Everyone is looking for the next best thing. Music producers want men and women with the talent, the dedication and the ability to bring something new to the table. I don’t watch American Idol very often, but when I do watch it, I find the most exciting, most entertaining singers are the ones that channel a raw, intense and dynamic vocal style from singers of the past while putting their own twist on it. There is no doubt these young singers listened to their own idols and tried to capture the voices they heard in their own way. Many of the singers have had vocal training, which is expected and encouraged. But that drive to express themselves with their voices, it started from listening to the singers that came before them.
Their inspirations ignite the fire to find themselves.
Writing is no different. We practice our craft by being inspired, then trying to capture that magic on the page with our own words. The more we practice, the better we become. Part of that practice is reading. It’s the vicious cycle of writing. To write, we must first read. Fortunately, if you’re writing Horror fiction, there’s plenty to read. When talking to younger writers, it amazes me to find that as well read as they are, they are missing some essential reading material. I’m older, so I do have the advantage of relishing the moments when the books I cut my teeth on were released at the book stores.
But just because these books are older, some even out of print, doesn’t mean they should be forgotten.
These 10 books represent the essential reading prerequisite for writing Horror Fiction. I learned something about writing with each of these books; the importance of folklore and legends, genre mashups, how to blow up a scene, developing a character to advance the plot, dialogue and crisp writing, it’s all with these books. This is not a Bob’s Favorites List. I don’t know if I can ever complete my own top 10 list, simply because I firmly believe the best books have not been written yet. But if you write Horror Fiction, and you do not know these books, then you might have a little reading to do. Please note, there are no Stephen King books in this list. You should read all of his books if you write Horror, even his shitty books.
All of these choices are modern, as in written after the 1960’s, and all are available in some form or another.
In no certain order:
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin. The only true ‘Classic’ in the bunch. Levin’s mastery of dialogue is at an all time high in this novel, as is his pacing and plotting. The perfect horror novel, this small tome delivers the scares without ever actually showing you anything.
The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein. With the exception of a collection of novellas, this is Klein’s only novel. That doesn’t matter. He didn’t set out to write a Horror novel with this one. Nope, his goal was to write THE Horror Novel, and he succeeded beautifully. An homage to Arthur Machen, Klein leads us into the woods to meet an ancient horror as old as time itself, and it wants to live again.
The Tribe by Bari Wood. I mentioned this book in one of my other blogs, and believe it deserves mention again. Woods takes a legend and makes it personal. Perhaps a little too melodrama for some, but if you want to know how to make folklore and legend scary, start here and learn from one of the best.
The Cipher by Kathe Koja. Koja’s first novel blew the doors off Dell Abyss cutting edge Horror line. There’s a hole, and it seems to be alive. Damn, it bit me. Let’s drop a video camera down in it. Crazy shit here folks, thank God it’s only a story. Long out of print, this book fetches a high price, but perhaps Kathe can get a ereader edition out there one day.
The Damnation Game by Clive Barker. This first novel from Barker immediately proved he had the chops to write beyond the short story and novella. A classic Faustian tale with twists and gore only Barker could write, though written with a wisdom far beyond his splatterpunk brethren.
Floating Dragon by Peter Straub. Mr. Straub stepped out on a limb on this one, combining an ancient evil with a nasty chemical leak that sounds like something from today’s news headlines. This one gets a reread by me every couple of years, and it always amazes me how well it’s stood the test of time. It’s a rare book that has one scene, a snippet really, with imagery so strong that it has fueled many a nightmare, even twenty plus years after the first read.
Seeing Red by David J. Schow. The only collection in this list, but it is a must read. Schow coined the term ‘splatterpunk’, but this is so much more than that. Schow is smart, real smart, and it shows. His ability to change voices, conjure up descriptions that defy gravity, and still manage to make you throw up a little in your mouth, and like it, places him at the top of my list of most influential writers. Long out of print, this book popped up recently for the Kindle at $2.99, a steal if you ask me.
The Parasite by Ramsey Campbell. One of the most awarded and celebrated authors of my early years, copies of Campbell’s The Parasite are usually quite expensive. Recently rereleased in a limited special edition, I think the price was around $500.00. It’s probably more than that now. Find it used and have it shipped, so worth the money. Campbell’s tale of spirit possession, conspiracy theories and nazi occultists. I will admit this book starts a little slow after the prologue, but if you can hang in there, Campbell has some nightmares he like to start for you.
Son of the Endless Night by John Farris. One of the most underrated writers of Horror Fiction, Farris slayed me with this book, if only for one long scene. Definitely one of the greatest ‘what if’ moments in Horror Fiction, Farris gives us a demon possessed man in a courtroom. Let me just say this isn’t The Devil’s Advocate by a long shot.
The Keep by F. Paul Wilson. Vampires, with a twist. Well researched and very scary, this is the book that made me a F. Paul Wilson fan forever. He captures the atmosphere, both figuratively and literally, expertly, and his pacing is impeccable. Kinda out of print, but now a Kindle edition is out for $2.99. What a steal.
There you have it peeps, these are the essentials. Cut your teeth on these, and you’ll soon be inspired to sing with the masters.