Monday, October 7, 2013

Getting in the Hallowe'en Spirit

John Atkinson Grimshaw The Haunted House

All Hallow’s Eve is just about three short weeks away. Here in the US, store shelves are well stocked with Snickers bars and that weird peanut butter taffy nobody likes but somebody in your neighborhood always gives out anyway. Pumpkins are appearing on doorsteps and in lattes everywhere. If you love all things spooky, ghostly, ghoulish, and cloaked in darkness, you’ve been ready for Hallowe’en since last November. Here at the Inkpot, we thought we’d share how we like to get in the holiday mood—both in October and all year long.

Katherine Catmull, author of the haunting fable Summer and Bird says:

For some reason I find Marideth's Sisco's a capella recording of "Missouri Waltz"--with night sounds underneath--particularly elegiac and eerie. Very children-lost-in-the-woods

"But for me the best spookiness comes from a long walk alone in autumn woods. Fall comes sloooooowly where I live, not till after Halloween, really, but most people live somewhere less irritating in that regard. I recommend writers go walk in the woods, get some dead leaves on them, look inside some fallen logs for crawly things, listen to the odd and unexplainable sounds.”

Chantress author Amy Butler Greenfield finds eerie inspiration in the holiday's ancient roots: 

"Here in England, Bonfire Night (November 5) is a much bigger deal than Halloween, but I'm fascinated by all the old significance of October 31st, and loved creating a variant All Hallow's Eve celebration at the start of Chantress. For mood-setting, I like to re-read Susan Cooper's The Grey King, especially that wonderful poem that starts 'On the day of the dead, when the year too dies,/Must the youngest open the oldest hills.' For music, I put on Loreena McKennitt's eerie and gorgeous The Book of Secrets. What else? Irving's 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,' Grieg's 'In the Hall of the Mountain King,' and (sentimental, but great fun) the Halloween section of Meet Me in St. Louis."

More spooky music recommendations come courtesy of William Alexander, who should certainly know a haunting song when he hears one.

"Zoe Keating the cellist plays perfect background music for writing dark fairy tales." Visit Keating's Youtube channel to hear for yourself, but beware! You've been warned how bewitching her music is....

Lia Keyes turns to a classic of dark fantasy for her seasonal inspiration:

"Each October I re-read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, in which two 14-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway visit a nightmarish traveling carnival led by the mysterious 'Mr. Dark,' who bears a tattoo for each person who has become bound in service to the carnival. Of the two boys, Jim was born one minute before midnight and Will was born one minute after midnight on October 31st. There's also a carousel which, if you ride it forwards will make you older, but if you ride it backwards will make you younger (clearly the inspiration for the same kind of carousel in Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord).  Will's father, who at first envies the boys' youth, fights off the darkness by laughing at it--a magic gained by experience--and is able to save the boys from falling prey to the carnival's thrall. He's the most transformed character in the book, though we stay with the two boys for most of the story.

"It's wonderfully creepy, but also full of subtext--as the best Halloween stories should be--about the wisdom one gains through experience and that you can't rush the growing up process as a result. Nor should you let your number of grown up years define how you interact with life. Perfect for the night that celebrates the thin line between life and death!”

In the best spook story tradition, Texting the Underworld author Ellen Booraem recalls an unsettling experience from college, calling out the works of two of the masters of sinister storytelling: 

"For sheer spookiness, nothing sets me up like 'The Haunting,' Robert Wise's 1963 (black and white!) film based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. I'm probably influenced by the fact that I saw it first in college, and that evening, sitting in my dorm room, I heard the exact noise Something Evil made as it banged up the hallway toward the horrified Julie Harris. I was paralyzed. Fortunately, the banging ended and I started hearing dialogue. Turned out the president of the college film society was re-screening the film in a room across the hall. I've never been quite the same."

No one is quite the same after seeing Hilari Bell's recommendation for the first time, either. 

"One of my favorite things is to stay up late with a couple of friends and watch 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' It's a great movie for Halloween... and you can sing along. So what more could you want?"  I'm sure that's what they were doing at that fateful party at the von Tassels' house, that fateful evening in Sleepy Hollow, too.

Keely "Inkster" Parrack offers some of her favorite reads, both classic and modern, and also suggests a peek at her super-creepy angel board on Pinterest.

"I always read The Turn of the Screw if I'm looking for something spooky. Never Let me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) and Let the Right One In (John Ajvide Lindqvist) are also up there, books-wise, and pretty good movies, too! For fun vampire thrills, I recently read Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown--a great Halloween ride!"

And last but not least, we have Anne Nesbet's Great Overseas Halloween Adventure:

"This Halloween will be unlike all others for me because . . . . well, let me tell you about it! Usually, back in California, I stay at home with the dog while the kids go out trick-or-treating. The dog and I admire the costumes of all the tiny witches and Spidermen (sometimes the dog hides if the costumes are too scary) and hand out candy from our enormous plastic cauldron. But THIS year, we're living in Paris, and my second book, A Box of Gargoyles, is recently out and very Halloweeny in theme (Halloween is Maya's birthday, actually, and spooky things happen at the party her parents try to throw for her), soooooo we're doing things a little differently:

"1. A visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery, where A Box of Gargoyles  takes us for its dramatic highpoint, with my daughters doing over-the-top readings of the most exciting bits in exactly the places where those exciting bits happen in the book, while innocent tourists point fingers at us and laugh.

"2. Shifting gears slightly, but still very in the spirit of Halloween, we will then spend many hours at the Salon du Chocolat, the most astoundingly huge chocolate-themed fair and exposition ever. We will gorge on chocolates and bring more home for continued gorging in earliest November.

"3. As you can see, we have Setting and Food covered--but what about FEAR? That comes the next day, November 1st, when I appear on French television in a cooking-based reality TV show with a Halloween theme. The taping was, not to mince words, catastrophic, and involved small children tasting foods offered as part of a Halloween feast and reacting by spitting everything out and bursting into tears. It was a hot day; under the pressure I lost all ability to put more than two words together in any language, much less French. Oh. Mon. Dieu. Anyway, my family is going to sit down and watch me sweat in HD, and because most of my family is 15 years old, I am never EVER going to live this down.
 And that's Halloween 2013 for me!!"

Happy haunting, everyone!

Elizabeth C. Bunce is the author of A Curse Dark as Gold and the THIEF ERRANT novels, StarCrossed and Liar's Moon
She's currently working on a gothic fairy tale and proposed this topic for entirely selfish reasons.
Visit Elizabeth at


  1. This is such a fabulous list! Now all I want to do is curl up with a cup of hot cider, sit back and READ ALL THE BOOKS!

  2. Ooooh, fun and spooky post! I'll have to pick up some of these books this Halloween season.

  3. Great post, I'm going to have to check out all the spooky music and book suggestions.


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