Deb Kelly here. I am so tickled that my post day fell on one of my favoritest holidays. Halloween is such a fantastic celebration, so very American in its expression, so all-inclusive and nondenominational and indiscriminate in its merriment that I truly believe it should be a federal holiday. (Although, that being said, who would want to stay home from school or work on the one day a year you can wear fuzzy ear headbands or sparkling wings without scorn?)
I love everything about this day. The way it forces us outside just as the weather is growing uncomfortably cold. The way we knock on neighbors’ doors, perhaps for the only time that year, and shout at them until they give us sugar. The way even adults start thinking about what they’ll be dressing up as the minute they turn to October on their google calendar, the pumpkin patches you ride a tractor to get to, the Addams family marathons on tv, the one guy on every street who just goes too crazy with strange stuffed ‘bodies’ on the lawn. I love its pagan history, and its personal history. Because you can’t get much older than 10 in this nation without having a Halloween to remember. In my mid-thirties I have more than I could ever relate.
Here’s a glimpse into my personal history with Halloween. I hope you’ll share yours in the comments, so I can collect them in my imagination and add even more meaning to this magical day.
Trick-or-treating in my bestie’s neighborhood when we were so small that the missing sidewalks and long dark walks between houses in my own country neighborhood were not conducive to maximum candy haul. One year Jennifer was a tiger, the next a clown. The year after that, a tiger. Then a clown. Jennifer was and is a practical woman. Me less so—the only common theme in my costumes year over year is that they were inscrutible to anyone other than me. The door creaking open in house after house and adults crying gleefully, “Oh, a tiger! And a… what are you supposed to be, honey?”
My older brother setting up positively cinematic haunted houses in our basement for me and my delighted friends to squeal our way through. I loved him for it, until my girlfriends fell in love with him for it. It was sort of a nightmare on two levels, having to hear how sweeeeeeeet and cuuuuuuute my icky older brother was, just seconds before he jumped out at us in a horrifying zombie mask. But secretly I was so proud to be his sister.
Suiting up as a –oh modern wonder!—CAR PHONE in a gigantic foam costume on behalf of a sponsor at a halloween benefit when I was in high school. The phone suit was a blessing on two levels—one that the company who provided the suit paid so handsomely to have it wander around the safe halloween party for kids of all abilities. And two that I could avoid having to come up with a stupid sexy cat costume like all the other girls in my class.
Wandering through the hallowed halls of the American Museum of Natural History dressed as Word Girl, the PBS heroine who saves the world one vocabulary word at a time. I volunteered there as a docent year round, but Halloween was the day when it all paid off in big ego dividends. For one day every year I was the hottest A-List celeb the museum could ever host. Kids would drop whatever priceless fossil they were holding and dash over to Word Girl positively shaking with excitement. The costume was so ungainly that I had to have a special shadow guide me through the museum, whispering things like, “Do you need to hydrate?” and “Nod twice when you need to use the bathroom.” This, dear friends, is what I imagine it is like to be a movie star.
Closing on our first (and so far only) house on Halloween and then rushing to the store to buy candy and get ready for trick-or-treaters for the first time. We rustled through the boxes and boxes and boxes in our new house until we found something approximating constumes (was I bubble wrap that year?) and then met our neighbors—or at least their kids—with so much candy we could have fed the entire city of Madison.
And this year, taking the BLB to an indoor Halloween party at a local hotel with friends. It was pouring down rain outside and the BLB started out in a terrible mood, terrified of his toucan/parrot/I don’t know what bird it is supposed to be costume, overwhelmed by the sheer number of strangers in every direction. But within minutes we found a dimly lit room decorated in a space theme, with a giant adult-sized alien who was friendly, gave out stickers and ruled over the greatest invention of all time: a bubble machine. And under the alien’s careful ministrations, the little tropical bird man relaxed, gazed at the bubbles, and fell in love with his mother’s favorite holiday.
