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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 08:31 pm:   

I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be on this panel about Ghost Stories at the World Fantasy Convention, so in the next couple of weeks, I think I will read as many as I can. If you have any suggestions, please set them down for me. Thanks!
And if you are interested in the subject don't forget to check out THE DARK, the new ghost story anthology edited by Ellen Datlow. I have a new story in there, "The Trentino Kid." There are a lot of great pieces in it as well by Kelly Link, Lucius Shepard, Glen Hirshberg, Gahan Wilson, Joyce Carol Oates, etc.

Best,

Jeff
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ellen
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 09:18 pm:   

Jeff,
Turns out (as I mentioned on the TTA BB) I'm not on that panel, but I may sit in to see what's going on.

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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 09:28 pm:   

Ellen: Too bad. I could have let you do the talking. Ok, now, give me a couple of great ghost stories. I mean classics, like stories I couldn't live without, essentials, the ones you love the most.
Just a couple, cause I know you have hundreds of them in your head.
2 of my favorites are "The Phantom Rickshaw" and "The Return of Imray" by Kipling. I also love the ghost stories of Henry James. Of course, Turn of the Screw and The Friends of the Friends but also "Sir Edmund Orme" ranks up there, where James does The Sixth Sense almost a hundred years before The Sixth Sense. I also like some of the ones by Edith, the wart hog, Wharton. I read a really eerie one once by Truman Capote about a little girl who follows this woman home from the movies.
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Trent
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 09:57 pm:   

I remember liking M.R. James' "Casting the Runes" but can't remember if it's a ghost story though several anthologies list it as such. Anyway, this James made ghost stories his bread and butter.

Of course, Toni Morrison's BELOVED.

The problem with a panel on ghost stories is that you'll get a whole bunch of writers excited about writing ghost stories and then editors will complain about how they're getting all these ghost stories. (I half-jest.)

BTW, I love the title of your story. It has the ring of something truly wonderful.
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jeff ford
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 10:40 pm:   

Trent: MR James is a writer I should look at. I've been aware of his stories for a while, but never really delved into them. Didn't he have a collection named something like The Antiquarian Bookshop? Thanks for the suggestion.
Speaking of my story in the anthology, I just realized that in the afterword where we were supposed to mention our favorite ghost story, I said "The Phantom Rickshaw" but attributed it to Kipling's Plain Tales From the Hills, but now that I think about it its from Under The Deodhors (sp?) Oh well, I'm not sure of any of it now. If you get a chance to read "The Trentino Kid" let me know what you think.
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GabrielM
Posted on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 11:31 pm:   

True classics?

Here's a few I like:

The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions
The Upper Berth by F Marion Crawford
How Love Come to Professor Guildea by Robert Hichens
Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Most stories by HR Wakefield and EF Benson and Vernon Lee, although specific titles don't come to mind right now.

The above are all rather obvious choices, but it seems that's what you're asking for.

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Michael Cisco
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 03:12 am:   

I can't recommend M.R. James enough - Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. "Casting of the Runes" - "Oh Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad" - Another, harder to find, but Ligotti pointed it out to me and boy was he right - "Tale of a Disappearance and an Appearance".
You've hit all the best ones by Henry.

Vernon Lee's "Amour Dure"
Poe's "Ligeia" (is she a ghost?)
MP Shiel's "House of Sounds" (wild!)
The title alone makes it - Dennis Etchison's "You Can Go Now"
HPL didn't do much with proper ghosts - but plenty of good in "The Shunned House," "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," and "The Unnameable"
ETA Hoffmann - "The Mines of Falun"
Washington Irving's "Tale of the German Student"
Shirley Jackson has some sound ghost stories in her collection, and The Haunting of Hill House really is one of the short-shelf greats.
I like LeFanu's "Haunted Baronet".
Dickens' "The Signal-Man".
Campbell's "Loveman's Comeback" (I'm reaching in my memory ... just can't bring back the names darn it)

Classic story - does anyone know the author - entitled, wonderfully, "A Visitor from Down Under" -

I soundly second "The Beckoning Fair One" - "The Yellow Wallpaper" - and "The Upper Berth" which scared me senseless as a boy.

Will post more when I can think!
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 05:02 am:   

Gabe & Michael: These are great lists. Even if I don't get to all of these in the next couple weeks, I'm going to make a list for future reading. I know of and totally agree on some of them like Green Tea, The Beckoning Fair One, the Hoffmann, Haunting of Hill House, Yellow Wallpaper, etc. But some of the other ones, just their titles make me want to find them now and read them. In addition to these lists, which are great, do you have any thoughts on why ghost stories have remained popular or what kind of conventions they adhere to or anything like that? I read one last night that was really good -- "House Taken Over" by Julio Cortazar. One of my favorite ghost novels is Michelsson's Ghosts. Thanks again for the suggestions!
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paulw
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 05:18 am:   

Jeff, I believe the Capote story is "Miriam."

Carlos Fuentes' "Aura" is a pretty creepy Jamesian ghost story, if memory serves . . .
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Night Shade Books
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 05:39 am:   

"A Vistor from Down Under" was L.P. Hartley, who also wrote another fine tale, "The Travelling Grave."

Jason
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Michael Bishop
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 06:00 am:   

You might check out The Norton Book of Ghost Stories edited by Brad Leithauser from 1994. It's a pretty good collection and includes contributions by both Jameses (Henry & M. R.) plus some other less familiar stories.
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 08:15 am:   

Flann O'Brien's THE THIRD POLICEMAN is a surprising ghost story -- a ghost novel indeed -- and perhaps the best ghostly fiction I've ever read, though it doesn't fit obviously into the genre...

I recommend it as highly as it's possible to recommend something!
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Rhys
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 08:17 am:   

Oh yes, and I back Paulw on Fuentes' novelette AURA, which is quite brilliant. Try to get hold of Fuentes' essay on how he wrote this story too, which is often published with the story itself.
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rick bowes
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 08:38 am:   

The Capote story "Miriam"(Miram Shut A Final Door was the original title) was included in his very early collection A TREE OF NIGHT AND OTHER STORIES which has several other gothic ghost/horror pieces. Almost enough to qualify it as a ghost story collection. Which was a fine little genre all on its own in the first half of the 20th century.
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GabrielM
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 08:58 am:   

Jeff -- The basic MR James is GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY and MORE GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY. Most modern paperback editions collect both in one book, but you should check to make sure. Of course, if you want to splurge you can always get the beautiful collected MR James tome A PLEASING TERROR from Ash-Tree, which is lovely, although it might be out of print.

