Even the best writers are far from mystical automata that sit down an crank out page after page of pure gold every day, and I’m not even one of the best, in my opinion. I, like so many other authors, have to get into the writing mood at times, which is not unlike getting into certain other moods. Some have little mascots on their desk to help them focus. A few I know of have vintage typewriters for a more immersive experience. Depending on the story, I have my little rituals, and I’d like to share some of my tricks for getting my spook on.
Mascots and mischief aplenty
My office also happens to be my reptile room, so I have four sets of herp eyes on me every time I sit down. Kirby, Loki, and Nyanzaru (Nya) are my three leopard geckos, while Cas (gender still unknown) is my ball python. They may lack the brain structure necessary for emotional bonds, but they sure know that the floor vibrations mean the Mistress of Mice and Worms has arrived! I also have my raven decoration perched up high, which is practically standard-issue for Maryland-born writers. I haven’t named him Edgar, Allen, or Poe, either. I think a bird associated with wisdom deserves a little more dignity than a cheesy nickname.
The right (written) stuff
There are well over a hundred books of all kinds just on one bookcase, but this time of year calls for eerie tales with, because I’m me, a dose of tongue-in-cheek humor.
I highly recommend the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy. This is a case where the books are genuinely better than the movie, especially the one about Harold. <<shudder>> The original version of that story was as scary to 11 year-old me as Steven King’s The Stand.
As far as I can tell, this next book hasn’t made anyone’s Top Ten, which is a shame, because it has a healthy mix of horror and hokum. Chilling Ghost Stories by Bernhardt J. Hurwood was one of my hands down favorite reads in middle school. I probably would have read it back in second or third grade, but it showed up in a Scholastic order when I was in sixth grade, I think. I made this book part of my son’s curriculum for October, but took the liberty of warning him not to read certain stories. He is not a horror buff like his mom! The story The Thing from the collection really got to him, and my favorite, Green Velvet, spooked him enough that he made my mom read it after he finished. That surprised me because I always considered that story more sad than scary.
And what spooky story session would be complete without The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? You could argue Stoker, Shelley, or Lovecraft should be here instead, but I find them a little aggressive for putting me in a child-like mindset. Gothic horror doesn’t so much tease you with its craft as chloroform you and sew your foot to your forehead. Irving’s tale of Ichabod Crane’s suggested fate at the hand of the Headless Horseman is played out in Disney’s animated short, something that is a must-watch in October, but Irving’s original version has more heart and the charm of a grandfather spinning yarns by the fire.
The right rhythm
As a musical theatre nerd, I have a song for everything. Halloween has a whole playlist on my phone, but sometimes you find inspiration n the oddest places. There’s the usual – Thriller, the Time Warp, and the Monster Mash – but then there’s less common fare, like Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Red Right Hand. We used to keep writing journals in college for creative writing, and a lot of my throwaway, stress-buster pieces were song parodies and song-inspired story seeds. With the current average word counts for children’s stories, those were great practice for keeping a story punchy and pruned. Without giving away too much, one of the less-played songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show inspired a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not-vibed” piece that is set to come out in 2021. Rhythmic devices are all around; you just need to let your ear lead you to the perfect groove!