The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should)…

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Okay, MERRY CHRISTMAS! Yeah, a series on horror? Well, if you spent five minutes with some of MY family members, a chainsaw might sound like a great idea. Truth be told, horror is one of my FAVORITE sub-genres and our WANA International Instructor Kevin Lucia? He’s an AMAZING teacher. Also, horror is one of those genres that goes for the guts (no pun intended). It truly probes the human condition, and whether or not we are fans, we can learn A LOT from what horror authors do best.

All great stories probe what we FEAR. This is the essence of good storytelling. Whether it is the fear of not finding love or losing love or not achieving a goal? FEAR is the heart of conflict. No conflict? No story. This is why I’ve recruited one of the best authors I know to talk about a genre that many might not believe is salient….yet it is a masterful lesson how to make ALL fiction fabulous.

Take it away, Kevin!

****

I’ve learned much about the craft since I made my first foray into horror fiction seven years ago, but the most important lesson I learned in two parts. The first came during an evening spent with genre luminaries Tom Monteleone, F. Paul Wilson and Stuart David Schiff.

You can get the full story here, but in brief: I spent the evening hanging with these giants as they regaled each other with tales of their experiences. One of the biggest takeaways was this humbling realization: I knew very little of the genre’s history.

The second installment of this lesson came the following fall during Brian Keene’s keynote address at AnthoCon: ROOTS, in which he detailed the different “waves” that made up the horror genre’s history. I was once again humbled to realize that my reading diet was quite shallow. I’d read almost every Stephen King and Dean Koontz novel, a few Peter Straub novels…

And that was it.

I quickly realized I wasn’t drawing upon a rich, developed palette to write my fiction. And while I’d read mostly novels and very few short stories, there I was, trying to “make my bones” writing short stories. This dissonance led me to radically alter my reading diet, committing myself to exploring the horror genre.

And in this blog series, I’d like to share those writers with you. In each installment I’ll present the giants of the genre and also some newcomers that maybe aren’t landing splashy big deals because they don’t write about zombies or vampires or sparkling vampire zombies, but write horror fiction that actually means something. Also, one good thing about the “greats” is that their work has either been re-released as eBooks, or used copies can be found cheap (almost criminally so) on Amazon.

But keep in mind: this list is hardly exhaustive. These are just the folks I’ve read myself.

Quiet Horror: The following three writers helped create a subgenre of horror called quiet horror. These tales boast rich, taut atmospheres; finely crafted prose and stories that comment deeply on the human experience. They didn’t rely on shock value. If you’re looking for something very far away from slasher films, this is it.

Charles Grant is probably considered the father of “quiet horror,” the epitome of everything the subgenre aspired to. He built tension better than anyone I’ve ever read and his prose flows gently, softly, quietly. His greatest achievement may be the creation of Oxrun Station, a fictional, haunted town in Connecticut with a loosely-connected continuity. He was also one of the finest editors in the business, his SHADOWS anthologies setting the standard for many years.  His backlist.

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Ramsey Campbell is called “Britain’s greatest living horror writer” by the Oxford English Dictionary. He also excels in quiet, tense horror that relies on emotion and psychological fears rather than shock and gore. He’s also adept at creating slippery, surreal narratives that leave his characters – and us – questioning what we call reality. Quite simply, Ramsey is one of the best in the business. His backlist and current list.

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T. M. Wright has been called a “one-man definition of quiet horror” by Ramsey Campbell himself. He’s a modern master of “the ghost story” and for me, he completely changed the way I thought about ghosts.  Like the previous two, his prose is rich, finely crafted, and he relies on stories of substance rather than superficial genre motifs.  His backlist.

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New Voice You Should Read:

Norman Prentiss is the first name that comes to mind when I think of a contemporary writer of “quiet horror.” His novella Invisible Fences is one of the finest things I’ve ever read, and he’s re-invented Charles Grant’s Oxrun Station-mythos in the exploits of the sinister (maybe?) Dr. Sibley, a college English professor you don’t want to cross. Keep an eye on Norman; he’s going places. Current publications.

