To get into the Halloween spirit, I’ll be reading (and dissecting) the Halloween-themed anthology Doorbells at Dusk. My thanks goes to Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi and Corpus Press.
Their faces are not masks.
Synopsis: A woman is alarmed when her neighbour’s unruly children won’t leave her home on Halloween.
Offerings was enough to induce nightmares, and not only because it involved children. It took pride in not offering any direct answers as to what was actually happening, and that complimented the eerie atmosphere. I couldn’t help but interpret it in my own way, and the ending, in particular, went beyond what I expected; it was beautiful, in that devilish sort of way.
Q&A with Joanna Koch, courtesy of Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
How does your story in Doorbells at Dusk tie-in with Halloween?
Aside from taking place on Halloween, my story “Offerings” alludes to rituals and sacrifice, and some of the darker rumors surrounding Samhain. I borrowed from “The Golden Bough” to make up an imaginary seasonal rite. I also worked thematically with the Halloween tradition of costuming. I had a great deal of fun designing the masks for the girls, and the idea of dressing up and changing identity figures into the story, especially at the end.
Give readers a short synopsis of your story in your own words:
“Offerings” is set in a nice little bedroom community on the night before Halloween. The main character is Blaine. She feels like something’s a bit off in her neighborhood. She’s new to the high-end suburb, seeking a lifestyle and community that’s better than the one where she grew up. Blaine makes the mistake of offering an invitation to Amelia, a haggard woman with some very bad children. Things get uncomfortable and then they get weird. Blaine struggles against being sucked into a trap, but it may be too late by the time she realizes what’s happening.
“Offerings” is superficially a paranoid fantasy about ritual sacrifice and scapegoating. But it’s also a story concerned with the cultural expectations that fall on women to provide nurturing. How much is one person supposed to give? And at what cost?
Is it a trick or a treat and why?
It’s a series of tricks. Blaine has no idea what she’s getting into. Depending on the reader’s interpretation, they may or may not feel that the ending is a treat. I did. I was happy for Blaine. I also feel like she found her own solution, like I wasn’t especially in charge as an author at that point. I had to follow the logic of her character to figure out the ending. That’s why I don’t plan too much when I write. I want to be surprised and delighted by where the story leads me.
What was your favorite part about writing your story?
Once I found the ending, making it materialize on the page made me quite happy. I didn’t think I could do it. It’s one of those sequences that you see in your mind like a movie. They happen so fast and make so much sense internally that it’s hard to slow everything down, pick it apart and get it across to someone else. I think I dissected it reasonably well.
Would you dress-up as any characters in your story? Who or why not?
Oh yes, I’d like to be Blood-beak! I like her attitude and splatter, and I like the boldness of Inuit art. I’m up for getting in touch with my inner demon.
Joanna Koch is a fan of folklore, fairy tales, and anthropology. Her short fiction has been published in journals such as Dark Fuse and Hello Horror and included in several speculative fiction anthologies. Joanna is an MA Contemplative Psychotherapy graduate of Naropa University who currently lives and works near Detroit.