Why is Halloween important to you?
I love the creativity and mystery that come on Halloween, the celebration of imagination, the ritual of taking frightening things like skulls and bats and making something fun and exciting of them. It's the one holiday that encourages people to choose an alter ego for the day by putting on a costume, the one day we're encouraged to turn down the lights and let in the shadows. When I was young, I loved putting on a costume and trick-or-treating. As I grew, the focus of Halloween turned to spending time with friends, watching scary movies, pretending, perhaps, that spirits really did walk the earth on Halloween night. These days, I still love the scary movies, but I also enjoy the decorations, which have become much more elaborate than when I was a kid, and I enjoy the excitement in my children when they put on their costumes and head out trick-or-treating with their friends. Part of me, though, still likes to stay up past midnight with a horror movie marathon, one ear perked in hopes of hearing an eerie knock at the door or the stray whisper of something otherworldly passing in the night.
Describe your ideal Halloween.
The Halloweens I've enjoyed best have involved costume parties. My friends tried to outdo each other for creative or wild costumes. Or they came as their favorite movie monster in detailed, authentic outfits. One year, I went as Dracula, complete with cape, fangs, and fake blood capsules to bite and dribble out of my mouth. The costume parties pushed us to go out on a limb, take a risk, give each other a thrill or a laugh. For one night we created our own world where we could be someone different for as long as we stayed in costume. But it's been a long time since those parties. These days, my ideal Halloween involves non-stop horror movies playing in the background, usually a little horror writing, then taking my children trick-or-treating, and negotiating for my meager share of the candy haul when we get home.
What Halloween collectibles do you cherish, or hate, or both?
My favorite Halloween item is a giant vampire bat with a six-foot wingspan that we hang over our garage door every year. It's eyes light up, and it freaks people out. Small children avoid it. It's great! But I'm also a sucker for jack-o'-lanterns in any form. I always carve at least one very traditional jack-o'-lantern each year, just to keep the spirits away, of course. For me, that's the icon of Halloween, and I enjoy going out at night to see the glowing pumpkin faces. There's not much I hate, but I do sort of lament the proliferation of giant inflatable Halloween decorations. Some of them are pleasantly creepy, but, to me, it goes against the creative grain of Halloween to simply load up your front lawn with those things versus putting some imagination into a display. I'm a fan of clever Halloween displays. I've been lucky enough at times to live near homes where people go all out, changing everything over for Halloween, and even appearing in costume on Halloween night to give out some scares, and a few goodies as well.
When was your very first Halloween, the one where you really knew it was Halloween?
The earliest one I remember is the year I found a dead body while trick-or-treating. True story. I was about five, and I went as Superman that year. One of my friends and I trick-or-treated a house. No one answered. The inside door was open, and through the storm door, we saw a bowl of candy on a table, and a woman's feet on the floor beside it. The rest of her body stretched back into shadows. Without really understanding what it meant, I knew right away she was dead. Everything seemed so still, and the thought just clicked in my head. But our parents didn't believe us. We had to drag them up to the door and show them, and then one of them quickly shuffled us off to the next house, while someone called for help. I never found out what happened to the woman, probably a heart attack or something similar. My friend and I continued trick-or-treating. Only years later did I grasp the weight of what we'd seen. Our parents really kept it from us then. But that's always defined Halloween for me. The possibility of a close brush with the unexpected, with something dangerous. I wrote a blog post about this for the Horror Writers Association's very first Halloween Haunts blog event, which you can read for the full story: http://horror.org/the-dead-have-the-best-candy/.
What's the one Halloween question you want to be asked and what's your answer to it?
I like when people ask me for my Halloween horror movie list. I switch this up every year, but rarely do I get to all the movies I pick. This year, I'm going heavy on the classics so I can share them with my kids, and we'll be watching a couple of Universal films, The Mummy and Creature from the Black Lagoon, as well as The Uninvited, and possibly The Haunting, and finally Frankenweenie. After the kids are in bed, I'll be throwing on Trick or Treat, Return of the Living Dead, at least one John Carpenter movie (Halloween, Prince of Darkness, or The Fog), and at least one movie that I haven't yet seen still to be chosen. If I'm lucky I may get to throw in American Werewolf in London or The Resurrected.