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Everybody knows the movie “A Christmas Story.” My childhood was like that, only around Halloween.
I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, Franksville, population 250, with most of us living out in the country. My parents, my sister, and I lived in a house on Fancher Road, a curved old road that was bypassed when the straight County Highway H went through, cutting off Old Fancher Road like an oxbow in a river. All around Fancher Road and the highway were houses with my cousins, my second cousins, and farmers who had been there since just slightly before the dawn of time (farmers do get up early).
Every year on the Sunday before Halloween, our Sunday School class assembled the orange paper boxes for Unicef donations. For Halloween, my sister and I would put on that year’s costumes (cobbled together with scraps from the closets, rubbed coffee-grounds on the face to look like a hobo’s whiskers, or Ace bandages for the Invisible Man), and we’d trudge around the loop of Fancher Road, then down Highway H, a mile or more on a brisk Wisconsin autumn night.
House after house would give us candy bars, suckers, wrapped candies. We’d call out “Trick or treat for Unicef!” and hope the houses would put a few pennies or nickels in our orange boxes. Grandma Turner (who was nobody’s grandma, but such a kind old lady that everybody called her that anyway) spent days making home-made popcorn balls, which she covered in plastic wrap. Trick-or-treaters each got one. Old Mrs Noppe didn’t believe in candy, but she had a little tray of pennies and nickels at the door, and kids could take a few coins as their treats.
My grandfather, Papa, loved giving out apples to the kids. He would go to the orchard, get just the right apples, polish them, put them in a big bowl at the front door for the trick-or-treaters. Then one year, in the 1970s, warnings went around that creeps were inserting razor blades into apples, and all parents were advised to discard any apples their kids brought home from trick-or-treating. When Papa found out that parents were tossing out his apples, he was deeply hurt.
When we got home on Halloween night, my sister and I would dump our candy into big bowls and then we began our horse-trading, jelly beans for her, peanut-butter cups for me, Heath bars for me, licorice sticks for her.
I loved Halloween.
I grew up, graduated from college, got a job in California, and moved off to the West Coast. In my first autumn there, as a bachelor, living in a small rented house out in a residential neighborhood. I was excited to be the host for the first time, my first Halloween away from home. I bought a few bags of candy, dumped them in a big bowl, which I set at the front door, turned on my welcoming front porch light. This was different from Wisconsin: I didn’t know most of my neighbors, and I certainly wasn’t related to whatever kids would be coming around, but I wanted to carry on the tradition.
After dark, the doorbell rang, and my first group of trick-or-treaters came around; a few minutes later, a second group, a skinny kid in a tux and his little blond-haired sister in a princess costume. I ate dinner, watched TV, ready every ten minutes or so when the doorbell rang. After a dozen trick-or-treaters, there was a skinny kid in a tux and a sister dressed as a princess again. I was puzzled, because I thought they looked familiar, but couldn’t really remember. I gave them a round of candy. No more than 15 trick-or-treaters came by, and the doorbell rang again. It was the skinny kid in the tux again and his sister in a princess costume. Now there was no question; they were coming back for seconds and thirds.
I grew stern. “You shouldn’t keep coming to the same house,” I said. “That’s not OK.” The skinny kid looked very guilty, backed away from the porch and apologized. But his sister stood there, her lower lip quivering, and finally she burst into tears. “But there’s nobody else HOME!” she wailed.
I looked up and down my street, dozens of homes in a residential district, and they were *all dark*, front porch lights turned off, window shades drawn. I could see the pale blue glow of televisions behind the curtains, so the people were home—they were just hiding, with their lights off, avoiding the social obligations of Halloween.
I was ticked off. I remembered how much joy I got each year from trick-or-treating, and these people were intentionally pulling up the drawbridge, shutting off their lights, refusing to let all of our neighborhood children enjoy Halloween. I was stunned, disappointed, appalled.
I gave the skinny kid and his princess sister all the candy they wanted.
