Halloween romances are a more vexed sub-genre than I would have thought. However, after reading a bunch this week, I now know they have two big problems to surmount.
First, effective titles are restricted by a limited number of holiday-related words such as trick and treat – and if you get them together in a title, you likely have erotica. Sure, the punny Ghouls Night Out might work. (I didn’t google to see if anyone has published a story with this title. However, if I could think of it so easily, so could someone else.) Something to do with the name Jack might do, and there are possibilities with witches. But really what can you do with pumpkins in a title? Are they even sexy? (Speaking of which, the title image is of Perkins Orchard, Barbee Road, Durham, NC.)
Second, Halloween romances have the challenge of hitting the right tone.
Halloween Romances v. Other Established Holiday Romance Categories
Thanksgiving and Christmas are slam dunks. The emotional valence revolves around the warm fuzzies and everything associated with home, family and warmth. Traditions come into play, and nostalgia may be involved.
New Year’s is all about Out With The Old and In With The New and the magic that can happen at midnight.
Because Cupid works in endless ways, Valentine’s Day romances constitute an industry unto themselves.
Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day all make for breezy stories involving picnics, beach houses, lazy days for vacationers, high season for seaside inn owners, and summer flings that just might turn serious.
Halloween Romances v. Other Non-Established Holiday Romance Categories
Hanukkah has not generated a lot of themed romances, but if you’re looking for one, there’s the story by Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books who published Lighting the Candles: A Hanukkah Story. Like Thanksgiving and Christmas stories – and Hanukkah tends to fall between them on the calendar – this holiday invokes tradition and family.
Easter has a split personality with its pagan side involving bunnies and eggs and Easter herself (the Germanic goddess of the dawn), and then there’s the whole Jesus Christ Crucifixion/Resurrection thing. Romance writers tend to stay away from this holiday, and if they ‘go there’ they toe the springtime-and-bunnies line.
Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, and/or any lunar new year could yield a story or two and may well in the future. My Tied Up (coming February 2019) is set in Saigon during Tet but doesn’t count as a Tet romance because it’s not terribly concerned with the holiday itself, only the time of year.
Events that occur annually but don’t count as holidays as such include High School/College Reunions and, say, the Kentucky Derby. I’ve used both, with Love After All featuring a college reunion and DeMarco’s Café having a Kentucky Derby plot point. For whatever reason, the Derby isn’t high on the romance radar.
So now we come to Halloween. Like Easter it has a split personality: on the one hand, you have dress-up-as-your-favorite-alter-ego costume parties with all the mischievous fun that might come of them and, on the other hand, you have the eerie stuff: haunted houses, black cats, boiling cauldrons, walking skeletons and ghosts – which makes for a different, shivery kind of fun.
Note: there a plenty of ghost-themed romances. They’re never set at Halloween.
What I’ve found so far in Halloween romances are mostly stories that might use a Halloween party either to get a plot going or to wrap one up, but nothing about the particulars of the holiday sets the emotional tone. This is not a criticism. I’m saying only that these stories aren’t Holloween-y atmospheric in the way Thanksgiving or Christmas stories have their holiday atmospherics.
I ran across a paranormal treatment that set up the romance plot by means of a Halloween party attended by both a dress-up vampire and a real vampire – great idea! – but, other than the fact of the party, the story could have been set at any other time of the year.
Just as there is a structural anatomical constraint that prevents a single organism from having both shoulder blades and wings (angels excepted, of course), there could be an emotional constraint that prevents a romance from (easily) unfolding during a holiday devoted to a good, clean fright. (Dark secrets and scary happenings in mansions are already the province of Gothic romance, thereby making a Halloween Gothic redundant.) It just might be that the Night Before the Day of the Dead points too strongly toward Thanatos (Death) which is by definition the polar opposite of Eros (Love).
For suggestions check out Goodreads: Holloween Romance (52 books)
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen