Lisa's August 2018 Newsletter (#20)
View this email in your browser

In this issue:

Hi Gang!

First off, thanks to everyone who entered my giveaway last month, in which I asked for suggestions for a non-fiction piece. I received a lot of wonderful ideas, but in the end one just grabbed my inner writer and wouldn't let go...head down to the "Halloween Spirit" area to read the result!

Summer seems to be convention time for many of us. I've only been able to fit in brief visits to two within driving distance: the legendary San Diego Comic-Con, and the Halloween-themed Midsummer Scream. Someday I hope to visit Necon, DragonCon, Scares That Care, or any of the other wonderful east coast events.

Though I only managed a few hours each at Comic-Con and Midsummer Scream, I had a blast! My Comic-Con panels, one on Mary Shelley and one on "Women on the Dark Side", were packed with hundreds (yes, hundreds!), I got to gab with old friends and meet new ones, and I grabbed a few amazing pieces of art in the vendors hall (see the poster below). At Midsummer Scream, I shopped for my yard haunt (picked up a great kit for carving foam headstones!) and hung out with other members of the Horror Writers Association.

Now I'm sorry that my next con won't be until May of next year, when I'll be at (of course) StokerCon in Grand Rapids. I hope to see a few of you there.

Kate Maruyama, Kate Jonez, Les Klinger, and me at Comic-Con, just before our Mary Shelley panel (which also featured Debbie Smith, Nancy Holder, and Gillian Horvath)
Still Life
In which I rhapsodize about favorite movie photos from my collection
So Halloween is being rebooted. 

I'm usually one of those who shrug and yawn when I hear the word "reboot", but this one has me intrigued. 

First off, it's got Jamie Lee Curtis, and she looks like she's kicking some major ass. 

And then there's the most recent trailer, which also looks seriously kickass.

Yeah, I'm in.

(The poster above is one I nabbed at Comic-Con. The artist is the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz, whose graphic novel work I've loved for years. And yes, that is his real signature, so I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly as well.)
Halloween 2018 trailer
The Halloween Spirit
Tips for keeping it going all year 'round
For last month's newsletter giveaway, I asked for non-fiction article suggestions. Thanks to winner K. A. Opperman for suggesting a history of the "Pumpkin King" prior to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Here we go...

If you’re like me, when you first saw Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film’s protagonist – the whimsical, wistful Jack Skellington, Pumpkin King of Halloween Town – felt like an old stereotype. You may have thought you’d seen Halloween Pumpkin Kings for decades, or perhaps you assumed that, like Jack’s girlfriend Sally – a Bride of Frankenstein-ish patchwork girl – Jack had deep roots in literature and cinema.

The truth is, however, that depictions of regal jack-o’-lanterns were surprisingly scarce prior to the release of Burton’s 1993 film. So why does Jack Skellington feel so perfectly at home atop the Halloween throne?

To answer that, let’s first take a look at the history of the Halloween jack-o’-lantern. Jack-o’-lanterns originated in Ireland, where they were carved from large turnips, and often used to frighten the unwary on Halloween night (prank-playing was a popular Halloween activity for Irish boys). The name derives from a series of ancient folktales concerning Jack, a legendary trickster who repeatedly outwits the Devil; however, when Jack finally dies, he finds that even the Devil doesn’t want him, although Satan reluctantly provides his old nemesis with a burning hellfire ember, which Jack places in a hollowed-out gourd or pumpkin and uses to light his way as he endlessly wanders the earth. There are hundreds of variations of this tale, ranging from the American South to Scandinavia. In some legends, the trickster is named Will, a name that served to inspire the "will-o'-the-wisp", the mysterious bobbing light (also known as ignis fatuus) that was credited with leading travelers through bogs at night to their sticky doom.

When the Irish fled their homeland for America during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s, they brought their Halloween traditions with them and soon discovered that the American pumpkin made an ideal replacement for their turnips. The jack-o’-lantern fashioned from a pumpkin already had some history in the New World, mainly due to Washington Irving’s classic 1820 story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and John Greenleaf Whittier’s charming 1850 poem “The Pumpkin”, which mentions carving “wild ugly faces” into the orange rind.

