We decided to do something a bit different this month—instead of just one Mind Meld at the end of the month, we’re doing four, covering four times as many of our favorite scary reads. We’ve asked our bookish friends near and far about their current favorite horror favorites, and are breaking them out by the type of monster or supernatural foe featured, from werewolves, to witches, to ghosts, zombies, vampires, and more.
Next up: What are your favorite books or stories featuring ghosts or witches?
“Shottle Bop,” by Theodore Sturgeon
As a teen I became obsessed with the work of Theodore Sturgeon, thanks to my fondness for two episodes of the original Star Trek he wrote (“Shore Leave” and “Amok Time”). I scoured used bookstores for every Sturgeon paperback I could find, and was thrilled to discover that he was just as gifted at crafting great horror as he was at science fiction. The story that freaked me out the most was a 1941 piece called “Shottle Bop” (I read it in the 1972 paperback collection The Worlds of Theodore Sturgeon, although it’s been reprinted elsewhere as well). I’ll never forget reading it at dusk, in my darkening room, and being incredibly creeped out by the notion that a man who could see ghosts and ghostly body parts (a floating human hand drifts away with “fingers fluttering”). It has a twist ending that haunted me for weeks. I reread it not long ago and was pleased to discover that although parts of it can now be called “quaint,” it retains most of its power.
Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, Halloween expert, and award-winning prose writer whose most recent releases include the anthology Haunted Nights (co-edited with Ellen Datlow), the collection The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats, and the nonfiction study Ghosts: A Haunted History.
Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman
For witches, I’d have to recommend Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman. It has little in common with the movie based on it, in that it’s far creepier. (The aunts in the book aren’t friendly. They’re dark as s***.)
Stina Leicht is a two time Campbell Award nominee for Best New Writer and a Crawford Award finalist. Her latest novel, Blackthorne, following Cold Iron, debuted in August 2017 from Saga Press. She is currently working on Persephone Station, a feminist space opera to be published in 2018 by Saga Press.
Ghost Story, by Peter Straub
Peter Straub’s Ghost Story is an eerie meditation on what it might truly mean to be haunted…not at random, but with cause. Four successful men at the end of their lives must confront an implacable force from the past, one that doesn’t recognize age, infirmity, or anything resembling a statute of limitations. A terrifying reckoning for old mistakes is at hand.
A.M. Dellamonica’s first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her fourth, A Daughter of No Nation, won the 2016 Prix Aurora. She has published 40 short stories and one anthology in print, teaches creative writing at two universities.
Ghost Story by Peter Straub—I think I was 14 when I read Ghost Story. I was home sick, disappeared into the book, and emerged with the sheets drenched in cold sweat. Later re-reads filled me with admiration for the book’s ambition, and for the depths of its literary game.
David Annandale writes Warhammer 40,000, Horus Heresy and Age of Sigmar fiction for Black Library.
“The Husband Stitch,” by Carmen Maria Machado
When I was about 10 years old, I discovered Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, brilliantly (and terrifyingly) illustrated by Stephen Gammell. The stories themselves are quite simply told, but I still remember the first-time thrill of actually enjoying being scared, and Gammell’s artwork is more atmospheric than many high-budget horror films today. These books were my first introduction to classic scary stories like “the man with the hook hand,” “the hitchhiker who turns out to be a ghost,” and “the girl with a ribbon around her neck.” They stuck with me, coloring my daydreams and nightmares for decades to come.
As I’ve grown older, I love spotting those familiar tropes when they appear in newer works of fiction; my current favorite is “The Husband Stitch,” a short story by Carmen Maria Machado, originally published in Granta in 2014 and more recently included in the 2017 anthology The New Voices of Fantasy. Machado turns the simple idea of “the girl with a ribbon around her neck” into so much more: an increasingly surreal and painful performance piece with powerful commentary on women’s roles within society and the homes, reflecting how mere existence can feel like being trapped within the confines of a horror story.
