Indie Horror is a real thing, folks. It’s so real, in fact, that it’s being talked about in Esquire Magazine, for cryin’ out loud! And what’s wonderful about it is you don’t have to look too hard to find some incredible indie presses putting out some fantastic books. One shining example is The Swallows by Kristen Clanton:
The first thing that stands out about Andy Davidson’s The Hollow Kind is the exceptional writing. It’s as if Henry Thoreau went out into the woods, was captured by demonic trees whose roots bit into his flesh, and then wrote about the experience. What I’m trying to get at here is that Davidson’s great novel is freaking scary. Imagine something like Poltergeist, only it takes place on a Georgia estate and there’s something evil lurking underground that demands blood sacrifices. Oh, and there’s also a creepy guy who actually wants to live on the property.
Christi Nogle’s Beulah is an absolute banger of a horror novel. The Stoker Award nominee for Best First Novel puts a classic ghost story inside an old schoolhouse being renovated by a family desiring a new start, and it’s narrated by a young woman named Georgie. Narrated incredibly well. Georgie is perceptive and intelligent, clearly at qualms with her mother, distant around others, protective of her little sister Stevie. And she’s deeply honest with us, the readers, allowing us inside her thoughts. All this comes through in the tight prose:
One of the short-listed nominees for the Bram Stoker Award in Short Fiction caught my eye this week: “That’s What Friends are For” by Larry Hinkle, published in volume 16 of Dark Recesses Press. I really liked it. Sometimes, when you’re in a good reading groove you can lose yourself in a short story, eschewing all distractions (and never once checking Twitter!) “That’s What Friends Are For” did that for me.
For those looking for a great collection of horror stories, please for the love of God look no further than Bleak Midwinter: The Darkest Night. Editors Damon Barret and Cassandra L. Thompson just knocked this collection out of the park. It’s fantastic. It’s scary. And the stories are of an exceptional quality. I want to talk up one in particular for this post, because I just re-read it while delayed at the airport and I’m more convinced than ever that I’m in love. There are few things scarier than missing a flight … and this particular story is one of them.
I’ve been wanting to write something about Gemma Amor for a while now, and I think her short story “Eggshell” is a perfect opportunity. Originally published in the Human Monsters anthology, “Eggshell” is a personal favorite of mine and I want to share with you exactly why. Here’s a hint: it involves skulls.
Author Lavie Tidhar has a short story up on The Dark Magazine titled “Sirena” that I think you should definitely check out. It’s about a killer vending machine. Seriously! And it feels like a classic Stephen King story from the ’80s. It’s just the right kind of fun for this type of horror story, and you’ll be hooked from the first paragraph. Did I mention there’s a killer vending machine?
There’s a killer vending machine.
Horror fans, I have a terrible confession to make. I read Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars books and decided he wasn’t an author for me. The books were good, but I got the sense that Wendig’s writing style didn’t hit the right notes for me to continue with his other stories. So I passed on Wanderers. I passed on The Book of Accidents.
Holy smokes, am I an idiot. I am a giant, foolish idiot who made a horrible mistake.
I just finished reading Cynthia Pelayo’s Children of Chicago, another of this year’s Stoker Award nominees for Superior Achievement in a Novel. I want more. I want ten more books. I want Pelayo to go comb through every single fairy tale she’s ever read and mine each one for the horror lingering between the words and turn each one into a story.
OK, I might be a little biased. I did, after all, write The Grimm Chronicles, so I have a little experience with modern-day fairy tales. But Pelayo is playing with a story that I entirely forgot about: The Pied Piper. From the book’s description:
Chicago detective Lauren Medina’s latest call brings her to investigate a brutally murdered teenager in Humboldt Park—a crime eerily similar to the murder of her sister decades before. Unlike her straight-laced partner, she recognizes the crime, and the new graffiti popping up all over the city, for what it really means: the Pied Piper has returned.
Part horror story, part murder mystery, Children of Chicago expertly weaves the tale of the Pied Piper into something truly horrifying. I know what you’re thinking: OK, the original story was already horrifying … after all, the guy just took a bunch of people’s kids! Yes, point taken. But incorporating any sort of myth or fairy tale into an original story can be an absolute disaster. It requires an understanding of culture, history, and, yes, meaning.
Stoker Award nominee LaTanya McQueen has incredible storytelling skills. Her book, When the Reckoning Comes, is obviously scary (that’s why we’re here!), but what stood out to me while I was reading it is the pure talent. This book goes down smooth. It’s the literary equivalent of a one-story beer bong–you open the spigot and enjoy.
OK, so maybe that analogy is a little pointed. Let me try to explain it another way: I’ve read a lot of books that force me to stop and start — a bad paragraph here, a pointless chapter there — and it requires moments of slog. You slog through it because the book is very good (not great), so you accept that sometimes the writing is iffy. McQueen’s novel is not like this. Every page flows. She’s a master of narrative.
In the first ten pages of V. Castro’s Stoker-nominated The Goddess of Filth, a young woman is violently possessed. The moment is so jarring and powerful that I found myself going back to make sure I hadn’t accidentally started the book on the wrong chapter! But upon confirming I had, in fact, started the book on the correct page, I decided to just go with it. “I trust Castro,” I said to myself. “Let’s dive right in.”
The nominees for this year’s Bram Stoker Award for Short Fiction blew me away. Serpent hair? Yes, please. Ancient cults? Thank you! Man-eating sheep? Don’t mind if I do. I had the terribly good fortune of reading all this year’s nominees in one sitting, which was the equivalent of consuming one of the most bonkers anthologies ever collected.
I loved every moment of it.