Halloween was a big deal at our two-room school. Every October, the students in my teacher/aunt Miss Longenecker’s lower grades and Mrs. Kilhelfner’s upper-grades skipped class for Halloween amusement in the fun house that transformed the basement of Rheems Elementary School. To begin this scary trip, I was blindfolded before descending the cellar steps. Guided by an older student’s voice, I stepped gingerly through a tunnel of hay bales. Sightless, I felt my legs go stiff, my arms jerking like a robot trying to navigate the path.
Peeled grapes had become the naked eyeballs of the faux human “remains” I touched. Instructed to blow a penny out of a dish, I felt the odd sensation of something warm coating my face. Then proceeding through the maze, I heard the whoo-whoo of a wispy ghost and the scream of what might be an ax murderer, mysterious mayhem my imagination conjured up. Finally, I took off my blindfold to behold the fright of a luminous skeleton moaning in pain. After I scooted down a metal slide to exit, landing on my bottom, I was relieved to see the light. Ah! Only then did I touch my face to discover a coating of flour.
We entertained ourselves on Halloween night dressing up at home, too. Often our outfits were homemade: a hobo from Mom’s scraps or a ghost materializing from a sheet. But sometimes Aunt Ruthie went overboard with her other nieces, my younger sisters. One fall during the Halloween parade, Ruthie created a yellow-and-black beehive costume for cute little Jeanie to wear, complete with a stick she held with a wee bee bobbing up and down on the end. Janice has told me she was so jealous at having a plain old sheet to wear instead that year. What I wore must not have been spectacular because I can’t conjure up an image.
Excerpt from Chapter 13, Halloween Fright, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl
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Our fun house in the Rheems School basement was sectioned off. It had partitions, much like the imaginary “house” a writer creates, making scenes that expand into chapters—all part of a whole unit.
Author Susanna Clarke fantasizes about these houses, these rooms, these connected spaces, which writers prepare for their readers.
Writing a book is like moving into an imaginary house. The author, the sole inhabitant, wanders from room to room, choosing the furnishings, correcting imperfections, adding new wings. Often, this space feels like a sanctuary. But sometimes it is a ramshackle fixer-upper that consumes time rather than cash, or a claustrophobic haunted mansion whose intractable problems nearly drive its creator mad. No one else can truly enter this house until the book is launched into the world, and once the work is completed the author becomes a kind of exile: the experience of living there can only be remembered.
Here’s where you get to chat about . . .
- Your experience of Halloween then or now
- Susanna Clarke’s metaphor for the writing process
- Your own writing process