October 24 – 30: “Can Halloween be a good setting for a thriller?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we’re joined by ITW Members John Hegenberger, Christina Hoag, Charlaine Harris, Alexia Gordon, C. E. Lawrence and James Marshall as they discuss the question: Can Halloween be a good setting for a thriller, or is it destined to be the genre of horror forever?




skinoftattooscoverChristina Hoag is the author of Skin of Tattoos, a literary thriller set in L.A.’s gang underworld forthcoming from Martin Brown Publishers, and Girl on the Brink, a romantic thriller for young adults forthcoming from Fire and Ice YA/Melange Books. She is a former reporter for the Associated Press and Miami Herald and worked as a correspondent in Latin America writing for major media outlets including Time, Business Week, Financial Times, the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times. She is the co-author of Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, a groundbreaking book on gang intervention (Turner Publishing, 2014). She resides in Los Angeles.


all-the-little-liars-cover-jpegCharlaine Harris is a #1 New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. Born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area, she is the author of the Aurora Teagarden mysteries, which are the basis for the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Aurora Teagarden original movies; the Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasy series, which was the basis for the HBO show True Blood; the Shakespeare mysteries; the Harper Connelly mysteries; and the Cemetery Girl mysteries. Harris now lives in Texas with her husband.


superfall-coverAward-winning author, John Hegenberger has produced more than a dozen books since mid-2015, including several popular series: Stan Wade LAPI in 1959, Eliot Cross Columbus-based PI in 1988, and Ace Hart, western gambler in Arizona in 1877. He’s the father of three, tennis enthusiast, collector of silent films, hiker, Francophile, B.A. Comparative Lit., ex-Navy, ex-marketing exec at Exxon, AT&T, and IBM; and happily married for 46 years and counting. Active member of SFWA, PWA, SinC and ITW. His novel SPYFALL won a 2016 award at Killer Nashville.


silent-sourceJames Marshall Smith is a physicist whose critically-acclaimed thriller, Silent Source, was an international finalist for the Clive Cussler Grand Master Award. James was a chief scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for two decades and has served in consulting or advisory roles for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, the G7 Global Health Security Action Group, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.


murder-gAlexia Gordon won her first writing prize in the 6th grade. She continued writing through college but put literary endeavors on hold to finish medical school and Family Medicine residency training. She established her medical career then returned to writing fiction. Raised in the southeast, schooled in the northeast, she relocated to the west where she completed Southern Methodist University’s Writer’s Path program. She admits Texas brisket is as good as Carolina pulled pork. She practices medicine in El Paso. She enjoys the symphony, art collecting, embroidery, and ghost stories.


SILENT_STALKERCarole Bugge (C.E. Lawrence) is the author of nine published novels, award-winning plays, musicals, poetry and short fiction. A two time Pushcart Poetry Prize nominee, her most recent Lee Campbell thrillers are Silent Slaughter and Silent Stalker, under the pen name C. E. Lawrence. Her short stories were selected for the two most recent Mystery Writers of America anthologies. Her Sherlock Holmes novels, The Star of India and The Haunting of Torre Abbey, have recently been reissued, along with her Claire Rawlings mystery series. Her latest book is the historical thriller, Edinburgh Twilight.



  1. I think connecting a thriller with the holiday is lame at best, except for maybe the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.
    Nonetheless, I’ll be reading a Halloween based adventure of my Stan Wade character at a local Barnes and Noble store on October 27. The story takes place on Halloween 1959 in Hollywood when Rod Serling is just starting to air episodes of the Twilight Zone on television. Of course, Twilight Zone is not considered to be horror; it’s more like weird mystery. So as sure is my name isn’t Boris Karloff, Halloween is a Thriller.

  2. Not only do I think Halloween is a good time period to set a story, but I’ve used it purposefully at least three times, twice in short stories and once in a novel. I think the appeal of Halloween is timeless – and some versions of it exist in most Northern cultures, I think, whether the Day of the Dead, All Hallows Eve, or others.

