Halloween Haunts: On Being a Halloween Expert by Lisa Morton
Halloween Haunts: On Being a Halloween Expert
by Lisa Morton
“How did you become a Halloween expert?”
At this point in my life, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve answered that question; I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve done it over the last few months. We might as well get it out of the way here: I never planned to be a Halloween expert, and really fell into it almost by accident. Back around 2001, I’d just finished a film book for the publisher McFarland & Co., Inc. and because we’d had a mutually good experience my editor asked if I’d like to do another book with them. I took a look at their most recent catalog and saw they’d just released a book called The Christmas Encyclopedia. Hey, I liked Halloween, right? So I proposed The Halloween Encyclopedia, they said “yes,” and two years later The Halloween Encyclopedia was published…and I was set on my path. As I usually add when answering this question, after writing an encyclopedic reference it’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to become obsessed with the subject, and that certainly happened with me and Halloween. I’ve now written three books on the history of the holiday (not counting a second edition of the Encyclopedia), including the Bram Stoker Award®-winning Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween and enough Halloween-themed fiction to be gathered into a collection (The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats). I’ve appeared in documentaries, magazines, and newspapers; I’ve recorded hundreds of podcasts and appeared on radio shows like Coast to Coast; and I’ve written articles on everything from candy corn (for The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets) to “A Halloween Primer for Horror Writers” (at scribd.com). Heck, I even served as the official consultant on not one but two official US Postal Halloween stamp issues.
Now, here’s the question no one has ever asked: what’s it really like being a Halloween expert?
Let’s look at a typical year:
There isn’t much in the first six months, although if I’ve been invited to film a documentary, that’ll happen in the spring so the piece will be finished and ready to release by the fall. Bigger podcasts may want me to record with them as early as June, since they may take their time to assemble their final product as well. But the bulk of the requests begin showing up in July. These may be phone interviews, podcasts with just audio, or podcasts with video. I’ve become experienced at nearly every streaming platform – Zoom, Streamyard, even proprietary ones used by just a single company – and I do these in my office because the red walls and Halloween art create an attractive background.
By September, the invitations will ramp up significantly; on my days off from the day job, it’s not unusual for me to do three events in one day (I think my record is five). During this month the print interview requests will ramp up, too. I keep my old landline phone because it’s clearer for phone and radio interviews.
I reserve time in October for in-person events, especially since I usually have a new book out then and I can combine signings for the latest Lisa Morton release with Halloween lectures or presentations.
During the last week in October, I’ll get those last-minute requests: “Hi, we’re a radio station in Miami and we’d like to have you on tomorrow morning at 7:55 a.m.!”
Here’s where we get to the question of, do I ever turn anything down? Oh YES. That request from the Miami radio station, for example…I live in Los Angeles, so that proposed time is 4:55 a.m. for me. With those sorts of invites, I’ll pass them on to an east coast colleague like Lesley Bannatyne. I also may just be overbooked and have to turn down things when I literally can’t fit one more event in. If it’s an in-person event that involves me driving a considerable distance, I’ll turn it down because I can’t afford to give away that much time, especially in October. And hey, I once turned down a proposal from a local news show that wanted me to go on and debate a priest who believed the holiday was the Devil’s Birthday (that was just too much of a no-win deal for me).
Do I charge for any of these? Here’s how that works: if the invite is just to chat about the holiday, I don’t; but if the invite includes a presentation (complete with PowerPoint slides), I do charge because that is WORK, especially if the interested party has something very specific they want me to talk about.
Do I ever lose track of everything? Well…I’ve never completely fumbled my scheduling, but I’ve occasionally answered a phone call only to realize it was something I missed! I’ve also gotten subjects confused, because I’m often asked to guest on shows as a paranormal expert or a fiction writer. Fortunately I’m very good at shifting gears in an instant.
So everything eases back after October 31st, right? In the past, yes…but now my season extends into mid-November. I’ll still be jabbering about Halloween as most Americans are getting ready for Thanksgiving.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work…of course it is. I miss doing things in October that I’d love to do because of my schedule. I’d love, for example, to visit all of the major haunted attractions in Southern California, but I just don’t have the time (I will confess here that I do sneak in an hour or so with YouTube to watch current videos and see what the haunts are up to every year).
Yes, it’s a huge amount of work, and it means that I get almost no writing done in September and October, but…yes, I love being a Halloween expert. I never get tired of talking about this remarkable holiday. I meet some amazing people, and have remained friends with some of those who have interviewed me. I love hearing their stories about Halloween, whether it’s how they celebrate it now or what it was like for them as kids. And…yeah, okay, there’s a little ego involved in knowing that you are considered the expert on something you love.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another appointment to run off to. I hope your Halloween season is productive, fun, and maybe a little less stressful than mine.
BIO: Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, and prose writer whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” She is a six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award®, the author of four novels and over 150 short stories, and a world-class Halloween and paranormal expert. Her recent releases include the Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances and The Art of the Zombie Movie; forthcoming in December 2023 is Placerita, a novella co-written with John Palisano. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and online at www.lisamorton.com .
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Lisa Morton is giving away a signed paperback copy of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. Please put your name and email in the captions below to be in the running to win!