I love autumn. If asked what my favorite season is, I’ll more than likely say spring because of my birthday. Or summer because of the Ren Faire. But honestly I adore fall. I love layering up, I love comfy stuff, I love dumb Instagram-perfect leaves and pumpkins and hot chocolate. I love cozy socks and sick boots and leather jackets and a feeling of anticipation in the air – for parties, for the weekends, for Halloween, for whatever.
It being the season and all I thought I’d present a thoughtful yet utterly non-comprehensive list of my personal favorite thematic books for your Halloween and/or autumnal enjoyment. Don’t let the fact that Halloween is this weekend prevent you from enjoying these gems year round!
Make some tea or hot chocolate in a big, stupid mug, swathe yourself in your fluffiest blanket, and enjoy one of these books at Maximum Autumnal Introvert levels today!
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn (1986)
Published in 1986, this book won the 1989 Reader’s Choice Award and has been on and off school reading lists ever since. It is a middle grade novel which deals with heavy topics: lying, family issues, adolescence, death, and even suicide. Young Heather moves to a new house in the country with her father, stepmother, and stepsiblings. Heather is super against her stepfamily and lies at every chance she gets about what the kids are up to to try to divide her father from her stepmother. At their new home, which used to be a church, Heather meets a ghost named Helen, who is just as lonely and miserable as she is. The two become friends, and plot against Heather’s stepfamily together. The stepsister, Molly, begins to realize that something is not quite right about Heather’s imaginary friend, and the mystery unfolds…
My Thoughts: I read this book when I was in elementary school and it scared the crap out of me. It’s definitely scary to a younger reader.
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (1981)
This is the first in a series of books which collect urban legends, myths, folk tales, and generally spooky stuff into one compact place. Some of the tales and poems are funny, and some of them are horrifying. The first book came out in 1981, followed by More Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark in 1984 and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones in 1991. They were mind-scarringly illustrated by Stephen Gammell and were scrutinized in the 1990s as to their appropriateness for children by the American Library Association. The violence in some of the stories, and the chilling illustrations were both considered to be too intense for most younger age groups.
My Thoughts: These books are the proto-Creepypasta of the 1990’s. These books were ALWAYS checked out at the library and if you had one in your possession, everyone wanted to be your friend that week. Actual nightmare fuel to a young mind.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
This middle grade novella (short novel!) by Neil Gaiman is a sweet and unsettling tale of a lonely girl whose parents are just too busy to spend time with her after moving into their new home. Coraline, the girl, meets a talking cat, some friendly but ominous neighbors, and her button-eyed Other Mother, who wants nothing more than to spend all her time with Coraline and make her happy so that she will stay with her forever. Seems like a good deal, until the Other Mother reveals what Coraline has to do in order to stay there forever… Coraline was made into a stop-motion film by Laika studios in 2009, and the book won the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Young Readers.
My Thoughts: A delightfully eerie, sweetly creepy young adult story. Have you noticed how intense things happen after children move to a new home? I moved a few times as a kid. Let me tell you, this trope is not wrong.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)
Okay, I know, another Neil Gaiman book but for real. This is a good one. Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, this story follows the tale of Bod, a young boy abandoned in a cemetery while he is only a baby, and who ends up being raised by the ghosts in the cemetery. Bod (short for Nobody) love his ghost parents and neighbors, but there are greater mysteries at hand: what lies beyond the cemetery in the world of the living, and what happened to Bod’s parents?
My Thoughts: Like several of Neil Gaiman’s books, Graveyard Book appears to be aimed at middle grade readers but has deeper things lying in wait for those readers who have surpassed the middle grade level. I found it lovely and confidently spooky– without being terribly scary to me personally. There are some lovely adventures and twists along the way and I enjoyed it thoroughly. “Come and dance the macabray!”
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury (1972)
A group of boys gather on Halloween to go trick-or-treating, but one of their friends is missing. Pipkin is nowhere to be found, and together the boys along with a strange man called Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud must seek him across time and space, experiencing different versions and origins of the autumnal celebration, kind of like A Christmas Carol for Halloween. Author Ray Bradbury also did the screenplay for the 1992 animated feature film adaptation of the same story, for which he won an Emmy Award. Also in 1997, Disneyland added a Halloween Tree to their annual decorations.
