Kidding aside, it might seem strange that I have our WANA International Instructor, Kevin Lucia here talking about the horror genre. Yet, sometimes it’s good to get out of the comfort zone and cross-pollinate our creativity. I can tell writers who do too much reading in the same genre. What can really add that certain je ne sais quoi is when an author adds in elements from unexpected areas.
This is what makes the writing unique. Writing is similar to music, and the legends we remember in music are transcendent simply because they possess a gift of surprising listeners. They might add elements of opera to heavy metal or jazz to rap. This is where tropes can transform into something magical. Writers can do the same.
Kevin’s here to offer some suggestions to help diversify your creative palette.
Take it away, Kevin!
Some horror writers, for whatever reason, never end up writing nearly as much as others. And this is unfortunate. They never quite earn the popularity they deserve simply because they don’t churn out one cookie-cutter, mediocre story after another. Maybe it’s because of their sense of craftsmanship; because they consider(ed) themselves artists, because they want(ed) to live and breathe their own work, rather than spewing it out like a vending machine. Maybe they left us too early or, like Harper Lee, felt they’d said all they’d needed to say.
In my reading through different anthologies and collections, I’ve been amazed at how many of these writers I’ve encountered who only ever wrote a handful of stories. And because of this, sadly, they got pushed aside by legions of “pop” writers who latched onto the current craze, rode the wave, and then got overrun by the next legion of “pop” writers. Here’s a handful of horror writers I wish had written more, or I wish WOULD write more.
In thirty years, Alan Peter Ryan wrote forty short stories, three novels and one novella. And I wish he’d written more. A stylist who knew how to use place better than anyone, his novels Cast A Cold Eye, his novella Amazonas and his novelette collection The Back of Beyond are among the finest things I’d ever read. He wrote with a literary sensibility, and also had two reoccurring characters – cowboys in weird westerns the likes of which Larry McMurty or Louis L’Amour might’ve written – that I enjoyed, and wanted to see more of. Unfortunately, just as he was returning from a fourteen year hiatus from horror fiction, Mr. Ryan passed away due to pancreatic cancer. His other novels: The Kill and Dead White, and his collection, The Bones Wizard.
T. E. D. Klein wrote only one novel: The Ceremonies. Literary, finely crafted, built on tension and dread and atmosphere, about old myths and religions, it stands as one of the best things I’ve ever read. And that’s it. Only one novel, and no more appear to be coming any time soon. His short fiction is also astounding…and he only wrote fifteen of those, collected in Dark Gods and Reassuring Tales. He also served as the editor of The Twilight Zone Magazine, which became known during its four year run as one of the premier horror/dark fantasy magazines on the market.
Thomas Tessier is another fine author who hasn’t been nearly as prolific as some – only ten novels from 1978 – 2007 – but the results stand above the rest. Phantom is one of the best coming-of-age novels I’ve ever read, and Fog Heart is deeply emotional, moving, disturbing, and finely written. Two collections of his short fiction exist, Ghost Music and Other Tales, and Remorseless: Tales of Cruelty.
A contemporary author who hasn’t written nearly as much as I’d like him to is Robert Dunbar. The Pines and The Shore are wonderfully lush, vivid, poetic novels offering intriguing spins on The Jersey Devil myths. They’re also about hurting people trying to find their way in the world without hurting those they love most. His collection Martyrs & Monsters offered wonderful genre/literary blends, and his small press Uninvited Books has committed itself to publishing literate, well-written dark fiction.
Another writer, Robert Ford (and no, not the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto), also hasn’t written enough, of which we all dutifully remind him often, and kindly (sorta). Bob writes immensely enjoyable, entertaining horror…but his sense of style and craft is finely tuned, raising his work above the rest. Samson and Denial is a wonderful mix of crime noir and horror and I bought his short story “Georgie” for Shroud Magazine’s Halloween Issue because – as a father myself – it tore my guts out, in all the best ways. I haven’t yet read his zombie novel The Compound, but I know this: it will be about far more than zombies, simply because it was written by Robert Ford.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at some authors whose writing simply can’t be contained by the term “horror,” or whose work sprawls outside all the lines.
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.
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Thanks Kevin. I find your suggestions interesting and have placed a number of books on my ‘to read’ list. I am interested most in reading Alan Ryan. I have never come across any of his work.
Yep, and I discovered him the same way: through other folks recommending him. You won’t be disappointed, trust me.
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Wow! I just put a lot of new books on my reading list! I think I need to take a month off work just to read.
