WRITING 1102 section 3                                                                 Instructor: Amy England

Intro to Creative Writing:                                                                            aengla@saic.edu

Writing as Haunted House                                                  

In this class, the haunted house story will provide us with a set of parameters for exploring how to develop creative written work. Many of the questions of creative writing, such as how to build a plot, an atmosphere, a narrative voice, or interacting characters, are easier to answer in the more focused confines of the ghost story. We will examine how the strict confines of a genre increase the possibility of rupture and surprise. In addition, the idea of “haunted” language provides a useful analogy for what makes language rich and poetic–what is suggested rather than said, what occurs in the white spaces, etc.

We will use this topic to practice writing stories, poems, essays, and dramatic scenes, and you will have the chance to develop some more experimental forms as well.


Requirements: To pass this class, you can miss no more than the equivalent of two entire classes, including time lost to late arrivals, early departures, extended breaks, and late registration.

You are required to submit, in a timely manner, six creative pieces and five response papers, and to perform a short recitation. Although I rarely use it, I do reserve the right to require students to resubmit work that does not meet the assignment. In total, you will also submit five revisions of previous work, two before the conference and three after the final class. Passing work will show a good faith effort to comment on the readings and each others’ work and to develop your own writing.


The Workshop: This class is also an introduction into how to function in a writing workshop. You are now part of a temporary but very focused artist’s community, and you have responsibilities to this group as well as your own education as a writer.

Be prepared to discuss the reading. To be a good writer, you MUST first be a good reader. Be sure to purchase the books required, and bring the text under discussion with you to class, along with a copy of your response. In addition, at the very minimum, be prepared to offer one solid observation or question to the discussion.

The response papers are one typed double spaced page describing your thoughts on the reading. Responding to a long complex work in one page can be difficult, but you can always start with one of the questions we are examining as a class–how does this work fit or not fit the genre of the ghost story? How does it build up its effects? How does it establish its atmosphere? How is its language haunted by other texts? If you find the reading confusing, or if you have any specific question, include this and I will make sure to address it in the class discussion. Response papers are due to me through email by the night before class. Late responses will not be accepted.

Submit your work. The creative pieces need to be submitted via email by Sunday noon before class. If you want your work discussed, you have to give your classmates time to look it over. Work submitted late is not guaranteed to be covered in workshop. You must bring your work to class, either as a printout or on your lap top, so that you can take notes of people’s comments. The work should be more developed than a first draft, and you should proofread it before expecting others to read it.

The final project reworking three of the creative pieces is due via email to me by midnight, Saturday, Dec. 19th. Make your travel plans for the end of the semester accordingly.

Be prepared to comment on others’ work. Print out your classmates’ work to be discussed, so that you can follow along and write comments. Do not try to peer at it on some tiny little hand held device or other. Unless the piece is a few words long, it is a disservice to the work to try to read it that way.

There is a fine art to good critique, and we will cover some pointers along the way. Be honest but courteous. Respect that writers’ goals for their work might be very different from yours–although if you do disagree with those goals, that might be grounds for an interesting discussion. A good basic starting place is to point out one of the piece’s greatest strengths, and one suggestion for change–for example, a place you would like to see clarified, expanded or cut.

Finally, please turn off all cell phones during class. Avoid leaving class unless necessary, as it is disruptive for the other students.

Required texts:


Danielewski, Mark: House of Leaves

James, Henry: The Turn of the Screw

Morrison, Toni: Beloved

Mullen, Laura: The Tales of Horror (Kelsey Street Press, 1999) 

Shakespeare, William: Macbeth (The Annotated Shakespeare); edited by Burton Raffel, Yale University Press, 2005

The five books listed above are available in the basement of the Barnes and Noble bookstore on State and Jackson, two blocks south and one block west of here. Where I have included information on the publisher (Mullen, Shakespeare), you are required to purchase that specific edition, wherever you purchase it from. Keep in mind that the bookstore starts sending back the books a few weeks into the semester.


Freud, Sigmund: “The Uncanny” http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/freud1.pdf

Carson, Anne: “A Note on Method” from The Economy of the Unlost (handout)

Chabon, Michael: “The Other James” from Maps and Legends (handout)

Assorted short stories:

Jacobs, W. W: “The Toll House”

            (http://www.online-literature.com/ww-jacobs/1758/ )

Poe, Edgar Allen: “The Fall of the House of Usher”


            Audio at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPMge07Rf9M )

            and “The Tell-Tale Heart”


            Audio at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcYnfESHPIQ )

James, M. R: “The Ash Tree”


            Audio at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBldumMSWhQ )

            and “The Mezzotint”


            Audio at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YdeJTVaQtA )

Cowper, Frank: “Christmas Eve on an Haunted Hulk”

            (http://www.amalgamatedspooks.com/x-mas.htm )

Hearn, Lafcadio: “The Story of Ming-Y”


Lovecraft, H. P: “The Dreams in the Witch House”

            (http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/dwh.aspx )

Link, Kelly: “The Specialist’s Hat”

            ( http://kellylink.net/fiction/link-specialist.htm )

Reaves, Michael: “Make Believe”



Wharton, Edith: “Afterward”


Optional Readings:

Here are some resources that I may refer to in class, and that will provide additional resources for poets and performance artists as background reading:

Baudelaire, Charles: “Le Revenant”


Buson: three haiku, see handout

Hardy, Thomas: “At the Piano”


            *“Who’s in the Next Room?”


