Monday, October 22, 2018

#22 of 31 Days of Halloween: Shadows


When you have a good imagination, shadows can be dangerous. Your mind can turn them into monsters, serial killers, demons, and any number of other lethal things. Even if its really just the ironing board you didn't put away or your own dog.

Creators of horror have noticed of course, and movies, television, and art make great use of the shadow, both for comedic and horrific effect.

One of my favorites is the shadow of Nosferatu from the movie of the same name. The guy is creepy enough when you're looking straight at him, but in shadow, it's somehow worse. He's larger. Exaggerated. And somehow fluid. None of this bodes well for the watcher.

I have a teeshirt that pokes fun at this image, with Nosferatu chasing the oblivious Shaggy and Scooby of Scooby Doo fame up the stairwell.

Batman knows the power of a looming shadow too. Hence the cape and cowl.

Or how about those stories where the shadow is separate of the person? (almost as scary as a reflection that moves independently).

Hmmmm…now I'm not sure if it's better or worse to sleep with a nightlight. After all, light makes shadows.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

#21 of 31 Days of Halloween: Jump Scares


Once my sister and I went to see a terrible monster movie together. It was SOOOOO predictable that it wasn't even scary. But you know what? I still jumped for every jump scare. It's why I'm not allowed to hold the popcorn anymore.

My favorite kind of jump scare? The fake out. The one where it turns out to be a cat and the character turns away, relieved only to then immediately face the actual scary bad thing!

It works on me every time, even though I know its coming. It's an adrenaline laced reaction that is immediately followed by laughter, either at the movie or at myself. A beautiful combination.

Here's a great supercut of some good cat-scares:


Saturday, October 20, 2018

#20 of 31 Days of Halloween: Urban Legends


I didn't know what urban legends were the first time I heard one. It was at a slumber party and I really thought my friend knew a guy who had picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to the be a ghost. Well, I was skeptical that he had told my friend the truth, but I believed there was a guy who had told her the story, at least. I was a gullible kid.

By the time I heard about the hook-handed maniac who stalked Lover's Lane, I knew that the claim of direct connection to the story was a lie, but it was too late. I was "hooked." (Ha! See what I did there?)

Now, I love urban legends the same way I love fairytales. I collect versions and notice variations with joy. Like the hitchhiker version where he lends the girl/ghost his jacket and finds it later draped over her grave? Hand over heart: I *love* that telling. Romantic AND creepy.

I like the nonprofessional telling, where someone claims to have heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend.  Even when you've heard it before, it's fun to shout the punchline/jump scare together: Humans can lick too! or The calls are coming from inside the house! 

Creepy Pasta has picked up the mantle of this kind of storytelling and lots of YouTube channels follow legends of Slender Man or other creatures that haunt our imaginations.

Do you have a favorite urban legend? I'd love to hear about in the comments.

Friday, October 19, 2018

#19 of 31 Days of Halloween: Moonlight


The moon is an essential part of Halloween imagery. Whether its just glowing brightly in an ebony sky, providing the backdrop for a silhouetted witch or bat, or glowing softly through a foggy cloud cover, the moon shines over the holiday and gives it the light we need to see the darkness by.



The diffuse, natural light is the heart of romance and also of horror, making hearts and ghosts glow alike. And Halloween is all about loving horror :-) We won't get a full moon for Halloween this year. The internet tells me that the next one won't be until 2020, but I know it will light my path to spooky joy in just a few more days all the same.




Thursday, October 18, 2018

#18 of 31 Days of Halloween: Vincent Price


Who knew that the young man who began in character roles like Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Albert, and the Duke of Clarence and played The Saint on the radio would someday be known as the "Master of Menace."



I admire his non-horror work (Laura is one of my favorite movies), but he was cemented as that spooky guy I love for me when I was a child. I used to watch his films with my mother every October: House of Wax, House on Haunted Hill, The Fly and of course all the Poe adaptations. I remember explaining to my friends who that guy was who did the scary voice for Michael Jackson's Thriller and my own thrill when he reappeared in Edward Scissorhands.

