Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shirley Jackson Still Resonates With Me

Before leaving on vacation I picked up Shirley Jackson Let Me Tell You, new stories, essays and other writings by Shirley edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman and Sarah Hyman DeWitt. Shirley Jackson has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read The Lottery in middle school.

I sort of write like her- Kelly tells me my stories are about ordinary people, but then something unusual, or extraordinary or downright creepy happens.  At other times, I write rather humorous stories about the Riley family, for instance, and their five rather rowdy children. I am reading this book and she has a character with the last name Beresford. I have been struggling to give Remy Brice and Lissa Beresford a hundred opportunities to tell me their story coherently. I try to balance working full time, writing after work and managing my home and family. I have had a few articles published, and a personal memoir, but my writing doesn't fit into a conventional genre. I haven't had any short stories I've submitted published. So I have been self-publishing my novels and story collections- and my friends have been literally grabbing copies of the books out of my hands. They appear to like what I write since they are not using the books to ignite fires with.

I have a friend in New Mexico who also is a fan of Shirley Jackson. I met her twenty-five years ago and we have shared books over the years. I will have to email her and make sure she has a copy of this compilation of Jackson's writings. A good friend knows which of her good friends habits to feed!

I think Cemetery Crawl, All Souls Night, Shifting Sands, Black Rose, The Girl with The Ivy Tattoo, and others of my collected haunting tales are similar in nature to Jackson's eerie, suspenseful, psychological chillers. I think she and I would have gotten along well together if we had been peers and in the same writing circle.

There are two early stories I wrote when I was working the night shift and used to swap scary stories with my friend Glen Clark- The Chase and Cat & Mouse. Both are psychological thrillers- one is about a business man traveling through a rural New England village after dark on his way to a business meeting. He stops for gas and is warned by the erudite station owner to keep driving. He pulls away, sees an old cemetery beside a schoolhouse. And then he hears a strange sound...and finds himself pursued by Death.  In Cat & Mouse an anonymous person awakens in a twilight lit place that seems to be a metallic corridor- metal walls on both sides. He or she begins walking, and continues to walk but finds no exit, no doorways. Finally it occurs to the person that they might be walking a giant circle, so he/she pauses to scratch the words "I WAS HERE" on the wall at hand height. Then begins walking again...and eventually feels the words scratched into the wall. As they lower their hand, they feel additional scratchings and find a chilling message scratched beneath his/her message.

Glen and I used to scare the bejeezus out of one another in the dead of night up in the misty playing fields behind the college where we worked as Campus Police officers...with the pheasants screeching eerily (sound like peacocks). Used to go home in the morning to the haunted house where I was living (my brothers' second floor apartment was the location of the actual ghost) and have trouble falling asleep with all the thuds and banging around upstairs when Jeffrey was not home. It was more noise than a single cat could make on its own. The cat got locked out on the second floor enclosed porch once-courtesy of the ghost. Was glad to move out when John and I finally bought a house in '89.

So- I am enjoying Shirley Jackson's writing once again- and her stories though somewhat dated now, still resonate with me because she knew how to hit all the right buttons and her magic is still at work in these pages. Thank you to her son and daughter for the work they did to get this book published and into the hands of their mother's fans.

(My daughter already has her instructions as to what to do with everything stuffed into filing cabinets, binders and boxes that I have written- sort the good from the bad, and keep the books coming because that's what I would like her to do to keep me alive in her memory, to keep my spirit alive in her day to day life.)

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