I keep trying convince my administrators that a sabbatical to just that would make me a FAR more efficient teacher, but alas…
This post is a real treat for me. I feel like I’m getting an education on horror/dark fiction with this and the post before 🙂 Thanks, Kevin and Kristen!
Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
Part Two of Kristen and Kevin’s posts on horror and dark fiction writers. So much to read, so little time …
Kristen, thank you so much for hosting Kevin. I am not really a fan of horror, especially the slasher stuff. I want everything to turn out happily ever after, but I want to learn more about tension and atmosphere. I think I have more books to order (in plane brown wrappers). Thank you – Silent
Hi Kristen – great blog and interesting post. Kevin – great selection and recommendations although the only author I haven’t read out of your list is Robert Ford who I will definitely be checking out. Thanks for an interesting post.
I have reblogged and linked back here: http://williamcookwriter.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/the-best-horror-writers-youve-probably-never-read-but-should/
Thanks, William. What I aiming with these posts is to combine “greats” with “current” writers, so there’ll be newer writers with each post.
don’t care for horror, it’s too creepy!
I don’t see the attraction. Tell me why horror is important? No matter how well it’s done, it seems like a cheap thrill. If people paid attention to the real word it would scare the crap out of them– and not the Fox News or CNN verity of “facts”, but real facts. False fear generated in the media doesn’t serve humanity in fiction or the News.
First, thanks so much Kristen, and to you, Kevin. It means a lot to me and I’m really glad to see this post (and yes… I AM working on some new things =)
To each his own, but why is horror important? IMHO, it’s exactly BECAUSE of the facts of the real world. I’m terrified to turn the news on every morning because it seems the majority of it – from Fukushima to new diseases to terrorism and Big Brother and all forms of absolute real life horror – is being reported and almost never followed up. Why? Because there’s something as bad or worse that takes its place during the next news cycle.
Horror a cheap thrill? Well, maybe. But the thing is, I think that’s okay. I think horror is needed during the world’s worst times because it is a form of escapism. Focusing on the real life horrors all the time each and every day will wear a person out mentally. Reading about ghosts or zombies or a sea monster rising from the depths… that’s a mental vacation from the real world horrors and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I do, in fact, think it’s a healthy thing to do from time to time. I’m not saying we should all go about keeping our head stuck in the sand like a social ostrich and ignore the issues in the world around us. But I do think horror – from a reader AND a writer’s perspective – is important and needed.
But that’s just my two cents. =)
Thanks, Bob – couldn’t have said it better myself. And thanks for stopping by.
Rachel – I think the key thing to understand is this: all I’m presenting is the idea that the horror genre is a valid genre. It’s certainly not for everyone, but my belief is that it’s just as valid as any other type of story we tell. And, there are the best and worst examples of every genre. But, the intent of this series is pointing out “horror” writers who offer far more than just “cheap thrills.” But, I’d like that to add that, chiming in with Bob, sometimes that thrills is what’s needed to deal with the real world.
As always with everything, your mileage may vary….
and again, no women…
That’s my fault. Kevin is addressing women in horror in another installment and I am behind because I had a stomach bug and didn’t post yesterday.
Kara – as I have mentioned, this list is basically what I’ve read myself, and is hardly comprehensive. I do have some women mentioned in an upcoming post, and, as I’ve mentioned to Kristen, focusing in particular on women horror writers – with women horror writers – is an excellent idea for a series down the road, because it in and of itself could be considered a series all by itself. I can make some quick recommendations on my own, however:
1. Shirley Jackson: She of course gave us the seminal novels THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, as well as the short story “The Lottery.” Main reason why I didn’t focus on her is because I’ve only read the two books, and wanted to blog about writers I’ve read extensively.
2. Anne River Siddons gave use the modern haunted house story in THE HOUSE NEXT DOOR, Wonderful example of an utterly urbane, southern, genteel, upscale community…invaded by evil. Again, didn’t feature her, because I’ve only read the one novel.
3. Joyce Carol Oates – again, I didn’t feature her because I’ve only had the chance to read one or two of her short stories (a collection of hers sits in my TBR pile). What I have read, however, has been pretty darn mind twisting.
4. The Gentling Box, by Lisa Manetti – a perfect example of historical horror – gypsies, curses, demons…pretty heavy stuff. Again, it’s the only book of hers I’ve read.
5. Sarah Pinborough – across the pond in Britain, Sarah is one of the leading horror writers. Again, I’ve only had the occasion to read TOWER HILL. But she’s written with the best, time and again. http://sarahpinborough.com/
6. Susan Hill – of course wrote THE WOMAN IN BLACK, which is much different – and just as good – as the movie. But, also, that’s only book of hers I’ve managed to read.
