Monday, 17 October 2016

The Origins of Halloween: Second Installment

Here are some fun facts regarding Halloween:

Originally, Jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips because pumpkins were not grown in Ireland. An ember was placed inside to ward off evil spirits. To find out the various stories behind "Jack" please click here.

The tradition of bobbing for apples dates back to the Roman invasion of Britain when the conquering army merged their own celebrations with traditional Celtic festivals. The Romans brought with them the apple tree representative of the goddess of fruit trees, Pomona.

It was during the 1950s that candy became popular as a treat for children.Throughout the 1960s, other treats were still offered, and it wasn't until the 1970s that candy came to be seen as the only legitimate treat.  An average Jack-o-lantern bucket holds about 250 pieces of candy with about 9,000 calories and about three pounds of sugar.

 In Canada, Halloween is a billion dollar industry with holiday-related spending that is second only to Christmas.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The Origins of Halloween, First Installment

In the lead-up to October 31st, I thought it might be fun to do a series of posts on the origins of Halloween and its evolving traditions.

Halloween’s origins date back two thousand years to the Celts, who lived in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France. The Celts celebrated their new year on November 1, which marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter: a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain (pronounced sow-in), when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.
To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins.
After the Roman Empire conquered the majority of Celtic territory, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. (The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees.)

The later influence of Christianity also affected the Celtic rituals. The Celtic festival of the dead was eventually replaced with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. All Souls' Day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils. It was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas and the night before it--the traditional night of Samhain in the Celtic religion--began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

The celebration of Halloween in North America reflected the influence of the different European ethnic groups who settled there. The first celebrations included “play parties,” public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds.

The American Halloween tradition of “trick-or-treating” probably dates back to the early All Souls’ Day parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food, and families would give them pastries called “soul cakes” in return for their promise to pray for the family’s dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes was encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. This practice, which was referred to as “going a-souling,” was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food, and money.


Stay tuned for the second installment in next week's post. 

The tradition of dressing in costume for Halloween has both European and Celtic roots. On Halloween, when it was believed that ghosts came back to the earthly world, people thought that they would encounter ghosts if they left their homes. To avoid being recognized by these ghosts, they would wear masks when they left their homes after dark so that the ghosts would mistake them for fellow spirits. On Halloween, to keep ghosts away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

Monday, 26 September 2016

British Home Children

I had the opportunity on Saturday to attend the annual British Home Child event organized by the Eastern Ontario British Home Child Society. I would like to extend a special thanks to Judy Neville, who organized the event in Perth, Ontario, and kindly invited me to read from my first novel, The Home Child. I'd also like to thank my friends Margaret Leroux and Peter Fox, who drove from Kingston to lend their support to me at the event.

 If you're not familiar with the story of the British Home Children, the following information might be helpful:

Starting in 1869 and continuing throughout the first half of the twentieth century, children—some as young as six months—were sent to Canada, Australia, and other countries from Great Britain. Known as the British Home Children, approximately 100,000 of these children came to Canada. The majority of children came from the Barnardo orphan homes in England, while 7000 children were sent from the Quarrier orphan homes in Scotland. This child migration was organized as a mission of mercy: a means of allowing these children to have a better life than the poverty they had experienced in their homeland. But only two per cent of these children were actual orphans. They were separated from their parents and siblings and often ended up being exploited as cheap labour and abused in Canada.

My own novel, The Home Child, tells the story of Jake Hall, a transplanted city dweller trying to adjust to the realities of country life. He knows it isn't going to be an easy transition. He's prepared for major renovations to the old farm house he's bought, but what he hasn't counted on is finding a former resident still inhabiting the house in spirit form! Set in eastern Ontario, Canada, against the backdrop of a rural town in transition, this story combines historical detail and the supernatural in the poignant tale of a home child wanting simply to be reunited with the family he lost so many years ago.

Since writing this novel, I've had the privilege of talking to many home child descendants and hearing the stories of their relatives.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Season 2 of Fear the Walking Dead

I'm enjoying the second season of Fear the Walking Dead much more than the first. In fact I wasn't sure if there would be a second season. The primary drawback from my point of view was that the first season seemed more like a soap opera focusing primarily on teenage angst in two largely dysfunctional families as opposed to the chaos surrounding them.

