Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Horror Writer’s Workshop day 2: It gets serious

You know those decorative strands of garlic everyone had in their kitchen back in the ’80s? Well, the trend started here in eastern Europe, and it had nothing to do with style.

Here, garlic is used for protection, and this is taken quite seriously. What, did you think Bram Stoker made everything up?

The rest of the writers arrived this evening, a few hours later than planned. I was beginning to think I’d missed everyone, it was so late. Everyone seems excited and exhausted in equal measure. It’s an early night for our group. We have a hectic week ahead of us.

Our Romanian friend Laurentiu Dragan, who runs the Mama Cozonacilor with his family, greeted everyone with a rosary and a braided strand of garlic. “In Hawaii, they have the lei. Here, we have the crucifix,” he says. Everyone laughed, but we soon learned this isn’t a joke to the Romanians.

After dinner, we were led into a room and blessed by two Romanian Orthodox priests. The priests mixed dried basil with the holy water and used the bouquet of basil to sprinkle the water on our bowed heads. They also touched a crucifix to our lips. This blessing is for protection from evil and for good thoughts, but I suspect the Romanians hope it will also counteract any trouble twelve horror writers manage to stir up.

When people refer to this part of the earth as the “Old World,” they’re speaking more truthfully than they know. Romanians have a core set of values that have been lost in much of western society. Family, faith, home and hearth–respect–are everything. You know what I haven’t seen in this country? People walking around staring at their cell phones. I’ve seen people talking, people laughing, people sharing food and selling food, people playing chess.

Real human connection. How novel.

I think we might learn something much more important than how to write a scarier story.

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Christine

    Loving the stories about your trip so far! Romania sounds like an interesting place and I would love all the Dracula and vampire folklore too. It’s weird how it’s actually shocking to see people who aren’t always connected to their devices and are just living life in some parts of the world.

    • JH

      Thanks, Christine! It is a really interesting place–there’s definitely a lot of cultural differences. For instance, Romanians don’t talk while eating. They think it’s rude. They give us some leeway, as we’re foreigners, but to them, the dinner table is for eating, not conversation.

      There are many things I don’t think I could get used to, but the lack of attachment to cell phones? That’s right up my alley!

      • Christine

        That is interesting, since eating together is such a social activity for us. I totally agree on the attachment to phones. They are addictive for some reason, but I even annoy myself when I’m on it too much!

        • JH

          I find it so sad when you see a bus full of people staring at their phones, or even worse, a park or attraction. So much of life is being missed!

  2. Birgit

    Oh you are so lucky to be in Romania. It has such great history and culture. I wish more people would smile more and look ahead instead of down at the cell phones ready to be hit by cars

    • JH

      Me too, Birgit. The smart phone/selfie culture makes me really sad a lot of the time. People are missing out on so much.

  3. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    So interesting! Love the comparison of the leis and the strands of garlic.

    I’m with you on wishing people weren’t looking at cell phones etc so much of the time. I feel like a freak when I’m out somewhere with an actual book or, oh I don’t know, just sitting and thinking. 🙂

    • JH

      If you’re a freak, you’re the very best kind, Madeline. Don’t change a thing.

  4. Elle

    I love all the cultural stuff you are getting. It’s going to show up in a book somewhere, I’m guessing.

    • JH

      It’s hard to say. Writing a scary book set in Transylvania…I hear it’s been done. 😉

  5. Misha

    Sounds wonderful!

    I might actually be going to Romania soon for business, and I’m excited by the idea. 🙂

    • JH

      Awesome, Misha! Make sure you visit Bran Castle.

  6. Mary Aalgaard

    It’s good to know that not everyone in the world is addicted to their technology!

    • JH

      Yes, it is. Although I met a Romanian writer today and he was often checking his phone. 😉 But it would only be boring if they were perfect, wouldn’t it?