"House of Sounds" may be the best thing Shiel wrote, although there's a longer version of the story called (I believe) VAILA, which is even more gothic, decadent and extreme.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 10:15 am:   

Paul, Jason, Michael and Rhys: Great suggestions. I appreciate the help. Some of these I know, like The Third Policeman and Aura, but have never heard of Hartley. Still, I had forgotten about Fuentes and O'Brien, and they would both be good candidates to go back and take a look at.

Paul & Rick: Thanks for the information on the Capote story. I think I will try to dig up the collection you mention, Rick. I was unaware that he had written other ghost stories.

GabeM: Thanks for the information on James. I wanted to ask you if you remembered offhand which of the Maquroll stories was a ghost story. I think it was the one where he is running the brothel in Brussels or where ever the hell it was. doesn't that one turn into a ghost story at the end where there is a woman's ghost in the hold of an abandoned ship. I guess maybe the Tramp Steamer could be considered one also.

Michael Bishop: I don't know if it can officially be considered a ghost story, but The Door Gunner is probably my favorite horror story of this year so far.
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des
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 10:46 am:   

GabrielM on Wednesday, October 08, 2003 - 11:31 pm:
The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions
The Upper Berth by F Marion Crawford
How Love Come to Professor Guildea by Robert Hichens
Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
Ringing the Changes by Robert Aickman
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Most stories by HR Wakefield and EF Benson and Vernon Lee, although specific titles don't come to mind right now.

**************
I agree with those, plus The Electric Key by Lord Dunsany, Afterward by Edith Wharton, Father Girdlestone's Tale by RH Benson, The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance by MR James, All Hallows by Walter de la Mare, The Monkey's Paw by WWW Jacobs, The Sweeper by Ex-Private X, The Voice In he Night by William Hope Hodgson, *any* ghost story by Elizabeth Bowen...
des

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rick bowes
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 10:48 am:   

Jeff I'm going on very old memory - say 40 years old. It's gothic, lush, hothouse stuff from the very early Capote Boy Genius period. A kind of bookend to the final Capote Hideous Toad period.
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Richard Parks
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 11:28 am:   

The editors are _already_ complaining about too many ghost stories. Well, some of them, anyway.
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S. Hamm
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 01:14 pm:   

Jeff,

L.P. Hartley (who is probably best known for THE GO-BETWEEN) also wrote a swellacious genre novel, FACIAL JUSTICE. When you're done chasing phantoms you should give it a look.

Sammy
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 04:50 pm:   

Try Robert Westall and Robert Aickman.

Also, Bret Lott wrote a terrific one a few years ago that I reprinted in YBFH. And Terry Dowling from Oz writes excellent ghost stories--The Man Who Saw Red is one collection and I forget the name of his others.

But Jeff, the panel shouldn't consist only of panelists and audience suggesting ghost stories.

I've been on that kind of panel and they're really boring. Of course that will have to be part of the panel, but in my opinion lists/suggestions should be kept for the latter part. It would be far more interesting to discuss the anatomy of a ghost story, what makes a good ghost story, the mechanics of the great ones perhaps? Why there's a re-emergence of them in the past five or so years. Rather than just rattling off titles.
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jeff ford
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 06:43 pm:   

Ellen: Yeah, I know. I was hoping this would kind of develop into that, but for now I'm interested in just getting the suggestions. I'm still thinking about those things you rightly mention, but anyone else who has thought about them, please fire away.
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Trent
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 09:11 pm:   

Jeff,

I read your story. Well written--as always. The ghost zombie had tremendous speculative surreal spooky appeal--the bit about the transformation from tear to eye, etc. I loved that, as well as the correlation of ghost to dilapidated boat. I'd have to read it again when I'm less tired if you did anything deeper I missed.

Did those two rules come into play? I suppose D's fright is a sort of panic though I've forgotten now the first rule. Incidentally, I'm a breaststroker, too (or was when I actually swam), so you'll be safe around me the next time you go clamming.

To me the structure of almost every ghost story (or horror story) is a slow build up to the horror itself: from dark atmosphere (dark and stormy night) to hints that can be dismissed (slamming shutters) to hints that are harder to dismiss (rattling chains) to the horror itself (boo). Or something of the sort. Some older stories begin with narration at an oral telling of ghost stories in order to lend credibility that this really really happened, I suppose--much as Frankenstein begins with a diary of a man relating another man's story.

Nowadays folks begin in the mundane world out of reflex or an attempt to lure in casual readers or perhaps an attempt to sound more literary. I think that was S.T. Joshi's criticism of King & other modern horror crew.

I also read your Creation story. I loved the Powder of Life from Oz. You read those stories? Were they influential?
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ellen
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 09:29 pm:   

Trent,
There are still lots of ghost stories that use the device of a group sitting around telling stories. Peter Straub's novel Ghost Story does that. And so does the Ash-Tree collection written by A. F. Kidd and Rick Kennett,called 472 Cheyne Walk. Some of them are very effective.

Starting with an everyday situation or as you call it "the mundane world" works wonderfully in horror because the horror can creep into that everyday world and cause great disquiet in both the characters and the reader. Ramsey Campbell (whose work Joshi likes quite a bit) writes about seemingly normal situations that turn bad. In fact, that's what most horror does.

It certainly isn't to be more "literary." Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding what you're saying--I think I'm missing your point.
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Thursday, October 09, 2003 - 10:18 pm:   

Jeff,

Two of my very favorite ghost stories are by Shirley Jackson, in her posthumous collection, Come Along With Me. The stories are called, "A Visit" and "The Rock". They're far better, in my own opinion, than the haunting that occurs in "The Haunting of Hill House", and far better than "The Demon Lover" from her Lottery collection. In these ghost stories, the ghosts are stranger, more real, than the poltergeisty tricks of Hill House. They walk about the story like the living characters, have spooky mundane conversations with the main characters in a way that the other ghost stories of Jackson do. They're so *real* that they're scarier than most ghosts I've met in stories. Not just Jackson's ghost stories, but other author's as well.

In both stories, as in most Jackson stories, the undercurrent of patriarchy and male domination of women's lives and livelihoods is apparent. Perhaps that's a point of discussion for the panel. What exactly, in ghost stories, are ghosts going on about? Sure, we love the thrill and fear they inspire. But what are they scaring us about? Why?

Chris
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Rhys
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 04:19 am:   

Who mentioned M.P. Shiel? I'd completely forgotten about him! My favourite Shiel story (because it is the most extreme in all the things he does best and worst) is 'Phorphor' which can be found in his collection SHAPES IN THE FIRE (recently reissued by Tartarus)...

