Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ghost Stories

by Bente Gallagher (and Jennie Bentley)


So we’ve heard some totally creepy and cool stories this month, haven’t we? True creepiness as well as fictional. I know I’ve gotten chills more than once during October.

As promised, I’m back to talk a little bit about a few of my favorite supernatural stories and books.

And no, I’m not talking about Stephen King. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s written the best book ever on writing, called – coincidentally – “On Writing,” but I can’t read his novels. They give me the creeps. And not in a good way.

Back in the late 1960s, when I was just slightly more than a gleam in my mother’s eye, one of my all-time favorite authors started publishing books. Her name is Barbara Mertz, but she started writing as Barbara Michaels, and a few years later as Elizabeth Peters, when her publisher told her she was too prolific for just one pseudonym.

(Nice problem to have, innit?)

In 1968, she published a book called “Ammie, Come Home,” about a house in Georgetown and the people who lived there. Ruth was a non-traditional romantic heroine for that time: a divorced woman over 40. Pat was a non-traditional hero: also older, and going gray, with a face described as ‘lived in.’ There was a younger couple too: Ruth’s niece Sara, living with her aunt while attending Georgetown University, and Sara’s boyfriend Bruce. And then there were the ghosts. Three of them. I won’t give you the specifics, because I’d really love for you to read the book, but it has bar none the creepiest, most evocative description of possession I’ve ever read. 40+ years after it was written, it still manages to give me chills.

It’s not the only ghost story she’s written; not by a long shot. Most of the Barbara Michaels books are paranormal, and a few of the Elizabeth Peters books have that element too, most prominently “Devil May Care.” A few of my other favorites are “Witch,” “The Walker in Shadows,” “The Crying Child,” and “House of Many Shadows.”

Much more recently – as in last week – I read Jennifer Crusie’s latest novel, “Maybe This Time.” It’s also a ghost story. With multiple ghosts. A few instances of possession. And a lovely, lovely twist at the end. It’s also a love story, of course, as are all of Crusie’s books. She’s another of my favorite authors, although supernatural is not her usual stock in trade. The only other that I can think of off the top of my head was the book before this one, “Wild Ride,” written with Bob Mayer, and it’s about demons. A demon-possessed amusement park in Southern Ohio, loosely based on King’s Island. (I drove past it the first weekend of the month, on my way up to Columbus for the Central Ohio Fiction Writers Conference, and I gazed open-mouthed at the big rollercoaster on our way past; in the book it’s called the Dragon Coaster.) Highly recommended! Both of’em.

Lillian Stewart-Carl has written a ton of books about ghosts. The Jean Fairbairn/Alastair Cameron series (four so far, starting with “The Secret Portrait”) has ghosts in every book, as does the trilogy “Ashes to Ashes,” “Dust to Dust,” and “Garden of Thorns.”

Most of Lillian Stewart-Carl’s books are set in or deal with Scotland, including “Shadows in Scarlet.” Its heroine, Amanda, is a guide at a historic home in Virginia, where she encounters the ghost of Scotsman James Grant, and falls in lust with him. There’s even a sex scene. The first and only sex scene between ghost and human I’ve ever read, and she pulls it off quite well, I might add. I totally bought it. However, when Amanda goes to Scotland to bring Jamie’s bones home, Jamie’s spirit tags along, and when Amanda meets Jamie’s flesh and blood modern-day descendant – and lookalike – Malcolm, and falls in love with him, let’s just say that Jamie’s not too happy.

Read the book to find out what happens. You won’t regret it. Just like you won’t regret reading any of the others.

So what are some of your favorite ghostly books? Care to share?

17 comments:

Gina said...

Jennie -

I agree with you about Barbara Mertz/Michaels/Elizabeth Peters. I just checked my book shelf and found 11 books by "Barbara Michaels" and 8 by "Elizabeth Peters" - and those are only the ones I bought and kept! Many others were borrowed or passed along.

The all-time scariest book I've read, though, is "The Other" by Tom Tryon. It's been years, but I still get chills thinking about certain passages.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Bente, for the wonderful book suggestions. I have to admit that I generally don't read anything about ghosts or with any other paranormal aspects, but your recommendations make me want to read those particular books.

Isn't it great to see something in real life that you've only previously read about in a book? I have so many areas that I want to visit just because I've read about them. Not quite the same thing, but I once had the opportunity to speak over the telephone with a "character" in a book that I had just finished reading, and it was amazing.

