Interview with Lisa Morton
Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, Bram Stoker Award®-winning prose writer, and Halloween expert. Famous Monsters called her “one of the best writers in dark fiction today”. As a Halloween expert, Morton has written three non-fiction books on the history of Halloween – The Halloween Encyclopedia (now in a second edition), A Hallowe’en Anthology: Literary and Historical Writings Over the Centuries, and the multiple award-winning Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. She has spoken about the holiday in The Wall Street Journal and The Boston Globe, on the BBC and The History Channel, on the supplements for the Blu Ray release of the feature film Trick ‘r Treat, and at the Utah Humanities Book Festival.
She entered the film industry in 1979 as a modelmaker on Star Trek: The Motion Picture. She supplied a section on Halloween candy for The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, wrote the Halloween chapter for The Art of Horror, and served as Consultant on U.S. Postal Service’s official 2016 and 2019 Halloween stamps. She is a former President of the Horror Writers Association, and is also an Active member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She has published four novels, 150 short stories, and the three aforementioned books on the history of Halloween.
Her most recent releases include the anthologies Haunted Nights (co-edited with Ellen Datlow) and Ghost Stories: Classic Tales of Horror and Suspense (co-edited with Leslie Klinger), both of which received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly.Her latest book, Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances will be available later this year.
Just released this month, she wrote the welcome letter for the 2020 edition of The Order of the Thinned Veil membership package.
Lisa can be found online at http://www.lisamorton.com.
We’ve had the fortune of speaking with her online through email for quite some time. Being the author of one of our favorite books about our favorite holiday, Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, it was a pleasure to be able to ask her a few questions, but even more of a treat with the great responses we received in return.
1. What fascinates you so much about Halloween and when did your fascination begin?
Certainly I’ve always loved the holiday, but my real fascination with Halloween didn’t begin until I started researching my first book on it, The Halloween Encyclopedia. The first edition of that was written in the days before everything was digitized and easily accessible online, so it was a real treasure hunt to find information. I spent several years haunting used bookstores and the reference stacks of libraries, and I became obsessed with two key things about the holiday: 1) the way it’s so often been misrepresented over the decades; and 2) the way it seems to continually change and adapt to the times.
2. The American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror describes your writing as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening.” How much of a source of pride is this for you?
I will freely confess – it’s pretty big! Plus that evaluation comes from someone who I have tremendous respect for: Becky Spratford, whose knowledge of the genre is unparalleled. If you want to know what’s going on in horror literature, check out out her blog, RA for All: Horror http://raforallhorror.blogspot.com/
3. As someone described as a world-class Halloween expert, how excited do you still get about the holiday?
Oh, hugely. Aside from the more academic excitements (I’m always printing out interesting news articles to keep track of Halloween’s ongoing evolution), five years ago I bought my first house, and my partner and I just love to stage our own little yard haunt every year (in fact, he built a plywood coffin today).
4. We are often asked to give recommendations on books to learn about Halloween. If you could only pick one, which book would you recommend and why?
I might tailor my recommendation to the individual (are they scholarly enough to want an encyclopedic reference, do they want a party guide, do they want a straight history, or do they want something a little hipper?), but I will often suggest Ruth E. Kelley’s 1919 The Book of Hallowe’en, which is surprisingly accurate (more so than certain later books) and a lovely book to read. Although it’s virtually impossible to find in an original hardback, it’s in the public domain and can be found
free online at places like Google Books.
5. Do you have any familial Halloween traditions that you continue?
Not really. About twenty years ago I developed an interest in local yard haunts (I live in the Los Angeles area, so because of the film and amusement park industries here we get some pretty extraordinary yard haunts), and for many years my tradition was to visit as many of those as I could. Now, what with doing my own yard haunt (to say nothing of the barrage of interview requests I get every October), I don’t get to go out and see other haunts anymore.
6. What’s your greatest memory of Halloween?
Hmmm…that’s a hard one…I think I’ll probably say that it’s that moment every year when I get to stand in my front yard and I’m suddenly in the middle of a misty graveyard surrounded by spirits. For a few moments, when it all comes together, it’s just magical.
7. What is your all-time favorite costume that you dressed up in for Halloween (besides the cavewoman’s pelt)?
Ha! That one was pretty unbeatable. As an adult, I think it was the year Twin Peaks had just aired, and I did dead Laura Palmer. What was great about it was that my makeup was by Tom and Bari Burman, who were Emmy winners and Oscar nominees for their makeup; they’re good friends and volunteered to do the makeup, so, what, like I was gonna turn THAT down?
8. As a six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award (congratulations!), and with eight (I believe) books related to Halloween on your resume, how excited are you that there seems to always be new information to write about Halloween?
Well, let me tell you: given how often I’m asked to talk or write about Halloween, it sure makes the job easier to always have new things to discuss.
9. As an author, screenwriter, Halloween expert, modelmaker, SFX sculptor, and stamp consultant, just to name a few; is there anything you would love to try but just haven’t yet?
For years (God, this will sound like the most cliched statement in Hollywood), what I thought I really wanted to do was direct. That was one reason I took all kinds of different jobs on film sets – to learn all the various aspects of filmmaking – and was also why I directed a lot of theater. But at some point I just lost that desire to direct, I think because I saw how film sets operated and I couldn’t imagine anyone giving me money to make a film the way I’d want to. Now I’m just happy being a writer.