My Thoughts: I freaking LOVE Ray Bradbury. This book reminds me of my brother. Actually, most of these books remind me of my brother. Except for the first one. But THIS one for sure. This book is more fun and spoopy than scary.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)
Written before The Halloween Tree, this novel chronicles two thirteen year old boys and their peculiar and frightening experiences with a traveling sideshow which visits their small Midwestern town. Mr. Dark, the proprietor of the carnival, seems to have the ability to grant the townspeople’s deepest desires… but at a terrible price. There was a film adaptation of the book produced in 1983 which stars Jonathan Pryce as Mr. Dark and Pam Grier as the Dust Witch. As if the creepy circus vibe wasn’t enough, the title of this book is taken from one of the Witches’ lines in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Ominous as heck, yo.
My Thoughts: I saw the movie as a kid because my dad loves Ray Bradbury (and subsequently I came to love him as well even though this sh!t is for real terrifying at some points). The book is probably even scarier. This is a legitimately scary one.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)
This debut novel from Erin Morgenstern swept the bestseller lists in 2011 when it was released. An alternate history filled with powerful magic and unsettlingly lovely characters, The Night Circus is many tales woven into one larger story. “The circus arrives without warning…” and brings with it powerful magicians, mysterious contortionists, sentimental clockmakers and more. The circus itself seems to take on a life of its own, its attractions shifting and changing with every performance. Something so miraculous, so beautiful and captivating can’t last forever, though…
My Thoughts: This is one of my top ten favorite books of all time. It reads like a fine French dessert: exquisite, surprising, familiar, transformative, romantic, and so delicious that I wanted to read it again immediately after I finished. It captures the mystery and imagination of autumn perfectly for me, and I recommend it to everyone ever. It is not a spooky story but there is the delightfully unsettling quality of a dream about it, and even though you may have questions about it that go unanswered, it is a very good dream.
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)
This book is a mystery wrapped in puzzles and enigmas, some of which reach so far into your own personal subconscious that its pages leave you dizzy and breathless with confusion and fear. It has multiple narrators, multiple plots, and multiple angles from which it must be read. Words tumble and scatter across the pages, sometimes like escaping rats, sometimes like leaves gently falling from trees. The shapes and colors and fonts change, as do the narratives, and you cannot help but experience the ride Mark Z. Danielewski has created. Or has he? In one of the main narratives, a character is studying notes and material academically examining a documentary about a family who moves into a house with peculiar qualities. But as the character notes, no such documentary exists. Some readers have gone so far as to say that Danielewski did not write House of Leaves, he discovered it, arranged it, and published it. The events contained in its pages are no doubt extraordinary, but you must read it yourself to decide what is true and what is fiction.
My Thoughts: First book to give me nightmares since Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Insistently given to me by my brother (surprise, surprise) who refused to elaborate on What It Was About, I read it with a healthy dose of skepticism. This book is mind bending both in execution and in emotional response. I had to stop reading it before bed because, duh, but once I got into the swing of it I read like the wind to find out what happens. This book requires full attention and deep contemplation – once you start reading, it will conquer your thoughts and free time. It is a dazzling read that is unlike anything else out there. And, if you aren’t into horror (neither am I) then remember that the author never bills it as horror fiction. It is not a tale of terror, according to him, but really at its core it is actually a love story.
Mind = blown.
Bonus Round: AUDIO FICTION!
Six Stories, Told At Night by K.T. Bryski
Up and coming Canadian author K.T. Bryski received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council which allowed her to write and produce a six-episode audio story based on Canadian folk tales. Before you roll your eyes, take a second to think. Most of these Canadian tales have French origin, which means some of this stuff is gonna be dark. Six stories are set into an original tale of Bryski’s own design, about a girl named Sam searching for her friend who recently disappeared, and things become even stranger when Sam figures out that Joëlle may have disappeared right into the faerie realm.
You can tune in for free on iTunes or click here to stream it on Podhoster.
My Thoughts: This short form podcast fiction is outrageously good. Excellently performed by Blythe Haynes and edited/produced by Bryski, it is equal parts chilling, imaginative, heartfelt, and captivating. I only wish there were more stories!
A boy scrambles down a short but steep rocky incline in the middle of the woods, in the dead of night. He hits the ground, unhurt but a little breathless, and looks around. Although we may not have any idea where he is or where he is going, he seems to always know exactly what he’s doing. He moves forward without hesitation, without panic, and with astonishing strength, even though one false move will cause a sudden, abrupt, and brutal death.
This is how “Inside” begins.
