The Wonderfully Horrific World of Female Horror Writers | Marty's World

The Wonderfully Horrific World of Female Horror Writers

February 6, 2015
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In January 2014, I ran a Horror Roundtable for the HWA called Sexism in Horror, and after that discussion, I went to my bookcase and considered the novels I owned. About eighty percent of them were by male writers.

It wasn’t something done on purpose. Those who know me know I’m anything but sexist. It’s just that somehow, over the years, I had tended towards male writers. Heck, when I’m selecting a book, I don’t really consider the author unless I’m a fan of theirs; it’s more what the story sounds like. And often, I don’t know if the writer is male or female; it doesn’t matter to me. It’s not something I try to find out. I’m embarrassed to admit that for many years, I thought Kim Newman was a woman. It wasn’t until I started chatting to him for a Roundtable that I realized my mistake!

I was also asked by my writer friend Gillian Polack to write a post on any female artist I admired for Women’s History Month that following March, but due to my crazy schedule at the time, I couldn’t get it done. So I made a goal to only read novels by female writers during 2014 and to write an article covering this for next year’s Women in Horror Month. This rambling piece is the end result. To outline what follows, this article will firstly cover a select number of writers I consider the most important to the horror genre, past, present, and future, and then end with two lists (a Recommended Reading list, and a Still to Read list).

Now let me first clarify a few things before we go on. This is not supposed to be a concise and complete history of all female horror novelists (and note that I said novelist there; short stories are not covered); even I’m not foolish enough to agree to that undertaking. It is merely a summary of those I know of already or have discovered this past year, and those I intend to read in the future. I know names will be missed, both historically and contemporary; that is unavoidable and completely unintentional, and there are likely to be many names here that others have known about for some time. This is just an honest attempt to even my ledger, and hopefully to help out others like me, a little bit ignorant to the truth of the horror genre.

I realize that my definition of horror will perhaps vary from others, and that is okay, too. That is how it should be. I’m a believer that horror is more than a genre, it’s an emotion, and as such, it can appear in almost any book written about the human condition. If a pivotal scene is horrific, and the consequences of that scene dictate a character’s motivations or actions for the rest of the book (e.g., The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, 2002), should that not fall under horror’s wide embrace? And how about Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847), and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847); should these be considered two of the all-time classical horror novels? Then there is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938). Many consider this a genre staple, too. Or what about Wise Blood (1952) or The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor (1960)? They are certainly grim and gothic with suggestions of the supernatural. All are well worth reading, but the definition of horror is not something I plan on debating here, suffice to say that there may be some books listed below that a reader might not consider horror, and as I say, that’s fine. There’s likely to be books missing that readers believe should be included, and that’s fair enough, too.

I have done my best not to stray too far from outright horror, though. The more you look, the more books you find that are considered ‘dark,’ and I guess this is where the genre refusing precise definition causes trouble; an article like this could go on for years! YA and dark science fiction haven’t really been included here, and I haven’t explored Paranormal Romance/Dark Urban Fantasy in any great detail, either; that’s another article completely, but one I don’t plan on writing. There are a huge number of female authors who I could have listed here, writing successful novels/series that traipse on the edge of horror (Patricia Briggs, Laurell K. Hamilton, Stephenie Meyer, Nancy A. Collins, Nancy Holder, Kelly Armstrong, Marjorie M. Liu…). The same goes with crime fiction, which I consider a definite part of the horror genre (mystery-thrillers also, but to a lesser extent). A lot of crime fiction books are as dark and grim and frightening as any straight-out horror novel you could find, complete with graphic scenes that make you squirm, intense suspense and terror, and characters you really connect with, both cop and victim – or killer. This is rapidly becoming a favourite genre of mine, and one clear way that horror has snuck into the mainstream without anyone realizing. But I stopped myself from delving too far into this genre for fear of getting lost and never completing this article. However, I will briefly mention a few writers you should be reading. Authors such as Maxine O’Callaghan (who also wrote a number of straight-out horror novels, including The Bogeyman, 1986, Dark Visions, 1988, and Dark Time, 1992), Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Mo Hayder, Ruth Rendell, Val McDermid, Joan Hall Hovey, Sue Grafton, and Karin Slaughter lead the way, but there are so many others. You could, if you wanted to be cheeky, include Agatha Christie, with And Then There Were None (1939), an absolute brilliant murder-mystery.