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So what are your thoughts? I am not a fan of slasher movies but I LOVE a great scary story. I love anything that makes me look more deeply at myself (um, I, Robot?).

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of December, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!

Also, due to an EPIC ice storm, my Big Boss Troublemaker class has been moved to TUESDAY. No antagonist? NO STORY. There is no novel I can’t help you fix, so SIGN UP here. There is no need to spend years editing and revising. An hour with me? ALL fixed.

I hope you will check out my newest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World onAmazon or even Barnes and Noble.

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  1. #1 by Lynnette Conroy on December 16, 2013 - 10:48 am

    I am so glad to have found this. I love a good scary story, but they are so hard to come by without falling into predictable, derivative stuff, or people that try to scare with blood and guts but no real substance. I’m going to have to take a look at some of these! Thanks.

  2. #2 by Jueseppi B. on December 16, 2013 - 11:00 am

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  3. #3 by Jon Gutierrez on December 16, 2013 - 11:00 am

    Thanks for putting out this list. I’m always trying to find new horror writers beyond the big name ones. I can’t wait to check them out!

  4. #4 by tkmorin on December 16, 2013 - 11:02 am

    Ummm … I can now see why my own reading diet has been lacking in important works and lessons! Very informative post, thank you both! … I’m off to the bookstore now. :-)

    • #5 by Kevin Lucia on December 16, 2013 - 8:37 pm

      The best part is a lot of these books have been re-released as ebooks, or their paperbacks are very cheap on Amazon. I know I’ve almost been exclusively reading these folks the last few years, and not much of the “new” stuff (Though DR. SLEEP and NOS4ATU are both on my Christmas lists..)

      • #6 by tkmorin on December 16, 2013 - 9:39 pm

        I have to admit that since I got my Kobo e-reader (Canadian’s Chapters bookseller) I have been reading a lot more. Also, my reading genre keeps changing because they are so readily available – and easily accessible.

        Great article / post, thank you very much!! :-)

  5. #7 by Nicole Grabner on December 16, 2013 - 11:54 am

    Okay, I’ll confess – I’m a total baby when it comes to horror. I have never been a fan, and I really hate being scared. However, since one of my goals is to read books outside my comfort zone this coming year, maybe you could recommend something that might not keep me up at night but still has that tone?

    I will never forget that I took this class for my Bachelor’s and it required me to watch the movie, ‘Psycho’, and even as a fully grown adult (didn’t say mature *smile*), it still kept me up at night. :-)

    With that being said, I would love any suggestions that you have! :)

    • #8 by Kevin Lucia on December 16, 2013 - 8:44 pm

      Norman Prentiss’ novella would be a great place to start. His work is very subtle, very Twilight Zone-vibe. His novella is in Kindle, the hardcover having sold out.

      • #9 by Nicole Grabner on December 16, 2013 - 9:22 pm

        Thanks Kevin! I’m going to give a try and let you know. I’m really nervous and might not try it till daylight :), but you’ve got me curious now.

  6. #10 by Mr. Jonnie Wright on December 16, 2013 - 12:44 pm

    Wow, I am really excited to hear about these authors. I am a huge fan of ‘quiet horror’; I just didn’t have any idea of what it was called! I figured it was more thrillers than actual horror.

    Next year, I plan on reading all the works of Stephen King, at least his novels. That’s 56 pieces of work. I will probably alter the list to remove series such as The Dark Tower series. But this list makes me want to read a slew of different authors instead!

  7. #11 by sharonhughson on December 16, 2013 - 1:35 pm

    Scary movies give me nightmares. I don’t think I’ve read any horror. I sit with my muscles tense waiting for the axe to fall (sometimes, literally). Seriously. I watched Aliens in the theatre when it came out (eons ago, I know) and wouldn’t get into the Nova after the film until my boyfriend (now husband) checked everywhere – including the trunk – for those slimy little beasts that wanted to sit on my face and impregnate me. And that was sci-fi.
    Convince me with this series why as a YA fantasy author I need to read horror – and I might do it – in broad daylight with all lights on and surrounded by heavily armed guards. And then again, probably not.