When I was growing up, there were rules. Not crazy rules. More like “Halloween candy isn’t for breakfast” rules. Or “you can’t wear skirts so short they show your lady parts” rules. As someone now closer to making the rules as a parent than having to follow them, I now see these weren’t so much rules as they were common sense.
In sixth grade, however, I befriended a girl whose parents had very few, if any, rules. For the sake of anonymity, let us call her Faye.
Faye could wear, eat, and do pretty much whatever she wanted. Her mother — let us call her Rose — wore fake eyelashes and tight jeans and sprayed her cock-a-poo dogs with Calvin Klein Obsession so that they would smell “fresh.” She made us virgin Kahlua mudslides, and she let Faye wear press-on nails, go to pop concerts, and cut all of her Barbies’ hair. And, on top of all of that, she let Faye watch scary movies.
At that age — eleven — I didn’t have much experience with scary movies or books. I’d seen a few scary-ish movies at friends’ sleepover parties, and I’d read a few R.L. Stine books, but beyond that, my exposure was fairly limited.
Faye’s parents, on the other hand, let her watch scary movies to her heart’s content. And so one night when I arrived at Faye’s for a sleepover, Faye gleefully announced that after dinner, once it was good and dark and her parents were asleep, we’d be watching Stephen King’s It.
Have you seen or read It? If so, then you know it is not a movie (or book) for eleven-year olds — unless you want to scare them to death, imperil their ability to sleep for at least a week (probably longer), and ensure they never look at clowns the same way again. If you have an eleven-year old and this is your goal, please show him or her It immediately.
For those of your who haven’t seen It, the story is about a mysterious predator (“It”), who can take the form of its prey’s greatest phobias but most often appears as “Pennywise the Dancing Clown.” Pennywise seems like your standard friendly clown, offering smiles and balloons, until — BAM! — he opens his mouth and reveals a set of razor sharp teeth, which he uses to murder his victims.
As you can imagine, Pennywise — and It generally — scared the bejesus out of me. Take a look at this clip below, and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. Thanks to the scene beginning at 2:55, I was basically afraid of my shower for a month.
What scared me about Pennywise — and Stephen King is a master at this — is that Pennywise wasn’t a four-headed monster. He wasn’t a witch or a goblin or a zombie. He was a clown. A clown like the ones I’d seen at dozens of birthday parties. A clown like the one who came to my own birthday party when I turned four. But instead of making balloon animals or doing magic tricks, this clown lured children in and then ATE THEM.
For me, that’s what took a scary premise (mysterious being who eats children) and turned it into something flat-out terrifying (trusted childhood entertainer who eats children). Sure, flesh-eating zombies are hideous and scary, and they probably would have given me nightmares too, but because Pennywise was so familiar, so “normal,” he — It — got in my brain and wouldn’t leave.
And that, for me at least, is what makes a story truly spooky or scary: eliciting fear from the everyday, the familiar, the humdrum. Doing so makes us look differently at the world around us (“Could a clown pop out of my shower drain, too?” “Could my cute little puppy turn into Cujo?” “What if my house is haunted or cursed?”). I will never look at clowns the same way again, and I have Mr. King to thank for that.
We are bred to smell fear in things that are unusual or outwardly creepy, but if the commonplace things around us warrant our vigilance as well, then we begin to wonder if we’re ever really safe. If something as silly as a clown can make me sleep with the light on for a week, then what else should I be afraid of?
What about you? Have you seen a movie that scared the pants off you? Did it involve monsters and demons, or everyday subject matter?
**Editor’s Note: Deb Dana is among our many East Coast friends and family coping today with the effects of Hurricane Sandy. We send our best to everyone in the path of the storm and our prayers to those who have suffered in its wake. -KW
I’m not much for the spooky stuff, to tell you the truth.
