Fear Not | Genre Spotlight: Horror

LJ’s inaugural Horror preview recognizes an explosion in the popularity of horror with a mainstream audience. Yet horror can be a tricky genre for librarians to recommend confidently. Here are plenty of suggestions for blood-lusty patrons.

Despite its long-term and growing popularity, horror can be a tricky genre for librarians to recommend confidently. A 2014 survey, developed by LJ with NoveList and the RUSA CODES Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Committee, revealed that library workers had quite a bit of anxiety about providing readers’ advisory (RA) in unfamiliar genres. When they were asked which genres they were most intimidated by, horror was one of the top four. To help ease that worry, last May I wrote “Making Horror Less Scary” as part of an LJ series of “Readers’ Advisory Toolkits.”

Over the last 12 months there has been an explosion in the popularity of horror with a mainstream audience. Since the start of 2018, we have seen Jordan Peele’s blockbuster film Get Out win the Oscar for best screenplay and nab the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation at the Nebula Awards. Stephen King was presented with the PEN America Literary Service Award, given to a critically acclaimed writer whose body of work “helps us understand and interpret the human condition.”

These recognitions are forcing people to confront a common bias against horror, which is often misunderstood as a genre doused in blood and filled with cheap jump scares. Today’s tales range from gory to subtle, from straightforward to weird. Horror is a complex mode of storytelling that probes deeply into readers’ emotions, eliciting uncomfortable feelings that many readers crave. According to Melissa Ann Singer, senior editor at Tor/Forge, horror “becomes increasingly popular during times of societal unease. When people are worried that the world is going to pieces around them, when they have lost faith in the idea that things will soon (or even someday) be better than they now are.... The struggle of the horror novel is often the struggle to restore order and normality to a chaotic world, community, or family.”

Horror is also a genre in which critically acclaimed authors of color, such as Victor LaValle, Linda Addison, Carmen Maria Machado, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Stephen Graham Jones, are seeing critical and commercial success, offering inclusive tales that mine terror from both real-world racism and supernatural monsters. As Jones explains, hugely influential horror authors have historically often written from the perspective of marginalized groups and cultures: “Maybe Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild implanted all these alien insects in us, and they’re just now crawling out onto the page. But it could have been Samuel R. Delany, too. Or Shirley Jackson.... We always have been [here].”

Horror is even being touted as a good beach read, with Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World (Morrow, Jun.) appearing on many of this summer’s must-read lists. His thought-provoking, politically charged, and utterly ­terrifying home invasion tale fits unapologetically within the confines of horror.

Horror has clearly moved out of the shadows and is now demanding attention. Librarians can run away in fear, or can stand their ground and get ready for the hordes of horror-hungry readers searching for scary stories to keep them alternating between covering their eyes and compulsively turning the pages. The following is a sampling of what’s to come during the second half of 2018.

Big Names and New Voices

This fall marks the return of one of the most popular horror characters of recent memory, Lestat, in Anne Rice’s Blood Communion (Knopf, Oct.), an eagerly anticipated epic tale in which Prince Lestat fights for control of the vampire world. A new Rice inevitably means holds queues and requests for more terrifying vampire novels. Thankfully, the conclusion of Glen Hirshberg’s “Motherless Children Trilogy,” Nothing To Devour (Tor, Nov.), follows quickly on its heels. This final installment of the award-winning series contemplates how far a mother—both a human mother and an undead one—will go for her children. Readers may want to look back to an even more famous vampire, Dracula, with Dracul (Putnam, Oct.) by best-selling writer J.D. Barker and Bram Stoker’s direct descendant Dacre Stoker. The younger Stoker used the classic author’s original notes and texts to create a terrifying and compelling prequel that reveals how a young Bram Stoker confronted evil to craft a masterpiece.

It’s not only vampires who come back to life in horror novels, though. Two well-known authors are also probing the depths of Hell this fall. First is the return of Sandman Slim in Richard Kadrey’s tenth entry in the series, Hollywood Dead (Harper Voyager, Aug.). Slim returns from the underworld once again in a supernatural noir tale filled with danger and dark humor, but this time the stakes are raised; his reanimated body has a very strict time limit, one that could lead to a final death. Grady Hendrix then invokes the devil in his latest novel, We Sold Our Souls (Quirk, Sept.), in which heavy metal and Faustian bargains ­collide in what the quirky, pop culture–fueled, best-selling author is calling his darkest book yet.