So, sticking more firmly to what is traditionally regarded as horror, my first discovery was that there was a hell of a lot of female novelists out there writing kick-ass horror stories, the equal to anything a male has ever written. Anyone who thinks that women are not capable of writing horror with as much style and punch (both visceral and emotional) as male writers is sadly ignorant of the truth. Why these authors don’t get the recognition they deserve, or aren’t included on ‘best of’ lists more often, I have no idea.

The gothic fiction sub-genre forms the very root of the modern-day horror genre, and it is worth nothing that while The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764) is considered to be the first such gothic novel, it was two female writers who perhaps gave the genre direction and popularity. These writers were Clara Reeve (1729–1807), who wrote The Old English Baron (1777), and Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823), the author of the best-selling The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), widely regarded as the archetypal gothic novel. Radcliffe influenced a great many writers, including Edgar Allan Poe, the Brontë Sisters, and Matthew Lewis, plus she is mentioned in HP Lovecraft’s essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature (1945): “… whose famous novels made terror and suspense a fashion, and who set new and higher standards in the domain of macabre and fear-inspiring atmosphere despite a provoking custom of destroying her own phantoms at the last through labored mechanical explanations.”

Building upon the success and popularity of the gothic genre came one of the most enduring tales of horror ever written. Published in 1818, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein is a novel that has inspired countless generations of writers and film makers and is likely to continue doing so. Frankenstein’s monster has become one of the archetypes of the horror genre, and Shelley (1797-1851) is regarded as one of the most significant writers of her time (not just for this book). While Frankenstein was her only horror novel, Shelley also wrote an apocalyptic sf novel called The Last Man (1826), in which a plague has destroyed a future Earth.

Moving into the twentieth century, we have Gertrude Barrows Bennett (writing as Francis Stevens), a writer considered by critics and genre historians as being one of the founders of the weird tales tradition, and the woman who invented dark fantasy. Stevens published a number of novels, novellas, and short stories between 1917 and 1923 while tending to her invalid mother, and stopped writing soon after her mother’s death in 1920. While her stories haven’t always dated well, they are still well worth reading, in particular Nightmare (1917), The Labyrinth (1918), The Citadel of Fear (1918, a lost world novel with gods and gold and madness and monsters and everything else you could ever want), The Heads of Cerberus (1919, often regarded as the first parallel worlds tale), Claimed (1920), and Serapion (1920).

Marjorie Bowen (most popular pseudonym of Gabrielle Margaret Vere Long née Campbell) (1885 – 1952) wrote more than 150 novels under several pseudonyms. Considered one of the best modern novelists, her supernatural stories are powerful and moody, and skilfully written. Although much of her work is hard to track down, the effort is worth it. Novels include: Black Magic (1909), The Haunted Vintage (1921), The Devil Snar’d (1932, written under the pen name George R Preedy), and writing as Joseph Shearing: The Fetch (1942), The Spectral Bride (1942), So Evil My Love (1948), and To Bed at Noon (1965). Many of the Shearing novels were commercial and critical successes, while writers such as Graham Greene regarded Bowen as an important influence upon their work.

Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989), who became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1969, is renowned for her horror short stories, but many of her novels are dark and grim, often without happy endings and with evidence of the supernatural. Her most successful novel was the gothic Rebecca (1938), a dark and atmospheric story that isn’t clearly horror but has many of the traits associated with the genre. Other stories of interest here from her stellar body of work include the famous novelette The Birds (1952), plus the novels Jamaica Inn (1936) and The House on the Strand (1969). Many of her stories have been adapted to the screen, with Alfred Hitchcock directing adaptations of Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds.

