Horror Writers Association Blog

“A Little Halloween Chat” By Lisa Morton and Ellen Datlow


HWA’s next anthology, the Halloween-themed Haunted Nights, debuts on October 3rd. Including sixteen brand new stories about every horror writer’s favorite holiday, the anthology – published by Anchor Books and Blumhouse Books – recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Below, editors Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton talk about their editing processes, the thrill of finding a great story, and how they’re celebrating Halloween this year.

Lisa: When I first approached you about co-editing a Halloween-themed anthology, did you ever think, “Wow, is there really anything left to say about that holiday?” Because I know that thought has crossed my mind, more in regards to my own fiction than other authors’.

Ellen: Not really because I’ve never edited one before and figured it all depended on the writers and what they came up with – the only caveat were the ones we decided upon when sending out the guidelines.  We discouraged stories about kids and teenagers because we were worried that’s all we’d get. Honestly, I was more worried about how well we would work together, since we never had co-edited an anthology before. But happily we were on the same page, and ultimately agreed on all the stories in the book.

Lisa: You don’t read through many slush piles these days (I don’t, either, but for an entirely different reason!). Did you enjoy that part of it at all? I know I really found myself looking forward to it, partly because it was interesting to read so many Halloween stories, and partly because we were reading during summer when temperatures soared, so every night I took my laptop and something cool to drink outside and read under the stars (or at least my patio cover).

Ellen: It was interesting – in a good way. Particularly to have all names/addresses/personal information stripped from the submissions. I like that. Previously, at OMNI when I read the slush pile before I was Fiction Editor, everything was there on the manuscript and/or in a cover letter. I like reading blind submissions better. I read in my apartment on my couch, with my jazz station playing, my air conditioning on, and my cats playing/fighting, annoyingly trying to get my attention.

Lisa: Did anything surprise you about the submissions? I was a bit surprised by how few stories we read that were about related holidays – for example, I think we got exactly one Devil’s Night tale (which, coincidentally, was also the first story we bought, Kate Jonez’s “A Flicker of Light on Devil’s Night”).

Ellen: I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get more stories about related holidays. Maybe we didn’t push enough. But on the other hand, I was gratified to see such a variety of submissions. Yes, we got some of the same old same old (that we rejected) but we also received a tremendous number of fresh takes on the holiday-which once again proves that there is no trope or theme that is so overdone that there can’t be wonderful new stories inspired by those tropes.

Lisa: It was such a thrill for me to read a story that blew me away; it was like digging for buried treasure and finding something spectacular (that treasure-hunting aspect is also one of the things I love about writing nonfiction, by the way). What’s your favorite part of the whole process?

Ellen: That’s the best part of being a fiction editor – discovering wonderful new stories – and sometimes even inspiring writers to write things they might never have written. I love love love being blown away by a story.

Lisa: I know what my least favorite part was: sending rejections. Does that part EVER get easier?

Ellen: Rejecting stories is always difficult. It’s important to make it clear that you’re not rejecting the writer – just that specific story. If I like a writer’s work but the story they send doesn’t click for me, I often encourage them to send more (usually not for the same anthology). But the hardest is when I have to reject a story by a writer whose work you admire and really really want to acquire a story from-but the story they send is just not one you want/can buy – for whatever reason.

Lisa: Having read through all of these stories, I’m still pleasantly surprised by the breadth of the ideas there…and yet there’s something Halloween-ish they all capture. What is it about that one night that’s so special, especially for horror writers? I think it’s the one night out of the year when the wider cultural imagination allows dark magic to exist, so it gives authors a way of exploring some notions that might otherwise be considered outlandish. What do you think?

Ellen: Well for me- I’m a little embarrassed to admit it- but growing up, what was foremost in my sister and my minds was how much candy we could collect going trick or treating. I was never focused on the “trick” – just the “treat” 🙂 . My costumes were never that great as a kid. But later, when I moved to Greenwich Village in my 20s, for several years I took part in the annual neighborhood Halloween parade. At the time, the Village was very gay, and I loved dressing up and walking along with the amazing variety of people – a lot of drag queens participated, looking fabulous! So for me, personally, it was never a “dark” event. Which is why I was attracted to editing an anthology about the dark side of the holiday.

