The Exorcist (Book) vs The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Film)


The Exorcist as a movie was one of those films my parents didn’t want me to watch. There were never restrictions on what I could read, so that was always my loophole. Besides, my imagination is usually much scarier than what’s on the screen.

The book scared me as a kid. The idea that imaginary friends, like Captain Howdy in the book, could really be demons ready to vacation in my skin was frightening.

As an adult and a parent, I read it differently. It reads more like ignored child of busy starlet entertains herself by opening herself to demons. I can’t imagine knowing my child was playing with an Ouija board alone and was talking to someone through it; I would freak out with sage and salt and holy water and Florida water.

Early in the book, Regan tries to show her mother how she talks to Captain Howdy through the board, and then they both just walk away. Superstitious me was screaming, “NO!!!! You have to close the connection! You have to end the session! Great googly moogly, this is how you get demons!” Of course, Regan becomes possessed and the story focuses on ridding her of evil.

The biggest differences for me when looking at The Exorcist as compared to the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose are the family dynamic and the priests. In Emily Rose, the family is close knit and religious. In The Exorcist, the family is a little more loosey-goosey with mom chasing her career; they are worldly, not sheltered, and not overly religious.

In Emily Rose, it is Emily herself that chooses to depart this world, to give herself over to God as a lesson to the world and a final gesture of her faith. In The Exorcist, it’s those involved in the exorcism that take death to rid Regan of evil.

Which story works better for me as a scary tale? I’m surprised to admit that right now, it’s Emily Rose, the movie with a studious good girl from a solid family. Reading The Exorcist in the context of a parent, it’s more like single parenting career-focused moms are half-assed parents that might as well have the devil for a babysitter. Yes, The Exorcist has the good against evil theme present in Emily Rose, but to me it feels a little like a lecture: stop hosting dinner parties, Chris, and focus on your daughter and maybe then she won’t pee on the rug.

The Shining and “Twenty-Five Cent Words”

Standard shows the definition of “twenty-five cent words” as “an uncommon word, often used in place of a more common one with the intent to appear sophisticated.” Something that stands out to me in my re-read of The Shining by Stephen King is the use of many fancy-shmancy words.


Perhaps ol’ Steve wanted this work to be considered a more literary read than horror. Perhaps the editor put those words in place of some better-known words that had been repeated. Either way, there are words in The Shining that I think I understand in context but don’t recognize easily. I’ll share some of the words that caused me pause.


Malefic. Color me a dork, but I gather from the name of the Disney villain Maleficent that this means something especially bad. A Google search tells me it means “causing or capable of causing harm or destruction, especially by supernatural means.”


Flambeaux. Flambe desserts are on fire when they arrive at the table, so maybe this is something on fire or lit. The “eaux” on the end helps me to know it is plural. Looking it up, the definition is “a large candlestick with several branches.”


Yaw. I know “maw” but I don’t think I know “yaw.” Similar maybe? The definition didn’t really help me: “a twisting or oscillation of a moving ship or aircraft around a vertical axis.” “Yaw” is used on page 584 of my copy in the description of an elevator’s entrance. I kind of think that really he meant “maw.” Will someone call Steve and ask if it’s a typo? Thanks.


Roque mallet. Maybe everyone else in the world knows what “roque” and “roque mallets” are, but I didn’t. If a roque mallet is going to be used as a weapon, I needed to know what it was and what it looked like to really embrace the scene in which it was used. “Roque” is apparently an American version of the game “croquet.” A roque mallet is wooden. I remember on my first read of this book, I assumed there was some metal involved in this implement, though I don’t recall why I thought that.


The biggest reason I’m calling out the twenty-five cent words is that they pull me out of the story. I, perhaps arrogantly, consider myself to be well read. It’s rare that I run across words in modern fiction that stop me.


The Shining was written, I assume, to entertain. When we write to entertain, I think we have an obligation to our readers not to dumb it down, but to make the writing approachable enough that we can create a mood that is understood.


