When All the Girls Are Sleeping author Emily Arsenault shares her love for ghost stories and journey in writing her latest YA novel.
I’ve always loved ghost stories.
As a ten-year-old, my absolute favorite was The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright, and I read it over and over. I was captivated by the family secrets and the unique device of the ghostly dollhouse sending messages about an unsolved murder. I still have my childhood copy of that book, which has been read so many times the front cover has fallen off.
My other favorite ghost stories were by Mary Downing Hahn and Lois Duncan. I remember fighting my fifth-grade classmates over the last copy of Wait Till Helen Comes at a school book fair. (I lost. But I got it out of the library eventually, and scared myself silly reading it on a rare occasion when I was home alone.) In general, I’m still impressed by how kids’ ghost stories from the ’80s didn’t pull any punches about murder and death.
By the time I was twelve, though, my life was considerably messier than it had been at ten. I didn’t want to read the same books I had when I was a little younger and started straying from the kids’ section of the library. The book that really captivated me then was the 1979 potboiler The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson—a supposed true-to-life account of a haunted house on Long Island. I thought of myself as much more grown up, and this was a “grown-up” book. A real-life haunting. A supernatural investigation.
There was something comforting in the horror of it: as bad as things felt for me as an awkward junior high kid with parents in the midst of divorce, at least there wasn’t otherworldly green goo falling from my ceiling or giant ghost pigs haunting my house.
And while I wasn’t exclusively a ghost-story reader in high school (far from it), I always liked to read a good supernatural suspense as a guilty pleasure after school exams or in the summer when I had freedom from homework. I read Shirley Jackson and sometimes Stephen King.
So, imagine my delight when I arrived at college—specifically Mount Holyoke College in Western Massachusetts—to learn that the place was full of ghost stories to go along with its many gothic-looking buildings.
One dorm in particular was said to be the most haunted. Wilder Hall had a fourth-story room that was always locked. Students claimed to hear eerie noises from behind its door. No one was sure what the truth was with that locked room, so stories abound: a student had hanged herself in that room. Maybe she was stressed out over academics—or maybe she was grieving the loss of suitor. Those who favored the latter associated the “Wilder ghost” with an unsettling painting of a woman in white that had once hung in the building’s front sitting room. Trouble was—that painting wasn’t there anymore. There were stories about what happened to that painting, too.
I’m not sure why it took me so long to use these elements in a ghost story about a haunted dorm. But I did, and the result was When All the Girls Are Sleeping—the dorm in question is at a boarding school, not a college, where a mysterious recent death recently occurred.
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, my first draft of the book was finished—but after the shock of the initial shutdown (during which I couldn’t concentrate well enough to write anything), I dove into revisions as a distraction from all the bad news. I was making the book into the sort of read I always craved as a kid, putting in all my favorite spooky elements—creaking doors and stairs, drafty hallways, searches of dusty archives, mysterious paintings and photos of girls long gone.
I loved writing this creepy ghost story, and I hope that readers will enjoy escaping into its shadows this Halloween season.
About the Author: Emily Arsenault
Emily Arsenault is the author of several literary mysteries, including In Search of the Rose Notes, a Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year; The Broken Teaglass, a New York Times Notable Crime Book; and The Evening Spider. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter. When All the Girls Are Sleeping is her third novel for young adults. To learn more about Emily and her books, go to emilyarsenault.com or follow her at @emilyarsenaultbooks.
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