Ghost Writers - The best Ghost Story/Book Writers
Ghost Story/Book Authors
Ghost writers conjure up clanking chains and things that go bump in the night. An eerie wailing, an icy cold spot, the howling of a dog as its hair stands on end and spectral shapes floating across a room - these are all signs of a haunting. Ghost stories. Whether you hear them around an old-fashioned campfire or read them in the comfort of your own room, tales of the unknown fascinate. Across the ages, true, imaginary and sometimes in-between, ghost stories have a timeless appeal.
In Shakespeare, they serve to move the plot forward. In Shirley Jackson, Sheridan Le Fanu and other prominent authors, the ghost (or ghosts) is an active character, an integral part of the work. Spirits are active and passive protagonists, antagonists and supporting characters. They are real or imaginary. They are blatant or subtle. In a well-crafted tale, a haunting is not a simple matter. It is a complex entity in which many factors play a role. Memorable ghost stories play on the mind more than the physical body.
In weaving their tale, several of the best authors have utilized the short story format. Many of these stars of the spectral page appear during the Golden Age of both the short story and the ghostwriter – 1880 to 1930. Below is a list of the Top 20 Ghost Writers of All time. They are listed in alphabetical order to prevent a show of favoritism. Read the blurbs, look at their works and Happy Haunting.
1. Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)
Ambrose cut a wicked swathe with his pen in his most famous work The Devil’s Dictionary (1906). Originally titled The Cynic’s Word Book, it remains one of his most popular works to date. Yet, this man born to a religious family in Horse Cave Creek, Ohio, USA, was a prolific writer of many different genres, including ghost stories. He was a survivor of the American Civil War serving from 1861-1865. He was wanderer, a journalist and a cynic. He met Mark Twain in 1868 and worked with Hearst. His death and its date remains a mystery. He left for California, wandered about the country and simply disappeared.
Works to consider: “The Middle Toe of the Right Foot” (1891) Published most recently in Famous Modern Ghost Stories Dorothy Scarborough (ed.)
2. Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951)
There is little doubt Algernon Blackwood is a master of the short story. Furthermore, he is considered one of the best authors of the modern ghost story.
Born in Shooter’s Hill, England, this British author and journalist was an avid researcher of psychic phenomenon. His works indicate his awareness of the subject matter in intimate detail.
He is considered one of the most prolific of ghost story writers in the history of the genre. In addition to his writing, he also had a successful career as a journalist and in broadcasting. Perhaps his best pieces of work included The Willows and The Wendigo. However many loved his short stories, too. There is no official record of how many stories he wrote, but he is thought to be many. Interestingly, his work is not meant to frighten the reader but rather to create a sense of awe. Nevertheless, he did write a number of unique horror stories during his lifetime.
Also notable, Blackwood wrote an autobiography called Episodes Before Thirty in 1923 which chronicled his early life.
Works to consider: Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood. Contains “The Willows”, “A Haunted Island” and “The Empty House”
3. Myla Jo Closser (1880 - ?)
Very few people remember Myla Jo Closser. In fact, very little is recalled about her life. She was not a prolific author. Her husband was Tarkington Baker, a playwright; her cousin was Booth Takington, an author. Her fame as a ghost writer hinges on one small tale which has, so they say, gone to the dogs. It appeals to children, adults and all dog lovers.
She was born in 1880. Of her work, "At The Gate" was first published in The Century Magazine. Because of its love, it has been republished numerous times, including in Emily Dorothy Scarborough's book. Nevertheless, this is a story to read especially if you love older works.
Works to consider: “At the Gate” appears in several anthologies. This includes Famous Modern Ghost Stories Dorothy Scarborough (ed ).
4. Noel Coward (1899-1973)
Witty, urbane, talented and versatile are the words used to describe the famous and irreverent Noel Coward. He was an English playwright but had been a child actor. He was also a composer, a director, an actor and a singer. His plays are legendary and constantly on stage. His contribution to the best ghost stories of all times is “Blithe Spirit (1941).”