I grew up believing that the Devil was a very real and frightening entity. None of that Halloween or cartoon silliness with the horns and the tail and the pitchfork for me. Oh no. He was presented in full power mode: fallen angel, dragon, the darkest forces of evil in one malevolent and powerful being. The only entity stronger was God, and as a child I was never quite sure whether God would choose to protect me or not, due to my many and varied faults and failings.
Tales were told of possessions and exorcisms. People I knew claimed to have been present – to have heard demon voices speaking from human throats, to have witnessed humans harming themselves because of a demon within. A demon could choke you in your sleep, take over your body and your mind. Maybe even kill you, or make you kill somebody else. It didn’t take much to open the door to the forces of evil – a small sin, a lack of trust in the All Powerful God – and you were at risk. To make it even more fun, the Devil could show up in his Angel of Light persona too, anytime, tempting you with his beauty and mellifluous voice. Danger was ever present, protection at the whim of a God who loved me but apparently had no qualms about allowing me to learn from my mistakes.
Although I no longer lie awake and quivering in the dark for fear that something evil is headed my way, I’m not crazy about horror movies and books. To this day I won’t watch movies that play out possession stories – Rosemary’s Baby, Damien, The Exorcist. I accidentally watched Christine once and was freaked out for days. Yes, I know the concept of a possessed car is OUT THERE, but the images wouldn’t leave me alone. Dean Koontz is my favorite horror writer because in his books the right side always wins out in the end.
Maybe this is why Halloween – watered down, candy-crazed celebration that is has become – makes me a little uneasy. People took it more seriously once upon a time, when it was All Hallows Eve and everybody knew what that meant. Spirits walked the earth on that night. Carved pumpkins and turnips with a candle inside were meant to keep the evil at bay. It wasn’t a festival for children; it was serious business.
I tend to light candles at Halloween, as light against the dark. The fabric of reality seems thin to me, and I still wonder what is on the other side and whether -something- might break through. I laugh at myself for this, but do it all the same.
However, since I recognize that most people like to be scared, and in the spirit of Halloween, my gift to you is a classic spooky story in video form. I will warn you that some people are truly freaked out by this little clip and it truly is not for the faint of heart. Now that you have been duly warned, I present to you The Cat with the Hands. You are welcome.
What about you? Do you like the spooky scary stuff, or is it a little too real for you? Any movies or books that TOTALLY freaked you out and kept you from sleeping?
Deb Dish – What’s your all-time favorite Halloween costume (your own, or one you’ve seen)?
Deb Dana: In terms of my own, about nine or ten years ago I went as what we would now call a “Real Housewife,” but that was before such a TV show or franchise existed (what can I say, I was ahead of my time). I wore a velour tracksuit and donned an orange spray tan and bright blonde wig, and I carried around a fake mini dog and my own martini glass, which I kept filled all night. I also scrounged up a bunch of prescription pill bottles, which I filled with tic tacs, and let the bottles peek and spill out of my purse all night. It made for interesting conversation, to be sure.
Deb Kelly: I have terrible Halloween costumes. Basically I use Halloween as an excuse to wear sweatpants in public. Dana’s costume would have been right up my alley. Maybe this year I will be a yoga instructor or a 1970′s gym coach.
Deb Kerry: I haven’t had a costume since I was a kid, or at least a very young adult. None of them were memorable, except for those cheap plastic masks that cut into your skin and made it nearly impossible to see. My brother went as a box one year, which I figured was pretty cool.
Deb Susan: Back in the early 1990s my dad went to a costume party hosted by some friends. He went as the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz (his girlfriend went as Dorothy). The evening of the party, I went up to his house and used a glue gun to hot-glue straw into all the cuffs of his overalls and shirt and under his hat (along with a couple of pieces that inadvertently ended up glued to his socks, his wrist and the back of his neck – sorry Dad!). When we finished, he made a fantastic scarecrow. It’s my favorite, I think, because it let me reverse all the years of dad-and-mom helping me on Halloween.
