When Halloween Takes Over
When I was a child, Halloween was my favorite holiday. I anticipated its arrival with far more excitement than I reserved for Christmas, even with Santa and the promise of presents. I wanted to climb into the soothing darkness of the season as I crunched on the dead carcasses of the leaves on the street. I wanted to slip into the false skin of a stranger for the night while collecting a hefty sack of cavity inducing treats from my neighbors. The culmination of these autumnal festivities was the most fun I had all year.
Halloween was relegated to the day itself in my youth, perhaps extending some happy, preparatory tendrils into the preceding weeks. I did not control the celebration then. I merely indulged of it—as deeply as I was permitted. I was always anxiously waiting for the next year, planning my next costume, writing my next spooky story.
Yet as the manacles of adulthood and its responsibilities fastened around my metaphorical limbs, I was placated with the ability to embrace Halloween whenever and at whatever intensity I desired. Skeletons and macabre trappings were liberated from orange totes in the garage into permanent placement as standard household décor. Network television schedules no longer dictated when seasonal favorites like Halloween or Hocus Pocus graced my screen as I could play a DVD and later stream whenever I wanted. Eventually, I could even order mellowcreme pumpkins (don’t judge) year-round—on Prime. It could be Halloween whenever I wanted, and with that initial rush of that freedom and control, it was Halloween all the time.
In short, I was the high school goth girl all grown up.
Truthfully, if possible, I may have tried to overdose on Halloween and horror and all the macabre. Thankfully, I had a high tolerance and maintained a solid addiction, even as I brought a family into my home to dilute it. As cohabitation compromise, Halloween migrated (somewhat) back to its season. My foolish husband futilely strived to contain it within October (insert my eye roll in black eyeliner).
Enter my career as a published horror writer.
Halloween season is horror season. Hence it is horror writer season. As the leaves die and the air crisps, people get in the mood for something spooky. They are more interested in reading about someone being stalked by a killer or haunted by a ghost. They want to enter that darker world as the days around them grow shorter. Enter a new reason to pour accelerant onto my already steadily burning devotion to Samhain.
Horror writing, and more the unfortunate required marketing thereof, offered the opportunity to do all sorts of fun new Halloween activities and traditions each year. At first, it was thrilling to be able to do all things dark and spooky and witchy and claim they were for the greater professional good, the same exhilaration as writing a pleasant expense off on your taxes or eating a free meal on the company tab. Yet, as with all things, on a long enough timeline, the excitement wore thin through to mediocrity, and fun thickened into obligation.
Halloween began to take over.
Here are some of the new Halloween traditions that overtake my Octobers:
31 Days of Horror Bingo
There is no better time to binge-watch horror movies than during Halloween season. The mood is right. The movie release calendar is poised to support such indulgence. Numerous horror movies are set on or around Halloween. It is simply meant to be.
#31DaysofHorror is a social media activity to mark watching a horror movie every day (or night) in October. The execution varies account to account. Some do a differen theme or element every night. Others prescribe a particular film each night. Others just view any horror movie each day.
I took 31 Days of Horror and turned it into a game. I added bingo to it. For my #31DaysofHorrorBingo, I create a new bingo board each year. Every tombstone on the board has some horror trope or element.
The rules are as follows:
1) One movie per day.
2) One movie per tombstone.
3) Blackout wins.
Now, the rules do not really matter, and no one really wins. However, it is very fun to play and connect with others as they play along. It is interesting to see which movies other people use for each tombstone, which movies people have to watch every October (we all have them). 31 Days of Horror Bingo becomes a way to do something isolating (watching a movie alone) as a social and larger community activity.
This is all fantastic, but it does require a movie every single day. Not only does it require a movie every day, it necessitates a certain movie. The selection becomes increasingly restrictive as the month goes along and the tombstone options dwindle. What is usually a fun game can turn into a requirement and a chore on some frantic days.
That said, come join us! Play, play along…
Like any good goth girl, recovering or otherwise, I maintain an extensive macabre wardrobe. Many (MANY) of the pieces are Halloween specific. My horror and Halloween wardrobe expanded to such a level that I decided I had to showcase it somehow. Hence Hallowear was born.
Much like #31DaysofHorror, each day in October, I pick of piece of Halloween or horror attire and post a picture of it. The concept was enough the first year. Then it became mundane (and I am no Instagram model), and I needed to level up to keep it interesting. So the pictures needed to be Hallowear and something else. A clever scene, perhaps some fake blood, some festive ambiance.
This year, I aim to get more creative (I am getting no younger or nicer to look at) and pair each outfit with a reading recommendation. Hallowear with Hallowreads.
Like 31 Days of Horror, Hallowear is fun to execute yet a daily obligation. Sure, I would wear these clothes anyway, likely snapping selfies, yet the requirement adds a layer of daunt to it.
Telluride Horror Show
If we are going to talk about horror movies, we might as well talk about horror film festivals. And Telluride Horror Show happens in October. An easy way to knock out a horror movie a day is to spend three days sitting in theaters all day long. If those movies will hit a horror movie trope and mark off a bingo tombstone is always a gamble, but that’s why it is a game.
