February is Women in Horror Month and while most of the focus will be on directors, screenwriters, and actresses, it’s important to remember that some of the most influential women in the genre have spent their days writing novels, short stories, and even poetry that terrified their readers.
Some of these names may be familiar to you, but I hope that each person who reads this list will discover an author they’ve never read who can open up brand new worlds to them.
Mary Shelley set the world’s imagination on fire on January 1, 1818, when Frankenstein: or, the Modern Prometheus was first published. The tale of a man who takes the power of creation into his own hands has inspired multiple plays, films, and even musicals in its time while also inspiring other women to set pen to paper to create scary stories of their own.
Born in 1764 Radcliffe, who helped legitimize Gothic storytelling, was a proponent of terror over horror. She believed that horror closed the reader off through fear while terror used that same fear to open the imagination to the same emotion.
Little is known of the author’s personal life, but it did not stop her work from inspiring the work of Poe, Dostoevsky, and so many more. She broke new ground in creating female characters who were equals to the men in her stories and inspired an entire generation of women to seek that same equality.
Few 20th Century authors were as adept at psychologically effective horror as Shirley Jackson. Her stories and novels delved deep into the minds of her characters and they were more raw and real than anything her numerous devotees would ever attempt to produce.
One need only read “The Lottery” or The Haunting of Hill House, two of her most famous works, to realize that the mind behind the stories was just as honest and truthful as the characters between her covers.
Octavia E. Butler
Though many consider Octavia E. Butler a science fiction author, her work often blurred genre lines. This was especially apparent in her final novel, Fledgling, which depicted a clan of vampires living in a symbiotic relationship with humans and the young woman who discovers she, herself, is a vampire.
If you’ve never read Butler’s work, I urge you to pick up her Patternist series. I cannot tell you how amazing they are. You just have to read them for yourself.
Daphne Du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier’s work would inspire some of the greatest films of the 20th Century, perhaps because there was an almost cinematic quality to her prose.
Hitchcock loved her work so much that he adapted three of her stories for the big screen. Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds were all the fruit of Du Maurier’s imagination.
The author, herself, adapted Rebecca as a stage play, and Allan Scott and Chris Bryant adapted her story “Not After Midnight” into the screenplay for 1973’s chilling Don’t Look Now.
Anne Rice re-invigorated the vampire genre with her debut novel Interview with the Vampire which centered on the vampire Louis and the tale of how he became the companion of the vampire Lestat. In the time since, she has published numerous novels with a host of creatures, immortal and otherwise.
Rice’s prose is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read and her characters are decadent, vibrant beings that leap from the page.
Burke’s work has been compared to that of Octavia Butler, but her style is definitely her own. She wrote her Master’s Thesis on the character Storm from The X-Men and she has published over 100 short stories, essays, etc. in various publications.
Her work can be described as speculative urban fiction with horror and fantasy elements. Hers is a younger voice than many on this list, but that comes with the promise of more amazing fiction to come.
For that, we should all be excited.
Joyce Carol Oates
Multi-award winning Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors whose work you didn’t know you needed to read until it was right in front of you. There is a reality to her work that draws the unwitting reader into her world…which also happens to be a trap.
Don’t believe me? Try out The Gravedigger’s Daughter.
She is president of the Horror Writer’s Association, has won six Stoker awards in multiple categories, and is a bona fide expert on Halloween. Her name is Lisa Morton and she is incredible.
With short stories like “Tested” and novels like The Lucid Dreaming among an impressive catalog of fiction and non-fiction, she is a role model to women in the horror writing business and her place on this list is well-deserved.
Tanith Lee, a British author, created worlds that were dynamic, wondrous, and harrowing. She was the first woman to win the British Fantasy Award, and her legacy lives on in some 90 novels and hundreds of short stories.
She filled her books with strong female characters and tackled themes like homophobia, misogyny, and racism with an unflinching eye. Read The Blood Opera Sequence or The Birthgrave Series and I guarantee you’ll be a fan.
Tragically, Lee died of breast cancer in 2015 at 68 years old.
Linda Addison was the first African American author to win the the prestigious Bram Stoker Award presented by the Horror Writer’s Association. She is a poet and writer who has worked almost solely within the science fiction and horror genres.
If words are power, then Addison is certainly one of the most powerful women on the planet. Her work moves you to the core.
Laurell K. Hamilton
Laurell K. Hamilton created two of the most badass female protagonists of the last century: Anita Blake and Meredith “Merry” Gentry.
