Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!!!

(No this is not my house, I just wish I'd had the energy to make this lovely setting)

The rituals:

Morning - Watching Halloween episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, South Park, and Simpsons whilst lounging in bathrobe and sipping coffee
Afternoon - prep for harvest feast, carve pumpkins (why can I never manage to get this done before Halloween!)

Evening - friends arrive for harvest feast, dogs forced into costumes (I'll have about 1 minute to snap photos before they are shredded), candy to trick or treaters

Night - Scary movie-a-thon! On the docket: Carrie, The Craft, Rosemary's Baby, Night of the Living Dead, Donnie Darko

What will you be doing this Halloween?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Location, Location, Location

Up to this point in Hallo-week posts we've focused on the whosits and whatsits of scaryville.

But ghosts, goblins, witches, and werewolves would not be half as scary if they didn't have the right backdrop in which to weave their spells and stalk their prey.

Today's post features three of my favorite spooky settings.

1) The windswept moors at night.You're probably alone but if you're not you have just one friend with you. All that means is that one of you is fodder. Why oh why did you wander off the road? I know those villagers were creepy but they were trying keep you alive!

2) Caves
As someone who is claustrophobic, I find caves utterly horrifying. But also fascinating. Caves are nature's labyrinths - mysterious, beautiful and chock full of critters that want to eat you.

3) The gothic manor (of course!)
So many rooms, so much potential for mayhem. Who lives here? Dracula, a witch, a hopeless romantic who just happened to lock his deranged wife in the attic (yes, I think Jane Eyre is horror)?

What locations make the best frights for you?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lonely Souls

I don't know that I could write a ghost story. I worry I wouldn't survive.

Writing is a visceral experience for me; I become completely wrapped up in the minds and lives of my characters, sharing their every hope and fear.

Ghosts might be too much for me.

But before we delve further into this haunted Hallo-week post, let's make an important distinction.

Ghosts = human spirits that for one reason or another haven't moved from the earthly plane to another. Ghosts remain in contact with the human world because they need some issue from their human existence resolved. They may cause harm in trying to do so but only as a result of their own desperation.

Poltergeists = malevolent spirits that are manifested by human acts of violence or sacrilege. Poltergeists are cruel and wreak havoc in human lives, like pulling little girls into televisions.

So one more time, just to be clear. Ghosts are people, poltergeists are people's fault.

Back to the writing dilemma (not so much a dilemma - I have plenty to write about - as a thorn in my paw; I don't like thinking there is something I wouldn't be able to write about). But I wonder if writing the story of a ghost wouldn't send me spiraling into a terrible depression. Human existence is so much about change, discovery, growth - all things that have been robbed from a spirit that is stuck on this plane. I can of little else that could cause more despair, to be deprived of the very essence of what makes human life so wonderful. To rely on flawed beings (uh, yeah, I'm talking about us) who you can barely communicate with to free you from that tortured liminal state.

I'm getting depressed just thinking about it.

Don't get me wrong; I enjoy reading ghost stories. Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones was one such story I found compelling. And I adore Poe's tales of ghostly vengeance. But frolicking in the worlds of other writers is a different ballgame than playing in the field you've built with your own hands.

Maybe I'll grow braver with time (side note: amazing writer and blogger Suzanne is my hero, for writing Haunting Anne, which looks to me like an astonishing, beautiful and devastating book about the world of ghosts. Suzanne you are courageous and so talented!)

Is the problem that I believe in ghosts?

Let's put a big check in the box next to I don't know.

I've had the experiences that I think most of us have. The prickling along one's neck. Glancing over your shoulder, knowing that someone is there, following, but then there isn't anyone. The flickering of movement in your peripheral vision.

All I these things make me wonder, but I don't know. The closest truth I've stumbled upon rests in the words of Emily Dickinson:

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.
Far safer, of a midnight meeting
External ghost,
Than an interior confronting
That whiter host.
Far safer through an Abbey gallop, The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one's own self encounter

In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,

Should startle most;

Assassin, hid in our apartment,

Be horror's least.

The prudent carries a revolver,

He bolts the door,

O'erlooking a superior spectre More near.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I've got nuthin on this...

And let me just say, Halloween Karaoke anyone? This and Thriller - you're golden.

Just for good measure, let's put that classic up too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Vant to Suck Your Blohd

Ah, vampires. How do we love thee? Let me count the ways (70 million copies of Twilight sold...)

Glancing at any bestseller list it seems that the nation has been overtaken by vampire mania. From Twilight to House of Night to Vampire Academy, it's clear that undead is the new black.

