Essential October Reads: Kealan Patrick Burke

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us. 

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kealan Patrick Burke, award-winning author and editor and a frequent presence here at October Country, writing about a book that’s near and dear to many a dark heart.

I love October, fall, and Halloween. It’s my favorite time of the year and the one time in which nobody gets to turn their nose up at horror (not that they should, ever). Up until a few years ago, I would have said my favorite Halloween read was Something Wicked This Way Comes, for reasons any fan of Bradbury knows well. It’s the quintessential Halloween story, sumptuous, evocative, and moving, and of course, chilling in the way it forces adulthood onto its child protagonists.

But now I have another favorite and it came from left-field. I’ve been a fan of Norman Partridge’s work for almost a decade but he’s at the top of his game with Dark Harvest, a book that transcends horror into modern classic territory. It’s a dark fable, with shades of Jackson and Bradbury, told in an impeccable folksy style that makes it impossible not to read. I love many horror stories, but few linger in the memory as much as this one did. So much so that it has become, like Bradbury’s classic, a perennial favorite.

Kealan Patrick Burke is the author of more than a dozen novels and novellas and more than a hundred short stories. His latest book, Nemesis, is the concluding chapter in the Timmy Quinn series. It’s available now in a limited edition hardcover, and a digital edition will be released on Halloween.

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Essential October Reads: Nanci Kalanta

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us. 

Today’s guest, Horror World owner/editor Nanci Kalanta, brings us a list of tales perfectly suited for a chilly autumn evening.

October. The horror world’s favorite month. Ray Bradbury is probably the author most identified with the Halloween season. His many novels are set in the fall, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Halloween Tree (‘natch) and The October Country are three essential fall reads for me.  The opening scene in A Wrinkle In Time has Meg in her attic room listening to a fall storm raging outside her window and a later scene has her walking through the woods with leaves crunching under her feet.  The imagery draws me.

With time in short supply, I sometimes resort to short stories to set the mood for the season.  Cemetery Dance’s short story collection October Dreams and the Halloween novellas in Trick or Treat are just the “trick.”  Re-reading Braunbeck’s “Tessellations,” Hautala’s “Miss Henry’s Bottles,” Monteleone’s “Yesterday’s Child,” Wilson’s “Bucket,” Bradbury’s “Heavy Set” along with authors’ Favorite Halloween Memories set the stage.  Just add a cup of hot cocoa, a warm fire and a howling wind.

Nanci Kalanta is the owner/editor of Horror World.

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Essential October Read: R.J. Sevin

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us. 

Today’s essentials come from publisher/editor/writer R.J. Sevin, who has both a movie and a book haunting his October dreams….

I don’t have a favorite Halloween read. I associate the holiday with horror movies far more than I do horror fiction. I re-watch my favorites throughout the month of October, culminating with the original Night of the Living Dead and Fulci’s Zombi as Halloween night comes to an end.

That said, no one captures the essence of the season like Bradbury. The October Country indeed! I wanna live there!

R.J. Sevin and his wife, Julia, founded Creeping Hemlock Press in 2004. In the past eight years they’ve released the critically-acclaimed anthology Corpse Blossoms, books by Lawrence Block, Tom Piccirilli and Tim Lebbon (among many others), and started the zombie novel imprint “Print Is Dead.”  This month they joined editor John Joseph Adams in launching a new digital horror magazine, Nightmare Magazine.

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Essential October Read: Joe Lansdale

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us. 

Today we’ll hear from Joe R. Lansdale, author of a multitude of books and short stories in the horror and crime genres, chiming in with an October read that is near and dear to my heart.

The October Country by Ray Bradbury. It’s hard to beat. The title says it all.”

Joe R. Lansdale has written for just about every medium imaginable, including comics, films, newspapers and television. Among his best-known works are the “Hap and Leonard” series of books and his recent novel Edge of Dark Water. 

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Essential October Reads: Nate Southard

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us.