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) is another writer of immense importance, going on to influence such luminaries as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Richard Matheson, plus countless others, and creating another of the cornerstones of the horror genre with her novel The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Although Jackson wrote many brilliant horror short stories, she only published a handful of novels; fortunately, they are all equally brilliant atmospheric tales of terror: Hangsaman (1951), The Bird’s Nest (1954), The Sundial (1958), and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). In recognition of Jackson’s legacy, the Shirley Jackson Awards were established in 2007, awarded annually for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.

Joyce Carol Oates (1938-) received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in Horror Fiction in 1993, and has won more than twenty international awards for her writing, including the National Book Award, two O. Henry Awards, and the National Humanities Medal, plus been nominated for even more, including the Pulitzer Prize three times. Oates is the author of more than 40 novels, plus many short stories, poetry, non-fiction, children’s fiction, YA, essays, and memoirs. Many of her novels are vast, sweeping sagas that cover entire generations, and while they can be challenging to read, they are very much worth the effort. Her more supernatural novels include the critically and commercially successful Bellefleur (1980), A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982), and The Accursed (2013), which Stephen King described as ‘the world’s first post-modern Gothic novel.’ But if you’re after something a little less challenging, Oates has written a number of really horrific novellas/shorter novels. The likes of Zombie (a 1995 Bram Stoker winner), a disturbing, frightening, and horrific story written like a serial killer’s diary, with the main character, Q- P-, one seriously fucked up individual who gave me the creeps; The Triumph of the Spider Monkey (1977), another demented, terrifying ride into the mind of a psychopathic killer; The Rise of Life on Earth (1991), selected by The New York Times Book Review as one of the most notable books of 1991; Black Water (1992), a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist in 1992, and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1993; The Ruins of Contracoeur (1999), Beasts (2001), and Rape: A Love Story (2003). Her writing has a brilliantly unique style, her stories as horrifying in their content as anything I’ve read. Why I haven’t seen her name in lists of the best horror writers of all time, I am completely baffled. Oates also writes successful psychological suspense thrillers under the pen names of Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly, and these are also worth hunting down.

Anne Rice (1941-) is one of the most popular American novelists of the modern era, with more than 30 novels published and 100 million copies sold. Her New York Times #1 bestselling novel Interview with the Vampire (1976) is a wonderful story, mesmerizing, sensual, erotic, and horrifying, this really is a captivating read, giving me the vampires as I’ve always imagined them being. Interview with the Vampire was one of six books nominated by the HWA in 2012 for Vampire Novel of the Century, and forms the first novel in the hugely successful Vampire Chronicles series, which now consists of eleven novels, the last one being Prince Lestat (2014). Other novels by Rice include The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989), The Witching Hour (1990), Servant of the Bones (1996), Violin (1997), Angel Time (2009), and The Wolf Gift (2012).

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1942-) is best known for her successful historical horror series about the vampire Count Saint-Germain, who first appeared in Hotel Transylvania (1978), and has gone on to feature in 28 novels and numerous short stories. Yarbro is the author of more than eighty novels across a spectrum of genres and under many pseudonyms. For her work in the horror genre, Yarbro was named a Grand Master at the World Horror Convention in 2003, a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild in 2005, received the Knightly Order of the Brasov Citadel from the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, and the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the HWA in 2009. Hotel Transylvania was also nominated by the HWA in 2012 for Vampire Novel of the Century, and while her vampire may not be a horrific character in these books, the humans he encounters certainly are. Yarbro has also written a huge number of other horror novels, including Dead & Buried (1980), The Godforsaken (1983), Nomads (1984), A Mortal Glamour (1985), Taji’s Syndrome (1988), Beastnights (1989), Sisters of the Night: The Angry Angel (1999), and Arcane Wisdome (2014).