I've long been fascinated by vampires. I read Dracula at age 10 and have gobbled up vamp lit and films ever since. But for me the moment of truth came in 1997 when Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on the WB (remember the WB? Dominion of the teen drama? Dawson's Creek, Felicity, anyone?)

It was love at first bite and I've been faithful. BVS is the best show I've ever seen. My morning ritual is to watch an episode as I eat breakfast, repeat, until I get through all the seasons and then start over again. It never gets old.

But Buffy slays vampires, and this post is about the lords and ladies of the night themselves.

So what is it about vampires that fascinates us? Arguably most of us like the sun, so why would we want to hang out with folks who could never join us at the beach?

The current phenomenon of vampire love, while impressive, is not new. Like werewolves, vampires have a long, diverse history of lore and the current manifestation of vampire types reflects this range of mythology.

I have my own theories, but I'd like to ask you two questions.

1) Why are vampires so popular and enduring?

2) What is the best type of vampire (scary, sparkly, somewhere in between)?

And as a final note, I just have to have a mini squeeeeeeee because of awesome (but super secret) news from Editor Jill today. Will share when able!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Of "Wolves" and "Were"

Etymology, or the history of words, is kind of a hobby of mine. I'm no expert, but where words originate and how they change over time fascinates me.

And did you know words can go extinct? No one says, "I lost my azaleas to last night's gelicide (frost)," anymore. Gelicide - cool huh? Really evokes that whole 'killing frost' thing. Perhaps we should bring it back.

But I digress. Today's Hallo-week post is about werewolves. Werewolf has a particularly nifty etymology. What's interesting is that the idea of "were" (man) combining with "wolf" (uh...wolf) has so many origin points. There's the possible Old English 'wer,' but there's also the Gothic 'wair,' German 'ver,' and Norse 'verr.'

The variety of language birthplaces for werewolf is matched by the diversity of lycanthropic legends across cultures. So many, in fact, that I'd have to write a book to recount them all (...and that may happen). But for now you can visit this very cool site to read up.

So where do our furry friends fall in the pecking order of classic Halloween beasties? According to the Wall Street Journal werewolves are about to usurp vampires in the pop culture spot light (*rubs hands* excellent).

So whether you're a fan of the New Moon variety of wolves.

Or the more classic Wolf Man -

Get ready to howl. Oh, and Nightshade has the awesomest werewolves of all time. Just sayin.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Something Witchy This Way Comes

Witches took the poll! So we'll start Hallo-week posts with witches.

Witches are a favorite subject of mine; the period of history I study features the witch hunting craze in Europe and North America as well as the shift from spiritual to scientific with the rise of the Enlightenment.

Witches have a traumatic history. Much maligned and misunderstood, the persecution of witches was a means to suppress female sites of power while consolidated that of patriarchal religious institutions.

Though accused of consorting with the devil and other demonic spirits, witchcraft is actually a means of channeling natural spirits, of working with the earth to produce desired effects. Of course, like any form of power, witchcraft can be abused; thus the Wiccan mantra 'and harm ye none,' as well as the rule of returns - anything sent out into the world will return to the witch three fold.
Since scary witches capture the public eye more easily than benevolent ones, Hollywood has done its part to reinforce the idea that witches are in league with evil forces (okay, okay I have to confess now there are bad witches in my book - but there are good witches too!!) but there are still places in the world where witches are revered and not reviled.

When I visited Bavaria (my father-in-law's home), I was struck by the witches that were everywhere. Effigies of women with brooms, cauldrons, in flight, sat in store windows, hung in kitchens and living rooms. When I inquired about this abundance of witches I was told that in Bavarian lore witches are benevolent women, guardians of the home. To have images of witches in your house brings luck.

As much as historical witches interest me, I'm still a sucker for the Hollywood variety. Particularly the angsty teen ilk. So here are two of my Halloween picks: boarding schools, romance, witchcraft? Yes, please. (And both feature good and bad witches...ahem.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Starting tomorrow I'll be featuring a week of thrills and chills on the blog. Halloween is my favorite holiday and I'll be talking about monsters, scary places, and Halloween-esque history.

To start us off, let's hear about your favorite stars of the Monster Mash! Not on the list? Write-in ballots welcome in the comments!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

How I Gained My Edge?

Once upon I time I was a horror wimp. I had a zero-tolerance scary movie policy. If it could make me scream, cringe, or dripped blood I couldn't take it.

I had nightmares after seeing the Poseidon Adventure: no joke. I'm a bit claustrophobic and I partly blame this film (the other part I blame on the time I got stuck in a sleeping bag).

