are stories in the bible about people being possessed by evil spirits. I don’t believe that those spirits are deceased beings, rather they are those beings who never came to earth and are now trying to deceive mankind.

I don’t believe that they are just waiting around haunting places. I don’t think that’s how it works. I think they’re waiting for those that engage in negativity and play around with dark things that no one should play around. If someone opens themselves to that influence they yes, I can see how they’d be possessed or have weird stuff happen to them.

Other than the concept of the story, the rest of it I didn’t like. Like I said, why invite more of that into your life. If you haven’t seen these movies I don’t think you’re missing anything.

Thoughts on Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado

While the program is in writing fiction, this book was non-fiction. I don’t have a problem with that because it showed how fiction mirrors life. There is something interesting that I have been noticing in the stories we’ve read for this course. It is the presence of anger and contention.

The first book of the semester was The Haunting of Hill House. While there wasn’t a whole lot of anger between each other, it was still present. The main character leaves her sister’s place under less that amiable circumstances and while at Hill House is filled with jealousy. Those aren’t good feelings and did lead to contention.

The second book was Hell House and there is all sorts of ill feelings towards each other and their methods of working. So again, anger and contention.

Next was Ghost Story. Grudges, arguments, resentment, etc were there as well.

Then, the Shining. Jack has anger issues.

The Lovely Bones. This is a different type of story from the previous. It’s a story from the dead watching their family.

The Others. Definitely resentment, anger, and contention in that one.

Amityville Horror. The first thing I noticed was how the father acts immediately after getting into the house. He’s angry and snapping at everyone and refusing to help settle the house.

So by the time we get to Grave’s End, I’m not at all surprised when she admits they are having problems with the marriage. In the stories listed above (with the exception of Lovely Bones) they all have differences in what happens in ghost story part of it, but they also all have anger and contention. Having not been a horror reader before this program, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you anything about horror other than it’s meant to scare you so you can’t sleep. But I find it interesting that in both actual and fictional accounts, the people involved are not the happiest of people going into the story nor do they “play well with others.” If I had to make a list of aspects required in a horror story involving the paranormal or ghosts, I’d have to list anger and contention at the top of the list.

Thoughts on Amityville Horror

I often find myself going back and forth between belief and skepticism whenever I hear stories of hauntings. I believe that everyone has a spirit and that we do pass on after these life. And I do believe that there are devils and demons or at the very least angry spirits who can’t accept their fate. But something I’ve never understood, is if there really are spirits, good and bad, why would they care about us? Okay, so I can kind of see why previous owners of the house would be attached to their home and not like someone else there. But I don’t see how or why powerful demons would go after individuals living in a house. Wouldn’t they have something more important to be doing? I know, those of you who have read my work in progress might be ready to scratch their heads at what I’m saying. But I’m working through that.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t some serious scary moments in this book. But because it’s a “true story” it read too much like a deposition than a story. The majority of the book, to me, felt like someone just relaying the events without having me experience them with the characters. Others may not have felt that way. But it did feel that way to me. The wording in the book is a great example of filter words with how often we see “George could feel” instead of “George felt.” That’s a big problem I always have to go back through in my own work and something I still miss often. I did try to keep an open mind which is why many of the events did freak me out when I imagined myself in their situation. But too often I was pulled out of the story so that I wasn’t experiencing it with them.

That said, let me repeat that the events they experience would be incredibly scary and would be an interesting study for parapsychologist and others. I can even see how it would spur such a following in film. Yeah, pretty sure I wouldn’t like my little girl talking to a devil pig. That’s just messed up.

Thoughts on The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

There have only been three books that have made me completely depressed to the point of tears.  The first case, I read Where the Red Fern Grows in fourth grade and I will admit I was bawling at the end.  Second, when I read Dobby’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  But in both cases I was able to get over the emotion quickly.  The first chapter of The Lovely Bones set a horrible taste in my mouth.  It has kept me angry not only at the events but I honestly feel like some details do not need to be written regardless of free speech. It crossed a line on what kind of content and images I want in my mind.   But that’s my opinion.