He had just the right mix of gravitas and camp, truly capturing the spirit of this season for me.

Any other fans out there? Which of his films is your favorite?


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

#17 of 31 Days of Halloween: Edgar Allan Poe


Edgar Allan Poe is an author I can enjoy all year round, but the rest of the world joins in with me at this time of year, and it's nice to have company. Even people who aren't otherwise particularly literary will quote the opening stanza of The Raven in their best Vincent Price voice:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”
Besides the Raven, there's also all the creep-tastic fiction. My personal favorite is The Cask of Amontillado, but The Tell-Tale Heart runs a close second. When I taught American literature or general literature courses, I'd always work in a little Poe at this time of year. The Fall of the House of Usher, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum. So much macabre goodness. 

I also enjoy the lore of the man himself. The questionable circumstances of his death make for some great imagining, too.  In fact, his ghost is said to haunt more than one place. Apparently, it's not enough that he haunts us with his words years beyond his demise; he has to become an actual phantom as well. 

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the few authors that remains universally popular when assigned in the classroom. There's nothing like being TOLD to read something to take the joy out of it, but The Masque of the Red Death is chilling even when your teacher goes overboard on color symbolism. 

Got a favorite Poe story or poem? I'd love to hear about it in the comments. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

#16 of 31 Days of Halloween: Baby Costumes


Babies don't get to choose their costumes, but some parents can't resist dressing them up. I *love* babies in costume. Our own daughters had their turns being pumpkins, teddy bears, and tiny fairy tale characters before they started to have their own opinions about what to dress as.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Little Pumpkins

I love all the varieties of tiny pumpkins. Easy, comfortable and cute as heck.

I also love the clever pairings: parent-child costumes: 

Cute, scary or funny? 





Monday, October 15, 2018

#15 of 31 Days of Halloween: A Nightmare Before Christmas


Most of the iconic faces of Halloween have been around a good long time. Pointed witches hats. Square jawed-noduled Frankenstein monsters. Caped vampires. It's a season that's truly about oldies that are goodies.

But there is one iconic figure of Halloween who's a little newer. Jack Skellington was created in 1993, when his film The Nightmare Before Christmas debuted.

Now you can buy decorations of him in any Halloween store alongside your ghosties and non-clothes-wearing skeletons.

He fits right in of course, being from Halloween town. He's our bone-thin hero, who is taken by a mad whimsy and has to remember who he really is.

The film is memorable for its quirky animation, mixture of creepy themes with sweet romance, and, of course, the songs. 

We've got a blow up of Jack's head for our front lawn this season, and a statue of Zero who hangs out on our sofa, freaking out our living dog. I think Jack would approve.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

#14 of 31 Days of Halloween: Hocus Pocus


We're a family of traditions. They may not be the typical traditions, but certain things we do every year, like our yearly Extra Life marathon gaming fundraiser, our post-Halloween pumpkin smashing, and our New Year's eve meal consisting only of appetizers.

Hocus Pocus, the movie, is becoming a new one of these traditions.

I hadn't seen it in years when it came to the Retro Film series at the Carolina Theatre in Durham, one of my favorite haunts.

We took our youngest to see it and all three had such a good time, but we're planning to watch it every year during October, just like we do with the Charlie Brown special.

Bette Midler's rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" in front of a crowd that thought she was part of a show when she was really a witch still thrills.

The weird little walk the three sisters have when they move together.

Billy the Zombie. I'm wondering if Johnny Depp studied this performance to create Captain Jack.

It's the perfect mix of all my favorite Halloween things. It's silly. It's funny. It's creepy. It's scary. Oh wait, I think I just started quoted the theme song to the Addam's Family.



