Edgar Allan Poe and I go way back. No really! In a very real way, he was my introduction to horror. I was in the fifth or sixth grade when I first picked up a book that featured “The Tell-Tale Heart” in it. The story shook me to my core. I was hooked, and there was no turning back!
Since then, I’ve owned numerous copies of his complete works, including one blood-stained copy that is a story best left for another day. Today, however, is Poe’s birthday, and I can think of no better way to celebrate than by sharing 13 of his stories and poems that I would consider essential reading for anyone just discovering the author for the first time.
It goes without saying that not all of these are the most popular, but stories that have stuck with me regardless. Take a look, and let me know your favorites in the comments below!
Edgar Allan Poe: The Essentials
#1 “The Tell-Tale Heart”
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work.
Since it was the story that started it all for me, it’s the story that starts this list. Poe’s classic tale of obsession and guilt is one that creeps under the skin and draws the reader into the narrator’s tale. What I have always found interesting, however, is that Poe never uses pronouns or other descriptors for the narrator, yet readers almost always assume it is a man.
There are some of you right now scratching your head, thinking, “No, it says the narrator is a man!” Nope, go back and read it sometime. I think Poe knew exactly what he was doing in this. He left that bit of the story to our own minds and psychology, and how interesting that for nearly 180 years, so many have read it the same way.
#2 “The Bells”
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
Poe’s 1845 poem is a bit of mystery in literary circles and is most often analyzed for its musical, rhythmic, and onomatopoeic language, all of which has value and I would never detract from years of scholarly study and opinion.
So much of Poe’s work delved deep into the psyche and I cannot help but wonder, even more as an adult who sometimes has anxiety when surrounded by a great deal of noise, if there wasn’t more going on in this poem. It’s said Poe wrote the poem based on the sounds he heard from his window near Fordham University. If he was surrounded night and day by these various ringing bells, is it not possible that he too was feeling the pressure of that constant noise?
#3 “The Oval Portrait”
I had found the spell of the picture in an absolute life-likeliness of expression, which, at first startling, finally confounded, subdued and appalled me.
Poe’s tales contained a plethora of horrific devices but few were as insidious as the painting in “The Oval Portrait,” the tale of an artist so obsessed with his work that he pushes away every other thing in his life, including his young wife, until the day he asks her to sit for him for a portrait.
Unlike Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey which would be published five decades later, this painting did not preserve the life of its subject. Instead, with each brushstroke, the young wife faded, finally dying as the painting was completed. It is a short tale, but an effective one that lives on as a masterpiece of storytelling for those who dig deeper into the author’s work than the few most commonly read stories and poems.
#4 “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”
Yes;—no;—I have been sleeping—and now—now—I am dead.
Well over 130 years before films like Cannibal Holocaust tempted us to believe that what we were experiencing on the screen was, in fact, real, Poe published “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” in such a way that it lead the public to believe the story was the recounting of a factual account rather than a fictional story.
The story is undeniably a strange one. A doctor, enthralled by the idea and practice of mesmerism aka hypnosis, convinces a friend who is dying to allow him to mesmerize him as death encroaches to see if the process can actually stop death. What follows is a horrific tale. The man dies, but cannot move on. He is caught, in the mesmeric state, trapped in a dead body for seven months, much to the growing terror of his friends and acquaintances.
When the mesmerist finally decides it is time to awaken the man, well, that’s when things become truly terrifying.
#5 “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities—that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration.
Of Edgar Allan Poe’s myriad accomplishments, one that surprises most is that he is given credit for writing the first modern detective story with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a tale of a seemingly impossible murder and the detective who sets out to solve it. C. Auguste Dupin, the “detective” in question, is also one of Poe’s few recurring characters who would later turn up in “The Purloined Letter” and “The Mystery of Marie Roget.”
In my mind, this is one if Poe’s most brutal works. The level of gore rivals anything else the author ever wrote. One victim is found with multiple bones broken beneath her window, her throat cut so deeply that her head falls off when the body is moved. The other woman is strangled to death and her body is stuffed up a chimney.
#6 “The Masque of the Red Death”
There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust
“The Masque of the Red Death” has been on a lot of horror fans’ minds in the last year as we’ve stared down the Covid-19 pandemic, watching friends and family become ill. It was, in its way, a prescient tale, yet one built on historic precedent, as well.
Prince Prospero, in an attempt to escape a plague known as the Red Death that is ravaging the land, locks himself away in an abbey with his fellow nobles. He decides to throw a masked ball to entertain his friends. The party takes place in seven rooms, each decorated with a different color. Little does he know that an unexpected guest has infiltrated his soiree. The Plague personified has come to call and soon Prospero and his cohorts, so convinced they were safe from the ravages of the disease due to their wealth and status, succumb to bloody death.
It’s a harrowing tale, and as I said, one that we’ve seen in our own way play out in recent months. Let us hope, this time, that we’ve learned our lesson.
#7 “The Cask of Amontillado”
The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could; but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.
No one wrote revenge quite like Edgar Allan Poe. The man just had a knack for it, and this is, by far, one of his best.
The author places us in the shoes of Montresor, a man brought low, who has blamed no few of his current troubles on his “friend” Fortunato. Under the guise of asking the man for his opinion on a cask of wine the narrator recently purchased, he lures him into the family’s cellars where he proceeds to wall him up alive, leaving the man to a slow and agonizing death.
