Bad Moon Books, in association with Evil Jester Press, just re-released my digital short story collection GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC. Not every story in the collection is a ghost tale, but there are quite a few haunting stories therein which is why I wanted to get the word “ghosts” in the title.
Now I’m not an expert on ghostly fiction, but I know what I like as a reader and viewer and what I try to bring to the table when I sit down to pen a ghost story. And I can sum that up in two words.
Subtlety and ambiguity. I know a lot of horror is fast-paced and bloody, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I like those kinds of tales myself. But when it comes to tales of ghosts and haunting, I often think it’s a mistake to go too far too fast. A door opening on its own, creating a slow creaking sound, I find to be creepier and more effective than objects flying across the room and slamming into the wall.
And something else that I feel really heightens a ghost story is a little ambiguity, the idea that maybe this is happening, maybe this is a result of someone’s skewed perception. A perfect example of this is the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, as well as the original film version. Is this a true haunting, or is it all in Eleanor’s mind and she’s using her own psychic powers to create the events? Being unsure of the answer I think actually makes it more chilling. The film remake got rid of the ambiguity and replaced it with overblown CGI effects, and I feel it was a much less effective story because of it.
So when I sit down to write a story of ghosts and hauntings, I try to keep those two words in mind. That may not be what everyone wants, but for me I think a slow build up works best, and leaving that question in the reader’s mind can haunt them, if you’ll pardon the play on words, longer than something definitive.
Mark Allan Gunnells has been writing since he was 10 years old. His first book, A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, was published by Sideshow Press in 2009. Since then he has put out three more books with Sideshow: the two-novella WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT combo, a short story collection entitled TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT VOL. I, and the Halloween themed DARK TREATS. He also has put out the novella ASYLUM with The Zombie Feed, and Bad Moon Books released a digital collection entitled GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC and the novella OCTOBER ROSES. He released his first published novel, THE QUARRY, with Evil Jester Press, and followed that up with SEQUEL from Gallow's Press and THE SUMMER OF WINTERS also from EVIL JESTER. He lives in Greer, SC, with his partner Craig A. Metcalf.