The Best Horror Writers You’ve Probably Never Read (But Should) Part 4
Kevin is continuing his series on horror, offering works we might not be aware of, books that can diversify and enrich our creative pallets. Why paint with three colors, when there is a limitless spectrum awaiting if only we’re brave enough to explore?
Take it away, Kevin!
“Horror isn’t a genre…it’s an emotion.” – Douglas E. Winter, American writer, critic and lawyer.
If one of literature’s more noble functions is to comment on the human experience, then the horror genre has the potential to take a scalpel to that human experience and dissect all our worst fears, nightmares, and weaknesses. Horror can examine our frailties and strengths, and – like all good fiction – show us at our worst and at our best. Today, I’d like to present you with some authors whose work I’ve found especially moving, emotionally.
Gary Braunbeck’s fiction is drawn from a very deep, emotional well, which gives his work rich (and often terrifying) substance. One only needs to read his autobiographical treatise on the horror genre, To Each Their Darkness, to see how much he’s drawn from his life. What’s so powerful about Gary’s fiction is twofold: first, his characters could be us. Could be the person down the street. Could be that tired mother pushing a child in a stroller and holding another child in the crook of her arm while waiting in a food pantry line.
Secondly, Gary pushes the metaphysical/existential/spiritual/quantum mechanical “what does it all mean?” line better than anyone I’ve read in horror fiction, with the exception of Peter Straub and British writer Gary McMahon. While Gary’s stories seem ripped right from the headlines: domestic abuse, mass killings, suicides, infanticide, underneath he’s ALWAYS asking the BIG questions: Why? How do these things happen? Who/What allows them to happen? The way he addresses these questions are more frightening than any kind of “horror.” Also, like Charles Grant’s “Oxrun Station” stories, Gary’s novels In Silent Graves, Mr. Hands, The Keepers, Coffin County, Far Dark Fields all take place in his fictional city of Cedar Hill. And to show his range, Gary’s most recent collection, Rose of Sharon, features all mainstream, literary, non-genre fiction that’s sure to be every bit as compelling as his genre fiction.
Mary Sangiovanni takes Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror,” injects it with heart and emotion and believable characters, making it all her own. A writer who relies on characterization, tension and dread, her “Hollower” trilogy – Hollower, I See You and Triumvirate – deals with cosmic horrors from beyond the pale, but it also deals with the human experience. She’s not afraid to rip you apart emotionally (but oh, so quietly), and her novel of cosmic terror Thrall is perhaps one of the finest riffs on “small town cosmic horror” I’ve ever read.
Across the pond, Gary McMahon is easily Gary Braunbeck’s British counterpart, asking those same, deep questions. His most recent collection, Where You Live finds horror not in dank castles, gloomy moors or shadowed cemeteries…but at work. In the house down the road. In our homes and lives. His Thomas Usher books – which begins with Pretty Little Dead Things – features haunted, tragic occult detective Thomas Usher, a man mourning the loss of his family, cursed to see the dead…and not able to much about it. His short story “Some Pictures in an Album” in the anthology Chiral Mad is one the finest, most subtle…and most disturbing…pieces I’ve ever read.
Mercedes Yardley will make you laugh, cry, rage, giggle at completely inappropriate things, weep quietly, laugh again…all within the confines of one collection. The reason for that is that Mercedes truly writes about the human experience, the whole ball of wax: the good, the bad, the absurd, the strange, the strangely absurd, the weird, the ugly and everything else there is in life. You could say she writes horror, weird fiction, fairy tales, fables, or weird horrific fairy tales with elements of slipstream comedy…it doesn’t really matter what you call it. She’s a fantasist that plumbs the depths of the human heart in her first collection Beautiful Sorrows
Primarily, Ronald Malfi writes about people. Hurting people, struggling people, people who’ve lost their way and are trying to find their way back or find some semblance of meaning, or are just trying to survive not only this world, but also themselves. And, of secondary importance, very often those stories traffic in the horror genre. But first and foremost, Ron writes about people and their conflicts, their emotions, their failures and their victories.
The Floating Staircase is ghost story…but so much more, and that story’s resolution left me near tears. The Narrows is one of the best small-town horror novels I’ve read since Salem’s Lot, and Malfi’s twist on a classic horror motif makes the story all his own. Snow is simply a well-written, entertaining horror novel…with characters we care about. The Fall of Never is Malfi’s take on the classic Gothic Tale and Passenger still stands as one of the most emotionally wrenching stories I’ve ever read.
I hope you’ll seek out some of these authors that have changed me and inspired me. Allow them to open your mind and thoughts into new ways to reveal the human condition, the common and uncommon struggles and, in the end, make your own work far richer.
Kevin Lucia has worked as an Editor for Shroud Magazine and a Submissions Reader for Cemetery Dance Magazine, and is now an Associate Fiction Editor for The Horror Channel. His podcast “Horror 101” is featured monthly on Tales to Terrify and his short fiction has appeared in several venues. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English at Seton Catholic Central High School and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles and his first short story collection, Things Slip Through is NOW AVAILABLE from Crystal Lake Publishing.
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 novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). Comments for guests get extra POINTS!