By now, most of the people in my inner circle have received their jabs so I’m back to having houseguests. My friend B came to town last weekend. We had a lovely bonfire and ate many cheeses. The nicest time was had by all. There was a moment, however, that I managed to astonish and appall my guest with one statement: I Have Never Read A Stephen King Book. In the past my biggest librarian sin was not having gotten around to reading Harry Potter. Relax, I got that covered in 2019 and it was fine. My friend B, as it turns out, is a HUGE King fan and could not believe that someone who is a librarian, avid reader, and horror fan, has not once thought to pick up something by The Master. Folks, my reading list is well over one thousand titles and while Stephen King has for sure cornered a certain portion of the market, would you believe there are literally THOUSANDS of authors cranking out content at any given moment competing for my attention? I do not actively dislike King. His work is often an emerging reader’s first interaction with a “grown-up” book and extrapolates into a lifelong love of reading and learning. His work is not unworthy, just uninteresting to me, specifically. Below, I have listed several horror authors of note for those of you who have run out of Stephen King books (I understand that is nigh impossible) and for people who love King but aren’t sure where to look next for more great horror.
Grant has been churning out some of the most genuinely creepy science fiction/horror for the last dozen or so years. She is preoccupied with various iterations of zombie apocoli and eldritch horrors of the deep. Grant is best known for her Newsflesh and Parasitology series and also writes under the name Seannan MacGuire whose catalog is well worth a look. For Grant, start with Parasite (2013) or Feed (2010).
The Ballad of Black Tom (2016), is probably Lavalle’s best known book, but I first encountered him when I read The Changeling (2017). Any threadbare notion of ever having children was burned out of me after reading that book. The horrors of motherhood and more depicted in The Changeling gave me about a week’s worth of sleepless nights. Effective horror fiction, yes, but wow sometimes there are books I wish I could unread. This statement should be taken as an enthusiastic recommendation for the work of Victor Lavalle.
This one. Moreno-Garcia has been hitting it out of the park for years now, but had her breakout to mainstream success with 2019’s Gods of Jade and Shadow, which was an extremely satisfying fairy-tale-like epic based on Mexican folklore. Last year’s Mexican Gothic upped the creep factor by serving Shirley Jackson realness at a secret-filled crumbling mansion isolated in the Mexican foothills. Grade: A+++++++++.
Horrific, but not horror fiction. Schechter is a modern true crime master beloved to the true crime/podcast community. I learned about his work because my favorite horror/true crime podcast The Last Podcast on the Left often uses his work as their primary source. I listened to the audio version of The Serial Killer Files (2003) on Hoopla, which is a kind of “heavy hitters” lineup of the creepiest and most notorious serial killers of the 20th century. The solid research and clear prose were only overshadowed by the narrator mispronouncing Ed Gein’s name. My understanding is that we say “geen” rhymes with jean, not “gyne” as in gynecologist. As a daughter of Wisconsin this was glaring to me, which is why I’m having a hard time moving on. Check out Hell’s Princess (2018), one of Schechter’s latest, which details the totally bananas true story of Bell Gunness, butcher of men.
Jason Pargin has been writing under the pen name David Wong since before his days as editor-in-chief at Cracked.com and now even that is several years in the past. His first full-length novel, John Dies at the End (2007), was originally written in serial form on the author’s blog. It’s fun to start with this book and work through his catalog chronologically to see how his writing gets better and better. It’s also such a joy to see a personal favorite get so successful. John Dies at the End ended up getting adapted for film in 2012. It starred Paul Giacometti and was directed by horror royalty Don Coscarelli. For non-horror stans, this was a big huge deal and made many fanboys and girls spin off into dorky paroxysms of joy.
Additional horror authors who are not Stephen King:
Max Brooks (World War Z; Devolution)
Octavia Butler (Fledgling; Kindred)
Tananarive Due (The Good House; My Soul to Keep)
Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indian; My Heart is a Chainsaw)
Grady Hendrix (My Best Friend’s Exorcism; The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires)
Joe Hill (Horns; N0S4A2)
T. Kingfisher (The Twisted Ones; The Hollow Places)
Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby; The Stepford Wives)
Anne Rice (Interview with the Vampire; The Queen of the Damned)
Riley Sager (Final Girls; Home Before Dark)
As for me, I promised my friend that I would read minimum one (1) Stephen King novel within the next calendar year, so now I have the audio copy of Salem’s Lot waiting in my Overdrive/Libby holds. There are 12 other people ahead of me, so I imagine it will be well past spooky season by the time I get to check it out. Not to worry, because I try to keep that shit in my heart the year-round.
And as for you, what happens if nothing on the list stands out? Do not hesitate to reach out for more book recommendations whether they are for horror fiction, cozy mysteries, amish romance, silkpunk, Nordic noir, cashier memoir, you name it we will help find it for you.