    • #12 by Kevin Lucia on December 16, 2013 - 9:32 pm

      You’re going to want to come back Wednesday (I think? Can’t remember) when I discuss Manley Wade Wellman’s SILVER JOHN stories. More ‘horror’ in the monsters and demons and mythological creatures, less the type of stuff that gives you nightmares.

  8. #13 by Debbie Johansson on December 16, 2013 - 3:04 pm

    Thanks Kristen and Kevin for another series on horror writing. I’ve never heard of the term ‘quiet horror’ before, but it sounds more the kind of genre I would read (and write) these days, than other forms of horror I grew up with. I’ll be sure to check out these authors. :)

  9. #14 by Chris Martinez on December 16, 2013 - 3:09 pm

    Count me as another person who hadn’t known about the sub-genre of “quiet horror”—not even while writing a short story that probably fits within that category.

    To me, the best horror is psychological, the creepiness that festers in one’s mind, imagining the terrible things that COULD happen. That’s why I loved the movie The Conjuring so much. Such a masterful build-up of horror and suspense—and that hand clap in the basement scene!

    I also wanted to mention, Kristen, that your series on story structure has been amazing to read. That’s how I found your blog in the first place. I ate all those posts up and bookmarked a few for future reference. Excellent, excellent advice. I’ll be back.

  10. #16 by vertebraequeen on December 16, 2013 - 3:11 pm

    Reblogged this on HBPR and commented:
    Something for those who’ve read my short horror stories!

  11. #17 by tomwisk on December 16, 2013 - 4:16 pm

    Try “Come Closer” by Sara Gran.

  12. #18 by Judith Post on December 16, 2013 - 4:38 pm

    I’m not a true horror fan, but I loved the magazine, Cemetary Dance. And I bought The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, year after year. When I really want to feel inadequate, I have a conversation with Ed Bryant. Then I don’t feel knowledgeable about ANYTHING, not even mystery or urban fantasy.

  13. #20 by dunjav2013 on December 16, 2013 - 6:13 pm

    Reblogged this on dunjav.

  14. #21 by Carole Avila on December 16, 2013 - 6:23 pm

    Here’s to horror stories! (My YA horror story was just picked up by Black Opal Books–woo hoo!) I am going to figure out how to reblog to get the unvarnished truth.

  15. #22 by Mercedes on December 16, 2013 - 7:03 pm

    I just picked up Ramsey Campbell’s “Holes For Faces” and I can’t wait to tear into it! Aaaaaaafter everything else on my TBR list, of course. :P

    • #23 by Kevin Lucia on December 16, 2013 - 9:25 pm

      That’s on my wishlist as well. I LOVE his work. Can’t say enough about it.

  16. #24 by Raani York on December 16, 2013 - 7:50 pm

    I’m glad Horror books are written and found as well… even though I have to admit I got off reading Horror books – I’m afraid my imagination got too vivid and I ended up having really bad nightmares. I’m such a baby sometimes! But thanks for sharing, Kristen!

  17. #25 by Kevin Lucia on December 16, 2013 - 7:52 pm

    Some great comments! Just got back from my daughter’s birthday dinner; when I get settled in, I’ll answer some and comment back…

  18. #26 by louckslindsey on December 16, 2013 - 8:05 pm

    I recently stumbled onto horror author Hunter Shea’s novels and quickly became his number one fan!

  19. #27 by Owen Banner on December 17, 2013 - 5:17 am

    Reblogged this on Owen Banner and commented:
    Waiting for a good horror novel to darken your door? Check out Kevin Lucia’s post on Warrior Writer’s for a few classic suggestions that you may have never heard of.

