Thursday, October 31, 2013

Don't Fear the Reaper

When did Halloween first cast it’s spell on you?

For me, it was at age five, when I got to dress up as an angel for school, play games and have a party instead of class, and then go trick-or-treating before Mom’s delicious meal of homemade beef stew, eaten by candlelight, listening to ghost stories on the radio. After dinner, I spread out all of my candy before me and watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on television. Perfection.

The more involved I was in theater, the more elaborate the costumes became. A scarecrow, with my tummy stuffed with straw. A geisha, umbrella twirling in the costume parade. The junior high years were a low costume-wise, the usual teenaged awkwardness preventing me from truly expressing myself. Same with high school. College brought a resurgence of my Halloween joy, especially when I took children’s theater and had access to the costume room.  A friend and I went as Mozart’s mistresses, complete with corseted dress and powdered hair. A personal best, if I do say so myself. We still talked about that night at my 25th reunion last year.

The older I became, the more fascination I had with dressing up as things I didn’t have the courage to explore in everyday life, even though Goth had officially become a “thing.” I was always dressing up as a witch, a spider woman, a vampire, a dead anything, really. If it wore a black cape, I was in. Still am today, although I have to tell you, I did receive an excellent black cape for Christmas one year that gives me great pleasure as I swoop around in it on a regular basis. Guess you could say I incorporate a little of Halloween every day.

It’s the beauty of being whatever or whomever you want to be, of exploring the dark side on the nights when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at its most thin. It’s gnarled trees and crumpled leaves. It’s stories of a vampire named Dracula and a horseman with no head. It’s witches making potions and the bogeyman under your bed. It’s skeletons dancing to L’Angel de Morte’s violin song and the realization he plays for us all.

Happy Halloween, my friends.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What do the NY Knicks and Washington Irving Have in Common?

I dug up this literary tidbit while I was doing some research recently. It links American literature with basketball and even Halloween. Who needs Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon when you have this?

Okay, so you know the team the New York Knicks, right? Have you ever wondered what a "Knick" is?

Well, it turns out, the New York Knickerbockers were named after a pseudonym Washington Irving (of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" fame) used when he wrote the satirical A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, Diedrich Knickerbocker.

Washington Irving. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

A 'knickerbocker" refers to the style of pants the Dutch settlers wore in the 1600s, pants that rolled up under the knee, or "knickers." In his work, Irving used it to describe a New Yorker who could trace his or her ancestry back to the original Dutch settlers.

Washington Irving was so popular, the Knickerbocker became synonymous with New York.

To read more about this interesting connection, click here.

Monday, October 28, 2013

It's Going to be a Great Week

I'm the featured author this week on Awesome Trilogies and Series, a website by the very awesome William LK. I'm delighted to join the ranks of amazing authors such as Hugh Howey, Helen Smith, Karen Cantwell, and Donna Fasano.

Click here to see what my favorite book and movie series are, plus a how I was inspired to become a writer in high school.

This is going to be a great week. How could it not? Halloween is Thursday, and, you probably know this by now, it's my favorite holiday. Later on in the week, I'll tell you why.

Happy Monday,

Monday, October 21, 2013

Look at Me — I'm on the Radio!

A few weeks ago, I did my first radio interview, and I have to say, it was a great time. I was a guest on "The Dolly Mc Carthy Show" on blogtalkradio. She's a news anchor for WGN-TV in Chicago. I met Dolly at a book club appearance I did for A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) last year at this fantastic Irish pub in our neighborhood, Quigley's.

She was very generous with the time allotted for my spot, and, actually, it was just like if we were hanging out chatting on the phone. Dolly's a lovely woman who does a lot for the community.

So without further ado, here is my interview. Fast-forward to about 20:40 — that should bring you very close to my spot.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Oates Brings Back Old-School Gothic with 'The Accursed'

The Accursed
By Joyce Carol Oates
Ecco (March 5, 2013)
688 pages

The Accursed is a masterpiece, a writing tour de force. Joyce Carol Oates flexes her considerable literary might to create an old-school Gothic tale that is not for anyone looking for a “quick read.” It is far more in-depth and complicated for that.