Interestingly, neither “Sleepy Hollow” nor Whittier’s poem directly associate the jack-o’-lantern with Halloween. That pairing didn’t happen for a few decades, but by the end of the nineteenth century the jack-o’-lantern made from a pumpkin had become a thoroughly American tradition. The jack-o’-lantern had an added value when associated with Halloween: pumpkin pie was an early favorite holiday food (just as we now enjoy hundreds of foods flavored with “pumpkin spice” every autumn).

It was also around the start of the twentieth century that anthropomorphic pumpkins started to appear in fiction, most famously in L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz, the first sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. That book introduced Jack Pumpkinhead, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow brought to life by Mombi the sorceress. Jack continued as a character throughout the Oz series, and was given the starring role in the 23rd Oz book, Jack Pumpkinhead of Oz (by Ruth Plumly Thompson). The illustrator of the Oz books, John R. Neill, draws Jack as a tall, gangly figure with an oversized pumpkin head – a design quite similar to Jack Skellington.

In literature, the earliest use of a “Pumpkin King” appears in the 1914 novel The Pretender by Robert W. Service. In the middle of the book, a character tells a story about a boy who grows a huge pumpkin in his garden, and one day a door opens in the side of the fruit and a fairy steps out. The fairy introduces himself as the Pumpkin King, and tells the boy of a terrible war with the Squash King. Every day the boy visits the Pumpkin King, until one day when he gets a cold and is too sick to venture into his garden. That night he hears sounds of warfare coming from outside, and in the morning his father tells him that his prize pumpkin has been destroyed.

Early Halloween party pamphlets (published from 1898 to about 1940) included small plays (intended to be performed in school events) and poems that did occasionally include an autumnal ruler, but it was not a "Pumpkin King" - it was, rather, a "Harvest Spirit." This character was typically described as being covered in corn husks and leaves, with a crown atop the head; it was also usually played by a girl, not a boy.

However, it took – as is so often the case with American traditions – retailing to confirm the jack-o’-lantern’s status at the top of the Halloween ladder. During the first few decades of the twentieth century, companies like Dennison marketed Halloween decorations and costumes, while postcard companies churned out around 3,000 Halloween cards (prior to the ubiquity of the telephone, postcards were the preferred method of quick communication). These companies quickly realized that everyone loved the cheerful orange fruit with a mischievous grin; pumpkins were turned into pumpkin men, with scarecrow bodies. Since scarecrows were usually dressed in old suits, pumpkin men took on a dapper look. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, artists built irony into the pumpkins’ suits by making them actually elegant. Pumpkins seemed to have become the holiday’s elite.

A few images, however, took it even further. In some of the vintage postcards, pumpkin-headed figures are shown seated in throne-like chairs and wearing hats that might be crowns; they exude benevolent leadership as they cradle smaller vegetables on their knees and at their sides. These depictions of pumpkin men – either dressed to the nines or regally imposing – are probably the real ancestors of Jack Skellington.

A 1966 cultural landmark solidified the jack-o’-lantern’s status as holiday hero: even though the title character is never shown in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, it contributed to the idea of pumpkin as Halloween royalty.

It took the dapper hero of The Nightmare Before Christmas to really bring the phrase “Pumpkin King” fully into public awareness (and by the way, in the film Jack is more of a skeletal figure with a skull-like face who is surrounded by pumpkins). However, long before the 1993 film, the notion of a Halloween pumpkin monarch was firmly established with both a beloved character in a classic American children’s fantasy series, and the Halloween decorating and merchandising bonanza of the 1910s and ‘20s.
Strange Fruit
The weirdest thing I've recently uncovered in my research
I'm always researching Halloween.

This means that whenever I come across early folklore or religious books, I riffle through them to see if they mention All Saints' or All Souls' Day. When something about Catholicism from 1729 crosses my path, I'm intrigued.

A Master-Key to Popery is an infamous book. Later reissued under the title The Great Red Dragon, it was one of the major anti-Catholic screeds published in Britain after they separated from the Catholic Church. It's full of strange things that were purported to have taken place in the Catholic religion (and note the "purported", because it's now difficult to parse how much of this was true).

I didn't find much on All Saints'/All Souls' in Master-Key, but I did stumble on one of the stranger beliefs connected to Purgatory that I've ever read...

