HELLNOTES: When did the idea for this collection start coming together? What was the process like of narrowing down your work in order to compile the final table of contents?
Lisa Morton: It’s really been only recently – in about the last six or seven years – that I started writing a lot of Halloween-themed fiction, and at some point in the last year I realized (with a bit of a shock) that I’d produced over 100,000 words of Halloween-themed stories and novellas. At that point, it’s kind of obvious to think about a collection! Choosing the work was less difficult than ordering it in the book – do we go chronological, or thematically, or what? Fortunately my editor Jess Landry was smart enough to come up with an excellent order for the stories.
HN: The collection takes its title from your novella “The Samhanach,” in which a modern day family finds out that their ancestors were cursed by a Celtic bog demon 300 years before. What was the inspiration behind that story, and what kind of research did it take to bring to life? How did you decide that this story would be the titular one, and what can we anticipate from the other included tales?
LM: The research was done before I even had the idea for the story (!), because it comes from my non-fiction reference book The Halloween Encyclopedia. I’d found one reference in an old book on Scottish folklore to a Halloween goblin called the Samhanach, and the name was so intriguing that it instantly took up residence in my consciousness (despite the fact that I’m still not certain of the correct pronunciation). When I decided I had to write about this creature, I took the ambitious route of turning the story into a mini-history of Halloween, so I included the flashbacks through different periods. Given that mini-history of the festival, and the fact that The Samhanach is the best-known of my Halloween novellas (it was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award® and appeared on several “Year’s Best” lists), it seemed the obvious choice for a title. Nearly all of the tales include a little Halloween history and folklore (that’s going to be nearly unavoidable with me, I’m afraid), but of course I want them to be first and foremost entertaining.
HN: Although it’s always hard to pick just one piece of candy from the “Take One” bowl, do you have a personal favorite of the stories in this collection? Is there any particular story in here that – while you love it just as much as all the others – was more difficult to write?
LM: I have several favorites. “The Devil Came to Mamie’s on Hallowe’en” was the first piece of Halloween fiction I wrote, so it has a special place in my heart. The Samhanach ended up being received very well, so I look upon it fondly. And the most recent story in this collection, “The Enchanted Forest”, is kind of near and dear to me because it reflects how I’ve been living with my mom’s dementia for the past few years, and trying to understand what a strange and terrifying place the world must occasionally be for her.
HN: According to your website, you’re a “Halloween Expert.” Lest anyone doubt that, you’ve written several books on the subject, including A Hallowe’en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writings Over the Centuries, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Non-Fiction. What is it about Halloween that appeals to you? Clearly you’re in good company with us Halloween lovers here at Hellnotes, so what is it that you think draws all of us to this particular holiday?
LM: It’s a combination of elements, but I think the most important one is the way it gives us permission one night a year to live our fantasies in a socially-acceptable way. It also allows us to explore our fears in safety, and that’s something that can be both empowering and therapeutic.
HN: Other than Halloween, what’s your second favorite holiday? Have you ever set a horror story during that one? If not, why not?
LM: Wow, I really had to think about this because no other holidays hold the same meaning to me! I guess I might say New Year’s, because I like the hopefulness of a new year…and it’s probably no coincidence that the grandmother of Halloween, the Celtic Samhain, was their New Year’s celebration. I can’t immediately think of a story I’ve written that used New Year’s, although given how much I’ve written there might be one I’m forgetting!
HN: You’ve been very successful writing across many formats – including short stories, novellas, novels, non-fiction, even screenplays. Drawing from your experience, what piece of writing advice would you give to our readers who are also writers? What was the best piece – or the worst piece – of writing advice that you were ever given?
LM: The single biggest piece of advice I give to writers is simply this: PERSEVERE. There are no quick roads to success in most careers, and writing is no different. You’ll suffer rejections and setbacks in the beginning, but you have to learn to grow a thick skin, take what you can from the criticisms, and just keep moving forward. I’ve known some incredibly gifted writers who didn’t attain success mainly because they gave up when they didn’t get published or produced in a year or two, and I’ve known writers who notched up hundreds of rejections before their first sales but who are now highly regarded.
The other piece of advice I’d offer is to seek the companionship of other good writers. Surround yourself with as much talent as you can – somehow it has a way of rubbing off onto you. I think the best advice I ever got was to join the Horror Writers Association (thank you, Dennis Etchison), which has introduced me over the years to so many fantastic writers who have helped and influenced me.
HN: In addition to writing, you’re also an editor, with the most recent book being Haunted Nights (co-edited with Ellen Datlow). What current horror authors do you enjoy reading? Who or what do you enjoy reading from outside the genre?
LM: As far as contemporary horror authors, I’m currently hooked on S. P. Miskowski (full disclosure: I blurbed her collection) and Josh Malerman. But there are so many others I love – Dennis Etchison still produces some of the greatest horror fiction in the world, as do Ramsey Campbell and Robert McCammon. Unfortunately, as a nonfiction writer my reading time is often confined to research, so my reading outside the genre is sadly limited. I will say I set everything aside to read Hillary Clinton’s What Happened.
HN: Finally, what’s coming up on your horizon? Not just what’s projects are coming out soon, but also what ideas are you playing with that maybe haven’t been worked out yet – can you give us something concrete as well as something abstract to anticipate?
LM: I soooooo want to produce another novel – I’m completely and painfully aware of the fact that advancing in a horror writing career on the strength of short fiction and nonfiction alone is virtually impossible – but I keep getting seduced away. Right now there are several book proposals circulating that would keep me from a novel, which is both exhilarating (because these books would be mainly nonfiction and incredibly fun to research) and frustrating. I know what that novel would be called, and what it would be about, and who the protagonists would be…but you’ll have to forgive me if I say I’m keeping all that to myself right now, because I’m just megalomaniacal enough to think I’ve got a great title and a unique premise, neither of which I want to give away yet.
Pre-order THE SAMHANACH AND OTHER HALLOWEEN TREATS (out October 20th) here!
Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, award-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening”. Her work – which includes three nonfiction books on Halloween, four novels, and more than 130 short stories – has been translated into eight languages and received six Bram Stoker Awards®, a Black Quill Award, and the Halloween Book Festival Grand Prize. She co-edited (with Ellen Datlow) the anthology Haunted Nights, which received a starred review in Publishers Weekly; other recent releases include Ghosts: A Haunted History and The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats. Lisa lives in the San Fernando Valley and online at www.lisamorton.com.