Jilly: Victorian Tales of Terror

It’s that scary time of year.

The nights are getting shorter, darker and colder, at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. We just passed Halloween (previously the Celtic festival of Samhain), when the barrier between our world and the realm of ghosts and spirits melts away and supernatural types return from the grave to threaten our orderly existence.

In other words, ‘tis the season for ghost stories and terrible tales.

We dipped a toe into the icy water here recently with our tag-team Scottish flash fiction adventure featuring the restless ghosts of tragic Alanis McLeish and her twin baby daughters (go here for Kay’s fabulous final instalment and links to the rest of the tale).

That tempted me to re-read Jenny Crusie’s Maybe This Time, her smart, scary homage to Henry James’s influential 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, complete with isolated, crumbling gothic setting; orphaned children; sinister housekeeper; and murderous ghosts. Thank heavens for the Crusie-heroine-turned-temporary-governess.

Maybe This Time whetted my appetite for Victorian horror. Click here for an interesting feature in Atlas Obscura explaining why the Victorian era was such a boom time for scary stories. It seems to be linked to the rise of the periodical press which fuelled a demand for genre fiction, combined with a period of rapid technological advancement in which things which had previously seemed impossible suddenly became real and normal.

Then yesterday, with uncanny serendipity, I found Victorian Tales of Terror, a recently republished anthology of carefully curated period fiction edited by Hugh Lamb. There are sixteen spine-chilling stories by famous (Dickens, de Maupassant) and little-known authors, male and female, English, European and American.

Continue reading

Michaeline: Twitter Games Weekend, Part 2!

A young fortuneteller sees a male shadow with a gun in her crystal ball.

I see . . . I see . . . I see Humphrey Bogart in your future! “Here’s looking at you, kid.” (Slumps over.) Image via Wikipedia Commons

Yesterday, we took a look at our influences from the past with the “Who are Your Literary Parents” game. Today, let’s move our past into the future with a new game from Bitter Script Reader, who says: “Good news! Your next pilot’s been ordered to series before you’ve written it.

“The catch: it’s pre-cast with your celebrity crushes when you were 13. So how are you building a show around that?”

I said:
“OMG! They got Robin Williams! OK, it’s going to be a Continue reading

Michaeline: Poughkeepsie Files #1, “In the Pines”

Japanese print of pines in the fog, barely depicted, and it's on a folding screen, so it's very segmented. Evokes the subconscious.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Where do story ideas come from? It’s a common question, but that doesn’t make it any easier to answer. One science fiction writer glibly answered a fan with “I get them mail-order from Poughkeepsie” (or so the story goes), and that’s where Continue reading

Jilly: Good Ghost Story–The Girl in a Swing

Do you enjoy a good ghost story? They’re not usually my thing, but around this time of year they creep up on me whether I will or no. Like yesterday, when I found myself drawn into Michaeline’s excellent and satisfying re-telling of the story of Old Betty and Raw Head the razorback hog.

That set me to wondering what’s the best ghost story I ever read. Richard Adams’ The Girl in a Swing won by a mile. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is by the author of Watership Down. He wrote a number of other novels in various genres, but as far as I’m aware this is his only scary story. It may not be the most famous ghost story I’ve ever read, but it’s the one that had the most profound and lasting effect on me.

The Girl in a Swing was published in 1980 so it must be more than thirty years since I first read it, and I can still remember how it made me feel. It’s not a slam-bam horror story. There are no chainsaws or buckets of blood. It’s a story of ordinary people living normal lives in a present-day world. It’s very low-key and the pace is deliberately slow. The writing is quality, as you’d expect, and little by little, it drew me in until I was completely hooked. Richard Adams did a brilliant job of making me care about the characters, and at the end I was horrified, scared, shocked, moved and very sad.

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Jilly: Haunting Love Stories

books-that-go-bump-in-the-nightDo you enjoy ghost stories?

I don’t like sad or scary fiction, and since ghosts are a consequence of death and are usually associated with violence, unhappiness, revenge, terrible secrets and unfinished business, they’re not a natural choice for me.