Jeff: Glad you keep banging on about Maqroll. I'm gradually coming to the likely conclusion that it is my favourite novel ever (or series of linked novellas, I should say)...

There's a great (and almost forgotten) ghost story by Keith Roberts called 'I Lose Medea' which is completely unlike most of his other work. It can be found in his collection THE GRAIN KINGS.

Clark Ashton Smith wrote one or two intresting ghost stories, 'The Ninth Skeleton' for instance...

James Branch Cabell wrote a ghost novel about a pirate whose spirit separates from the man and continues to go pirating while the man himself stays at home (or something like that: I can't even remember the title!)

As for the anatomy of the *ghost story* I think it's now too late to ever use the fact that a character is really a ghost as a twist... Much better to do away with an element of suspense and look for something else in the concept.
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Trent
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 05:59 am:   

Ellen,

I'll have to look up what Joshi wrote.

As for me, I do wonder about conventions (be they social or literary or what have you). Are they necessary?

Clive Barker, for a horror instance, in Cabal began with a serial killer, which by convention would be saved for last. But Barker moves on to deeper horror and/or speculative territories. Is it just because it's harder to write? Or can we not be horrified by a world not our own?

The formula for a horror story works, which is why we use it. Of course you want to save your biggest punch for last.... or do you? Certainly Roald Dahl made his living by putting the punch in the middle with a little added twist at the end. I guess that's one of the things I love about Dahl: he broke with tradition and still succeeded.

Are there other ways we may also break with tradition that we have not yet fully explored?
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Trent
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 07:01 am:   

Ellen,

Though I was probably conflating several different points, this is the closest Joshi quote I could find. I don't agree with everything Joshi says in general or in certain particularities of burning author effigies, but he has many good points and is well worth the read:

From THE MODERN WEIRD TALE:

"We are not meant to forget that Straub is a _novelist_, and novelists (all the writing manuals say so) have to have plenty of character description, realistic dialogue (even if the dialogue serves no purpose), and background description. There is, as a result, a grotesque lack of proportion in this novel: Straub does not know what incidents to elaborate and what incidents to compress."
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Michael Bishop
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 07:03 am:   

Jeff,

A quick aside here, just to thank you for your comment about "The Door Gunner." I'm pleased that its forerunner in The Silver Gyphon is "Present from the Past." Hope your appearance on the ghost story panel goes well. Seems to me that you're doing far more preparation than most undertake, so I'm confident that it will.

All best,

Mike
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rick bowes
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 08:23 am:   

Jeff

"Seems to me that you're doing far more preparation than most undertake, so I'm confident that it will."

Really! More prep than I've done in total for all the panels on which I've ever appeared. I'm anxious to see how this turns out.

Rick
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Trent
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 08:49 am:   

Jeff,

Thought more on your story--with a little more lucidity. And assuming I understand, re: ghost-->boat connection, I love your theme (I think I caught it during the read but couldn't recall it last night). Could the boat have been made more indispensible? Anyway, amen and hallelujah and other praises to the highest. Thanks for the great read.
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John Langan
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 10:47 am:   

Dear Jeff,

I'd second many if not most of the recommendations made here already. Henry James's ghost stories hold a special place in my heart: I think "The Jolly Corner" has to be about my favorite. I love the idea of meeting the ghost of the person you might have been.

This idea of the relationship between the ghost and the self is one Straub employs--to my mind rather brilliantly--in Ghost Story, which is the other work I'd most recommend. What Straub does in the novel might be helpful in responding to your question about how the ghost story works. There's a character who keeps returning to the same moment over and over again, when he woke up to see his lover standing by the window. He asked her what was the matter, and she said something--he's not sure what. At first he thinks she said, "I saw a ghost." The he thinks she said, "I am a ghost." Finally, he decides she said, "You are a ghost." I don't want to suggest that you can boil every ghost story ever written into this statement, but I think it may apply to a lot of them: the idea that the ghost is in some way a mirror for the self, and that what it's showing us is pretty awful (our own emptiness/blankness? maybe).

I'm looking forward to hearing you on this panel.


Best wishes,




John
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Trent
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 11:13 am:   

Final thought on "Trentino Kid," I think:

Maybe the paralleling of boat and ghost is not a thematic connection since it's really, plot-wise, an exchange of one for another, so in this sense (despite description) it's not a 1:1 relationship. Rather the boat we're driving, no matter the condition, may be doomed and following rules of human kindness may pay off. I very much like that D decided against.

Not two terribly different interpretations, but it depends on how you weigh the evidence, i.e. on how you read/write.

Sorry to be vague. I don't want to ruin it for anyone. Hopefully, you know what I'm referring to.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 12:40 pm:   

Jeff,

lately I've been writing some stuff that uses genre elements as peripheral and/or backdrop material against which to set a different sort of story, reducing those elements to extremely unspectacular/undramatic incidences. One of these has ghosts in it, and as I write, as I follow this thread, I think what John L says about ghosts being mirrors is pretty much right on, certainly in the case of my particular story, though I might prefer the word "amplifier," in the sense that the ghosts in my story seem to be--rather than primarily plot elements--a sort of silent chorus that amplifies the desolate circumstance and emotional terrain in which the main characters co-exist. In casting back over my favorite ghost stories, a number of which have been listed here, I see that this usage occurs--whether as a side effect or as a central matter--in many of them. However a ghost story "works," its anatomy, thus seems secondary to me, kind of, in relation to a more general consideration of the subtextual function of ghosts in a fictional setting. I suppose may seem like hair-splitting, but then I tend to think of living people as being ghosts in that when they speak, when they interact with others, they often are expressing sentiments or opinions that less reflect how they feel at the moment than they do the past point in time when they formed said opinion or sentiment, and so are in effect mirror images of someone they once knew themselves to be...maybe. Which is, too complicatedly, a way of saying that ghosts are to my mind completely unextraodinarily and undeniably believable as human artifacts.

On another bent, I wonder how many people who like ghost stories actually believe in ghosts, and--if they do not--what attracts to them to such stories. It strikes me that if you could get a clean answer to that question, it would go a long way toward answering the question of how a ghost story works.
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rick bowes
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 02:51 pm:   

Lucius

Something about ghosts as manifestations of the afterlife lingers somewhere in the gestalt. I work in a building with an enormous 12 story tall interior atrium. Four weeks ago today a kid jumped from the tenth floor balcony and killed himself in our midst. Today another one did the same thing. From now on this hundred and twenty foot high, hundred foot by hundred foot, marble floored interior will be haunted. I don't think anybody here at NYU doesn't feel that.

