A month of deception

October has arrived. I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, fall! Leaves! Hot cider! Sweaters! Boots! Yay! (Can I use any more exclamation marks?) On the other hand…

Halloween.

Call me a grump, but I don’t really like Halloween. This probably (okay, definitely) comes out of my kids’ elementary school days when I had to come up with 2-3 different costumes (one for school, one for other activities, one for trick-or-treating because heaven forbid you wear the SAME costume twice). I realize I am in the minority here. I’m okay with that.

But Halloween and mystery writing have a lot in common:

  1. Both deal with people putting on costumes – literally and figuratively. The bad guys sometimes masquerade as good guys and vice-versa. There are rarely actual costumes involved, but that’s not the point.
  2. Mystery writers are deceivers. We talked about this earlier on the blog. Part of the charm of mysteries is the figuring-it-out part. Writers drop clues, red herrings and bits of information everywhere. It’s up to the sleuth – professional or amateur – and the reader to figure things out. We want to challenge our reader, but nothing gives quite as much joy (okay, at least to me) as a reader saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”
  3. Writing allows us to deceive ourselves. I think Joss Whedon said it perfectly: I write to be the characters I’m not. That’s a bit of self-deception, isn’t it? At the end of the day, I’m NOT a cop or a lawyer. But for the time I’m immersed in the story, I’m absolutely those characters. I’m strong enough, I’m smart enough. Those imaginary people are a bit of me. It’s a little like putting on that Halloween mask. I think there’s a reason costume balls are popular. For that brief bit of time, we get to pretend to be someone or something else. So it is with writing. And reading, too. A good book will pull me out of my everyday life – and there are days when that’s a really good thing.

So while I’m not all that into physical costumes, I’m totally into slipping into the deceptive world of a mystery. Too bad that’s not a category in the office costume competition – Best Fictional Costume. Because I would totally rock that one.

Readers, what about you? Do you see a natural affinity between Halloween and mysteries or not?

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Author: Liz Milliron

Liz Milliron has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people's stories, for as long as she can remember. She's worked for fifteen years in the corporate world, but finds making things up is far more satisfying than writing software manuals. A lifelong mystery fan, her short fiction has been published in online magazines Uppagus and Mysterical-e. She has also had stories included in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales, Blood on the Bayou (the 2016 Bouchercon anthology), Fish Out of Water, and Mystery Most Historical. She is a past president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at http://lizmilliron.com, find her on Facebook at https://facebook.com/LizMilliron, or follow her on Twitter (@LizMilliron).

11 thoughts on “A month of deception”

  1. Good points! And here’s an obvious one, but a good mystery also includes both tricks (that sleigh-of-hand deception you mentioned) and treats too—at least the best ones are a treat! (My wife’s birthday is Halloween, so she has an ambivalent relationship with the holiday—always a fun time of year but potentially overshadowing her own big day… and she HATES costumes herself.)

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  2. Ooh, I really like that Joss Whedon quote! #3 is definitely true. Escapism is one of the reasons I love to read and write. Great post, Mary, and here’s hoping you get into the Halloween spirit! 😉

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  3. At the abstract level, mystery is much like Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en is the modern day version of the Celtic festival, Samhain, which starts at sundown on October 31st and ends sundown on November 1st. On Samhain, the veil between this world and the other world is the thinnest allowing the deceased and the fairies to pass into this world easily to wreack havoc. The deceased would get revenge upon the living for slights, real or imagined. The fairies like to kidnap humans to take them to their underworld banquet halls. Sometimes, the humans were treated as honored guests. Sometimes they were made to serve the fairies. Sometimes the fairies returned the person the next day or 20 years later or not at all. Rituals were developed to appease the deceased and the fairies in the hopes of preventing bad things from happening.

    My premise is that both Hallowe’en and mystery stories are tools by which our culture organizes its fear of death. In traditional mysteries, order is happily restored whereas in noir, much like Celtic myths, the ending is not happy. At Hallowe’en, formerly Samhain, rituals are observed allowing us to normalize and discuss our fears.

    Great post! Thanks for inspiration!

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  4. Halloween is the one day per year that we all get to make believe we’re someone else. But as writers, we get to do that every day!

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  5. Art: Good point! The payoff in the mystery is the treat. And I completely understand your wife’s reaction. I had friends with holiday birthdays and it was always hard on them growing up. Tough to separate the holiday and the birthday. But an early Happy Birthday to her!

    Kate: Joss Whedon has some of the best writing quotes ever. I love the escapism of reading and it really irks me when people say that’s not a “good enough” reason to write a book. Why ever not? I suppose I’ll get into the spirit. It’ll just take a massive influx of chocolate and Laffy Taffy – Halloween is good for that.

    Keenan: I think that’s a good comparison. People create all sorts of rituals to deal with the fear of death. In the Catholic tradition, it was All Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day (November 1), when people went door to door offering prayers for the dead in return for cakes and food. No kidnapping by evil spirits, but yet another way of coping with death.

    Sue: Yes! So really, I’m celebrating Halloween all year long!

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  6. OHHH never thought about it, but when I sit down to write, yes, I am most definitely in costume. I wear the persona of each of my characters what a wonderful metaphor.

    Oh, Liz, except for the chocolate–I’m with you on Halloween.

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  7. LOL! Hallowe’en is my very favorite holiday, I think because I love that its the rare holiday that hasn’t acquired a gift-giving element, the decorations are fun, and it’s the one time of year we can legitimately decide to be someone else. As an introvert, I feel like I’m in costume most of the time, but it isn’t necessarily the one I’d choose to wear. On Hallowe’en, the rules are out and I love it. The costume-wearing and rule-ignoring? Yep, definitely connected to writing (and reading) mysteries. Great connection!

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