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I love a good scary story. Not Stephen King scary, more like Shirley Jackson scary. Stephen King’s stories jump out at you and shriek in your face. Shirley Jackson’s stories creep up behind you and run a cold finger down your spine. In honor of Halloween, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite spooky reads. You won’t find much blood and gore in these books, but there are frights aplenty.

Spooky season is here. Time to curl up with a scary story while the wind howls outside and the neighborhood goblins roam the streets. Need some ideas for what to read this All Hallow’s Eve? Here are 13 stories old and new that are guaranteed to send a shiver up your spine.

Classic Scares

People, it seems, have always enjoyed being frightened, especially if they could do it while safely curled up at home under the blankets. These classic tales have stood the test of time and still pack a spooky punch.

#1 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving is probably my all-time favorite Halloween story. I read it at least once a year, preferably as the leaves start to turn. Irving was a master of creating a sense of place, and his descriptions of the misty environs of Sleepy Hollow and the warm glow of Baltus Van Tassel’s hearth make me wish I could step right into the story. As long as I could avoid the horseman, of course.

#2 The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables was Nathaniel Hawthorne’s followup to The Scarlet Letter (another favorite of mine). With themes of guilt and retribution and a strong undercurrent of witchcraft and the supernatural, The House of the Seven Gables is a perfect read for a chilly October night. (Also check out the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” another spooky tale that’s perfect for Halloween.)

#3 The Woman in White

The Woman in White is a doorstopper of a Gothic masterpiece, widely considered to be the first psychological mystery. Whether or not that is the case, it is definitely an excellent example of Victorian writing, which can take an entire page to say what could have been said with a single sentence. The oppressive atmosphere and storyline involving insanity and identity theft make it an excellent choice for a Halloween read. The most frightening aspect of the story, for me at least, is the utter powerlessness of women during this era.

#4 The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is quite possibly the most terrifying book I’ve ever read. It’s a slim little book, but it packs a punch. (And isn’t that cover just gorgeous?) I made the mistake of starting it at night. When I was home alone with the kids. I had to finish it during the daylight hours, and I will never look at a rocking chair the same way again. You’ve been warned.

#5 Hallowe’en Party

Hallowe’en Party is one of Agatha Christie’s later works, published in 1969, and has often been considered one of her less successful novels. However, it was one of the first of her novels I bought as a child, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it because of its Halloween setting. Be warned though, that some of the victims in this one are children (teenagers, actually, but still . . . ).

#6 We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Merricat, the central character of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is one of my favorite unreliable narrators. Shirley Jackson was a genius when it comes to creating an atmosphere of creeping unease, letting us know that something is slightly off without revealing what that something is until the end of the tale. We grow accustomed to seeing the world through Merricat’s eyes, so that when the truth is revealed, we feel wrong-footed while at the same time thinking, “of course that’s what happened.”

#7 The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House is right up there with The Woman in Black for scare factor, at least for me. The book bears little if any resemblance to the Netflix series. The book is much . . . quieter. Remember that sense of creeping dread? We feel it in Hill House, even though we aren’t really sure why, since nothing tangibly bad is happening. Nonetheless, this book contains one of the most frightening scenes I’ve ever read and is the reason I can never sleep with my hand hanging off the bed, for fear that I will feel another hand slip into it.

Contemporary Frights

Looking for something a little more modern? These scary tales were all written in the past few years and all but one feature a contemporary setting, reminding us that things that go bump in the night haven’t been banished in the internet age.

#8 The Invited

I just finished The Invited last week and I couldn’t put it down. I loved Jennifer McMahon’s earlier novel The Winter People, so I was looking forward to this one as well. It was so good. The story of an urban couple who buy a house in the country with a disturbing history, it is the perfect balance of creepy and mysterious, with a very satisfying ending.