Rick
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 03:07 pm:   

Hey, Rick...

Thought I made it plain. I absolutely believe in ghosts, even ones who hang out here in the hinterlands far from NYU--I believe in them so strongly, they don't seem to any degree strange or etc. I think there are all kinds of ghosts. I think some may be extradimensional shadows, events taking place in another slice of the multiverse; I think some are fragments left-over from those who've--as John Edwards likes to say--passed. Etc. Etc. I doubt they are a homogenous phenomenon...

And yeah, It seems fairly apparent that if you believe in ghosts, or give them any sort of credence, that would explain your interest in stories to an extent. Just trying to speculate about why/how ghost stories work, and I think it might be fruitful to examine other areas -- such as why people who don't believe in ghosts like ghost stories.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 03:15 pm:   

PS -- Why people who don't believe in ghosts like ghost stories -- I'm referring to reasons that manifest on a subtextual level. That's where my particular interests lies, not in their escapist qualities, et al...
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rick bowes
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 03:19 pm:   

Hi Lucius

I'm still kind of rattled by the afternoon's events. Just talked to security about what I saw (nothing this time, thank God). What I meant was that one doesn't have to believe in ghosts, to believe in ghosts. It's hardwired into us. If you polled the community here, I doubt if many would say they believed. But, though all evidence of today's event has been erased, I can look down into the atrium from the window outside my office and see that absolutely no one is going anywhere near the area on the floor where those poor kids landed.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 03:36 pm:   

Rick,

yeah, sure...I understand. Of course, my consideration of the question was based on the notion, however absurd, that people would give honest answers to the question. There are people, however, who--though they may as you suggest be hardwired for belief--strenuously, logically deny the phenomenon, and if the right filter could be applied, then you might be able to divine what, if any, appeal a ghost story has to them other than escapism and a resonance with belief. I think that answer might shed some light on the functioning of these stories.
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rick bowes
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 03:57 pm:   

Lucius

People saying they don't believe in ghosts is in itself a kind of magic wish. If we all say we don't believe then the ghosts can't hurt us. But, of course, we all do. In that way ghost stories can be kind of a dirty-secret vice. Private porno for the rational minded.

Saying we don't believe is the opposite but a lot the same as that moment in Peter Pan where Tinkerbell is going where the dead fairies go and Peter (have you ever been to a live performance?) looks out at the audience and pleads with the kids to applaud if they believe in fairies. And, of course, they do and the #6 blue gel light that's been flickering lower and lower suddenly erupts and everyone cheers. And when that very strange play is over, the lights come up and most everybody forgets the resurection ritual in which they just participated.
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Thomas R
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 03:57 pm:   

I'm not sure you need a deep explanation. People who don't believe in vampires like vampire stories. I liked The X-Files, up to a point, but think alien abduction stories are fake. People sometimes like things they know aren't real, hence the popularity of fantasy.

In a weird way though ghost stories might have more appeal to some Rational Atheists than other supernatural things. They allow you to live on, but in an earthly way. They do not require God, Angels, Heaven, or Hell. They symbolize the emotional effect "haunting" that certain violent deaths can do to a place.

I'm not a good example though as I don't much care for ghost stories and more actively disbelieve in ghosts. I do like some afterlife fantasies, including versions of the afterlife I don't believe in, but ghost stories rarely do much for me.
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 04:16 pm:   

Lucius,

I think one of the reasons why I like ghost stories that has nothing to do about belief in ghosts at all, is that in a ghost story, we get to participate in a reading protocol the forces us to understand a supernatural force as a metaphorical or psychological manifestation. It's both a readerly pleasure to do this, but in the case of those who don't believe in the reality of ghosts, it reinforces their rational/logical explanations for the supernatural. In this way, a ghost story is pleasurable for the belief-wired, and a pleasurable on a analytical level for those who don't believe in the existence of ghosts.

You can read a Henry James story as a story of a woman seeing real ghosts, or as a psychological portrait of madness. No one sees the ghosts but the nanny. In this way, a reader without belief in the existence of ghosts is allowed a little game of psychoanalysis, so to speak, which validates their own ideas on the supernatural in the end. These sorts of readers get to be freaked out by the madness of the nanny. And for those readers who do believe in ghosts, they get to be freaked by the ghosts themselves as a reality.

At least I think I'm making sense here. It's quite possible I'm not.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 04:58 pm:   

Rick: So you're saying everyone believes in ghosts? That disbelief is always a King's X version of belief? I just don't think that's so. Sometimes saying you don't believe in something actually means you don't believe in it. Not every act of belief or disbelief relates to Peter Pan or Tinkerbell or magical contraries. Not everyone's psychological make-up is dominated by unsophisticated reactions, though of course they are prone to them on some level, since one's childhood is always with one. But there are in the world those people who find the idea of ghosts flat absurd and are not whistling past the graveyard in their disbelief. The whole notion just seems stupid, dumb, and not worth concerning themselves with. If you're going to insist that this is not the case or that all these people's disbelief reflect a superstitious reaction, you're essentially waxing cosmic, saying that everything is everything else, which of course it is, and we don't need to argue because though it may appear we're differing, we're really agreeing...ad infinitum. The porno of the rational bit is a good point, but I don't think it it's a huge umbrella.

In the beginning of this, I said is that I believe there are reasons people like ghost stories that have nothing to do with escapism or belief in ghosts, nothing to do with Peter Pan, magic, private porno for the rational, et al, and I think those reasons are architecturally ( in a fictional sense of the word) intriguing and I myself would like to understand them. To which you replied that ghosts as fragments of afterlife had something to do it. To which I said, Yeah, I thought I acceded that point originally, but if not, if I wasn't clear, then sure, I agree. So I'm going to restate -- I think that a great ghost story has a logical architecture that appeals to people, this in addition to the rest, and I think that if one could analyze certain people's response to these stories, you might be able to nail down something interesting about the craft involved. I also think that what John L said has relevance, that the idea of ghosts reflects the idea of self. I think there's something more intricate going on than you appear to, and since I have to go to dinner and a movie at this juncture, we're going to have to agree to disagree.

"If we all say we don't believe in ghosts we can't be hurt by ghosts."

Well, as a kid I lived in a house with ghosts. Never was particularly afraid of them, never felt threatened, never looked at them as other than a weird kind of furniture. I would submit that what the people are afraid of at NYU are not ghosts but death. The unluckiness of the place. It's taint of extinction. Not ghosts per se.

