Waiting Spirits – From the Dark Forces Teen Horror Series of the Early ’80s

Here’s to the kids of not too long ago yesterday. Growing up, they had all kinds of options when it came to reading young adult stories about the supernatural. They had books that featured ghosts, witches, vampires  and other cool and creepy things. I didn’t have Harry Potter when I was growing up, only Colonel  Potter on M*A*S*H reruns.. Being that the early 80s were the dawning of my young adult years, Twilight  had not yet set in (And from what I’ve heard about the series, that’s a good thing.), While adolescence  was a time of strong emotions, I never got the Goosebumps over the whole thing. In order for me to get my fix of the spookies , I had to turn to – The Dark Forces! Oh no! (Ohhh yes!)

What are the Dark Forces?

DarkForcesCollection

The Dark Forces is a series of teen horror novels that was published by Bantam Books in the early 1980s. The series consists of roughly fifteen book written by various authors. Each book is a stand-alone story and to the best of my knowledge there are no overlaps or crossovers between books. All of them consist of supernatural tales that feature teenage protagonists who go toe-to-toe with ghosts, demons and other magical entities. The series averages about 150 pages per book. These are not timeless classics; they are not on par with one Harry Potter. While The Harry Potter novels thrilled fans of all ages, I doubt that the Dark Forces series had any following from adult readers.  They just didn’t have the breadth of topics or the simple yet sophisticated kind of storytelling that went into creating the Hogwarts culture. Today these books are largely forgotten. In fact they are hard to come by,, at least when it comes to paperbacks. I’m sure some can be found on Amazon, Ebay, etc. As mediocre as they are in terms of popularity and content, I enjoyed reading them when I was thirteen. They certainly had cool looking covers. I didn’t read them all. Maybe half?

For a few years now, I had been wondering about these books. Alas, I couldn’t remember the title of the series nor any specific book title. But thanks to some references from Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction, I was able to gather enough information to conduct a search for the right, proper, and fitting book from this series.  Of course, that would be a haunted house book. Did this series feature any such thing? Gosh, I didn’t know! But if it did, by golly, I was determined to find it, read it and review it.  The results of this determination are toward the end of this piece. But for now, read on to learn even more about The Dark Forces series.

Going Deeper into the Dark Forces

Were  things really that drastic in the early 80s that I had to succumb to “dark forces” to get my reading kicks? Was there no other reading outlet to save my precious soul? I suppose there was. There were The Hardy Boys and The Nancy Drew Mystery  series, but those were already on the way out and besides, from my understanding,  they were more mystery than fantasy. Maybe there was some other book series  that I simply neglected. No matter because The Dark Forces worked for me. Ha ha ha ha ha! (Go back and read the “ha ha’s” with a sinister sounding laugh).

Truth be told, this series was all about warning impressionable youngsters like  myself about the dangers of messing around with dark forces. If memory  serves me correctly, the books I read had lessons for us , the misdirected sheep that followed those  evil, soul-corrupting trends that struck like a plague  back there in the early  80s. Created by evil masterminds, targeted against us – the precious  children of America – such trends included role-playing  games such as Dungeons and Dragons, heavy metal music, and video  games. For you see, demons were liable  to take over  the games and music, and that’s bad and stuff.

I’m only half joking about the things I wrote in the previous paragraph. I never had to worry about demons infesting my pastimes. And there  ain’t nothing wrong with Dungeons  and Dragons, video games and heavy metal  music! Like anything  else, so long as they are used  and not misused, it’s all good. But back in them there  days (early 80s), adults were worried about  these sort of activities  and the ill-effects they might have on their sons and daughters.

There were stories , real or fabricated I never knew, about “that one boy” that lost all touch with reality on account of his addiction to Dungeons and Dragons.  I remember how freaked out a certain religious  fanatic relative became when I was gifted the game at Christmas. Since the game calls for spell casting, even though it’s all make-believe, this person had real concerns about treating magic playfully. In regards to heavy metal music and rock and roll in general, certain religious  leaders and politicians reacted quite  unfavorably to the explicit lyrics of certain songs. They insisted that albums with such songs have warning labels. Others  claimed that certain  songs had “backwards, Satanic messages.”  The leaders of my Sunday School youth group hauled us all off to a seminar on the  Satanic influences of rock and roll. The pastor leading  the seminar  explained to us that backward messages come though all to clear in our subconscious. Therefore, rock music is, in effect, hypnotizing youth into worshipping  Satan. He actually  believed this. As far as video games go, a common concern among parents is the graphic violence that is portrayed. But in the early  80s  video games were in their infancy and graphics were laughable by today’s standards. Still parents found reasons to get all in an uproar. Video games were stealing time away  from homework. They were seen as addictive  and, as with Dungeons  and  Dragons, parents worried that  their children would  lose touch with reality as they give themselves  up to the fantasy worlds portrayed  in the games.

Now, what does all this have to do with the Dark Forces series? To refresh, I had written “the books I read had lessons for us , the misdirected sheep that followed those  evil, soul-corrupting trends that struck like a plague  back there in the early  80s.” How so, you might  be asking?

The first book of the series is The Game by Les Logan. I don’t remember reading this one,DarkForcesTheGame but according to some Goodreads reviews , it seems to serve as a warning against the use of Ouija boards. So kids, even though such a game is sold on the same shelf as Monopoly and Scrabble, don’t buy it!  The Ashton Horror (#12 in the series)  by Laurie Bridges ,is another book that I missed. But according to the synopsis on Goodreads, young Dennis gets some attention from the prettiest girl in town. She invites him to join a “fantasy game club”. No, no Dennis, fantasizing is the Devil’s work, don’t do it…Dennis? And wouldn’t you DarkForcesTheAshtonHorrorknow it, the club members are trying to free an imprisoned demon. Bad club members!

 

I do remember owning Beat the Devil  (#10 in the series) by Scott Siegel. DarkForcesBeatTheDevilWho could forget that cover? Anyway, Doug is an expert at arcade video games. He becomes obsessed by a game called “Beat the Devil.” This game takes precedence over the important things in his life; his school work, his girlfriend, even his own sanity. And guess who it is that is sucking away at Doug’s life? Why, it’s the Devil himself! So you see kids, even though it may be far-fetched to think that the Devil is controlling  you via Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, video games can make your life “Hell” if you become addicted to them.

