Halloween Haunts: Halloween Reading by Kevin Wetmore
Halloween Haunts: Halloween Reading
by Kevin Wetmore
My non-horror friends always get a little excited that they can relate to me better for a few weeks. “We’re watching some scary movies this week,” I am told. Or, “I’m going to read a horror novel.” And I am genuinely happy that they are willing to embrace the dark even for this brief period. I am happy to give recommendations and congratulate them for watching a scary movie in October or picking up a horror novel around Halloween.
But, my friends, we are the Halloween People. We read scary stuff all year ‘round. Horror is not an October treat but a year-round diet.
So what is the dedicated horror fan to do to make October special? Dive into the huge subgenre of Halloween horror. My friends – you can spend every October for years reading nothing but Halloween-related fiction (and non-fiction) and not run out (I know, I do this every year and still have a stockpile).
So rather than promote my own work, I want to recommend a whole buncha Halloween fiction from friends, colleagues, heroes, and longtime literary crushes to make your October all the more spooktacular (yeah, I can’t believe I used that word either).
I did not have Goosebumps and the like growing up. Back in the late seventies and the early eighties one went from “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” to Stephen King. One thing we did have, though, was Twilight Zone Magazine, where two of the all-time great Halloween stories were published: John Skipp’s “The Spirit of Things,” first published in the December 1986 issue (and then included in Skipp and Craig Spector’s odd collaborative short-story-collection-cum-novel Deadlines (1988)) and Dean Koontz’s “The Black Pumpkin.” That issue (the “Halloween Horror Special” – if you ever find an old one for sale, buy it!) had other great stories and content – interviews with Koontz, David J. Schow, and Stephen King (about his newly released novel, It!), fiction by Rose Rinaldi, David J. Schow, Kim Antieau, Donald R. Burleson, Charles Sheffield, and Lois McMaster Bujold), and a preview of the “rock and roll horror movie Trick or Treat (not to be confused with the 2007 film Trick r Treat [required viewing every October]). But Koontz and Skipp transcended the Halloween story for me. Both stories were equally chilling. Koontz’s about a young boy living with an abusive neglectful story who gets terrible revenge against his parents and brother; Skipp’s about a world in which spirits, monsters, and other dark beings have become pissed off that Halloween has been made into a children’s holiday and that they have been represented as “cute,” so they get a terrible revenge. Both stories left a scar on my seventeen-year-old soul. I still adore them. But they also set me on a life-long quest for more Halloween Horror, to get that frisson of fear that the holiday is much darker than we allow it to be. So here are a whole buncha books that I recommend. This list is not exhaustive – many more novels, anthologies, and individual stories to be found – and I apologize if I left off your favorite (or your work).
With apologies to Grady Hendrix, there are some wonderful “paperbacks from hell” set on Halloween that somehow escaped mention in his wonderful book. David Robbins was a one-man PBfH Halloween edition factory. 1992’s Hell-o-Ween featured a prank gone wrong, unleashing a monster that stalked teens on Halloween. More pranks are found in 1994’s Prank Night, but Robbins’ masterpiece was 1995’s Spook Night – the man got a lot of milage out of the same basic premise on the same holiday. Gary L. Holleman’s Howl-o-Ween from 1999 follows in the same clawed footsteps, down to the rhymed poem on the back cover whose first letters of each line spell out the title (the sign of great literature!).
Cemetery Dance has offered some of the best Halloween reads, including the October anthologies October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween and October Dreams II, both sadlt out of print now, but if you can your hands on a copy of either or both it is so worth it. Great stories and favorite Halloween memories of significant horror writers. I thoroughly enjoy reading and rereading both. (October Dreams also has “The Black Pumpkin” and “The Spirit of Things” in it!). CD also gave us Trick or Treat: A Collection of Halloween Novellas; five to be precise, from Gary A. Braunbeck, Nancy A. Collins, Rick Hautala, Al Sarrantino and Thomas Tessier. Can’t tell you the standouts, because they are all excellent. Hautala and Sarrantino both returned to the Halloween well multiple times, the former with Four Octobers (which reprints the excellent “Miss Henry’s Bottles” from Trick or Treat alongside three other Halloween novellas), and the latter with the Orangefield stories, both the eponymous book and other stories and novellas. CD returned with Four Halloweens, featuring novellas from Kealan Patrick Burke, Ray Garton, Ed Gorman and Norman Patridge, the last of whom also offers Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season. Four Halloweens was a one-time special limited edition, which makes it rather rare now, but worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy.
