Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock by Hillary Leftwich


ISBN: 978-1-948700-19-1
132 pages
Release Date: October 7, 2019

Civil Coping Mechanisms

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“Early mornings and a slow sun rising won’t guarantee an arrival. The men are more than yellow. Roosters crow and still birds blanket their clutch of dotted eggs. Forgotten dynamite in blistered buildings. The canaries are humming. Their ghosts are still where they left them. The dogs are watching. Listen, the eggs are cracking. They are told to stay, don’t run.

They once were told yellow is the color of happiness.”

Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock is a multi-genre collection that examines grief, violence, heartbreak, and the universal challenge of living in a body that is always vulnerable. In this greyscale kaleidoscope of the familiar and the uncanny, muted voices shout, people commit to devastating choices, and mundane moments are filled with silent hauntings. A sleep paralysis and a séance of voices long dead, this collection’s characters illuminate both our own darkness and our strength, revealing how love can emerge from the most impossible of conditions.

These vignettes travel through a life—young, urban, domestic, mother-making, myth-making— and at turns contain cursed images, hilarity, and tender moments of sincere vulnerability. Leftwich’s characters curve out of what is expected: they surprise you, they confess, they hide, they snark, they love and long. Each character feels unique and new, but together this collection becomes a protean whole of the many faces of hurt, complete and glittering. Leftwich shows us them, flaws and all, unable to escape their rawest moments.
Elle Nash, author of Animals Eat Each Other

Hillary Leftwich’s Ghosts are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock is comprised of seventy-two brief narratives that jab & gesture at intimacy, not the comforting fantasy of it, but the bewildering state at the core of intimacy, where all is lawless, collapsing boundaries between right & wrong, self & other, truth & fantasy. The pieces feel like pages ripped from the diaries of lost souls, sometimes deadpan & direct, sometimes fluttering through fever dreams & teetering realities in which intimates reveals themselves to be a hole, or to be pieced together of broken seashells, or cleaning up strangers’ used sex toys at a Motel 6. Through the book’s often-bleak experiences, the repeated form of the vignette shows a way of, if not transcending, at least progressing out of life’s traumas & confusions. No matter how bad it can get, Leftwich tells me, we can get through it.
–Mathias Svalina, author of The Wine-Dark Sea

For years I’ve heard aloud, and read in multiple journals, pieces from Ghosts Are Strangers Who Knock. After each reading or listening I wrote down these haunting and caring images on receipts, bookmarks, coffee sleeves. What made me write these things was their honesty—the things that are hard to say but need to be said. Hillary Leftwich has written something special where vulnerability is a form of resistance. Where vulnerability drags shame and guilt from their shadows and sets them on tables as centerpieces so we can view them from all angles.

–Steven Dunn, author of Potted Meat

This wonderful book is made of lightning bolts and thunderclaps. Each page is a different kind of human storm. Some carry you up into the sky, others send the moon careening down to you. Hillary Leftwich is an extraordinary talent.

–Bud Smith, author of Calm Face and Work

In this hybrid collection of works, Hillary Leftwich speaks to us in her own deeply authentic, inimitable voice. Innovative in approach and breathtaking in execution, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock is a haunted and haunting work of art. By turns gut-wrenching, dark, funny, and ultimately transcendent, this is a must-read book by a writer of considerable depth and originality.
–Kathy Fish, author of Wild Life: Collected Works from 2003-2018

Leftwich’s stories pulse with luminous imagery and hard-won wisdom. With an impressive range, from the surreal (a lover building an empty house with fallen stars, dead-animal cosplay on Dr. Phil) to stark reality (girls on the precarious cusp of womanhood and mothers navigating duty and love), her work mesmerizes with its richness and complexity. These pages vibrate with dreams and enigmas, pain and wonder, danger and vulnerability, intergenerational violence and bone-deep love. This collection is aptly named—it will haunt you long after you turn the last page.
–Tara Campbell, author of TreeVolution 

This collection will knock your teeth out, stab you in the heart, then turn right around and save your life, even when you don’t deserve it.


The writing is both evocative and provocative, fraught with heroic characters standing firm in the face of the machine guns that life often point at us.


Leftwich can turn a tube of lipstick into a metaphor for your worst nightmare or your dearest wish.  She weaves the hard scrabble dreams of everyday people into a recognizable tapestry, one filled with landmines and triumphs, as well as literary flourishes aplenty.
–Len Kuntz, author of This Is Why I Need You

A distinctively wonderful new voice, so eloquent, diverse, and assured, the stories in Hillary Leftwich’s collection are filled with quiet astonishments. She writes disturbing, fascinating, distinct and savagely funny stories. So well-crafted, yet also sublime.
Robert Vaughan, author of FUNHOUSE, EIC of Bending Genres

Photo credit: Jay Halsey

HILLARY LEFTWICH is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. Currently, she freelances as a writer, editor, writing workshop instructor, and guest instructor for Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Workshop. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at