Writing Tip — Favorite Stories

Halloween storiesLike I said on Tuesday, I don’t like the horror associated with Halloween. But I do enjoy a supernatural story that is spooky or creepy, where the unearthly happenings are suggested rather than thrown in your face. If the main character tackles the supernatural like a detective, even better. And the ending must have some hope.

Here are several short stories I enjoy revisiting every October. I discovered these in the children’s section of the first library I worked in. I’m not sure why these stories were in the children’s section. Most of the authors were writers well-known for writing fantasy and science fiction for adults.

“The House Surgeon” by Rudyard Kipling in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts selected by Helen Hoke.

  • A new friend of the M’Leod family attempts to discover why their home plagues everyone with depression. And why everyone feels “someone” is desperate to tell them something.
  • Think “Downton Abbey” with an amateur detective. I like this story because the haunting is so unusual.

“The Monster of Poot Holler” by Ida Chittum in Spirits, Spooks, and Other Sinister Creatures selected by Helen Hoke

  • In the Ozarks, two cousins dare to enter Poot Holler to find out what lives there.
  • I love the voice of this story, told in dialect. The build-up to the revelation of the monster is terrific.

“The Whistling Room” by William Hope Hodgson in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts 

  • Carnacki, the Ghost Finder, investigates a room in an Irish castle, haunted by a monstrous whistling.
  • Think Sherlock Holmes taking on X-Files cases. The supernatural detective is intriguing as well as the peculiar haunting.

“The Cloak” by Robert Bloch in Haunts, Haunts, Haunts

  • Henderson gets a lot more than he bargains for when he buys a cloak for a Halloween costume party from a mysterious shop clerk who claims it’s “authentic”.
  • This has the best description of the modern perception of Halloween I’ve ever read, starting with the opening lines:

“The sun was dying, and its blood splattered the sky as it crept into a sepulcher behind the hills. The keening wind sent dry , fallen leaves scurrying towards the west, as though hastening them to the funeral of the sun … Either that, or tonight was just another rotten cold fall day.”

  • The is the one story with a downer ending. But it doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. If you don’t like downer endings, just reading the first half. The beginning and Henderson’s visit to the costume shop set the perfect Halloween mood.



Writing Tip — Writing in Time

October wordsLike I said last month, September and October are two of my favorite months during my favorite season. So I find it easy for October to inspire me.


I live in a rural area, and the harvest of corn and soybeans is in full swing. If I wanted a story to follow the cycle of farming, I could start it in the spring with planting and end it with harvesting. The characters’ story arc could mimic the growing season.


Of course, in the U.S., many people spend October gearing up for Halloween. I have never liked the horror aspects of Halloween, but because I have kids, the holiday is a lot of fun. Selecting costumes, participating in school parties, trick-or-treating with friends in our small town where just about everybody comes out for the evening makes Halloween a great holiday for kids.

It’s the perfect setting for the adventures or misadventures in a picture book, chapter, or middle grade fiction.


I like the mysterious quality of October and Halloween.  When I host my annual Halloween party for my family, I emphasize mystery, rather than horror.

I have been working on-and-off for a couple years on a murder mystery that climaxes on Halloween night. I don’t have a title yet but here’s a summary:

“When members of the Stowecroft family, the leading family in Willet County, West Virginia, are being murdered one by one, Junior Lody notices a connection between the current crimes and ones involving the Stowecrofts fifty and seventy years ago. Following the techniques he’s read about in books investigating Richard III and the disapearance of his nephews, Junior realizes the truth behind all the crimes and races on Halloween night to stop the killer from striking again.”

The murders swirl around an empty house the Stowecrofts own on the edge of town. I like adding a haunted house to an October mystery. The colors of fall and the decreasing daylight enhance the air of mystery. The death and decay of nature mirror the murders and old family secrets buried deep.

I have always liked climaxes that occur during a big social event. A strong contrast can be drawn between most of the people enjoying the event, like trick-or-treating in a small town, while the real drama with the main characters goes on behind the scenes. Two examples like this are the main characters searching for assassins during a political convention in The Manchurian Candidate or during a symphony concert in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

How does October inspire you?


Monday Sparks — Writing prompts

Dome wordsThe weekend before last I went to a writers’ conference in Dallas. It was held at the all-inclusive Gaylord Texan resort. I had never been to one, where everything was under one roof, including an enormous atrium with all kind of trees and plants growing under it, as you can see from the model below.

IMG_7911It made me think of stories with sealed communities, like Stephen King’s Under the Dome and the movie Logan’s Run. Even more disturbing was Caves of Steel by Issac Asimov where people get so used to their sealed community that it never occurs to them to venture into the natural world.

If you wrote about a sealed community, why is it sealed? Are the inhabitants trapped? Or do they stay inside willingly.

Share if inspired!

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