Guest Blog: 4 Things You Didn’t Know About Shirley Jackson

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4 Things You Didn’t Know About Shirley Jackson

by Carrie Sessarego

8-shirley-jackson-novelist-1916-1965I had the great pleasure of being on a panel about Shirley Jackson recently – which meant I was forced – FORCED, I SAY! To re-read The Haunting of Hill Houseand We Have Always Lived in a Castle FOR WORK. You all have no idea how I suffer. I also read the new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin. Here’s a few things I learned that you might not have known:

  1. Her mother was intensely critical of her.

It’s not a coincidence that so many of Jackson’s stories involve tense relationships between mothers and daughters. Jackson’s own mother hoped to enjoy marriage to her husband for a while before having an attractive and ladylike blonde daughter. Instead, she gave birth nine months after the wedding to Shirley, who was big-boned, redheaded, and rebellious. Jackson’s mother pestered her about her weight and appearance all her life.

2. She was the primary money-earner in the family.

Jackson was married to the literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. While both were highly regarded during their lifetimes, Jackson’s work brought in much more money – so much so that her husband resented any time she spent writing letters or diary entries because they took away from her earning potential.

3. Being the breadwinner did not lessen her domestic responsibilities.

Hyman wanted Jackson to write, but not enough to pitch in with housework and with raising children. Jackson, the mother of four children, managed by being an affectionate but exceptionally hands-off mother. She made fun of her lapses as a housekeeper in her memoirs and essays, but was also self-conscious about it. Her books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons are humorous looks at her domestic life.

4. She was a practicing witch.

Jackson was a believer in magic and well-read in folklore and mythology. She entertained friends by reading tarot cards and made charms as gifts and to protect the house. She was not Wiccan, rather, she was fond of sympathetic magic. She once joked that she was responsible for breaking an enemies leg (he broke it while skiing) but this joke backfired on her as she was constantly badgered with questions about how she did it.

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20140525-Scanned-352Carrie Sessarego is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Popcorn: Tv and Film Adaptations of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre. She’s also the ‘geek reviewer’ for smartbitchestrashybooks.com, and the creator and writer of geekgirlinlove.com. When not reading and writing, you can find Carrie volunteering for the Sacramento Public Library, and getting into trouble with her mad scientist husband, amazing daughter, suitably mysterious cats, and highly neurotic dog. Carrie’s zombie apocalypse kit contains copies of Jane Eyre, Lord of the Rings, and many, many Oreos.

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The Haunted

On top of a hill in a forest surrounded by tall trees that look like green soldiers was a beautiful old house with a dark past. A long gravel driveway leads to the house and occasionally people drove down the highway to admire the home’s beautiful architecture. They didn’t stay long though because the house had a sinister feel to it and the people in town were afraid of it. The house had a for sale sign in front of it for a long time but one day the sign came down and a young couple expecting a child moved in.

This is the opening to Michaelbrent Collings The Haunted. The young couple’s names are Sarah and Cap. As they move in they experience strange occurences that they can’t explain, such as radios turning on and off, a truck turning itsself on and objects moving on their own. On the second night an all out assault begins and the couple is attacked by a legion of homicidal ghosts who want them dead. Among the army of spirits that try to enter the house is one with a noose around its neck, one with a slashed throat, and one in a long hooded robe that seems to be the most evil of all. The couple tries to escape but there is nowhere to run; the only help they receive is from the local preacher who may be in over his head.

There are a lot of horror novels out there that can be considered a roller coaster ride but The Haunted is more like a freight train out of control. The opening reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and did an excellent job of creating a mood of spookiness and impending doom. Right from the start before anything happened I found myself hoping Sarah and Cap would leave the forest and not look back. Ounce the mood is set, The Haunted kicks into a terror filled thrill ride and never lets up, leaving the reader breathless and fearing for Cap and Sarah.

While the plot unfolds you learn more about Cap and Sarah, the author gets inside their heads and makes you feel what they’re  feeling. I love the way Michaelbrent Collings presents his characters. you know their fears, their weaknesses and what there thinking at all times. You fear for them because you relate to them and you know you would probably be thinking the same if you were in their situation.

The only things I didn’t like about The Haunted was that the story was a little confusing and I was able to predict the ending. Despite this, The Haunted is still an excellent horror novel. This is the second book I’ve read by Michaelbrent Collings and in both cases I found myself thinking that this book would make a great scary movie. Michaelbrent’s writing paints a horrific picture and his characters are always memorable. This book has plenty of frights, the descriptions of the ghosts are terrifying and one ghost in particular is scary enough to keep you from sleeping for a night. So if you like a good ghost story then check out the works of Michaelbrent Collings.

1970’s books

When I was looking for horror books for the seventies it didn’t take long for me to come up with a list of books to talk about. The seventies and eighties were a great time for horror novels.  One of the most intriguing books I found was one written in 1972 called The Werewolf vs. Vampire Women by Arthur N Scram. This book is supposed to be an adaptation of a movie that was released  under the same name in 1971 but according to what I read, the book doesn’t follow the movie.  The book begins in a morgue where a  man called Waldo who happens to be a werewolf  is lying in a morgue on a table with a  silver bullet in him. The mortician removes the bullet and Waldo springs to life killing the mortician. Waldo the werewolf then goes out into the world and finds two female med students who are doing a masters thesis on a vampire queen named Wandessa de Nadasdy. Waldo hates vampires so he decides with the help of the female med students that he his going to find this queen and kill her. This books sound just corny enough to be entertaining.