For readers on the hunt for more subtle scares with artful writing, several new titles prove that horror is worthy of the attention of even the more literary set. Sarah Perry follows up on her success with 2017’s haunting The Essex Serpent with a tale of the monster behind humanity’s darkest and most evil moments in Melmoth (Custom House: Harper­Collins, Oct.), while Laird Hunt, author of the New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice selection Neverhome, returns with In the House in the Dark of the Woods (Little, Brown, Oct.), a terrifying trip deep into the forests of colonial New England. As Michael Homler, an editor at St. Martin’s, explains, the horror genre is ever evolving. “You can have a story that relies on victims getting killed in very painful ways or stories that are more psychological or ones that deal with race and/or religion. They can be literary; they can be commercial. It’s not a one-fits-all genre ­anymore.”

One sign that horror is becoming more mainstream is the willingness of major publishers to take a chance on newer voices. Beginning in July, Rio Youers’s supernatural thriller Halcyon (St. Martin’s) is set on an island oasis in the middle of Lake Ontario, where paradise comes at a horrifying price. August brings Reddit sensation Dathan Auerbach out of the forums and into print with Bad Man (Doubleday), a dark and suspenseful tale of a missing child, the brother who won’t stop looking for him, and the evil at the core of it all. August also heralds the newest novel by rising speculative fiction star Nicky Drayden. Temper (Harper Voyager), set in an alternative South ­Africa, pits twin brothers against powerful demons in a story that deftly combines sf, fantasy, horror, and dark humor. Come September, Brendan Deneen takes the mundane fear of adult responsibility and melds it with the haunted house trope in the fast-paced, chillingly twisted The Chrysalis (Tor).

Tremblay, who also serves as a juror on the Shirley Jackson Awards, explains that while “horror is becoming more inclusive, let’s not kid ourselves, we still have a long way to go. Horror is finally starting to shed some of its well-earned reputation/stigma for being a reactionary genre. Writers are finding more space and opportunity to explore socio­political issues and experiences within the genre. The publishers and its audience are becoming more receptive and accepting as the work and its artists become more diverse. Again, though, miles to go before we sleep.”

Indie Presses ON THE RISE

The horror offerings from major houses are only an introduction to the wonderful world of monsters and mayhem. The growing ranks of smaller presses are building impressive catalogs that feature not only some of the most critically acclaimed authors but some of the most popular as well.

You don’t get bigger than Stephen King. He serves as editor, along with Bev Vincent, on Flight or Fright (Cemetery Dance, Sept.), a curated compendium of horror stories that includes a brand-new tale of King’s own that plays off his fear of flying. Cemetery Dance is one of the biggest players in the horror independent press world, and its general manager, Brian James Freeman, will be releasing Walking with Ghosts (PS Publishing, Aug.), which presents 29 of his eerie, compelling, and simply unforgettable tales, many of which have never been published before. Horror fans will be eager to read this well-known writer’s first collection.

Other small presses are identifying and cultivating their own new voices of horror, including JournalStone, which saw huge success in 2017 with S.P. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You, as it garnered critical acclaim, multiple award nominations, and even an appearance in the New York Times Book Review. This year brings more dread from Miskowski with the aptly titled The Worst Is Yet To Come (Trepidatio, Sept.), a psychological horror novel about two troubled teenage girls and their sinister influence. Also in the JournalStone stable of authors is Gwendolyn Kiste, who was nominated for a 2017 Bram Stoker award for her story collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. She is making her novel debut with The Rust Maidens (­Trepidatio, Sept.), a story told in two chilling time lines. In 1980 Cleveland, young girls are transforming into grotesque creatures right before everyone’s eyes, and in the present, a now-grown woman is coming to terms with her part in the horrific events.

One of last year’s biggest surprises was the emergence of hybrid publisher Inkshares on the horror market. It published one of the most talked about horror titles of the year, Scott Thomas’s Kill Creek, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and took the top horror slot on the 2018 RUSA CODES Reading List. Fans are eagerly awaiting Thomas’s follow-up, Violet (Inkshares, Oct.), a creepy tale of an imaginary friend who is upset that she had to wait 20 years for her human to come back.

Perhaps the most anticipated event in horror published by small presses is the impending return of legendary horror editor Don D’Auria, mastermind behind the paperback horror boom of the early 2000s, with the September launch of Flame Tree Press and its lineup of speculative fiction featuring award-winning authors and brand-new voices. High on Flame Tree’s list is Jonathan Janz’s The Siren and the Specter (Sept.), a terrifying tale about a haunted house and the deeply haunted man who is challenged to spend a month there.

