Ghost Novel Review: The House Next Door

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

Simon & Schuster, Inc., 356 pages.

Colquitt and Walter Kennedy pursue a complacent lifestyle in an idyllic suburban enclave. Stimulating workdays. Patio cocktails. Garden parties. Tennis doubles.

You get the idea.

All that is threatened when an outsider buys the adjacent wooded lot, hires a brilliant architect and erects an imposing structure. Colquitt frets and bemoans the disruption of her perfect life and unobstructed sylvan view until I wanted to strangle her. Perhaps there is more than one malevolent motive afoot?

Disturbing events followed by uber disturbing events lead Colquitt to question the ambiance of the house next door. Could the house be haunted? The lives of those connected with it imperiled by an evil force?

In general, I like my ghosts troubled and bemused. Hateful and demonic spirits don’t move me. Of course, there are exceptions like The Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill, a book teeming with compelling characters and dynamic prose. Unfortunately, The House Next Door does not prove the exception, bogged down as it is by wooden characters and flat writing.

I was excited to begin this book because I’ve enjoyed other of Siddons’ novels–most notably Peachtree Road, which I loved. Because I didn’t love The House Next Door, I tried to figure out why. I discovered it was originally published in 1978. For me, The House Next Door is tainted with the same Stepford nimbyism redolent of the 70s decade–what we (those of us who weren’t in it) used to call “the establishment.”

Should You (Or I) Self-Publish? Part Two

Welcome back to part two of our self vs. traditional publishing discussion in which we endeavor to toss together disparate musings/factoids and grind out a new truth.

Since our last communication, another eminent author has crossed over to the indie side–John Edgar Wideman. (If you’ve never read his novel Sent For You Yesterday, convey yourself post haste to book store or reading device for your very own copy.) In an interview at Goodreads, Wideman points to a blockbuster mindset in traditional publishing. “The publisher’s list gets shorter and shorter, and that’s destructive of quality and variety. I think the American imagination has been impoverished by the choices that have been offered as a substitute for what was once real selection.”

Perhaps with such defections as Wideman’s from traditional publishing, the indie taint will disappear. Certainly in this current climate of stick-it-to-the-man self-empowerment, it feels kinda-sorta good to sidestep the evil gatekeepers. Am I right? However, Victoria Strauss notes on her blog that “it’s risky to assume that others’ success stories will apply to you. ‘Anyone can do it’ are dangerous words. Look for the story behind the story–it may be as instructive as the story itself.”

Interesting. As writers, we’re all about the story.

For instance, what is the story with agents? Once we’ve paid Charon‘s coins, can the agents really deliver us to the other side? Check out this straightforward description of what a literary agent can do for you from Adler & Robin Books, Inc.  For many writers, access to money and distribution are the primary assets an agent brings.

For me, the partnership is what I crave. The mentoring, the career path guidance, the industry eyes and ears. In her first (and best) novel, The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan thanks her agent Sandra Dijkstra for “saving [her] life.” Now that’s a relationship!

But here’s the rub: a good (or not so good) agent is hard to find. Emily Hill, indie publishing apologist, describes the probability statistics of landing an agent at a non-New York agency as one tenth of one percent. Grim, yes? To read the full article, click here. She also decries the interminable wait times of querying, landing an agent, waiting for the agent to shop a manuscript,  waiting for the publisher to publish. That’s the best scenario. In the end, three or five or ten years later, there may be no book.

Did we grind out a definitive answer for all writers? Probably not. It seems the opposite–there are more choices and directions than ever. The good news is that writers now more opportunities to be read and to allow readers to determine the value of their work.

Let us know about your own journey. What did you decide? Was it the right decision for you?

Ghost Novelette for Christmas Giving: The Canterville Ghost













The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

With the advent of Christmas season, one’s thoughts naturally turn to sugar plum fairies. And ghosts.

Yes, ghosts.

What, Christmas doesn’t conjure spectral images for you? There’s a precedent. Think A Christmas Carol, now a standard eighth grade December read.

