The Florida Writers Conference will be wrapping up tomorrow, and I’ll be doing a blog post soon on the wonderful insights into writing about monsters from one of the talks. For now, I’ll pretend I’ve got some Halloween cereal in my room for a late night snack.
It is an amazing feeling to write a scene, even a sentence, that gives you a little thrill. I enjoy writing spooky stuff, and those thrills come when I feel like I’ve written a scene that is particularly gruesome or I’ve managed to capture a character’s reaction to the horrific thing that is happening. It makes me pull away from the keyboard and make delighted spirit fingers.
If I describe my excitement to someone who doesn’t write, they often look puzzled. From the outside, I’m just someone sitting at a computer who suddenly gets giddy for no apparent reason. If only they could see the events that are happening in my head!
That’s one of the important things about writing conferences for me. When I talk about that feeling to other writers, they get it. They get excited along with me, and they share their experiences with writing a delicious scene that defined their character or the make-believe world they are creating.
The motto of the Florida Writers Association is “Writers Helping Writers,” and the Florida Writers Conference is this weekend. The panels cover topics from the craft of writing and the writing life, to the business of representation and publishing. One my favorite events is the daily Genre Breakfast. If you come to the conference, come sit with me and the other speculative fiction writers, and we’ll talk about how to make our fantastic worlds seem “real.”
When I was a teenager, my family lived in a farmhouse built before the Civil War. Rooms had been added on as the family grew and the kitchen was moved inside. It was a large and simple – the opposite of an antebellum manse – with a few oddly offset rooms. It was a perfect house to host Halloween sleepovers.
The evenings started with a formal dinner downstairs. Then the girls and I headed upstairs, where my parents had helped me dye the bedding gray and make cardboard tombstones to put at the head of each of their mattresses. We watched horror movies on VHS tapes and scared each other. Sometimes there were other things hidden around upstairs to startle if they left the room.
These photos are from 1984, when the theme was “eyeballs.” My parents bought balls of all different sizes and we painted them for weeks. Cecilia, a papier mache corpse from the year before, came back as a witch for this party. She had started as “Cecil the Severed Leg,” but it just wasn’t enough.
The house is gone now. It burned down several years after my family moved away. It’s too bad to think I can’t go back to visit it. There were people that swore there were “haints” in that house, but they differed on whether they felt benevolent ghosts or darker entities.
Orange for pumpkins. For Halloween.
For turning leaves and intense sunsets.
For brightly colored creatures, beautiful and frightening.
And black, to offset the orange.
To bring on the longer nights.
Bury Me – A Poem of Autumn
by Victoria Nations
Bury me in drifts
of sweetgum leaves
Red and yellow stars,
fallen and cooling to rust
before they blink out
Brighter from the rain
that washed them against
the black banks
And more fragrant
from being crushed
as I roll over, restless,
Last year, a little girl in a princess costume walked down my driveway on Halloween with her mom trailing behind her. The little girl was transfixed by the orange lights and spooky decorations. Her mom was looking around nervously.
“Nothing here will jump out at her,” I told the mom from the candy table.
“Really?” My skull face was friendly, but the mom was making sure.
“Absolutely. There’s a lots of creepy things around, but nothing too gruesome, and she can walk up and look at anything she wants.”
The little girl turned to me then, so I spoke to her, too.
“You can touch anything you want. It’s Halloween, and spooky stuff is supposed to be fun.”
The little girl smiled and looked around, eager to explore. But she turned back to ask, “Can I see your dress, too?”
I stepped out from around the table to show her my whole outfit of black gown and corset of skulls and roses. She smiled again and walked off to explore the decorations. The mom brought over her trick-or-treat bag for candy, but the little girl was much more interested in seeing the skulls and plastic rats up close.
I love creating a spooky yard. Classically creepy decor is my favorite. Give me bats and crows and skeletons. I have my favorite horror icons, but the only movie star you’ll see in my yard is Bela Lugosi as Dracula.
The graveyard is on a small hill in the front of the yard and includes markers for Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. There are skeletons here and elsewhere. Many of the lady skeletons have wigs and dresses befitting their elegant style.
Bats and other flying creatures hang from the pergola by the door. Rats and birds perch on either side of the walkway. Closer to Halloween, real jack-o-lanterns will join the pumpkin vine trailing along the walk.
Halloween is a time to delight in spooky things and the delicious feeling that something supernatural may appear before you. It’s a time to revel in the macabre and the dark aesthetic I love. And it’s a time to share this with neighbors and trick-or-treaters lured to the house by odd creatures and haunting music. Hopefully they’ll leave loving the mystery and celebration of Halloween even more.
The dark hides all sorts of monsters. The boldest monsters show themselves in the daylight, too.
We have cats. We also have animals skulls, mink skins, a preserved alligator head and piranha, and vials of insects. I have a coin purse made out of a Bufo marinus, complete with head, front legs and googly eyes, but she’s at work.
Now that it’s Halloween time, there are all sorts of additional creatures lying around. The cats consider them new places to sleep and fantastic toys. I found a skeleton leg today that a cat had pulled from its owner to bat around the living room.
If I’m writing, this is the cat trying to crawl into my lap, pawing at my computer, or suddenly deciding to climb the laundry room shelves so I have to get up and investigate the crash when it happens. I’d like to say he inspires me to write creatures that move stealthily through the night, creeping up behind you, with golden eyes that glow as a light slides past them. Alas, he is the least monstrous creature in the house.
I am drawn to creatures of all types, whether they are furry or warty or scaly. Even the ones with shiny exoskeletons and pincers are beautiful to me. And I am intrigued by how they can figure into a horror story. The idea of something adorable filling someone with dread is compelling. Imagine the recognition a character would have, the moment they realized their beloved pet or the beautiful creature was something monstrous and unpredictable. It gives me shivers.
I was raised to love graveyards.
I was raised on classic horror movies and their eerie graveyards, filled with rolling mist. My parents bought me horror comics and introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King in elementary school. We had the full encyclopedia of Man, Myth, and Magic, and I would lean against the bookshelf for hours, reading and marveling over the illustrations.
I was also raised to appreciate the beauty of cemeteries and to collect the data on the monuments. My mother taught me the etiquette of walking between graves. She taught me to see patterns in the death dates when a war or sickness ran through a community.
There is a stillness to graveyards. There is a sense of a place ruminating on its past. And it’s a lovely place to spin tales.
I listened to Sounds To Make You Shiver over and over as a kid. Blowing wind and hooting owls made me imagine empty places. Frankenstein’s monster breaking loose was the very sound of havoc.
But, goodness, look at that album cover! So. Many. Monsters. They are tumbling out of that castle! Frankenstein’s monster is stomping towards you. The witch is busy with her cauldron, but the werewolf and Dracula have totally seen you. And what is that hairy, gape-mouthed thing…a banshee?
I wanted to live in that castle and learn all its “Bloodcurdling! Terror! Horror!” secrets.
Want to listen to enjoy the spooky sounds, too? Click here, but be warned, it opens with a scream.