PatRemick said...

I just don't like ghostly books or movies -- too scary, and yet, I don't mind reading or writing about murder. I'm not sure I can explain this.....

Gina said...

Um, Laurie, how was it possible for you to speak on the phone with a "character" from a book? I mean, I sometimes feel that my own characters speak to me, but they don't do it literally, and never via phone!

Joyce said...

I've read some of Barbara Michaels' books. I can't remember the name of one I really liked but it was set in Williamsburg. I think I need to make a trip to the library...

Laurie said...

Oh, Gina, sorry, I guess that I didn't explain that very well. The book was a true story that read like a novel. It was written by an author about a firefighter and his family. The firefighter was in a comma for many, many years as a result of an on the job injury and woke up for a short period of time and then subsequently passed away.

The firefighter's wife, Linda, was a "character" in the book and lives in Buffalo, NY. Linda called into my book club and we passed the phone around (speaker phone wasn't working) and we each had the opportunity to talk with her and ask her questions. It was surreal to me because it was my first meeting with this particular book club and I wasn't expecting the phone call, and I just felt like I was speaking with a character.

Jennie Bentley said...

Laurie, the firefighter was in a comma? Really?

Sorry, couldn't resist. That has to be the writerly typo of the day! LOL.

Joyce, a Barbara Michaels set in Williamsburg sounds like 'Patriot's Dream,' about a girl named Janice (I think) who's dreaming about people during the American Revolution. It's an excellent, excellent book, and one of my favorites too, but it doesn't actually have ghosts in it, so I didn't mention it.

Jennie Bentley said...

Gina, yeah, I have at least that amount of EP/BM's on my shelf, too. EP put out a new book in April, one of the Amelia Peabody 'missing years' books, that I haven't gotten around to reading yet. Nothing ghostly about those, either, though.

You don't like ghost stories, Pat? I'm so sorry!

Joyce said...

That's the one! It's been years and years since I read it. I seem to remember that the protagonist starts to live the dreams. I think I have to read it again.

Joyce said...

Was The Ghost and Mrs. Muir a book? I loved the old movie. But forget about the TV show--it was NOTHING like the movie.

Jennie Bentley said...

Ah, yes. Ghostly movies. A whole 'nother story. Someone should tackle that one. Someone else, since it isn't my field. I don't watch much TV/movies. I do know that 'The Others' is supposed to be good, and of course there's that Bruce Willis thing, "I see dead people." 'The Sixth Sense,' was that the name of it? I find scary movies to be too scary, though. I can read the stories, but I don't want to watch them.

NoraA said...

There are sooo many "new" ghost stories on the market today. E.J.'s Night of the Living Deed, Alice Kimberly's haunted book store series. They are probably listed in a sub genre all their own... I also enjoyed the Granny Apple books and Carolyn Hart's new series... so many to choose from.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Jennie, I haven't read any of the authors you mention. Although the last one with the pissed off Scott Ghost has potential and I'm always up for a good sex scene with a ghost. (You know I'm interested in the author's technique).

MY all time favorite scary story is The Stand. I have both versions, the original and the uncut, 1st edition.

Nancy said...

I recently read NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED and SKETCH ME IF YOU CAN, and loved them both. I've also read Barbara Mertz/ Michaels' E. Peters, tho it's been a while.

Possession isn't my preference in a ghost story, but I do love books with ghosts. Paranormal mystery wasn't a subgenre, last I heard, but I do love those stories!

It's always great to see you Bente/ Jennie! Thanks for a fun post!

Patg said...

I agree with Will about reading Shadows In Scarlet. The author's delivery to make it believable would be interesting. However, I read the reviews, especially the one star. Now that was scary.
Patg

Jennie Bentley said...

Shadows in Scarlet is worth reading. Really. It helps if you like ghost stories, and Scotland, and history, and if you can suspend disbelief a fair amount, but I'm happy with all that, so I'm good. If you want realism it's not gonna be your thing, obviously. And don't listen to 1-star reviews unless they're all that way; we've all gotten them, and it's usually just someone in a pissy mood for one reason or another. I don't really think my second book - a haunted house book, incidentally - is much worse than my first, but the same reviewer who gave me 5 stars for Fatal Fixer-Upper, gave me 1 star for Spackled & Spooked. "I can't believe it's the same writer...!" Eh.

Laurie said...

oops, that of course should have been "coma." I should have finished drinking the full pot of coffee prior to commenting. :-)