#9 I Remember You

I Remember You was my first taste of Scandinavian author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir’s work and it did not disappoint. It was utterly terrifying, almost more horror than mystery, and I found myself completely immersed in the story. The bleak setting combines with the ghost story to create a growing sense of dread that culminates in the shocking ending.

#10 Home Before Dark

Riley Sager is a new favorite author of mine. I have loved all of his books, but I think Home Before Dark might be my favorite. I’m always a sucker for a good ghost story. The main character, Maggie, returns to her childhood home to face her demons—in this case, literally. The house was the scene of an Amityville-type haunting that earned her family fame, fortune, and the ire of the locals. Maggie doesn’t remember it and thinks her father made it all up, but she’s about to find out otherwise.

#11 Mary Rose

Mary Rose is a retelling of a play by J.M. Barrie, a Gothic novel with threads of romance and the paranormal. Mary Rose is a woman who vanished as a child and mysteriously returned 30 days later. When her new husband finds out about the incident, he won’t rest until he finds out what really happened to her. Alfred Hitchcock badly wanted to make a movie from the original Barrie play, and I so wish he had. However, this super-creepy novel is very satisfying and will have to do.

Cover of The Unquiet Grave by Sharon McCrumb | Quill & Glass blog

#12 The Unquiet Grave

The Unquiet Grave is the latest in Sharyn McCrumb’s wonderful ballad series, in which she weaves elements from traditional murder ballads into the mystery narrative. The books in the series are incredibly well-researched and sprinkled with history and folklore. This one is based on the tale of the Greenbrier Ghost, a murder trial that featured a most unusual element—the testimony of a ghost. If you enjoy this one, check out some of the other ballad novels. My personal favorite is The Ballad of Frankie Silver.

#13 The Vanishing

Wendy Webb’s niche is big, old, haunted houses on the Great Lakes. I love a good ghost story, and her books always deliver. This was the first one I read and remains one of my favorites.

Julia Bishop has just been widowed and, thanks to her criminal of a husband, lost everything. So when a stranger shows up and offers her a job as caretaker for his mother, a novelist widely assumed to be dead, she jumps at the chance. In true Gothic fashion, she finds herself in a large, spooky house with people who seem at turns friendly and sinister. As she begins to unravel the truth behind why her charge chose to disappear, she also finds that she is more connected to the story than she realizes.

This book has some truly frightening moments and kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s one of those I don’t like to read after dark, or when I’m alone in the house. So of course it would be perfect to take along camping.

There you have it—13 spooky stories to keep you up late. What
are your favorite scary stories? Do you prefer blood and guts
scary or spooky, keep-you-looking-over-your-shoulder scary?
Let me know in the comments.

Want more spooky quotes? Check out this post.

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Back when the kids were in public school, I got hooked on those true haunting shows. You know the ones—clips of real people telling about their spooky encounters intercut with recreations of their stories. I got in the habit of turning them on while I ate lunch . . . and scaring myself silly.

‘Tis the season for blustery days and drizzly nights, chimney smoke and warm cider, and best of all, for everything spooky and mysterious.

It’s an unfortunate fact that while I adore creepy stories, I’m also a giant weenie. I’d end up having to watch something funny to take my mind off of demons lurking in the closets.

Through all those episodes that I watched, though, I always had the same question: Why don’t these people MOVE? Like, immediately. Yes, I know moving is a huge pain and selling a house takes time and all that. But come on.

It would only take one instance of my bed levitating, or coming home to find all the cabinet doors open, or hearing growling coming from the closet in the middle of the night for me to pack up and flee. No, forget packing. I’d just flee. Don’t these people have family? Friends? Nearby hotels?

And don’t get me started on the creepy kids. Mine are lucky they never had imaginary friends, or they’d probably be residing at boarding schools right about now.

But the truth is, I’ve had a few spooky experiences of my
own . . .

No, I’ve never experienced anything quite so irrefutable as a levitating bed or a china-flinging poltergeist, but I do have a couple of unexplained experiences. Just enough to make me think hmm, maybe, but not quite enough to have me reaching for the holy water.