Since I was short of time this month–who isn’t?–I went searching for a shorter example of ghost fiction. Imagine my surprise when my quest turned up The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Wallace Goldsmith. (The cover below is illustrated by Inga Moore.)


Something you should know about me is that I’m an easy date. If you ever want to entice me away from hearth and home, just inform me that one of my lifetime favorite plays has hit town–The Importance of Being Earnest by, you guessed it, Oscar Wilde.

So it was with considerable joy that I loaded a free version of The Canterville Ghost onto my kindle. Hold that thought. We’re going to discuss versions shortly.

The story is gently satirical. From Wilde we expect no less. In this novelette, cultures bump (clash is too strong as all is oh-so-civilized) when the nouveau riche American Otis family buys an old English estate. The previous owners, an upper crust family headed by Lord Canterville, have fled to escape a ghost that has haunted the mansion for centuries.

With delightful hyperbole, Wilde depicts no nonsense Yankee practicality. The Americans don’t believe in ghosts, and even when facing the recalcitrant ghost himself, admonish him to oil his chains so as not to disturb sleeping family members. When the befuddled ghost becomes depressed, it is up to kind-hearted daughter Virginia to befriend him.

This is a delightful read and would make a great introduction to ghost literature for young people. And like the best young adult works, the adults will enjoy the experience just as much.  There are probably eight or ten different editions of this book, two of which are illustrated by Wallace Goldsmith. (The link above is to one of the Goldsmith versions.) For gift giving and even personal consumption, I recommend one of the illustrated editions. Definitely.

To give you a flavor of the book, I will end with a quote from the character Lord Canterville: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.”

Should You (or I) Self-Publish? Part One

I could always tell when Dad was going to make his four-hour spaghetti. He would haul out a metal contraption and bolt it to Mother’s bread board. Sporting primitive funnel and hand crank, it looked like a medieval torture device for dolls. Into the funnel Dad would drop onion wedges and celery stalks. Out of the bottom would slither glistening, pale green snakes.

Right now, that’s how my brain feels–my thoughts, like the onion and celery, twisted and inextricable.

The reason: I’ve been following the traditional vs. indie publishing debate. If you’re a writer, no doubt you have, too. And you’ve probably noticed there is no middle ground. There’s just the onion and the celery and the undecided.

I’ve been giving this so much thought these past few days in part because of a sobering blog post on the subject at Nail Your Novel. Even my subconscious entered the fray and now every night kindly wakes me up at 2 am to toss, turn, and ponder. I can tell you sleep deprivation messes with your writing!

I planned to merge the two camps (pro-traditional and pro-indie) into one post.

I failed. Where’s Dad’s food grinder when I need it? Collecting dust these many years.

Instead, we will look at the two sides separately. We’ll begin with traditional publishing–multi-layered like the onion.

First, the blog that started my mind whirring. Roz Morris of Nail Your Novel warns, “Indie publishing isn’t for people who couldn’t get published or represented. It’s for people who could.”

Egads! Sort of like when you go to the bank for a loan, but in order to score that loan, you must first prove you don’t need it. In other words, in order to be a successful self-publisher, you should have the product traditional publishers desire.

Talk about desire. Deep down I think many writers, maybe even most, yearn for that traditional contract with all the trimmings–or at least as many as have not been trimmed away by cost-cutting publishers.  Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone will tell you that “though POD radically changed the business, and everything now is pretty much going e-books, traditional publishing is still the gold standard, and being published by a recognized house remains the Holy Grail.”

The quest for that Holy Grail is fueled by the one clear advantage of traditional publishers–support backed by distribution. And with that comes validation. And open doors and coveted reviews. Roz Morris explains that indies “are still regarded sniffily in most quarters.” (Irrelevant aside: When I write, I avoid -ly adverbs, but I couldn’t help admiring how spiffily Roz uses sniffily. Indeed, this may be my first encounter with the word sniffily, and I love it. You know the adage: a writer can break any rule she can get away with.)

So, what do you think? Traditional publishing–Holy Grail or cement boots?

Tune in for the next installment of Writer Unleashed for a discussion of the agent-author-traditional publisher triad. And after that, self-publishing. The celery.