Well, that's accurate enough. :-)


Saturday, October 13, 2018

#13 of 31 Days of Halloween: Creepy Treats


I don't always get to have a Halloween party. Halloween does fall, after all, right at the end of the quarter, when my grades are due. Life has other demands, sadly.

But I have from time to time gotten to have a shindig to celebrate and one of my favorite parts is making cute and creepy foods to enjoy.

Things like these: 


And these: 


Of course, mine don't come out quite so professional looking. I'm an author, not a baker, Jim! They do, however, go great with my Raven themed tablecloth and pumpkin candles and they never fail to make our guests smile with delight. 

Got any favorite creepy treats I should try? 

Friday, October 12, 2018

#12 of 31 Days of Halloween: The Great Pumpkin


One of the family traditions we established as soon as my husband and I married was yearly watching of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." It's a cartoon we both remember fondly from our childhoods, one of those things we both watched on network TV with our parents as a marker of the season.

At first, we tried to do the same: watching for when it aired and making a point of being in front of the TV on that day, but with modern options for streaming and disk and such, we quickly came to the conclusion that we'd rather schedule our watching when it was convenient and pleasant for us. (The twenty-first century has its share of problems, but I'll take freedom from network scheduling for entertainment as a total win).

It's a quiet cartoon. Sweet and innocent in a lot of ways. We get to see Lucy be a good big sister even though she thinks her little brother is a fool. We get to see Snoopy indulging his imagination in adventures. That whole idea of the "most sincere" pumpkin patch gets me right in the feels. I still hope that the sheer power of Linus's faith bring The Great Pumpkin into existence. I love that he built his own mythology that fit his world view of what kind of behavior should be rewarded.

Good job,  Linus. We need more sincerity in this world.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

#11 of 31 Days of Halloween: My Family's Haunted Trail


My family--the larger, more extended one, especially my mother's side--doesn't do much for holidays. We get together. We eat. If there are gifts to be exchanged, we do so, money allowing.

But Halloween is an exception. Starting when I was in high school or maybe early college, we started having a Haunted Trail each year in the woods my grandfather bought back in the day. How elaborate it is depends on the time and energy my uncles and cousins have one any given year, but it's always worth seeing. I have some very creative family and friends of family.

I enjoy professional haunted houses and trails, too, but the one my family does is special, of course. Some highlights of past Haunted Trails:


  • Hell: There's generally a table where someone is playing poker in hell. Who it is varies according to what's going on in the world at the time. I still remember the Saddam Hussein one. Elvis is a frequent guest, too, probably more because we're fond of Elvis than that we think he belongs in Hell
  • Gilly Monster: one year, one of my uncles made a gilly monster costume by sewing leaves and
    forest debris onto a poncho. He laid on the ground with this camouflage pulled over him and was invisible until he moved and grabbed my ankle. I'm not sure my heart ever came back down out of my throat. 
  • Scarecrow Forest: I have one famously skinny uncle, Traditionally, he's hidden among a line of stuffed scarecrows. No matter how hard I try, I can never figure out which one he is until he moves. Yikes!
  • Bright Side: One year, "crucifixes" were built along one ridge, with little ledges to stand on. This came about because of a family-wide love of Monty Python, and was the site of a famous singalong. 
  • Zombie Pit: a trench covered with wood slats to look like graves. Costumed friends or family pop up creepy hands or sometimes even fully costumed zombies rise up. Always very spooky!
It's not every year anymore. But it's always worth it to me to make trip back home and get my pants scared off with friends and family. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

#10 of 31 Days of Halloween: Pumpkins


I'm not quite so Basic a white girl as to be a connoisseur of all things pumpkin. My favorite latte of the moment is gingerbread, thank you very much. And I don't even like pumpkin pie, though I do like pumpkin bread from my local co-op.

But you know what I do love?

Actual pumpkins.

Jack-o-lanterns are fun, but I'm not that dextrous with a knife, so mostly I admire the handiwork of others in that regard. But I love pumpkins themselves.