DarkForcesTheBargainThe book I remember the most is The Bargain (#5 in the series) by Rex Sparger. I remember the story featured a teenaged (or maybe they were in their early  20s, I don’t know) rock band called The Coastals, or something  like that. Anyway, a shady promoter approaches them, m promises them fame and riches, and soon thereafter  he is their manager. He convinces them to change their  name to Sabbat and change to a heavy metal sound and image. I guess they had a more pop-oriented style before (I hate pop!) If you haven’t  already guessed, this manager is secretly an agent of Satan. The band as, in effect, signed a contact  with the Devil, but somehow they get out of it and defeat the evil forces. By the book’s end, a pastor helps the band and as it turns out, the pastor can play a mean guitar. Isn’t that precious?

So in sum, with current synopses to backup my memory, I describe these books as simple stories (easy to read) that are warning manuals in disguise. They are saturated with warnings against games and trends that are marketed as harmless pastimes when if fact they are gateways to the dangerous world of “dark forces”.  Even as a teen, as I enjoyed reading these books, I became annoyed with the not-too-subtle warnings.

Now here is a question: Was each and every book of the series like this? I don’t know. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t read the series in its entirety. Alas, my impressions are largely based on memories  from thirty-five years ago. Being that it has been such  a long time since I  had read any of these books, is it possible that  my impressions are flawed, my memories imperfect? This is very possible. So I decided that I needed to read one of these books and review the material from a more current mindset.  Once again, I wanted to take a trip down memory  lane as I did  when I reread Ghost House Revenge, as I  did when I  took in the various book descriptions in Paperbacks  from  Hell. Were there any books in the Dark Forces series that featured  haunted houses? Yes, I found one. Waiting Spirits (#11 in the series) by Bruce Coville. This is not one of the books I had read as a youngster. This would be my first reading.

Would this book serve as yet another lesson about avoiding the lure of “dark forces”?

Would I feel differently reading one of these books as an adult? Are there story elements that anyone, both young and old, could enjoy? I  would find out. And I did find out. You can read all about it in the following  paragraphs.

Wait No Longer, The Waiting Spirits are Here

A family spends a summer at a house by the beach. It’s a nice summer home, although  Lisa doesn’t  want to be there. She has her life back home, which includes a chance at dating a guy she likes. Before the summer’s  end, she’ll find a boyfriend  right there by the beach. See Lisa , now that it’s all over, wasn’t it good for you to spend the summer at that house? You found a boyfriend, You learned a lot of family history. You got possessed and tried to kill your younger sister. Good times!

Who is all in the household? Well there’s Lisa’s ten year old sister Carrie. They get along quite well. There’s mom and dad. Dad is trying to write a book, so everyone  just please leave him alone. Mom just does mom stuff . Grandma  is there. She is a retired professor and it is her house. She grew up in it. She’ll behave a little mysteriously now and then, so readers should watch out for her. And of course, there are some ghosts inside the house. They always help to make a summer eventful.

For a novel directed  at young teens, his book is surprisingly dark. Yes I know, this is from the Dark  Forces series, so wouldn’t  that be a no-brainer? I guess what I mean is, yeah of course any subject  matter concerning  ghosts or demons  is by definition  “dark.”  But the story doesn’t just leave the darkness to the  mere presence  of supernatural  entities but this book. Instead it  clinches  it with a darkness that lurks in the backstory and manifests in the behavior of the spirits and the havoc they cause. In various places in the book, there is the death of a child, the terror of an insane ghost, and the startling repercussions of a teen possessed.

I had serious reservations at the beginning. After the prologue, Author Coville  wastes no time “RUSHering” in the story. This rush is was most likely  geared at teen readers that are in no mood for prolonged  setups. It is raining everyday during the family’s first week at the summer home. The girls  are bored out of their minds. The grandma comes to the rescue with an idea to pass the time: they should “play a game” where they can try to communicate with spirits. Grandma is referring  to “automatic  writing”, the process where the one with the paper and a pencil becomes a medium while the spirit  will take control of the pencil and write out a message. So haphazardly  Grandma  suggests this and with a mere shrug, the girls  and their mother agree. One their very first attempt, with Lisa acting as the medium, they make contact  with a spirit. All that was needed was some kind of mundane utterance, something like, “Are there any spirits here, please respond”. This did the trick because right away, Lisa becomes temporarily  possessed and the spirit  uses her hand to  write a message. After this, all the “game” participants  had an attitude like “huh. That was  weird. Oh well, what should we do next?”

Despite that weak beginning, the story does mature a bit. There is some pretty scary ghost stuff going on and the story  slows down so that it can take it all in. Mind you, I’m not saying his piece is a candidate  for The Pulitzer  Prize of haunted house  novels. It’s rather  juvenile, but it’s better than I  thought  it would be. And guess what?? It didn’t smack me over the head with lessons and warnings. Coville, thank you for not doing that. Ironically  it’s an adult that starts the trouble  by initiating the automatic  writing game.

Bruce Coville is a prolific children’s author with an extensive bibliography. His books are divided into several series of his own, including Magic Shop Books (five books), My Teacher is an Alien (four books), I Was a Sixth Grade Alien (twelve books), and many more (From Wikipedia). His series Bruce Coville’s Chamber of Horrors (four books) includes Waiting Spirits. Will I  read any of these? Probably  not. I read Waiting Spirits to experience  a quick dive into the sea of Dark Forces nostalgia while  adding to my collection of Haunted house book reviews. I have done this.  Waiting Spirits is not a bad book, so these other Coville books probably won’t be bad either. But I’m not it’s intended  audience. I was once, back when these books were published. I am not anymore. Time to move on. And besides, I’m a haunted house guy and just because these are “horror” books, it doesn’t mean that any of the remaining three feature haunted houses and….oh wait…..I now see that the second book of his “Chamber of Horrors” series Spirits and Spells does feature a haunted house. Ohhh and it seems interesting:

Trying out their new haunted house game, Spirits and Spells, in the creaky old Gulbrandsen place seemed like a cool idea to Travis, Tansy and their friends.

That was before they found out what was in the attic…and the basement…and everywhere in between.

 

Am I going to be sucked into yet another book meant for a young reader? We’ll see. We shall see

 

 

 

 

Review of Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction – With Special Attention to Its Chapter on Haunted Houses

In 1936, Bing Crosby introduced Pennies from Heaven to the world. Such an invaluable gift this holy coinage was! Is there anyone else that could gift the world similar treasures? If so, what might these treasures be! How about Paperbacks from Hell, with a gifter by the name of Grady Hendrix (Is he a relative of Jimi?)  Okay, so he didn’t write any of these infernal paperbacks, buy hey, Crosby didn’t mint the coins, so there! What Hendrix did do was compile a collection of book titles, authors, and cover artists in a book dedicated to horror novels of the 70s and 80s, which features bios, pictures and a whole lot of fun analysis. The complete title of his work is Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ‘70s and ‘80s Horror Fiction.

