Morning Coffee: History of the Jack O’Lantern

halloweenHalloween! It’s that time of year again when countless pumpkins go under the knife to create scary, and sometimes not-so-scary, Jack O’Lanterns. They’ll sit in windows, on front porches and lawns, lit from inside, to welcome all the little trick-or-treaters. But why do we do it? Whoever thought of carving a face into a hollowed-out pumpkin and then lighting it with a candle?

The name comes from an old Irish folktale about a man named “Stingy Jack”.

The Legend of Stingy Jack

Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with ever since. The Irish began to refer to this ghostly figure as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’Lantern.”

The Irish and Scots used turnips and potatoes to recreate Jack’s lantern. The English used large beets. The “lanterns” were placed in windows and near doorways to frighten away Stingy Jack’s ghost, and any other spirit that might happen to wander by. When the Irish immigrants brought the tradition with them to this country the much larger pumpkin, a native fruit, became their new favorite and soon a part of the Halloween tradition.


Morning Coffee: Unlocking My A Game

fallLast weekend I attended WisRWA’s fall workshop, “Unlock Your A Game”, led by Heidi Cullinan. It was an intensive one-day workshop based on the book by her and Damon Suede, “Your A Game: Winning Promo for Genre Fiction”. Going in, I thought I understood the concept of branding, but I had no idea just how involved a process it is. It’s not merely a tagline that describes my books. It’s symbols and pictures and even colors used on business cards and websites, maybe even the clothing you wear to an event. It might be the font color, size and style on your website and book covers. It’s how you portray yourself in everything you say and do to agents, editors, publishers, media, and, most importantly, your fans and readers.

Think about it. When you go to the grocery store what products immediately catch your attention? Why? Which ones do you buy, claiming they taste better when maybe it’s more the color of the packaging than the actual flavor? Brand is more than the name on the label, or author’s name on the cover. There’s Flo from Progressive Insurance, the Geico gecko, Madge the manicurist who used to soak her hands in Palmolive dish soap, Mr. Clean, and those scrubbing bubbles, just to name a few. You don’t need to be told the brand name to recognize them. That’s branding.Your A Game: winning promo for genre fiction by [Suede, Damon, Cullinan, Heidi]

“Your A Game” teaches using game theory to craft Brand, Presence, and Market strategy. Brand is my piece in the game; presence, the rules of engagement; and market, my playing board. I’m currently working on my brand, my tagline, my piece in the game. It’s the thing that will first and foremost set me apart from all the other players.

We spent all day breaking down each of the three components, interspersed with exercises meant to put our new knowledge to work. This proved to be not as easy as you might think. By the end of the afternoon, when it was time to put everything we learned together into draft bios and pitches, we were exhausted. Heidi warned us in the beginning that there was a lot of information and by the time we were done our brains would feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and be just plain over flowing. She wasn’t kidding! By the last exercises I couldn’t put two words together on the page and have them make sense…or even not make sense. My hand refused to move my pen across my paper. And I wasn’t the only one in the room who looked like they might need help remembering their own name.

Despite all this, I loved every minute of it! That’s right. I loved it and even bought the e-book when I got home. I anticipate some long winter hours studying and practicing until I get it just right.