Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Juliet Blackwell Guest Blogs on Halloween

Continuing the series of Crime Writer Halloween Guest Blogs (scroll back to check them all out and the list of Halloween Mysteries), today I welcome JULIET BLACKWELL.

Juliet Blackwell, aka Hailey Lind, wrote the Art Lover’s Mystery series with her sister--including the Agatha-nominated Feint of Art. Arsenic and Old Paint, the fourth in the series, was released September, 2010. Juliet’s paranormal Witchcraft Mystery series began with the bestselling Secondhand Spirits (2009), about a witch with a vintage clothing store. A Cast-off Coven, a national bestseller, was released in June, 2010. First in the new Haunted Home Renovation Series, If Walls Could Talk, will come out December 7, 2010. 

A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has lived in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France. She lives in Oakland, California, where she is a muralist and portrait painter. A two-term president of Northern California Sisters in Crime, she is now a board member of SinC/NorCal and MWA. Visit her at www.julietblackwell.net, www.haileylind.com, or on Facebook and Twitter, @JulietBlackwell.

Halloween’s Not for Scaredy-Cats

Thirteen years ago I moved into a haunted house in Oakland. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. But really, stay with me here.
Juliet Blackwell: Chapel of the Chimes

Built in 1911 by folks who had money, the house was designed to be grand, with sweeping Moroccan arches, massive custom windows, and oversized rooms. The first owners lived here for forty-something years. Their daughter went in search of fame and fortune and landed in Hollywood back in the very early days of the movie industry. She liked to return by train with an entourage of young actors every once in a while. They would whoop it up in what was then the prosperous, urbane city of Oakland, and often held costume parties here at the house in the 1920s and 30s.

The daughter died in the house, as did her father and mother. All from natural causes.

And then Victoria and Ziggy moved in. They were also here for forty-something years, making me only the third owner of the home. Victoria and Ziggy were immigrants from Poland, and didn’t have the money to keep the place up. The house fell into disrepair, though its graceful bones remained sturdy. By then the town had gone downhill, the Bay Bridge making sparkly San Francisco the place to be and making obsolete the need for a true East Bay urban hub. Ziggy liked to tinker, and rigged up questionable devices throughout the house using things like the electrical connections from a model train set.

I don’t know where Victoria and Ziggy died, but they had both passed away and the house had stood empty for two years by the time I bought it. They left traces behind, mostly banal things like cement mixers, dog tags, and notes written in Polish. The original inhabitants, the Jeffress family, left photos and bottles and letters and deeds and a little button-up child’s shoe. The house carries their memories within its walls, basement, attic.

The house creaks and moans, especially when one is alone. This is par for the course in an old house, of course. The distinctive sound of footsteps overhead, however, is bewildering. Doors open and close of their own accord. Occasionally one feels the breath of someone over one’s shoulder, as though being followed.

But it’s Halloween that the place really comes alive. According to witchcraft lore, Halloween –or Samhain- is a time of the thinning of the veil that stands between the living and the dead. It is this night, and the first day or two of November, that death appears on earth, passing as it does through the veil. In the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, skeletons are decorated and made beautiful so as to distract Death, so he will leave the living alone.

During our annual Halloween party, spirits roam the halls and cubbies of my great old haunted house. It seems only fair. After all, I --and other living folks-- get free reign to be here most of the year, why not let the dead take over from time to time? We have a costume room for those who aren’t inspired or can’t manage to think of what to wear – I insist on people dressing up, for it is while costumed that we can most easily blend into the Halloween night. People are never so much themselves as when behind a mask; and I think Death appreciates this.

I’ll admit it, I like to have fun with this theme and I don’t really think that the original inhabitants of my house are roaming my corridors. I’m enough of a twentieth-century skeptic to laugh at myself when I jump at a sudden flash of…what was that?…in the mirror. But there’s part of me that hopes the Jeffress family, and Victoria and Ziggy, and perhaps some of their Hollywood and Polish friends drop by to see us every October 31st, just to join in on the fun.


maddee said...

I wish I could come!!!!!!!!!!

Camille Minichino said...

What a house. No wonder you write such great mysteries, Julie!

Pattie @ Olla-Podrida said...

I live in a house that was built in 1892. Like you, my husband and I are the third owners. Our house is not haunted, but I have experienced a number of things that can't be explained.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Thanks for the comments! Pattie, I'm with you -- I don't exactly believe, but all those "unexplained" things make for some interesting ideas.
And Camille and Maddee -- you'll have to come check it out soon!
Janet -- thanks for having me on!!!

Unknown said...

It's just the house where I would imagine you living! Sorry I missed this year's B-con--it was such a pleasure meeting you last year in Indianapolis
Happy Halloween-Sharon Fiffer