So just what “in the hell” is this book about? Read on and find out. (But first, admire “Pennies from Heaven” please!)

 

Hi there! I’ve been on a short hiatus. I was vacationing in The Philippines, and then I was sick, and blah blah blah. Well let me pick up where I left off. The last time I wrote was back in mid-March. Let’s see, I was writing about something….something about ghosts…and haunted houses…(Me write about those things? No way!)….hmmmm…Ah ha! The subject/s was Ghost House! And Ghost House Revenge, two books by Clare McNally. I must refer back to this review, because it was these two books that led me to Paperbacks from Hell.. I had remembered these two books from my childhood and I searched the Internet to see if they still existed in some format today. But I couldn’t remember the titles or the name of the author, so I had to comb through the various search results that came from my search words “Haunted house and horror books of the 70s and 80s.”  I eventually found what I was looking for, and so much more. Among the search items, I found Hendrix’s book, which had in its title the keywords “70s/80s/horror/” I discovered that these two decades were the heydays for  horror paperback novels, that never before had there been so many fictional works on such horrific subjects: Satan, Creepy Kids, When Animals Attack, Real Estate Nightmares, Weird Science, Gothic and Romantic, Inhumanoids, Splatterpunks, Serial Killers And Super Creeps! These are the chapters and category names for Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell. The book sounded interesting so I downloaded it and read much of it on the plane to and from the Philippines.. A fitting book for such turbulent times (turbulence shook the plane as I read).

I am including this review in my anthology of haunted house novel reviews on account of one chapter only: Real Estate Nightmares. Yes, this is the section of the book devoted to haunted house paperback novels. Likewise I will be devoting a section of this review to this one chapter. But first, an summary of the book as a whole.

In my review of Ghost House/Ghost House Revenge, I speculate that perhaps it was the works of Stephen King that ignited this horror paperback boom of the 70s and 80s. While his contribution to phenomenon is most certainly great, he did not begin it. How stupid of me, because I knew that works such as Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin) and The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty) predate King’s novels. These two, along with The Other (Thomas Tryton), revived the horror literature tradition that had been dormant for a while, Hendrix says.  Even in the days or yore, horror mostly came in short stories, novellas, and then later in graphic pulp books and magazines. There were very few novel length books devoted to horror until the three aforementioned books came on the scene. “Satan Sells”, publishers realized, and soon there were hundreds of satan-spawned paperbacks.

After Satan, along came killer animals and insects, demonic toys, possessed robots, medical nightmares.  So many books, and so we had The Good, The Bad and The Delightfully Cheesy.

I equate many of these books referenced by Hendrix to “B horror” films. So these are B-books?  Some are. Sure, why not?  Often they were goofy, but as Hendrix mentions “never boring.”  Many of these “gems” are out-of-print. I’m guessing that the advent of digital media have revived some of these books, but unfortunately not all.  Hendrix devotes significant attention to the book covers. Resting on the shelves of supermarkets, it was the cover that lured customers to reach for the item. The more vivid the better, much like the days of the video store, with box covers showing an awesome depiction of what just had to be a good, creepy movie – and…often the films failed to live up to the promising pictures on the box. As for the covers of paperbacks, Hendrix shows readers many interesting examples. Colorful, artful, graphic and of course – horrific.

TheStuff TheStuff

 

 

 

 

 

     (First Picture – What “The Stuff” appeared to do to is victims, according to  the box.  Second Picture – How “The Stuff” actually preyed on people, according to the movie)

 

 

In Paperbacks From Hell, Hendrix follows the careers of several cover artists, noting the publishing houses they worked for, mentioning that a certain artist went on to design album covers, etc. Interesting stuff.(Better than “The Stuff” of the film).

 

PaperBacks.jpg2

 

Hendrix writes humorously about his subject. He is often satirical. In the chapter Creepy Kids, on describing a reoccurring theme, he writes “As long as they belong to someone else, homicidal children can be a joy.” That’s funny! But sometimes his writing style is overbearing. But like his book, and like the books he is writing about, it’s/they’re not boring. At the same time, he possesses keen insight. He ties trends within the horror market to topical events that were occurring in the culture at large. The surge of attacking animal books he attributes to environmental disasters of the early 70s. For the rise in popularity of vampire books, he notes the AIDS scare of the early 80s and the fear of being infected. All in all, a reflective guy that Hendrix is. And what an interesting book!

Haunted Houses – or as Hendrix calls them – “Real Estate Nightmares”

 

Ahhh! This is MY area! Yeah, Boy!!  Here we are! “This” section.

Truthfully I was somewhat disappointed. To be clear, my disappointment is not the fault of Hendrix. He did his job covering this subgenre of horror. It’s just that I was hoping to be introduced to a slew of obscure works. Sadly I  already knew about the novels to which he devotes the most attention. He briefly covers  The Sentinel,  and I have read and reviewed that book. Burnt Offerings and The Amityville Horror both of which I have read/reviewed. I did, however, find his insights on Burnt Offerings rather intriguing and his rants about The Amityville Horror humorous.

While Hendrix correctly acknowledges The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House as its predecessors, he singles our Burnt Offerings as being a first when it comes to the economics of home purchases and the whole buyer beware motif.  I…had never thought about this. “Hell” and “Hill” House were  gargantuan gothic mansions that had visiting  characters investigating the spooky happenings within. The characters of Burnt Offerings leased and lived in the deadly place. They invested their money in it. Therefore, they were trapped.

In true form, Hendrix ties the haunted house paperback phenomenon to the economic issues of the 1970s. High interest rates, inflation, the dawning of the suburbs, the cash-strapped and their search for the best home that they could afford. According to him, these are the reasons “the haunted-house novel reached critical mass.”   As a student of haunted houses of fictional literature, I am constantly hungry for information like this. Thank you Hendrix, you feed me well.

Hendrix doesn’t think much of The Amityville Horror book series. I only read the one, and for me it was alright, not the greatest, but enjoyable. But I see his point. “Amityville” became the definitive haunted house book of the 70s, while Burnt Offerings, a much better read, is largely forgotten.  He goes on to criticize the series as “crass, commercial-minded, grandiose, ridiculous, this carnival-barker’s idea of a haunted house is a shame-train of stupid.”  The carnival barker I guess would be George Lutz, the real life protagonist of what is supposed to be a true story. Suffice it to say, Hendrix doesn’t believe that this is a true story (and neither do !!)

A couple of times, Hendrix mentions The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons and refers to it as a classic. I am well aware of this book but I have yet to read it. I am relishing in this virginity and I’m looking forward to my “wedding night” when I take this book to bed with me. But like a good virgin, I am saving it for the right time. Then there are those book he footnotes here and there, books with creepy covers, that I do not know. Some are The Intruders (Pat Montandon), The Architecture of Fear (Various Authors) and Walls of Fear (various authors again). But for these he has only little tidbits of information.

