Gayle Lynds: All right, folks. Confess. You’re now over 30 years old, or maybe 50, or even 60. Do you have childhood Halloween memories you can’t forget — or wish you could? From costumes to candy, from pranks to ghost tales, it’s a holiday that feeds a budding writer’s heart while giving a lot of other folks a sugar high.
Let’s take a deep breath … and remember….
When I was growing up, we kids helped our mothers make all sorts of candies and cakes to give out on the Big Night. I remember Mother pouring a hot Karo syrup mixture over popcorn spread across a cookie sheet. Steam rose. Her face turned bright red from the heat as she slapped the sticky mixture into fist-size balls. As soon as the popcorn balls cooled, my job was to wrap each one in waxed paper and tie a ribbon around the ends. Her trust made me proud.
On the day of Halloween, we weren’t allowed to wear costumes to school where the serious business of education took place. But the moment the last bell rang, we ran home and dressed up as witches and goblins, Supermen and princesses, ate early dinners, and sat on our front porches to wait until the sun went down. No, we didn’t do homework first — no one had homework until junior high school. As the time passed toward sundown, and the shadows lengthened, we children squirmed with excitement. Halloween!
Although I knew they were coming, I didn’t recognize the older kids who arrived to take us out trick-or-treating — until, with great drama, they removed their masks. Who knew your big friends could be so scary? As we walked down the street, they told us spooky stories and warned us about headless spirits lurking behind trees.
At every neighbor’s door, we had to give our names, because no one had much money so there were just enough treats for those of us who lived nearby. And what treats they were! The aroma of freshly baked goods rising from our paper sacks made our mouths water.
Of course, my parents were embarrassing. One year they went trick-or-treating, too, carrying an empty bushel basket. The neighbors laughed so hard we could hear them a block away. Another time, a group of teenage boys wearing sheets leaped up from behind a wall and shrieked and waved their arms. We ran screaming. Then there were the years of water balloons, marshmallow fights, and the horrible grating moans of “the dead” who’d taken up residence in a hollow. That really made us run, yelling so hard I thought my chest would explode.
What fun we had, and what a terrific foundation it gave me to write thrillers. The dark of night, strange sights, threatening sounds, and masks — who is that character, really? What are they hiding? What do they want?
Compared to today, those were tame, sweet times, but like much of life, even that is relative.
We had no computers, only black-and-white TVs, and the worst thing boys did was go to school without a belt through the loops of their blue jeans, and the worst girls did was wear blue jeans, with or without a belt. But despite the lack of violence and threats so many of our schools face today, or perhaps because we lacked the horrible violence, somehow my generation went on to found Microsoft and Apple, use cable TV to beat network TV into submission, build tanks and the NFL into powerhouses, and discover intolerances of gluten were making a lot of people feel lousy.
The truth is, spy thrillers are simply reflections of life, with all its politics, hubris, questioning of the unknown, and search for adventure. We thrive when we ask questions. We expand our horizons when we seek answers. And international espionage thrillers do both. They’re also a lot of fun to write and read.
I send all best wishes for a very Happy Halloween to you and yours. May you and your goblins have a spirited evening. We’ll be sitting home quietly, working, hoping for a grand bunch of youngsters with memorable costume and happy hearts.
With this post I begin the Rogue Women’s next series, this one about Halloween and other holidays and how they affect our writing. You won’t want to miss these wonderful tales. To get your personal subscription, just click here.