Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review: Halloween Nation

Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne (Pelican Publishing Company, 2011)

America's leading black-and-orange journalist returns to investi-gate and celebrate the October holiday season.  In Halloween Nation, Bannatyne poses the key questions (the most overarching one being: "What does Halloween mean right now and what purpose does it serve?") and considers all the relevant elements (witches, ghosts, zombies, pumpkins, pranksters, etc.).  Her study is at once fascinatingly informative (in particular the chapter tracing the origin of the jack-o'-lantern) and endlessly entertaining.  Bannatyne writes with a sense of humor, a prose style reminiscent of Mary Roach (whose work she cites).  For instance, when learning of the amazing growth rate of giant-sized pumpkins, the author observes:
"Forty pounds a day? That's like growing a six-year-old over the weekend."  Describing a weigh-off of such gargantuan gourds, Bannatyne offers: "When a 1,180-pounder knocks the rest out of the competition, the crowd roars, and the pumpkin glides through the arena on the forklift like a plus-sized beauty queen on a parade float."

All this is not to suggest that the author has taken a flippant attitude toward her subject matter, or that she didn't work hard to produce this book.  Like a Charles Kuralt for our macabre republic, Bannatyne spent two years on the road interviewing haunters, performers, and other holiday celebrants across the country.  Halloween Nation is an undeniably democratic tome:  Bannatyne doesn't just forward her own ideas but gives voice to the perspectives of countless others.  The book seems as populous throughout as the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade (which Bannatyne covers in Chapter Seven).

Brimming with brilliant color photos and illustrations, Halloween Nation is a perfect coffee table book to engross visitors to your home this October.  The book's written content (not to mention its extensive "Resources" appendix) is guaranteed to send you surfing the Internet to learn more about the people, places, and events Bannatyne discusses.  Such extra-textual forays, though, will not keep you from delving eagerly back into Bannatyne's pages again and again.  I'm not waxing hyperbolic when I state that this insightful and delightful book is an absolute must-read for every unabashed Halloween-ophile. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pick Six with Hunter Shea

"Pick Six with ________" is a variation on the traditional interview, as the subject gets to choose whichever six questions he/she would like to answer from a list of nearly forty items (questions and prompts pertaining to the writer's own work, as well as his/her thoughts on the world of horror).

Hunter Shea was born and raised in the Bronx, New York.  His short stories have appeared in dozens of magazines over the years.  Forest of Shadows, his first horror novel, will be published this October by Samhain Publishing; his second novel, Evil Eternal, will be out in spring 2012.  Hunter has been a book editor, reviewer, blogger, op-ed ranter and anything else that can keep him happily ensconced in his room with his keyboard and his overactive imagination.  He currently lives in New York with his family and a savage cat that was rescued from a shelter.  He's working hard on his next novel and can be found at, where he's always happy to hear from you.

Here are the six questions Hunter picked:

1.Which person in your life has had the biggest influence on your writing career?

First, I have my parents to thank for getting me hooked on reading, even if it was comic books, the back of a cereal box, you name it (and for not stopping me from reading Stephen King when I was still years away from growing my first pubic hair).  I truly believe that you cannot strive to be a writer without a love of reading.  The real desire to become a writer was planted by my good friend Norm Hendricks.  We were working a complete crap job for the phone company, a place where dreams went to die.  At the time, he was writing a novel and I was just blown away by his passion and dedication.  I'd never met someone before who was actually writing a book.  This was stuff for professors with pipes and smoking jackets, right?  With his guidance, I took it up, both as a creative outlet and something to aspire to, because I did not want to work in an office all my life.  Norm and I have very similar tastes and sensibilities, so it's fantastic to have him as a mentor.  We both write and share in each other's successes, and he continues to influence me.  I'm reading his latest work, The Forgotten Sleeper, and I'll see the way he turns a phrase and say, "Damn, that was good.  You have to strive to write like that."

2.What is the best writing advice you ever received?

I went to a writer's conference in New York in the late 90's and was fortunate enough to get some alone time with one of the biggest agents in the industry.  He told me two things: first, if you want to be a real writer, someone who gets paid and published, you have to work at it like it's a full-time career, and never, ever give up.  There will be plenty of times when you'll want to throw in the towel.  Don't.  Keep pressing, keep working, and it will come.  I've heeded that advice for close to thirteen years and I'm living proof that he was right.  The second piece of advice was to look into what was going on with the Internet.  At the time, it was a brave new world.  No one was even sure what to do with the Internet in terms of serious writing and reading.  The Internet became a great training ground for me, and I published work in paying and non-paying online magazines.  It gave me writing goals, mini successes, and helped get my name out there.