 

The rest of the chapter is devoted to horrific towns as a whole, cities as a whole, and strange cultish communities. While this is some interesting stuff, it goes beyond the haunted house, so I am not mentioning these books in this review.

Following the trail of “Haunted Paperbacks” to – What Comes Next?

 

If you are a fan of old horror novels, this book is for you. If you have ever owned or read an old obscure horror paperback, definitely check out this work by Grady Hendrix. You won’t be disappointed.

I’m glad my search for Ghost House/Ghost House Revenge led me to this book. Too bad he doesn’t mention these books in his Real Estate Nightmares chapter. Oh well. But I continue on – Ghost Houses begot Paperbacks from Hell and Paperbacks from Hell begets….a Dark Forces book. What the heck is a Dark Forces book?  I couldn’t remember what the series was called, and this Paperbacks from Hell book had the answer (hint: the series was called Dark Forces). This is yet another nostalgic reading memory from my pre-teen years. Horror books directed at young teens. I read several. Were there any Dark Forces books about haunted houses? Yes!  Well at least one. This will be my next review. Stay tuned for more details!

 

 

Honoring Black History Month: Coming Soon: Reviews of Four Haunted House Novels Written By Black Women

This February, I will be honoring black history month  here at this blog. I will be reviewing four haunted house novels written by black women. I could use the phrase  “African  American” women, but that technically would not be correct, because one of the authors is a British  woman of African  descent. This begs the question: is black history month primarily concerned with the history of people of color as it plays out on the American stage? I don’t know the answer.

I am a Caucasian; a white guy. As such it’s not my place to define what black history  month is or isn’t. Likewise, I most certainly cannot claim a shared heritage and realistically  identify  with the struggles my black brothers and sisters have endured or the triumphs they have celebrated. Therefore, unlike previous reviews and articles that were grouped into a theme (i.e. Christmas  Haunted  Houses, Haunted Apartments), I do not begin with a central concept. I am not seeking to extract characteristics  that define what a haunted house is from the black perspective. Rather, these  four works stand alone. Perhaps when all is said and done, when I  have completed the readings and written the reviews, I might  have more to say about any possible interrelated themes. But I  don’t want to get ahead of myself, nor do I wish to engage in any inappropriate analysis for the sake of some sort of self-congratulatory intellectualism.  I hope I will not do that anyway.

I guess the question is: Can we learn about authentic black history from mostly fictional novels that delve into the paranormal?  I believe we can.

Of the four works, three are fictional stories and one is a factual account. The non-fiction book deals with popular “ghost tour” houses in the American south. This book uncovers a lot of African-American history and sets the record straight about the tourist-magnet fabrications that come at the expense of the “real” ghosts that haunt these places. One of the fictional novels is set in “current” times (post Y2K) but segments of the story go back to the 1920s. Another fictional novel takes place in the years following the American Civil War, although much of the story occurs during the times of slavery. Both books show how history has affected and shaped the lives of the central characters. Though the histories are fictional, they are based on real-life historical circumstances. And, of course, both stories feature haunted houses. The fourth book, also fictional, has very little in the way of history. This book presents quite the quagmire when trying to assign a definition to it. It’s about a haunted house, but it isn’t. It’s about the politics of identity, but it isn’t. It’s…ah, just wait for the review.

I guess I could be more straightforward and just mention ahead of time the titles of the books and their respective authors, but I want there to be some kind of suspense. So..just wait. You will know soon.

Anyway, I hope this will go well, and I hope you will find this subject matter enlightening and educational

See you soon!

Review of Ghosts of Manor House

ManorHouseIf you have been a regular reader of my reviews, it should be no secret that I crave certain things from the haunted houses of literature. I have a criteria by which I base my story preferences. That being said, there are many decent  haunted house stories that fail to abide by this criteria.  I may enjoy these stories, but chances are, for me to knight a book with greatness, it has to live up to my standards.  Mind you, these standards are subjective. But hey, much of this entire blog is devoted to my points of view – so let me continue on subjecting you to my subjective opinions!

In my article Social Theory and the Haunted House, I have delineated between two types of haunted houses. They are either:

A)    A place for a bunch of ghosts to hang out.

Or

B) A place that is greater than the sum of its ghosts

I prefer B) I want the houses to do more than just serve as a backdrop for exhibitionistic ghosts.  I want the house to be as much of a contributor to a haunting as the spirits that occupy it.  A good haunted house has consciousness. Maybe the house itself is a spirit. Or maybe it is alive.  The house should be able to exert its will on its inhabitants, with or without ghosts. The house should have a rich history; it should have stories from the past that speak to its present nature.  A good haunted house has a memory. Moreover, I love a house that exerts the power of symbolism. It should stand not only as a structure of brick or stone, but as a representation of an enduing entity. A kingdom perhaps, or a lineage or family. Maybe it stands for existence itself; for endurance incarnate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you: Manor House. This house meets most of my criteria. Its ghosts respect and honor their home. So let’s give it up for Ghosts of Manor House, an excellent novel by Matt Powers.

Here are some words from the author himself:

When writing a book, people tell you to develop your characters and soon they write themselves. This became true for me, but the characters that spoke to me the most were Manor House and its partner, Mr. Travels. These two entities drew me into their world. The others are satellites, flies caught in the web of old spirits. Like the characters in this story, Manor House drew me in and captured me.

This paragraph is taken from the beginning of the book in a section called Note From the Author. And I have to say, these two “characters” spoke to me too.  I got to know Manor House in its many carnations. From a courthouse in its early years to a bed and breakfast in a more modern age.  From a revered building where harsh judgments were cast upon doomed  detainees to an inviting retreat center that loves its guests so much that it just doesn’t want to let them go!  While a regular old, aging  house collects dust, Manor’s House gathers up ghosts.  I just love Power’s description of a  “web of old spirits.”  It suits Manor House to a tee!  And now, from a tee to a tree!  The tree is Mr. Travels. Its sinewy branches cast shadows across the grounds of Manor House.  It too has seen its share of history.  Many people perished on its low hanging branches. The stuff of legend has given it a most unique origin. It is connected to Manor House in a most mysterious way. Perhaps it serves as the pulse of the house?  It wouldn’t be surprising. While the author was giving me a tour of the house via the story, I could swear I felt the house’s heart beat. Was this in the basement? I can’t recall.  Maybe its best that I don’t remember.