1 | The Haunted Closet

When I was in college, I lived in a dorm for a couple of years. It was bare bones. Seriously. You kids today have no idea . . .

My dorm room didn’t have actual closets, just big wardrobe-style boxes built into the wall on either side of the door. They were completely open at the front, so most people hung shower curtains over them. I hung a multi-color beaded curtain. Don’t judge.

One afternoon (no, this didn’t even happen at night, sorry), I was lying on my bed reading. Alone, with the door closed.

We usually left our doors open so that we could all shout our running commentary on Days of Our Lives, but since I was reading, I must have wanted privacy. The windows were closed, too, and there was no fan running. No breeze of any kind.

I was deeply engrossed in my book when the bead curtain behind me rattled as if someone had run a hand across it. I turned to see the strings of beads still quivering.

I think I broke some sort of speed record crossing the room, yanking the door open, and leaping into the hall. After my heart crawled back down my throat, I propped the door open and forced myself to go back inside. I didn’t go back to the book I’d been reading, though.

It didn’t seem like the best moment to dive back into Pet Semetary.

2 | My Sort-of-Haunted House

The house I’ve lived in for the past 13 years is a mid-century brick ranch. We’re only the second owners—the couple who built it after the war spent the rest of their lives in it.

The wife, I’m told, actually died in the house, and I’ve also been told that before we bought it, the house was rumored by locals to be haunted. How reliable those rumors are, I don’t know. What I do know is that while we’ve had a few odd things happen over the years, we’ve never seen or heard anything worthy of an episode of A Haunting.

Shortly after we moved in, I was standing in the hall, slightly bent over. I must have been vacuuming or something, that part is a little hazy. I do recall feeling a light smack on my . . . um, behind.

I turned to give my husband a smack in return, and saw him, through the living room window, standing in the front yard. I was completely alone in the house.

During that time, we were settling into the house and kept noticing a smell like hot wires in the doorway to our son’s room. It hovered just in the doorway at about waist height.

We had everyone from electricians to plumbers check it out, to no avail. Nothing abnormal ever turned up. One workman, on his way out the door, hesitantly asked if we’d ever considered calling a priest.

Not really the outcome I’d been hoping for.

We never did find the source of the smell. After a while, it just went away, and we got on with things.

3 | Things That Go Bump In The Night

While those things were all a little strange, none of them was really frightening. Just strange and unexplained. The things that happen at night are somehow much more frightening.

One night, my husband and I were going to bed. It was late, the kids both asleep already. The dog of mischief was safely crated for the night, and the cat was out on his nightly prowl.

I was already in bed when my husband lay down and turned off the lamp. As soon as the light went out, we heard what sounded like booted feet walking down our wood-floored hall.

“What was that?” I hissed at him. He flipped the light back on and went to check. Kids still asleep, dog still crated, cat still outside. He checked all through the house and found nothing amiss.

I still haven’t quite gotten over that one.

Our other nighttime experience was not long after the first. This time, both kids were spending a week at my parents’ house. Again, the cat was outside and the dog was in his crate.

Just after our light went off, we heard the distinct sound of something metal falling and rolling on the hall floor. Kind of like the sound a BB might make if you dropped it onto a wood floor from a few feet high.

Again, my husband found no sign of anything out of the ordinary. Or anything on the hall floor.

The next day, I searched that hall floor with a flashlight and found nothing.

So there you have it. My entire supernatural experience, such as it is. While it may not get me cable TV fame, I’m just fine with that.

How about you? Do you have any ghost stories? I’d love to hear them! Meanwhile,
I’ll be over here trying not to think about ghosts in boots walking down my hall.

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When we think of hair-raising quotes, horror movies are often the first thing that come to mind. There’s no denying the spine-tingling effect that lines like “Now I want to play with yoooouuuu” still have after all these years. But horror movies don’t have a monopoly on creepy. Literature has quite a few chill-inducing quotes to offer. Here are 13 for you to enjoy this Halloween.