Today let’s welcome Nate Southard, author of numerous novels, novellas, short stories and comics. Nate has a few things he’d like to share with you…the kinds of things you don’t want to turn your back on….

The first book I remember being a vital part of my Halloween came to me as an audiobook.  When I was in the fourth grade, my school library had one copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz.  I desperately wanted to read it.  The cover alone had me shivering.  You try beating six grades worth of kids to that one book, however, and you quickly learn the mean of disappointment.  Even the local Walden Books couldn’t keep copies on the shelves.  They did have it on tape, though.  Lucky me, I was flush with saved allowance cash, so I plunked down the coin and then begged my mom to stop looking at books (as was typical with my mother, she already had a stack three feet high that she intended to purchase) and take me home so I could give the tapes a listen.

Yikes!  Maybe it’s just the filter of memory and nostalgia, but the way George S. Irving read those stories still haunts me.  For me, his voice defined the word ‘Chilling’ for a long time.  I still get little ripples up and down my arms when I think about him screaming, “You’ve got it!” at the end of “The Big Toe.”

Years later, a trio of short stories became a Halloween tradition to me.  Two of them: Stephen King’s “The Boogeyman” and “Graveyard Shift,” lacked any overt Halloween theme, but they had that dark, creepy feeling that made me think of October air and the chill that comes with dark nights and full moons.  Those stories had a deep, dark atmosphere that settled right into my bones.  The last was Robert R. McCammon’s “He’ll Come Knocking on Your Door.”  From the collection Blue World, “He’ll Come Knocking on Your Door” tells the story of a father who learns on Halloween the devil will come for a tribute, that it happens to every member of the community.  When he refuses, the devil still comes to collect, and what follows is one of the most terrifying Halloween tales I’ve ever read.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Finally, I can’t talk about essential Halloween reading without mentioning Norman Patridge’s amazing novella Dark Harvest.  This one also deals with the world of local rituals, this time involving a creature called The October Boy and a bunch of teenagers who have spent a few days fasting in preparation.  The kids take to the streets with nail-studded bats and other improvised weapons as the lurching, Frankensteining (a verb I swiped from Partridge) spirit of Halloween races toward the center of town.  Whoever can stop The October Boy gets a one way ticket out of town and a dead end life.  Dark Harvest is a perfect slice of both horror and noir, a love letter to both genres and to the wonderful time of year that is Halloween.  It’s become a book I read before Halloween every year, and I’ll be doing the same this year.

Nate Southard lives in Austin, Texas, and writes a lot of stuff. His latest releases include his second fiction collection Something Went Wrongand the paperback edition of his debut novel Red Sky, coming soon from Deadite Press

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Essential October Reads: Mary SanGiovanni

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us.

Today’s entry comes from Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Mary SanGiovanni. 

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King – there is a feeling I get when I read this book that reminds me of crisp fall days, new seasons, good feelings. That smell of leaves and the air changing makes me feel good — it’s the same kind of feeling.
Something Wicked This Way Comes and October Country by Ray Bradbury – These are quintessential autumn books.  The former is not only about fall, but about all the change a new “season” brings.  It reminds me of chances for new beginnings.  Bradbury had such a masterful way with words, and it’s inspiring.
Mary SanGiovanni has been publishing fiction in periodicals and anthologies for more than a decade. She is the author of several novels, including her latest, Thrall, and has written the novellas For Emmy and Possessing Amy.

Essential October Reads: Robert Dunbar

It’s become an annual tradition here in October Country to share my Essential October Reads, those works that best capture the essence of the Halloween season for me. This year I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to share their own Essential October Reads with us.

Today we hear from Robert Dunbar, author of the classic novel The Pines and its sequel, The Shore, among many other books and short stories.

Halloween is the climax of an eldritch season, and more than any other book I can think of Something Wicked This Way Comes captures that atmosphere, the sheer essence of autumn. Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit Ray Bradbury’s masterwork with the Literary Horror group I moderate on Goodreads … and found it strangely moving to experience that novel in tandem with the group. So many years had elapsed since I’d read it. Imagine finding an old photo of the first boy you fell in love with. There he is – forever wild and handsome, despite the passage of decades. You might not remember the passion or the tenderness. You may have long since forgotten all the negative aspects – the jealousy, the fights, his mother – but this sudden glimpse becomes a knife in your heart.