Toni Morrison (1931-) is a name you perhaps wouldn’t expect to see here. She is a multi-award winning writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. While not a horror writer, her novel Beloved (1987) was a hugely successful tale of horror, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988, as well as the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award, the Melcher Book Award, the Lyndhurst Foundation Award, and the Elmer Holmes Bobst Award. It was also voted by The New York Times as the best work of American fiction between 1981 and 2006. I’m not sure any other single book of horror has had such critical success. Perhaps it’s being overly simplistic calling Beloved a horror novel when it is so much more than that, but then that’s what is so great about the genre; it refuses to be boxed in. Beloved is classified as ‘magical realism,’ but with slavery, violent murder, the presence of a revenant as one of the main characters, plus madness and exorcism, I’m claiming it for our side.

Caitlin R. Kiernan (1964-) is a brilliantly unique and multiple award-winning writer with a distinctive voice that wraps you up and carries you away, and you’re more than willing for it to do so, even if you’re being taken to a dark and frightening place. Kiernan really is quite spectacular. She has won the International Horror Guild Award four times, the James Tiptree, Jr., Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy Awards twice each, a Barnes and Nobel Maiden Voyage Award, plus has been nominated for more than thirty other international awards for her writing. Her novels include; Silk (1998), Threshold (2001), Low Red Moon (2007), Murder of Angels (2008), Daughter of Hounds (2008), The Red Tree (2009), and The Drowning Girl: A Memoir (2012). This is another writer whose absence on those lists of Best Horror Writers baffles me.

Sarah Langan is a three time Bram Stoker winning author, one of my new favourites, and someone I see as a future keystone of the genre. She has only published three novels to date, but they are expertly crafted tales of terror, reminiscent of early Stephen King. Her novels are The Keeper (2006), The Missing (2007), and Audrey’s Door (2009). Langan won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 2007 for The Missing and again in 2009 for Audrey’s Door. All three novels are highly recommended.

I’m also including Sarah Pinborough here, as she is another of my new favourite writers, writing the kind of horror I thrived upon in the 1980s and 1990s, only with far more substance and style. Her novels include The Hidden (2004), The Reckoning (2005), Breeding Ground (2006), The Taken (2007), Tower Hill (2008), Feeding Ground (2009), The Language of Dying (2009, a Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and winner of the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella), and Mayhem (2013). Her dystopian dark fantasy Dog-Faced Gods series is highly recommended, and includes A Matter of Blood (2010), The Shadow of the Soul (2011), and The Chosen Seed (2012). Pinborough has also written a number of TV tie-in novels in the Torchwood universe.

Once we get to the 1990s and then the 2000s, the number of writers publishing horror fiction explodes and it is impossible to keep up with them all. I’ve made an attempt below to list some of the writers I’ve discovered this past year (the first list is a Recommended Reading list, and the second a Still to Read list. Neither list attempts to be a decisive, all-encompassing chronology of female horror writers, as I said at the start of this long-winded piece). One thing that is clear though, is that there are many excellent female horror writers in this new era, and some of them might have already written our future classics. Only time will tell.

An important note: during the course of this last year, it became clear that a lot of writers’ backlists are out of print and/or not available in digital format, making the books difficult to get. I don’t know if this is because the writers don’t own the rights to their books or they or their estates aren’t interested in re-releasing them, but I think this is a mistake. There are a lot of good books from past decades that are increasingly difficult to track down, or almost completely lost to time, when they shouldn’t be. Not wanting to sound corny, but horror as a genre is poorer for their loss.