There are a bunch more, and again – I link a series here at Kristen’s several months hence – focusing entirely on women horror writers – would be fabulous. I didn’t mean to slight female horror writers in anyway, I only wanted to focus on writers I’d read deeply enough to feel conversant on. As to why I haven’t read more women horror writers…I honestly couldn’t tell you. I just read what I like, and then seek out more of that. That is definitely fodder for a future series, however.
Kevin, you say you read what you like. And seek out what you like. And you are not ‘personally familiar’ with women horror writers. Easiest connect the dot game ever!
what I find disturbing is the ‘great idea’ to devote a special series for women. sounds so awesome, except for the fact women make up half the population, and that such events (like special series) are just barely veiled examples of segragation, and that it’s just another form of erasure. Most people don’t know that women wrote horror in the early nineteeth century. Gee, why is that? Or that Bram wasn’t all that original a writer. But throw the good girl a bone. Hah! Don’t take it ‘personally.’ It’s hard to see when the writing world pigeon holes half the population. Or doesn’t find half the population’s minds particularly interesting. And the most funny part of all is when the oppressed scramble to apologize for the loudmouthed bitch. Laters.
“And you are not ‘personally familiar’ with women horror writers.”
I hate to get into a tiff on Kristen’s blog, so I’ll just leave it at this: I never said I’m not personally familiar with women horror writers. What I said is that, if I was writing a series about about horror writers I was recommending, I wanted to reference authors that I had read extensively. There we just as many male authors I discounted from this list merely because I’d only read a little of their work.
And I do indeed know – Anne Radcliffe was one of the first gothic/romance writer – The Mysteries of Udolpho – a wonderfully lyrical, vivid work. But you could also argue that while horror developed FROM the gothic/romance (and Udolpho is what’s considered a “natural gothic” in which all the supernatural elements are explained away) it is not horror.
Mary Shelley could also be considered a ‘horror’ writer, but just as many folks consider her a science fiction writer.
Again, I apologize if you’re offended. I have many close friends and mentors who are female horror writers. And I’m also willing to acknowledge that your concerns are ones that have been expressed quite a bit within the horror genre over the past few years, at conventions and online. Again, I apologize for any offense.
Kara, Kevin wrote A LOT about these women in an earlier series he did on this blog. And he said exactly what you are saying, how much of today’s horror writing was birthed from early female writers. This installment was to offer fresh content so he hit on other authors not mentioned earlier in October and today is mentioning more females.
And I am not oppressed. I didn’t apologize for being a woman, only addressed that women were being talked about in the final post. Kevin is my guest, and I was addressing your concerns. I am am a writer and writers have no race or color or gender. Many of the early classics were written by men and women under female pen names. And in today’s market, when females easily make up two-thirds of writers, why is there a need to grumble we aren’t being represented? How are we “oppressed” when we now produce a lion’s share of the books in today’s market?
I’m having a “duh” moment since I left a question for you about Shirley Jackson on the part five post 🙂 I for one am looking forward to a post on women horror writers. And I have thoroughly enjoyed these five posts. The more on horror writing, the better for me 🙂
Kristen, I did not say you were particularly oppressed. I merely predicted someone oppressed would step in to apologize for my beh…. oh. wait. yeah.
BTW, just curious here. How much of that women’s lion’s share outside of romance is actually reviewed? Promoted? How many books by men are reviewed in comparison?
Kevin, it is indeed nothing personal. I am alive to box ears and open eyes. Women are the invisible minority. I do everything in my power to change that. And I will never *ucking apologize for it either.
There are MANY HUGE authors who aren’t romance. In fact, some of the biggest mega-authors are female–J.K. Rowling (YA Fantasy), Amy Tan (Literary), Ann Rice invented the current vampire genre/world as we have today. I met her and she talked about how, in the 70s, NO ONE would publish a vampire book. Karthryn Stockett (The Help–Mainstream Fiction), Tess Gerritson (Thriller/Suspense), Jacquelyn Mitchard (Literary Fiction and Oprah Book of the Month–also made into a movie), Kathy Reichs (who wrote a NYTBS series and the TV series “Bones” is based on her suspense novels). There is a looong list of women who’ve not only been mega-best-sellers outside of romance, but movies and TV series were based off their works. And fact is, the romance genre alone accounts for almost 70% of the entire book market and is largely female authors. When discussing ANY genre other than romance, we are talking about a small piece of the literary pie, horror being one of the smallest because it is labeled as so many different things like sci-fi, dark fantasy, etc.
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Here the same, Kristen… I really think these books are great – I’m just scared about my own dreams. 🙂