A scary scenario?

by | Oct 15, 2017 | Karna Small Bodman, On writing | 6 comments

….by Karna Small Bodman

Leading up to what is reported to be the “Second Favorite Holiday” (after Christmas), in addition to the great guest blog about inspiring settings posted earlier, my Rogue colleagues have been writing blogs here about the frightening aspects of Halloween.  Why is it scary? What is the history of one of the oldest holidays still celebrated today — one associated with ghosts, goblins, and evil spirits?
You see, October 31st is the last day of the Celtic calendar — originally it was a pagan holiday when they honored the dead.  We’ve all heard the term “All Hallows Eve” — which actually goes back some 2,000 years. It was scary because the Celtics believed that the dead roamed around at night – throughout the fields and villages. And since not all spirits were friendly souls, the folks wanted to ward off danger by leaving treats out to placate them — thus “Trick or Treat Night” (Not sure where the “Trick” part came from though).

The next day was known as All Saints Day. That one was created by Christians as a time to try and convert the pagans.  In fact, the Catholic church honored saints on November 1st.

Put it all together and you have a time when people were scared of a lot of things — of pagan ideas, dead souls rummaging around in the field just before harvest time, people dressing up to ward them off — and you have a day, well a night really, that has evolved over the millennia from a pagan ritual to a time of costumes, parades, parties and treats. But for me, while it was fun gathering little Hershey bars from friendly neighbors when I was young enough to dress up as a ballerina in a tutu, later on when I was exposed to more

ghosts, witches and skeletons and dragged through haunted houses, I decided I didn’t really like to be scared and would rather avoid the whole exercise (and wait for happier times like Thanksgiving and Christmas.)

So those were childish fears – the question is: what frightens us today? And I wonder if endeavoring to “handle” our fears plays some part in leading me and my Rogue Women Writer friends here to decide to write thrillers? I thought about that and figure it may be a combination of childhood experiences coupled with jobs we have held — both giving us inspiration for our stories.  In thrillers I see two types of scary scenarios. First you often have a threat to the national security of our country that a heroine and/or hero race to prevent.  But this is often paired with a threat to their personal security. 

Perfect examples of this combination are found in the James Bond books and films. While James is racing down a mountain to stop Doctor No from carrying out his evil scheme, the guy with the steel teeth is chasing James — remember those scenes? The author certainly had professional experiences that he was able to weave into his terrific novels.

Author Francine Matthews

Our own Rogue members also have combined their experiences into their great stories. For example, one of our members, Francine Matthews, served as an intelligence analyst at the CIA and worked on the Counter  Terrorism Center’s investigation of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Talk about a frightening and horrible scenario. She also debriefed President George Bush in Houston. Since then she has written some 20 terrific thrillers.

Author Gayle Lynds

Another one of our bestselling thriller writers, Gayle Lynds also gleaned first-hand knowledge about threats to our country when she had a Top Secret clearance at a government think tank. In her novels, we see how she combines a national security threat with heroes and heroines running for their lives.

In summary, I’m suggesting that the fears we experience as children — often connected to the ghosts and goblins of Halloween — really can have an impact on what we do in later life. For me, it’s combining the personal experiences with the professional time spent serving on the National Security Council staff in The White House that inspired me to write thrillers.

Now — what about you? Do you still harbor any fears (from Halloween perhaps) that you can still “feel” today? Or are your memories simply ones of happy times, funny costumes and more Hersey bars? Do leave a comment — and, oh yes, enjoy All Hallows Eve (if you can!).

…submitted by Karna Small Bodman

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  1. Gayle Lynds

    I love the way you weave our cultural history into both the personal and the geopolitical, Karna. And I wonder with you how much our childhood experiences impacted our adult choice to write thrillers in which good and evil are pitted against one another, and we can write endings that quell some of our fears while at the same time respecting the reality of our world in which nothing ever stays static, and bad situations are never easily solved. By the way, I'm still scarred by an early childhood viewing of some movie to which older children took me in which a Tyrannosaurus Rex (or somesuch) stomped people and cities. I "watched" the movie from under the theater seat. Scarred, I tell you!

  2. Karna Bodman

    Thanks for your comments, Gayle – and now, come to think of it, there were lots of very scary movies that I saw as a child that still "haunt" my memory, including the ones about Dracula and a wax museum. I wonder if others can remember the names of movies that frightened them?

  3. john

    Nice piece, Karna — I've never known the source of our Halloween "celebration" and am glad to find out!

  4. Francine Mathews

    And you know, interestingly enough, Karna, that process works in reverse–I found that after working on Pan Am 103, I was a very nervous flyer. Took me years to get over panic attacks whenever I boarded a plane.

  5. Rogue Women Writers

    The Red Tent. It was about a group of artic explorers who were marooned and dying. Not a horror film, but horrifying. I was about six years old, I think, and had to leave the theater, the story terrified me so. It's the first movie I recall seeing where the subject was pretty much survival and death.

  6. S. Lee Manning

    Love learning the history of Halloween – also love the interweaving of Halloween and our fears. Good blog.