Writer’s Desk: Every Story is Haunted

Barry Hannah, one of the great novelists of the American South whom depressingly few people have ever heard of, let alone read, didn’t sell a lot of books. (Read Airships or the great whooping holler that is Yonder Lies Your Orphan and you will see what people have missed.) So to make a living, Hannah did as most literary authors of middling sales records have over the years: He taught.

One of his students was Judith Claire Mitchell. She remembered that Hannah would begin his fiction workshops by writing two words on the board: “Ghost story.”

What did he mean?

All stories, he’d say, are ghost stories. Something haunts the work and the reader turns the pages to find out what it is.

Now, given that Hannah is an exemplar of the brawling, history-haunted, orotund manner that we associated with many Southern writers, it is no surprise that he would always be thinking of ghosts. But most writers should. Ghosts are the past. And without a past, your story will have no anchor.

Haunt your words.

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