October 06, 2015

Audrey Niffenegger

The evolution of the ghost story
Interview by
'Tis the season for spooky reads! As the days in October get a little colder and the nights get a little longer, it's the perfect time to curl up with best-selling author Audrey Niffenegger's new and lovingly curated collection of ghost stories, Ghostly. Featuring Niffenegger's original illustrations and a few of her own stories alongside classics (Poe's "The Black Cat") and newer works by Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, readers are sure to find something that moves and quietly haunts them in this book.
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'Tis the season for spooky reads! As the days in October get a little colder and the nights get a little longer, it's the perfect time to curl up with best-selling author Audrey Niffenegger's new and lovingly curated collection of ghost stories, Ghostly. Featuring Niffenegger's original illustrations and a few of her own stories alongside classics (Poe's "The Black Cat")  and newer works by Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link, readers are sure to find something that moves and quietly haunts them in this book. 

We asked Niffenegger a few questions about her creative process for Ghostly, her favorite scary story, her next project and more.

Which story in this collection scares you the most?
None of them scare me. Some of them make me sad, some of them are extremely beautiful, all of them are surprising and strange. None of them make me want to go to bed with the lights on. This isn’t a book of horror stories.

Can you tell us a bit about your artistic process for the illustrations in Ghostly?
Read the story a few times, wander away to answer email, drink some coffee, read the story again, forget about it for a couple of weeks while attending to more urgent deadlines. Have an idea about the image while washing dishes. Make a sketch, realize that I need a picture reference. Get lost in Google Images for a while. Draw the image. Give the drawing to Ken Gerleve, my assistant, who does helpful things to it on the computer. Send resulting scans to Suzanne Dean who incorporates the image into the design of the book.

The book design (cover art, typography, illustrations) was a collaboration between Suzanne Dean and me. Before any illustrations were made, we discussed ideas for the design and once the stories were chosen we sent designs and images back and forth. Suzanne is wonderful to work with, it was a pleasure to see my images transformed into the book.

Do you think what scares us has changed over time?
Probably not. I’m sure most of it is hard wired into our brains: fear of death, fire, heights, snakes, public speaking, etc. The trick is to find things that are not all that scary, mix them with the horrible things and refine it all into a good story that is haunting.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Nope.

Have you ever been inside a haunted house?
Sorry, no.

Was there a piece of fiction you wanted to include in Ghostly, but couldn’t quite fit?
Beloved, by Toni Morrison.

What are the most fun and the most challenging parts of writing a spooky piece of fiction like “Secret Life, with Cats” or your previous novel, Her Fearful Symmetry?
I am not especially interested in frightening people. I’m more attracted to loss, guilt, grief, longing and solitude. So both “Secret Life, With Cats” and Her Fearful Symmetry are about lonely people trying to regain what they have lost or, failing that, trying to move on. The fun bits involve thinking up special effects. The hard part is making the things that are important to the characters become important to the readers.

What is your favorite scary story?
The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James.

Do you have a favorite Halloween tradition?
When I taught etching I used to read “The Mezzotint” by M.R. James to my students on Halloween.

Why do you think ghost stories, specifically many of these domestically-focused stories in Ghostly, are so enduring and popular?
There’s something wonderful about the intersection of the ordinary and the impossible. These stories are like rollercoasters, controlled thrills. We love to be scared, but not too much.

What are you working on next?
I’m working on a sequel to The Time Traveler’s Wife. It’s called The Other Husband. It is about Alba DeTamble as a grownup.

Get the Book

Ghostly

Ghostly

By Audrey Niffenegger
Scribner
ISBN 9781501111198

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