  20. #28 by Owen Banner on December 17, 2013 - 5:26 am

    Kevin, you’re a rockstar. Thanks for this list. I got back into reading because I picked up Stephen King’s Needful Things. It wasn’t the gore or the violence that really drew me in. It was the atmospheric tension that built as he turned the screws on each character throughout the novel. A lot of writers seem to think that if you’re going to write a good scary story you just need to chop characters up when readers aren’t expecting it. The kind of terror that results from a slow build and the element of the uncanny in the text creeping up on you, that’s more masterful (in my opinion at least). It seems like the author’s you’ve listed lean towards that kind of writing and I’ll definitely be picking them up. Any one that you’d recommend first off?

    • #29 by Kevin Lucia on December 17, 2013 - 6:10 am

      If you’re into kindle, Norman Prentiss’ INVISIBLE FENCES – one of those listed – is perhaps one of the most subtle stories I’ve ever read, as is all his work. If I were to pick one of the classic writers, I’d go with Charles Grant. His Oxrun Station series serves as a template for the “weird town” mythos, and his work is very quiet and restrained.

      • #30 by Owen Banner on December 19, 2013 - 8:33 am

        Will do. Kevin. How about you? How would you typify your writing?

        • #31 by Kevin Lucia on December 19, 2013 - 9:04 am

          If pressed, I’d say I enjoy writing speculative fiction – gray area stuff, swinging from Robert McCammon, Twilight Zone-esque, quiet horror, standard/Stephen King horror, Bradbury-ian horror. Nothing too extreme, definitely. I could never match what these guys have done, but the stories in my first short fiction collection (just released two months ago), run the gamut of these types, I think.

          • #32 by Owen Banner on December 20, 2013 - 6:08 am

            That’s a stellar bunch of writers to pattern yourself after. I’ll have to give your stuff a look. Where can I pick it up?

            • #33 by Kevin Lucia on December 20, 2013 - 6:31 am

              Hope will Kristen will allow a little self-pimpage: but the ebook my collection THINGS SLIP THROUGH is currently on sale for $2.99 on Amazon, until the end of the day, when it will raise to $3.99, then eventually to the regular price of $4.99. I’ll post the link in another comment, because links usually get caught up in moderation, but just Amazon search the title and my name, and it’ll be right there. Thanks for asking!

            • #34 by Kevin Lucia on December 20, 2013 - 6:34 am

  21. #35 by knotrune on December 17, 2013 - 6:24 am

    I’d really like to know more about the more subtle genres. It’s easy to see the antagonist in horror, thriller type books, but I tried chick lit for nano and my antag got out of hand and started doing things which would get her locked up or sectioned! My finale was farcical. Fun to write, but way off my plan, so in edits I have to draw her back to merely bitchy with behind the scenes meddling which makes my protag’s life harder. And adding in conflict from other sources too of course. But it seems hard to write a subtle antag with realistic conflict when all the advice is to boost it up to the next level. But the next level was silly and inappropriate for my story. I know I need conflict and a villain of some kind, but I’d love to see a deeper analysis of how this can be done in a gentler context. I know you’ve mentioned some, but there seems to be a lot about horror recently and I’d love see it balanced by something fluffier :)

  22. #36 by Jonathan Jones on December 17, 2013 - 12:15 pm

    I have to evangelize M.R. James (the undisputed “father” of the modern ghost story), who went on to inspire Susan Hill (The Woman in Black) and Ramsey Campbell (as well as King, H.P. Lovecraft and others).
    There’s a great tabletop RPG supplement which has some decent content for writers, called Nightmares of Mine (by Kenneth Hite) that breaks horror into components (such as Gore, Terror and Dread), as well as talking about some of the tropes and how best to use (or avoid) them– like “The Bad Place”, etc.
    Stealing Cthulhu (Graham Walmsley) also has some great ideas for remixing H.P. Lovecraft’s weird horror tropes to make something new. I think King has been trying this for decades.

  23. #37 by alexlaybourne on December 17, 2013 - 12:25 pm

  24. #38 by 1WriteWay on December 17, 2013 - 2:37 pm

    Seems I have a lot of reading to do ;) Thanks for this list to get me started!