Anita Blake is a necromancer as well as a vampire hunter who later became a U.S. Marshal. Vampires and various were-animals walk among humans in the series of books that cross genre lines as she builds a world that is all too real.
Meredith Gentry is a private detective who also happens to be a Faerie princess, and that’s a winning combination you have to read to believe.
Aside from these two series, Hamilton has also written numerous short stories and comics, and spends a great deal of her time working with rescue animal charities and wolf preservation making her just as big a badass as her characters.
Tananarive Due began her career as a journalist in Miami where she eventually wrote her first novel, The Between, which went on to be nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in 1996.
She has gone on to write several more novels, several of which fall into her African Immortals series. The novels have won her deserving praise over the years as one of the greatest voices in the genre.
‘Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds’ Set to Release Just in Time for Halloween
Every so often something comes along that feels like a gift to the horror community. Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds has that feeling.
Created by Phil and Sarah Stokes, the hardcover monograph is set for release on October 18, 2022 from Cernunnos Publishing, and will take fans of the author and filmmaker on a deep dive into the mind that created Pinhead, Candyman, Rawhead Rex, the Night Breed and more. According to a press release we received earlier today, it will contain sketches, handwritten manuscripts, and more, many of which have never been shared with the public.
The Stokes have been longtime collaborators and archivists of Barker’s work. In short, they’re the perfect duo for this project. In addition to their own thoughts on Barker’s work, Dark Worlds will also feature commentary from Ramsey Campbell, Quentin Tarantino, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Peter Straub, Armistead Maupin, J.G. Ballard, Wes Craven, and more. Of course, the man himself wrote the book’s afterword.
Retail on the book comes in at $50, a small price to pay for the promised content. Keep your eyes peeled for Clive Barker’s Dark Worlds this October and stay tuned to iHorror as the release draws closer for more info!
Bryan Smith, Samantha Kolesnik team up for ‘Beleth Station’ from Clash Books
There’s nothing quite like an old school author collab to get me excited about the publishing world, and Clash Books has come through in a big way with the announcement of a new work from Bryan Smith and Samantha Kolesnik. Titled Beleth Station, the book will consist of two novellas set in the same fictional Pennsylvania town.
Bryan Smith is the author of over 30 horror/thriller novels including 68 Kill which was adapted into a 2017 film starring Matthew Gray Gubler of Criminal Minds fame. His other titles include the cult classic Depraved, House of Blood, and The Killing Kind.
Samantha Kolesnik may be newer to the game, but she’s become an essential indie horror author to watch with novellas like True Crime and Waif, both of which have garnered rightful acclaim for their raw, gritty storytelling.
Together the two will take us to Beleth Station, and while details about the book are being kept under wraps, we do know that they take place in a shared world with shared characters.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration. It started with a tweet, of all things, and then hit the ground running and has never lost momentum. Beleth Station is one helluva fucked up place as far as literary settings go, and Bryan and I are wreaking havoc. But it’s the characters who are front-and-center in both of our novellas, which will be released together in one book.”
For his part, Smith has added that this is some of the most disturbing material he’s written since the previously mentioned Depraved. If you’re familiar with that book, well, you know exactly how bonkers this thing might be!
The collaboration does not have an official release date as of yet, but we’ll certainly be keeping our eyes peeled for it and you should too! For more information on the project, be sure to visit the official Clash Books website.
Horror Pride Month: David R. Slayton, Author of ‘White Trash Warlock’
A few months ago, I was looking for a new audiobook to dig into. Since re-entering the leaving-your-house workforce, audiobooks have helped me survive the daily commute. I wanted something that blended genres and fed my love of horror, fantasy, and gayness. As I combed through the thousands of Audible titles, I found a book called White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton. The book concerns Adam Binder, a gay witch from Oklahoma who ends up confronting a monstrous entity attacking Denver and driving people insane.
Gayme. Set. Match. I was so in!
By the end of the book, I was in desperate need for more. Luckily for me, the second book in the trilogy, Trailer Park Trickster, was already available, and though it ended on the mother of all cliffhangers, I knew there was at least one more book, Deadbeat Druid on the way.
In the meantime, I made it my mission to track down the author to let him know just what his books meant to a gay, horror-loving, romance addict–and fellow author–in a small town in East Texas. I also immediately floated a pitch to interview him for Horror Pride Month this year, and was excited when he agreed.
As we settled in to chat, I told him again how much I appreciated the books, but I also had to ask, “Where and when did you meet Adam Binder?”
The story did not let me down.
As it happened, Slayton had been trying to write epic fantasy which, from personal experience, I can tell you is a daunting task. As it turned out, however, he was also a fan of urban fantasy and had been formulating a story about a doctor, his wife, and their child in Denver, the city that the author calls home.