Trending: Lovecraft

Although he has been dead for more than 80 years, H.P. Lovecraft is having a moment. While the man himself was a notorious racist, misogynist, and xenophobe, many writers, especially white women and people of color, have begun acknowledging his faults while still paying tribute to his influence. Authors including Victor LaValle and Matt Ruff have enjoyed much acclaim for their African American–­centered reimaginings of Lovecraftian worlds. The trend is still gaining steam, as we can see in a trio of upcoming titles that use Lovecraft as their starting point.

Critically acclaimed British horror editor ­Stephen Jones has a third volume in his series of inter­connected novels, The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming (Pegasus, Nov.), which features original contributions by many of the genre’s best-known voices. The series, which will entice Cthulhu fans and novices alike, reimagines a secret worldwide league charged with fighting Lovecraft’s eldritch monsters. Another popular series, James Lovegrove’s “Cthulhu Casebooks,” uses Lovecraft as a frame but also inserts Sherlock Holmes into the mix. The third book in the series, Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils (Titan, Nov.), sees Holmes and Watson tasked with solving Cthulhu-inspired mysteries. The ­Lovecraftian details are perfectly rendered, and the whodunit component will satisfy both mystery and horror fans. Lovegrove’s series is also an accessible entry point to the Cthulhu mythos for curious readers who don’t want to get in over their heads.

Not every Lovecraft-inspired title is as tongue-in-cheek as these two. Many authors are looking to pay homage to Lovecraft while inserting their own voice into the pantheon. Garden of Eldritch Delights (Raw Dog Screaming, Oct.), a horror story collection by a modern master of the form, Lucy A. Snyder, offers explosive tales of trauma and survival, featuring memorable monsters while also looking back to Lovecraft for inspiration.


Yet arguably even more popular than Lovecraft right now are the hordes of international horror authors dragging themselves onto American shores. One of the most well-known names is Sweden’s John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of Let the Right One In. Lindqvist’s new book, I Am Behind You (St. Martin’s, Oct.), centers on four families on vacation who wake up at their campsite to find that the entire world as they have always known it has disappeared. Fever Dream from critical darling Samanta Schweblin, who hails from Argentina, beat out Lincoln in the Bardo for the 2018 Tournament of Books, presented by the Morning News, and was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize. Schweblin offers a hotly anticipated, masterfully unsettling collection of new stories, Mouthful of Birds (Riverhead, Jan. 2019).

There are also a few new voices on the horizon, such as Shirley Barrett from Australia, whose The Bus on Thursday (Farrar, Sept.) may sound innocuous but is assuredly not. Think Maria Semple meets The Exorcist in a remote Australian town. Be ready to laugh as goose bumps rise. Asian horror is a class all by itself, but many of the best titles don’t make it into English translation. Gladly, with the increased popularity in international horror in general, that tide appears to be turning as one of Japan’s most promising writers, Yukiko Motoya, will see her English-language debut with The Lonesome Bodybuilder (Soft Skull, Nov.), including 11 stories in which the grotesque and bizarre invade the normal world. This inventive and chilling volume will have U.S. audiences craving more from Motoya and other Asian horror authors.

Librarians and booksellers can keep up with the new international voices that are coming to the United States with collected works on the topic. Leading the pack is The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5 (Apex, Sept.) by series editor ­Lavie Tidhar and volume editor Cristina Jurado. These books showcase the very best of global speculative fiction, including horror. But for fans who don’t want to share the stage with their speculative fiction siblings, there is now A World of Horror, edited by Eric J. Guignard (Dark Moon, Sept.), a fresh collection of horror authors representing 22 countries. Each entry explores monsters and myths from the authors’ homelands, from Ukraine to Uganda and from Indonesia to Brazil.

Big Scares in Smaller Doses

Like sf and fantasy, horror has a rich legacy in the short story and novella format. Noted editors such as Ellen Datlow identify and curate the best horror tales. Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories (Saga: S. & S., Sept.) presents new entries by a diverse list of today’s best horror writers. There’s also the tenth anniversary edition of her year-end anthology, The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: 10 Years of Essential Horror Fiction (Night Shade, Oct.).