  25. #39 by 1WriteWay on December 17, 2013 - 2:39 pm

    Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    For all of you horror fans out there, readers and writers alike. The list provided by Kevin Lucia (via Kristen) will appeal to those who enjoy “quiet horror.”

  26. #40 by andreablythe on December 17, 2013 - 2:41 pm

    I’m a big fan of the horror genre. I remember loving and being terrified by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark when I was a kid, and I spent most of my high school years being obsessed with the books of Stephen King.

    I haven’t read much variety in the horror genre, so I’m excited to try out these writers. I’m also always on the lookout for female horror writers, since they don’t usually get much fanfare, so any suggestions in that regard would be great.

    I adore Joe Hill. He blows my mind with how creepy and horrifying he can be, while also having interesting and complex characters. Richard Matheson’s novels are also great (not so much his short stories) and I really enjoyed Gemma Files’ Hexslinger series, which is set in an alternative wild west. American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett was also great.

    • #41 by Kevin Lucia on December 17, 2013 - 3:11 pm

      Gemma Files IS excellent. I’ve been meaning to try out her Hexslinger series for some time. And ditto on Joe Hill. As for the girl horror writers; well, I saved the best for last, some come by Friday!

  27. #43 by Mitzi Reinbold w/a Mitzi Flyte on December 17, 2013 - 5:05 pm

    I was hoping to see some female authors in the main blog. If I ever make it to a Master’s program I want to do a dissertation on women horror writers.

    • #44 by Kevin Lucia on December 17, 2013 - 5:14 pm

      Well, I don’t know if I’d differentiate between the blogs as one being more “main” than the other. Yesterday was “quiet horror.” Today I focused on writers who haven’t written as much as others. Tomorrow is “literary/out of the box” horror, Thursday is “diverse/jack of all trades” horror and Friday is “emotion-driven/existential/cosmic/deep meaning” horror. So one blog shouldn’t be considered inferior to another, really.

      • #45 by Mitzi Reinbold w/a Mitzi Flyte on December 17, 2013 - 5:27 pm

        I guess I didn’t make myself clear. I found at least one female horror writer mentioned in the comments of this blog…but I don’t think there were any in the blog itself. This is something I’ve noticed over the years of reading and writing horror.

        Ladies? Any thoughts? Or is the genre a male-centric one?
        Maybe this is the seed of my Masters dissertation….

        • #46 by Kevin Lucia on December 17, 2013 - 5:53 pm

          Well, you’ve definitely hit on a “hot button” topic within the horror genre. There’s been LOTS of conversation about this topic in particular over the past few years. For myself: I haven’t read that many female horror writers, and I’d be hard-pressed to say WHY. Of course I’ve read Anne Radcliffe, Shirley Jackson, some contemporaries like Sarah Pinborough, Kelly Owen and the ones I’ll be mentioning Friday. But this could turn into another blog series entirely, and I could definitely recommend a few female horror authors to tackle the topic (HINT, HINT)

  28. #47 by Katie Cross on December 17, 2013 - 6:42 pm

    I’m not a fan of slashers either, but sometimes a good scare is really fun! As long as it’s not a ghost, or too-real-to-life-to-not-believe kind of story, because I’m home a lone a lot, and I don’t need to be scared of the dishwasher when it makes sounds ;)

  29. #48 by Deb Atwood on December 19, 2013 - 12:09 am

    I just added the Manhattan Ghost Story to my tbr list–comes in handy since I review ghost novels and am always looking for one more. Thanks for these new references to psychologically compelling narratives.

    • #49 by Kevin Lucia on December 19, 2013 - 2:18 pm

      Excellent choice. Can’t go wrong with T. M. Wright.

  30. #50 by carolegill on December 21, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    Reblogged this on Carole Gill Official Author Blog and commented:
    excellent am reblogging

  31. #51 by carolegill on December 21, 2013 - 12:24 pm

    reblogging from another blog. sorry. messed up. new to WordPress

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