Shirley Jackson’s “Broomstick for a Pen” and Her Witchy Ways

Shirley Jackson

“Because Miss Jackson wrote so frequently about ghosts and witches and magic, it was said that she used a broomstick for a pen. But the fact was that she used a typewriter–and then only after she had completed her household chores.” – Shirley Jackson’s New York Times obituary

Two of Shirley Jackson’s books, The Sundial and The Bird’s Nest, are being republished by Penguin, making this a fine time to get into the author who is considered an influence on writers of spooky and weird fictions from Peter Straub to Neil Gaiman. Getting set to read the two books myself, I poked around Google, looking for some little tidbits about her life. Her 1965 obituary, it seems, serves as one of the best short biographies, as well as an interesting analysis of her work:

Shirley Jackson wrote in two styles. She could describe the delights and turmoils of ordinary domestic life with detached hilarity; and she could, with cryptic symbolism, write a tenebrous horror story in the Gothic mold in which abnormal behavior seemed perilously ordinary.

In either genre, she wrote with remarkable tautness and economy of style, and her choice of words and phrases was unerring in building a story’s mood.

And while there’s a look at her writing, there are also facts like these that make me think Jackson sometimes blurred the lines between fiction and real life in a very awesome way:

Brendan Gill, the critic, who was a friend of Miss Jackson, said yesterday that she had considered herself responsible for an accident to an enemy by having fashioned a wax figure of him that had a broken leg.

So there you have it: Shirley Jackson was not only a great writer, but she also dabbled in occasional magic.

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