Another book I wanted to mention was written in 1979 called The Majorettes by John Russo who was one of the co writers of Night Of The Living Dead.  This book was written at the same time that slasher movies were becoming popular. The story begins when  high school nerd Tommy Harvack who has a crush on a majorette named Nicole Hendricks, goes to meet her in the woods. Unfortunately for them they get murdered while on the rendezvous. The killer is not stopping there though, he has his sites set on killing the whole majorette squad. Can the police stop him in time? The Majorettes was originally meant to be a movie but when Russo could not get funding for it, he made it into a novel instead. A movie was finally released based on The Majorettes in 1987.

The 1970s also brought us a comic book that ran from 1972 to 1979 called Tomb of Dracula. This title was published by Marvel Comics, it was written by Marv Wolfman, drawn be Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer. The story for Tomb of Dracula was that Dracula was revived in the present day 1970’s and is being hunted by the decedents of the vampire hunters that once killed him. Tomb of Dracula also marked the first appearance of Blade who had his own comic series, TV series and three movies.

If your going to talk about books of the 1970’s you have to to mention the biggest horror author of all, Stephen King. King’s first novel was released in 1974 called Carrie. Carrie as you probably know tells the story of a shy girl in high school who discovers that she has telekinetic powers and uses them to take revenge on the  classmates that made fun of her.

My favorite Stephen King novel was his second novel which was released in 1975 called Salem’s Lot. Salem’s Lot follows the story of a man named Ben Mears who grew up in Salem’s Lot Massachusetts. He moved away when he was 12 but has now returned to find the town a very different place. The streets are deserted in the daytime, the town has been infected by vampires and only a few town residents are left to stop the vampires from taking over. I don’t feel that I have to say to much about Salem’s Lot here because most people reading this blog probably at least know the story from the 1979 mini series or the 2004 mini series which followed the book closely. Salem’s lot was heavily influenced by Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House which was recently mentioned in this blog.

Sticking with the subject of vampires, I feel I also need to mention Anne Rice’s Interview With A Vampire which was written in 1973 and released in 1976. The story for Interview With A Vampire follows Louis as he tells the story of his life over the last 200 years. Interview With The Vampire spawned 11 sequels that I know of and also had a movie made on it in 1994.

What’s your favorite 1970’s horror novel? Leave a comment and let us know.

1950’s Books

The first 1950’s book I wanted to mention was recommended from Facebook by Zachary Vaudo of the band Witness The Apotheosis. It is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.  Eleanor Vance is a shy loner who has spent the last 11 years taking care of her elderly mother.  One day she receives an invitation from Dr. John Montague to stay in a haunted mansion with other people who have had supernatural experiences. The mansion has gargoyles on the outside and rooms within rooms on the inside. As soon as Eleanor enters the house she starts to hear strange voices and sees ghosts wandering the halls, but despite the supernatural activity, Eleanore feels right at home.

The Haunting of Hill House has been made into movies a couple of times. The best movie adaptation is The Haunting made in 1963 and directed by the late great Robert Wise. There was also a remake made in 1999.The Haunting of Hill House was the first horror novel I ever read and it still stands the test of time. Stephen King called The Haunting of Hill House one of the best horror novels of the 20th century.

Also written in the 1950s and made into three different movies(The Last Man on Earth in 1964, The Omega Man in 1971 and I Am Legend in 2007) is I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It was written in 1954 but takes place in the futuristic world of 1976. A plague has wiped out most of the world’s population and those who have survived are now vampires. One man by the name of Robert Neville is immune to the plague but now in a world of vampires he is an outsider and must fight to stay alive.

If your going to mention horror in the 50’s you have to talk about EC comics. EC comics actually got its start in 1944 but the golden age of horror comics began when EC started publishing Tales From The Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear in 1950. Sadly all three books stopped publication in 1955 when the government started to censor comics and the comic companies created the comics code to keep from being shut down. Though there time was short, these three comics made quite an impact on the world. They have been made into 5 movies , a TV series and a cartoon. They also inspired many young  horror writers to start writing such as Stephen King.

All three titles were very similar to each other. with Tales From The Crypt being hosted by the cryptkeeper, the Vault of Horror being hosted by the vault keeper and The Haunt of Fear being hosted by The Old Witch.  The creators of the books were William Gaines and Al Feldstein but several writers and artists brought the books to life. These three comics were very popular but the government, parents and school teachers said that the comics were contributing to illiteracy and juvenile delinquency and they disappeared from newsstands before their time. If you want to know more about EC comic’s battle with the government over censorship check out The Horror, The Horror!: Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You To Read by Jim Trombetta.

While on the subject of 50’s horror comics I wanted to mention a comic that I never heard of until I was looking up books to talk about for this blog post.  The comic book is The Monster of Frankenstein by Dick Briefer, it ran from 1945 to 1954. When it started in 1945 it was meant for a very young audience but starting in 1952 it tried to follow in EC comics footsteps. It became a disturbing and violent horror comic until it was censored and came to an end in 1954. The comic actually ran monthly in a title called Prize comics. The story followed Frankenstein’s monster as he rampaged through 1930’s New York City and fought with Superheros: The Bulldog, The Black Owl, Green Lama and Dr. Frost.

Going back to novels, set in the 1950’s is Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. The story follows Meg Loughlin  and her crippled sister Sarah as they move in to a house with a woman named Ruth. Next door lives a boy named David who realizes that Meg is being tortured by Ruth and she is also letting other kids in the neighborhood torture Meg. Will David put an end to the torture or will he just watch and do nothing?