One night when my daughter was in kindergarten, we were sitting in the living room after dinner, TV off, everyone reading or playing quietly. Then she started to sing something softly to herself as she colored with her crayons. My husband and I both looked at her.

“What’s that she’s singing?” he asked uneasily.

I don’t actually remember now what she was singing. Something they’d learned at school that day. What I do remember is that it was to the tune of “One, two, Freddie’s coming for you . . . ”

The creepiest lines (and tunes) stick with us long after the rest of the story is forgotten. Sometimes they pop into your head at 3 a.m. when you suddenly wake up for no reason. Or is that just me?

Just in case you’ve been sleeping too well lately, here are some of literature’s spookiest quotes:

(and don’t forget to scroll all the way to the bottom for some free literary Halloween printables!)

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there!
He wasn’t there again today,
Oh how I wish he’d go away!

— William Hughes Mearns, Antigonish

Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!

― Bram Stoker, Dracula

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

― Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

Hell is empty and all the devils are here.

— Shakespeare, The Tempest

We ask only to be reassured
About the noises in the cellar
And the window that should not have been open.

— T.S. Eliot, The Family Reunion

Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of
Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Free Halloween Printables!

And to get you into the Halloween spirit, here are some free printables of my two favorite Halloween quotes from the list.

What are your favorite creepy quotes from literature
and movies? Are there any that keep you up at night?

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It’s Friday the 13th! Watch out for black cats, ladders, spilled salt, broken mirrors, and all that stuff.

You aren’t superstitious, you say?

Have you ever said something, then knocked on wood to keep from jinxing yourself? Passed by a penny on the sidewalk because it was tails up? Saved a four-leaf clover that you found?

Superstition is so ingrained in our culture—in most cultures, in fact—that we may not even notice that it’s there. But those of us who live in the South know that superstition is alive and well, and we aren’t ashamed to admit it. In fact, surveys have shown the South to be the most superstitious region of the United States, with well over 40% of the population admitting to belief in some superstitions.

Here are a few of my favorite Southern superstitions:

#1 Never leave by any door other than the one you came in or you’ll never return.

I know some people who hold hard and fast to this rule. My problem would be remembering which door I came in through.

#2 If a knife is given as a gift, the one who receives the gift must give a penny in return, or the relationship will be severed.

This actually happened one Christmas when I was a child. Someone got a pocket knife for Christmas (this is the South, giving weapons as gifts isn’t that unusual), and I remember them having to go find a coin to give in return to protect the relationship.

#3 If you let someone sweep under your feet, you’ll never marry.

I can remember my grandmother telling us this one lots of times. But I can also remember several times when I lifted my feet to let someone sweep under them and here I am, twenty years married, so . . .

#4 Painting the ceiling of your porch “haint blue” will keep evil spirits out of your house.

I’m not sure where you find haint blue—I’ve never come across it in the paint samples at Lowe’s. But if you can find some, be sure to paint your porch ceiling, or some other part of your entryway, with it to keep out those pesky haints.

Haints, if you’ve never come across the term, is Southern for haunts or spirits. According to folklore, evil spirits can’t cross water, so if your entry is painted this shade of blue, they’ll be fooled into thinking they can’t enter your house. So . . . apparently evil spirits are also not very bright.

#5 Don’t place a hat on the bed.

I vaguely remember hearing this one when I was growing up. From what I can find, it seems to originate from the idea that evil spirits lived in people’s hair—um, okay—and if you left your hat on the bed the evil spirits would transfer to your bed. But given the choice, I’d rather have them on the bed than in my hair. Kind of gives new meaning to gonna wash that man right out of my hair, doesn’t it?

There’s an alternative explanation having to do with the spreading of head lice, but I’m not going to touch that one.