Recommended Reading List

[I haven’t read all of the books by each author on this list, but I have read enough to be able to recommend the authors]

  • Alexandra Sokoloff – The Harrowing (2006), The Price (2007), The Space Between (2011), The Book of Shadows (2011; contained black magic, Satanism, demons, and was a riveting read. Great characters and an excellent build-up of tension), The Unseen (2012), The Huntress/FBI
  • Alison Littlewood – A Cold Season (2012), Path of Needles (2013), The Unquiet House (2014)
  • Allyse Near – Fairytales for Wilde Girls (2013)
  • Billie Sue Mosiman—Night Cruising (1992), Widow (1995), Red Moon Rising: A Vampire Novel (2003), Malachi’s Moon (2003), Bad Trip South (2004), The Grey Matter (2014)
  • Carrie Ryan – The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009), The Dead-Tossed Waves (2010), The Dark and Hollow Places (2011).
  • Charlaine Harris – the Lily Bard (Shakespeare) series of 5 novels, the Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampire) series of 13 novels, the Harper Connelly series of 4 novels, and Midnight Crossroad (2014). Her Sookie Stackhouse novels are a fun read, often violent and intense, and filled with supernatural creatures; hugely successful by themselves, they have also helped power the horror genre into the mainstream via the hit TV series, True Blood.
  • Deborah LeBlanc – served as President of the Horror Writers Association from 2006 to 2010. Her novels include Family Inheritance (2004), Grave Intent (2005), A House Divided (2006), Morbid Curiosity (2007), Water Witch (2008), Bottom Feeder (2010),The Keepers (2010), Ghost Box (2011).
  • Elizabeth Hand – Waking the Moon (1995), Glimmering (1997), Black Light (2000), Generation Loss (2008), Available Dark (2013). Hand also writes movie/TV tie-in novels, including Star Wars, X-Files, and 12 Monkeys
  • Elizabeth Massie – Steven (1990), Sineater (1992), Welcome Back to the Night (1999), Homeplace (2007), Hellgate (2013), Desper Hollow (2013). Massie’s new Ameri-Scares series for middle grade readers launched in 2013.
  • Gillian Flynn – Sharp Objects (2006), Dark Places (2009), Gone Girl (2012) – not really horror, but these books contain very dark material, graphic murder scenes, and a lot of suspense, so could easily fall under horror’s wide umbrella.
  • Kaaron Warren – Slights (2009), Walking the Tree (2010), Mistification (2011)
  • Kathe Koja – a distinctive voice, but very difficult to read due to her style. If you can get into her writing, you’ll appreciate her genius. Her novels include The Cipher (1991), Bad Brains (1992), Skin (1993), Strange Angels (1995), Kink (1996), The Blue Mirror (2004), Under the Poppy.
  • Kathryn Ptacek – Gila! (1981, writing as Les Simons), Shadoweyes (1984), Blood Autumn (1985), Kachina (1986), In Silence Sealed (1987), Ghost Dance (1990), The Hunted (1993). She is also the editor of the award winning Women of Darkness (1988) series of anthologies.
  • Kim Westwood – The Daughters of Moab (2008), The Courier’s New Bicycle (2011)
  • Kim Wilkins – The Infernal (1997), Grimoire (1999), The Resurrectionists (2000), Angel of Ruin (2001), The Autumn Castle (2003), Giants of the Frost (2004), Rosa and the Veil of Gold (2005).
