Heppy Halloween!

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Happy Halloween! I had a little too much fun at my bestie’s Halloween party on Saturday, so I’m taking it easy, dressing up as a couch surfer, and eating all the candy myself. Okay, I have no candy, but you can bet I’ll be enjoying a tea and a few episodes of Cheers tonight.

Be safe, have fun, and watch out for that broomstick traffic!

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Book Talk: White is for Witching

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Illustration by S. Zainab Williams

Another day, another slaying by Helen Oyeyemi. After reading Boy, Snow, Bird, I wanted more more more, and picked up White is for Witching. I’m a sucker for witchy books, so it was a no-brainer.

Goodreads Description:

There’s something strange about the Silver family house in the closed-off town of Dover, England. Grand and cavernous with hidden passages and buried secrets, it’s been home to four generations of Silver women—Anna, Jennifer, Lily, and now Miranda, who has lived in the house with her twin brother, Eliot, ever since their father converted it to a bed-and-breakfast. The Silver women have always had a strong connection, a pull over one another that reaches across time and space, and when Lily, Miranda’s mother, passes away suddenly while on a trip abroad, Miranda begins suffering strange ailments. An eating disorder starves her. She begins hearing voices. When she brings a friend home, Dover’s hostility toward outsiders physically manifests within the four walls of the Silver house, and the lives of everyone inside are irrevocably changed. At once an unforgettable mystery and a meditation on race, nationality, and family legacies, White is for Witching is a boldly original, terrifying, and elegant novel by a prodigious talent.

I didn’t expect this book to give me a fright, but a fright it gave. Oyeyemi possesses a skill for that quiet, creeping terror I find missing from my recent straightforward horror reads. If you’re hesitant to read genre fiction, favoring literary fiction, I’d recommend this book in a heartbeat, especially if you’re looking for October/Halloween reads. As mentioned in the book blurb, the subject matter is complex and grave, but its handled in the realm of the supernatural. I’m becoming a big fan of focused real-world subject matter through the speculative lens, thanks to this and other books I’ve read recently.

On a side note, I haven’t been posting much #readtodraw art, but decided to start again, only with books I find visually compelling. This was one of them.

A (Belated) Clive Barker Halloween Special

This Halloween, I found myself face to face with Clive Barker. One would think I would’ve blogged about it sooner.

The encounter involved a fetish club, a costume contest, and a broken branch antler.

I heard through reliable sources (a mess of flyers littering my Facebook feed) that Clive Barker was hosting a Halloween ball at Miss Kitty’s in Los Angeles, and that he would be judging a costume contest that night.

For once, I hadn’t procrastinated on my costume and actually took some pride in it, so I jumped at the opportunity and purchased a ticket to the event.

This is how events (and I) unravel…

Barker is nowhere to be seen when I arrive, but that isn’t a surprise. With celebrity hosted events said celebrity usually makes a brief “onstage” appearance. So Miss Kitty, an intimidating and queenly type, makes the rounds and personally handpicks contest participants. When she chooses me, I try to act all “whatevs” about it, but my giddy excitement is pretty obvious. She has all of the participants line up in the hall to wait and I’m scratching and slapping people with my branch antlers as they pass. I worry not that I’ll find a dislodged eyeball on one of my branches, but that someone will break the headpiece as they’re impaled by it.

Miss Kitty finally introduces Barker and, in a flash, I see someone all in white ushered onstage. This is when I get really nervous. I was a theater nerd in high school–it’s not like I’ve never stood on a stage in front of people, but being in a judged setting is a different matter, especially when the judge is a writer you respect and are inspired by (a heart defibrillator and years of intensive therapy would’ve been necessary had it been a contest on my writing as judged by the author in front of a large crowd).

Shortly after his entrance, I hear the announcer call the “Winter Witch” and I’m pulled up the stairs. As my foot hits the stage, the curtain latches onto my antlers and time stops. Something crunches and cracks on my head. I can almost hear the creak and whine of a redwood capsizing as my right antler begins to collapse. The base tears off the headpiece but I grab at the antler before it falls off completely and hold it in place as I head onto the stage. Disaster and recovery occur in the span of about three seconds.

Everyone’s clapping and shouting. I’m still in too much of a panic to even see Barker sitting on the throne downstage. All I can think about is how stupid I must look gripping the antler as I walk. A pageant smile emerges from I don’t know where and sets itself on my face as I march down the runway.