Despite the caveat above, every October I get caught up in the atmosphere of approaching darkness, and ubiquitous Halloween/All Souls/Samhain imagery.

Yesterday I was looking for something seasonal but not too scary to read, and thinking that unlike vampires, demons or shifters, ghosts don’t really lend themselves to romantic fiction. A furred, fanged or soulless hero is one thing, but an incorporeal one?

I asked Mr. Google, and to my surprise, I discovered that Goodreads has a 95-book list called Ghostly Romance.

I spent a happy hour or so investigating. Continue reading

Michaeline: Five Warning Signs of a Haunted Hotel

Vanish ad from 1948 with a housewife staring down a ghost in a "modern" bathroom.

Haunted hotel? Stare down those ghosts and turn them into story fodder! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, my travels took me to The E— Hotel, and based on some observations, you could totally bring some ghosts to your next fictional hotel stay.

5. A visit to the lap pool is . . . refreshing, but a bit creepy. It’s tucked away in the basement, and as you walk around and around, you notice there’s one spot in the pool that’s a little dark in color, and the current runs a little swifter. It gets darker and deeper the longer you walk around and around, and then you realize, you are walking widdershins. Time to get out of the pool. Let’s try the one outdoors.

4. Ah, that’s better. Starlight! Beautiful summer night, with the heat lingering in the concrete. No lifeguard on duty, of course, but it’s not too deep. You Continue reading

Michaeline: Water Therapy

Contemplative woman bathing 1915

Warm water is a womb for creativity. Why are there no fantasies that use the bathtub as a portal for another world? “Calgon, take me away!” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, it’s summer vacation, and even though my daughter’s summer vacation is only three and a half weeks, I’m already going a little crazy. She headed for camp, I cleaned the house, we hosted Girl Scouts from the US, and today she had to take a test for placement in her cram school – she’s studying for the dreaded Japanese high school entrance exams. No time for writing.

Rush, rush, rush. And the heat means I didn’t sleep very well last week either.

So, I could have sat my butt in the library and stared at the screen for four hours. But instead, I chose to take a bath.

I’ve mentioned my local hot springs before. They have a lovely outdoor bath that Goldilocks would adore – not too hot, not too cold. And no bears climbing up the mountain, either! Continue reading

Kay: Halloween—or 50 Ways to Find Your Lover

Fortune-Teller-Image-GraphicsFairy-thumb-150x150Halloween goes back a long way—about 2,000 years, to the time of the Celts, who celebrated the new year on November 1, the day that marked the end of summer and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead blurred, and ghosts returned to earth. The presence of otherworldly spirits helped the Druids, their priests, to predict the future. Continue reading

Michaeline: Halloween antagonists and villains

Yoshitoshi ryakuga

An antagonist comes to life on the page.

When I’m reading, I really appreciate a nuanced antagonist – not an evil, evil bad guy, but someone who has some depth and dimension. But when I’m writing, I tend to think of protagonists and antagonists in very simple, moralistic terms – I want a good guy and a bad guy, and I tend to enjoy writing over-the-top characters – all head and no real body. Maybe I can excuse myself because Continue reading

Michaeline: Halloween and Love Stories

By Ellen Clapsaddle (1865–1934) (Drawing by Ellen Clapsaddle) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Practical magic

(BONUS! Mouse over the text to find the mystery Halloween links!)

 

Last week I talked about Halloween being the beginning of the story season. This week, I’ll concentrate on another great Halloween tradition: romance.

To our modern minds, Halloween is half cutesy kids’ stuff, and half horror and blood. But 150 years ago, people also thought Halloween was the best time to find your future mate. The boundaries between the everyday world and the world beyond blurred, and single men and women used all sorts of fortune-telling tricks with apples and mirrors. On a more practical level, Halloween parties brought young people together, and Halloween games gave them a chance to sneak off alone into the kale patch to seek their fortunes and canoodle in the dark.

So it should come as no surprise that Halloween has inspired some sweet, some sad, and some scary love stories. There’s something about a shiver and a chill that adds a little extra frisson to a romance.

One of my favorite stories Continue reading