  • Kirsten J. Bishop – The Etched City (2003)
  • Kirstyn McDermott – Madigan Mine (2010), Perfections (2012)
  • Lauren Beukes – The Shining Girls (2013: this is a brilliant novel), Broken Monsters (2014)
  • Lisa Mannetti – The Gentling Box (2008), Deathwatch (2010)
  • Lisa Morton – The Lucid Dreaming (2009), The Castle of Los Angeles (2010), The Samhanach (2011), Hell Manor (2012), Malediction (2013), Summer’s End (2013), Netherworld (2014), Wild Girls (2014),
  • Lisa Tuttle – Familiar Spirit (1983, an excellent horror story, filled with black magic, zombies, and lust, all beautifully written), Gabriel (1987), Lost Futures (1992), The Pillow Friend (1996), The Silver Bough (2006), Snake Inside (2013). Tuttle says herself that she’s not comfortable identifying herself as a horror writer, but that hasn’t stopped her from writing some truly terrifying, mind-bending scenes. Her prose is enticing and mesmerizing, allowing you to become instantly lost in her stories.
  • Margo Lanagan – Tender Morsels (2010)
  • Mary Sangiovanni – The Hollower Trilogy (The Hollower, 2007; Found You, 2008, and The Triumvirate, 2012), Thrall (2011), and Chaos (2013: awesome monsters and much madness).
  • Melanie Tem – Prodigal (1991), Blood Moon (1992), Revenant (1994), Black River (1997), Slain in the Spirit (2011), plus several novels co-authored with her husband Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Nancy Holder – New York Times bestselling Wicked, Crusade, and The Wolf Springs Chronicles series (co-authored with Debbie Viguié). Plus Dead in the Water (1994), The Screaming Season (2011), and numerous media/TV tie-in novels (e.g., Buffy, Angel, Teen Wolf, Smallville, Sabrina, and more).
  • Nancy Kilpatrick –The Power of Blood series (an excellent erotic horror series), plus the bestselling erotic horror series The Darker Passions (writing as Amarantha Knight)
  • Rena Mason – The Evolutionist (2013), and East End Girls (2013)
  • Seanan McGuire – the InCryptid series, October Daye series, and the political thriller/zombie trilogy Newsflesh series, writing as Mira Grant (Feed, 2010; Deadline, 2011; Blackout, 2012)
  • Sèphera Girón – Captured Souls (2014), House of Pain (2011), Borrowed Flesh (2004), The Birds and the Bees (2002), Mistress of the Dark (2005), Flesh Failure (2014)
  • Susanna Clarke – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004)
  • Tanith Lee – Volkhavaar (1977), Kill the Dead (1980), Sabella (1980), the Gothic Coloring Book series, Secret Books of the Paradays series, Tales from the Flat Earth Lee is a stunning writer who traverses genre boundaries and is impossible to define. Highly recommended.
  • V.C. Andrews (1923-1986) – The Dollanganger series (starting with Flowers in the Attic, 1979). This was the only complete series Andrews wrote before her death; her second series was completed by ghost writer Andrew Neiderman, and all subsequent series written entirely by him under her name.
  • Yvonne Navarro – Afterage (1993), Deadrush (1995), Final Impact (1997), Red Shadows (1998), Mirror Me (2011), plus numerous TV/film novelizations (e.g., Aliens, Buffy, Species, Hellboy)