As I’m coming back around, resisting the desire to dash madly down the stairs leading off the stage, I’m directed to stand before Barker so he can get a good look at the costume. I walk up to him smiling like a clown, sweating like a pig, and curtsy. Of all things. I don’t know why, it just seems like the thing to do.

Then he nods and says, “That’s a really great costume.”

I WIN!!!!

WOOOHOOOoooo….

…Actually, I lost to a Silent Hill nurse who did that creepy stilted walk. Ah well. I made it into the final round and Clive Barker complimented my costume. I consider that a win. (But don’t count on ever seeing me on ANTM.)

Top Three Scary Childhood Books

I’ve always loved Halloween. One year, my parents bought one of those ambient Halloween soundtracks to give our house a little mood when kids ran up our crooked stone stairs with their bulging bags. I took the tape and hid under the covers in my room, listening to the howling wolves, cackling witches and creaking doors lilting out of the stereo speakers.

Some of my favorite shows as a kid included Tales from the Crypt, Freddy’s Nightmares and tamer programming like reruns of the Twilight Zone. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was Creepshow 2 when I was four years old (my parents weren’t restrictive about those things).

To this day, I find horror movies and the genre as a whole oddly comforting. Most Fridays, I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch horror movies (bad and good) until I fall asleep. It stirs up a cozy nostalgia. Halloween is when that feeling is at its peak.

In celebration of the holiday, I present you with three of my most beloved scary childhood books (actually, they’re all series).

The Witch Saga Series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

For a good year—smack-dab in the middle of my pre-teens—I only read books about witches. Perhaps I thought if I read enough of them, I’d become one. A girl can only hope. So when I stumbled upon Witch’s Sister at the South Pasadena Library when I was about 12, it was as if the book had been waiting for me. What can I say? It was magic.

The Witch Saga is a six-book series following Lynn Morley and her friend Mouse as they investigate, and are plotted against by, Lynn’s neighbor Mrs. Tuggle, a witch. Their families and lives are compromised by Mrs. Tuggle, but Lynn and Mouse are the only ones who see through her act. Naylor really knows how to employ that trope of adult disbelief in the tales of children and the frustration accompanied by it. I remember fuming about nobody believing Lynn.

I wanted to be Lynn Morley but I was much more like her meek friend, Mouse. And I still wonder how Mrs. Tuggle’s witchy brew tasted. I always wished I could try it, dangerous as it was. I drank a Chinese medicinal tea once and that’s probably as close to the flavor I imagined—licorice, ginseng, twigs and mushrooms—as I’ll ever get. Mrs. Tuggle wasn’t the kind of witch I wanted to be, but she was delightfully dark and wicked.

The books dealt with some issues even darker than witches, like divorce and suicide. I like a young adult book that isn’t afraid to broach serious topics.

Oh, and the main character’s mother is a writer. I remember a scene in the book wherein Mrs. Morley suffers from writer’s block induced ennui.

(P.S. I was also obsessed with Naylor’s Alice series.)

Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine

At the same time I was buying tons of Goosebumps books, I was an avid fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Remember that series? I know you do! Okay, maybe only if you grew up in America or Canada in the 90’s. Anyway, Goosebumps was a series of horror stories for young adults. They were short, easy to read, and just plain chilling.

Stine is still writing these books. I felt old when I looked at the list of books in the series and saw that the ones I read are now called “Classic” Goosebumps. I don’t want that word associated with anything produced during my lifetime. I guess I can allow that Welcome to Deadhouse is classic in that a good scare will never be outdated.

Say Cheese and DieWelcome to Camp Nightmare…so good!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz 

This is kind of bittersweet. The art in this book made it a thing to be prized among elementary school kids. Stephen Gammel’s art and Schwartz’s stories combined embodied our nightmares in an addictive way.

The publisher of this book recently decided to change the illustrations. I don’t know what they were thinking, but it makes me appreciate that I grew up with the originals.

Random story: I was one of a few kids chosen to read a tale from this book to the younger kids at my elementary school for Halloween and I did a terrible job. I was assigned to a story that relied on a blood-curdling scream for a climactic end. Me…quiet and anti-social, trying to force out a believable scream. It was the worst.

What were some of your favorite scary stories as a kid?