The air is getting cooler, and my yard is filled with pumpkins and creepy creatures, including Edward Broomhands, who’s new to the family. I have the theme song from The Blob stuck in my head, and all my smiley faces have fangs, and I’m happy, HAPPY, HAPPY because my favorite month is here!
Last year I wrote NINE Halloween-related blog posts during the month of October. Wow. Sadly, I have no intention of trying to break that record this year, or even tie it. My little witchy heart wants to, but between jobs and novel revisions and various festive events on the calendar, I just don’t have the time. Plus I’ve got those zombies to kill, that monster to reincarnate, some apples to poison, and somewhere in there I’ve got to get these horns looked at. See? I’m swamped. In fact, if you see me blogging more than three times this month, STOP ME! It means I’m neglecting something important. Or I’ve been possessed.
But before I leave you to your own ghoulish amusements, here are a few things I think you should know.
Fun Literary Halloween Events
First, there are some really cool Halloween-themed literary events in Austin this month. Or literary-themed Halloween events. I’m not sure. I just know they all sound awesome.
Texas Book Festival Lit Crawl – On the night of October 17th, authors and book-lovers will be gathering all over the city for unique interactive events such as games, trivia, and collaborative short stories. One session called Are You Afraid of the Dark? will be held in the Texas State Cemetery, where YA authors will tell spooky tales and ghost stories.
SCBWI Ghost Tour – If you’re a member of SCBWI, join the Austin chapter for a ghost tour on October 28th, when we’ll take a haunted moonlight walk through some of Austin’s creepiest history.
A Special Gift
Last year, I posted a plea to anyone who reads my blog to help me find the Halloween artwork my dad made for me that was stolen several years ago. Unfortunately, my post turned up no leads, and I came to terms with the fact that I’d probably never see the thing again. That’s still true. But this year, my dad made me a new one that’s even bigger and more awesome that the one that was taken.
Thanks, Dad! I love it. And to any would-be thieves out there, you should know that this one has been secured so that you can’t run off with it. It’s also been cursed. Anyone who steals it will be doomed for all eternity. Oh and my pumpkins are also cursed. And my car. And my mail. And my potted plants. Look, just don’t steal from me. Everything I own is cursed.
And last, but certainly not least…
We Are All Being Watched
It’s now hammock weather in Austin, which I love. About a week ago, I spent three hours reading in my hammock in the backyard. When the sun went down and I could no longer see my book, I got my book light and a blanket and kept reading. I stayed out until about 9:30 p.m. While I was out there, I kept seeing tiny greenish glints coming from the grass in various places. I wondered what was reflecting the light, worried it might be something sharp like a piece of broken glass. I meant to check later but forgot and by the time I remembered I couldn’t find them again.
A few nights later, while standing on the back porch shining a flashlight in the backyard (because I thought I heard something), I saw them again—a tiny green sparkle under the rosemary bush, another under the hammock, a third by the bird bath, a fourth in the grass. I decided to investigate.
You know what they are? Spider eyes! They are the eyes of spiders. Spiders that are looking at ME with their spider eyes.
Not enough bats in your belfry? Too much eye of newt in your witch’s brew? Ghosts hanging a little limp? Clowns refusing to cooperate? Have no fear! Er… wait. Scratch that. Have MORE fear! Master your Halloween decor with these tips.
6. Heads Will Roll! (That’s Why You Have to Weigh Them Down.)
It’s always a little embarrassing when your neighbor comes over after a windy day, hands you a skull, and says, “Um, I think this might be yours.” Then you’re all like, “Alas! I mean, thanks. I was looking for that.” These days, people are doing amazing things with Styrofoam, which means we no longer have to rob cemeteries or steal from medical schools to have realistic-looking Halloween decorations. But while plastic and Styrofoam look like the real thing, they do not carry the heft of a real human head, making them easy playthings for the wind. Therefore, you have to find a way to make them stay put. Following this simple advice will help keep you from losing your head this Halloween.
Options: Hollow plastic skulls are easy to weigh down with gravel or a few golf ball sized rocks. If there’s no hole in the skull, just make one, either on the bottom, if you want to be discrete, or on the top if you want to secure it to the ground and give it a gruesome cause of death. Styrofoam skulls can be stuck to the ground with a stake or a piece of a wire clothes hanger. Then again, they don’t actually have to sit on the ground at all. This year, I have a levitating skull that bobbles at the end of a wire hanger two feet above my graveyard.
[Note: It’s not just skulls that get away from us. The wind can wreak havoc with all kinds of decorations. Don’t be afraid to get tough on those tangled spider webs and flapping phantoms. Unruly poltergeist? Fix that ghost to a post! Fool climbing onto your roof? Tie that clown down! Show those ghouls who’s boss.]
7. The Materials Are Coming from Inside the House!
Trying to get a decoration to work? Before you run to the store for supplies, look around your house. You may find everything you need to make that ghost or goblin come alive. Here are some normal household items that come in handy when spookifying your yard:
Wire Clothes Hangers: I’ve already mentioned the benefits of pieces of wire for securing skulls, but they can also be useful whole. Those bats in the photo above are all attached to one wire hanger which was then easily draped over a small tree branch. Can’t see it in the photo, can you? You also can’t see it in real life. It blends right in with the tree much better than even twine does and now there are no knots to untie or strings to cut. I did the same thing with four small ghosts, hung at varying heights on one hanger, and they came out pretty good too.
