How 15 Horror Writers Celebrate Halloween

Image: David James Keaton

No other day gets me more excited to be alive than Halloween. But Halloween isn’t just a day. It isn’t just a month. Sometimes, it can be your whole lifestyle. Do you live your life spooky? If not, you should reconsider. October 31st is the day everybody celebrates ghouls and creeps together, and I love it like no other. I asked a bunch of my favorite horror writers how they celebrate this day, and here’s what they gave me:

15. T.E. Grau

As we creep closer to Halloween, and my daughter edges toward the end of her trick or treating window, I look back at my own time knocking on doors, avoiding some and bee-lining for others based on past reputation and latest intel, before slipping off into the night and the next porch light or open garage, feeling the weight of my pillowcase increase with each house visited, each handful of candy my parents wouldn't normally allow, cursing those kid-hating weirdos who handed out popcorn balls or pennies or mini Bibles, and dreaming of what sort of extravagant lifestyle must be enjoyed by those who gave out a full-size Snickers bars. These were the Sultans of our neighborhood, and we sometimes traded masks and hit those houses twice.

And the masks were the thing back then, weren't they? The only thing, most years. This was the 1970s, which is the last decade that America was just naive enough to send its children out into the night to wander the unlit countryside by themselves with little to no curfew, wearing those cheap, hard plastic masks made by Collegeville or Ben Cooper or some other even cheaper knockoff. The rubber bands would pull our hair. The paint was garish and the proportions distorted. The poorly-made holes for the eyes, nose, and mouth barely allowed us to see or breathe, but we didn't care, because everyone had pretty much the same thing. We were all one in those masks.

14. Chuck Wendig

Halloween here is a pretty standard affair: eat candy, wear masks, sacrifice a number of clowns equivalent to the number of boons and fortunes you wish to achieve in the New Pumpkin Year?

No, more seriously, Halloween is more a family thing now because we have a five-year-old running around and it’s all about him. But somewhere around Halloween I reserve some special time to gorge on a diet of scary fiction across a variety of media. This year I greedily devoured Christopher Golden’s Ararat, Channel Zero: Candle Cove on SyFy, Lights Out, some Black Mirror—all across this last weekend in order to get my creep on.

13. David James Keaton

[I asked David how he celebrates Halloween, and he sent me back these two images without providing any context. —Max]

12. Andrew Hilbert

My first introduction to horror was The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror. I was raised in a pretty strict church and wasn't allowed to participate in pagan celebrations like Halloween or Christmas or my own friggin' birthday. But my folks were young and The Simpsons were worth tempting the wrath of God. Now I look forward to every new Treehouse of Horror and my wife and I watch the classics together. It's a great introduction to horror for anybody. It started my lifelong love for horror. Oh, I also celebrate Halloween by hiding in people's basements until they notice all of their bananas are gone.

11. D. Alexander Ward

These days, Halloween involves fewer black robes and a lot less ritual magic than it used to, but I do like to have friends over for a pumpkin-carving contest. You can’t go wrong with booze and sharp objects and head-shaped fruit, right? On Halloween night, my family is like most others. My daughter gets all dressed up and we go walking around to take candy from a hundred or so random strangers. All just so my wife and I can gorge on it later that night after my daughter passes out in a sugar coma. Beyond that, I’m pretty adamant about writing something that evening. Even if it’s just a little something. Just to make a kind of symbolic and creative connection to Halloween night.

10. Robert Dean

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. Being a weird ass little kid, I waited for the one time of year where I could stock up on cool monster toys, watch horror movies, and dress up. Growing up, I realized I could do this all year long, but those memories as a kid are so unfiltered, they’re so raw and beautiful.

I remember my dad taking us around Canaryville, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago; it felt like we cruised the blocks for hours. Who knows how late we were out, but we didn't stop trick or treating till people stopped answering the doorbell. I’m sure it also helped that we stopped at a few bars in the neighborhood, too. Hey, they still gave us candy, and that was all that mattered.

Folks said hey to my dad, giving him beers, or one or two houses knowing I was a big White Sox fan, even gave me some collectors cups and stickers. I still have those cups.

Before we walloped the streets, we’d go to Boyce’s park for the costume contest. All the kids in the neighborhood would compete against one another and win some pretty neat prizes. (I remember winning one year and getting a Willow prize pack.)