The bulk of the story takes place in the mid 1970s and revolves around Edmund and his family. The family has suffered through a tragedy, so Edmund arranges for a getaway to help ease their suffering souls. He reserves Manor House for his wife Mary and his children. It comes equipped with a full staff; a butler, a maid and a gardener.  Now get this – in chapter entitled “One Week Later -Escape from Manor House”, Edmund is fleeing the house while some of the staff are trying to convince him to return.  In the following chapter, “Welcome Back to Manor House,”  Edmund is alone, getting set up in his new place that is Manor House. He is supposed to meet his family there and….where are they? THAT is the question that pulls readers to the end of the book.  Yes readers, Ghosts of Manor House is a suspenseful novel.   To keep the suspense alive, Powers’ reveals just enough information – here and there, chapter by chapter. It’s all about healthy, measured spoonfuls of clues. Never too much – there are no mass information dumps. You will not get literary indigestion.

At 133 pages, Ghosts of Manor House is what I would consider a short novel. It is short, but it is complete. Within this novel of limited length, there is a tome of possibility. I’m looking for sequels and prequels. Of course that is up to the author.  Or maybe it isn’t! Maybe it’s Manor House itself that is in control. Matt Powers brought it to life and maybe the house will exert its living influence back on the author and entangle him in its “web of spirits,”  forcing him to write his way out!  With no sadistic intentions, I hope this happens.

Visit Matt’s Blog at https://www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com/  or just click on the picture below an teleport yourself over there!

ManorHouse2a

Review of “Nyctophobia” – A Novel of Summer Sunshine and Foreboding Darkness.

 

TheElementals   Prelude to the Review

Hello there readers! Let me begin by bombarding you with some song lyrics.  And here they are –

“Maybe your mind is playing tricks. You sense and suddenly eyes fix.

On dancing shadows from behind”

“I have a constant fear that something’s always near”

Fear of the Dark, Fear of the Dark!”

Aw heck, I’ll go even further. Here are all the lyrics, appearing ever so nicely in this music-accompanied video –

Thank you Iron Maiden for letting us know what it’s like to fear the dark.   Might there be a word out there that defines such a fear?

There are several, according to Wikipedia. There’s “scotophobi”, and “lygophobia” but the most prominent name for this fear is “nyctophobia.”

Also from Wikpedia, nyctophobia …

“…is triggered by the brain’s disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment”

 Nyctophobia is also the name of a book written by Christopher Fowler. Does this book describe a character with a brain that produces a “disfigured perception of what would, or could happen when in a dark environment?” It sure does.  Read on to learn more!


The Meat and Guts of the Review


I am posting this review on July 13, 2017 so a “Happy Summer!” is on order. There are several horror writers/lovers out there that think very little of summer.  They prefer Halloween to the 4th of July and autumn leaves to sandy beaches.  I am not one of those authors. Whereas I do love Halloween and autumns, I also love me some good ol’ summertime!

Remember, one does not have to take a vacation from horror in the summer. There are summer horror books for your reading pleasure. Jaws  is perhaps the most famous book of summer scares. (selling more than 20 million copies) But are there summer books about haunted houses? Yes there are. A couple of summers ago, I reviewed one such book – The Elementals by Michael McDowell.  In the novel, there exists a haunted house off of the Gulf of Mexico on the Alabama panhandle that is surrounded by ocean waves and sandy dunes. Well I found another summer haunted house story for ya! There is not much in the way of oceans in Nyctophobia. Instead it offers us a semi-arid region of mountains and cliffs with lots of sunshine.

The majority of the book’s events play out in the summer months inside a house besides a cliff. The house seems to be a magnet for the light of the passing sun. Its large windows accept the sunshine willingly, which spreads out through the many rooms evenly and with precision. Officially it bares the title “Hyperion House” but it is nicknamed “The House of Light”.   It has…

Uninformed Critic: CUT!!!!!!!

Mr. Me – Yeah, what’s up? Why did you interrupt this review?

Uninformed Critic: This is supposed to be a book about the fear of darkness. You even brought in a heavy metal band for illustration. And here you are going on and on about summer, about sunshine, and blah blah blah!

Mr. Me – I’ll get to all the nyctophobia stuff, don’t you worry! I’m not going to leave you in the dark about these topics.  (See what I did there?  We were chatting about darkness and then I went and….)

Uninformed Critic:

Pow

 

Oww! My head. Somebody doesn’t take corny jokes too well! Sigh!

Anyway, in order to appease the fist-happy Uninformed Critic, I guess I should mention that there is this strange secluded section of Hyperion House that receives no light. It replicates the interior layout of the house, although it is much smaller than the main sections of the residence and it is sealed off from them. This section includes several rooms and an upstairs. It is not wired for electrical usage.  Locked doors prevent the light of the main house from creeping inside. Closed shutters keep the sunlight from shining in through the windows.

Doesn’t this setup seem quite strange? Callie thinks so. She is the newest occupant of Hyperion House. She is starting a new life; new country, new husband – and the new house comes equipped with servants who are quite familiar with the accommodations. The maid is reluctant to discuss the darkened section of the house. She has the keys to the locked doors but refuses to give them up. Her husband refuses to pay any mind to the situation.

Callie has had a troubled youth. Throughout all her troubles, she suffered from NYCTOPHOBIA US COVERNyctophobia – a fear of the dark. As an adult, she seems to have conquered the phobia.  But she really wants to go inside the dark, secluded section.  What’s in there? Will her childhood fears reemerge from the darkest corners of the house?

Such an interesting premise, wouldn’t you say, Uninformed Critic?

Uninformed Critic: yeah, yeah…grumble grumble grumble….

Ah but there are more interesting things afoot! Callie is an architect and she appreciates the genius behind the house’s construction.  It is revealed that the original owner was an architect and he strategically designed the house to allow for maximum influx of light. From its cliffside location to its architecture and design, he built the house in such a way as to be in tune with the astral bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars.  He was a worshiper of the ancient gods of the sky.  Thus the house is appropriately named “Hyperion House.”  Hyperion is a god and according to Wikipedia:

With his sister, the Titaness Theia, Hyperion fathered Helios (Sun), Selene (Moon) and Eos (Dawn).[1]

Hmm…the father of the sun, moon and the morning – could his divine influence have something to do with the strange balance of light and darkness within Hyperion House? Could be! It certainly adds another dimension to the story.

