Writing to Holidays/Themes: Halloween

This is the best month of the year. I love the cooling weather and the scent of woodsmoke drifting on the air. I love the long blocks of classic weird television shows that seem to run at all hours on Sci-fi and Chiller.

You get your Tales from the Darkside. You get your Monsters. Of course we get treated to scads of The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone.

By the way, I really enjoyed the mid-'80s run of The Twilight Zone. I have a dozen copies of the magazine and I recently re-watched all of the episodes from that short run. The directors were eclectic and talented, and the stories in that period slanted decidedly more toward horror tales. I think they are well worth another look for those of you with Net Flix or Blockbuster Online accounts.

I love the influx of horror films (I have high hopes for Quarantine, though I probably shouldn't). I love the perfectly timed release of anthologies and novels in the genre. And I love the ubiquitous Halloween-themed issues of speculative magazines.

I love rooms of the undead nonchalantly munching on human forearms.

I eagerly await the fall issue of Cemetery Dance over at the college. It's always packed with six or eight top-quality horror yarns. I'll keep an eye out for Arkham Tales and Electric Spec, a couple of online magazines that promise to serve up tales of the macabre right around my favorite holiday (how nice is it that Halloween is on a Friday this year?).

So I think it's pretty interesting that lots of these magazines call for submissions early in the summer. The lead time is usually late August or early September. The guidelines always ask for Halloween-themed stories, but that's pretty vague, of course. So I guess the question is, what makes a great Halloween story?

Do we need witches? The occult?

How about madmen or psychos? Stormy night slasher tales?

What about ghosts and haunted houses?

When I think about the stories I like around Halloween, I think about tales that are:
  • unsettling in tone, style and theme
  • set in the fall, and which use the holiday itself as a backdrop

Bradbury (I know, I know, I like the guy--it's not a crime, folks) played on this well. In The October Country, the title is more than just an orientation point. It is, literally, the setting for a number of the stories.

King has written a number of memorable Halloween stories, and I'll put Champion Joe Lansdale up there with the best of 'em. I'll toss the question out there if anyone is inclined to mull it out loud here: what makes a good Halloween story?

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