Telluride is one of my favorite trips. It is a guaranteed annual vacation for me, doing something I absolutely love. It just happens to occur in a month that is booked beyond capacity with activities and obligations.
It also includes its own landslide of marketing rushes for books, finding new followers and connections, and creating content and movie reviews. All good things but just a lot of them.
Even Telluride itself is a marathon, a microcosm of the barrage that is October and Halloween season itself. The movie schedule is end-to-end the entire weekend, and I, of course, want to watch all of them. Then there are other events (campfire readings, horror trivia, pig roast, bar parties) sprinkled between the films. Plus, our group always tries to get out into the mountain scenery. The weekend is exhausting on its own, even more so as the midway point of the October sprint.
Sometimes, people like to talk to me about my writing. I’m strangely popular with local schools, talking about the writing and publication process and my own journey through both. Yet most people want to have a horror writer come talk in… you guessed it… October. In pre-COVID times, I usually booked my school appearances in October. During the pandemic, I even did these over Zoom.
While speaking in front of teenagers can be unnerving, particularly when it is an auditorium or gym full of hundreds of them, I have not had a bad experience. To my surprise, they at least pretend to be engaged. I keep my talk pretty abbreviated, expounding how my childhood love of Halloween dropped me straight into the horror genre, detailing how writing navigated me through severe depression and suicide attempts, explaining the horrors of the publishing experience. Then I turn the session over to questions. The students come up with interesting and often surprising questions, and the session usually flies by.
The experience is great, and I would never deny it. Nor would I reschedule it. I understand the relationship of horror and Halloween. I appreciate the inherent mood. I will always make time to cram something like this into my stuffed month.
Speaking of public, performances tend to ramp up in October too. Especially when you are a metal fusion dancer of the morbid cabaret persuasion. Oh, a Pennywise dance or Oogie Boogie interpretation? Then the shows for that flavor of performance happens in, you guessed it, spooky season. Pencil a few more wonderful obligations in that calendar.
“The Normal Stuff”
Under all of these festivities and promotions and extras are the “normal” Halloween activities. Every year, I need a Halloween costume. Naturally, it must be more elaborate and creative than the previous year. I have children who also need their own outlandish and detailed costumes (this year we are looking at RuPaul out of drag and Sam from Trick ‘r Treat). They also trick-or-treat every Halloween night, which proves challenging since our neighborhood is not especially participatory. We try to attend a haunted house. We go to a pumpkin patch. We host a Halloween party (back when drunken gatherings of multiple households were a thing).
More than anything, these normal traditions are non-negotiable. These are the foundation of the season, the bliss in my memory and the joy I want to pass down. I am attempting to endow my children with all these traditions, all these things that have made me happy each autumn, all these habits that I look forward to when the seasons shift. I have just stacked so many other Halloween things atop the list that it threatens to crush us all.
A logical or sane person might suggest simplifying, scaling back. My therapist may have said those very buzzwords in previous, more social years. To which I throw back my head and laugh manically. Halloween has taken over my life, but I welcome such a demanding mistress. I relish such a daunting yet blissful end. I could not give up my horror movies or Halloween shirts and books or public appearances or performances or any autumnal tradition. I can come skittering across All Hallows Eve practically a skeleton or zombie myself.
There’s plenty of time to sleep in November. Oh wait… NaNoWriMo.
No rest for the wicked!
Colorado-bred writer, Christina Bergling knew she wanted to be an author in fourth grade. In college, she pursued a professional writing degree and started publishing small scale. With the realities of paying bills, she started working as a technical writer and document manager, traveling to Iraq as a contractor and eventually becoming a trainer and software developer. She avidly hosted multiple blogs on Iraq, bipolar, pregnancy, running. Limitless Publishing released her novel The Rest Will Come. HellBound Books Publishing published her two novellas Savages and The Waning. She is also featured in over ten horror anthologies, including Collected Christmas Horror Shorts, Graveyard Girls, Carnival of Nightmares, and Demonic Wildlife. Bergling is a mother of two young children and lives with her family in Colorado. She spends her non-writing time running, doing yoga and barre, belly dancing, taking pictures, traveling, and sucking all the marrow out of life.
Sidney, a single mother with a menial day job, has big dreams of becoming a full-time horror reviewer and risqué gore model. She’s determined to make her website a success, and if her growing pool of online followers is any indication, things are looking good for her Elvira-esque aspirations. In fact, Sidney has so many followers that chatting with them is getting to be a job in itself. More than a job, it might be getting a risky….
When Sidney is attacked on a dark trail late one night, it becomes clear that the horror she loves is bleeding into her real life. She learns that real-life horror is not a game, and being stalked isn’t flattering—it’s terrifying, and it could get her killed.
Sidney—and her loved ones—are now in serious danger. This follower isn’t just another online fan: he knows her movements, and he knows her routine. In fact, he’s right behind her… and when he gets close enough, he won’t take no for an answer.