Interview with author Lesley Bannantyne

Anyone who really knows about Halloween knows the name Lesley Bannantyne. Lesley is an author who has written a fascinating book titled Halloween Nation. Behind the Scenes of Americas Fright Night.

About Halloween Nation from her website:

So much that’s been written about Halloween has been about the holiday’s history or about how to decorate, cook, and costume for it (guilty, all counts), but there’s not been much about who makes Halloween, and why. I wanted to capture the voices of those who create our 21st-century Halloween and to get to the bottom of why it’s is so popular now, why it matters.

What actually does go on behind the scenes at prop shops and national Halloween conventions, at quiet commemorations of pagan Samhain, or the wickedly raucous Salem Witches’ Ball? What motivates someone to collect so many Halloween vintage curios that when he sells his collection he’s made enough money to finance a house? Or to dedicate a life to creating a spectacle that happens one night a year, or even to tattoo a jack-o’-lantern on a hip? How is it that this overly commercialized, religiously contentious, and politically fractious holiday unites us in a community based on fantasy and fear; and what draws us together on this one night when we open our doors to strangers?

For the past two years I’ve been talking to people for whom Halloween is no ordinary day: mask makers, costumers, giant pumpkin growers, radio talk show hosts, burlesque dancers, tattoo artists, metal musicians, haunted house designers, prop makers, glass pumpkin blowers, pumpkin beer brewers, professional carvers, Halloween artists, musicians and poets, home haunters, cyber haunters, web designers, parade organizers, marchers, zombie walkers, zombie authors…you get the idea. If you love Halloween, really love Halloween, this book is for you. Chances are pretty good it’s probably about you, too.

She has also written several other books including:

  1. Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History
  2. A Halloween Hot-To, Costumes, Parties, Decorations and Destinations
  3. A Halloween Reader, Poems, Stories, and Plays from Halloweens Past
  4. Witches’ Night Before Halloween

I’ve got a link to her site: iskullhalloween.com on my home page and urge readers to visit her site and buy her books.

I took a chance and asked if she’d be willing to do an interview with me about her book Halloween Nation. I was actually quite shocked when she said that she’d do it so I wrote up some questions and she responded.

When and why did you begin writing?

I still have my first story. I wrote it in crayon for my mom, and I know I was in first grade because my first grade teacher, Mrs. Detroya, sent it along to a publisher. I also have that first rejection letter. It’s a kind one, as gently written as a rejection letter can be from an editor to a six-year-old, and I love it because it takes the sting out of “no.” I began writing because I loved to read and wanted to create stories and places like those I was reading about. After college I got interested in many different sorts of writing: for theater, for advertising, for magazines and newspapers. Writing books was a natural step.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I was sitting in a room full of writers at a meeting at the Boston Globe. For the first time I though, right!!, I must be a writer, too.  I had never considered advertising, or at least the radio and tv spots I worked on, writing. But news features, interviews, and columns? Sure.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

There are many! Faulkner, Woolf, Wilde. I love Mary Roach, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman. At a certain point in my life, Lewis Carroll for sure. When it comes down to it, even Nancy Drew was a huge influence.

What book are you reading now?

Three: The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern), the Incredible Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot, about the woman whose DNA cells went on to solve many medical problems), and Skippy Dies (Paul Murray), which writer friends tell me is one of the best novels they’re read in a while.

What are your current projects?

Right now I’m working on a children’s book about grandmothers who drum, and on a few essays that are Halloween-related.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in Halloween Nation?

Of course! There are always bits and pieces I’d edit if I had the chance. Thank goodness I don’t–I think one of the most difficult parts of book-writing is knowing when to stop. You have to be able to recognize when it’s sliding backwards, rather than forward, and that requires a cold distance that’s hard to come by when you’re in the midst of something you love.

What was the hardest part of writing Halloween Nation?

Halloween Nation was a pleasure to write, mostly because all the people in it were wonderful to meet and get to know. If there was a hard part, it would have been the organization: how to arrange the material in a way that would make sense to readers. I ended up sorting things into iconic chapters, like ghosts, witches, pumpkins, etc., but if you could see the piles of notes and papers that I started with, you’d have a laugh.

What surprised you the most when writing Halloween Nation?

How impossible it was to reach Bette Midler. I tried so many times in so many ways, but could never do it. I know that she has an epic Halloween party every year and I wanted to talk with her about it, but it was not to be.

What is your favorite part of Halloween Nation?

Too hard to say – there are parts of every chapter that I would call favorites! It was so much fun to put myself through all those adventures –Witches’ Ball, Village parade, Rob Zombie concert, tattoo convention, HauntCon, to name a few–how could I say that romping around in an old inn looking for ghosts was more exciting than dancing the Time Warp at a zombie ball? For someone who loves Halloween, and I do, the book was pure fun start to finish.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
I can only speak to my own experience, but this is what I know: when people tell you to write about what you love, do it. A book takes a very long time, and if you’re not working on something that you’re not deeply interested in, you may not be able to finish it. For me, I know I need about 2,000 hours to write a book, research to final editing. That’s 20 hours a week for about two years. I can’t imagine writing about bicycle chains or salt for that amount of time. The second thing I know: distance. When I’m wrestling with a chapter or section and I’m twisting myself in circles, I have to put it down and stay away. Not just overnight, either. If you have the luxury, leave a manuscript for a month and then read it again. Then you’ll know what to do.

Thank you Lesley.

Emma Rae Curtis writes and researches everything Halloween. Costumes, party ideas, baby costumes and makeup.

About Emma Rae Curtis

Kids around the world count down the days until Christmas but not Emma Rae Curtis. Ever since her first Halloween, Emma has been a huge fan of the magic that is Halloween. While raising her kids, Emma had the time of her life making Halloween costumes and hosting lively Halloween parties. Each Halloween her house is still decorated to the hilt making it a trick or treat favorite in the neighborhood. Emma loves the fun of getting into costume and watching her friends and family dress up. She loves the scary music, spook alleys and the dark theme of the holiday. Emma loves the decorations, the food and parties that make truly make Halloween a unique and fantastic holiday. If it’s related to Halloween, Emma is into it. Emma is an avid researcher, reader and writer of all topics involving Halloween costumes, Halloween traditions, Halloween decorations, Halloween parties and accessories. At the urging of her friends and family Emma has worked independently as a Halloween writer/researcher since 2001. Emma also does consulting for organizations regarding all things related to Halloween parties, Halloween costumes and Halloween related information.
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