Maybe it wasn’t written to entertain, and I need to suck it up that I didn’t know all the words. Perhaps it was intended to be a profound literary work, written in such a way as not to appeal to the masses.

Another day and time, we can get into why so many characters stutter in Stephen King’s books.

The Amityville Horror: Green Goo and Marching Bands


     I am deliberately not researching the stories behind The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson. I am not going to research the DeFeo murders or the credibility of George and Kathy Lutz. I am sorely tempted to do some digging because the numerous financial concerns of George Lutz could certainly justify the creation of some elaborate haunted house story in order to skip town and maybe make some money off the tale.

The experiences of the Lutz family take place over 28 days before they evacuated their haunted house. By comparison, Ellen Mercado and her family from the book Grave’s End stayed in a haunted house for years before a cleansing stopped the chaos.

The family experienced flies, temperature anomalies, windows and doors opening on their own, green goo appearing out of nowhere, and even the sound of a marching band creating a ruckus. Daughter Missy apparently befriends a giant pig that talks to her, and her father even sees hoof prints outside the window.

As a reader, I’m left with questions after reading Anson’s book. Did the Lutz family experience all these extreme and unusual happenings because of the DeFeo murders? Were the DeFeo murders caused by similar strange happenings and the Lutz family just came in where the weirdness left off? Has the house and location always been haunted or was it only haunted because of the murders?

There was an envelope of cash that disappeared in the story. Do ghosts and ghoulies typically take large sums of money? Where did it go? Are we to think that the envelope evaporated into some other dimension or that it was hidden away somewhere on the property?

It’s mentioned in the book that when George and Kathy initially visit the home, the blinds of the neighboring houses are closed in the direction of this house. I didn’t think that was unusual. If I had known the DeFeo family and I had to continue living in my own home after the murders, I’d want to close the blinds, too. I think it’s natural to want to turn away from any memory of the horrors that happened on Ocean Avenue. Out of sight, out of mind.

One thing that stood out to me was how the Lutz family dog reacted to various areas of the house. That’s a takeaway for me: before I buy another house, I’ll walk my dogs around there first. I trust the reactions of ordinarily agreeable family pets. Fear or aggression towards the unseen is a huge warning flag to leave the area.

If the things that happened to the Lutz family are indeed true, they were brave to last there a month. I would like to think I would’ve picked up on the high weirdness before buying the property, but maybe I would’ve been distracted by the low price for a  huge home with a pool and a boathouse.


Thoughts on Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado


I read Grave’s End perhaps ten years ago, picking up a copy from my local used bookstore’s paranormal section. I devoured the true story in a weekend, but then I forgot much of it.

Reading it again for a school assignment, I believe I forgot the content because Elaine Mercado makes the extraordinary completely ordinary. Elaine immerses the reader in the daily events of her family. The strange happenings take place while the family sleeps, does homework, and all manner of mundane tasks.

We aren’t swept away to an extravagant estate with a crumbling mansion. We meet a young family eager to trade their cold apartment for a house. They purchase the home largely because it’s the only one they can afford.

When mists, lights, and apparitions appear, the reader understands the unease Elaine and her children feel. More than the things that go bump in the night, Elaine helps us understand that they had to stay. Financially, it wasn’t feasible for them to move, and for much of the story, Elaine’s spouse is a non-believer.

Elaine shares how tired she is. The disturbances in the night ruin her sleep, but she has to carry on with work and life all the same. She works overnights for a while, sleeping during the day, and that choice resonated with me. Elaine is a working mother, and the spooky things are just part of their lives. She figures out ways to cope and carry on.

Grave’s End is largely a story about a family. They work, they have slumber parties, they have pets, and all the other ordinary trappings of a working-class family. It’s special how close the unexplainable experiences bring Elaine to her daughters, as none of them ran away from the unusual experiences in the home. They rallied around each other, making the best of things, and enjoying the periodic lulls in the activity in their homes.

