• Spooky Stories

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 21 comments

    ‘Tis the season for reading, writing, and talking about horror. The last book I read that really scared me was The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Whenever I mention this book to fellow readers, I usually get one of two reactions. They either say something along the lines of ‘Oh, that book scared me shitless’ or ‘What’s it called again? Oh, is it what The Haunting is based on? That movie sucked…’ But as any bibliophile knows, the book is almost always better than the movie or TV show. In the case of The Haunting of Hill House, that’s definitely true. (Although I’ve heard the 1963 movie was well done.)

    The book is only a little over 250 pages and so mesmerizing that you can easily finish it in a few hours. To simply say that it’s a ghost story and revolves around a haunted house doesn’t do the novel justice. Jackson sweeps the reader along with her protagonist Eleanor’s descent into … madness? Possession by Hill House’s spirits? Jackson leaves the reader guessing. She switches between a third-person omniscient and third-person limited seamlessly, which makes it difficult to pinpoint instances of unreliability. Between the shifting narrative mode and the dreamlike scenery (similar to Daphne Du Maurier’s descriptions of Manderley), one can readily empathize with Eleanor’s shaky hold on reality.

    So that’s my two cents worth regarding the “best” horror novel. What about the rest of you WBNers? Which novels and short stories would you recommend reading this Halloween?


    In addition to writing for WriteByNight’s blog, Jenna Cooper writes for BE Mag and a blog called FemThreads.  Aside from writing, Jenna served as an AmeriCorps Member from 2008-2010 and will start her M.S. in Information Studies in Fall 2012.  She graduated in 2009 with a B.A. in English from the University of Texas.


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    David Duhr

    I haven’t read any Stephen King since high school, but I remember a couple that scared the living piss out of me. On a family trip I recall not being able to sleep because I was reading PET SEMATARY. THE SHINING and IT also had me soiling myself.

    Since then? I can’t think of a single book or story I’ve read that has frightened me. Is it because I’ve become extraordinarily brave in my 20s and 30s? Yes.


    Edgar Allan Poe is my pick, hands down. After countless readings, “The Raven” still gives me the chills. The somewhat lesser known “The Fall of the House of Usher” is just plain terrifying, and pleasingly meta. (Will I ever tire of meta-fiction? No.) And it doesn’t hurt that Poe himself was a creepy-creeperson. Nothing like a dark personality penning dark tales. It’s all so wonderfully … dark.

    David Duhr

    Oh man, I forgot about Poe. That thing I said before about being brave? Forget it. Poe scares the hell outta me.


    Unlike the extraordinarily brave Mr Duhr, I avoid horror novels because I am simply not brave enough. However, I’d still like to make a shameless plug for a book that is neither horror nor thriller but that had me locked to its pages in ghastly fascination: The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sheriff. It’s a sci-fi novel about the dystopia that befalls the world when the moon crashes into the earth. It was published in 1939 and then exquisitely reprinted by Persephone Books in 2002. Okay, it’s not quite a Halloween book but it is gripping enough to distract you from… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Dude looks a little scary, I will say that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:R._C._Sherriff.jpg


    You’re right. His deathly pallor looks as if he’s just had a back-to-back reading marathon of Jackson, Poe and King.


    Thanks for the suggestion!


    I agree with Duhr on “It” (and I too read it in high school). Scariest book I’d ever picked up. Disturbing in every possible way, from the spooky “Ack” moments to the more subtle horrors that crawled under my skin. I had to create a “No-‘It’-after-dark” rule because if I read it at night, I’d get too terrified to turn off the light. Then I got scared to even look at it at night, so I had to put it under the bed until dawn. Then, a couple of years ago, I read “World War Z” and it trumped “It,”… Read more »


    PS: If you want to read that story, download it because Scribd is screwing up the spacing online. Boo, Scribd.

    Also: Not exactly literature, but does anyone remember that Garfield cartoon where Garfield wakes up and his house is abandoned and crumbling, and Jon and Odie are gone, he doesn’t know what happens but starts freaking out about death and existence? When I read it as a kid, I found it genuinely unsettling. More about it (along with all the creepy strips about it) here: http://popzeuscomic.blogspot.com/2007/03/disturbing-garfield-comic-strips-from.html

    David Duhr

    Oh, that Garfield thing is one of the saddest … things (I am awesome with words today) I’ve seen in a while. I loved Garfield as a kid, but I am damn glad I didn’t see this string or I probably would’ve cried. And panicked.

    WORLD WAR Z, huh? I’ll have to check that out. After I read your story.

    Speaking of books and movies (that’s a teaser for tomorrow’s post), what did you think of the IT miniseries? James Spader, if memory serves. (And John Ritter?)


    I read “It” because the miniseries scared the crap out of me, and my cousin swore the book was even scarier. (She was right.) While the show doesn’t stand the test of time as well as, say, the movie version of “The Shining” (still the scariest thing I’ve ever seen), parts of it frighten the crap out of me to this day. Especially the scene in the shower with the clown coming out of the drain and OH MY GOD THOSE TEETH. That, and the sailboat going into the drain, because you know what’s going to happen next. The sailboat… Read more »


    PS: Upon a second late-night read-through, I’m thinking my allusion to “Psycho” in my previous comment (scary shower scene!) was too subtle.

    So I’ll just throw this out there without subtlety: Hitchcock? How’s that for spooky writing? I haven’t read any of his stuff, though. Could anyone recommend a particularly eerie one? Or are they all incredibly eerie?

    Lynda Nuss

    Not the scariest, but possibly the most absorbing — Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. It’s a bestseller from 1795, recently reissued with an introduction by Stephen King, who (I think) called Lewis the Sid Vicious of the gothic scene. It is also — bar none — the dirtiest book I’ve ever read. There’s a scene involving a poisonous snake that must be read to be believed. If you think that today’s gothic is over-the-top, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.


    Ooh, I’ve heard of The Monk, but I never heard it called dirty. I’ll have to check it out on Project Gutenberg.

    David Duhr

    Man, that sounds great. Thanks for the tip, Lynda.

    Kinda reminds me of Maldoror and the dolphin.

    scott cynar

    i love dirty!!

    Marlo Holdren

    Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark……A series of three children’s books written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The books are an amalgamation of folklore and urban legends adapted by Schwartz. The titles are: Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (1981), More Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (1984), Scary Stories 3 : More Tales To Chill Your Bones (1991) and Scary Stories 4 : The Tales of the Evil Earlobe (1996). The illustrations are especially atmospheric and spooky. I’m shivering just thinking about it!! :)

    Josh Squires

    I LOVE Shirley Jackson. I did a dissertation on her her use of the Gothic. Also, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark… I bought one at a school book fair in 3rd grade. WHY WAS I ALLOWED ACCESS TO THIS BOOK AT THAT AGE>! It was SO SCARY!

    These days I always go back to my anthology, The Dark Descent. It’s a collection of short horror fiction that includes all of the greats from Stephen King and Lovecraft, Bierce and Clive Barker… Even some authors you’ve maybe never heard of. Huge book, short stories, chilling. I highly recommend it.

    Leah Kaminsky

    Yes to Shirley Jackson! Selected Shorts did a reading of one her stories several years back and that final scene still stick with me. I forget what it’s called, but it has something to do with a lake house and summer people staying past Labor Day.

    And is there anything that can beat The Lottery? I attest there is *not.*

    Marlo Holdren

    And not to forget H.P. Lovecraft’s stories….those will keep you awake at night. :)

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