As Halloween approaches I'm seeing perpetual homage to frights and freaks. Blogs posting lists of the all-time best horror films, windows full of spiders and ghosts, and I realize that at some point I shed my fragile disposition for a tougher one. And I'm wondering when that happened.

Was it simply a result of growing up? Maybe it's that my research focuses on violence in human history and at a certain point I just detached from the visceral fear that had accompanied scary stories. Maybe fear of the things that go bump in the night is always accompanied by fascination.

Because everyone loves vampires right now.
Even Buffy couldn't hate all of them.
I used to hide from scary stories, but now I write them. It was a bit startling when my editor and I concluded that we shouldn't have the swing set in my author photo because the content of my book was too dark for playgrounds. And it really is. And that's who I am now. I don't hide from the dark; I embrace it.

It's not that I don't get scared. There are moments when I'm writing that I freak out, shriek, ditch my laptop and run from the room. At which my husband says "what's wrong" and I say "I'm so scared - the story is so scary!" and he says "but you're writing it."

But it doesn't matter. That's living in the world you write, feeling the words and scenes scream through your veins - I write scary worlds.

So how did I go from "the X-Files is too scary" to mistress of the macabre? I don't know, but I think I like it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Where I Live is Nice Sometimes

My lament over winter's early appearance has been quelled by autumn's glorious comeback.

For the last few days I've walking my neighborhood, drinking in as much of the golden season as I can, knowing it will soon be over.

I love the stark passing of life into death I see everywhere.

The change in our lives like a swing abandoned for the beckoning school bell.

And apples grow so heavy they drop from trees.It is a season full of mystery.

Here is mine for today: Who leaves their key in the forest?

I sense a story brewing...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hope & Recycling

A story featured on the radio this morning captured my attention. California scientists are working on an early alert system for earthquakes. As someone whose major natural disaster home environment was pretty much limited to blizzards, I've always found earthquakes both exotic and scary.
But my life now brings earthquakes much closer to home. I married a man from San Francisco, who was right in the middle of the '89 earthquake, and my brother lives in Los Angeles. Earthquakes have gone from frightening and far off to something I actually worry about. An early warning system sounds fantastic to me.

What intrigued me about this story, however, wasn't the system itself but where it was being implemented. The scientists were using equipment from a Cold War bunker that tracked seismic activity produced by nuclear detonations in testing that occurred across the globe.

They say the best thing to do in the event of an earthquake is get under a table. During the Cold War students were drilled to 'duck and cover' during a nuclear attack. While the former actually works, the latter was obviously akin to using Swiss cheese for armor.

Still, this radio essay left me hopeful about the human condition. We may not have achieved nuclear disarmament, but we're a lot closer than we were in the age of duck and cover. And if a Cold War bunker can be transformed into a site that saves lives, who knows what other transformations we might be capable of. History is not without its own sweet sense of irony.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Toxic History at Blockbuster

One of my favorite parts of teaching is examining the strange relationship of history and popular culture. History, myth, and historical references pop up in the most unusual places. Usually these episodes make me laugh or smile, sometimes it makes me cringe.

Like today at Blockbuster.

I'm showing Terrence Malick's The New World to my classes to discuss the ways in which the myth of Pocahontas has become deeply engrained in American society - to the point where the New World claims to be historically accurate yet still portrays a romance between Pocahontas and John Smith. No, it didn't happen (if you'd like to know more - go here). But the myth has such strength that most people cling it fiercely.

Even the guy at Blockbuster.

Me: I'm looking for Terrence Malick's The New World

Blockbuster Guy: Is that the one about Pocahontas? With Colin Ferrell? That has almost no talking?

Me: *Grits teeth* Uh-huh.

BG: *punches title into computer* No offense but that movie is creepy as hell. I mean, she was like, fifteen.

Me: *trying not to groan* Yep, and that's not all. She wasn't fifteen, she was eleven and there was no relationship.

BG: *taking me to find movie* What do you mean?

Me: *really not wanting to launch into history lecture in middle of video store* Well, John Smith wrote a story to get lots of attention back in England, but the love story is made up.

BG: Are you sure? Cause I read something that said they had sex.

Me: *chokes a little* ??????

BG: Yeah, I read that. Creepy. I mean, fifteen. Creepy, man.

Me: No. They didn't have sex. It was made up. She was eleven. And yeah, that part of the movie is creepy.

BG: If it's so creepy why are you watching it?

Me: I'm teaching it. I'm teaching the way stories are made up and talked about like they're true history. Most people don't know the real story.

BG: What do you mean the real story?