It ain’t exactly a spectacular memory, but walking the streets of Chicago as a kid is something I hold near and dear as I have children of my own. Luckily for me, one of them is already a little weirdo, and he’s only three. As far as I’m concerned, he can have as much fake blood and “spooky ghosts” as he wants.

09. Paul Tremblay

I read a story of mine to my classes on Halloween. The go to stories have been "The Harlequin and the Train," "The Blog at the End of the World," and a newer one called "The Ice Tower." Many students are suitably disturbed and confused.

08. Nicole Cushing

While my fiction is often described as transgressive or extreme, my Halloween celebrations are disgustingly wholesome. I’m happiest when I’m on the front porch giving out candy, or at a local farmer’s pumpkin patch. We get roughly a hundred trick or treaters at our house every year. I usually end up live tweeting the whole thing.

07. Cameron Pierce

I used to think Halloween was a good night for staying in and reading horror stories, but then I discovered that’s what every single other day of the year is for. In recent years, my Halloween traditions have included listening to The Misfits, meeting publishing deadlines for Lazy Fascist, and throwing a trout dinner for friends. But that’s changing a little bit. Last year, my wife and I dressed as Martin and Ellen Brody from Jaws. Our then-seven-month-old daughter went as the shark. This year, we’re going as members of Team Zissou. Our daughter will be the jaguar shark at the heart of The Life Aquatic. We figure by the time she’s old enough to go trick-or-treating, she’ll just think of Halloween as the day you dress up as a shark. We’re already planning her Sharknado costume for next year. But I’m working at Fort George Brewery all night, so while they’re off adventuring, I’ll be slinging beer and helping hold things down at the Fort George Halloween Hellorium. It’ll be a fun, crazy time. Then on November 1st, I’m back to staying in and reading horror stories.

06. Danger Slater

When I was 16 I worked as an actor in a haunted house.

This guy down the street had a large piece of property and more money than he knew what to do with, so he built a haunted ride in the woods in his backyard. He didn’t even charge people to go through it, so there was always a three hour line that ended up wrapping around the block. EVERYONE in town went to this thing. What would happen was that 4 or 5 people would sit down in this motorized cart, and it’d putter around a track he had laid in the ground, and it’d slowly move around, area by area. The whole thing took about 20 minutes. It was pretty legit, for a backyard setup.

I had a couple of positions over the two weeks I worked there. I was a mutilated man with my guts all spilling out, laying in the dirt right when the ride starts. I’d yell out in agony to patrons in the cart “Don’t go in there! Whatever you do: TURN BACK NOW!” to which everyone would always point and laugh at me. I was a zombie, in a graveyard, one of many zombies who would moan and shuffle towards the riders coming through, whom I’d (occasionally) physically assault if they were someone I knew from school. The best position, though, was getting to play the shrieking corpse that popped out of a coffin and screamed really loud in people’s faces. It never failed to make people jump. I even made the mayor’s son cry, which looking back kinda makes me feel bad, but at the time gave me a twisted pleasure. The only bad part was the coffin I had to hide in. It was a little too small. And there was this rusty nail pointing down from the top that would stab me in the head if I tried to stretch out. I must’ve gotten stabbed 80 times by the time the haunt closed. I scared a lot of people, but ended up needing to get a precautionary tetanus shot by the time November rolled around.

05. Christoph Paul

My mother was scared of her own Jewish shadow but she would watch horror movies with me on Halloween. She hated anything that increased her anxiety but she knew how much I loved horror. Halloween was the only day she’d suffer through a horror film. I was so happy to not have to watch my favorite films alone and even happier to see my mother squirm through Hellraiser, Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, Demon Knight, and all the other 80’s and 90’s slasher schlock that I would consume like Halloween candy. She added a whole new dimension to the atmosphere of terror and fright. It made me love Halloween just a little bit more.

04. John Boden

By the time we had moved into town, I was almost too old for trick or treat.  I actually think this may have been my last hurrah. I went as a mummy. My mom had sacrificed a set of sheets and torn them into long shreds to wrap her lanky boy from head to toe.  The costume, while badass, made me legally blind and my feet kept unraveling and tripping me as I prowled the streets with my little brother and friends (not really, at this age I didn't really have many friends, that definition merely applied to people who didn't call me names or hit me).

It was chilly and dark and the street was teaming with the town's youth all clamoring for that handful of sugar to be tossed into their paper bag or, if you had money, the plastic jack-o-lantern thing. In a small town things like that are almost like fences, the invisible kind you don't see but that sting you if you come up against them.

