We invited past and future Origami Zoo Press authors to the Origami Zoo for a special paper pumpkin-carving session… Well, it was more of a cutting session—paper jack-o-lanterns require scissors instead of knives. As we all tried to come up with the scariest jack-o-lantern, pleased that these paper faces would not rot anytime soon, we asked our writers about their favorite spooky books or stories. Here’s what they had to say.
Kate Bernheimer, author of Floater (out now!): Of course any number of creepy fairy tales are perfect to read aloud at this time of year, from Lucy Lane Clifford’s “The New Mother” to the Grimm tale “The Boy Who Set Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” etc. And who can pass up brilliant Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown Halloween special, which my siblings and I would wait all year for (it only aired on one night); we’d watch in our pajamas, eating buttered popcorn . . . I am certain that “I got a rock” is one of the saddest lines ever written in all literature. But there is one Halloween story whose consolations I return to over and over again: the perfect novel called Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg. which I found in the Waban Branch Library in the mid-1970s and signed out on its lined index card over and over again. This short novel with inky illustrations—by the visionary author herself—reliably delivers that powerful sensation of childhood reading we all ought to seek ever after: where the world of the book becomes the whole world and all else disappears. This book is about a friendship between two awkward, suburban girls, and begins on Halloween in the woods—both girls are dressed up as pilgrims. With its chants, dirt circles, raw eggs, apprenticeship, ointments, botany, underdog triumph over mean kids, its adventure and awareness of the profound ethics of friendship, this novel has all the motifs that magnetized me in the Waban Library when I was a child and which do to this day. I cannot resist its enchantments. I now understand the novel has deeply political themes (racism, class) which utterly eluded me as a kid. They only enhance my admiration for its vanguard author, E. L. Konigsburg, who died only this year and who is an undervalued American artist along with many writers “for children” whose work has been overlooked as vital, transgressive, and new. We should all write for children. I can’t tell you how many days I spent waiting under a tree in the woods outside of my childhood home, waiting for someone like Jennifer to show up in a tree—someone a lot like my daughter, now herself nine, who loves this novel as much as I do. We’ll tromp around our neighborhood Thursday, the dim lights of Tucson shining upon one very small wizard. She’s had her cauldron ready for weeks–dreaming of Halloween, she tells me. Her experience of everyday magic is a gift from a book.
Ben Hoffman, author of Together, Apart (winner of our 2012 chapbook contest, due out first quarter 2014!): There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby. There once lived a widow whose dead husband asked her to bury him. There once lived a gigantic woman who at night transformed into two smaller girls. There is a father who consumes a human heart. A cat and a girl who survive a plague in chilling fashion. A soldier whose dead wife warns him not to lift the veil off her corpse. (Spoiler: he lifts the veil!) These are the strange, bleak, funny, scary fairy tales of Russian writer Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, set in haunted houses and dark, desolate woods, where characters see the dead or talk to the dead or come back from the dead or will soon be dead or may already be dead.
Lena Bertone, author of Behind This Mirror (runner-up of our 2012 chapbook contest, due out second quarter 2014): Because I’m mortally terrified of ghosts and haunted houses, I prefer not to read about such things, especially on Halloween. I would therefore like to recommend a book to make readers forget about spooky, scary things. Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love is all about love, it is un-put-downable, and it’s really funny. It will make you temporarily forget that ghosts exist, if in fact they do exist. (Of course they do.) And when I just can’t help myself and I want to read about a ghost, but not a scary ghost–a frisky, hijinks- and booty-seeking ghost–then I go for Jorge Amado’s Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.
Laura van den Berg, author of There Will Be No More Good Nights Without Good Nights: Angela Carter’s wonderful collection The Bloody Chamber comes to mind immediately. Wolves, witches, and vampires, oh my.
Chad Simpson, author of Phantoms: How about “Yours” by Mary Robison? This isn’t really a Halloween story, but it’s filled with jack-o-lanterns, autumn, and death. I’m thinking I might recite it, over and over, to the 400 or so kids who are going to show up at my house on Thursday night wanting candy.
Anne Valente, author of An Elegy for Mathematics: I’ve always loved Halloween. In my family, October 1 is called Go Day, the day we pull the pumpkin lights and paper skeletons from storage bins and decorate the house. Go Day is also the day I start reading Halloween-like books, a list I compile each year around August. That there’s actually a list (I know): a lot of anticipation goes into Go Day. In September, I request the list from the library so that all of the books arrive by October 1. This year, I’m reading Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, a book my sister lent me that is definitely a Halloween read. 300 pages in, I’m finding myself staying in certain nights to read more about a reclusive horror film director, his missing daughter, and the underground cult following of his mysterious films. In past years, I’ve also loved the story collections of Robert Aickman. A writer of “strange stories,” his fiction is uncanny, ghostly, unsettling. I’ve read The Wine-Dark Sea, Cold Hand in Mine, and Painted Devils, all of which I’ve returned to again and again. Lastly, I also sometimes like non-fiction books about ghosts during the month of October. I’ve read Will Storr vs. the Supernatural, a journalist’s take on seances, mediums and haunted homes, and this year I’m reading a book called Ghosthunters by John Kachuba, which involves vignette-like chapters about ghosts and hauntings across the country.
Brian Oliu, author of Level End: My mother was a librarian and so after school each day I would get dropped off at the library. The library was the smallest in the state of New Jersey and would often get only one copy of the book, which would be reserved well in advance by one of the patrons. This meant I would have between the time the book arrived and the time the person would come in to pick up the book to finish reading it; often sneaking into the back room to read as I suffered from horrible night terrors after reading Dean Koontz’ The Eyes of Darkness when I was eight and I did not want my mother finding out that I was reading something I shouldn’t. Most of the time I wasn’t able to finish the books in their entirety—I’d get a small snippet before someone came to pick it up, but it was enough to get a small sample of the plot and the language. Considering the majority of best sellers were thrillers or murder mysteries I would manage to scare myself half to death; not because of what was written, but because what I would imagine what happened next: a consequence of not ‘drinking deep’ and instead having my imagination fill the gaps with whatever horrible thing I could dream up.
BJ Hollars, author of In Defense of Monsters: My favorite Halloween book, hands down, has to be Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree. At least I think it is. Or I know it used to be. I’m actually teaching it in my fiction class on Wednesday, so maybe I should re-read the thing and get back to you. The book’s great for a number of reasons, but perhaps the reason I love it most is because of the backstory. Ray told me this himself, so I have good reason to believe it’s true. Apparently he got the idea for the book after he and his family watched It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. Legend has it that as the credits began to roll, his daughter stood, proclaimed that the show sucked, and proceeded to kick the television set. Ray thought to himself, “I can do better.” And I’m pretty sure he did.