I want this to be a platform for EVERYONE within the horror community; authors, publishers, bloggers, reviewers, actors, directors, artists. I could go on, if you work in the genre then you are more than welcome to apply for the job.
For the sake of Twitter characters and in looking for something a little more punchy, I’ve now decided to call this feature The Graveyard Shift. (#GraveyardShift)
The rules are quite simple…
You are invited to imagine yourselves as warden for an old graveyard, and choose eight books, preferably horror/dark genre, to take with you to cover your shift; here you can discuss why you chose the books.
As well as the books, wardens are allowed one song/album to listen to. Again, an explanation for this choice is required.
You must also discuss one luxury item you can bring, which must be inanimate and not allow communication.
If you’d like to take part in The Graveyard Shift then please submit an application to firstname.lastname@example.org
A new shift is about to begin and the warden is…
A steady diet of horror movies and frightening books, plus more than a few paranormal investigations of cemeteries and graveyards (including Greyfriars Kirkyard), have prepared me for this shift as warden. Packing, on the other hand, has been tricky – only eight books, that practically criminal! But I finally narrowed down my selection, have my bags ready, and am set to start.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
With grotesque images of corpses and decay, Frankenstein seems like an obvious choice to bring along to the graveyard, however, there’s so much more to this novel. Themes of isolation, rejection, revenge, and the dangers of arrogantly wielding science have me returning to this book time and again. Every time I’ve read it, I’ve noticed something new – complexities in relationships, commentaries on humanity which are still relevant today, and, of course, what we view as monstrous being dependant upon our own station in life. Whether you categorise this novel as horror, science fiction, or gothic literature, Frankenstein is simply a fantastic classic.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
I love the entire Hannibal Lecter series, but The Silence of the Lambs is my favourite of the bunch. You would think after multiple rereads and watching the movie adaptation more times than I can count, that the suspense and intrigue of this story would be lessened, but it’s just as gripping with each experience. While the plot of trying to catch ‘Buffalo Bill’ is riveting, what always gets me are the characters. They are all so detailed, even the small side characters. For example, there’s a very small scene, only a paragraph long, where we get a clear insight into Jeff (Jack Crawford’s driver). He sees Crawford breakdown, standing outside a funeral home, and instead of waiting for Crawford to spot the car, Jeff backs into an alley and has a cigarette, giving his boss a moment of raw grief for his wife. Jeff’s actions speak so loudly to his own character and to his relationship with Crawford – a great moment of showing versus telling. And, of course, there’s Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself, the vilest, yet most charming, villain I’ve ever encountered.
Mindhunter by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
So, given how much I love the works of Thomas Harris, it really shouldn’t be surprising that I’m drawn to the non-fiction works of John Douglas, the real-life model for Jack Crawford. It’s almost impossible to imagine police forces cracking cases without using some sort of profiling method, and those methods are largely thanks to Douglas’s work within the FBI’s Behavioural Science Unit. In Mindhunter, Douglas recounts his interactions and interviews with high profile serial killers, such as Ed Kemper, David Berkowitz, and Richard Speck, as well as revealing some inner workings of Quantico. This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in true crime. And the Netflix series based on this book is excellent as well.
Hell House by Richard Matheson
When I need a break from gruesome tales of crimes, haunted house stories are my go-to for books and movies, and few are better than Hell House by Richard Matheson. A creepy atmosphere, surprising twists and turns in the plot, and the book is filled to the brim with horror. There are a few sections where the language is dated, and you can tell this is a product of the 60s/70s horror genre, but overall, the story stands the test of time. There were sections where I was shocked, grossed-out, and even scared, and that’s a fantastic combination for me.
Villisca by Roy Marshall
Next is a switch from fictional haunted house to a real house of horrors. In 1912, in the small town of Villisca, Iowa, eight people were murdered in one night, all in the same house. While it’s upsetting that six of the victims were children, what I find most disturbing is that these crimes were never solved. Through the years I’ve read countless books and articles on the Villisca Axe Murders covering the factual crime and the purported haunting within the house, as well as watched almost anything to do with the infamous house (Ghost Adventures even went there in Season 4). One book I haven’t read yet is Villisca by Roy Marshall, a true-crime compilation of known evidence, court transcripts, and even photographs of the victims and suspects. In September of 2016 I bought a signed copy of the book after I toured the Villisca Axe Murder House, so it’s been sitting in my TBR pile for much too long. (And, yes, in my opinion, that house is haunted!)