I'm especially loving lately all the varieties I can buy. There are traditional orange ones in a variety of sizes (including adorable mini pumpkins, that are probably actually not pumpkins, but a squash of some kind), but there are also ghost white ones, gray ones, and wide flattish ones they're calling "fairy tale" pumpkins, presumably in homage to the one the fairy godmother transformed into a coach for Cinderella.

Pumpkins are the only produce I buy that I have no plans to make anything out of of. I buy them because they please me aesthetically. They feel so nice and solid in my hands. The perch there like mushrooms (which I also love unreasonably much). They smell of fall.

I had big plans this year to plant a pumpkin patch of my own, but didn't get off my butt in time (June is when I get lazy, right after school is out; and it's also when you're supposed to plant pumpkins if you want them in October). Maybe next year will be my year for my very own very sincere pumpkin patch.


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

#9 of 31 Days of Halloween: Pop-Up Halloween Stores


I hit my first pop-up Halloween store before it was even October this year. One took over the old Babies-R-Us near my daughter's orthodontist office and when we spotted it, we shared a gasp of delight. It almost made up for having her braces adjusted.

Mostly, I hate shopping. But shopping in a Halloween store is a totally different thing. Even when I can't buy anything, I get such delight from looking at the wares and imagining the possibilities.

The one near us is especially nice, selling both the cheapy costumes that are just a kind of plastic you tie on and things that are nicer, more like real clothing.

I bought my girl a Sally dress AND a Wednesday Addams dress because they were too too perfect.

We spent a long time in the props section, examining fake weapons and odd accoutrements and imagining who we might become if we were to put them on.

They'd even put together a little haunted house area out of their animatronic and motion-sensing wares. We took turns cuing them to growl and spin and glow at us and laughed in delight when they were able to startle us.

Yeah, I could spend my whole paycheck in a wonderland like that. Maybe it's a good thing they're only around a few weeks a year.


Monday, October 8, 2018

#8 of 31 Days of Halloween: Decor


You know how some people love to go shopping right after Christmas or on Black Friday, scoring great deals? Yeah. I'm not one of those people. In fact, I hate shopping.

Except for Halloween.

The day after Halloween I'm heading in to all the big box stores, looking for my deals on Halloween themed decor. That's how I got my cool tablecloth that has spooky words all over it like "Nevermore" and "Poison," how I acquired my Bride of Frankenstein serving platter and dessert plates, my sugar skull drinking glasses, and my glowing eyeball lights.

If I had the budget and time, you can bet my yard would look like something out of the Addam's Family intermixed with every other spooky thing I love.

This year, I'm coveting the motion sensitive animatronic figures from my local Halloween pop up store. I can't quite convince myself that it's okay to spend upwards of $100 on this kind of thing, but when it goes on sale afterwards? I'm there!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

#7 of 31 Days of Halloween: Excitement


There are a few times of year where excitement vibrates in the air, maybe especially the air around children. A kinetic joy bubbles up and it's all we can do to move forward in the ordinary things we have to accomplish before our anticipation pays off and boom! It's Halloween.

The second October began, that half-crazy energy settled on the middle school where I teach. As the month goes on, it will build. Kids will make plans for costumes, parties, and pranks. They'll tell each other scary stories and wax poetic about the good old days when they weren't "too old" to Trick or Treat (some of them will still Trick or Treat this year, "too old" or not).

Sometimes adults catch it a little, at least some of us. The playfulness of it all is contagious. The "let's pretend" license that comes with a time of year where even adults often dress up as something scary, shiny, or just really different than whatever they usually are. 

The giddy energy exceeds even Christmas in some ways. Maybe it's because it's more of an everyone holiday (less tied to religious traditions), and celebrating is less reliant on how much money is in your bank account than the more avaricious commercial side of that December festival.