Next day I saw one of my neighbors, someone I *knew* had been home, but had her porch light turned off. “Why weren’t you there for the trick-or-treaters?” I asked her. She just snorted. “I’m supposed to buy candy to give to kids I barely even know? I don’t think so!” (And I thought the Grinch only came out at Christmas.)
Really? You can’t spend ten bucks on some cheap candy to be part of what could be a kid’s highlight for the year? My wonderful Halloween memories were a terrific formative part of my childhood. I would never take that away from kids.
Now, we make a special big deal of Halloween at our house, not only giving full-sized candy bars but school supplies. We decorate, we dress up, and Rebecca even keeps a tally (over 120 at our maximum—and we live way out in the middle of nowhere). I write horror fiction, even humorous zombie detective stories, and this is part of my livelihood—to make sure a generation grows up loving Halloween. It’s important. Don’t underestimate the positive effect it can have on a kid.
Happy Halloween everyone.
Another Teaser, this time the introduction and background for all the wonderful stories in A FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON. These are some great stories to enjoy and to share. Amazing cover art, “St. Nicholas, Dragon-Sleigher” by Myles Pinkney. Stories include:
A Christmas Caroler—Kim Antieau
Jukebox Gifts—Dean Wesley Smith
Santa Claus Is Coming to Get You—Kevin J. Anderson
Foreign Exchange—Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Wereyam—Kent Patterson
Nutball Season—Kristine Kathryn Rusch
These Halls—Kathy Oltion
My Favorite Christmas—David Farland
One Last Gift—Jerry Oltion
Popcorn for Christmas—Debra Gray De Noux & O’Neil De Noux
Christopher’s Crummy Christmas—Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Dead Snow—Kent Patterson
Inquiring Minds Want to Snow—Rebecca Moesta
The Jolly Old Boyfriend—Jerry Oltion
Cold Comfort—Ray Vukcevich
LaZelle Family Christmas—Nina Kiriki Hoffman
The Christmas Noun—Larry Correia
The Ghost of Christmas Always—Kevin J. Anderson
Introduction: A Gift of Stories
Kevin J. Anderson
Grandma gives a sweater she knitted, even though it doesn’t fit all that well. Dad receives a necktie he doesn’t really like. The kids get toys that make a variety of noises, most of them loud, all of them annoying.
What do authors give for the holiday season? Something that’s more homemade and personal than any secret family Christmas cookie recipe or well-cherished fruitcake. They give the gift of stories: fiction that can take the reader away to fantastical times or places, tales that can be blood-curdling or heart-warming, adventures that capture the heart of the season.
Early in my career as a writer, my annual tradition was to spend the holidays with a group of writer friends, most of whom were clustered around Eugene, Oregon. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area where I worked as a technical writer for a large research laboratory—in other words, I had a “real job”—but I very much wanted to be a full-time writer and worked at my stories and novels, gradually seeing some success.
Each year I would make the drive up Interstate 5 along the spine of California to Oregon, and in questionable mid-December weather, but I didn’t want to miss my holiday gathering. One year I even took my fiancée Rebecca Moesta with me (and we just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary).
One of the Eugene locals would act as the host, and we’d get together the day before Christmas for conversation and cooking. Some people baked cookies or other desserts; I always made my famous lasagna, a masterpiece of a recipe that has been in my family for five generations. (Yes, turkey or ham might be more traditional, but we were a group who broke with traditions—we were writers, after all—and formed our own.)
After the late afternoon feast, we passed out gifts. In keeping with being starving writers, no gift could cost more than a dollar, which forced us to do some imaginative shopping.
After the gift giving, we sat around for the highlight of the evening—the real sharing of gifts among writers, usually by a fireplace, usually with mulled cider. We would take out printed manuscripts, stories that we each had written specially for the occasion, which had never been read before. We went around in a circle, reading aloud one story after another. Some were heartwarming, some were scary, some magical, some imaginative, some haunting. Each of us had our own particular spin on the holiday season.
