Guest Post

Guest Post

Author Phyllis Newman describes her path to writing from art…

Most writers know (or if we don’t quite know, muse about) what influenced our interest in writing our own books. Reading other authors’ spectacular, moving work is the obvious answer, but I can say with some confidence that what made me want to write was my inability to paint.

I had this overwhelming desire, as a child, to paint wonderful scenes of spooky, haunted places. I was inspired by the images I saw as a youngster during Hallowe’en—those marvelous pumpkins, black cats on fences, and witches taking flight across a full moon. From the fabulous movie, Meet me in St. Louis, in which there are wonderful images of Hallowe’en, to the haunting drawings of Arthur Rackham, and, finally, the covers of mystery novels produced in the mid-twentieth century, I wanted to create such images of my own. All those rambling houses on wind-swept moors, or buried in the dense forest, or perched upon the edge of a cliff, somehow spoke to me of times past, of lives lost, of unknown tragedies. I wanted to convey that mood, that sense of fearful wonder, and that chilling dread. I wanted to explore those shadows lurking in the mind and bring them forth in others.

But, alas, I had no talent. And, apparently, no hope of developing said talent. Try as I might, my efforts at controlling ten- by twelve-inch pieces of paper with brush and paint, turning them into scenes as delicate as moonlight on a tombstone, came to nothing. My brushes blended the tubes of color into unappetizing shades and indecipherable shapes, the combination failing to metamorphose into art.

I eventually abandoned the paint brush and began to render with words instead. I found release for the images in my head through words—through developing haunting written scenes full of menace and gloom, including the description of creepy sounds, disorienting smells, and the touch of something ominous. Eureka! With the written word, I had all the human senses at my disposal, not just that of sight.

I approach my stories like I’m creating a painting. I think of the composition, the color, light, and subject matter. My desire is to create a mood and bring forth chills in the reader. Given the images I’ve always wanted to convey, writing Gothic mysteries was obvious. The Gothic novel always includes a dark and forbidding mansion in various stages of decay. I play with mysterious lights in the windows, shadows in the corners, and whispers along the halls. I write of ghoulies, and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. The trick is to come up with something original in this long-standing genre. Or, rather, to build upon the great gothic stories of the past and offer something new and different.

The one ghost story that inspire me originally, and is the basis of my own imagery, is the 1941 novel The Uninvited by Dorothy Mccardle. An effective movie starring Ray Milland and Gail Russell was made a few years later. It was filled with thrilling ghostly imagery. Both the book and the movie embody all the Gothic traditions: the virginal heroine, a troubled, searching hero, an enduring mystery, family conflict, and ghostly treachery. In my most recent publication, The Vanished Bride of Northfield House, I try to capture all the thrills and romance of that earlier work, the first of many Gothics that graced my bookshelf as an adolescent, while making the classic storyline fresh and new for those who have read all the old Gothics, and for those who have never read any.

In The Vanished Bride of Northfield House, I try to capture the essence of the Gothic novel and write an atmospheric mystery full of classic imagery: the foreboding manor filled with untrustworthy characters, a dark and terrible family secret, class distinction, and a horrifying ghost. Embracing a sense of doom, things forbidden, and moments of genteel horror, my characters try to solve the mystery of what really happened to Eleanor Wellington, the bride who disappeared on her wedding day. My main character’s foray into this forbidden territory puts her life in jeopardy.

And it’s true what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, my book takes 91,000 words to convey the mystery, romance, dark humor, and chilling horror that one painting might capture. If only I could paint!


Phyllis M. Newman is a native southerner. Born in New Orleans, she spent formative years in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, and on a dairy farm in Ross Country, Ohio. After a long career in finance and human resources at The Ohio State University, she turned her attention to writing fiction. She published a noir mystery, “Kat’s Eye” in 2015, and “The Vanished Bride of Northfield House” in 2018. Today she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three perpetually unimpressed cats, ghostwatchers all.

You may contact/follow/like her at,  @phyllismnewman2, or Facebook  

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