#6 If your ears burn, someone is talking about you. If your nose itches someone is coming to visit. If your palm itches, you’re going to come into money.

Now these I’ve heard a million times over the years. In fact, my mom will often answer my calls with “were your ears burning?”, meaning I had called when someone was talking about me. Usually her telling my dad I haven’t called in a while. Yet, never once have my ears actually burned.

Now, I admit there have been times when my nose was itching and company arrived shortly thereafter. But considering that pretty much everyone around here has seasonal allergies, this one isn’t really that much of a gamble.

This spring, I had a raging case of poison ivy. All over the palms of my hands, between my fingers. It was utter misery. I ended up having to get a shot to make it go away. Did I win the lottery? Not yet. But I’m ever hopeful.

#7 If you have a sudden chill, someone is walking over your grave.

This is another one I heard a lot growing up, but never really gave much thought to. When I did finally stop to think about it and realized it meant someone was walking across the place where I will eventually be buried, I found it much more disturbing.

Especially now that, thanks to end-of-life planning, I know exactly where my grave will be. Maybe. The thought of being trapped in a small box is one of my worst nightmares, and I keep telling my kids that they are going to have to bury me Snow White style. That is, above the ground in a glass coffin. If I’d lived in Victorian England, I’d for sure have had one of those graveyard bells. Actually, that’s not such a bad idea . . .

#8 If you set an empty chair to rocking, it will attract spirits. Or, alternately, you will fall ill within the year.

I don’t know about attracting spirits, but an empty chair rocking is certainly enough to creep me out. Have you ever read The Woman in Black? There’s not much that’s more terrifying than an empty chair rocking.

Case in point: Years ago my cousin was going up the driveway toward his house. His then four-year-old daughter made some remark about “the woman on the porch.”

There was no one on the porch.

“Where is she?” he asked, just to humor her.

“In the chair,” she replied, just as the empty chair on the porch began to rock.

Yes, it could have been the wind. Would I have gotten out of the car? Oh hell no. I would have thrown that car in reverse so fast we’d all have had whiplash.

#9 If a snapping turtle bites you, he won’t let go until it thunders.

Thank the lord, I’ve got no personal experience with this one. Which is surprising, considering that when we were kids, my brother and I caught one in the creek and put in an old milk crate. My dad says when he saw us dragging it across the yard, the turtle was doing its best to bite us through the milk crate, but he intervened before we had the chance to put that whole thunder theory to the test.

#10 Hanging an empty bottle from a tree in your front yard will capture roaming spirits and keep them from coming in your house.

Unless they come to the back door? Maybe hang one there too, just to be safe. While I’ve never done this, I have seen houses with bottles hanging in the trees. I assumed they were just there to be pretty, with the sunlight glinting off of them, until I heard about this superstition.

I kind of want to give this one a try. What happens when you catch an evil spirit in a bottle? Can you see it in there? Do you have to cork the bottle to keep it in? Will it grant you three wishes? I’ll let you know what I find out.

#11 No haint blue paint to be found? Don’t worry, leaving a child’s dirty handprint near the door will serve the same purpose and keep those pesky haints away.

Incidentally, it will also keep me away. Go watch The Blair Witch Project if you’re wondering why. The next best thing to creepy little kids in horror movies? Creepy little handprints left behind by creepy little kids.

Also, I think I’d rather just risk the haints. Dirty handprints on the wall isn’t really the vibe I’m looking for in home decor. Just ask my kids.

#12 When someone dies, be sure to cover all the mirrors in the house.

We don’t hear this one as much anymore, probably because so few people die at home, but this is to prevent their spirit from becoming trapped in the mirrors. Hey, maybe that’s how Bloody Mary got stuck in there . . .

Sidenote: I don’t look in mirrors in the dark. Not a superstition exactly, just paranoia. I’m convinced that if I look into a dark mirror, I’ll see something I really don’t want to see standing behind me.