Narrated by M.W. Van Dyck II, a local historian attempting to make sense of the alleged Crosswicks Curse that plagued Princeton, New Jersey, during fourteen months from 1905 to 1906. Through various journals, letters, and other such documents, we meet the townspeople, including historical figures Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, and Upton Sinclair.

This is not “Oates does Paranormal.” In the vein of nineteenth-century stories, the horror is implied rather than overt, and the demons and vampires much more sly. The true fright is how the curse manifests itself in the townspeople, as well as who and what are ultimately responsible. Here, Oates takes the microcosm of Princeton and broadens the scope to the national level through Sinclair’s luncheon with Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, then extends it even further to explain a plague on society for thousands of years.

No holes barred, the formidable Joyce Carol Oates unleashes a stream of prose to solidify her position as “the writing beast,” as I call her, unafraid, powerful, and a force in the bibliophilic universe.

The Accursed is so many things on so many levels, but the one thing that definitely shines through is Oates’ genius.

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Halloween Bash for the Books

Each year on the first weekend of October, my house changes. Usually a run-of-the-mill, suburban domicile, the front yard becomes a graveyard. Ghoulish creatures lurk behind bushes. Spider webs cover deformed gourds. Moving inside, books are the decoration of choice, surrounded by black candles, skulls and spiders, stacks of spine-tingling stories from classics to contemporary masterpieces.

Don’t you love Halloween? It’s a time when you can be whatever you want, the one day when no one is confined to his or her circumstances, not even a contemporary women’s fiction author who fancies her house to look like what she thinks Anne Rice’s should.

What better way to celebrate than a Literary Halloween Party? It's not too early to start your planning.

Here are a few suggestions for a frightfully fun evening.

Decide on a theme. A few of my favorites include Great Couples of Literature (Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Caesar and Cleopatra, Catherine and Heathcliff, and one of my all-time favorite duo costumes, Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale from The Scarlet Letter), Come as Your Favorite Author, and the always fun Dead Author party. Or how about Literary Monsters, but not just Frankenstein and Dracula, but centaurs, sirens and cyclops as well?

Invitations. Set the tone right off the bat (no pun intended). A few years back, I attached pulled and stretched cheesecloth to black card stock, then glued the famous picture of Bela Lugosi coming down the stairs. Inside, I put a quote from Dracula plus all of the other pertinent party information.

Decorations. For me, it’s all about creating a home that looks like a vampire family lives there. Not the Twilight ones, though. They are too contemporary and clean-looking. I mean the old-school goths with black, gargoyles and skulls. A few traditional pumpkins for carving are great, but I prefer the white ones or the faded, misshapen greenish-gray ones for a more ghostly feel.

Cheesecloth is great for creating an old, worn fabric texture for spider webs or tablecloths. Simple push your finger through the middle and rip. Keep pulling until the piece is sufficiently web-like.

Put a skull on top of a stack of horror novels. Add some gourds and maybe a plastic rat or mouse. Dress up your fireplace mantel with black wrought iron candelabras with black candles. Hang one of those fake portraits that changes to a skull head when someone walks by it. Here is another opportunity to use books. On mine, I add hardcover copies of The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Frankenstein, Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious riff on the funeral industry, The Loved One, and, of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

On your serving table, use unpolished silver pieces. Mix in gourds, small pumpkins and candles. Put dead roses in a vase and cover them with spider webs. Creepy, right?

Activities. Read “The Raven” or another classic Poe tale. Tell ghost stories, or create a running story, where each guest contributes a line.

Food and beverages. Why not re-name traditional Halloween food for the night? Serve some eerie punch with a block of dry ice in a cauldron courtesy of the three witches from Macbeth, or meat pies from Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. What about Dutch apple pie in the spirit of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Tales by Washington Irving?

Music. Greet your guests with Danse Macabre, Op. 40 or Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. There are many more magnificent, creepy classical pieces on iTunes, but these are two of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite literary Halloween party ideas?

(This piece originally ran on Writer Unboxed.)