Giggles and laughter floated on the night air like bat wings and the occasional scream was a magical thing.  It was this night that would seed my mind and grow, twisting among the roots and seedlings that were put there by Bradbury and King that would take decades to fully bear fruit.  That night, all of that was a little beyond me.  I really just wanted to get home and count my candy and figure out who I would foist the popcorn balls on to and what scary movies might be on HBO.

03. Jeff Strand

For me as a kid, Halloween was ALL about the candy. I didn't become a horror fan until high school, and I rarely got candy outside of the holidays (and, c'mon, Christmas candy is .00001% as good as Halloween candy), so October 31st was the day to stock up on as much sugar as possible. I grew up in Alaska, so costume choices were limited by what could fit over our snowsuits, and the evening was a race against time to fill our bags before our faces were too frozen to say "Trick or treat!"

02. Robert Brockway

As soon as I was old enough for costumes, I started dressing up as a ninja. The other kids used the holiday as an excuse to try different things—Power Rangers, Pokemon Trainers, Generic Knights—but not me. Halloween was ninja day. I earnestly believed there were secret ninja clans out on Halloween night, watching the streets like talent scouts in the bleachers, just waiting to see whether or not the fat kid in the black pajamas could pull off a bitchin’ enough somersault to earn his place in the clan. And so, year after year, I walked the streets as a shadowy assassin in training, until I was finally old enough to segue from candy to drugs.

Then Halloween became more about getting addled with friends and talking to girls in sexy costumes, inadvertently explaining to them all the reasons they should not sleep with me. But sometimes something magical would happen: When enough beer and mushrooms were applied, I could finally skip the socialization and the mating rituals and just roll around in the yard, pretending to be a ninja again, immune to both lesser poisons and the derisive laughter of my peers.

But now, I’m an adult. Now I know that there are no ninja scouts crouching behind the bushes, waiting to see if I can clear the short hop over the chain that guards the parking lot of the school across the street, and thus prove myself worthy of adoption into the Clan of the Night Dragon. Now, as a boring adult, I might watch a horror movie on All Hollow’s Eve, but that’s pretty much it. There’s just no magic left for me, unless… unless nobody thinks the ninja clans are real because they’re so good at remaining unseen. That…actually makes perfect sense. Why didn’t I think of it earlier? If you’ll excuse me, I have a short length of chain to hop the holy shit over.

01. Anya Martin

As a little girl, my favorite annual ritual hands down was trick-or-treating. You got to dress up as something creepy and run around the neighborhood at night with your friends. My mom made me a great witch costume with a cape like Barnabas Collins when I was six, and that was my favorite. The candy was a treat, but it was the real trick was the chill in the autumn air, making it easy to believe ghosts and monsters were real, just like in The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury.

My Halloween dream is to recreate that tree in my front yard and have a party where each room represents a chapter from the book (I have done an ancient Egyptian tomb bathroom!). But for now, I have just been transforming my suburban Atlanta home into the Witch House. I decorate my living room into a ghoulish panorama that the kids can see through the front window, I play creepy sound effects, I run a fog machine from behind my car, I carve Jack O’Lanterns, and of course I dress up as a witch—never a store-bought costume though, always some raggedy vintage dress which I change every year.  A dressmaker’s dummy becomes a headless lady in a fine dress with a bloody neck, I hang a banner that says “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” on the front door, set up a mummy made of toilet paper and cardboard on the sofa and stand a black coffin which I inherited from a neighbor against the house. I open the door slowly using a realistic bloody severed arm made by a SFX artist. When kids come by, I ask them if my house is the scariest in the neighborhood and if they say yes, I give them candy. I usually get 50-75 kids. This is the first year I won’t be home for Halloween in a long time, and I wonder if they’ll miss me. I’ll still be carving a Jack and lying in wait for Trick of Treaters in a Black Widow dress though.

Now it's your turn, dear readers. Please drop a comment below and let us know how you plan on spending tonight. Or, if you have any cool memories, please share. Happy Halloween!

Max Booth III

Column by Max Booth III

Max Booth III is the CEO of Ghoulish Books, the host of the GHOULISH and Dog Ears podcasts, the co-founder of the Ghoulish Book Festival, and the author of several spooky books, including Abnormal Statistics, Maggots Screaming!, Touch the Night, and others. He wrote both the novella and film versions of We Need to Do Something, which was released by IFC Midnight in 2021 and can currently be streamed on Hulu. He was raised in Northwest Indiana and now lives in San Antonio.

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