The location of this house is another thing that I find interesting. Through the eyes and minds of authors and filmmakers, I have traveled to haunted houses all over the world. In the States alone, authors have taken me to houses in the canyons near Hollywood, houses on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and to a variety of haunted domiciles in the New England area. I have traveled overseas and traversed through many of the haunted houses of The United Kingdom. Filmmakers have shown me haunted houses in Sweden, India and Japan. Finally, Fowler has taken me to a place I long to visit in real life – Spain. Location is an important part of this story.  Descriptions of the locale are well woven into the fabric of the story. From the locale we get “locals” – these folks dutifully contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story.   The sunbaked village lady that loves her cigarillos, the shy librarian of the makeshift library that develops a crush on Calle, these people have the kind of folksy charm that makes me think I’m a tourist rather than a reader.

Nyctophobia is not your average haunted house story. It is not of the gothic type. It is refreshingly unique. If you’re the type of reader that is fond of plot twists, you’ll get them!  However, this brings to the one of the two things that weaken the structure of the story. I’m not sure if the final twist adequately addresses all the mysteries that this story conjures. Maybe it does and I just misunderstood.  But I can’t help but feel as though something is missing; something that would make the overall story a bit tighter. The second weakness has to do with Calle’s background. Her troubled life that precedes her marriage is revealed in little dribbles here and there throughout the book. Because of such dribbling, I am not left with a solid understanding of her past sufferings.  For instance, her trials with nyctophobia are barely dealt with at all!  They are mentioned, but without example, story, or experience.

Despite its shortcomings, Nyctophobia is a good read. Read it while enjoying the sunshine of summer and maybe you will relate to the sunlit house of this story. Or read it in a darkened room and connected with the sealed off chambers of Hyperion House.  Read about light, darkness and all those mysterious things that pass between them.

Postlude to the Review

I learned of this book from a posting in Goodreads.com. The post is called Best Haunted House Fiction that Isn’t ‘The Shining’.  It is a list of 100 + haunted house novels and the order is in constant flux as users continuously vote on the ranking. At the time of press, The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson) and Hell House (Richard Matheson) are, respectively, in the first and second position. (Have read and reviewed both here at this blog). Nycophobia currently sits at #36. I’d say that’s a fair assessment. I wouldn’t put “Nycophobia” in the top ten, but it does deserve some kind of list recognition. Have a look at the post. Do you agree with the items on the list?

Review of The Uninvited

This movie came to me in a vision. There I was, entering a tomb that is guarded by possessed skeletons. I passed them by and went on. Soon I came upon an upright coffin. Somebody opened it from the inside! There before me was a coffin-bound ghoul. He spoke to me of horror! Then he told a corny joke and unseen people threw rubber chickens at him! All this occurred in my “tele” vision. (I told you it came to me in a “vision”)

For those who don’t know, I have just briefly described the opening for the horror movie show that airs on Saturday nights on MeTV . Famous horror-host Svengoolie helms the show (and the show is called “Svengoolie’ – imagine that!), and it is a blast! You can see one of these openings in the video below.

The film Svengoolie aired last Saturday is called The Uninvited. It was the second time I have seen this classic 1944 haunted house film on his show.  I think I liked it better the second time. Here is the plot in brief –  a brother and sister purchase a house by the seaside. The twenty-year-old granddaughter of the seller objects to this transaction. As a former occupant of the house (although she was very young when she lived there), Stella still feels a connection to the place; a connection which she has trouble articulating. Her mother passed away near the house. There is a cliff nearby that drops into the sea.  Her mother committed suicide by jumping off this cliff.  Or was she thrown off? Was murder involved?  There was another woman that lived with them in the seaside home. She too died when Stella was young.  Stella insists on living in the house with the new occupants. She is convinced that a female spirit also resides in this house. This spirit, she insists, is trying to make contact with her. Is it her mother? Or is it the spirit of someone else, someone that wants to harm her.

Svengoolie had an interesting piece of trivia concerning this film. He said that this was the first film that took the concept of “the ghost” seriously. I’ll take his word for it. Offhand, I can’t think of an earlier film that put as much effort into telling a thoughtful ghost story.  For the first time, perhaps, the ghost that manifests on the screen looks “real”.  Of    TheUninvited3course, by today’s standards, the specter in The Uninvited might appear lame. But I liked it! It is a distinct change from the “dancing sheets” that substituted as the ghosts in earlier films. Most often, these “ghosts” were used for comedic effect.

In The Uninvited, the ghost appears as a glowing swirl that dances across the screen. Soon, it takes on the appearance of a female specter; transparent and blurred just enough to allow for an imperfection of form that creates the visual effect of a vaporous figure.  The ghostly sounds are quite eerie as well. There is the disembodied sobbing that is done with just the right amount of echo. There is haunting laughter that trails off to nowhere. Then there are other factors that make for a chilling, ghostly atmosphere.  Book pages turn on their own accord. Flowers die instantaneously. And special attention should be payed to Actress Gail Russell (playing the role of Stella) when she gives way to dramatic pauses that pull the viewers into the contemplative yet chilling scenes. Stella smells the fragrance of her mother. She becomes blissfully joyful. Then Stella becomes frightfully cold. She succumbs to trances.

TheUninvited2

All in all this is a decent haunted house film. It’s not the best but it holds its own. My only complaint has to do with the ways that the mystery unravels. Through dialogue, the cast discuss the clues they have found and verbally hypothesize their way to the truth. This is an instance where the phrase “show don’t tell” comes in handy. I would have preferred more showing and less telling.  Oh well, you can’t always get what you want, I guess.  Still, it’s a good film.  See it. And tune into “Svengoolie” on MeTV Thank you! Over and out!

Review of The Ghosts of Ravencrest

ravencrestOn the very first page of this blog, I state that this haunted house project is a learning exercise that leads to an exploration of various genres of literature. Here in the intro I have written:

“From the stone castles of the old world to the suburban units of the new, a haunting we will go!   We will tread across various genres; unveiling the ghosts of Gothic novels, dissecting the creatures of Cosmic horror, and exorcising demons from modern film lore.”

By golly, I really mean what I say! I am exploring new things and I love it. For example, by studying a specific subgenre (i.e. classic haunted house stories), I have been turned on to Gothic literature in general.  As to the defining characteristics of Gothic literature, I am still learning. This is a topic for another article.  But even the layperson has a rudimentary understanding of some of the aspects of Gothic tales. Upon hearing the words “gothic literature,” people think of stone castles, dark romances, and wealthy heirs that are tied to their familial lineages.

Now, some might be tempted to restrict gothic tales to the 18th and 19th centuries; an era of rapid and sometimes unwelcome change (urbanization/ industrialization/modernization), for which Gothic novels had offered fanciful escape with their stories of the days or yore. (Okay NOW I’m treading too deep into the weeds. Come back!)  Thankfully, there are authors that keep this genre alive here in the 21st century. Authors such as, oh, I dunno, say…Tamara Thorne  and Alastair Cross.  They have successfully transposed the old world into the new – brick by brick, for the mansion that is at the center of their story has been relocated from old world Europe to the modern U.S.A. Included in this move are the ghosts that had been haunting the mansion. Over time, new ghosts moved in as well.  You can learn all about The Ghosts of Ravencrest  by reading their book.