The rest of the concept of the novel was … interesting.  As a deeply religious person, I have hope for what heaven will be like for everyone.  And based on my personal beliefs of heaven, I’ve never imagined grief on behalf of someone innocent like Susie.  I can see someone like Mr. Harvey experiencing grief when he dies because, as a Christian, I believe and hope that murderers get their eternal judgment when they die.  The concept that Susie would be filled with grief, not just for her unsolved murder, but because of missed opportunities is not something I had really thought about so that part was interesting to me.

However, aside from the horrible concept of hurting a child, I had other problems with the novel.  As one of my classmates said, using Susie as the narrator began to feel like a gimmick.  And I am leaning in agreement there.  If not a gimmick, then at least a poorly assessed tool for narrating the story.  It some ways Susie’s narration feels like an excuse for the writer to be able to bounce from person to person.  But just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work as a method of telling the story.  Overall, there was a depressing realism to the method.  Bad stuff happens, especially to kids, and the culprit can go unpunished and even though Susie is following people around hoping for resolution, unfortunately it doesn’t really happen.  At least not the way she wanted it.  (That’s why I hope for eternal judgment).

So overall it was an interesting story.  But content wise, I’m not going to recommend this to anyone.  I feel that the method of her death was just for shock factor and I feel, personally, it crossed a line.  If this wasn’t required reading, I never would have read it.

Thoughts on The Others – still creepy years later

I saw this movie when it first came out and had to see it multiple times over to catch all the little subtle hints throughout it that revealed to you what was really happening. Now, a decade later, it was so fun to watch it again and relive all the creep factors of the film. We’re talking in class about how–if possible– to translate the use of lighting, camera angles, and other film techniques into the written word. Many of these techniques I don’t think can be translated because books don’t have a musical score for example. While I’m still lost on how to translate those aspects of film into a book, there’s something else that I’m reminded about with fiction.
Last January, at the opening night for residency, Dr. Wendland introduced the topic for the week. We talked about that one line you’d want your reader to have like “trust me, this will be good.” That’s how I feel about The Others. It’s definitely one that is “Trust Me” with a malicious and devious grin when that’s really a lie because you spend the whole time thinking you’re getting the truth and then learn the twist at the end. Or at least that’s what happened to me the first time I saw the movie.
Which brings me to a question about whether we can do this in books. I feel like a twist is expected in film. But can we really get away with lying throughout the whole novel and then “Surprise! Not what you thought!” I kind of think that you can’t do that in a novel. There’s something different between video and books that draws a line on what is allowed. Almost like an unspoken rule that a reader is putting their life in your hands so you’d better not lie to them. But it’s expected in film. Is it because a book takes longer to get through than a film so the audience has invested more to the book than the film so you’d better not jerk them around too much? I haven’t read every book so maybe there are books out there that have a large twist like The Others. If I may, that’s what I’d like in the responses to this post. Do you think you can twist the story as much in a book as you can in a movie? What are examples of books that tell you one tale until the very end and then play the “gotcha” card?

