Where Can I Find a Ghost Like That?

The end of October is finally upon us and for writers that means only one thing: bowls full of miniature candy bars will be widely available for snacking.

Or maybe two things. Because tomorrow is the first of November and the start of National Novel Writing Month. Once again it’s that time of year when people dedicated to the craft of novel writing, become even more dedicated and join upwards of 400,000 of their closest friends in setting the goal of writing 50,000 words in a single short month that, at least for US participants, includes a major holiday.typewriter-584696__340

I’ve participated a few times in NaNoWriMo and I’m proud to say that each time I have been among the usually less than 20% who completed the challenge. I’d love to do it this year, too. I even have a couple of ideas for books floating around in my brain and tonight I will be attending a NaNoWriMo kickoff party for local writers who will get started on their future masterpieces at the stroke of midnight.

Sadly, I’ve had to accept that this year I will be attending in a strictly cheerleading capacity. I’m still working through one project and preparing for the rapidly approaching launch of a new novel. And, well, it’s a short month with a major holiday in it. Unless I can find myself a ghostwriter, I think I’m out of luck.

Pearl Curran took the term “ghostwriter” to the next level. by Walter Franklin Prince [Public domain]
But I suppose you never know. It happened for another St. Louis woman in the summer of 1913. Mrs. Pearl Curran had been experimenting with her Ouija board for nearly a year when she was first contacted by Patience Worth. The English-born ghost claimed to have lived from 1649-1694, traveled to America as a Puritan, and eventually died at the hands of hostile Indians. She also had a way with words and a story to tell.

Actually, several stories, quite a few letters, and a whole lot of poems. With the help of her living companion, Patience Worth wrote at least six novels before Pearl Curran died in 1937, at which time, presumably, the two continued to hang out.

In 1918 alone, the strange duo produced eighty-eight poems that were published in various magazines. Some of this large body of work even garnered praise from literary critics, one of whom wrote that Worth had “a sense of humor that is rare in ghosts.”

As a novelist whose work has yet to attract a great deal of critical attention, I admit this bothers me a little bit. Mrs. Curran definitely encountered her fair share of skeptics and I am among them. Believers argued that Curran lacked the formal education to produce the works on her own, but there’s some evidence that she might have had more creative abilities than her background would suggest.ouija-board-4553829__340

Frankly, I don’t think it really matters much. Great work came from the collaboration, whether Patience Worth was a figment of a highly developed imagination or she was a literal ghostwriter.

Either way, I’ll probably miss out on penning a novel this November. I suspect I’m unlikely to come across a ghost willing to share its literary genius. I don’t even own a Ouija board. But I am looking forward to the candy.

Happy Halloween! Happy NaNoWriMo!

Confectionary Kernels and America’s Least Most Awful Choice

On September 9, 1950 the town of Midland Park, New Jersey experienced a holiday tragedy the likes of which had been previously unknown. The effects would be felt by retailers across the nation and by perhaps as many as tens of disappointed little Halloween goblins and ghouls.

Because right in the middle of the process of making a batch of candy corn, a beeswax-lined kettle caught fire and burned the Goelitz Confectionary Company New Jersey factory to the ground. The good news is that all of the employees managed to escape the blaze unharmed. And the other good news is that 2000 pounds of candy corn was consumed by the blaze, which meant no one else had to eat it.

I would rather set this on fire than eat it. photo credit: Great Beyond Day 293/365 – Candy Corn via photopin (license)

Candy corn has been around since at least the late 19th century when it was allegedly invented by George Renninger of the Wunderle Candy Company. The weird pretend vegetable candy had its wider debut in 1880, when Goelitz Confectionary first mass produced packages of it and sent it out into the world marketed as “Chicken Feed.”

Obviously there can be no accounting for the questionable culinary tastes of 19th century America. But the really strange part is there still seems to be a small, enthusiastic remnant of the population that loves the stuff. These are the folks who at parties, gobble handfuls of candy corn mixed with peanuts and insist it’s just like eating a PayDay candy bar (which in this blogger’s humble opinion, is also gross) or who design specialty candy corn cocktails, because nothing says, “Mix me with vodka!” like corn syrup and fondant.

These are the same people who are responsible for candy companies feeling the need to produce up to 15 billion kernels of candy corn every year, including buckets of them in red, white and green for Christmas (a traditional corn holiday) or red, white, and pink for Valentine’s Day (so you can tell the one you love, “Here, I got you this corn.”).

I don’t even know what to think of this.

I know I typically try to avoid a whole lot of controversy on this blog, but I do realize at this point, I will have to concede that a few of you reading may find yourself in the candy corn camp. Even my dad, who is one of the wisest people I know, is generally right about most things, and is a loyal reader of this blog, also occasionally enjoys candy corn.

But highly scientific market research into American candy preferences suggests that candy corn is by far the most divisive candy on the market. People who don’t like it, really don’t like it and probably have their fists raised as they nod along with this post. And I suppose the tens of people who love it, really do love it. They can’t wait for retail Halloween to roll around every July so they can stock up, make themselves a candy corn martini, and munch some PayDay mix.

They’re the people who in 1950, were dismayed at the September Goelitz fire because even though the handful of other companies that produced the confectionary kernels tried their best, there was a candy corn shortfall that year.

Goelitz decided not to rebuild its New Jersey factory, though they still produce a good share of the candy corn on the market. Today, the company is known as Jelly Belly, the same ones responsible for the vomit flavored Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean, easily the third worst candy in the world.

Oh no! This is an option I hadn’t considered. This may change things. photo credit: giveawayboy It’s that time again… via photopin (license)

So, you may ask, what’s the second most awful candy in the world? Well, actually I admit there may some room for debate on that front. As much as I dislike candy corn, Halloween offers us another terrible alternative in the form of that weird brown taffy that comes in the orange and back wrappers. Honestly, it’s kind of a toss-up and if you try to give out either one to Trick-or-Treaters, you might deserve the egging your house is sure to receive.

But, since the American* public is facing another looming similar situation in which it will have to attempt to choose the least terrible of the worst alternatives imaginable, I figured we all could use a little practice. To that end, I’d like to conduct a brief and highly scientific poll. So, what do you think? Is candy corn the worst candy on the market? And if not, why, do you think, are you so clearly wrong?


*I realize that candy corn is more or less an American problem, but Non-Americans are more than welcome (and even encouraged) to participate in this important debate, too. I suspect, no matter the outcome, our houses are all getting egged.