Their book is filled with delicious gothic delights. As mentioned, it has the ghosts, but there is much more. There are witches and spells, misshapen creatures, and statues that come to life.  The Ravenscrest mansion has a wing that is locked away – for there are strange things afoot in this side of the building.  There is an interesting staff of characters; a charming and witty butler, and evil and jealous administrator, an innocent governess, who is the main protagonist of the story.  There are other intriguing staff members as well, and they all serve Eric Manning, widower and heir to a family business that has been operational for a couple of centuries.   In the middle of the book, the authors take us back in time to late 16th century Europe, where we meet Manning’s ancestors and learn of the origin of this terror that haunts Ravencrest.

“The Ghosts of Ravencrest” also has romance; a budding love story. Did I mention sex? It’s got that as well, in all its most erotic forms. Yes, it has BDSM.  For those that love that kind of thing, you will enjoy these parts of the story. For those that don’t, just put up with it, okay? It’s not a pervasive thing and there is so much more to the story, so please don’t let some hangup ruin this terrific piece work. As for me, I didn’t think the sex added anything to the story. But it didn’t steal from the story either, and that’s the important thing.

I say give it a try. You can sample it piece by piece if you like. It is broken up into eight novellas. All are available at Amazon for 99 cents a piece. As for me, I took the express lane to the end with no stops in between. In other words, you can purchase the whole collection as on book. But this will be “Book 1”.  The next book is “The Witches of Ravencrest.”.  Four novellas are already available for purchase, but I’m going to wait until all are available and then buy the whole collection.


I’d like to focus a little on the authors. Tamara Thorne has been writing best sellers since  thronecrossthe 1990s.  Alistair Cross came on the scene a little later.  Both are avid fans of ghost stories and gothic literature.  The two met one day and they decided to write as a team. I’ve always wondered how co-authoring worked!  Does one author write one chapter, and the other the next, continuing in this pattern until the book’s end?  The result of this method might be a “run-on” story; directionless, since each author grabs the helm at indiscriminate moments. Another method is for one author to do most of the work while the other adds a couple of ideas here and there, but they both end up getting co-author credit. But this doesn’t seem fair.

Thankfully, Thorne and Cross have found another way to work together.

During an interview, they explain their method. Via Skype, they write together in real time -electronic face to electronic face. They use Google Docs which allows them to write and edit the same document at the same time.   They spend several hours a day at this activity.

Thorne and Cross collaborate on other ventures as well. On Thursday evenings, they host an internet radio show, Haunted Nights Live.  On the show they read ghost stories and interview guest authors. Some of the guests include V.C. Andrews (Flowers in the Attic), Christopher Rice (son of Anne Rice), and Scott Nicholson (I have reviewed three of his books at this blog).

I’ve just discovered these two, and…I don’t know…they intrigue me. Maybe they have cast a spell on me or something. They would be the ones who could do it too, for they seem to live their daily lives in the macabre, constantly surrounded by a gothic vibe –  choose a phrase, you know what I mean. Together, they have gone on excursions of paranormal investigation. The collect little toy trolls. They love cats, a gothic animal if there ever was one. They are living their passions!

So, enjoy some of the forbidden fruits of their beloved labor. Visit their blogs. I have given you several links, and here is another. Listen to their show and buy, buy buy their books!

Review of Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas

hauntingsSomewhere out there in Facebook land, in one of the many groups to which I belong, I came across a post that was advertising a free book!  We indie authors are forced to give away books from time to time order to gain exposure. The title grabbed me right away: Hauntings: Three Haunted House Novellas.  Now how can a haunted house guy like me pass on this? I couldn’t.  So I downloaded it, read it, overall I liked it, and now I’m reviewing it.  Thus, the authors’ giveaway campaign has bared some fruit.  Not that my review equates to an orchard of apples or anything.  At least, put me down as one single peach!

As with other anthologies, there are some stories that I prefer over others. But I’m not going to delve into the nitty-gritties of my individual preferences. They are purely subjective and would negate from the fact that all these stories have their strengths. Like the three legs of a tripod, they have a solid-enough structure to support the novel as a whole.  And it doesn’t matter so much that these legs aren’t examples of the most innovative feats in engineering!  They are standard legs, standard stories – but they do their job.  Perhaps they can use a bit of polishing here and there (another round of editing). But as an indie author myself; I know how difficult editing can be (especially when you can’t afford a professional).

What I would like to do is: very briefly, I will summarize each story and then itemize the elements that stand out; the story components that have made a lasting impression on my memory.

First there is The Haunting of Monroe House by Olivia Harlowe.  A pregnant couple rents a house in the country. Is it haunted, or is there something about Sam’s pregnancy that is making everything so – strange? Here are the things that stand out – the peacocks, that scary closet, those wall-scratching noises, the farmer and his wife; an interesting couple indeed; characters well written.

Second there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Violet Archer. Colin inherits a lodge house that is the taboo of the town. No one will go near it. Except a young woman named Juno.  Together, Colin and Juno explore the strange happenings that are going on at Briarwood Lodge.  Here are the things that stand out – The attic window,  the corridors, that circle of chairs, the poltergeist-style activity. Oh, and how the house can, at will, lock its inhabitants inside!

Third, there is The Haunting of Briarwood Lodge by Mason Graves. Tom and Rebecca move into a new home. Tom is spooked by the stories surrounding the history of the house. Rebecca dismisses them as myths.  Who is correct?  Here are the things that stand out – Tom’s journey into the crawlspace, the mystery surrounding the original owners of the house, and the weird old lady that stalks the house.

All in all, this is a fun read.  Perhaps there will be more haunted house tales to come from this trio?   There is a website that hints at this, although it is a bit empty at the moment.

http://hauntedhousenovels.com/

Also, Violet Archer has many creepy short stories (each several paragraphs long) at her blog

https://violetarcher.com/blog/

Enjoy!