“So I had this whole plot, but what I didn’t have was a main character,” the author explained. “I sort of put it in the back of my brain and forgot all about it, and then one night I was driving through the Carolinas. The moon was full. It was hanging over the road. The trees were hanging over the road. And that Kaleo song ‘Way Down we Go’ came on the radio. This character popped into my head, and I just start asking him questions. I said, ‘who are you?’ and he said, ‘Well, I’m just like you. I’m from Guthrie. I grew up in the woods.’ I started thinking I could merge this to that urban fantasy plot but that urban fantasy plot is still very Denver focused. Adam said, ‘Well, I could go to Denver.'”
And that’s just what he did…does…you know what I mean.
While the elements are fantastical and sometimes downright harrowing, the story of Adam Binder, a witch who has very little power in the grand scheme of things, and his mostly mundane family is rooted in a sense of reality. That truth, the realness of it all, was derived from Slayton’s own experiences. He even went so far as to name Adam’s mother after his own grandmother.
“Her name was Tilla-Mae Wolfgang Slayton and she was everything that the name implies,” he says.
As for the fantasy, he says, he was careful where he pulled his influences from while writing the novels.
“Someone who recently interviewed me said they didn’t understand why I didn’t use American folklore and myth,” he said. “The thing about it is, when you’re talking about American mythology you’re really talking about Native American mythology. I’m a very white person. I don’t want to appropriate that. So I was looking around at what mythologies are out there and what could I draw on from my own heritage and what can I do to take something that’s really well-known and tropey and flip it on its head.”
And so he created Elves who believe themselves to be hyper-modern yet they walk and dress and talk like they’ve stepped right out of a noir movie from the 1940s. Then, he brought in the far-too-seldom-used Leprechauns, giving them the swagger of a character from Peaky Blinders. I’m not even going to explain the gnomes to you. You just have to read it for yourself. The mix and mash, push and pull, of what we know and what we expect is what keeps the reader on their toes and that brings the author a great deal of satisfaction.
As it’s Pride, of course, we had to discuss the fact that the book has a gay protagonist. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a comments section where anything queer is remotely mentioned knows what most of us face when we set about writing about ourselves, placing ourselves in the narrative. The homophobes come out of the woodwork hurling accusations of forcing agendas and wokeness when all we really want is to read stories where we exist.
For Slayton, there was no question about Adam’s sexuality from the beginning. It wasn’t an agenda. It was who he was.
“It’s vital to me,” he said. “Most of my inspiration in what I write comes from seeing a gap in the market. I grew up in Guthrie in the woods. I didn’t have access to a lot. My mother was very religious so what I was allowed to read was very limited. What I could find in fantasy, whenever there was an LGBTQ character, they were either barely there or they died tragically. There was an AIDS analog or coming out was a thing. I love seeing more of the representation spread and good representation in particular. That’s part of why I started writing White Trash Warlock. I don’t see a broke, gay witch from Oklahoma on the page. So, I thought, I’m going to write that. Since it is urban fantasy, prejudice and issues around Adam’s sexuality are present, but I didn’t want it to be the main thing in the story. Better writers than me have written about all that so I don’t want to read it.”
The formula is certainly working for Slayton. His books have captured the imagination of readers around the world. The blending of his own mixture of horror and fantasy is thrilling and compelling. For me, it gives me the same thrill of the first time I read Gaiman, Pratchett, and to an extent, even Barker.
This brings us, of course, to the final book in Slayton’s trilogy. With Deadbeat Druid on the horizon, it would have been criminal not to ask for a peek of what’s to come.
“At the end of Trailer Park Trickster, Adam is very much sent on an Odyssey,” he said. “Instead of using islands, I’m using real towns. Some of them just have a cool, creepy true crime thing connected with them; some of them just have interesting events connected to them. I’ve really enjoyed researching the history of these places. In Deadbeat Druid, you’ll get a little more of that.”
Yes, but what about Adam Binder and his sexy but very “everything is black and white” possible boyfriend, Vic, who he inadvertently made into a Grim Reaper?!
“I play a lot of D&D so I think in those terms,” Slayton pointed out. “Adam is chaotic good, which means that he always does the right thing, even if it’s against the law. Vic is lawful good, which means he will always do the right thing but it has to follow the law. By the end of book three, they’ve both taken steps toward each other and neutral good. Not everything is black and white and not every law is bad.”
To learn more about David Slayton, visit his official website and look for his novels online and in bookstores!