The house is cleansed by a medium and a famous parapsychologist. The reader is treated to a pleasant ending where Elaine and her second husband largely live happily ever after.

There’s no sense of foreboding at the end, no ominous feeling that the weirdness isn’t over. Everything is tied up in a neat bow. Compared to the fiction books we’ve read about haunted houses, this non-fiction tale leaves us able to sleep soundly with all the lights off.


Notice the Names in Nightmare House


     Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg is a haunted house tale published in 2012. I learned from Amazon’s website that this book is one in a series that revolves around the house. The books can be read out of sequence.

The names in Nightmare House are what most stood out to me. Let’s start with the house and estate named Harrow. From Google’s dictionary, a quick search yielded the definition of “harrow:”


an implement consisting of a heavy frame set with teeth or tines which is dragged over plowed land to break up clods, remove weeds, and cover seed.


1.draw a harrow over (land).

“they ploughed and harrowed the heavy clay”

  1. cause distress to.

By name of the house alone, the reader can decide about the sturdy farming implications of the word…or they can notice the “cause distress to” nuances of a potentially harrowing tale ahead. Calling it Harrow was a stroke of genius on the author’s part.

Ethan Gravesend is the grandson the reader meets as he inherits Harrow. “Gravesend” = graves end. What a delightfully creepy surname! If one’s last name is Gravesend and one has inherited a property called Harrow, spooky shenanigans are bound to follow.

Police chief and supporting character Pocket is another powerful name choice. As a name, “Pocket” feels like tucked away secrets, events hidden carefully away and kept safe.

“He sacrificed his daughter’s happiness to it,” Pocket said to Ethan. Again, another brilliant word choice. “Sacrificed” as in gave up something of tremendous value, but also “sacrificed” as in giving a life to feed the evil.

     Nightmare House is a satisfyingly haunted read, but my takeaway that I can apply in my own writing is the power of deliberate word choices. By careful selection of names, the author reinforced the tone of his haunted tale.

Ghost Story is My Literary Lloyd Dobler


Lloyd Dobler ruined me. He wasn’t always the best at speaking his feelings, but that evening, he made them so clear. Standing outside his beloved’s home, he held the boombox high and played her a love song.

Lloyd is a character in the movie Say Anything. If you aren’t familiar, you can check out a clip here:

Lloyd’s heart is on his sleeve and blasting out of his boombox. Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has been measured on my secret Lloyd Dobler scale. What is the likelihood that this boyfriend would stand outside and play me a love song, unashamed to woo me?

Ghost Story is the book equivalent of Lloyd Dobler for me. I’ve measured far too many books against Ghost Story and many, perhaps most, have failed miserably.

I first read Ghost Story in middle school, around 6th or 7th grade. I liked long books in the horror genre, like The Stand by Stephen King and Baal by Robert McCammon. I wanted a long and well-woven story as a reader, even at that age.

Ghost Story blew my mind. It might have been the first book I’d read that was a story about stories or many stories within one overarching plotline. Reading it again, it still blows my mind, maybe even more so now that I’m trying to write stories myself.

Not only was there a masterful blending of stories, but there are passages and phrases that are absolutely beautiful to me. It was my first time really considering that there could still be lovely prose in a story that was meant to have tension or scares.

In my copy of Ghost Story, this dialogue takes place on pages 376 and 377:

“We were in a sort of sexless, pre-Freudian paradise,” Ricky finally said. “In an enchantment. Sometimes we even danced with her, but even holding her, watching her move, we never thought about sex. Not consciously. Not to admit. Well, paradise died in October, 1929, shortly after the stock market and Stringer Dedham.”

            “Paradise died,” Sears echoed, “and we looked into the devil’s face.”

There is so much there to unpack! Memories of youth labeled as paradise read to me as idyllic, and I found myself immersed in a vision of what it must’ve been like and felt like to be dancing with Eva, spinning around, laughing and carefree. The turn of the scene with the phrase “paradise died” left me eager for what catastrophe must be next, artfully moving me from the dance floor into the “cyclone of hate” that unfolds on page 379.