Other numerous anthologies and fiction collections have been offered through the years: Alan Ryan’s Halloween Horrors, first published in 1986 offers thirteen lovely short stories set on All Hallows, including gems from Ramsey Campbell, Robert Bloch, Bill Pronzini, Michael McDowell, Steve Rasnic Tem, Robert McCammon, and Charles L. Grant. 2001 brought forth Isaac Asmiov’s Halloween from Ace (part of their “Isaac Asimov Presents” series featuring stories first published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine), a dozen or so sci-fi stories set on Halloween. Such lovely anthologies as Marvin Kaye’s The Ultimate Halloween, One Night in Salem, Halloween: Mystery, Magic and the Macabre, edited by the always-delightful Paula Guran, the Bad Apples series, driven primarily by Adam Light, Evans Light, and Jason Parent, but also featuring stories from Kealan Patrick Burke, Edward Lorn, John McNee, Mark Matthews, Craig Saunders and Gregor Xane. Crystal Lake’s October’s End (with stories from Jason Parent (again), Kevin Lucia, and Jeremy Bates) and Halloween Beyond (with truly wonderful stories from Lisa Morton (the Queen of Halloween), Kate Maruyama, and Lucy Snyder) both continue CD’s example of putting Halloween novellas from multiple authors into a single volume. Snyder also has The Halloween Season, a collection of October short stories from Raw Dog Screaming.
Can’t mention Lisa Morton without also strongly recommending both her collected Halloween fiction in The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats (top notch short stories from the best time of the year) and her nonfiction: Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween and The Halloween Encyclopedia (now in its second edition, and should be on the reference shelf of every horror writer), not to mention the edited volume A Hallowe’en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writers over the Centuries. We are rapidly approaching an era when one is legally required, if doing a documentary on Halloween, to interview Lisa. Deservedly so, and her books belong on every Halloween shelf. Halloween People, kneel before your queen!
Novels set on Halloween? Yes, please. Obviously, Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Halloween Tree take place of pride. That goes without saying. But dozens of other novels set during the season are also on offer and on the Halloween shelf. Charles L. Grant’s Stunts (1986) runs parallel plots of a British man developing psychic powers to harm others just as his wife embarks on an affair with his American friend while back in the US, a high school principal has banned the titular Halloween stunts, so, of course, the students have at it in one of the first novels to address school shootings long before Columbine was a thing. Like stories in which people become their costumes? Chad Stroup’s Sexy Leper was funny, scary and nihilistic, while J.G. Faherty’s Carnival of Fear features a “haunted house” in which the monsters come to life. The Halloween-haunted-house-that-is-actually-haunted trope has been done to death, but it still gets done well in some of Lisa Cantrell’s early novels The Manse and Torments are rooted in the idea. Most recently, Chirstopher Golden’s All Hallows is perhaps the most recent novel in which real horrors show up to supplant the playful ones, this time at a “Haunted Trail” (well done, Christopher). Gripping novels set on Halloween can also be found by Bryan Smith (All Hallow’s Dead), John Everson (The Pumpkin Man & The House by the Cemetery, the latter another the-‘haunted-house’-is-really-haunted novel), James Tipper (Gods of the Nowhere), C.W. Hunt (Halloween Fiend), Adam Millard (The October Boys), Stewart O’Nan (The Night Country), Agatha Christie (The Halloween Party, recently made into A Haunting in Venice, which barely resembles its source material), James A. Moore (Harvest Moon), and at least half a dozen from Richard Laymon alone (Night in the Lonesome October, All Hallow’s Eve, and his delightful children’s book The Halloween Mouse, among others).
I have but begun to scratch the surface, but if one is a Halloween People, Halloween literature being plentiful is a gift from the dark gods who want us to shiver and double-bolt the door. Again, my apologies for any I have missed in this go-around. The beauty of Halloween literature is that there will always be more out next year, and also that reading these stories other than in October can give one the year-round Halloween feels. Yay!
Kevin Wetmore is a five-time Bram Stoker Award nominee, and the author or editor of over thirty books and four dozen short stories. More about his work can be found at his website: www.SomethingWetmoreThisWayComes.com. For the past two years he has been the host of the Bram Stoker Awards and says funny things and you laugh until you stop. His wife called the HWA “The Halloween People” to try to explain Daddy’s friends to their kids. The name has stuck. He has written Halloween Haunts blog posts for the last six years and has curated the Halloween Haunts for the last three. He wishes you a happy Halloween.