Me: I mean that John Smith made up his romance with Pocahontas to get attention. She went to England and married another guy, later, when she wasn't eleven.

BG: *looks skeptical* Oh.

Me: *Sighs, leaves Blockbuster feeling rather defeated*

I'd like to say that I actually think there is a lot of worthwhile footage (historically) in The New World. It shows how awful life in Jamestown was, Malick consulted Powhatans about their cultural heritage. I like a lot of the film.

But the romance kills me. A part of me understands why popular culture clings so fiercely to Pocahontas/John Smith love story *shakes fist at Disney,* but the real story is compelling too.

So I'll do mini lectures at Blockbuster if I have to, and I'll keep trying to change the story. One video store at a time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mulish Me

Stubborn. Yep, that's me. Stubborn.

On a good day I like to think of myself as feisty and iron-willed, on the bad days: obstinate. But if I'm tired, lacking coffee, or heaven forbid, hungry you'd all best duck and cover.

Stubbornness cuts both ways. On the one hand I have a feverish focus when I'm working toward something I believe in. On the other, if I think you're wrong it's hard to change my mind.

And I have an irrational tendency to reject suggestions out of hand, simply because I am such a mule. Most of the time, this knee-jerk 'no' doesn't hurt me. Others it costs me until I finally come around.

Like with sashimi.
I'm not a big fan of fish. I don't care for the flavor of salmon (the fish that everyone else fawns over) and most of the rest of the ocean's bounty leaves me cold.

So for a long time I rejected sashimi out of hand - certain that if I didn't like cooked fish, I mostly certainly wouldn't like it raw. How wrong I was. Now I love sashimi (thanks to my husband for making me try new things) - except for salmon, of course.

Missing out on certain foods doesn't leave me with a strong sense of regret. Missing out on things that improve my writing, however, makes me kick myself. Where is this rant coming from? Well...*cringes*....I watched my first episode of Veronica Mars this week.
What????? You say. How could you not have watched Veronica Mars while it was on?

I know, I know - yet it was this very sentiment that made me dig in my mule hooves and refused to get on board. Actually it was more than that, it was everyone saying "if you liked Buffy, you'll love Veronica." I'm a rabid BVS defender and so any comparisons raise my hackles, and thus stubborn me avoided the show, ignored the rave reviews, and let it slip away unwatched.

What's even worse? Duncan (Teddy Dunn) was a good friend of my brother's in college.I haven't ever met him, but I knew he was in the show and my brother vouched for the fact that he is a cool guy. Did I realize he was a romantic lead? Uh, no - I was too busy laying my ears back and kicking at anyone who tried to tell me I was missing out. *Ducks as objects are thrown*

Yes, I know. I am terrible. Did I mention that my stubbornness is a double-edged sword?

But yesterday a writer I admire, Becca Fitzpatrick, used Veronica Mars to demonstrate snappy dialogue; something I've only seen work with Joss Whedon's shows. And it was awesome. Her interview lifted the veil of smug "I know what's best for me and don't you try to tell me otherwise," and I realized that my stubborn streak had really cost me this time around.

Thank goodness for DVDs; and yes, I'm buying all the seasons now. And one of my New Year's resolutions for 2010 will be to accept more suggestions from others and really rein in the mule that can be me.

Just don't try to get me to eat salmon; honestly, I don't like it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In the Arms of the (Fallen) Angel

Autumn is the perfect time for a ball. I'll be attending Willow Manor's fete.

In this dress.

My date: Patch from Hush, Hush. And no, you may not have the next dance with him. Happy release day, Becca!!

Monday, October 12, 2009


We lost fall. I don't know how it happened.

After the warmest September on record, October arrived in a cloak of winter. Temperatures dropped 30 degrees overnight and this morning:
The first time it happened was Saturday, but I'd hoped it had been a fluke. But today there's no deluding myself. Winter is here.
Minnesota has a reputation for being a frozen wasteland 11 months out of the year, but that's a lie. It's only a frozen wasteland in January and February (okay and sometimes March). Most of the year we have glorious weather.

And autumn is the best of all. But this year we're missing it and it's breaking my heart. Leaves blanketed in snow are still green. I haven't walked along the Mississippi to gaze at sun-dappled reds, golds, and bronzes reflected in the river's surface.If you need me, I'll be sulking.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

For Whom the Books are Written?

I was intrigued by this New York Times article, and I got to thinking about who loves or hates certain books and why and what age has to do with it, if anything.

Earlier this year there were several interesting posts like this one and this one, that debated the merits of "great literature." More recently Nathan Bransford reminded us why it is silly to ask if any number of these "great" pieces of writing would be publishable today.