Born in December of 1899, Coward grew up in a London suburb where he attended dance academy. His first appearance on stage was when he was 11. He published more than 50 plays which he started creating in his teenage years. In fact, numerous plays are still being played throughout the world, including Hay Fever, Present Laughter, Design for Living and Private Lives. He loved poetry and created several pieces. He wrote a three volume autobiography and a several short stories including the novel Pomp and Circumstance.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many of his works became quite popular in theaters. He continues to influence popular culture through these works.
Works to consider: Blithe Spirit
5. Charles Dickens (1812-1870)
You can not talk about ghosts without mentioning the verbose and descriptive Charles Dickens. Together with Thomas Hardy, Dickens was the master of the serialized story. His prose works have never been discontinued or remaindered. He is constantly in print. It is almost impossible to think about Christmas tales without his ghosts.
Works to consider: A Christmas Carol (1843), The Signalman and Other Ghost Stories.
6. Washington Irving (1783-1759)
American Washington Irving followed the pattern of many great authors. He wrote essays and letters that found favor in the newspapers of the time. He was an editor of a prominent magazine. He also became a master of the short story and turned it towards a variety of topics. These included ghost stories. In fact his most famous story falls into this genre.
Works to consider “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) found originally in The Sketch book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.(1820). It is now available in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
7. Shirley Jackson (1916-1965)
There is something unnerving about Shirley Jackson’s work. This American author writes with great depth and psychological understanding.
Unlike earlier ghost stories, her work is never strident or over emotional. It is authoritative. Yet, just like her predecessors, her stories ensnare you. Jackson’s influence on authors has been extensive, including Stephen King.
Works to consider: The Haunting of Hill House (1959), The Lottery (1948), The Sundial (1958) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962).
8. W. W. Jacobs (1863-1943)
W. W. Jacobs was born in Wapping, London, England. It was a place that was to influence his life and work. He wrote story after story about seafaring captains, former captains and wharf night watchmen. A popular author, he wrote novels but also mastered the short story form. In fact, his most critically acclaimed and reprinted tale is a short story – a disturbing ghost story.
Works to consider: “The Monkey’s Paw” originally in Lady of the Barge (1902). See The Monkey’s Paw and other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre (2005).
9. Henry James (1843-1916)
Born to a wealthy American family and classically trained, Henry James sought to express himself through literature and not the law. He is well thought of for his approach, his 19th century realism marking him distinct from other period authors. He wrote novels, novellas and short stories. His works illustrate a clash between American and European values. While famous for Daisy Miller (1879) his ghostly short novella The Turn of the Screw is a definitive psychological tale.
Works to consider: The Turn of the Screw (1898).
10. M. R. James (1862-1936)
Montague Rhode James, born in Kent, England was a medieval scholar. A man with a brilliant intellect, he was prolific in his scholarly efforts, but is best remembered for his collections of ghost stories.
His influence has extended to Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft. His work has resulted in creating a certain type of story: Jamesian.
Works to consider: “Oh Whistle and I’ll come to You, My Lad,” “A Warning to the Curious, “Rats” and “A Vignette” found in Ghosts Stories of an Antiquary (1906), More Ghost Stories (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919) and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925).
11. Steven King (1947- )
Stephen King is known to the masses. His works blend psychological subtlety with horror and mass appeal. Born in Portland, Maine, his first big break came with the publication of his first novel, Carrie (1974).
Since then, under both his real name and his pseudonym Richard Bachman, Stephen King has published best seller after best seller. His tales inevitably bear the whiff of the supernatural.
Works to consider: The Shining (1977), ‘Salem’s Lot (1975), The Dead Zone (1979).
12. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1864)
Sheridan Le Fanu is frequently considered one of the masters of the macabre mystery novel. An Irishman, he is sometimes called the founder of the modern ghost tale. His short stories featured countless examples of ghosts and supernatural beings or adventures. A lawyer through education and training, he never practiced, becoming instead a journalist.
Works to consider: Uncle Silas (1864), In a Glass Darkly (1872) Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery (1923).