Have a great weekend.
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Matthew
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 05:45 pm:   

Lucius, I am probably going looking like a fool asking this, but do you mean you had literal ghosts?
I always find stories of "real world" hauntings very interesting. There seem to be to many cases of them to be written off as completely. I'm not quite sure I believe that spirits of the dead remain with us, but there seems to be a phenomenon that goes beyound, at least current, scientific understanding.
Ghosts in literature are another matter all together. They could be symbols for the writer's/reader's/character's fears or past or other personal demons or they could be simply plot devices like in Hamlet.
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John Langan
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 07:35 pm:   

Dear Jeff (and Lucius),

I just wanted to follow up a little, since the conversation has continued in such an interesting way. I'm thinking about the appeal of ghost stories for people who don't believe in ghosts. For what it's worth, Freud thought the appeal of the uncanny (or unheimlich in Deutsch) was that it represented, in essence, the return of the repressed. For him, the uncanny represents desires we once owned, tried to stuff under the floorboards of our conscious minds, but can't escape. When we encounter this kind of material in a story, what we experience is a kind of subterranean shock of recognition. I suppose this takes us back to the notion of ghost-as-self.

(And since Peter Straub seems to be paying me to advertise his novel, I'll note that there's a scene early in Ghost Story where one of the main characters masturbates into the shirt of a woman he's infatuated with, fantasizing about her as he does so, and that this seems to me another fine trope for the way ghosts work.)

For myself, I think the uncanny also draws its power from the way it violates what I guess I'd call our systems of knowing, the kinds of mental structures we use to apprehend and interpret what's going on around us. I wonder if even the most self-avowedly rational of us doesn't sometimes wonder if things don't work quite the way we think they do: if there isn't something to the idea that it rains every time you wash your car, that black cats bring you bad luck (unless you're Scottish). And I wonder if the uncanny story doesn't tap into that.

King once suggested that the ghost is the Mississippi of monsters, the headwaters from which the rest spring. I like that.


Best,




John
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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 08:56 pm:   

I just got here after being away all day and the conversation is fascinating.
I don't believe in ghosts but am afraid they could exist--does that make sense? I've had at least one ghostly unexplained experience but can easily talk myself out of it. However, I'd never particularly want to stay in the house where I experienced it again.

I love ghost, and other supernatural horror stories. For me, it's the art of a good tale, well -written and atmospheric enough to draw me in despite rationalism. In that way it's similar to my reading of all fiction--I love to be taken out of my life into a well-conceived world that is unlike my own (which is probably why I dislike most of what might be called "realistic or naturalistic fiction."

John L: your talk about the uncanny hits the nail on the head. Even though I emphatically do not believe in ghosts I DO believe there inexplicable happenings--a lost ring, synchronicity, a deep dark dread when I ride in cities that remind me of places I hate (like Albany-- seriously).
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 10:27 pm:   

Chris and John, what you guys are saying resonates with what I was trying to home in on and I really appreciate the feedback. I also think some of what John's saying, the violation of the system of knowing, speaks in a way to what Rick was saying about porno for rationalists. Anyway, I want to think about what I want to say or else I'll just start babbling again...

Matthew, yeah I meant literal ghosts...as literal as they get, at any rate. I spent my first six years and every summer til I was twelve at my grandmother's (on my mom's side) house in Farmville, VA, an old ante-bellum mausoleum with big columns and all. My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a country doctor named Paulus Irving. He was killed under mysterious circumstances that I never was privy too--my family were a weird Southern goth bunch, who kept secrets from one another and had lots of hate. My father, for instance, never spoke to his brother for the last forty-some years of his life. Anyway, my grandfather died due to some sort of accident. His ghost was in the house. I saw him a number of times -- this delicate elderly man in a dark suit. The first time I ran and told my grandmother and she said, That's just your grandfather, dear. He drops in on us from time to time. I was a little confused back then about life and death, being five years old, so I got the idea that dead people were simply people who weren't there all the time. When I was older I didn't see him as much, but his old medical bag and other stuff that was his was always turning up where it wasn't supposed to be. Stuff like that. There was also the ghost of a child, a girl -- my grandmother wasn't sure of her identity, but thought she might be my great-great aunt, Madeleine, who died when she was 8. I never saw her, but I felt her in my room now and then, just this sense of presence,and my grandmother and some of the other family members saw her. Sometimes my toys were scattered all over the place and I didn;t do it.. I used to try to use her as an excuse for not having cleaned my room, but that didn't fly too far. I was never frightened, never alarmed, or anything like that. Everybody treated my grandfather and the girl like part of the household. I remember the maid would come in and find some of my grandfather;s stuff had been moved around and would say something like, "Ol Doctor Paulus musta been out on a call last night," and chuckle. It was no big deal. Just another family secret. After my grandmother died, the house was sold and turned into a woman's club. I never entered it again, but my cousin Edgar did and he said he was told that the place was still haunted.

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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 10:45 pm:   

The idea of ghost stories as porno for rationalists does make sense, though. In a sense, for rationalists, the ghost story again allows them to play with the supernatural as in a game that will always validate their own logic that the supernatural is a matter of psychology.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, October 10, 2003 - 10:51 pm:   

Chris,

Yeah, I was agreeing.
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 06:14 am:   

Some other, more recent examples of excellent ghost stories: Kelly Link's "The Specialist's Hat", Maureen McHugh's "Ancestor Money"--(mentioned upstream in my topic), and a few of the stories I published by James Blaylock a couple of years ago, could be construed as ghost stories: "His Own Backyard" and "Small Houses."
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ellen
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 06:19 am:   

Rhys,
You can use that effectively as a twist as long as there are other things going on in the story/movie--eg: Sixth Sense and The Others were (IMO) terrific ghost stories. Also, more than a couple of stories in my anthology The Dark do have that element in them--although as I say, much more is going on than just that.
Ellen

<<As for the anatomy of the *ghost story* I think it's now too late to ever use the fact that a character is really a ghost as a twist... Much better to do away with an element of suspense and look for something else in the concept.
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:12 am:   

Sorry I've been away from this topic for a while. I want to thank everyone for the great suggestions and ideas.

Michael and Rick: Let's not get out of hand now. It's not that I'm doing that much prep. I figured I would throw this idea out here and see what you guys all had to say and then cribb off your answers. Sneaky, I know. Or not too sneaky, but it's working.

John: I'm a James fan especially when it comes to The Ghost stories and "The Jolly Corner" is a really original twist on the theme. Thanks also for your thoughts on the workings of this subgenre.

Lucius: I'm interested in these new stories you mention. The ones you mention with the fantastic at a low ebb inthe background. My story for Silver Gryphon, "Present From the Past," was just this kind of piece. I really considered it a ghost story but most people couldn't tell. When you finish them, please, either send one on or let me know where they will appear. I'm intrigued by this idea and want to see what you are doing with it.