Such discussions are usually limited to the realm of adult literature, but this morning's piece in the Times brought the debate to children's books.

Are there books out there pitched as "children's lit" that you think are actually for adults? As a writer of children's literature I'm biased toward believing nearly all such young lit is universal and offers something to readers of all ages, but are there books that are written in such a way that they might captivate adults but leave children befuddled at best and bored to tears (or in Edward Gorey's world, to death) at worst?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scenes from the Dentist's Chair

Wednesday, October 7, 1:40 p.m.

Me: *Trying to not listen to scraping of tools on teeth, but only other option is Lite FM. Hating Lite FM more than ever in this moment.*

Dental Hygenist: *scrape, scrape, scrape, grind; chattering happily about son's rain-sodden flag football games*

Me: *Trying to envision band of crazed eight-year-olds tearing through the mud in quest for football much in the style of Lord of the Flies, smiling despite mouth full of sharp implements* "Unnnng-ghhhhhh, nnnnnnnk-mmmmmmp."

DH: "Yes, they're so cute out there." *pauses from scraping, pulls out object that resembles miniature whetstone*

Me: *stops breathing*

DH: *begins to sharpen tools*

Me: !!!!!!!!

DH: *smells fear, smiles kindly* "I'm just honing these so I can be more efficient."

Me: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Lite FM: This is the sound of my soul, this is this sou-oouundd

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Fifty followers! Hooray (and thank you!) From my first post, I loved blogging (because hey, it's writing) but wondered whether anyone would ever read what I'd written. Thank you so much for sharing this journey with me. I sincerely hope each of you can say in the future "well, I was a follower before she was famous!" (See my last post on the danger of delusions - I'm not good at taking my own advice.)

Speaking of delusions, have just gotten news from editor Jill and publisher Michael about absolutely fabulous cover plans!! Top secret for now, but will share as soon as I'm able. Speaking of amazing, but creepy artistry check out this Wolf Parade video. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Diagnosis: Delusion

Dreams are great - they're more than great, they're vital. However, sometimes we can let dreams morph into delusions that lull us into irresponsible procrastination (a little procastination is healthy) or steer us off a cliff into the chasm of unreasonable expectations.

My little post derives from a much bigger, and excellent, post by agent Holly Root. Holly describes a problem she sees among new writers that she calls "cart-before-the-horse-itis." First of all, big points for awesome virus name. Second, let's all take a big dose of reality check as Holly suggests.

I'm not a patient person (that's an understatement), but I'm experiencing necessary patience growing pains because writing and publishing require lots of time and patience. Without allowing for one's craft to develop, your readership to grow, your ideas to evolve and make even better books, a writer's delusions can end up a career train wreck. Writing is a way of life, not a manuscript, not a sale, not a signing. Dreaming is good, delusions get us nowhere.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Umm, Not a Democracy

Thank you so much for the votes and lovely comments. I was grinning all weekend as I read responses to the photo poll.

Photo #3 was the winner, with #2 and #5 close behind. Thanks to all you dark horse #4 voters - I love number 4!

Despite the fact that in a pure-vote world #3 would be the photo; other factors intervene to make #5 the official jacket photo. *Cries of protest erupt from the #3 galleries: 'Why? Why?' While photo 5 voters cheer*
The reason being NIGHTSHADE has some...ahem...dark content, and my editor and I decided that the swing set didn't quite reflect the book's themes.

However, all of the photos will appear on my web site. Everybody wins!

Thanks again for all your support and enthusiasm. You guys are fantastic :)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

From Here to There

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to meet one of my writing heroines, Maggie Stiefvater. Because she is so fabulous she is on an amazing book tour and had some stops in my city (she will soon be in London, continuing said book tour, ack! so jealous!!)

The reason I admire Maggie is not just for her beautiful prose and thrilling plots - she's also a startlingly impressive human being.

Take her post on the difficulties of becoming an author. When I signed with my agent and then got my book deal I felt as though I was walking on stars. I still feel that way. If I am so lucky as to be able to write books for the rest of my life I don't think that feeling will ever go away. But the star-filled life is also very hard. As Maggie points out there is doubt, there is rejection (lots of rejection), there is the sense that you might be crazy and that you may be the only person who understands why the dream of starwalks defines your very existence. It can be a lonely, lonely road.
But the choice to walk it belongs to you alone, and the reasons for which the path matters also belong to you alone. If you believe, that is enough. Listen to Maggie; after all, she's been on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks now and still going strong. And...she just got a movie deal - ahem.