Thoughts on The Shining by Stephen King

My very first encounter (that I can remember) with this is actually from the movie Twister. The film version of The Shining is playing on the drive in movie theater when the tornados come through. I remember something about a boy on a tricycle in the hotel and then later when the tornado shreds the screen you see Jack Nicholson’s face pushing through the splintered door. I was told that it was a scary movie and later learned it was The Shining. After that, I didn’t have any other exposure to the story except for those two clips whenever I watch Twister again or when playing a movie game like Scene It.
Fast forward to January 2012, I’m in the Marriott Hotel in Greensburg, PA during my first residency in the SHU Writing Popular Fiction program and as I’m getting ready for bed I see a new scene from the movie. The elevator doors opening and a tidal wave of blood spilling out. June 2012, my second residency, and it is on again on cable and I see the exact same part. January 2013, my third residency, and I actually catch the beginning few minutes on my way down to the lobby for late night activities with my fellow students. And then, lo and behold, it is assigned for the horror reading in the genres course. And the three scenes I’d seen before were nothing compared to the experience of reading the novel for the first time. Now I will try to be vague in referencing points because I don’t want to spoil anything. That’s my way of saying thanks to everyone that had read and/or seen the movie and let me go 30 years without spoiling the fright for me.
As the second only Stephen King novel I’ve read in my life, I say what I said last semester. I can see why he has such a following and is revered by many as a superior writer. The man can weave a tale and scare you. And it was the little things that all add up for me, twisting me up until it really gets crazy.
For example:
I think that it doesn’t make a difference if your parents were always happy or if they struggled, the first time you learn of the concept of divorce, that works on your little mind and creates fears no child has to deal with. We’ve all been disciplined by parents so I think on some level we understand the fear of a parent losing their temper. I just turned 30 and I have never been stung by a bee, hornet, or wasp. In fact, I don’t even know the difference between a yellow jacket, hornet, or wasp without looking it up. But the fact that I’ve never been stung, I live by a lake in a desert state, and have wasps or whatever buzzing around my fence and gutters each summer, scares me like nothing else. For all I know I’m allergic! I’ve been in places where I felt figuratively and literally abandoned and alone. I’ve been snowed in for days where we couldn’t get any where if we needed help. And I’ve had nightmares that have woken me up yelling. Yep, had one just last year. Scared my wife. That is what struck me so strongly with this novel. It hit so many cords that no matter what our upbringing, we can all relate to something in there. By the way, I love that Danny is so determined to read so he can understand what Tony is showing him. I think I would have tried harder as well at his age if I was in the same situation.
My first semester in this program, I read Stephen King’s non-fiction book On Writing. It is so clear that he believes what he says and that he just wasn’t trying to come up with something to give the people that pester him for the secret to his success. Now, I’m not saying that there weren’t relatable aspects of the other stories we’ve read for this class. But this novel hit me harder because there were more things that I could relate to. And for me, that is a huge key to the success of the story or not. If I can’t relate to it, I can’t internalize it, I can’t put myself in their position, and then I don’t care about what happens to the characters. And that’s a huge problem in my own story. I’m very talented at make you not care about what happens to my characters. I can come with all kinds of events and action for a novel but in the end, if you don’t care about what happens to the characters other than that they stop so the novel ends, then I’ve failed as a writer and story teller. It’s clear to me, that Stephen King either experienced for himself, or from someone close to him, an abusive/alcoholic father, nightmares, cabin fever, etc, etc ,etc because of how well he was able to get me to believe it was happening to me. I’ve even started to check myself when I start staring off into space trying to concentrate and think through a new scene for my novel.

Well done, sir. I’m not sure I’ll sleep well tonight.

Thoughts on Ghost Story by Peter Straub

I am really disappointed with this book. I came into it all excited because of the praise given by Stephen King on the front cover. I actually read my first King novel last semester. It was amazing! So when I saw him praise this novel on the cover I was expecting a lot. And then I read the “preface” and thought, “oooooh, creepy and great potential.” Then I fell asleep for most of the first half of the novel. I’m really struggling on how to come up with something good that I’m taking from the novel. Stephen King says that the terror just mounts and mounts. The only reason it really did that with me is because I was expecting that because King set that up for me. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The preface set it up, then I felt like nothing was really going on until the end of the Fenny Bates story. But I felt like I had to wait until the middle of the novel beforewe finally get to something. The weird deaths of the sheep, Jon’s suicide, and Lewis’ near death for example. But then it peters out a bit for me. If I hadn’t seen King’s comment on the cover I probably wouldn’t have been expect quite as much.

However, it does have a few strengths that resonate with me as a writer rather than just a reader. I did read the first 200+ pages very quickly. Even though it still bored me. And that does say something. While in retrospect I don’t recall a whole lot of action in that first 200+ pages, it does say something to Straub’s ability and voice as a writer that I went through almost the first half of the book before really paying attention to the page number. There wasn’t enough going on for me in the first half of the novel to really recount when my wife asked what I was reading and what I thought. But his voice when writing drove me on so that I would find something better.

The other aspect of strength is that this novel resonated as more of a psychological terror than an actual ghost story. The Fenny Bates story clearly sets the tone that the past haunts us. That is something I think we all can relate to after we’ve reached a specific age point in our lives. Everything from small regrets to larger traumatic events we’ve witnessed, carried out, or failed to prevent stays with us. So as a writer, that’s something I like about the story and will be the ultimate lesson I’m taking away from this novel. So far I’ve focused on how authors utilize character feelings and opinions to pull us into a story. Ghost Story takes it further for me by drawing me into the past of a character to help me see how debilitating it can be for the character. For my current project (my thesis) this will be a great tool as a stumbling block for the main character.