Shepherd Hooks: These garden tools are perfect for hanging lanterns or creepy signs or ghosts. Like the hangers, they pretty much disappear at night. This year, I used one of mine to hang a skeleton, who sways flirtatiously just above the grass, and display a lightweight haunt who appears to be swooping forward. For other months, these hooks are also easy to turn into candy canes by wrapping them with red and white lights.
Bed Sheets: This may sound unoriginal, but old bedsheets really do make good ghosts. For my ghost this year, I used a sheet draped over a $1 green plastic pumpkin, with holes cut out of it so that the eyes show through. I also weighed down the plastic pumpkin with a few rocks to keep it from flapping around too much.
Other Useful Items to Keep in Your Decorating Box:
Large safety pins
Black spray paint
8. See the Terror, Hear the Terror, FEEL the Terror!
[Note: Readers who live in my neighborhood, why don’t you just go ahead and skip this tip. That’s it. Move right along to number 9. Nothing to see here. Or hear here, or feel here…]
All too often, our Halloween decorations are focused only on sight, but, as with any creative endeavor, we should really be trying to appeal to as many senses as possible. If a trick-or-treater can simply close her eyes to avoid the horrors of your house, then it isn’t as horrible as it could be.
Sound: There are lots of store-bought Halloween decorations that make sounds, usually either ear-piercing screams or creepy sayings delivered from a mouth whose movements don’t quite match the words. But if you want something a little different, that costs next to nothing and doesn’t require batteries, I’ll let you in on a pretty genius little idea I had. [Neighbors! I told you to skip this tip! Shoo! Shoo!] Ok, here it is. Get the biggest bubble wrap you can find. If you’re like us, you won’t even need to buy any. You can just go into your garage and pull it out of all the Amazon boxes that you’ve been meaning to recycle all year. Then lay a big piece of it on your sidewalk or front porch and put a thin rug on top of it. Not a doormat– that’s too heavy. Just a little throw rug. When the little monsters get close to your door, POW! POW! It’s great to watch them jump. The only problem is that some of them figure it out and start jumping up and down to pop them all. But that’s ok. Just have more sheets on standby and switch them out between groups of trick-or-treaters.
Touch: This one’s great because it gets the parents. [Neighbors, for the last time, GO AWAY! Stick around any longer and I’ll put a toad in your kids’ trick-or-treat bags on Halloween night. Or a cup of coffee.] I can’t take credit for this one. It was my husband’s doing. All you need is: a screen door or glass door that opens out, some fishing line, a small hook, and a giant spider. Above our front porch, we have several giant hairy spiders clinging to the gutters and drain pipes. They are not especially “realistic” looking, but they are awesome and make really fun decorations. However, one of those spiders is connected to a fishing line that goes through a hook on the top of our porch and connects to our glass door. So… when the glass door opens, the giant spider drops down. The kids are usually out of range either because they’re too short or because they’re too close to the door, but the smiling moms and dads standing a few feet back? They make perfect vicitms. 🙂
To add the sense of smell to your Halloween display, read on. As far as TASTING the terror? I guess you could buy really bad candy, but that just seems mean.
9. Carve Real Jack-o-Lanterns.
I’ll probably get some push-back on this one due to concerns about sharp objects and fire hazards and vegetable abuse, but there is nothing like the feel of pumpkin guts squishing beneath your fingers, nothing like the smell of candle-singed pumpkin flesh, nothing like the flicker of flame casting shadows behind triangle-shaped eyes and sharp, pointy teeth. I hate to say it, but those little LED things don’t even come close. But even if you do opt for a light that doesn’t actually burn, at least carve a pumpkin. Or two. Or twenty. Let them light the way for all the little monsters that will soon show up at your door.
One of the joys of carving real pumpkins is the wait. I don’t have any pictures of this year’s crop yet, because it’s much too early to carve them. Jack-o-lanterns don’t last long in a Texas autumn. Within days, their pointy teeth will curl in, revealing wrinkly gums, and their eye sockets will turn black and fuzzy. Lift the lid and you’re sure to get one last eerie surprise, as spider-webby mold stretches from the rotting bowl within. I taped skeletons to my windows and hung ghosts over my graveyard at the end of September with no worries except that the neighbors might give me funny looks. But jack-o-lanterns… they have to wait.
If you think you’ve outgrown the ritual of pumpkin-carving, read “The Things a Picture Holds” by Annie Neugebauer, and see if it doesn’t make you want to run to the store for a pumpkin and a sharp knife, and maybe some s’mores fixings too.
Skip this one if you must. Or buy plastic gourds and glow sticks if you really want to. But at my house, there will always be at least one real pumpkin with a lit candle and that unmistakable aroma of a Halloween tradition.
10. Be weird.
Austin, Texas, is known for keeping things weird. I appreciate that and help out whenever I can. No matter where you live, when you decorate for Halloween this year, be creative, be scary, be thorough, but also be a little bit weird. Include a random skull-on-a-stick in your cemetery or cage something that doesn’t look like it needs to be caged or put your yard art in costumes. It scares people in whole different way.
Whatever you do this Halloween, have fun, be safe, and don’t forget to check behind you once in a while. After all, the best decorated yards are the ones that make it easiest for the real creatures to hide.