Still to Read list:

[Note this list isn’t a concise catalogue of all the novels published by the authors mentioned, only a select few]

  • Ann Billson – Dream Demon (1989), Suckers, (1993), Stiff Lips (1997)
  • Ann Hebert – Children of the Black Sabbath (1977)
  • Anne Rivers Siddons – a writer of literary fiction whose one true venture into horror was the New York Times bestselling The House Next Door (1978), a novel Stephen King in Danse Macabre regarded as one of the finest novels of the 20th century. A made-for-television adaptation of the novel was released in 2006, starring Lara Flynn Boyle and Colin Ferguson. Also worth checking out is Fox’s Earth (2007), Siddons’ Gothic tale of madness and murder.
  • Angela Carter (1940-1992) – an important British writer of ‘magic realism,’ whose work was wildly imaginative, surreal, dark, and provocative. The horror in her stories came more from her characters than anything else. Novels to check out include Honeybuzzard (1966), The Magic Toyshop (1967), Heroes and Villains (1969), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972).
  • Charlee Jacob – This Symbiotic Fascination (1997), Dread in the Beast (1998), Haunter (2003)
  • Cherie Priest – The Clockwork Century series (Boneshaker, 2009; Dreadnought, 2010; Clementine, 2011, and Ganymede, 2011), Not Flesh Nor Feathers (2007), Fathom (2008), Those Who Went Remain There Still (2008), Dreadful Skin (2008), and Bloodshot (2011)
  • Christa Faust – Control Freak (2002)
  • Damien Walters Grintalis (who now writes under the name Damien Angelica Walters) – Ink (2012)
  • Deborah Harkness – A Discovery of Witches (2011) – another novel that pushes the genre’s boundaries
  • Elizabeth Engstrom – When Darkness Loves Us: Two Chilling Tales (1985), Lizzie Borden (1991), Black Ambrosia (1992), Lizard Wine (1995), Candyland (2008), Black Leather (2014)
  • (Mary) Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) – Wise Blood (1952), The Violent Bear It Away (1960)
  • Gabrielle Faust – Eternal Vigilance vampire series, Regret (2010), Revenge (2012),
  • Gemma Files – The Worm in Every Heart (2006), plus the wild west horror series A Book of Tongues (2010)
  • Heather Graham – The Flynn Brothers Trilogy, Krewe of Hunters. Graham has 150 novels published, ranging from paranormal romance to horror. Definitely one worth checking out.
  • Helen Oyeyemi – The Opposite House (2007), White is for Witching (2009)
  • Jane Gaskell – Strange Evil (1957 – written when Gaskell was 14), The Shiny Narrow Grin (1964 – a highly regarded vampire novel), A Sweet, Sweet Summer (1969)
  • Joan Aiken (1924-2004) – awarded a MBE for her services to children’s literature, and well known for her Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, but is also renowned for her adult supernatural fiction, such as The Silence of Herondale (1964), Dark Interval (1967), Night Fall (1969), Beware of the Bouquet (1975), The Shadow Guests (1980), The Haunting of Lamb House (1991)
  • Karen White – the successful Tradd Street series.
  • Kit Reed – author of almost thirty novels, plus numerous short stories. Reed is a ‘transgendered’ writer whose work certainly enters horror turf, particularly when writing as Kit Craig. Novels to check out include: Tiger Rag (1973 – described by the Washington Post as “a stunning tale of psychological horror”), Blood Fever (1982, writing as Shelley Hyde), Fort Privilege (1985), Gone (1992, writing as Kit Craig), Twice Burned (1993, as Kit Craig), Bronze (2007), Son of Destruction (2013), Thinner Than Thou (2005), and the dystopian thriller Enclave (2010).
  • Lisa Cantrell – The Manse (1987), The Ridge (1989), Torments (1990), Boneman (1995)
  • Lucy Snyder—Shotgun Sorceress (2010)
  • Lucy Taylor – The Safety of Unknown Cities (1995), Spree (1998), Danc­ing with Demons (1999), Eter­nal Hearts (1999), Nailed (2001), Sav­ing Souls (2002)
  • Maria Alexander – Mr. Wicker (2014)
  • Monica J. O’Rourke – What Happens in the Darkness (2013), Suffer the Flesh (2014)
  • Muriel Gray – The Trickster (1995), Furnace (1998), The Ancient (2002)
  • Nancy A. Collins – Wild Blood (1994), the Sonja Blue series, Return to Hell House (2012) Natasha Mostert – The Midnight Side (2000), The Other Side of Silence (2001), Windwalker (2005), Season of the Witch (2007), Keeper of Light and Dust (2009), Dark Prayer (2014)
  • Nina Kiriki Hoffman – The Thread that Binds the Bones, A Red Heart of Memories (1999), A Stir of Bones (2005). Hoffman blends genre boundaries, but her books do loiter on the edge of horror.
  • Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995) – not horror but psychological thrillers: Strangers on a Train (1950), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
  • Rebecca Stott Ghostwalk (2007), The Coral Thief (2009)
  • Rhodi Hawk – A Twisted Ladder (2009), The Tangled Bridge (2012)
  • B. Chesterton (pseudonym for Carolyn Haines) – The Darkling (2014)
  • Sandy DeLuca – Settling in Nazareth (2003), Manhattan Grimoire (2008), From Ashes (2009), Descent (2011), Darkness Conjured (2011), Reign of Blood (2012), Messages from the Dead (2013)
  • Suzy McKee Charnas – the multi-award winning Holdfast Chronicles (the series isn’t straight out horror, but is set in a dystopian apocalyptic world, and is bloody, violent, and brutal). Also worth checking out is The Vampire Tapestry (1980), in which the vampire is a biological rather than supernatural monster.
  • Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) – The Bell Jar (1963)
  • Tabitha King – Small World (1981), The Trap (1985)
  • Tananarive Due – African Immortals series
  • Vanessa Morgan – Drowned Sorrow (2008)