Review of 1408 (The Film)

1408-cover I wonder if Mike Enslin (Played by John Cusack) knows about “creeper weed.” He is the protagonist of Mikael Hafstrom’s film 1408 which is based on a short story by Stephen King.  In case he doesn’t know much about such things, I’ll explain it to him.  See Mr. Enslin, you know you’ve been smoking “creeper weed” if after you have taken a couple of hits, you feel nothing. So you take a few more puffs.  These extra inhalations allow you to, finally, feel something; not much, but oh well, the buzz it gives you will just have to do.  You go about your business. At some point during this business, you suddenly realize that you are stoned off of your ass!  The buzz has snuck up on ya! It “creeped” its way into your state of being, leaving you to wonder “When did all this happen?”  It’s a strong buzz too.  You’re not thinking straight. Everything is out of whack.  You’re afraid. (BTW, how do I know about “creeper weed”?  I heard it from a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy that read a book about it)

Mr. Enslin, are you all right? Oh dear. It seems that Mr. Enslin is a tad uncomfortable upon hearing of the effects of creeper weed.  But it’s worse than that Mr. Enslin, right?  You are terrified. It almost seems as if you have had a similar experience. Maybe not with drugs. Maybe with, I don’t know, a haunted hotel room that turned reality inside out and nearly drove you insane with fear?

See readers, Mike Enslin doesn’t believe in ghosts or any kind of paranormal phenomena. He is an author of haunted house books (Like yours truly!). He travels to supposedly haunted inns, uncovers the history as to why the place is haunted (past murders, death by illnesses, etc.) and writes about his experience in these hotels. But he never experiences anything out of the ordinary.  Until he stays in the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Room 1408.  A fine suite it is; luxurious, two or three rooms. The hotel manager (Samuel L Jackson) had warned him that no guest has ever lasted more than an hour inside this room. Well, Enslin arrives in his room, several minutes go my and….nothing!  Same old, same old.  (Boring impotent weed.) Okay, so suddenly there are fancy chocolates on the bed and a couple of other complimentary items and décor that wasn’t there moments ago.  Or, maybe they were there and he just didn’t notice.  Nothing else to see – move on, move on!  So the clock radio alarm goes off.  The last guest must have set it to go off at this time.  Things are a little weird, but these happenings, whatever they are, are harmless.  Then ghosts appear and start jumping out of the windows. (Uh oh….!)  More stuff happens; stuff stranger than the previous occurrences. Then More! Still MORE!   Suddenly poor Mike doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t.  And the room won’t let him leave!  Everything goes to hell and Mike comes to the realization that the evil of the room has slowly but surely “crept” up on him. A devastating evil it is. And it won’t let him go.

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The drug metaphors I have used to describe this film; excuse me if this puts you off, but I believe they effectively describe the feel of the movie. It has the flair of a psychedelic trip; albeit a trip or horrors – a very bad trip. But luckily for us the viewers, we are grounded in reality on the other side of the screen. Any “trippy” experience to be had is thankfully vicarious. But I’ll admit that I found myself a bit exhausted by the film’s end.

I really liked this movie. It is a tense film with psychological drama mixed in with the horror. John Cusack is excellent. And Samuel L Jackson, though his screen time is limited, brings a welcoming performance.  This movie is one of my favorites. See it!

Review of The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel

 

 

ThehauntingoflakeManorHotel-COVEROnce upon a time (more specifically, on several occasions back in the fourth and fifth grade), our teacher gave us creative writing assignments. The procedure was as follows: Mrs. Rickman would pass out copies of a drawing that had a written scenario underneath the panel. I remember a drawing of a bowl of soup that had letters rising from underneath the broth. There were question marks hovering over the bowl.

The written out scenario went something like this: “You go into a restaurant and order a bowl of alphabet soup. The waiter places the bowl before you. Suddenly, the letters in the soup form a message. What does the message say?” Our assignment was to answer such a question with a one page, handwritten story.  After all the stories were handed in, the teacher would read each of them out loud to the class. It was indeed a very rewarding experience. Among other things, we learned of the different directions to which one could lead a story.  We relished in each other’s creativity. At least I did. Some kids dreaded “Creative Writing Time.” Not me.  I loved the writing and the listening and I looked forward to hearing the stories written by my fellow peers.

Thank you Nathan Hystad and all the authors that contributed to The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel for bringing me back to my grammar school creative writing exercise. No, I’m NOT saying that the writing in this book is juvenile.  Let me explain.  Hystad created something that triggered the creativity of others – similar to the way Mrs. Rickman gave her students the tools to expand our imaginations. For The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel, Hystad came up with a back-story and scenario. Then he invited thirteen authors to write stories based on his depiction. The results are interesting indeed.

The back-story is as follows: through unscrupulous means, the wealthy Charles Hamblin, owner of Lake Manor, acquired farms and properties from victims of a drought, to later sell for a profit. Meanwhile, most of the swindled suffered another tragedy – they were victims of a plague. Hundreds of bodies were dumped in the nearby lake.  The ghosts of the victims began to occupy Lake Manor and haunt Hamblin’s descendents.

Here is the current scenario, set in modern times – , Lake Manor is converted into a hotel. Rumor has it that it is haunted. Is it? If so, by what? By whom?  It was the job of the authors to answer such questions. Each author was assigned a room number and instructed to write a story based on the experiences of the guests that stayed in the assigned suite.  These authors then got busy haunting this hotel, leaving none of their characters/guests unscathed. All are haunted in one way or another.

Some authors focus on the lake and the woodsy trails that surround it. They write about TheHauntingofLakeManorHote;bannercreatures that come out of the waters and prey on their victims. They tell tales of ghosts that arise from the watery depths to lure guests into the deadly lake. They speak of strange things lurking along the trails.  Other authors focus in on the ghostly goings on within the walls of the Manor. They unleash bizarre beings of their mind’s creation and let them roam the corridors. They haunt rooms with ghostly children. They install secret panels and passageways for their characters to uncover and explore.

There are several reoccurring characters and themes throughout the book. Members of the hotel staff find themselves in multiple stories. There’s Lissette the desk clerk, Clay the bartender and Hank the bellhop. If I were you (“you” the reader or soon-to-be-reader of this book), I’d watch out for this trio. They can be…suspicious…at times. There are other crossovers as well.  There’s an offhand reference to a certain guest in one story. This guest ends up being a main character in another tale. So pay attention, readers! Oh, and watch out for the strange dishware you and the guests will encounter along the wooded trails throughout several stories – they are labeled with the names of different body parts.

All the stories are well written. As an added bonus, they smack of style; each one different, each one delightfully unique. There weren’t any bad stories. Some were better than others. One in particular was both intriguing and puzzling, so I read it twice. I’m still not sure I understood everything even after a second reading. But hot damn, I love this author’s style! (The story is Jumbled-up Jack by Christopher Bean). Alas, there were a couple of stories with non-endings. Seriously, it seemed as if some authors were nearing the climax but then decided to step out and have a smoke, only to forget to finish the story. But overall, this book is an enjoyable read and wonderful exercise in creative collaboration. “Creative Writing Time” lives on at it is beautiful, man!