3.What is the strangest thing that ever happened to you at a book signing?

Oh boy.  Now this isn't exactly my worst book signing (the one at a B&N on the Fourth of July--where no one was around to even look at me--holds that title), but it was the strangest and, in retrospect, the funniest.  I had a signing at a B&N in the Bronx where I was told I was just going to sit behind a table and sign books.  When I got there, they had set up a podium and about forty chairs and I was supposed to do a reading.  To say I was unprepared is like saying the economy is struggling a wee bit.  The only people who were there to hear me read were my wife and her friend.  A good portion of the other chairs were taken by a dozen very sick-looking people who turned out to be a hepatitis support group.  They gazed at me like I was a public nuisance and I was completely distracted by their conversation.  They seriously did not look well, and I could only imagine how trivial my little book seemed to them.  I stammered my way through a few minutes, then promptly sat down.  The B&N folks looked at me wondering why I didn't feel compelled to talk for an hour.  I sold one whole book that night, to a family friend who came just before I left.  It was a total disaster in every sense of the word.

4.What is your greatest phobia?

I'm not very original with this, but I have a fear of flying.  It's made worse by the fact that I have a job that requires me to fly several times a year.  I know it's a whole control issue thing, but I just can't shake it.  And, the more I fly, the worse it seems to get.   Maybe if I had five picture-perfect flights in a row, it might lessen.  Dare to dream.

5.What do you consider the most disturbing scene you have ever watched in a horror film?

I've been watching horror movies since I was in a cradle, so I'm pretty jaded.  Don't get me wrong, I love horror movies above all others, but it takes a hell of a lot to frighten or disturb me.  That is, until The Human Centipede came along.  When the crazy doctor had connected the trio, ass-to-mouth, and was shouting at the poor guy in the front to feed the woman attached to his rectum, I actually cringed.  That scene wasn't necessarily graphic, but just the thought of what was going on was enough to make me lose my lunch.  I guess what made it even more palpable was that I felt there was a remote possibility some total nut job with a medical degree could pull this off.  It's the monster inside men that scares me most.

6.What did you enjoy most about writing your latest book?

Forest of Shadows took me just under four years to complete.  It was long, grueling work, the largest book I had ever attempted to write.  It originally came in at over 500 pages.  As I was writing it, I thought I was putting a little bit of myself into the story.  As I neared the end, I had a moment of absolute self-discovery.  Without consciously realizing it, I had completely filled those pages with my fears, fantasies hopes, love and hate.  Life wasn't easy when I started it, and I put a lot of things I wanted to get away from into it, delving into a character who was living at least part of his life the way I wanted.  Going into the rewrites was a kind of therapy where I got to know myself better through the people and situations I had typed into my computer.  When you're writing and in a zone, it can take you to places you never imagined or intended.  Somehow, I stayed in that zone for four years and the payoff was far greater than just having a published novel.  For the first time in my adult life, I had come to terms with myself, and I had managed to write a novel I was very proud of, to boot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"The Day After Halloween" (short story)

Night, like no other.  October's closing ceremony.
Drew McCormack stands gazing out from his front porch, joined only by the uncarved pumpkin propped on the gray wooden ledge.  Curling his forearm to read his wristwatch, he sees that just two minutes have passed since last check.  9:48--which he once again translates to LATE.
"Dammit, Robbie," he grumbles, but really he's cursing himself.  He should never have let the boy go out tonight.

These are the opening lines of my short story "The Day After Halloween," which appears in the just-released anthology Jack-o'-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy (Raven Electrick Ink).  In the story, nothing is quite what it seems (apropos of October 31st), and traditional holiday rituals take on a sinister significance.  It's a quiet piece, whose final sentence hopefully will reverberate in readers' minds.

If you are a fan of Halloween literature, be sure to check out the dark harvest of fiction and poetry filling the pages of Jack-O'-Spec (including works by Bruce Boston, James S. Dorr, Marge Simon, and Geoffrey A. Landis).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cruel Tees for the Halloween Season

Throw on something blackly humorous this October:

"Don't Smash My Pumpkins"

 "I was going to be a Republican for Halloween,
but my head wouldn't fit up my ass."

"Zombies want brains.  So I guess you're safe."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Macabre Apartment


 It's a scream, baby!

Arm rest--but where's the rest of him?

Going batty:

 I don't seek political power, but
I do have an eye on the throne

Sam's season

 Three times the guard dog

 Family portraits


 Rotten company

 Now I'm cutting foot loose!

 Quick prep finger food

 Lights out