There are questions that arise immediately. Why is the boy sneaking and hiding? Why does a terrible fate befall him if he steps into the light, or gets spotted by the strange figures in masks, or the dogs catch up to him? Where is he going, and why is everything so grim, so dark, so unexplained?
What is this world, and what happened here?
Perhaps, in some scenes, it is more important to ask – what is happening here right now?
Playing the Game:
Disguised as a lush, shadowy 3D world, “Inside” is actually a 2D side-scrolling puzzle adventure. You play as the Boy, a kid in a red shirt and black pants, and you have only two directions to move in: left or right. You travel ‘forward’ in search of…what? It isn’t clear. But something lies at the end of this journey, and the Boy presses on through challenging obstacles, strange rooms, terrifying surprises, and curious puzzles.
A lot of this gameplay is about timing. There are people (and things) in this game that want the Boy dead, and the second you miss a step or a cue – he’ll be dead before you can blink.
I kind of wish we had filmed some of the gameplay reactions when the Fella was playing “Inside” the other night. There was a lot of horrified face-making, jumpscare gasping, and slow-burn squinting at the screen while saying “What….the hell….is that?”
I don’t want to say too much about the actual content of the gameplay, because the surprises and mysteries that unfold are fascinating and deeply unsettling.
If dying repeatedly in gruesome ways because of tiny errors in judgement and timing bothers you, don’t play this game. This is a tactic used by the game designers and engineers to ‘steer’ the player toward the ‘correct’ solution to a problem – and it certainly does the trick. This style of gameplay is something that stresses me out to no end – but the Fella managed to
mostly keep his cool as he worked piece by piece to figure out how the Boy could make it through to the next section.
“How the hell are you supposed to beat this part?” I kept asking as panic rose in my throat. Bear in mind, I wasn’t even the one playing. I was just an observer.
The Fella was dauntless, however, and pressed onward, and I found myself completely unable to look away.
This game, while skin-pricklingly eerie, is beautifully designed and elegantly presented. Although I wouldn’t quite categorize this game’s genre as horror, it definitely has a deep underlying sense of dread and anticipation throughout. Not to mention the Very Abrupt Sudden Deaths the Boy can experience if you step into the wrong light, or lose control of the submarine vehicle, or wait a little too long to move forward. It’s a game designed to keep you on the edge, to keep you racing the invisible clock towards — or away from — something big. Like I said, not my style of gameplay, but I loved watching it happen.
The Fella and I both had intense dreams about this game after he finished playing. I don’t want to go into detail because this game is absolutely worth playing if you get the chance. I also don’t want to put my own thoughts and names on things that have no thoughts and names of their own – this game, having no text and no verbal dialogue, is a delightfully refreshing mystery.
As for the finale? The ending will leave your skin prickling and your mind in a whirl.
This game is awesome. Play it if you can, and if not, watch someone else play it. This is wordless storytelling of a high caliber, and we highly recommend it.
Every November, writers and would-be novelists all over the globe commit themselves to writing 50,000 words in just 30 days. While that sounds like an unrealistic goal at first, a little bit of math reveals that it comes down to a goal of 1,667 words per day – which is much more manageable for some. “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” people say to themselves, and in October they sign up for a free account on nanowrimo.org, joining the clamoring masses on the Forums there to plan their strategy and hype themselves up for what is surely a challenge.
The goal is 50k, so the idea is usually to write as much as possible every day in November, without self-censoring, self-editing, self-doubting, or self-restricting. Write, they say. Just write. Write everything you can. When the challenge is done, when the draft is complete, you can go back and edit later. There is even a spring or summertime venture of the same structure, which they call Camp NaNoWriMo, and where they let participants choose their own goals, instead of the ‘strict’ suggestion of 50k.
There are some who poo-poo this endeavor, insisting that it is no way to become a ‘real’ writer, no genuine training for novel-writing, no real benefit to be had from this system. There are some who criticize the strategy of writing for the word count rather than the content – and who are quick to point out that in the end, on December 1st, even if you made it to 50k words you do not have a complete novel in your hands – all you have is the first draft. There is so much more work to be done after that… something the NaNo advertising tends to gloss over. However, a first draft is more than some people ever achieve, so as far as I am concerned, and it isn’t so much about Magically Climbing Everest While On Your First Time Hiking as it is about Getting Out of Your Own Way and Getting Hype About A Fun Project.
It’s subjective, I guess.