Deb Amy: The year after I got divorced I went to a Halloween party as a black widow spider. I’d say that was my favorite! Second fave? The next year I went dressed all in gold and carried a shovel. You guessed it! A gold digger!
Your Turn!! Tell us about your favorite Halloween costume – your own, your kids’, or one you saw wandering around. If you don’t have a favorite, tell us: are you dressing up this year?
We are thrilled to welcome guest author Jennifer Chiaverini to our ball this week! Jennifer is the author of the New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as five collections of quilt patterns inspired by her novels. Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, Quiltmaker’s 100 Blocks Volumes 3-5, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter. She has taught writing at Penn State and Edgewood College and designs the Elm Creek Quilts fabric lines from Red Rooster Fabrics. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. A most wonderful city for quilting and writing both!
We invited Jennifer to take the Deb Interview and she graciously agreed. So without further ado, here’s Jennifer:
Which talent do you wish you had?
I wish I could draw! I manage well enough drawing quilts, quilt blocks, and patterns using Adobe Illustrator, but I wish I could also sketch people, landscapes, and buildings with pencil and paper. I’d love to be able to complement the descriptions of characters and settings in my novels with my own illustrations, but sadly, that’s beyond my abilities.
What are the hardest and easiest things about your job?
The easiest thing about my job is my commute. After having breakfast, sending the kids out to meet the school bus, and pouring myself a second cup of tea, I simply walk down the hallway to my office and get to work. The most difficult aspect of my job is the book tour. As lovely as it is to meet readers, booksellers, and librarians from across the country—and it is, very much—it’s difficult for my family, and for me, when I’m away from home so long. That’s why it’s especially important for readers to come out to my events, to remind me how important and worthwhile it is for me to go out on the road.
What three things would you want with you if stranded on a desert island?
Sunblock with a high SPF, lots of water, and a satellite phone so I could summon a rescue team.
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
My grandmother thought that Sylvia Bergstrom Compson was based upon her, and I discovered her misunderstanding at a rather awkward moment. The Quilter’s Apprentice had just been published, and my book tour had brought me to one of my favorite bookstores, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, the city where I was born. My grandmother sat proudly in the front row, and as I was preparing for my reading, I overheard her say to the woman seated beside her, “The main character, Sylvia, is based upon me, but I never made a quilt in my life!” I was very surprised to hear that—and a little dismayed, because Sylvia was not based upon my grandmother. She seemed so proud, though, that afterward, I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth. Instead, when I had the opportunity to introduce new characters in my third novel, The Cross-Country Quilters, I decided to model a new character upon her. I assumed that she would read the book and recognize herself, because there were several important clues: My grandmother’s name was Virginia, but most people called her Ginny; the character was named Lavinia, but she went by Vinnie. Both Ginny and Vinnie were born in Cincinnati. My grandmother lost her mother when she was only five years old, and so did the fictional character. My grandmother had a brother named Hank, and Vinnie had a brother named Frank—let’s just say that I thought the similarities were unmistakable, but they escaped my grandmother’s notice. Of course, she thought she was Sylvia, and so she wasn’t looking for herself in other characters. I admit I never did tell her the truth.
What’s your next big thing?
Within the next year, the nineteenth and twentieth Elm Creek Quilts novels,Sonoma RoseandThe Giving Quilt, will be released in paperback. My next novel,Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, will be published in January 2013. I absolutely loved researching and writing this book, and I hope my readers will be as captivated as I was by the life of Elizabeth Keckley, the former slave who became the dressmaker and trusted confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln. In Fall 2013, Plume will publish a reader’s guide to the Elm Creek Quilts series,An Elm Creek Quilts Companion, which will include character biographies, a Bergstrom family tree, descriptions of significant places and things, illustrations of quilt blocks, an interview with the Elm Creek Quilters, and a few other reference tools readers have told me they’d like to have at their fingertips. While writing theCompanion, I’ve enjoyed reading through all twenty of the Elm Creek Quilts novels, revisiting favorite settings and tracing the winding paths my characters have followed through the years. It’s been quite a journey for me as well.