Pain can be a good thing. It means you haven’t turned to stone.

Over the years, so many writers I admire have told me that Bradbury’s classic was the book that taught them to love the darkness. Yes. Exactly. It meant a lot to me to encounter his intoxicating language again and to remember how I got drunk on it as a kid, how it set my imagination on fire.

Still, there was a not-so-wonderful facet this time. Admittedly, the Literary Horror group has close to 2,000 members. Nevertheless, I was shocked by the number of people who complained about Bradbury’s prose style being “difficult.” This? Difficult? I have to wonder what such folks would make of Joyce’s Ulysses or Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, you know, something actually difficult.

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
~ Ray Bradbury

But I mustn’t dwell on that. So many members of the group reveled in the text. Many of these readers were quite young and discovering Bradbury of the first time, and I felt privileged to be the one guiding them through it. There are only so many first times in life.

Every so often, things get to you. The profoundly moronic individuals who glut the genre (and the naked politicking that has so come to define it) can leave you wondering why you ever got involved in the first place. Then something like this reminds you.

Way back, there was love.

Robert Dunbar is the author of several classic horror novels. His latest releases include Wood and the collection Martyrs & Monsters.

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R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.

– Ray Bradbury, The October Country

Thanks for sharing your daydreams with us, and for teaching so many of us that a life spent in imagination and wonder is a life well spent, indeed.

Ten Essential October Reads: Ray Bradbury

Two “Essential October Reads.” One essential writer. I give you Ray Bradbury.

October is here, and with it comes Ten Essential October Reads. With the countdown to Halloween ticking away, there’s no better time to look at some books that really capture the spirit of the holiday, whether it’s the childhood traditions of trick-or-treating and playing pranks, the essence of a cool autumn day, or the dark things that scurry through the shadows. Throughout the month, I’ll be spotlighting ten books or stories that I think capture the magic of the season. 

5. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury
4. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

How to choose between two acknowledged classics of the season by one master? You don’t.

Ray Bradbury is the guy who got it….whatever “it” is that makes this particular time of year so special. When you’re reading a Bradbury story, you can practically feel the dead leaves crunching beneath your feet; you can almost smell the tang of cider in the air. And you can without a doubt feel the dark cloud of menace slowly enveloping his characters…and you.

In a lot of ways, The Halloween Tree and Something Wicked This Way Comes are companion pieces, examinations of the same basic theme – growing up before you’re ready. And really, who among us is every ready?

In The Halloween Tree, a group of youngsters is forced to go on a journey to save a friend, learning the dark secrets behind their favorite holiday along the way. It’s that removal of innocence that we all face, whether it’s our first Halloween night when we’re too old to go trick-or-treating, or that cold December evening when we can no longer deny the truth about who left all the goodies under the tree. The exposure of such truths is also a part of Something Wicked. In it, our young heroes get a peek behind the carnival curtain, where wish-granters and magic men are exposed for what they really are.

Not exactly fun stuff, huh? And yet, even as they help us come to terms with the fact that, as we grow older, magic’s grip on us keeps getting looser, Bradbury’s stories also help us keep hold of as much of that magic as we can. Who can read this Wicked passage and not feel like a kid again:

But you take October, now. School’s been on a month and you’re riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you’ll dump on old man Prickett’s porch, or the hairy-ape costume you’ll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

I understand that feeling now – that feeling that Halloween, as I knew and loved it as a boy, may never come again. But when I read stories like these, and when the wind howls just right and blows the scent of burning leaves up close, I find it easy to believe again.

Previously in the Series:
Ten Essential October Reads: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and “October in the Chair”
Ten Essential October Reads: The “Orangefield Cycle”
Ten Essential October Reads: Halloween and Trick or Treat