Today’s guest post is by none other than Michael Marshall Smith, acclaimed author of the novels Only Forward, Spares, One of Us, and The Servants. Under the truncated byline Michael Marshall, he penned the exceptionally dark and twisted thrillers The Straw Men, The Upright Man, Blood of Angels, The Intruders, Bad Things, and most recently Killer Move. In addition to his novel-length work, Smith is just as comfortable with the short story form. His first-published short “The Man Who Drew Cats” (which was how and when I became a fan of his work) won The British Fantasy Award, and More Tomorrow and Other Stories is arguably one of the most important collections of short fiction published in the last twenty years.
What he hasn’t done is write anything particularly Halloweenish. And here he explains why…
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It’s a funny thing, but though I’ve been horror writer – or sometime writer of horror – for over twenty years (holy cow, time does pass when you’re not looking, doesn’t it), I don’t believe I’ve ever written anything set at Halloween.
I realize that I don’t even think of Halloween as being a horror thing, strangely, despite the fact that a film of that title is my favourite horror movie of all time, its soundtrack providing the ringtone for every phone I’ve owned since it was possible to influence what noise they make. Time has passed there, too: at first the best I could do on whatever tinny piece of nonsense I owned was laboriously program in the sequence of tones – resulting in something that sounded like a series of very small but conveniently-pitched mice being hit in sequence with a mallet. Now the original soundtrack comes singing out of my glorious iPhone. In a few years, assuming that the passing of its genius spirit doesn’t hobble Apple too appallingly, I’ll be able to have a little hologram of John Carpenter actually playing the HALLOWEEN theme, spinning in the air two feet above the phone.
Writing this, as I am, a few days after Steve Jobs’ death, I suppose what I’m getting at is that for me Halloween seems to stand to one side of horror, and not just because of worthy tediousness to do with it being part of a long tradition of blah blah blah. Yes of course it’s spooky, dripping with all the traditional iconography, but it’s also possessed of a kind of manic glee (the capering witches, the darting ghosts, the lunatic screams of children in the throes of sugar rushes); combined with something else – the quiet, silent intensity you find in the slow flicker of the candle inside the pumpkin, or the still tableaus you’ll see outside people’s houses as you drive by in the silent, overcast afternoon. Halloween oscillates between these two poles, and so do we.
We do so much stuff in our lives – rushing back and forth and starting jobs and leaving them and going on vacation and falling in love and getting divorced and buying and selling houses and having kids and shouting at them and being shouted at by them and somewhere in between learning to love them more than anything else in the world. Then comes the afternoon when all that ends, when you’re lying in a bed somewhere as the air seems to get still and heavy around you, terrifying and yet also comforting, as the world darkens around the edges and the simplest, oldest parts of you realize it’s time to leave this all behind, all the sound and fury, and get on with the next thing.
All that movement. And then all that stillness.
Maybe that’s why I’ve never yet tried to write about Halloween. It’s too big. It’s all of life. Somewhere between those two extremes we stand, and eat candy, and smile at each other, and watch our kids go nuts. It’s a dark marriage where every single one of us is bride or groom, entering a bond with our mortality, and accepting it – but deciding, for tonight at least, to dance.
– Michael Marshall Smith