Season 2 has more of an outward-looking feel, and the writers have both improved the story line and ramped up the action. They are using the technique, well-developed in The Walking Dead, of separating groups of characters to explore several adventures at once. However, the main difficulty for me in Fear the Walking Dead is that I find the characterization very weak in comparison with TWD. There are so many strong characters in TWD--Rick, Daryl, Glenn, Carol--to name a few, while the new series largely lacks interesting characters. (In fact, I find the two sons Chris and Nick mostly annoying.) In fact the character I like the most is Travis, played by Cliff Curtis, who also starred in the short-lived series Missing with Ashley Judd. Unfortunately, I'm not enamored of the main character Madison Clark, which I find to be overacted and overstated: almost a poor man's Ripley.

But then it's still early in the series and lots of ground to cover. . . .

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Latest Horror News

The Horror News Network reports that the movie Don't Breathe has already grossed more than $26 million at the box office, exceeding the studio's expectations. It has an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which notes that:
 Don't Breathe smartly twists its sturdy premise to offer a satisfyingly tense, chilling addition to the home invasion genre that's all the more effective for its simplicity.

Stephen Lang, whom you may remember from the short-lived but excellent series Terra Nova, plays the lead in the film.

On other fronts, fans of Bruce Campbell can enjoy the first season of Ash vs. Evil Dead which is now available on DVD/Blu-ray. Season 6 of The Walking Dead has also been released, although if you've missed episodes and can wait until October, AMC will no doubt show Season 6 as a lead-in to the new season premiering on October 23.

There's lots of horror to come!

Monday, 22 August 2016

A Review of The Devil Will Come by Justin Gustainis

I received an ARC of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program in exchange for an honest review.
Back Cover Blurb

Twenty-one stories that will scare you to death. 

You may or may not believe in the old gentleman known variously as Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, Satan, or simply the devil – but it is impossible to deny the existence of evil in the world. And all those arguments about whether evil originates in the fires of Hades or in the smoldering heart of humankind don’t change the fact that evil has always been with us – and, most likely, always will be.

The stories you are about to read are about evil, in one form or another. Several of them give evil a supernatural origin, but others place it squarely in the lap of ordinary (or maybe not so ordinary) human beings. Some of the people you are about to meet will overcome the evil that confronts them, while others won’t be quite so fortunate. Either way, all of them are going to be changed by the encounter.
These stories are best read late at night, preferably while you’re alone in the house. I recommend leaving only a single light on. Try to use a reading lamp that illuminates the page while throwing the rest of the room into shadows – shadows where anything might be hiding.


Later, as you lie in the iron dark, waiting for sleep, perhaps you’ll start to wonder if there really is a Devil, and if this is the night he might choose to come – for you.

I wish you pleasant dreams.

Well, no – not really.

Author Bio

Justin Gustainis has been an Army officer, speechwriter and professional bodyguard. He is currently a college professor living in upstate New York. He is the author of The Hades Project, Black Magic Woman, Evil Ways, Hard Spell and Sympathy for the Devil. He has also published a number of short stories, two of which won the Graverson Award for Horror in consecutive years. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. 
Publisher Info

EDGE-Lite and EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing publish thought-provoking full length novels, collections and anthologies of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. Featuring works by established authors and emerging new voices, we are pleased to provide quality literary entertainment in both print and pixels.
"Enjoyable in Print and Pixels"
Twitter: EDGEpublishing

Amazon Buy Link


This is an entertaining collection of short stories that examines the Devil in his various guises. 

The author uses both historical and literary references--Jack the Ripper, Nazi Germany, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, and Stephen King's Carrie, to name a few examples--as backdrops to his depictions of evil.

I especially enjoyed the stories in which the author combines the paranormal with crime fiction, as well as those with plot twists.

This collection will appeal to readers of supernatural, paranormal, and horror fiction.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Time for Some Original Content?

We see it again and again: an inferior sequel to an original movie in an attempt to create a franchise and earn more money for the studios. For me, it was the disappointing sequels to Alien and Aliens, in my mind among the best science fiction/horror movies ever created. You can probably think of many other examples.

It is not surprising, then, that Horror News Network reports there will be no sequel to the new Ghostbusters movie, as originally promised by the studio. There are diminished returns at the box office, as well as dwindling fan interest. Sony, with its partner Village Roadshow, is preparing for steep losses after spending an exorbitant amount in advertising costs for the new movie. Sony is now focusing on the lucrative animated film/television market.

For the full text of the article, please see

Am I the only one who is sequel-fatigued? Obviously not. . .