It's there in the air. Have you caught it yet?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

#6 of 31 Days of Halloween: ghost stories


I've loved ghost stories most of my life. I like the scary ones, the comforting ones, the silly ones. One of the first times I scared myself silly with a book, it was a short story about a ghost child who wanted a friend so badly they nearly killed another child to make her a ghost, too.


I like the non-professional ones, too--the ones people tell when you're sitting together in the right setting and something inspires such confidences. When someone you know and respect as a rational being admits that they've seen something they can't explain that left them feeling unsettled…well that's the best kind of chills!

A few of my favorites (from books and stories):

Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp was given to me by my middle and high school librarian. It might be responsible for my loves of evil children and gazing balls.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I'm pretty sure that same librarian gave me this one, or maybe something else by Shirley Jackson. The quintessential haunted house story, a book that set the tone for all the future ones.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. Written from events that haunt a person even if nothing supernatural is involved. I cried more than once reading this one.

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill. I read this one pretty recently and it made me a fan of Joe Hill's work. I loved the ghost and the vengeance plot as well as the living characters.

The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe. This is one of those stories where you're not sure if there's a ghost or not. The narrator could also be misinterpreting events, or seeing through an unreliable lens. Sometimes I like this kind of story better than the ones with real for-sure ghosts.

Got a favorite ghost story I should check out? LMK in the comments.


Friday, October 5, 2018

#5 of 31 Days of Halloween: Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkins


Reese's peanut butter pumpkins.

I love Reese's cups. Definitely too much. I love the traditional ones. I love the Reese's minis with that thicker edge of chocolate. The Big Cup that's practically a meal replacement. Those little ones in red and green wrappers you get in December. Reese's Puffs cereal.

Even the ones that aren't that great like Fast Break and white chocolate cups are still pretty good.



But the peanut butter pumpkins are the bestest of all.

My perfect proportions of chocolate vs. peanut butter.

The right size to give me a nice sugar zoom without a horrible crash thirty minutes later.

Smooth edges instead of the traditional hard-straight edges.

Plus, they're a sure sign that Halloween is almost here.

You got a favorite Halloween treat? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.


Thursday, October 4, 2018

#4 of 31 Days of Halloween: Classic Monster Movies


Classic monster movies.

I love to revisit old monster movies during this time of year. From the serious ones like Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Boris Karloff's Frankenstein to the campy ones with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre. From the purposely comedic ones like Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy to the "little bit of both" ones like The Creature From the Black Lagoon.



My mom and I have always enjoyed old movies together and my dad and I like cult classics or just outright bad movies, and Halloween gives me the opportunity to enjoy all of that together in one bowl.

A local theater, The Carolina Theatre, has a long running retro film series and October is the best! Jam-packed with the full range of Halloween goodness. We also own a lot of these at home, so it's pretty easy to set myself up with a Halloween movie festival without even leaving my house.

I love more modern films, too, and I'll talk about them in another post, but there's something about the classic ones. Black and white is atmospheric in a completely different way and the storytelling style was more direct. Simple isn't always an insult. My love for these films is less complicated than the love I harbor for other movies.

Do you have any must-watch Halloween classics in your library? Got a favorite classic movie monster? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

#IWSG: Life and Writing


Welcome to October! It's the first Wednesday of the month which means it's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life. 

The October question - How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

After you check out my post, be sure to check out the rest of the hop! Especially our co-hosts:  Dolorah @ Book Lover, Christopher D. Votey, Tanya Miranda, andChemist Ken!
____________________________________________________

In my author bio, a line I often include is: "I write because it's cheaper than therapy."

I'm not really joking. Writing has been my main coping mechanism since I could write. Maybe even before that. I still kept a journal before I could write, it was just full of drawings. When I was mad at my mom as a child, she would find a long letter shoved under her door expressing all the way in which I'd been wronged.

Later some of this came out in poetry. My adolescent work is all pretty directly about the drama and pain of my teenaged life, though I was starting to make some attempt to write about it more universally.