“The Dreams in the Witch House,” by H.P. Lovecraft
Most of Lovecraft’s stories confront the reader with evil that is monstrous, cosmic, and unspeakably alien. “The Dreams in the Witch House,” however, is intimate in comparison. Keziah Mason is gleefully malevolent, eager to drag you into her wickedness, and Brown Jenkin is the most unsettling familiar a witch could ask for. Of all Lovecraft’s stories, this is the one that really gets to me.
Richard Baker, author of Valiant Dust, available November 7, 2017.
“The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker
It’s been a long while since I was truly scared by a story. These days, when I read horror, my appreciation is more along the lines of, “Isn’t that clever,” than any actual fear. But I remember when I was a teenager, having a whole week of nightmares after reading “The Judge’s House” by Bram Stoker, collected in Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Tales. It’s a ghost story with a lovely slow build-up: first, local people telling the protagonist to stay away from the house; then several nights of spooky behavior from rats; finally, the actual manifestation of a ghost whom I visualized very easily and who scared the crap out of me. I don’t know if I’d still find the story frightening, but I don’t want to reread it to find out.
Jim Gardner, author of All Those Explosions Were Some Else’s Fault, available November 7.
The Grin of the Dark, by Ramsey Campbell
How can you pick one? The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson, of course. But also, The Shining, by Stephen King. Ghost Story by Peter Straub. And hey, pssst, fans of scary novels, here’s one most of you will never have heard of—Dead White, by Alan Ryan. A small New England town gets snowed in during a blizzard that goes on and on and on…yet somehow a circus train pulls into town, and it’s full of homicidal ghostly clowns. Yeah, you read that right. Homicidal ghostly clowns, circus train, blizzard, trapped populace. For something more recent and in a similar vein, Ramsey Campbell’s The Grin of the Dark is the creepiest thing I’ve read in a decade.
Christopher Golden is the New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of such novels as Snowblind, Ararat, Of Saints and Shadows, and Tin Men. With Mike Mignola, he is the co-creator of two cult favorite comic book series, Baltimore and Joe Golem: Occult Detective. As an editor, his anthologies include Seize the Night, Dark Cities, and The New Dead, among others.
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
This is the topic that sneaks into some of my novels, which ought to influence me, and it does. I don’t write that scary (my favorite ghost is in The Time of the Ghosts, and it scares some people sometimes) so Barbara Hambly’s southern magic users in her (probably non-fantasy) Benjamin January series epitomize one group of my favorite witches. Ghosts, on the other hand are all compared with Henry James The Turn of the Screw is small but perfect. I suspect I like to read about the darkness of people more than any other kind of darkness. When we studied Kafka at school everyone else said “How strange,” when I was saying “Yep, everyday life.”
Dr. Gillian Polack is a writer, editor, scholar, fan and teacher. Gillian is a member of Book View Café and blogs for The History Girls. She was the 2014 GUFF delegate. Two novels and her 2016 research monograph were shortlisted for awards. Gillian edited two anthologies (one award-shortlisted) and has seventeen short stories published and can be found on Twitter: @gillianpolack.
The Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones
One of my favorite stories with a ghost is Time of the Ghost, by Diana Wynne Jones. The narrator is a ghost for much of the book, one of four sisters but not certain which one, though she is quite certain that something very bad happened, or is happening. She revisits her childhood trying to understand and affect her present, and to save herself. It’s not ‘boo!’ scary but psychological unsettlingness at its best — nightmarish when you really start to think about the horror of being in that situation.
Strangers, by Taichi Yamada
The book I’d like to suggest is Strangers by Taichi Yamada. A weirdly quiet and subdued ghost story until the tension ratchets up to a harrowing conclusion. A middle aged man, finding himself a failure in life—recently divorced and without a job, travels back to the part of the city where he grew up and visits the apartment his parents lived in before they passed away. What he finds there are his parents, alive again, and eerily going through their everyday chores. I can’t emphasize enough how subtly creepy this one is. It plays with the dark side of familial love and nostalgia. There’s no other book like it.
Jeffrey Ford is the author of novels including The Physiognomy, The Girl in the Glass, The Cosmology of the Wider World, and The Shadow Year. His short fiction has appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies, from MAD Magazine to The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. His latest novella, The Twilight Pariah, is available from Tor.com Publishing.