We were all new writers, learning our craft and learning the business. We poured our hearts and our energies into these stories.
In the years since, members of our group have become international bestselling authors, New York Times bestselling authors, winners or nominees of almost every award in numerous genres, from the Writers of the Future Award, to the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Philip K. Dick, Bram Stoker, Shamus, Edgar, Pushcart, Endeavor, Sidewise, Scribe, Locus, Mythopoeic Society, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards (and probably many others). Some have become publishers themselves, or movie producers, record producers, game designers.
Maybe there was magic in those Christmas Eves after all.
This anthology collects our favorite tales from those holiday gatherings. Though you couldn’t be with us sitting around the fire sipping mulled cider (and digesting my lasagna), we are happy to share this special holiday gift of stories with you.
ON THE FIRST DAY OF ITS RELEASE, THIS BOOK SHOT TO THE #4 BESTSELLER IN ITS CATEGORY ON AMAZON. Copies are available in print (as great holiday gifts for everyone!) and in all eBook formats.
Even before WordFire Press became his publisher, I was a fan of Mike Baron’s dark, edgy fiction. I accepted two of his stories for my BLOOD LITE anthology series. I read his ground-breaking comics work on NEXUS, THE PUNISHER, THE BADGER, DEADMAN, STAR WARS, THE FLASH, and others. He has won both the Inkpot and the Eisner Award, two of the highest honors in the comics field. Like me, he grew up in Wisconsin, and he also escaped. And he also enjoys a good microbrew IPA. What’s not to like?
After reading his work, I wrote “Mike Baron is like Quentin Tarantino on paper”—and I think that’s exactly appropriate. His stories are raw, powerful, quirky, funny, dark, violent, exciting. We just released his two newest thriller novels at the same time, in trade-paperback print as well as in all eBook formats.
When world leaders burst into flame like a string of firecrackers, the President calls on a renegade former agent with a history of mental problems. Otto “Aardvark” White possesses a unique quality. He’s lucky. What Otto discovers in the mountains of Colorado will blow your mind and change the way you look at the world.
“Mike Baron’s Whack Job is pretty freaking brilliant.”—James A. Owen
A GHOST WHO APPEARS ONLY UNDER THE BLAZING SUN
Vaughan Beadles, Professor of Anthropology at swanky Creighton University, is on top of the world. Married to a beautiful woman, Beadles has just taken possession of the largest uncatalogued Amerindian collection in the US.
For years Beadles has investigated the mysteriously vanished Azuma, but when one of his students dies from a scorpion sting, his world comes crashing down. His wife abandons him, and he finds himself charged with grand larceny and manslaughter.
His only hope for redemption is to prove that the Azuma were real and find the epicenter of their civilization—a journey that takes him to Arizona and a fateful encounter with a monster literally from his own nightmares.
I just finished judging the eight finalist stories for the third quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. I came home from my recent writing retreat in Breckenridge to find a stack of manuscripts waiting for me to read, and I worked my way through them, one or two per day.
I’ve been a judge in the Contest since 1996, and I usually read the finalist stories one or two quarters each year. I don’t know who the authors are, I don’t even know which of my fellow judges are reading those particular stories. I have to say that this is one of the best batches of Finalists I’ve ever judged (and, honestly, one of the stories is I believe the best piece I have ever seen in the Contest). I felt that seven of the eight stories were definitely award-worthy, and even the eighth one was certainly good.
I want to express my congratulations to the three winners
1st Place: Leena Likitalo of Helsinki, Finland for the story “Giants at the End of the World”
2nd Place: Shauna O’Meara of Canberra, Australia for the story “Beneath the Surface of Two Kills”
3rd Place: Paul Eckheart of Bountiful, Utah for the story “Shifter”
I look forward to meeting you in person at the Writers of the Future workshop and Awards ceremony in Hollywood in April 2014.
For more information on the contest, go to WritersoftheFuture.com