There are some story shapes I return to all the time, both as a reader and as a writer. They pull at some part of my brain, tugging away at the grey matter until it unravels, like a loose thread on an old sweater. Haunted Houses are one such idea. I’ve done a few of them in short stories, but never in ways that feel obvious. I’m never one for just treading into old territory and not bringing in anything new. Hell, I had a few that were haunted house stories that had no ghosts, no presences, but were about a malign place that worked in between the lines of the story, that sold to some literary magazines back in the day.

I’ve tried writing haunted house novels off and on for awhile. The longest I’d had before Glass House were mostly novellas and novelettes. Open Your Eyes and Close Your Mouth were both haunted house stories in space, of novella length. Quite a few of the stories in Glass Coffin girls were haunted house stories, with the longest being Red Hairs, with the bad place being a house known simply as Tick Tock House. Because it was made from the wood of dead clocks, which haunted the halls like a bad dream.

But none of these wanted to stretch onto longer works, and the difficulty here, I think, was keeping it fresh in my mind, as a writer. There needs to be a lot of juice to an idea to keep it going, further and further, and so, when I realized I could combine several of my favorite story shapes (cosmic horror, folk horror, and haunted house/bad place), I knew I would have enough juice for a novel length story.

So I did what I always did. I consumed. I consumed tons of haunted house novels and movies, going through the histories and variations, revisiting old places like the Overlook Hotel, Hill House, Hell House, that unnamed place in Amityville, Manderly, Bly Manor, Wyldling Hall, etc. I stalked new lands unknown to me, recent stories, newer movies, and even delved into the bad and tasteless ones I’d wished I’d forgotten (Rose Red, for example, or the 90’s version of the Haunting). I wanted to plumb the depths of these genres, searching for seeds to place in the mulch of my subconscious mind, in hopes that they would grow and bear fruit as I wrote.

These things are interesting. The haunted house novel appears to exist as either a Bad Place (usually investigated by paranormal researchers, a story skeleton built on the back of Hill House), or a haunted place (a family moving into a new home, only to be met by ghosts or demonic things masquerading as ghosts). Shining seemed to combine the two ideas, and that seemed like an interesting route for me to go as well. But I didn’t want to do the usual “the dad is going to get possessed and murder his family” plot skeleton. That’s a bit done to death, and as a dad, I find just something I couldn’t relate to.

But a dad obsessed with a hippie cult? That’s got legs. And does his obsession make him ignore the plight of his family, put everyone else in danger, and consume him until he destroys himself? That there is a classic Poe/Lovecraftian motif, a story skeleton I can work with. And as a lover of folk horror, I could do something interesting, creepy stuff with that hippie cult. But, I could also show the appeal of such a thing. Much like how the Wickerman makes you want to follow Christopher Lee off a cliff.

And what about the mom, yes. How will the house corrupt her? I started writing out the first chapter from her point of view, and it was right there, right from the start. The house will not just be sentient, but it will be obsessive, love starved, and…well, horny. And our main character will also be love starved, since her marriage is rocky and falling apart, and the two of them (her and husband) are basically like distant friends or roomates now. She has a need, and the house as a need…

But the house is a dangerous lover. Possessive. Here is my riff on the bad place plot skeleton

Then we move into the cosmic horror aspects. I placed these inside the story once I realized that Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser was a haunted house story at its core. So was Susperia. I read the De Quincy poetry that Argento’s Three Mother’s Trilogy was based off of, and realized that these three mothers were cosmic horror in bone and blood. Another story skeleton I could use, but how? How would I pull this one in? The youngest daughter, Rae. I heard her voice so loud and clear in my head.

A child prodigy. Misunderstood, dangerous when bored. She also had serial killer tendencies, and this need to be the center. She would find my cosmic horror/susperia inspired/hellraiser inspired Mothers of Sorrow to be kindred spirits. Something she is attracted to, and wants to help release chaos in the house and on her family. Rae talking to these ancient things and helping them escape the house that was their prison sets into motion all of the chaos that unfolds in the narrative.

And the youngest sister, Lily, applies our last horror skeleton. The psychic kid, with powers out of her control, able to talk with terrifying ghosts and start fires with her mind. Lily is the heart of this novel, the grounding force. The one we want to survive, who sees the house, the ghosts of the suicide cult, and the Mothers of Sorrow for what they really were- uncaring, horrific agents of chaos. And the one who turns her back on the promises they offer, and sets out to save her family in return.

There is more stuff there, more story skeletons involving sacrifice and doppelgangers, but I’ll let you discover those on your own. One more skeleton I used was the one found in Clute’s the Darkening Garden. I built the beats of the story to reflect on his “seasons of horror” theory of structure. Sighting, thickening, revel, aftermath.

In this way, it works as an antithesis to his structure for fantasy stories, and how they move. I found it to be an interesting idea, the way it moves logically from one beat to the next, and really wanted to try my hand at building a whole novel around this movement. The sightings are multiple, leading to deep thickening that permeates the whole house, and then a series of revels that tear the family asunder and apart, leading to a lone slow and melancholic aftermath.

With a very haunting final image that I hope gets under your skin in the best possible way.

Interested? Why not pick up a copy!

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