Rhys: Thanks for the further suggestions. And, yes, I agree, there is something about Mqroll that is just great. One of the highlight books for me in the last twenty years. Between you and GabeM and I, we should keep trying to get the word out about it.

Chris: I'll be stealing directly from your post for the panel. Same with Lucius and Rick.

Best,


Jeff
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:17 am:   

Rick: So sorry to hear about the student suicides at NYU. I seem to hear about so many of these suicides or suicide attempts by young people. I don't know if the statistics show that the numbers are up, but it seems like they are. These really need to be considered and understood, but all I want to do is turn away from them because of their weight of tragedy. I suppose that's what happened to these people in life, everyone just wanted to turn away because of the weight of tragedy. I understand what you mean by the fact that the place will now be haunted forever.

Best,



Jeff
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:22 am:   

Jeff,

I'll email you a file with one such story, but the ghost stories are in progress, so they'll have to wait a bit.
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jeff ford
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 10:32 am:   

Lucius: Thanks! I'm looking forward to it. Hey, I got my birth certificate in the mail a second ago. I'm on to the next hurdle now. I think I'm going to make it.

best

jeff
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 06:17 pm:   

As an NYU student myself, I've often gazed over the rail at the floor below speculatively. I haven't been to the library since the events in question have taken place - I'm not at all sure what I'll feel.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, while generally skeptical of supernatural claims, was evidently convinced he had seen the ghost of a Unitarian clergyman, on a number of occasions, in a Boston library (the Athenaeum, I believe). No fear; he simply observed the figure, made no effort to test the reality of the apparition.

I have never, to my knowledge, seen a ghost. I often wonder if I have seen any without knowing it. Who's to say, for example, that the silhouette I see striding across the park as I walk in the grass isn't one? I ride the subways, I pass through crowds in the street, and sometimes I wonder if every face there is a living face. If a crowd can harbor saints or murderers, why not ghosts?

This has all been on my mind largely because it's the theme of my dissertation, now (hopefully) nearing its conclusion. I certainly will not go on here about it, but I'll share this point - you may be familiar with Tzvetan Todorov's definition of a fantastic story (the criteria by means of which one may classify a story as belonging to the genre of the fantastic) - if the possibility of a supernatural event is raised, and neither explained nor confirmed by story's end, the story is fantastic. "The Turn of the Screw" or "The Signal-Man" come to mind. If the supernatural event is confirmed as genuine, the story is moved into a sub-genre of the fantastic - it becomes impurely fantastic.
Now this is fine as a way of dividing genres. But it does not obtain when we try to understand experience, because the experience of the supernatural, insofar as it actually occurs, is always uncertain. One may decide one believes, but this is, I would say, a separate operation; belief is also not transferable. I have no doubt that Lucius has no doubts about his ghosts, but I find that, not having encountered them personally, I can't be so certain myself. But that's all right - we can still talk of the experience of a supernatural event, but we have to incorporate the uncertainty into the event itself, as part of it. So, in experience, since the supernatural is never generally confirmed, the experience of the supernatural has to be defined, I would say, as the experience of the possibility of the supernatural, in which it seems to draw near. This, I am arguing, IS the supernatural, insofar as anyone can say without falling back on an incommunicable personal experience.
So the indeterminacy which is fantastic for Todorov, in terms of genre, is, for me, the supernatural in experience. Vague enough for you?

The upshot of this has to do with a fundamental uncertainty in knowledge as such, the troubles and opportunities in this uncertainty, etc. Sorry to go on - but when you've worked on something for three years you want to take advantage of a chance to use it!
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rick bowes
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 08:24 pm:   

Jeff

I don't think there are more suicides per capita now than there were. I think that when suicide was considered a mortal sin and a suicide's soul was damned, people were afraid to talk about it. Then it was considered a psychological problem still upsetting but not a sin. Now we consider it the result of a chemical imbalance which can be treated if it's recognized in time. So there is good reason to talk about it. The kid was 18, a freshman, and, obviously, lost in the shuffle.

Michael I don't believe in ghosts nor in hauntings aside from the way I described the atrium as being haunted. Maybe attitudes towards ghost sightings will follow somewhat the same path as attitudes toward suicide.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 08:50 pm:   

Suicide rates have remained fairly constant over the last 50 years. However it's possible it has nevertheless changed. Treatment for mental illness has improved so suicides among the clinically depressed, and especially bipolar should've decreased somewhat. Yet it's stayed about the same anyway. So you could see it as "going up" in a sense. (Stuff I got from NIMH, Harvard, etc. I think it's reliable, but feel free to check it)

Interestingly in the US the most suicidal states are Alaska and Nevada. Not much of a surprise there in a way. However New Jersey and DC seem to have the lowest suicide rates. I was a bit surprised by that. The most suicidal nation is Lithuania. In fact the top 5 are all former Soviet Republics. China's the only country studied where women are more suicidal then men. The US is apparently less suicidal than Canada, Australia, or New Zealand.

Oops not that you wanted to know all that, I'm sorry. I kind of get into statistics even rather depressing ones.
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Thomas R
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 08:54 pm:   

I mean the overall rate's stayed the same. In the case of Bi-Polar and a few other mental illnesses I believe it has indeed gone down a bit. In case that was unclear.
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Lucius
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:12 pm:   

Michael, It's funny, ghosts to me never demanded particular belief. They were simply part of the world I learned to believe in as a child. I recall there was a time when I made something of an effort not to believe in them. I was a teenager and happened to relate the story and received a measure of ridicule for it, which prompted me to attack the ridiculer physically, and later prompted me to try and reconfigure my belief system. But all those visits to Virginia proved ultimately persuasive. More of moment to me is the nature of ghosts. I'm not so sure there is an apt definition. But back to the point of this -- since I never had to have the existence of ghosts proven to me, except for that one teenage incident, I've never felt especially moved to place any great store in that belief, to make anything of it, to set any value to it. It just sort of is. Most people I know who have seen or claim to have seen ghosts seem to feel it has proved something or tends to prove something. I've never felt that way. Like I said, I don't know what they are. But I have no doubt that they're something. I do not, however, feel motivated to any degree to convince anyone of their existence. What do I know, after all? I was a kid. Maybe it was....
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:24 pm:   

Lucius - frankly, I think the "this is part of my world, no big deal" IS belief.
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lucius
Posted on Saturday, October 11, 2003 - 09:33 pm:   

Michael -- let me quote myself.