As an adult, I still journal from time to time (especially during times of stress), but now that writing is separate from my fiction. That's probably good, because I'm fortunate enough to lead a pretty boring life: stable, full of love, and light on serious trauma. It makes a good life, but it would make a boring book.

Not that my issues don't come out in my fiction.

It's just less direct now. Sometimes I don't even know it until it's all written and I'm reading it afterwards.

Anyone reading my Menopausal Superhero series will see that I have a profound mistrust of the medical establishment, for example. I'll recognize relationship dynamics from my real life among my characters, showing me that I must have been working through my feelings through my art again. 

The subconscious is always processing things behind the scenes, and often the results are delivered to me in story form.

I'm grateful to have found an outlet that works for me and isn't dependent on my financial state or access to outside resources. I hold out hope that it will always be enough to keep me feeling balanced. 

#3 of 31 Days of Halloween: Costumes!


Costumes.

One of the great joys of Halloween is the opportunity to dress up, to be someone else for a few hours. I used to be that kid who decided what they were going to be for Halloween like the day after the previous Halloween.


A costume collection of Bryants and friends
I had elaborate plans. When possible, roping others into my vision, like the time I was Cleopatra and my friend Chris was a mummy. Or the year (much more recently) when my sister, brother-in-law, me, and my husband all did characters from True Blood. I got to be Sookie :-).

Now that I'm a writer and attend conventions regularly to promote my work and network with other writers, I get to enjoy costuming all year round from cosplayers.

But Halloween is special. It's when *everyone* does it (well, almost everyone).

What was your favorite costume experience? Do you dress up as an adult?

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

#2 of 31 Days of Halloween: Halloween Songs


🎤 On the second day of Halloween, my true love gave to me 🎧 Halloween songs!

I know, songs are more the territory of Santa and his elves, but there are some really fun songs associated with Halloween. It's a great excuse every year to listen to some favorites.

Like:


I've loved that one as long as I can remember. My dad isn't a grinning sort of guy most of the time, but he always smiles when he hears this one.

Then there's:



In fact, you should probably just watch that whole movie again if you're needing some Halloween spirit.

Then, there's the ode to my teenaged horror movie favorites, from Will Smith, back before he saved us from aliens, and very underrated DJ Jazzy Jeff.




How about you friends of the Internet? Got any favorite music you revisit during spooky season?

Monday, October 1, 2018

#1 of 31 Days of Halloween: Wednesday Addams


Halloween is my favorite holiday. I like the combinations of cute and creepy, fun and frightening. Maybe it's the candy. Maybe it's the cooler weather. I don't know. I just know I love it. 

So this year, I've decided to do 31 Days of Halloween here on my blog and chat about 31 different Halloween-y things I love. 

So, for day #1, let's talk about Wednesday Addams. She's one of the first "creepy" characters I can
remember loving. The Addam's Family was something I saw in re-runs when I was a little kid (it aired before I was born).

I fell in love with the character as created by Lisa Loring. That cute, but macabre little gal in the wonderful black dress with her headless doll. I was like: hey! that's me!

I was a cute little girl, too, often wearing long braids. I got compared to Pippi Longstocking or Melissa Gilbert from Little House on the Prairie more often than Wednesday, but that's probably because of the freckles. It's harder to be perceived as hardcore when you are covered in cute little polka dots.

When Cristina Ricci recreated the character for the feature films, I fell in love all again. She was even better at the absolute deadpan and the writers weren't afraid to really up the ante on the creep factor. That glowing white forehead, reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe, was perfect! Moving her into color didn't diminish her darkness one bit.


Melissa Hunter's Adult Wednesday Addam's series created for YouTube is well worth the watch for fans, too. She really has captured what I think Wednesday would grow up to be like. My favorite episode is still the one where she takes down the cat-callers: 



I walked into a Halloween shop with my daughter the other day (who's also creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky) and spotted a Wednesday Addam's dress! Perfect!

Come on Halloween! We're ready!