Lesley Pratt Bannatyne: My Interview With The Halloween Goddess
“I still think that Halloween is exciting NOT because there is a group of people sitting in a corporate board room trying to decide what we’ll buy, but because there are people sitting in garages, basements, and kitchens trying to come up with something really different and amazing. I believe that Halloween is still driven by we who celebrate it.”-Lesley Bannatyne
If you are not sure who Lesley Pratt Bannatyne is-shame on you. Not only is she the leading author on Halloween history and culture. Lesley has shared plenty of her wisdom about Halloween on Nickelodeon, The History Channel, Time Magazine, National Geographic, and even The World Book Encyclopedia! Her new book Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night hits home for many of us haunters because she dives deep into the new age of Halloween and why it matters to us now. She interviews leading experts in the Haunt Industry such as mask makers, haunted house designers, home haunters, tattoo artists, web designers, zombie walkers, and all the other scary people who make up this evolving holiday. If you enjoy Halloween you’ll love this book and all of her other books. Halloween Nation infests the book stores on April 15th, 2011 but you can get her other books now while you wait. Click Here to order Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night and check out my affiliate banner at the bottom to see her other books. And then don’t forget to come back and read this awesome interview that we put together for you and check out the links at the end of this article for more information related to Lesley.
Over your career as an author it seems you favor the topic of Halloween quite a bit and you are known as ‘The Halloween Authority’ writer. What event in your life inspired you to write about this misunderstood holiday?
In the mid-1980s, a publishing house called Facts on File launched a book on the history of Thanksgiving which surprised everyone by being a runaway success. F on F put the word out that they’d look pretty favorably on any book pitch that involved holidays and an agent friend of mine left this message on my answering machine: “They’re going fast, Les. All that’s left is Election Day and Halloween.” I never looked back.
Is your Guinness Record of the largest gathering of witches still current and how did you acquire such a loyal following?
Alas, we held the title for just two years. I’m not sure who has it now, but we were brought down by a charitable event in Pennsylvania. I’m lucky to live in Somerville, MA, where crowds come together for the oddest of reasons (our three maple trees start to give sap, a call for activist street bands, massive snow ball fights, beard contests), and a Guinness World Record attempt was enough of a challenge to bring them out. I was happy to hand over the title to PA.
Not only are you an author in many magazines and online directories your description of Halloween is in the World Book Encyclopedia! What is the most monumental stepping stone(s) in your career that led you to the authority you are today?
I wish there was one big answer for this, like I was born with a caul or abducted by trolls, but the truth is, there was no one big step. There were hundreds of steps, and a few decades of research that took me in lots of different tangents. In preparing my first book on the history of Halloween, for example, I bumped into colonial religion, modern paganism, pop culture, Irish mythology, the Masons, Hollywood special effects, Pentecostal Christians, Jaycees, gay culture, folklorists, you name it. I still have files of Halloween material I haven’t put into written form. And I continue to meet the most extraordinary Halloween people, who often lead me in unusual directions.
What is your most memorable Halloween event in your life as a child/adult that replays over and over in your mind?
I have a few. First of all, Dennis M. kissed me on Halloween when I was ten. He just ran up behind me and gave me a big kiss on the back of my neck. It was my first. But frankly, it didn’t compare with getting the chance to walk in costume up 6th Avenue in New York City with 60,000 others, or to crawl through the Monroeville Mall with 2000 zombies or even to celebrate Samhain with a group of pagans in a Unitarian church in Cambridge.
Do you enjoy Haunted Attractions? Real Haunted Houses? Horror Movies? Scary books? Do you have any favorites of each?
I love haunted attractions most of all. Movies – some yes, some no. Scariest movie ever for me? The Exorcist. I think it’s because it was the first serious horror movie I’d even seen, and because my car’s engine burst into flames while I was driving home from the movie. I’ve been ghost hunting and I must say I haven’t been spooked by that. Frankly, I’d be delighted to run into any of the family and friends I’ve lost, but so far, none have showed up. I don’t have a favorite horror writer, but I tend to like the spookier material more than the violent. I’m a Poe and Lovecraft kind of girl.
Tell us Haunters more about your new book “Halloween Nation” and why we would enjoy it?
I wanted to try and find out what makes Halloween so important right now, for whom, and why, so I spent a few years talking with as many people in the Halloween community as I could: mask makers, musicians, prop builders, haunters, ghost hunters, spiritualists, witches, pumpkin growers, pumpkin beer brewers, writers, horror burlesque performers, tattoo artists, vintage collectors—you get the picture. For anyone that’s curious about what makes Halloween relevant now, or how they themselves fit in to the whole Halloween picture, or what attracts us to Halloween’s big icons (ghosts, witches, pranks, pumpkins, monsters), the book might be worth a read.
As a successful author on Halloween, can you share some insight on keeping your passion alive and tips for new aspiring authors, bloggers, and writers?
I’ve never (that I can remember) written about something that doesn’t really, really interest me. (Even dendrochronology – that’s right – the science of tree rings – is pretty fascinating.) I think if you’re a writer/blogger/author, you can tell right away when something doesn’t grab you. A book, especially, takes a huge amount of time, and if you’re not writing about something you love you may not be able to stay with it. I’m not saying that every single day and sentence is a boatload of fun, or that it’s easy to write about disemboweled corpses when the sun is shining and the lilacs in bloom. For the days that aren’t so great, writing-wise, there’s 25+ years of experience behind me—I just make myself start, and sooner or later, something fun will kick in.
What are your outlooks for the growth of Halloween and how do see the future of the monetary value of the season?
There’s a great new google tool that can take every mention of a word in all of the books that google has digitized (millions) and chart the usage on a graph. When you type in “Halloween,” the mentions begin around 1860 and climb modestly until about 1970-80. Then there’s a gigantic leap of about 1000% between then and 2005. Halloween has captured our interest in a big way, and as long as so many of us are intrigued by it, I think the season will continue to feed the market. I don’t see saturation yet. And to be clear, since we’re talking money, I still think that Halloween is exciting NOT because there is a group of people sitting in a corporate board room trying to decide what we’ll buy, but because there are people sitting in garages, basements, and kitchens trying to come up with something really different and amazing. I believe that Halloween is still driven by we who celebrate it.
How about some lasting words of inspiration from the ‘Halloween Authority’ on Halloween and the Haunt industry.
I can’t promise they’ll last, or even inspire, but I do have a few thoughts about haunts and horror. Interviewers (non-Halloween industry) often ask me why Halloween entertainment is so graphic and bloody now. First of all, it’s not just Halloween. Our whole culture is graphic and bloody now; Halloween is just an expression of that. But here’s the thing: people who study film theorize that horror is popular because it’s able to present the real terrors of our world with some honesty, and that horror films can be seen as a way to cope with the way we live now. And in some ways, haunted houses can do this too; they follow the same cultural drifts and ride on the same anxieties that horror films do. But there is a real difference between a horror film and a haunted house experience. At a haunt, you’re fighting for mastery of the situation with other people in the real world. Haunts, in a way, build communities of warriors. Rather than using Halloween’s horror-filled imagery to indict the holiday, we could honor this one night when we can be the powerful, bloody creatures we are. When we can let the monsters out….
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