True Canadian Ghost Stories by John Robert Colombo
Growing up I was that weird kid with my nose always in a book, and no books fascinated me more than true ghost stories (that didn’t help in the popularity department). Somewhere along the way I discovered the collections of John Robert Colombo, known as “Canada’s Mr. Mystery.” Over the years I’ve read several of his works which delve into local folk lore, ghost sightings, cryptids, and even UFOs. True Canadian Ghost Stories is a collection of more than seventy-five spooky encounters, many being first-person accounts. While it’s great fun to creep myself out, wondering what unnatural beings might stalk through the darkness, I also enjoy this book for the historical information. Several of the stories are reprints from old newspapers, some dating back to the 1850s, and in these accounts there are glimpses of every day life vastly different from today, but I also see how things that go bump in the night are just as terrifying now as they were back then.
Headhunter by Timothy Findley
“On a winter’s day, while a blizzard raged through the streets of Toronto, Lilah Kemp inadvertently set Kurtz free from page 92 of Heart of Darkness. Horror-stricken, she tried to force him back between the covers.” These are the fantastic opening lines of Headhunter by one of my all-time favourite authors, Timothy Findley, and the book only gets weirder from there.
The book takes place in a dystopian Toronto, where a plague called “sturnusemia” is transmitted by birds, which are gassed in the open by death squads. Between streets littered with dead starlings, the story flitters between Lilah’s memories of being a patient at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre, the Parkin Institute with Dr. Rupert Kurtz as Psychiatrist-in-Chief, and the Club of Men where photographer John Dai Bowen helps the city’s elite track down their most carnal desires.
Findley throws down a lot of dots, but doesn’t always connect them for the reader, which is part of why I enjoy his work so much. And in the case of this novel where Lilah suffers from severe schizophrenia, even deciphering reality is left ambiguously open.
Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales by Ray Bradbury
When packing my bags, I knew I’d have to include at least one book by Ray Bradbury. I nearly went with Something Wicked this Way Comes, which I adore, but ultimately chose a collection of his short stories which represents the breadth of genres Bradbury was able to masterfully write. He has tales of serial killers, adventures in rocket ships, androids designed to fool lovers, fortune-telling tattoos, and new job responsibilities in the aftermath of atomic war. The variety of stories is what really makes this a fantastic collection. I highly recommend it for any Bradbury fan.
Vancouver by Matthew Good
While I thought choosing eight books was a challenge, picking only one album was torture! I knew I’d have to bring something by my favourite musician, Matthew Good, a Canadian alternative rock singer-songwriter. He’s been pumping out awesome tunes since the 90s and his latest album “Moving Walls” was released in early 2020. I’ve seen him play live several times and have almost every album. I finally settled on bringing along “Vancouver” which won the Juno Award for “Best Rock Album” in 2011.
What I enjoy most about Good’s music is his authenticity. He sings about things his been through, touching on topics like his battle with bipolar disorder (including his time in a psychiatric ward), his infuriation with unjust wars, and maltreatment of impoverished persons.
In my opinion, “The Vancouver National Anthem” is the best track on the Vancouver album. Take a listen:
Now the rules for packing a luxury item stated that it couldn’t be used for communication, but I’m going to assume that was intended as restricting communication with the living – not the dead. So, I’m bringing along my trusty digital audio recorder in hopes of capturing some Electronic Voice Phenomenon (aka EVP).
If you aren’t familiar with EVP, in a nutshell, it’s when auditory responses are captured on recorders which are not heard with the human ear at the time of recording. When I worked with a paranormal investigation team, we would often sit in a silent location, turn our devices on, and ask questions to any spirits that may be present. A lot of times we’d review hours of recordings which revealed absolutely nothing, but other times voices or sounds would appear in the audio files, sometimes as direct responses to our questions. We would cross-reference these sounds with recorders in other rooms and visual recordings to ensure the sound wasn’t a result of someone talking in a different room or traffic passing by our location.
While I can’t say with certainty these voices on EVPs are from beyond the grave, it would be a fascinating experiment to undertake during my time as warden. Plus, I can always use my audio device to record stories that pop into my head, which I can transcribe later, and generally keep a record of my slow descent into madness while tending to the graveyard, should that occur.
Wish me luck!
J. A. Sullivan is a horror writer and paranormal enthusiast, based in Brantford, ON, Canada. Attracted to everything non-horror folks consider strange, she’s spent years as a paranormal investigator, has an insatiable appetite for serial killer information, and would live inside a library if she could.
Her latest short story can be found in Don’t Open the Door: A Horror Anthology (out July 26, 2019), and other spooky tales can be found on her blog. She’s currently writing more short stories, a novel, and reading as many dark works as she can find.
You can follow J. A. on Twitter @ScaryJASullivan
Check out her blog https://writingscaredblog.wordpress.com
Find her on Instagram www.instagram.com/j.a_sullivan