- Summer: Time to Think about Pitching Halloween and Holiday Articles
- Where to Find Fodder for Frightful Tales
- More Opportunities and Resources for Writers
I just signed up for a gargoyle tour in Washington, D.C. at the National Cathedral.
When I think of D.C., I don’t think of gargoyles. In fact, I think the cathedral may be the only building here that has them.
And apparently the gargoyles there aren’t your average, run-of-the-mill gargoyles. Here’s what one ad for the tour says:
“Take one of the Cathedral’s gargoyle tours and see our [American] culture reflected in stone… from hippies to golfers, to what frightens us in this modern era.”
I shouldn’t be telling you this without first checking it out (I’ve got visions of pot smoking gargoyles swinging golf clubs) — but it occurred to me today when I registered that this might make a good Halloween article. Provided it’s scary, of course. And you can be sure that I’ll ask if there’s anything special they do for Halloween.
If it seems a little early to be thinking about Halloween, I’m here to tell you that for travel writers, it’s not.
In fact, now’s the right time to start submitting your Halloween articles (and other end-of-the-year holiday pieces — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, etc.) to publications whose editors prepare their editorial calendars six months or even a year in advance and demand a long lead-time.
I think Halloween articles can be fun… and not too complicated to write and sell. After all, everybody likes a good ghost story. And if you can find one with a little local flavor, recounting the story itself will take up most of your text. Plus, if your idea is fresh enough, you’ll have little trouble finding a local editor to buy it. Every year, editors face the challenge of coming up with something new to run at holiday time. And when they find something, they snatch it up.
In the interest of helping you come up with a Halloween idea (and get your story written), I’ve gone back in our archives to an article Steenie Harvey wrote for us years ago on finding fodder for frightening tales. You’ll find it here, below.
If you have an idea for a local Halloween story of our own, grab your pen and camera and do a little research this weekend. Interview a few people and gather your facts.
(Note: If you own Jennifer Stevens’ Ultimate Travel Writer’s Program, refer to Lesson # 11 for advice on the best ways to interview people and on how to integrate quotes into your writing.)
Grab your camera too. Nighttime is likely to be the smartest time to capture shots that best illustrate a Halloween piece. (If you’re a member of our Turn Your Pictures into Cash Program, review Lesson # 35 on taking great night shots.)
With that, I leave you to Steenie’s article, below, on finding fodder for your frightful tales.
As always — let me know about your travel-writing or photography successes. If you have a story to share, send me a quick note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great weekend,
Director, reat Escape Publishing
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]
HALLOWEEN ARTICLES: WHERE TO FIND FODDER FOR FRIGHTFUL TALES
By Steenie Harvey in Ireland
I’m lucky — I have the advantage of living in Ireland. Left spellbound by Celtic enchantments, this is a country where time stands still… where the darkness at the edge of town pulsates with eerie magic… where westerly winds carry the fading whisper of otherworldly voices.
Notice how I’m button-pushing? Spellbound… eerie magic… otherworldly voices. When writing scary stories, the dictionary is full of glorious words that help conjure up that shivery atmosphere you’re trying to convey.
*** Ideas for Opening Your Article
For example, here’s how I opened “Season of the Witch: Walpurgisnacht in Germany’s Harz Mountains.” Published by “The World & I,” the article tells of the area’s reputation for mythic weirdness. Goethe set the witches’ sabbat scene in Faust on the Brocken, a mountain where witches are still rumored to meet on May Eve.
“Wandering through Germany’s Harz Mountains, it’s impossible not to realize that you have entered a domain of enchantment, a place where landscape conspires with legend to create a sense of lurking mystery… “
But you have plenty of other shots in your armory when writing these kinds of articles. For example, you could open with a quote, or an old wives’ tale. Here’s how I did it for “Twilight Places: Ireland’s Enduring Fairy Lore” (again published by “The World and I”):
“In the 1940s, Irish writer Sean O’Faolain recounted a Cork woman being asked if she believed in fairies. ‘I do not,’ she replied after pondering the question, ‘but they’re there.'”
Or consider starting your story mid-action. There you are, quaking in a four-poster bed in an ancient hotel in the heart of England. It’s the witching hour… the wind is moaning… window frames are creaking and groaning. Is it really a tree branch tapping on the glass or is the headless highwayman putting in an appearance?
*** How to Gather Material Close to Home
Voodoo queens in New Orleans… native American burial grounds… witch persecutions in New England.
You certainly don’t have to travel outside the U.S. to find spooky stories.
The easiest place to uncover supernatural shenanigans is obviously your own home town or state. Are any special Halloween events on the town’s Events Calendar? Does any inn, hotel, or street have a reputation for being haunted? Do old-timers or shop-owners know any ghost stories? (If there’s a New Age-type store in town, this could be a great source.)
And what weird tales lurk in library folklore sections? The more research you do, the more interesting your article is likely to be. I’ve found the further back in time I delve, the stranger the yarns I uncover.
For instance, most people have heard of Irish banshees and leprechauns — not so many know of the Fear Gorta (Hungry Man). In the 1840s, this emaciated spirit was said to stalk the blighted potato fields. The harbinger of famine, he arises from the Hungry Grass — patches of land where an unshriven corpse has lain. Tread on such land, and you too may be stricken with insatiable and everlasting hunger.
Victorian writings can be a treasure trove. For that “Twilight Places” article (a major essay of around 5,000 words), my main resource books were W.B. Yeats’ “Fairy and Folktales of the Irish Peasantry” and Lady Wilde’s “Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland.” But in a dusty corner of the local library, I came across a lesser-known 19th-century folklorist called Crofton Croker. In a story about kidnapping and changelings, he recounts how a “bit of a shriveled-up fairy” replaces a bonny baby boy. A wise-woman instructs the grieving mother to “take the red-hot poker and cram it down his ugly throat.” Great stuff!
*** Don’t Miss Grave Digging
Most importantly of all, don’t neglect the local graveyard — if you can go at night, so much the better. (Again, think of the atmosphere!) Even if you’re traveling overseas, don’t be fazed by foreign inscriptions. Explain you’re a writer and someone is usually only too happy to translate for you.
Here’s one of my favorites. In Schierke village in Germany’s Harz Mountains, there’s a very spooky inscription on the grave of an apothecary called Willi Druber. Back in 1908, he concocted Schierke Feuerstein, an intensely alcoholic brew made from herbs and bitters. “O Wanderer eile fort von hier, sonst kommt er ‘raus und trinkt mit Dir!” The words warn you to hurry away before Willi rises from his tomb and joins you for a drink.