With Halloween fast approaching, I’ve put together a Top Ten Tuesday list of favorite Horror Writers. The Broke and the Bookish has set this week’s topic as our top ten authors in a particular genre, and for years some of my favorite writers were horror authors. Over the years, I’ve grown out of some of them, but a few have stayed with me. They tend to be the writers who maintain some connection with the humanity of their characters. They understand that we will be most affected if we can empathize with and connect with the characters they write, and make us squirm by putting us in the skin of their characters.
I haven’t applied any sort of rank to this list as it would take me too long to put them in any particular order. For each one I’ve also named a title I think is a great starting point for reading them. If you’ve read any of these writers, and have something of theirs you like better, let me know in the comments below. Also, if you can think of any authors I might enjoy based of these selections, let me know those as well.
- First up is the oldest on this list, Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s short stories are the roots to so many writers to come later who sought to unsettle their readers. His “Young Goodman Brown” is an excellent place to start.
- Next keeps with a chronological progression, and is Edgar Allen Poe. Poe’s effectiveness, for me, is in his poetic writing style. He uses deliberate pace and rhythms to charm the reader, and draw them in closer to the page. His “The Tell-Tale Heart” was very unsettling when I read it years ago, but listening to it is a treat. the Link above has Iggy Pop reading for a compilation from a few years back.
- Now we move overseas, with Edogawa Rampo. Taro Hirai created the pseudonym as an homage to Poe, and became a master of mystery and horror in Japan. In recent years some of the most unsettling horror films are Asian, and Rampo’s best stories play well in that sandbox. His “The Human Chair” will make you look twice at the furniture in your living room.
- Victor LaValle is a relatively new author, but I’ve really been taken with his writing since discovering him earlier this year. “Lucretia and the Kroons” is an excellent place to start reading him.
- Another new entry into the world of horror writing is Joe Hill. Hill’s debut novel Heart-Shaped Box is one of the best ghost stories I’ve ever read, and a testament to his skill as a writer.
- Next is Hill’s father, Stephen King. King is the current gold standard when it comes to horror writing. Since debuting in the Seventies, he’s supplanted many other writers as the prime comparison point. There are many titles I could choose, but for my money Misery is the best example of how he can scare a reader. It works so well, I think, because it draws on some of King’s own fears.
- Many High Schoolers are familiar with Shirley Jackson, who unsettled many of them with the masterful short story “The Lottery.” She’s a patient writer, taking her time to build stories that stay with you long after you finish them.
- Another classic short story writer is H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft exemplifies the golden age of pulp, and came to define the principle that less is more when it comes to frightening readers. “The Thing on the Doorstep” is a favorite of mine.
- Next up is Richard Matheson. Matheson is responsible for some incredibly iconic stories which have become better known as other people’s movies or TV shows. A prime example is his “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which became a famous Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner.
- Known more for his Science Fiction, Dan Simmons has also produced excellent, atmospheric horror, particularly his novel The Terror, about explorers trapped during winter and besieged by a monstrous creature. What makes this book stand out is how Simmons leads you to question which is more frightening, the creature or the crew.