Life is still weird, and some days are hard, so it’s especially nice when you find a few reasons to celebrate. September has gifted me with some good ones.
Reason to Celebrate #1: FALL
The official start of fall is still a few days away, but last week the Texas summer took its leave. The temperatures dropped, the oppressive humidity blew away, and we even had a few days of hard rain and thunderstorms. There’s nothing quite like that first burst of cool weather after the long, hot months. I was so happy, I went out and bought my first pumpkin. It won’t be lonely for long.
Reason to Celebrate #2: A SMOOTH-ISH START TO THE SCHOOL YEAR
The drop in temperature coincided with the first day of school for my district. On Tuesday, September 8th, we began online teaching. Despite thunderstorms and power failures and zoom fatigue and even a mass internet outage that affected most of our school’s neighborhoods one day, it was still a successful start to the year. The students arrived ready to learn, and the teachers welcomed them with smiles and reassurances and well-planned virtual lessons.
It’s hard though. The amount of work that goes in behind the scenes to make that smoothness possible is too large for most people who don’t work in education to truly understand, and it means that sometimes dinner looks like this:
But we did it, and we’re still doing it, and we’ll keep doing it to the best of our ability. I’m very proud of my campus and my coworkers and my community. This morning, while walking the trail in my neighborhood, I saw this painted rock, and it felt like such a gift. I’m sending it out to all my fellow teachers.
Reason to Celebrate #3: GHOST STORIES
October is just a few short weeks away, which means ghost storyseason is almost upon us, so I’m excited that my new book, The Ghostly Tales of New England, is now available! This slim, but spooky volume includes twenty-two true stories of historical haunts in Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island, and it’s the perfect companion to a cup of hot chocolate and a campfire.
A friend of mine read some the stories to her six-year-old daughter, and now she’s writing a scary story of her own! It’s called “The Bodiless Foot,” and it comes with some wicked illustrations.
I think we have a new horror author in the making.
Speaking of writing inspiration, I’m doubly excited because Austin Bat Cave has asked me to teach an online Ghost Stories Workshop on October 17th. If you know a 5th-8th grader with a love of writing and a flair for the macabre, consider signing them up. Space is limited, so reserve your spot soon.
I’m grateful for these reasons to celebrate, and I’m always on the lookout for more. Let me know if you find any.
October is here, and that means one thing: neck aches. Why? Because if you’re smart, you’ll constantly be looking over your shoulder.
October is the month of Halloween. It is the month when spirits roam the earth, and the dead play tricks on the living, and creepy crawlies have their fun.
October is also the month of poor choices. It is the month when people decide to watch slasher movies at midnight during thunderstorms, and hunt vampires at sundown, and say things like, “Let’s split up!” when there’s a madman on the loose and their cell phone battery has just died.
Every year, I spend October scaring my loved ones and scaring my neighbors and (ultimately) scaring myself. Despite my knowledge of October’s wiles and my propensity for carrying flashlights into the dark and peering out windows before opening doors and always, always, always checking behind shower curtains, I too make poor choices during this month of spooks and specters. I often spend so much time looking behind me that I run face first into a spider’s web. Or I wander into the yard at night to bring the dog inside, only to realize that our dog is in the house and isn’t the thing making that snuffling sound in the bushes. Or, sometimes, I get distracted and accidentally trick myself with my own traps. (A hazard of haunting.)
This year, though, I’m taking my October foolishness to a whole new level.
This time tomorrow, I’ll be flying (alone) to Pennsylvania to spend five days in a remote cabin in the mountains with ten strangers who write horror. Oh, and there’s limited cell phone service.
Why would I do such a thing? Because I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to attend the Books With Bite workshop at the Highlights Foundation. There, I will study with authors Nova Ren Suma and Micol Ostow, and that is worth sleeping with one eye open while cuddling a baseball bat.
Still, if you haven’t heard from me in week, send help. Just make sure the person comes alone, at night, in a car that’s low on gas, and doesn’t tell anyone where they’re going first.
After all, it’s October.
* * * * *
October is also my birthday month, and I love giving gifts almost as much as I love getting them, so I’m hosting a giveaway. On November 1st, I’ll be selecting three winners to receive one of the following prizes:
A copy of The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (the first book in my favorite series: Lockwood & Co.)
A copy of Susan Rooke’s debut fantasy novel, The Space Between (Susan is a friend of mine and I’m so excited about her new book!)
Your choice of one of the journals from my Etsy shop.
To enter, just comment on one of my October blog posts OR share one of the posts on social media, and use my contact form to send me a link to it. Each person can enter up to five times, so feel free to share on multiple platforms. Good luck!
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.