I am a huge fan of NaNoWriMo. I first heard of it during my freshman year of college, and I can’t remember how it came across my radar but I remember thinking it was a suicide mission. A no-win scenario. What kind of sadists are these, I thought. And then I got curious. Was it possible? Could it be fun? I knew the play I was in was going to open in November, which meant going through tech week and performances AND classes and trying to write a totally new novel from scratch. That sounded like insanity.
So I signed up.
I started writing something – as free-flowing and seat-of-the-pants as I could get, and explored what it was like to write with no idea what was going to happen or who my characters were. It wasn’t super productive, but it was kind of fun. I got discouraged quickly, though, as my classwork piled higher and my rehearsals got longer. I left the story by the wayside and ‘quit’ my very first NaNoWriMo after a week or two.
The next time I found myself in the trenches of NaNoWriMo was the fall of 2010, after I had graduated college, and I thought: Now! Now it is time to write again. I sketched out an idea from a dream I’d had and buckled myself in for the ride. It was a crazy amount of fun, and at the end I had a silly, time-traveling story about angels and fallen angels and artists through the ages. It might go somewhere someday, it might not, but it was so much fun to write that I didn’t care. NaNo was going to become a staple for me.
I wrote again in NaNo 2011, although this time it was not fiction that I poured my words into but non-fiction. I wrote down every memory, every story, every moment I could remember about my friend Meghan, who had passed away that July. I needed a way to remember everything I possibly could about her, and writing it all down seemed the best way to do it. I wrote 60,000 words in 17 days.
In 2012, I sat down during rehearsals and performances of a holiday panto I was doing with Piccolo Theatre in Evanston (not to mention my full-time job) to write my next NaNovel. It was a fantasy, set in exotic locations, with a handful of characters of varying genders, backgrounds, and sexual preferences, and it was a lot of fun to write. It was exciting, and a little sly, and set my imagination a-runnin’. I called it On The Isle of Sound and Wonder, and after some heavy rewrites and edits, it was published by Xchyler Publishing in November 2014.
In 2013 and 2014 I skipped NaNo on account of edits, rewrites, and a handful of failed new ideas along the way. In 2015, I skipped NaNo because I got married in November. Not to mention the crippling self doubt, ‘writer’s block’, and other fun things that were all up in my brain-stuff about writing The Next Thing…
HOWEVER. That being said, I am proud to announce that I got back on the horse again after this long hiatus. Despite a 5-day-a-week day job and weekends packed with two 14-hour days working and performing at the Bristol Renaissance Faire, I have just completed my first Camp NaNoWriMo in July 2016! I skated in at 51k words right at the tail end of everything, and I couldn’t have done it without Tegan, Sam, Randall, and Karaline – my new NaNo Power Squad.
Although the draft of my new story is nowhere near done, it is a heckuva good start and a brand new outlook on my life as a writer. I feel completely rejuvenated, and SUPER enraptured with the project I’ve begun. I will be talking more about it on my Patreon as it develops, and I can’t wait to keep working so I can bring this story to life to its fullest potential.
No, but really – I’m reeeeeeally excited about it.
…this one’s got pirates in it.
A Non-Comprehensive List
- Taste Odyssey Sampler Platter
- Oh! You Onion Rings
- China Girl Spring Rolls
- Alad-dim sum Sane
Soup & Salad
- The Thin White Soup
- Five Years Aged Cheddar Soup
- Green Genie Salad
- Lettuce Dance Salad
- Major Tom(ato) Signature Sandwich
- Ch-ch-ch-Changes Chicken Sandwich
- Diamond Hot Dogs
- I’m Afraid of American Cheese Burger
- Blackstar Angus Steak
- Stuffed Rebel Re-Bell Pepper
- Jareth’s Bulge Meatballs
- The Gobblin’ King Turkey Club
- The Man Who Fell Tofu Earth
- Young American (Grilled) Cheese
- The Fry-ders from Mars
- Golden Ears Corn on the Cob
- Fashion Mashed Potatoes
- Ashes To Ashes Hashbrowns
- Magic Dance Pancakes
- Station to Station Omelette Bar
- Life on Mars Bars Sundae
- Ziggy Starburst Sorbet
- The Man Who Jello Mold The World
Today’s Special (Just For One Day):
We Could Be Gyros
(Special thanks to my
brother co-chef Ben without whose random texts during the work day would not have yielded such comedic fruits. Other credits to Aaron Saucedo, Alex Skanavis.)