Lisa: You could have knocked me over with a (raven’s) feather when I saw that starred and boxed review we got in Publishers Weekly (to say nothing of all the other incredible reviews we’ve also received). You have got to be so used to those sorts of raves by now that I wonder if you secretly sort of expect them.

Ellen: I never expect raves. In fact, I’m always very nervous before reviews start coming in for any of my anthologies. There is never a guarantee of a good review, no matter how many books you’ve written/edited. So I’m thrilled by the book’s reception, so far.

Lisa: Are you doing anything to celebrate the release (October 3rd)? I’m considering an early Halloween party…

Ellen: If some of the contributors were in the NYC area, I would have set up some sort of launch event/reading, but I think I may be the only one here, so nope.  Nothing special.

Lisa: Speaking of which: what are you doing for Halloween? I’m revisiting and expanding the yard haunt I did last year. A graveyard with animated effects, talking ghosts, giant spiders, fog, jack-o’-lanterns – I guess when it comes to Halloween decorations I’m a traditionalist!

Ellen: That sounds like so much fun! I used to go to Halloween parties, way back when – when people actually had parties in their apartments in NYC. Then I started going to the World Fantasy Convention, which usually took/takes place around Halloween – and no one celebrates it there. But…this year I think I may be home again for Halloween – the Greenwich Village Halloween parade no longer takes place in my neighborhood and has gotten huge. Will I attend? That depends on whether I can sucker a few friends to come with me. I won’t participate, but I might take photos of it.


TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: HWA is giving away a copy of Haunted Nights, signed by Lisa and several of the contributors. Comment below or email membership@horror.org with the subject title HH Contest Entry for a chance to win.



Sixteen never-before-published chilling tales that explore every aspect of our darkest holiday, Halloween, co-edited by Ellen Datlow, one of the most successful and respected genre editors, and Lisa Morton, a leading authority on Halloween.

In addition to stories about scheming jack-o’-lanterns, vengeful ghosts, otherworldly changelings, disturbingly realistic haunted attractions, masks that cover terrifying faces, murderous urban legends, parties gone bad, cult Halloween movies, and trick or treating in the future, Haunted Nights also offers terrifying and mind-bending explorations of related holidays like All Souls’ Day, Dia de los Muertos, and Devil’s Night.

“With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfbane Seeds” by Seanan McGuire
“Dirtmouth” by Stephen Graham Jones”
“A Small Taste of the Old Countr” by Jonathan Maberry
“Wick’s End” by Joanna Parypinski
“The Seventeen Year Itch” by Garth Nix
“A Flicker of Light on Devil’s Night” by Kate Jonez
“Witch-Hazel” by Jeffrey Ford
“Nos Galen Gaeaf” by Kelley Armstrong
“We’re Never Inviting Amber Again” by S. P. Miskowski
“Sisters” by Brian Evenson
“All Through the Night” by Elise Forier Edie
“A Kingdom of Sugar Skulls and Marigolds” by Eric J. Guignard
“The Turn” by Paul Kane
“Jack” by Pat Cadigan
“Lost in the Dark” by John Langan
“The First Lunar Halloween” by John R. Little


Paperback | $16.95
Published by Anchor
Oct 03, 2017 | 368 Pages | 5-3/16 x 8| ISBN 9781101973837

Link to photo of Ellen with Haunted Nights: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155071391382075&set=a.82043872074.81955.530817074&type=3&theater

Link to photo of Lisa with Haunted Nights: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155737327246663&set=a.124432886662.125223.678246662&type=3&theater

Link to cover of Haunted Nights: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51ZA8o4YYXL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg


2 comments on ““A Little Halloween Chat” By Lisa Morton and Ellen Datlow

  1. I found the mention of reading the stories during the summer very interesting. In traditional Japanese culture, ghost stories (kaidan) are often told in the summer months for the chill they produce…

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