Thursday, October 25, 2012

Day 26...Interview & Giveaway "Halloween Nation"

Welcome all of my ghoulish friends to my crypt and day 26 of the Halloween countdown. Today I have something so fantastic it will make a skeleton's head spin.

If you recall a few days ago I spoke to you about a book I had checked out at our local library called Halloween Nation. Go HERE  to read that blog and review.

It turns out the publisher of Pelican Books also read the review and contacted me. In the next two days I was e-mailing and interviewing the author of Halloween Nation, Lesley Bannatyne.

Here is that interview:

Welcome Lesley Bannatyne. Thank you for taking the time to do an interview with me and my blog, “Just the Stuff Ya Know.” We are here to discuss about you and your book, Halloween Nation.

Her Web Site and Facebook

Please tell me a little about yourself .
How did you get your start in the book industry?

I’ve been a writer since I graduate from college, and was working freelance for various magazines and ad agencies when a literary agent friend told me that Facts on File (a publishing house) was interested in holiday book proposals. ‘They have two left,’ she said. ‘Halloween and Election Day.’ I jumped at the chance to write a history of Halloween, sold the proposal, and spent the next three years researching and writing Halloween. An American Holiday, An American History. It was my first book.

How is it that you got so interested in Halloween?

I have loved Halloween from the moment I put on a cape and ran through the night with a pillowcase full of candy. But it was while working on my first book when I discovered how big, deep, and wide the subject is. It’s not “just” Halloween – it’s Irish mythology, church history, popular culture, media, movies, music, sociology, even science.

Was Halloween a fun time for you growing up? Did you have Halloween traditions?

I could barely sleep come October 1st, and the night itself never disappointed. My traditions were those of most of the kids of my generation: we figured out a costume or hounded our parents to buy masks and accessories, got the biggest trick-or-treat bag we could find, and went out the second it got dark with a big gang of friends, no curfew. My dad did the pumpkin carving, and my mom gave out treats, which, as far as I can remember, were always Snickers bars.

In chapter two of your book, Halloween Nation, you talk about our obsession with ghosts. You state, “We fear them, hunt them and try to pry secrets from their musty fists.”  Why do you think if we fear them so much we even bother?

There’s no bigger mystery than what happens after death, so no matter how unsettling it can be to think about ghosts (or encounter them, if you believe that’s possible), we have a huge desire to know, and a deep curiosity that keeps us mesmerized by the spirit world.

In this same chapter you spoke about a project called “draw your soul”.  I found that to be quite interesting. Why do you think we see ourselves so differently? How would you see your soul? Would you be willing to draw my readers a small picture?

I love this question. I think we see different things in our imaginations when it comes to soul because it’s such a personal concept, and also, because there are no models! We can’t help but be influenced by images of birds, flight, or the wisp-like portrayals that appear in paintings or drawings, but when you sit down and try to draw, something more human and individual comes through. I’d be happy to draw something for you!

Also in your book you talk about those on the fringe of Halloween. You know, those that take it to the extreme.  That chapter was brief. Do you have any further thoughts about these people? Do you think you would do something that extreme? If so, what and why?

I did spend a lot of time with people who do all sorts of interesting things, like horror burlesque dancers, people who design Halloween-themed tattoos, and most of all with people who live Halloween at least half the year by spending time creating and building things to decorate their yards. For me, if I could have the time, I’d be in my garage building my own fake tombstones and ghosts. I found nearly everyone I talked to very, very creative, and it would be fun to explore that.

Your whole book is based on our obsession with Halloween. Did you come to a complete conclusion as to why we are so obsessed? Final thoughts?

It would be nice to say that our obsession with Halloween came from one cultural event or trend, but I don’t think that’s the case. Our obsession is equal parts nostalgia, the chance to be expressive or downright exhibitionist, the joy of the tolerance that Halloween brings, our passion for group glee, and our need for community celebration whether it’s trick-or-treating dressed as a tiny pumpkin, zombie-shambling down the main streets of your town, or running naked through a pedestrian mall with a pumpkin on your head.

Halloween: An American Holiday, an American HistoryI see that you have other books based on your knowledge of Halloween. Would you like to expound on them a bit?