Thank you for making the Debutante Ball part of your journey, Jennifer. We wish you happy stitching, touring and writing… and a mild Wisconsin winter!
Keep up with Jennifer online here and don’t miss any of her upcoming releases or tour dates!
I don’t care for it, but doesn’t get in my way, clutter my inbox, or try to get me to buy, let’s say whole-sale-something-or-other. I don’t have to pluck it off the shelf if I don’t want it. I don’t need help removing it if by accident someone throws it into my cart. This Spam may be canned meat, but it’s the other spam I find somewhat uncanny.
Comment spam! Every blogger’s nightmare.
This week The Debutante Ball has been spammed so many times in the comments section, I dare say The Debs have lost count. We’ve been told our C7hri*mas sotires are wUnderfal. And lordie, if some of them don’t really want us to buy some whole-$ale-watches-0nlyne. Others seem to be having conversations with someone for a paragraph or two before saying how the c0ntent on the bl0g is sooplime.
And I’m reading this crap which is all a bunch of mushed up words, smooshed together trying to look like something it’s not.
Just like the other spam!
The Debs have changed settings, marked comments, said prayers, and done the secret anti-spam dance (sorry debs, I know I said I wouldn’t tell). So bear with us, if you see a funky comment that we’ve missed, please let us know.
And in the mean time, I have FABULOU$ links to luxury watches and some high powered vacuum cleaners, if anyone is interested.
What’s your worst story about spam? Do you ever wonder about the ding dongs who make that comment spam happen? They may not be villains — but they are certainly nobody’s hero except their own.
And most importantly — have you ever eaten SPAM? Now’s your chance to ‘fess up!
When your novel features a ninja assassin as its protagonist, you have to think long and hard about what makes a villain.
Ultimately, villainy is usually a matter of perspective.
Real villains aren’t the mustache-twirling cardboard cutouts of Saturday-morning cartoon fame. Snidely Whiplash is funny, but not really frightening. Horror villains, like Nightmare on Elm Street’s infamous Freddy Krueger, are scary for a moment but not in a way that makes you think. (Sweet dreams the night you see it, though.)
The truly lasting, classic villains – the ones we love to hate (or hate to love) - are the ones which display humanity beneath their selfish goals.
(Alan Rickman as Severus Snape, image obtained from Wikipedia Commons, used for non-profit commentary under the U.S. Fair Use Doctrine)
J.K. Rowling’s Severus Snape (both in the books and as brilliantly portrayed by Alan Rickman in the films) is such a villain. He is hostile, dark, and blessed with both the power to terrorize Harry Potter and brilliantly-written lines with which to do so. Yet that alone does not make him a brilliant villain. His true strength lies in the fact that he also has reasons to love Harry Potter – and does, in a way – and yet hates the fact that he does so.
Snape’s villainy is born of personal conflict.
To write a lasting villain, an author must dive beneath the surface and understand the story from the villain’s point of view. In the hero’s world, the villain exists as a stumbling block, a threat to the hero and those he aims to save. But the villain’s perspective on the tale is different. In the villain’s world the hero must not succeed, for reasons the villain considers both legitimate and justified. The key, for the author, is knowing those reasons as well as (s)he knows the hero’s motivations to succeed.
Snape loathes Harry Potter because Harry had what Snape desired most of all – the love of Lily Potter – and because Harry wears the face of the man who guaranteed that love would remain forever beyond Snape’s reach. Severus Snape is wounded, not evil, and from those wounds (and some very bad choices) antagonism springs.
To me, the best villain is the one whose version of the story casts the villain as the hero. The one whose villainy springs from circumstances, choices, and an extra dash of selfishness (or sometimes bad intent).
The most frightening villain is not the one who springs out of a closet or ties a princess to a railroad track.
It’s the one who makes me stop and think “there, but for choice and circumstance, go I.”
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