An Introduction to Some Great Contemporary Horror Short Story Writers

Horror seems to be best in short form. Sure, we’ve got Stephen King and The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby as shining examples of the success of the novelization of horror, but the really great stuff, the stuff that lies in wait beneath the mainstream, the stuff you can be pretentious about, comes in the form of the short story.

Great short horror is usually also the stuff you have to discover or be introduced to. Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen come to mind as examples of classic horror short story writers that I stumbled upon or was told about.  I’m writing now to introduce you to a few great contemporary horror short story writers — via examples of their short story collections — that have stood out as I’ve purchased books for the New and Featured Department’s horror collection:

Tales of Pain and Wonder by Caitlin Kiernan — I’ve probably mentioned Kiernan’s novel The Red Tree at least fifty times while writing for this blog. Sometimes, I feel like every blog post I write should be about that book. Yes, it was that good. It was a revelation. However, among underground horror aficionados, Kiernan is probably best known for her short stories. Tales of Pain and Wonder is filled with short stories that are dark and violent, yet beautifully written.

Occultation by Laird Barron — The first short story of Barron’s I read was “Catch Hell,” which is collected in another great horror short story collection, Lovecraft Unbound. That story reminded me of Lovecraft meets The Wicker Man. Indeed, Barron does a great job of mixing Lovecraft with a kind of pagan revelry; just check out the cover of Occultation to get a feel for what I mean.

Tempting Providence and Other Stories by Jonathan Thomas — Here’s a book of horror short stories about Providence, RI, the hometown of the man himself, H. P. Lovecraft. See those tentacles twisting around the cover of the book? That’s a good sign that Thomas knows what he’s talking about. But seriously, the Lovecraft inspiration aside, this is a strong collection of short stories from Hippocampus Press, which is a very important independent horror publisher to pay attention to. I first learned about them because of the next book . . .

Seven Deadly Pleasures by Michael Aronovitz — . . . which Hippocampus published and which really freaked me out while I was reading it on a creepy, overcast fall day last year. The stories in this collection feel, in a lot of ways, like episodes of Tales from the Darkside, or some similar dark, episodic horror television show. Every story, that is, but the last one, “The Toll Booth,” which was so terribly realistic that I still think of it and feel disturbed.

Consider this a sample of all the great short story collections and writers the New and Featured horror collection has to offer. Are there any other great horror short story writers or collections you’d like to introduce me to?

–Wes

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “An Introduction to Some Great Contemporary Horror Short Story Writers

  1. Charlotte

    I’m sorry, Wes, but you just haven’t convinced me to read horror stories. The authors’ imaginations are frequently very exciting, though it does make one wonder what fires those imaginations. But I prefer fiction that is like someone’s real life. The imagination that creates such fiction is subtler, has more philosophical meaning in it, is more difficult to figure out, and usually offers some kind of new insight to the reader. I recommend fiction as the best kind of reading for learning something new about life. OK, I’ll even put in a plug for my favorite American writer, Philip Roth. He can “suggest” more in one paragraph than – well, my own imagination fails me here. But I rarely finish a Roth novel, without having to sit alone for a while to think about what I have learned.

  2. Whew. I won’t have to fight off Charlotte on my way to the shelf to scoop up all of Wes’s recommendations. ;)

    Seriously, I love how there’s a book for everybody. And I know I could stand to read more Philip Roth myself – I adored The Plot Against America, which, arguably, actually IS a horror novel, albeit a psychological one…

    Leigh Anne

  3. Corey

    You know I’m always going to push my boy Manly Wade Wellman and his Appalachian folk horror. GOOOOD stuff.

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