What is interesting is that, though Montresor repeatedly blames Fortunato for various insults, he never really names them. The reader is left to wonder whether the man ever actually did Montresor any harm, or if he was simply the scape-goat for Montresor’s frustrations. Regardless, the ending is brutal as Fortunato shouts repeatedly for Montresor to stop what he is doing and he man simply mocks his cries for help.
#8 “The Raven”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”— here I opened wide the door; —
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Sadness and loss pervades “The Raven,” Poe’s poem which finds an unnamed narrator tormented by a Raven who enters his home repeating “Nevermore” over and over again.
Filled with imagery and metaphors for Death, the narrator waivers between his desire to move on from the loss of his dearest love, Lenore, and his abject desire to hold onto everything she was to him. We’ve all been there, right? There is an incessant dread that clings to the poem, growing toward its end as the man comes to terms with the fact that the Raven, and his grief, may never leave again.
And, indeed, if ever that spirit which is entitled Romance-if ever she, the wan and the misty-winged Ashtophet of idolatrous Egypt, presided, as they tell, over marriages ill-omened, then most surely she presided over mine.
Another tale of obsession and loss, “Ligeia” is the tale of a woman of unconventional beauty with whom the narrator was deeply in love, though he is not entirely certain how she came to be in his life, nor can he even remember her family name. Still, he loved her until she became ill, wasting away, and died. Later on, the narrator remarries a more conventional young woman who falls ill, as well, slowly succumbing to some unknown presence that takes her over.
Did Ligeia ever truly leave? The story was one of Poe’s earliest and also one that he revised and had reprinted numerous times during his lifetime. It was in the story that the poem “The Conqueror Worm” was born as well, written by Ligeia.
#10 “The Imp of the Perverse”
There is no passion in nature so demoniacally impatient, as that of him who, shuddering upon the edge of a precipice, thus meditates a Plunge.
Yet another meditation on guilt and conscience, “The Imp of the Perverse” begins as an essay written by the narrator, a treatise on the self-destructive nature of humanity. As the story begins to change, however, we learn that our narrator, himself, has murdered a man by most ingenious means and has reaped the benefits of the man’s death through a rather large inheritance.
The more the narrator speaks, the more obsessed he becomes with the idea of confession which leads to a compulsion to do just that. The Imp of the Perverse caused him to act, and now he must pay for his sins…
#11 “The Premature Burial”
The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?
The thought of being buried alive is terrifying. In the 21st century the likelihood of it happening is miniscule, but in the 1800s it was a very real fear. Poe plays on that fear beautifully in “The Premature Burial,” the tale of a man prone to cataleptic trances that leave him in a death-like state. He lives in fear of being buried alive and spends his days obsessively putting every stop-gap imaginable in place to keep it from happening.
When he wakes to find himself presumably entombed, his every nightmare becomes real and the claustrophobic tale becomes all the more terrifying.
#12 “The Pit and the Pendulum”
…the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long and final scream of despair.
Poe’s over-the-top tale of the Spanish Inquisition comes complete with a giant, razor-sharp pendulum swinging down from the ceiling over a man tied to a table. Now, his tale was not historically accurate, but I don’t think he wanted it to be.
In “The Pit and the Pendulum” Poe brought together his talents for communicating existential dread, guilt, and survival in a story that is both gripping and terrifying until its final moments. There is a reason why this one is often on a must-read list for the author’s work. IF you haven’t read it, do it now.
#13 “The Fall of the House of Usher”
Not hear it? –yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long –long –long –many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it –yet I dared not –oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! –I dared not –I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb!
This is, by far, one of Poe’s most complicated tales, and one that digs deep into themes of isolation and family and responsibility.
The narrator rushes to the aid of his friend Roderick to discover a family estate that is crumbling around him. It is haunted but by what and whom and what will happen if the walls come tumbling down?
It has been one of my favorites since I first read it, and I have returned to it over and over throughout the years.
‘Vampire Academy’ Trailer Introduces Popular Characters and Goes for Jugular
The Peacock series is based on books by Richelle Mead. The YA series digs into an entirely new vampire story that focuses on the bloodiness and action of an all-new vampire society.
The synopsis for Vampire Academy goes like this:
From executive producers Julie Plec & Marguerite MacIntyre comes a story of friendship, romance and danger. In a world of privilege and glamour, two young women’s friendship transcends their strikingly different classes as they prepare to complete their education and enter vampire society. One as a powerful Royal, the other a half-vampire Guardian trained to protect against the savage ‘Strigoi’ who threaten to tear their society apart. That is, if Royal infighting doesn’t do the job first.
The books that makeup Vampire Academy go in this order Vampire Academy (2007) Frostbite (2008) Shadow Kiss (2008) Blood Promise (2009) Spirit Bound (2010) and Last Sacrifice (2010).
The cast for Vampire Academy includes Sisi Stringer, Daniela Nieves, Kieron Moore, Andre Dae Kim, J. August Richards, Anita-Joy Uwajeh, Mia Mckenna-Bruce, Rhian Blundell, Jonetta Kaiser and Andrew Liner.
Vampire Academy lands on Peacock exlusviely
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!