            “The Glimpse”


Paul Laurence Dunbar: “The Haunted Oak”


Meyer, Bernadette: “Conversation with the Tsatsawassa House” (handout)

Poe, Edgar Allen: “Ulalume,” “The Raven” (online)

Eliot, T. S: “A Game of Chess” from “The Wasteland” (quote and allusion)

            http://eliotswasteland.tripod.com/ (Hypertext version)

Gertrude Stein, extract from “Food” section of Tender Buttons


Plath, Sylvia, “Lady Lazarus” (meter)


Phillips, Tom: from A Humament


Johnson, Ronald: from Radi Os


            (Source text: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_3/text.shtml )

M. NoubeSe Philip: from Zong


Bervin, Jen: from Nets


Elshtain and Trowbridge: Parent Class Finalize (link only)


Jeffrey Vallance at Frieze Art Fair


Night Vale: https://soundcloud.com/nightvaleradio

You might also be interested in James Merrill’s Changing Light at Sandover, a collection of poems inspired by his use of the ouija board, or Angela Strassheim’s photographic series “Evidence”


I. Sept. 7th Introduction, syllabus, Jacobs “The Toll House”; Carson; Hamlet’s ghost, 3 Buson poems

in class response–encounter with uncanny, the house you are haunted by, what makes a good ghost story

discuss Hamlet ghost scenes (how is ghost realized, shimmer between natural and supernatural, mystical and psychological)

first story (point of view, methods of narration, use of dialogue to establish character and action), roots of genre in gothic, division between classic ghost story and horror–use Jacobs. Expectations–are we in a story where the characters might actually get hurt or killed? If so, who? What are the dynamics of the group? Notice how little the author uses to instill fear, uncertainty rather than certainty.

a few poems (abbreviation, the haunting of white space)

end with Ghost of Stephen Foster–horror of metamorphosis


Add/drop ends Sept. 15th

II. Sept. 15th stories, response, bit of Epstein’s “Fall of the House of Usher”, in class writing on setting, atmosphere, discuss plot

III. Sept. 22nd James, response. Discuss character, narrative voice, dialogue, frame; excerpt of “The Innocents”; excerpt of Britten’s opera “The Turn of the Screw”

IV. Sept. 29th story development workshop–groups.

V. Oct. 6th Mullen, response. Discussion of line, poetic language. In class exercise: altered page from stories. Conference sign-up.

VI. Oct. 13th poetry workshop, conference sign-up

VII. Oct. 20th film “The Devil’s Backbone.” Conferences. Rewrites of first two creative pieces due by email, Monday, Oct. 19th.

VIII. Oct. 27th essays by Freud, Chabon, Didion, response, discussion.

Last day to withdraw with a “W” Nov. 3

IX. Nov. 3rd Essay workshop: Three to five pages. Can refine and expand a response paper, as Chabon talks about M. R. James. Can summarize your response to the discussion of the genre so far. Can relate the discussion of the genre to an autobiographical experience.

Hand out summary of Macbeth, iambic pentameter, read a few scenes (witches, ghosts).

X. Nov. 10th Macbeth, memorized recitation. Finish essay workshop.

XI. Nov. 17th Macbeth, film

Possible movie night: Scotland, PA

XII. Nov. 24th workshop on scene for movie or play adapting Macbeth to modern setting

XIII. Dec. 1st Toni Morrison, response: illustration or manipulation of text with image. Finish drama workshop.

XIV. Dec. 8th: Critique week. No class.

XV. Dec. 15th Danielewski, creative response, making class chapbook. Your response should take one or two 8 ½ by 5 ½ inch pages.

Final portfolio of three reworked pieces (story, poem, essay, dramatic scene, text and image, final creative response) due by midnight Saturday, Dec. 19th.

In this class, I’m not interested in the gorier possibilities of horror, but in the more nuanced, suggestive fears of the ghost story. I’m also not really interested in the question of whether or not ghosts exist. Perhaps useful questions are, what is the proposed nature of the supernatural in the story? How does the story balance this proposal with doubt? What is doing the haunting, if it isn’t a ghost? What is repressed that keeps surfacing?