"They were simply part of the world I learned to believe in as a child."

Everything is belief...or let me ask you, what is there that is not an article of belief?
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 04:44 am:   

Michael: I ask this merely to clarify your statements above. I find what you are saying there very interesting. But as any instance of the unknown draws near -- that is the supernatural? How about something like (and Im not being facetious here but using it as an example) the mail. I know the mail is coming, it comes, as I approach the mailbox, there is an element of "not knowing" what will be in there. Does this have something of the supernatural to it? Is suspense involved? Or is the supernatural the approach of something you will never be able to identify? Or am I totally botching up you entire argument? I want to understand this. I understand and dig the idea that there is a relationship between what can not be known and the supernatural. Actually, it makes direct and simple sense that that must be the case, though I've never thought through it to this simple conclusion before. Just write a little more about it if you can, please.

Best,

Jeff
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 05:34 am:   

In my attempts at analyzing ghost stories, I’ve noticed that there seem to be different kinds. Here are some that I’ve identified. They, of course, overlap and some are a combination of two or more.

The Ghost with a Purpose – A lot of ghost stories are about ghosts coming back to warn the living of some problem, or to relay the truth about a situation the living are confused about, or to seek revenge on the living. Whatever the reason, these ghosts aren’t just passing through. They’ve got work to do.

The Psychological Ghost Story – This is Henry James’s bread and butter and constitutes the classification of many contemporary ghost stories. In these some personal problem of the living protagonist is exemplified by the workings of or existence of the ghost. The interior trouble is projected from the mind into the real world or the ghost or ghosts play out some dumb show that sheds light on the state of the living protagonist. James really mined this vein with ambiguous haunting like “The Friends of the Friends” “The Turn of the Screw” “The Real Right Thing” “The Jolly Corner”

History’s Hauntings – What has happened in the past is sending shock waves into the future or subtle reverberations into the future. We are tracing the evolution of some past event through time and the continuing effect it has on future generations of the living. A lot of times these ghosts are ghosts with a purpose. The example of a historical ghost story that comes to mind is “The Time of Their Lives” the film with Abott and Costello, dealing with the Revolutionary War – MelllOdyyyy.

Ghosts For Ghost’s Sake – Stories where there is no rhyme or reason as to why the protagonist is haunted. There is just a ghost and it is doing some disturbing things in someone’s house or to someone and the protagonist never finds out why, they just have to try to get over the hurdle of this ghost. These stories I would think would be hard to write and are not common, but I would like to try to write one of these some day.

The Anthropomorphization of A Usually Non-Living Thing – Like Hill House or King’s Christine. Things come to life with malevolent or benevolent purpose. The house is pissed, the car is out to run over the popular jocks at the high school, the toaster oven wants your wife. Like I said, malevolent or benevolent.

Haunting Minus the Ghost – Ghosts may or may not be implied but no one ever actually sees the ghost. These are tales of obsession. The one that comes first to mind is “The Figure in the Carpet,” by Henry James. Do you need a ghost for a ghost story or can you get by with just a haunting?

There may be others, but for now I can’t think of any more. A few other things I’ve noticed about ghost stories are that there are an awful lot with children in them. Is it because children represent the ultimate in the life force? Or because they represent an innocence that stands in contrast to the evil designs of ghosts with a purpose? Or what? And a lot of ghost stories take place during Christmas Time. I know that the magazines in the 19th century ran special Christmas Issues and they always carried ghost stories, maybe this is why. James wrote many of his ghost stories for these special issues, but there must have originally been something about the holiday that suggested the ghost story was a viable genre to trot out for readers. Also, the success of ghost stories usually seems to lie in their pacing, the rate at which information is doled out by the writer, or at least this is the allure of many of the 19th century and early 20th century ones.
That’s all for now.
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Rhys
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 06:18 am:   

Ghosts as a fairly straightforward metaphor? A metaphor for sexual tension, feelings of belatedness, guilt, cultural misunderstandings, etc?

Do those uses fall into the 'Haunting Minus the Ghost' category?

In Gogol's 'The Overcoat', the ghost at the end of the story is just the dismal leftover frustration of the main character described in ghostly terms rather than a real or psychological spook, isn't it? I mean, it's an authorial ghost, rather than a narrative ghost: a ghost of technique, not plot or characterisation or interaction within the story. It's a ghost between author and reader.
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Lou Anders
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 09:57 am:   

Jeff,
I'm facinated by this holidy ghost connection.
Holiday's today are so distorted past their original meanings.
I wonder if you are on to something here....
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GabrielM
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 10:46 am:   

I'm not so sure. I guess there's a temptation to try and find some folk pagan ancestry to the British ghost story telling tradition at Xmas, but my recollection is that the origins are more prosaic and actually have to do with Dickens following up A CHRISTMAS CAROL with the inclusion of ghost stories by different writers in the magazines he was editing. Of course, I'd be happy to be corrected.
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Lou
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 02:09 pm:   

Somebody correct him! Somebody correct him!
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 04:08 pm:   

Jeff,
Nah. That's Schrodinger's Mailbox!
Ellen

<<<I know the mail is coming, it comes, as I approach the mailbox, there is an element of "not knowing" what will be in there.
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Thomas R
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 04:46 pm:   

Christmas is a time of reflection for many. Especially those with lost love ones. It's also a time to reflect on the year, on regrets, on failed choices. I'd see ghosts fitting into that quite well.

I don't think you need Dickens or pagans. Any time that has that kind of feel of both family and reflection could encourage this I'd think. In Chinese holidays I think it was expected that the ghosts would come on the Moon festival or New Year's. Food was even left out for those forced to wander due to a bad death. The "Hungry Ghosts" who also occur in Japanese mythos I believe. I think some African holidays had a similar deal. And sometimes in both the ghosts could be malign. People who were executed for their viciousness and hence the offerings were to placate them.

Scary Christmas ghost stories I guess would be like that. Many people had horrible Christmases. Their parents beat them up on Christmas, fought over gifts, got drunk, etc. So there's an ability to tap into, or deal with, nightmare Christmases. Well maybe, I'm less sure there. Nostalgic, bittersweet, sad, or regretful fits more with what I've experienced of Christmas ghost stories.
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 05:20 pm:   

ThomasR: Interesting ideas about Christmas and Ghosts. Thanks.


Best,

Jeff
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Sunday, October 12, 2003 - 10:10 pm:   

Re the Ghostly Mailbox -
I was referring not to what is not known, but available to knowledge (by checking the mailbox, in this case); rather to what can't be known for certain, such as life after death.