My first was Halloween. An American Holiday, An American History, which told the story of Halloween in this country; how some of its folklore traveled here with early Scottish immigrants and later, the Irish, Germans, Africans, Mexicans, etc., and how different ethnicities contributed to its celebration. The book takes Halloween through all the events of the 20th century, including the wars, the beginnings of trick-or-treating and up through the 1980s (it was originally published in 1990; it’s been through several printings, and is now published by Pelican Publishing Co.).

Halloween How-To, A: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations

The next was A Halloween How To. Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations, and this was the book that introduced me to the Halloween community that exists today. It was published just after the internet had helped create the Halloween do-it-yourself yard-haunting phenomenon, and I corresponded with celebrants all over the country about monster mud and séances, Styrofoam tombstones, home-made costumes, and giant pumpkin boat races. 

A Halloween Reader: Poems, Stories, and Plays from Halloween Past
A few years later I went back to some of the research I’d done for the history book, and starting compiling an anthology of Halloween fiction, poetry, and plays from the past 400 years, which ended up in
A Halloween Reader. Poems, Stories, and Plays from Halloweens Past. I dug around in the wonderful, deep archives of Widener Library at Harvard University, and found material that was sometimes beautiful, often funny, and very quirky.

Witches' Night Before Halloween

A children’s book came next, Witches Night Before Halloween (Twas the night before Halloween and all through the cottages / the witches were stirring their brews and their potages / The cupboards were bursting with hop-toads and newts / And they’d shined up their pointy-toed, fancy dress boots…you get the picture!)

Last year I published Halloween Nation. Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night (from Pelican; all may books are from Pelican now), which is my attempt to understand what’s driving the new popularity of Halloween, and why it means so much to so many people.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

The main thing is to write about something you really, really love. A book takes a very long time and there are good days and bad days. If you’re not passionate about the subject, the bad days will sink you. Also, know that you’ll write it over and over again, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Ok ,some fun questions:

What was your favorite costume growing up? Worst?

Gypsy – with my mom’s makeup and a sparkly skirt, I had never felt more glamorous.
Fireracker—it was a good idea on paper, but we made it out of chicken wire and it hurt to walk in it.

If you could be haunted by any famous person, who would it be and why?

Oscar Wilde. I can’t think of a better wing man. And if I could have another (please?), I would’t mind spending some time with Mary Shelley. I have questions about that summer on Lake Geneva.

Once again, thank you so much for allowing me to interview you.  I have found you to be an intriguing person and most fun.

****Lesley Bannatyne is an awesome author. I enjoyed her book very much. Would you like your own copy of Halloween Nation? Ms. Bannatyne is generously offering a signed copy of her book, Halloween Nation to one of my lucky followers. You may enter in the Rafflecopter below. Hurry, Halloween is coming fast!


  1. Wow, making me use my brain - it's late! Well let's see I think I was a Roaring 20's gal! Yes that was fun!

  2. I dressed as a playboy bunny back in college. What a night :)

  3. I dressed up as a "hobo". With old clothes of my Dad's, a hat, sport's jacket, a wig and moustache, my face was made up to look dirty by using a burnt wine cork. No one knew it was me!!

  4. great giveaway favorite costume as a kid vampire and have to admit still is my favorite now

  5. highway sign reads caution zombies ahead

  6. My favorite costume as a kid, was also my least favorite. It was as an astronaut. I wanted to go into Outer Space so much and walk on the moon. The costume was itchy and sweaty and you could hardly see out of the eye slits. But it was an astronaut costume and I loved it for that reason. For one Halloween I walked on the moon, although it was in my neighborhood here in Colorado.

  7. Just sayin' great interview. Can not believe you never did this before. Loved your questions. Very well done.

  8. I can't remember a lot from my early costume days, but I know I loved being a gypsy (I was for 3 years in a row) because I always fancied myself a wanderer like they are :)

    Thank you for this AWESOME giveaway!!

  9. favorite Custom: has to be a pirate or hobo they were both fun.

  10. We didn't celebrate halloween in my country

  11. I wasn't actually allowed to dress up for Halloween as a kid, but my favorite costume as an adult had to be when Bill & I went to a party as Uncle Sam and Aunt Samantha - all dressed up in red, white, and blue and sparkly.


Thank you for reading and dropping by. I always appreciate your comments. ~Naila Moon