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17 Responses to The Wonderfully Horrific World of Female Horror Writers

  1. February 9, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Fantastic collection of writers both past and present here, Marty. Thank you for sharing this. I think you have included most of my personal favourites, but I would also recommend Chantal Noordeloos (Angel Manor – a superb, scary novel), Kate Jonez (where do I start? Ceremony of Flies was particularly brilliant)and Cynthia Tottleben (The Eye Unseen)

  2. February 9, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    I should have also mentioned that I agree Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre belong in the genre, and Daphne du Maurier most certainly does. All lie firmly in the dark, Gothic, sinister and scary brand of horror. British writer, Susan Hill, author of the amazing Woman in Black (among many others), is another in that tradition where the Queen is (arguably) Shirley Jackson. All have influenced me greatly in my own writing. Amazing writers all of them.

  3. MartyY
    February 9, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    Thank you, Catherine. And thanks for the additional names, too. I’ll definitely look them up.

  4. dan
    August 12, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks for this, helped me a ton in figuring out what to read next.

  5. October 12, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I’m not really immersed in horror writing and I’ve been curious about the genre, particularly in female horror writers. This article helped me a lot, thank you so much for that! I just have a question: would you mind if I translate this article to Spanish so I can share it in my blog? It’s okay if that’s not possible, I can always quote it and/or share the link, but I wanted to ask.

    Thank you again!

    • MartyY
      October 12, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      I’m glad you found it useful, and I would be happy for you to translate it into Spanish, provided you credit me as the original author and also provide a link to my article, please.

      • October 14, 2015 at 12:34 pm

        Thank you so much! Of course I’m going to provide a link to your article and credit you as the original author, don’t worry about that.

  6. December 27, 2015 at 4:43 am

    This is definitely bookmarked. Thanks for this amazing collection of reading tips. I only recently got back into reading horror books and realized that it’s very easy to find great new horror but that it’s more difficult to find great new horror by female authors. Given my experience from my own record collection, you need to start with some names first and go from there – and this list is an awesome way to do so.
    Thanks also for the way you write about these authors. I found another list before which was very condescending (sentences like “you wouldn’t expect that from a female horror author drive me mad). So I am glad that these women got a proper write-up.

    • MartyY
      December 27, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      Thank you, Juliane, and happy reading!

  7. February 8, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Grey Matter loved the book.
    Thank you Billie Sue Mosiman.

  8. WilliamHab
    May 7, 2016 at 4:07 am

    Muchos Gracias for your post.Really thank you!

  9. Angela Radomi
    October 22, 2016 at 1:32 am

    I only just came across this list while I was looking for female horror writers, thank you so much for this, it’s the best list I have found. I really recommend “Fledgling” by Octavia Butler, though. It’s brilliant.

    • MartyY
      December 2, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, Angela.

      And thanks for the recommendation, too. I’ll check that one out.

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Barstool Eyes

"...the only fuel you have to make the fire blaze on the page / screen is the stuff of your own being. An artist consumes his or herself in the act of making art."
[Clive Barker, 2009]