Monday, October 24, 2011

Welcome to Coffin Hop!!! or Ode to the Danse Macabre

Well, well, well. I have returned, pickles, to rescue this blog from the doldrums. I've let it languish, I know, but summer laziness has finally left me. Now that old autumnal drive has returned, fueled no doubt by a latent beginning-of-the-school-year spirit. And just in time for Halloween... the most wonderful time of the year.

But this Halloween isn't just any Halloween. This Halloween I am participating, along with many wonderful authors, in Coffin Hop!

(insert thunder clap)

Coffin Hop is an opportunity for you, the lovely reader, to meet nearly 100 horror writers via their blogs and websites. There will be contests! Even I will be having one. And where there are contests, there are prizes. Check back here for details through out the week. Peruse the list (here at and check out as many as you can. Like the forbidden room in Bluebeard's never know what you might find.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, which is strange because I was one of those kids who was scared of everything. Between my overactive imagination and the paranoia instilled in every child of the 80's (stranger danger! drugs! playing with matches!) it seemed there was plenty to be afraid of. Yet Halloween always acted as a surprising refuge from the fear. On Halloween, I was allowed to take part in that dark and shadowy world that so often held me in terror. I could dress myself up as a ghost or a witch or Wednesday Addams (one of my favorite costumes) and be someone--or something--that didn't have to be scared. On Halloween, the whole world plays make believe. We all revel in the nightmares that on every other day of the year have to be repressed.

A lot of people ask me why I write horror (especially the people who knew me as that nervous, easily frightened little girl). Why, they ask, do I keep writing stories about things I hope never to encounter in real life? Wouldn't it be much better for my mental health (and the mental health of my readers) to just write "happy things"? The reason why my stories so often favor the dark side is very similar to the reason why I love Halloween. When I play with the shadows, it makes me stronger.

There's a memory from my childhood that sums this idea up in a nutshell. When I was six years old, my elementary school music teacher decided to celebrate Halloween by showing the first grade a filmstrip of the Danse Macabre, Camille Saint-Saƫns's classic piece about spirits who rise up from their graves to dance the night away as Death himself leads on the violin. Few movie viewing experiences in childhood frightened me as much as this. Keep in mind. This was a filmstrip. These were still images I was watching, not state-of-the-art animation, but it still scared me so much I couldn't move. Trapped in that dark auditorium, forced to watch skeletons and ghosts hang suspended in the painted night air as a wild violin soared in the background, I was sure all my nightmares had finally come to life in front of my eyes. Even after the music faded, after the lights came back on and the big white screen disappeared, it stayed with me. I knew it was just biding its time until that awful limbo between getting in bed and falling asleep when we would be alone together. It haunted me that night and for several nights after, until my next music class later that week.

Our teacher was out sick so a substitute came to our classroom...and when she came she brought a slide projector with her. No, I thought, staring at it, feeling the dread creep back in, it's impossible. How could this be happening again? Why did it keep following me? The substitute clearly didn't know what else to do with us, that's why. She did, however, add a pinch of novelty by asking for a volunteer to run the slide projector, a popular honor in the time of elementary school filmstrips. I don't think I meant to do it. Pure primal instinct took over. My hand shot in the air, and I was chosen. So now not only was I watching this still-frame nightmare again, but I had by own will, ruined any chance of closing my eyes. Now I had to pay attention. I had to watch. I was controlling the damn thing. And there's your answer to why I write horror.

There are a lot of real-world things to be scared of, like strangers invading your home or disturbed children doing horrible things for no reason, but I find if I write a fear down, I can control it. I enjoy being scared when I can control the situation, (and I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy scaring people in turn). Like dressing up for Halloween, horror forces us to confront the inexplicable, rather than deny it and repress it. If we're lucky, this can lead to a better understanding of ourselves and the world. And either way, it's often good scary fun.

The Danse Macabre has become one of my favorite pieces of music. In an exercise that seemed made for me, when I was 10, the same music teacher played it for us AGAIN without the filmstrip and told us all to write a story based on it what we saw in our heads. I lost that story, but I may be moved to rewrite it someday. This being the glorious age of the Internet, I've looked long and hard for that filmstrip, but I haven't had any luck yet. I distinctly remember Death as a skeleton in a pink vest. Apparently, the Danse Macabre is its own genre of filmstrip because there are a bunch on YouTube. This is NOT the one I watched (though there is funnily enough a skeleton wearing pink), but it will do for now. If you have any similar memories of being scarred by this or any other Danse Macabre filmstrip, be sure to leave it in the comments. Maybe one of you remembers the one I saw.

That's all for now, pickles. Welcome to Coffin Hop. Check out other authors and Happy Almost Halloween!


  1. I LOVE Danse Macabre! Played it last year in orchestra for a Halloween concert. Excellent piece of music. You should watch Fantasia's cartoon of "Night on Bald Mountain." That's a good one.

  2. I love Fantasia's "A Night on Bald Mountain." That's another brilliant piece of music. Back when Disney could get away with depicting a Black Mass in one of their films. The creepiest moment for me is when Chernabog creates those three beautiful girls out of smoke and then turns them into hideous animals.

  3. Thanks for posting, Erin. I was unfamiliar with this music. I sometimes write with classical music playing in my headphones. Since I'm getting bored with the same old same old, I very well may need to pick up a copy of this piece.
    Happy hopping!


  4. Thanks for reading, Jimmy. I love writing to classical music and I can't recommend the Danse Macabre highly enough.

    Happy Hopping! (I like that)

  5. I'm not familiar with the musical piece you remember. I do know about being a kid scared to death in the movie theater. My brothers took me to a Three Stooges movie, I think. My mom had no idea it had Frankenstein in it. I stayed under the seat the entire movie quaking in fear. It marked me. Maybe I too am like you enjoying controlling the action in my stories. Great post. Thanks.

    Fellow coffin hopper, J Q Rose

  6. Aha, watched the video. I have heard this music many times. Just didn't know the name I guess. Spooky stuff. LOL.

  7. Dang, it took my comment and ate it.

    I love pickles! LOL!

    Greetings, CoffinHopper. See ya 'round.

  8. I tried writing about "happy things" once; it gave me the shivers. I had to write a story about a serial killer to get back my writing mojo.
    Yet I'm a big chicken when it comes to horror in real life. I rarely read horror books or watch scary films.