#13 Eating black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s Day will bring good luck and wealth in the coming year.

This one is pretty well-known across the South, and some restaurants, especially those that specialize in down-home country cookin’, have New Year’s Day specials featuring them. I think we have eaten them a few times on New Year’s, but isn’t something we’ve done often.

Another harbinger of good luck is to have a dark-haired man be the first to enter your home in the New Year. Tall, dark, and handsome? I kind of see where they’re going with this one . . .

On the other hand, I think it may be related to an old Scottish custom that says your fortune for the coming year is tied to the first man to cross your threshold in the New Year, and that the worst fortune comes if it’s a red-haired man. Seems a little unfair.

So, there you have it. A few more things to worry about this Friday the 13th. Oh, and did you know there’s a full moon tonight, too? Better get those silver bullets and keep them handy.

Have you heard these superstitions before?
What superstitions does your family have?

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To a writer, especially a mystery writer, an attraction to cemeteries may not sound abnormal. It certainly doesn’t to me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by cemeteries, the older the better.

Cemeteries are the perfect spot to dig up some inspiration

The hushed atmosphere that descends when you step through the cemetery gates never fails to set the imagination in motion. Strolling through rows of crumbling headstones, you’ll come across all kinds of unanswered questions to spark your creativity. Next time you’re feeling stuck, take a walk through your local cemetery and see what creeps up on you.

Unearth unique character names

Struggling to come up with names for your characters? Gravestones bear an incredible variety of names. Conveniently for period writers, they also carry dates to show when those names were in use.

Naming traditions also become clear in some cemeteries. In the small Appalachian cemetery where several members of my dad’s family lie, you’ll find numerous variations and combinations of a select few names. In that small rural community, parents often named children after friends and family members, leading to a mish-mash that would confound most geneaologists.

Raise unanswerable questions

One reason cemeteries appeal to writers is that so much is left to the imagination. Only so many facts can be gleaned from the stones, leaving our imagination to fill in the gaps. What better way to spark some new story ideas?

Epitaphs—both bizarre and touching—conjure images of the people behind them.

A young mother’s grave beside a row of stones marked only “Infant” is a powerful reminder of the stark realities our ancestors faced.

A double headstone with only one date waiting to be filled in—is that ominous or only sad?

In that same Appalachian cemetery I mentioned before is a grave marked by a small stone with only a hand-painted name. It’s at the very edge of the cemetery, all alone.

What would cause a person to be isolated, even in death? Suicide? Prejudice? Or something even more sinister?

Commune with the spirits

Naturally, ghost stories are attached to certain cemeteries, or even specific graves.

In my hometown, there is a 19th-century grave marked by a statue of the young woman buried there. Local legend says that she was murdered and that the murderer cut off her finger to remove her ring. Her grieving father had the statue erected in her memory, but the ring finger of the statue wouldn’t stay attached.

Unfortunately, I can’t corroborate that story because all that’s left of poor Della now is her skirt.

Even if your local cemetery doesn’t have any tales of hauntings, there is something about being among the stones that makes you feel you aren’t alone.

So the next time you’re haunted by writer’s block, take a stroll through your local cemetery. Just remember to be respectful.

Always keep in mind when you visit a cemetery that each grave is the final resting place of someone very real. Someone who once lived and loved, laughed and lamented, just like you.

Be sure to tread carefully and quietly among the dead. It’s always best not to disrespect—or worse, wake—those who slumber there.

What about you? Do you enjoy exploring cemeteries?
What are your favorite places to look for inspiration?

Fueled by equal parts sweet tea and passion, I spend my days capturing the kinds of images that make you stop, smile and ask time to please slow down. 

Your story, your love, is beautiful and I can’t wait to capture it in images you will treasure for years to come. I believe in real moments and heartfelt conversations on the front porch. In the kinds of images that remind you of the joy that can be found in the simplest of moments together. 

mystery writer & editor

I’m Amanda

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