  3. Sometimes Halloween is terrific for just adding a dash of dark mystery to the story line, thriller or not. I can’t help but think of the classic scene with Jem and Scout (dressed as a ham) walking in the dark through the woods to the Halloween party.

    Although Halloween certainly provides a great mood for a thriller, it does seem that horror writers own it for the most part, doesn’t it? I would be interested in learning of more exceptions (Carole has one), as far as novels go.

  4. Yes, Halloween can play a good setting in a thriller. Deception and confusion are key elements in any thriller and opportunities to deceive and confuse abound at Halloween. Imagine a murderer committing his crime at a Halloween party while wearing a costume identical to an innocent bystander’s. Imagine a jewel thief hiding her loot in a child’s candy bag then having to retrieve it before Junior dives into the Milk Duds. Imagine a law enforcement officer pursuing her quarry through streets crowded with drunken, costumed Halloween revelers or having to identify her target hidden amongst those revelers. Halloween, with its costumes and party atmosphere and focus on concealing one’s true identity, provides many opportunities for thrills and not just of the horrrific kind.

  5. As with any of these type of holidays, they can be super-cliched when used in writing: Supernatural on Halloween, an attack on the White House on July 4th, meeting a soulmate on Valentine’s Day. I think the biggest challenge is coming up with something fresh and unexpected if you’re going to use a holiday because they tend to readily fall into the trite-genre bucket.

    It would be nice to see a totally new twist on the Halloween by taking it out of the horror genre, but you’re still probably going to have pumpkins, trick-or-treat etc. because without those things, it’s not Halloween.
    However, disguise is an essential part of Halloween, that could be used in almost any genre as a plot hook.

  6. Though it’s true Halloween is a traditional setting for horror novels, it’s a promising opportunity for mystery writers as well. What other time of the year are many people running around neighborhoods in complete disguises? Those disguises may include weaponry, which might not be only realistic-looking . . but actually real. What other night do unsuspecting homeowners answer their doorbell with alacrity? And (though this is despicable, of course) it would be easy to snatch a young kidnapping victim on the 31st. If you think hard enough, there must be a way to insure a specific person gets the poisoned candy . . . and there’s no way to find out who dropped it in the bag. And I’m just getting started!

    1. Did you know, Charlaine, that the poison in that candy wasn’t your grandfather’s poison, rather it was polonium 210, the Mother of All Poisons. And that amount of radioactive poison could only come from a state-sponsored terrorist group.(Re: my novel, Silent Source) Some godforsaken country is obviously trying to send a message to the little girl’s father, a well-known critic of U.S. diplomatic ties with ????

      I’m sorry, you got me started! 🙂

  7. I like all the examples here – Charlaine makes some great points about people running around in disguise! ( : Indeed. James, the novel I mentioned is one of my Lee Campbell thrillers, in which he’s hunting a killer who is in the Steampunk world. There’s a big Halloween Steampunk ball which becomes the climactic scene. Steampunk and Halloween seemed to go together, and I have a chase scene through a famous graveyard in Troy at the end. But I also love this time of year as a setting in general, even if it’s not actually on Halloween.

  8. Many characters are haunted. By their own thoughts and failings. By ghosts of the past. By visions of the future. So, the ghostly aspect of Halloween can give a story a new turn of the screw. For example: Leslie Charteris took his character, The Saint, into the weird dreamland of a story called, The Darker Drink. Halloween is a challenging time to take your character One Step Beyond.

  9. If you set a Halloween themed mystery back in the day when people were less germ-phobic and still bobbed for apples, you could drown a victim in the apple tub. And if someone dressed as a zombie how long would it take for someone to notice they weren’t one of the “walking dead,” they were actually dead?

  10. Halloween and other holidays can also be used as background settings to show the family connections of characters even though the holiday may not actually have anything to do with the plot. An FBI agent squiring kids around for trick-or-treating, family squabbles at the Christmas dinner table, whathaveyou. While you can do this without holidays, the holiday does add more emotional weight to the scene.

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