Saturday, October 31, 2020

Halloween Horrors

      As a child, I was scared of every bump in the night, sure terrible creatures (usually mice) inhabited the crawl space right next to my bed. Needless to say, Halloween was not my favorite holiday. A showing of  Disney's Legend of Sleepy Hollow sent me straight to my parents' bed because of bad dreams--and I was ten. They kicked me out, saying I was too old for this.  Not that I didn't like the trick or treat aspect of Halloween. We selected the most heavy duty shopping bag we could find and joined large groups of free-range Fifties kids to prowl the night door to door without any parental interference. Nearly every house had a light on in our small town of two-thousand. If we needed a bathroom, someone would always let us in. Our sole trick was scattering dried corn we robbed from a farmer's field on the porches of people who chose not to be home. Some smashed pumpkins or threw eggs, but not our group--because if our families did find out--ouch!

     The only scare I had in those days came at the threshold of my fifth grade teacher who lived in an old Victorian home surrounded by tall, dark trees on top of a small hill. Her name, most fittingly, was Miss Updegrave. As we climbed the two sets of stone steps to get to the house, the full moon disappeared behind a cloud. When we got to the porch, thunder rolled and the porch swing went into action on its own. I am fairly sure I saw a black cat in the bushes. We bugged the hell out of there, and good thing because the on-coming storm would have ruined our paper bags filled to the brim with full-sized candy bars.

     Being a scaredy-cat, I've never had an urge to write horror stories, though I have done a few unpublished Twilight Zone style short stories. My one attempt at a rather benign ghost story, The Courville Rose ran into a peculiar problem. Beginning during the Civil War, a young woman of eighteen commits suicide by gently throwing herself into the river and letting her petticoats take her down after she learns of the death of her fiancé in battle. Being Catholic, she should go straight to hell for taking her life, but the nuns who educated her pray mightily to prevent this given her disturbed state. Instead, she is doomed to haunt her family home for all eternity. She watches over the place through thick and thin, but when she begins to recognize souls she once knew in new bodies, she wants to possess someone and go in search of her lost love. She brings this off partially, but the stubborn little girl won't leave her body--and so they have to grown up sharing, one always looking for her old love, and the girl loving the boy who saved her from being drowned by the spirit. An interesting conundrum, I thought.

     Not what the first publisher I offered it to thought, however. I got a message saying they couldn't print a book that condoned teen suicide. Huh? In the 1860's a female of eighteen was considered an adult and usually married at that age or younger. This was no Romeo and Juliet tale but one of a love lost in battle. I argued my point to no avail, even softened her death by having her accidentally fall into the river but refuse to fight for her life. I mean, there had to be a mortal sin for her to be condemned to haunting. What kind of God would do that because of an accident? Oh well, it was no go. You can try to argue with a publisher, but no is usually no.

      It was my good luck that the next press took the book. The Courville Rose is still my only ghost story, and isn't horrible at all. Eventually, it does have a happy ending. Still, the first editor told me to stick contemporary romance, my strongest talent. Being a little rebellious, I have tried a couple of mysteries and a long historical series. Authors do get tired of writing the same old same old all the time, but none have been as successful as my Sinner sports romances. So, be on the lookout for The Aussie Sinner this winter.



  1. I, too, was a real scardy-cat as a kid, but had tolearn to live with odd things after we moved to a big old house that was...interesting.
    Dispair was what was considered the unforgivable sin of suicide.Fortunately now, mental state is always taken into consideration and the person is buried 'in the Church', being given the benefit of the doubt. Happy All Saints Day!

  2. Yes, the Church has become kinder about suicides and other things like divorce lately. In Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, she is pressured to stay in an abusive marriage and when she still insists on leaving her husband, he locks her up. I've also outgrown my fears, all except for Covid.

  3. Oh, Queen took place in the 1920's.