Straub is a master of painting a mood for the reader and doing it quickly. On page 217, Don and Alma are staying at David’s vacation home.

Thus, there we are, mornings and afternoons in David’s house while the gray fog slides past the windows and the noise of waves slapping the beach far down suggests that any minute water will begin to come in through the bottom of the door.

For me, that short passage gives me the mood, dark and somber, as well as the distinct feeling that something bad or weird (or both) is about to happen.

Ghost Story is amazing. It is my literary Lloyd Dobler, a measure of a well done tale. Oh, you say you wrote a haunting novel? Well, how does it compare to Straub’s Ghost Story?


The Haunting of Hill House versus The Real World


Shirley Jackson’s book The Haunting of Hill House might be the literary version of MTV’s The Real World. The premise of The Real World television show was putting strangers in a house together and following what happens “when people stop being polite and start being real.”

Our characters in The Haunting of Hill House are strangers, brought together when Dr. Montague seeks to document the allegedly haunted house. Theodora and Eleanor are brought in to assist the doctor in his summer of research. Luke is a member of the family that owns the home, and the family will only allow Dr. Montague to rent the home with Luke there. Four strangers find themselves living together for the sake of paranormal research, so what could possibly go wrong?

Just like every season of The Real World, it seems in the beginning as though everyone will get along and have a lovely time. They take meals together and relax with chess and brandy.

Hill House is full of things that go bump in the night, which was their reason to be there in the first place. Like The Real World, it’s not enough to live together without taking sides and ostracizing someone.

Eleanor wants so badly to belong somewhere and fit in to a group. That desperate longing to be included is part of what brought her to Hill House. Eleanor tries to get close to Theodora, even offering to follow Theo home after their research is done, but Theo is having none of that. Eleanor sets her sights on a grand romance with Luke, and that effort goes nowhere. Theodora won’t have her, and Luke won’t have her. All that’s left to do is lose what few marbles she has and give herself over to the house.

Eleanor feels a sense of belonging in the house and she opens herself to the house and its spirits. She feels at home there, the only time in her life she’s felt that sense of being part of something large and important.

Eleanor wakes everyone as she runs through the house, hearing what she believes to be her mother beckoning her. Eleanor ends up in the library at the top of a rickety staircase, trying to climb out to the turret. Luke plays the hero and gets her down from the stairs.

In the morning, everyone is insisting that Eleanor leave. This is another great parallel to The Real World, where every season someone is bullied to the breaking point and the others all victim-blame. Instead of being excited that the house is just strange enough to have shattered Eleanor’s fragile mind and digging into what happened, they want her to leave. They have decided that they are done with Eleanor, and she needs to go. Eleanor, of course, doesn’t want to leave but they have made up their minds.

They pack her in her car and insist she skedaddle. They underestimated Eleanor’s commitment to give herself over to the house. Instead of driving away from Hill House, Eleanor drives into a tree, committing suicide to avoid leaving the place she thinks of as her only true home.

Eleanor’s death ruined the whole summer research shindig for the remaining group, and they all went their separate ways.

Let’s Be Creepy Together


Creepy Book Cover

This is a super short read, but it is one of my favorites.  These are true stories from my life experiences with ghosts and other things that go bump in the night.

I asked an artist to do the ghost design for the cover based on some ideas I had, and I love the design she created.  I love this design so much it’s available on mugs and t-shirts on

I think there will be more of these stories to come, or perhaps I will share bonus stories to my website followers!


How to Be a Crappy Boss


Cover of Crappy Boss Book

Wow, I have had some seriously crappy bosses over the years.  I had notes about some of these bosses because someday I may turn these notes into a work of fiction.

For now, you can figure out what not to do in your new leadership role from this book.  Being a supervisor, manager, director, or whatever is not free license to be the Mayor of JackAssville.  Micromanaging, taking credit for the work of others, and being a horrible human in general: these are not good leadership traits.