13. Josephine Leslie (1898-1979)
Josephine Leslie was not, by anyone’s standards, a prolific writer. She wrote 2 novels in the late 1940s. While little attention was paid to The Devil and Mrs. Devine, her 1945 ghost story garnered immediate attention. Even before the print was dry, it had been made into a movie. This was the hauntingly romantic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
Works to consider: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1945) and The Devil and Mrs. Devine.
14. Oliver Onions (1873-1916)
Oliver Onions, the English novelist, was trained to be a commercial artist. Instead, he moved into the literary field writing in various genres. His work includes detective fiction and historical novels as well as science fiction and ghost stories.
Works to consider: “The Beckoning Fair One” in Widdershins (1911) or Collected Ghost Stories (1935), Back of the Moon (1906), Ghosts in Daylight (1929) and Ghost Stories (2000).
15. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
What can you say about the great American writer Edgar Allan Poe? His work is considered by some to be immortal. He was an editor, a literary critic and a poet. He wrote short stories intricately crafted combining mood and character. His Poem “The Raven” is a classic. His work has been adapted many times to film and is linked to the master of the macabre actor Vincent Price.
Works to consider: “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Haunted Palace” and “The Telltale Heart” can be found within Tales of Mystery and Imagination.
16. Arthur Quiller-Couch(1863-1944)
Arthur Quiller-Couch hailed from Cornwall. His birthplace was to influence the location and nature of some of his work, notably Corporal Sam and Other Stories (1910) and The Delectable Duchess (1893) He attended the prestigious Oxford University. A literary critic and compiler, Quiller-Couch is responsible for the magnificent collection of poetry, The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900. His fiction is written under the pseudonym Q.
Works to consider: “A Pair of Hands” found in The Horror on the Stairs and Other Weird Tales (2000).
17. Saki (Hector Hugo Munro, 1870-1916)
Satirical, witty, macabre and cynical describe the works of Saki and Saki himself. A journalist, he took a masterful swipe at Edwardian England and the propriety of society. His stories are precise executions of character in all senses of the word. His narratives are wonderfully implemented in fine detail. Among his collections of short stories, one of the finest ghost stories is “The Open Window.” Saki died at the hand of a sniper in World War I.
Works to consider: Beasts and Super-Beasts.
18. Robert Lewis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Robert Lewis Stevenson is often confined to the realms of children’s literature. Yet, much of his work has a timeless appeal. This Scottish writer is a poet noted for a Children’s Garden of Verses (1885). He was also a travel writer and an author of short stories on Scotland and the Samoan islands.
Works to consider: “The Body Snatcher” (1884) in The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Ticonderoga: A Legend of the West Highlands (1887).
19. Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975)
Forever known as the other Elizabeth Taylor or Elizabeth Taylor, the author, E. Taylor is one of the forgotten female authors of the 20th century. Although Kingsley Amis admired her short stories and novels, her impact remains subdued. Her fans are, however, fanatic in their following and praise of this writer. She writes with smoothness and clarity. She writes without sentimentality and with sharp claws.
Works to consider: “The Poor Girl” also known as “The Haunted” first published in The Blush and Other Stories (1958, 1986) later in The Third Ghost Book ed. by Cynthia Asquith (1955) and the Norton Book of Ghost Stories (1994).
20. Edith Wharton (1862-1937)
The American Edith Wharton wrote her stories with wit, humor and an insight into the upper society of New York. She is best known for The Age of Innocence (1920). She won the Pulitzer Literary Prize for it in 1921. Yet, Wharton was also excellent at penning witty and concise short stories. Some of these were ghost stories.
Works to consider: “The Looking Glass” (1935) in The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton.
From ancient days to now, people have never grown tired of the ghost story. This form of story telling has evolved through the years into a specific genre. The Golden Year of Ghost Stories peaked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This period coincides with the fine honing of the short story form. There are many masters, present and past, who can lay claim to the title of “Best Ghost Writer.” Some, I have not included above. It is only a short list of 20, after all. You can add to it or subtract as you see fit. As in the case of all things – preference is all a matter of personal taste – in this case a morbid taste for bones, specters and all things that go bump in the night. This GhostWriter used to love ghost stories but nowadays I don't read any; my tastes just changed.
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