There are also enjoyable holiday-themed collections available every year, including Halloween Carnival (Cemetery Dance, Oct.), edited by Brian James Freeman and featuring 25 authors from all over the world who put the horror back in All Hallows’ Eve. Readers may also enjoy Hark! The ­Herald Angels Scream (Anchor: Double­day, Oct.), edited by best-selling author Christopher Golden and offering 18 stories that delve into the darkness that lurks under the surface of the holiday season. Though these volumes will appeal to die-hard fans, they also let newbies dip their toes into the genre.

While anthologies are a great method for discovering new authors, many readers want to explore the work of a single creator. Nick Mamatas has been writing in the sf, dark fantasy, and horror genres for years, but his stories have been spread out across many different publications. With the release of The People’s Republic of Everything (Tachyon, Aug.), a decade’s worth of his stories have been collected into one volume, with a bonus introduction by Jeffrey Ford.

Newcomer Dustin LaValley explores horror in a slightly longer form. His new collection of three white-knuckle novellas, 12 Gauge: Songs from a Street Sweeper (Sinister Grin, Jul.), is action-packed, fast-paced, violent, and full of criminals and adventures that thrill, terrorize, and satirize.

“At the end of the story, when good triumphs, we feel a cathartic release,” says Tor/Forge’s Singer about the appeal of the genre. “All has been restored or saved. The world makes sense again. Even if this moment of calm is transient, for now, all is right with the world.... The reader has...survived. It’s a chance to take a deep breath and relax, to have faith in ­human nature.”

Horror Lineup

Auerbach, Dathan Bad Man Doubleday Aug.
Barrett, Shirley The Bus on Thursday Farrar Sept.
Datlow, Ellen, ed. The Best of the Best Horror of the Year: 10 Years of Essential Horror Fiction Night Shade Oct.
Datlow, Ellen, ed. Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories Saga: S. & S. Sept.
Deneen, Brendan The Chrysalis Tor Sept.
Drayden, Nicky Temper Harper Voyager Aug.
Freeman, Brian James, ed. Halloween Carnival Cemetery Dance Oct.
Freeman, Brian James Walking with Ghosts PS Publishing Aug.
Golden, Christopher, ed. Hark! The Herald Angels Scream Anchor: Doubleday Oct.
Guignard, Eric J., ed. A World of Horror Dark Moon Sept.
Hendrix, Grady We Sold Our Souls Quirk Sept.
Hirshberg, Glen Nothing To Devour Tor Nov.
Hunt, Laird In the House in the Dark of the Woods Little, Brown Oct.
Janz, Jonathan The Siren and the Specter Flame Tree Sept.
Jones, Stephen The Lovecraft Squad: Dreaming Pegasus Nov.
Jurado, Cristina, ed. The Apex Book of World SF: Volume 5 Apex Sept.
Kadrey, Richard Hollywood Dead Harper Voyager Aug.
King, Stephen & Bev Vincent, eds. Flight or Fright Cemetary Dance Sept.
Kiste, Gwendolyn The Rust Maidens Trepidatio Sept.
LaValley, Dustin 12 Gauge: Songs from a Street Sweeper Sinister Grin Jul.
Lindqvist, John Ajvide I Am Behind You St. Martin’s Oct.
Lovegrove, James Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils Titan Nov.
Mamatas, Nick The People’s Republic of Everything Tachyon Aug.
Miskowski, SP The Worst Is Yet To Come Trepidatio Sept.
Motoya, Yukiko The Lonesome Bodybuilder Soft Skull Nov.
Perry, Sarah Melmoth Custom House: HarperCollins Oct.
Rice, Anne Blood Communion Knopf Oct.
Schweblin, Samanta Mouthful of Birds Riverhead Jan. 2019
Snyder, Lucy A. Garden of Eldritch Delights Raw Dog Screaming Oct.
Stoker, Dacre & J.D. Barker Dracul Putnam Oct.
Thomas, Scott Violet Inkshares Oct.
Tremblay, Paul The Cabin at the End of the World Morrow Jun.
Youers, Rio Halcyon St. Martin’s Jul.

Becky Spratford is a Readers’ Advisor (RA) in Illinois specializing in serving patrons ages 13 and up and trains library staff worldwide on how to match books with readers through the local public library. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All and its evil twin RA for All: Horror and is on the Steering Committee of the Adult Reading Round Table. Spratford is also known for her work with horror readers as the author of The Reader’s Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d ed. (ALA Editions, 2012) and is a proud member of the Horror Writers Association and is currently organizing Librarians’ Day for StokerCon 2019. You can follow her on Twitter @RAforAll

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