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
Possibly the most chilling haunted house story every written, Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is so disturbingly effective because it is a ghost story where the ghost never fully appears. It is the house itself which is almost sentient. The wonderful opening paragraph simply references a mysterious ‘whatever walked there’. What walks within the walls of Hill House is a combination of the genius loci, the malign spirit of place, spectres of former occupants, and, most frightening of all, the memories that haunt Eleanor the protagonist.
Don’t read it on your own. Don’t read it late at night.
Tracy Fahey is a Gothic fiction writer. Her short fiction is published in fifteen US and UK anthologies. In 2017 her first collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was nominated for a British Fantasy Award. Her new novel The Girl In The Fort is released in October 2017 by Fennec, an imprint of Fox Spirit Press.
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
The scary level on this book sneaks in–the harmless couple down the hall, the innocent gifts and favors–the strange prickling sensation on the back of your neck slowly ratcheting up to full blown paranoia. Once this story gets under your skin, it will haunt you.
Kim Liggett is the author of Blood and Salt and The Last Harvest. At 16, Kim Liggett left her rural midwestern town for New York City to pursue a career in music. Along with lending her voice to hundreds of studio recordings, she was a backup singer for some of the biggest rock bands in the ’80s. Kim spends her free time studying the tarot and scouring Manhattan for vials of rare perfume and the perfect egg white cocktail.
“Mothers Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying,” by Alice Sola Kim
The scariest ghost story was a tough choice. I had to go with a recent favorite scare, “Mothers Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying” by Alice Sola Kim, which I read in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2015. A really unique story about a group of motherless, Korean-American teenage girls summoning the ghost of a mother to take care of them. Unique, intense, and chilling.
Paul Jessup has a novel called Close Your Eyes, forthcoming from Apex books in July 2018 and can be found on Twitter: @PaulJessup.
Kill Creek, by Scott Thomas
I recently read an excellent haunted house story called Kill Creek, by Scott Thomas. It’s about four big-name horror authors who spend Halloween night in a haunted house at the behest of an internet millionaire as a cheap publicity stunt. Plenty of creepy things go on and their lives are thrown in turmoil in the months following the stunt. But the real payoff is when, one year later, they return to the house to get to the bottom of things. Let’s just say it does not go well. Kill Creek delivers the goods, with an ever-increasing sense of dread you can reach out and touch. Page-turning stuff.
John DeNardo is the founding editor of SF Signal (the previous home of Mind Meld), a two-time winner of the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine, and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews, where he writes about science fiction, fantasy and horror books. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter as @sfsignal.
“Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad,” by MR James
The short story “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad,” by MR James, is an old-fashioned ghost tale, written around 1903. Certain images from it have stuck in my mind…a distant figure following me as I walk along a beach…a white shape in a window. Crumpled linen. I often take long walks along the shores of Lake Michigan. Every so often, I’ll find something in the sand—an old toy, a small bottle—and a voice in the back of my head whispers that I should just leave it be.
Kristine Smith writes science fiction, fantasy, and as Alex Gordon, supernatural suspense.
Jane-Emily, by Patricia Clapp
I’ve read a lot of ghost stories (one of my favorite genres), but a cherished memory that has stuck with me for a very long time is one I read when I was a kid—Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp. It scared me because the haunting happens to a girl who was close to my age at the time, and because it’s such a contest of wills between the living and the dead. I never looked at a garden gazing ball the same way after that!
Gail Z. Martin, most recent work includes Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst, and Spells Salt & Steel, featured in the Bump In The Night boxed set and the Haven Harbor Halloween anthology.
The Shining, by Stephen King
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. A vulnerable woman joins a group investigating a haunted house, and finds herself the focus of the house’s attention. Masterful and nuanced study of emotional and psychological horror, and maybe the single scariest book I’ve ever read.
Also, The Shining, by Stephen King. I’m a sucker for books about kids and monsters, and this is my favorite book about what it’s like to face and fight the terrors of childhood.
Kelley Eskridge is a writer and screenwriter. Her film OtherLife (loosely based on her novel Solitaire) begins streaming on Netflix on October 15.