Diary

A Halloween non-fiction rec

“Call it Samhain, Summer’s End, All Hallows’ Eve, November Eve, or Witches’ Night – Halloween has its essential roots in the terrors of the primitive mind, which made no distinction between the waning of the sun and the potential extinction of the self. Ancient rituals of sacrifice and supplication were employed to guarantee a good harvest and, by extension, continued earthly existence.

“In northern climates, harvest time was, or seemed, the very death of nature. As Robert Chambers, the great Victorian chronicler of holidays characterized October: ‘As the fallen leaves career before us – crumbling ruins of summer’s beautiful halls – we cannot help thinking of those who have perished – who have gone before us, blown forward to the grave by the icy blasts of Death.’

“Because life itself was literally in the balance at harvest, the close proximity of the visible world and the spirit world was more than metaphor. And so the tradition grew: for one night each year, permission would be granted to mortals to peer into the future, divine their fates, communicate with supernatural entities, and otherwise enjoy a degree of license and liberty unimaginable – or simply unattainable – the rest of the year.

“The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vice versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented. And, most important, graves open and the departed return.

“Of course, the ‘return of the dead’ is an evocative allegory for the return or expression of just about anything that’s been buried, repressed, or stifled by the living. What’s ‘dead’ doesn’t necessarily look like a walking corpse – just take a look at the variety of secret selves on parade at any Halloween celebration today. People ‘resurrect’ themselves, besequinned and befeathered, as glamorous movie gods and goddesses, comic-book superheroes, immortal robots, insatiable satyrs, and inflatable sex balloons. Pneumatic breasts and phalluses bounce and bob everywhere. Fantastic, towering wigs and headdresses emblematize the startling energies that lurk in the minds beneath.

But attending these lively carnival images – always – are the classic images of mortality and the grave: skeletons, vampires, zombies, and ghosts. The grand marshall of the Halloween parade is, and always has been, Death.”

From Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, by David J. Skal, a fascinating look at the holiday, its origins, and its transformations over time.

I’ve been reading Skal’s work since I was a grad student *mumble mumble* years ago because he focuses on topics that are right up my alley: Halloween, Dracula, vampires in general. He’s fascinated by horror and has insightful things to say about horror and pop culture.  I enjoy Death Makes a Holiday and try to re-read it every October, but my favorite Skal book is The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, which delves into history, horror, and our cultural predilection for the macabre.

So if you’re looking for something new to read this Halloween season, I’d recommend Skal!

Diary

“The Quest for ‘Blank Caveringi'”, by Patricia Highsmith

My fascination with ghost/supernatural/horror stories began at a young age, and at some point, I received a copy of Alfred Hitchcock’s Supernatural Tales of Terror and Suspense, which anthologized several chilling tales by such authors as Raymond Chandler and Muriel Spark. I found this book again while helping my mother clean out her attic a few years ago, and I immediately snagged it, because while I found the entire book scary as hell as a child, there was one particular story that frightened me and stayed with me to this day, some thirty years later.

“The Quest for ‘Blank Caveringi'”, by Patricia Highsmith is the story in question. I didn’t remember the premise, but I remembered the “monsters” of the story, and I remembered the ending, which horrified me on some deep, primal level, although I’m not sure why.

Re-reading it as an adult, I have a different perspective, because the story is about a 48 year old academic who goes off in search of an island reported to be the home of giant, carnivorous snails, because he wants to be famous and have something named after him.

I repeat: giant, carnivorous snails.

Reading over it now, I have to admit, it has excellent pacing and a solid build-up to the ending which so horrified me as a child, but… snails? How could you not escape a snail, even a giant one? It’s like not being able to outrun a zombie. And how did they get to be carnivorous? WTF? If this were made into a film today, it would probably be a cheesy B-grade horror flick, worthy of the drive-in or MST3K, but at the same time, it’s a solid little horror tale, suitable for scaring the pants off less jaded children.

I think it’s probably more the sense of isolation and primality that create the fear factor here; civilization has no place on the island of the snails, and the professor made the standard mistake of most protagonists in horror stories: he wasn’t prepared.

And now the end of the story, which has stayed with me for so long:

Continue reading ““The Quest for ‘Blank Caveringi’”, by Patricia Highsmith”

Publications

Halloween story now available!

Ghost of a Chance is now available from Torquere Press! 

74 pages / 22900 words 
Ebook zipped file contains – html, Adobe and Sony optimized pdf, mobi, epub for $3.99

Dr. Mason Beaulieu thinks rival ghost hunter Haywood “Fort” Fortenberry is sexy but too credulous when it comes to the paranormal. Fort thinks Mason is attractive but too cynical. When they’re offered a chance to be locked up in reputedly haunted Wisteria Grove on Halloween night, however, both men jump at the chance.

Storms and mysterious sounds keep them busy during the night, and they discover a mutual respect for each other’s skills. As the investigation continues, Fort learns the truth behind Mason’s seemingly dismissive attitude, and Mason finds a new appreciation for Fort’s open-mindedness. But when an unexpected intruder derails the investigation, they learn that more than just hunting ghosts can offer them thrills and chills.

 

Wisteria Grove is loosely based on the Myrtles Plantation, which is considered one of the most haunted places in the US. Ari and I had both heard about the plantation-turned-B&B, and we both want to stay there overnight, although we’re in total agreement that we wouldn’t sleep a wink! Personally, I’d love to participate in a ghost hunt one day, but I’m not sure I’d want to start my ghost hunting career at The Myrtles. I’d probably need to work my way up to that! 

As we kick off the Halloween season, we hope “Ghost of a Chance” gives our readers a few chills and a few thrills. 😀

News Flash

Spooky story coming soon!

October is my favorite month, and Halloween is my favorite holiday, so for years, I wrote Halloween-themed stories for whatever fandom I was in at the time. Two years ago, I wrote up a series of drabbles about Evan St. John from Blood Bathory: The History of Horror. Last year, Ari and I wrote a short ghost story about Micah Harrison, who moves into a haunted house: A Hundred Lonely Halloweens.

This year, we’re continuing the theme! On October 2, “Ghost of a Chance” will be released by Torquere Press. It’s a ghost story complete with a spooky haunted house on a dark and stormy night and two men trapped inside overnight.

Dr. Mason Beaulieu thinks rival ghost hunter Haywood “Fort” Fortenberry is sexy but too credulous when it comes to the paranormal. Fort thinks Mason is attractive but too cynical. When they’re offered a chance to be locked up in reputedly haunted Wisteria Grove on Halloween night, however, both men jump at the chance.

Storms and mysterious sounds keep them busy during the night, and they discover a mutual respect for each other’s skills. As the investigation continues, Fort learns the truth behind Mason’s seemingly dismissive attitude, and Mason finds a new appreciation for Fort’s open-mindedness. But when an unexpected intruder derails the investigation, they learn that more than just hunting ghosts can offer them thrills and chills.

ghostofachance