St. Augustine wrote, in his Confessions, something to the effect that his faith is engaged even in everyday matters. Whenever he is told about something that happened before he was born, or somewhere far away he's never been; in the attribution of himself to his parents; in the advice he gets from lawyers or physicians; he is dealing with things he doesn't know and often cannot know (no paternity tests back then). He must accept that these things are so with a, perhaps cautious, credulity.
Wind up, for me, is: the "world" is an idea, an abbreviation for something larger than any mind. When I really begin to understand this, I have a strange and not unpleasant feeling, as though a door stood open near me, and admitted a wind I could feel.

Re the psychological ghost story - Daniel Schreber was a the Prussian equivalent of a supreme court justice who went insane in the nineteenth century and was twice institutionalized. During one of these periods he wrote his Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, one of my favorite books. In it, he speaks of his hallucinations, saying in effect - I wonder why God put these hallucinations in my head? Here, the idea of psychological projection marries a supernatural interpretation entirely seamlessly! Maybe the governess sees Peter Quint and Miss Jessel because her own psychological complexion is sympathetically attuned to them! Or she hallucinates the truth!
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jeff ford
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 06:20 am:   

Michael: Thanks for writing more on this. I think I get it. Would you say part of it is that the mind not only perceives reality but generates it? This strikes me as being close to some of Emerson's notions.

Best,


Jeff
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Michael Cisco
Posted on Monday, October 13, 2003 - 01:07 pm:   

Just about - what we're really talking about here is the influence of German Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophy, which made it to the English-speaking world principally through Coleridge. They wouldn't have said that the mind generates reality exactly; but, for instance, Kant will link art and morality in that both are about realizing ideal things in the world. In terms of straight perception, however, the mind generates reality in a different way, not by seeing what it wants to see, but in the way it processes information. In other words, your senses aren't just apertures through which light or feeling or smell pour in, but coordinated machines. This however means that the objects you encounter are not perceived immediately, as they really are, but as they appear to you.
This is often taken to mean that everything is subjective, and while this is what Kant is saying, it is important to note that "subjective" here means simply "seen from a definite point of view, by means of certain automatic operations of perception", and not, for example, "seen in accordance with an individual's personal preferences".
Things begin to change with Fichte and Hegel. Fichte will argue that, since I know nothing of the world but my perception of it, and since the world can mean to me only what I perceive (since I can't see it any other way), and since these perceptions are a part of me, therefore I can know the content of these perceptions completely because they are not outside me. I can know myself thoroughly, because I have perfect (or perfectable) access to myself; my perception of the world is part of me, my creation, and so I can know the world as well. Hegel will further refine this, but you get the idea - knowledge of the world is conflated with self-knowledge.
What I've found is that the supernatural seems usually, maybe always, to touch on the concept of the world as such. The supernatural is often represented in all kinds of literature as the world talking back to us, even contradicting our explanations.
Emerson and the other American Transcendentalists didn't get around to Hegel (his work hit the US later) but thought largely along these lines. Kant pointed out the boundaries of knowledge - not in the sense of limiting what it was or was not appropriate to know or try to know, but what could or could not be known. The existence of these boundaries, the noumena, were taken by many, from Coleridge to the Transcendentalists, as something like an indication of the existence of an unknowable beyond. If there's a boundary, there must be something on the other side, right? Kant didn't go so far, but his readers did.
(By the way - thank you for asking! Having to write this stuff out has actually helped me clarify some of my own thinking!)
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Richard Parks
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 06:45 am:   

If the schedule is accurate, I get the lead-in reading in the room just before the Ghost panel. Think I'll read a ghost story. Or a section of the book in progress with a ghost in it.
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JV
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 07:22 am:   

Oddly, I cannot write ghost stories *because* I don't believe in ghosts. But I've found a way around this in some far-future stories I'm writing now, in which wisps of holographic "echoes" haunt a town. They are, to the inhabitants, ghosts, and, in a very real sense, they are ghosts because they represent that last "memory" of people long dead.

Yet, although I can't write a ghost story without a rationalization based in science, I love to read good ghost stories. I think I love to read them because the best of them present a mystery, although unlike a *mystery novel*, the mystery may not be solved. And I love mysteries.

But one of the reasons I love mysteries, I think, is that most of them are rather comforting. And if you don't believe in ghosts and you read a ghost story, I think perhaps it's comforting, too, in an odd way. So I read ghost stories like a read mysteries--for entertainment. Which doesn't mean I think of them as being "literature" any less. Just that they tend to fall into types, and I can then fall into a kind of relaxed mode when reading, because I'm familiar with the type.

JeffV
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Luis
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 01:03 pm:   

Great topic, people, I wish I'd been following it since the start. I love ghost stories, even though I don't believe in ghosts, and I'm delighted by all the recommendations.

You already mentioned all the favourites I can think of, so there's not much to add. Glen Hirshberg has great stuff -- anyone here read THE TWO SAMS?

JeffV: you can't write about ghosts because you don't believe in them, but you can write about Giant Rotating Meerkats? :-)

Cheers,
Luís
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GabrielM
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 01:39 pm:   

Yup, as I think I was mentioning on another thread I think Hirshberg is one of the best current ghost story writers.

One thing that appeals to me about ghost stories is that of the traditional horror fiction sub-genres the ghost story, if done well, is the only one that still manages (even if only on occasion) to spook me.
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JV
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 01:55 pm:   

Luis:

Odd, isn't it?

JeffV
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ellen
Posted on Friday, October 17, 2003 - 02:23 pm:   

Luis,
I'm assuming you mean Glen's collection? It's super. It collects all his stories so far other than the one I just published in SCIFICTION.

And "Dancing Men" is in The Dark.
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Saturday, October 18, 2003 - 11:57 pm:   

Laura Miller has a brief article, somewhat undeveloped, but interesting, about ghost stories in the NYT.

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/19/books/review/19MILLERT.html

Chris
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ellen
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 08:51 am:   

I read that a few days ago (I have a sub)and it is interesting.
It prompted me to make sure she gets a copy of The Dark in the hopes that she'll have it reviewed in Salon.
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jeff ford
Posted on Sunday, October 19, 2003 - 07:31 pm:   

MichaelC: Great post as usual. Thanks for your ideas and thoughts. Your posts have freed me from thinking along the usual routes about ghost stories.

Chris: Thanks for the article. I'll check it out. Hope you are doing well.

Ellen & Gabe & Luis: I got a copy of The Two Sams from Amazon as soon as it came out. I've been tracking Hirshberg's fiction for a while now, ever since his first entry at Sci Fiction. The collection is excellent and his stories are always beautifully crafted and engaging.

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