Tales from the Graveyard
For Susan Shultz, thoughts of spirits and ghosts, of the lives of people no longer here in the flesh, are not just a seasonal Halloween event. They are a part of her life and a way of making sense of questions that many have attempted to answer.
She writes to explore mysteries that have been with her since her childhood when the death of her close friend, also named Susan, brought her face-to-face with the reality of death. She has spent much time in cemeteries and much more time thinking about the nature of loss and the dimensions of a spiritual realm where all is not gone forever.
Released today, her digital book Tales from the Graveyard is a collection of interlinked novellas that explore some truly horrific fictional events. Horror is a genre that Shultz embraces, but her stories, while bloody, remain true to Shultz’s affinity for the ghost story.
The first of the novellas, The Blacksmith, was released last December, introducing characters who continue to be found in the plotlines of Jessie (released in February), Dirt (July) and Sam (Oct. 28, with an Epilogue that ties together all of the stories).
The reaction to her work has been enthusiastic. “People who liked these stories, some of them don’t like the horror genre, but they liked The Blacksmith,” Shultz said. “Especially today, when it’s all cheap gimmicks” in a lot of horror fiction, “my love of the horror story is the ghost story.” There, she finds the themes of loneliness and isolation that resonate with her.
Tales from the Graveyard is published by Full Fathom Five (fullfathomfive.com) and that’s a story in itself. When The Blacksmith first appeared as an e-book, it was with a different publisher; a feature story about it in this paper drew the attention of James Frey, the best-selling author who was building a digital publishing house, Full Fathom Five. And as it happened, his path literally crossed Shultz’s in Darien, where she is editor of the Darien Times. He recognized her from the picture in the paper and he told her he had downloaded and was about to read The Blacksmith. Soon after, he dropped by her office to tell her that she had she had “scared the … out of him” and he was interested in publishing what she wrote next.
With that impetus, and having re-acquired the publishing rights to The Blacksmith, Shultz was off on an adventure, taking the story lines and letting her imagination run. All this, it must be noted, she was doing while also performing the demanding job of editor of a weekly newspaper, as well as maintaining a family life in Wilton.
Living in Fairfield County, surrounded by busy people living busy and generally affluent lives, Shultz says she is often looking at what might be under the surface, bother literally and figuratively. She sees loneliness and isolation, but she also sees the shards of former lives, right in her neighborhood, where land that once held houses and families was cleared for the Super Route 7 highway project that was never completed. When she and her husband first moved to their ca. 1910 Wilton home, a heavy rain might uncover debris from previous lives and wash it downslope to their yard.
Uncovering what’s buried is a theme that runs through Tales from the Graveyard, particularly in the third novella, Dirt, which focuses on a reporter who becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth of the events originally set in motion by the mysterious character “The Blacksmith.” Talking about the novella’s lead character, Lila, an ambitious reporter, Shultz said, “She wants to find the truth behind this story. She’s alone in her drive to find the truth.”
From experience, the veteran editor said, “Sometimes you’re the only person who wants to pursue a story; it’s a very lonely place to be.”
The reaction to The Blacksmith and the succeeding novellas has been good and the author feels that there are several factors that contribute to readers’ engagement. “The horror that happens, falls as a nuanced part of the story.” In addition, it’s unusual to have a female protagonist (or series of them) in horror tales, but Shultz is very comfortable with her characters. “Female characters are so complex,” she said. “You don’t really see a lot of female villains. I started writing short stories for this website, Spine Tinglers, in London,” and won a prize for an early version The Blacksmith. She was encouraged to pursue the story of Ainsley, the serial killer linked to the mysterious “Blacksmith,” around whom the whole series revolves.
A reviewer on the website GoodReads wrote: “I do not under any circumstance willingly watch or read horror. I'll admit freely that I'm scared easily. I love reading books that connect me to a character and for better or worse make me feel their joy and their pain.
“It wasn’t until I read The Blacksmith by Susan Shultz, that I thought about a different type of ‘scary story.’ This story is more of a Dark or Gothic Romance. It relies on legitimate fears of loss and the flaws in human nature to make you feel uncomfortable. Don’t misunderstand — if you like blood, ghosts and sociopaths, The Blacksmith has that for you.”
All of the stories are vivid and affecting; some readers will be drawn to one character more than the others, but it is the women in these stories who stand out. Shultz is excited to have Tales from the Graveyard, four novellas and an epilogue, issued this week. It’s available for Kindle and Nook, on iTunes and on the FullFathomFive website on her author’s page.
It is, she says, “perfect for Halloween.”
And — who knows — it could make a perfectly frightening movie someday.