The book claims that Catholic priests engaged in the practice of charging parishioners to say masses for their loved ones who might be trapped in Purgatory; the masses would supposedly assist with moving the souls up to Heaven. The priests would tell the hopeful believers that if they saw a mouse after the mass, it meant that the soul had not moved on and more masses (with more money paid) were required. They would then take the anxious parishioner to a special cubbyhole where they would be instructed to look through a peephole. The priests, of course, supposedly kept a pet mouse at all times in that little nook.

Did this con actually go down? It's one more of history's mysteries.
More on A Master-Key to Popery
Behind the Screams
About a Story
"Feel the Noise" from The Five Senses of Horror (originally appeared in Shivers VII)

A few years ago, I was invited to contribute a story to an anthology of horror stories based on heavy metal music. This intrigued not so much because I'm a metalhead (I'm not), but because one of my best friends is related to the late lead singer of the band Quiet Riot. Quiet Riot's big hit was "Cum On Feel the Noize", so I told the editor of the metal book that I'd like to write a story somehow related to that song, mainly as a tribute to my friend.

That title immediately suggested synesthesia to me. If you don't know that term, synesthesia is a condition in which different senses somehow ping off each other, meaning that someone with this condition may report a certain sound as having a particular color.

I started thinking about how this condition - which many of those who have don't consider a handicap - could be amplified and made into something terrifying. Obviously an immense and unnatural rewiring of the brain would be necessary, which started to take me into science fiction territory. 

The resulting story was about a vet of a near-future war who was hit by an enemy bomb that scrambled all of his neural pathways; much of the story takes place at a concert because only the thundering sound of heavy metal dampens his senses for a few minutes and gives him any peace. The real horror in the piece is the aftermath of war and a traitorous officer.

The heavy metal book didn't happen, but the finished story was taken first by Cemetery Dance for Shivers VII, and has now been reprinted in Eric Guignard's The Five Senses of Horror
My current works-in-progress
I'm pleased to report that I've just signed on to be one of the writers in the third (and final) volume of the "mosaic novel" The Lovecraft Squad, created and edited by Stephen Jones. The second volume, The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming, includes two large sections authored by me and will be out in November.

My story "Silk City" will be reprinted in Graveside Manner, a Cemetery Dance exclusive for members of its book club (and whew, is my wrist tired after just signing 799 signature pages for that book!).

And Cemetery Dance's Shivers VIII will include my story "The Gorgon", which first appeared in this newsletter!

The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats

The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats is now available in e-book and print from JournalStone. It collects four novellas, ten short stories, a new introduction by Nancy Holder, and new notes about the stories from me.
Keep Halloween Going!
Ghosts: A Haunted History
My acclaimed book Ghosts: A Haunted History is now available in an affordable trade paperback.
Haunt Yourself
CD Select: Lisa Morton
CD Select: Lisa Morton is a mini-collection gathering together four tales chosen by me, with accompanying notes. Available in either e-book or signed & limited hardcover edition.
Reserve Yours Now!
Scream and Scream Again!
Includes my YA story "Summer of Sharks". Available now! 
Start Screaming!

Haunted Nights

This anthology of all-new Halloween (and Dia de los Muertos/Devil's Night/All Souls' Eve) fiction features sixteen stories by some of the genre's hottest authors. The anthology received a starred and boxed review in Publishers Weekly, as well as raves from Rue Morgue, Locus, and many others.
Haunt Your Nights!
The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming
This volume in Stephen Jones's "mosaic novel" includes two chapters by me. Coming in November 2018.
Pre-order Now
The Five Senses of Horror
The Five Senses of Horror is edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning author and editor Eric Guignard, and includes work by John Farris, Ramsey Campbell, Poppy Z. Brite, and Richard Christian Matheson.
Get Sense-ible
The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories
Includes my story "The Ultimate Halloween Party App". Coming September 2018.
Get Ready
Thanks again to everyone who entered last month with great suggestions for articles! Congrats to K. A. Opperman, who grabbed a free book with his suggestion for a history of the Halloween "Pumpkin King".

For this month, let's celebrate the release of Scream and Scream Again! by giving away a signed hardback copy of this awesome new YA horror book. Just click the button below to enter, and good luck!
Sorry - this giveaway has ended
Copyright © 2017 Lisa Morton All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list