Ten Great Horror Authors (Who Aren't Stephen King)

Horror is a genre that few writers can do well. Perhaps it is because it is so easy to fall into formula, and unlike other genre fiction, horror gains a lot of its power from the ability to surprise the reader. Horror has to take readers to a place that is truly unsettling and new and with so many writers already trudging through the same territory, it becomes increasingly hard to write great horror. The old monsters, vampires and werewolves, have since vacated the confines of the horror novel and now are looked at mostly as creatures of fantasy. When writers like H. P. Lovecraft were writing horror stories it was simply called "weird fiction" and its audience was small. It was the stuff of pulps and comic books. But since Stephen King the genre has gotten more mainstream, though still it inhabits the genre ghetto, further down than perhaps any genre except perhaps the paperback romance. The ten writers on this list have elevated that genre to the level of art. They have managed to make something fresh out of tired cliches and make art out of the unlikeliest material.

CLIVE BARKER

Probably the most famous on this list Barker hasn't written any real horror in years, vacating the dark confines of the gruesome in favor of the more palatable genre of fantasy. But when he wrote real horror he was good at it. His novella, The Hellbound Heart, served as the basis of his movie Hellraiser and though the imagery from the film is unsettling, his words cut even deeper into the reader's imagination. For a great collection of scary stories you can't do better than Barker's series The Books of Blood. Once collected in six volumes, Barker was able to rework the common tropes of horror tales past with a sly wink, without sacrificing a bit of the terror that is the heart of a good horror story.

POPPY Z. BRITE

She doesn't write much horror anymore, growing tired of the limitations that the genre and her own fans tried to place on her work. When Brite came on the scene she was like a hipper, funnier and more colorful version of Anne Rice, her books often set in New Orleans with vampires and gay men as protagonists. Her work walks right up to the line between literary fiction and horror. Drawing Blood is a ghost story where we aren't even sure we have experienced anything supernatural. The book is as much about underground comics, music, computer hacking and a gay love story as it is a horror tale. Her novel Exquisite Corpse, borrowing its title from the literary form, is a mix of psychological metaphor, sharply written southern Gothic and Splatterpunk. Are You Loathsome Tonight? besides having one of the best titles of a horror collection ever, is like reading the literary equivalent of a jazz rift as Brite transports you through her strange little world of gruesome treasures.

NEIL GAIMAN

Gaiman is a fantasy writer and some of his work is light and whimsical, which makes a lot of people not realize that he sometimes writes some of the best horror you will ever read. His most famous novel, American Gods, fits into the category of "dark fantasy." The distinction between this and horror can barely be drawn once one enters the unsettling world of the book itself. His short story collections, Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things are filled with brilliant horror gems. The Wedding Present, hidden in the introduction of the former book, manages to be a truly disturbing and unbelievable romantic within a brief number of pages. The latter books A Study in Emerald, a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft is worth the purchase of the book all by itself.

JOE HILL

Joe Hill changed his name to try to distance himself from his famous father, Stephen King, but he need not have worried too much. Though the two write in the same genre, Hill is much more playful than his father, borrowing techniques from postmodernist and just as willing to end his stories with a punchline as he is with a big scare. His short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, brilliantly alternates from heartfelt nostalgia, surreal satire and gut wrenching horror. Just because a story begins with one tone doesn't mean it will end with the same one, and Hill's mastery of tone shifts makes each story truly surprising. His two novels, Heart-shaped Box and Horns show the same ability to juggle tones masterfully. The former is a creepy ghost story, while the latter is a satirical dark fantasy about a man who wakes up with devilish horns and creepy powers.

BRIAN KEENE

Keene was one of those writer's I would have dismissed as a hack, due to the cheap looking paperbacks I have seen and the seemingly silly plots of some of his books. This would have been a big mistake. I discovered Keene by reading his short story The King, In Yellow (a play on the Robert Chambers 1895 classic The King in Yellow) in a Best New Horror Anthology. His story was easily the most original, funniest and scariest one in the collection. His zombie novel, The Rising, won a Bram Stoker award but now is hard to find. Recent work, such as the fable Tequila's Sunrise and the tongue in cheek thriller Kill Whitey show that Keene is still getting better.

JOE R. LANSDALE

Lansdale is best known for his crime series starring Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. The first novel in the series, which is substantially gruesome, was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for Best Novel. I discovered Lansdale from his short story The Night They Missed The Horror Show, one of the most brilliant and controversial short stories I have ever read. This story is collected in Lansdale's By Bizarre Hands. Probably best known for the movie adaptation of his novella Bubba Ho-Tep, Lansdale uses language like few writers in any genre, spinning a unique vernacular coming out of his home state of Texas and melding it with his own brand of unique weirdness.

IRA LEVIN

The legendary Ira Levin has been praised to the skies by contemporary horror writers like Stephen King and Chuck Palahniuk, and many of his novels have become hit movies, but he is still sadly underrated by many horror fans. His masterpiece Rosemary's Baby is a great template for how to construct both a brilliant thriller and a first rate satire. The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil and especially Sliver all top their movie adaptations. I'd recommend avoiding the sequel Son of Rosemary, (The ending not only ruins the book but tarnishes the original as well.) but otherwise you can't go wrong with Levin. Nearly every one of his books is as well-constructed and as entertaining as books can get.

BRIAN LUMLEY

Much of what Lumley writes is pastiche of Lovecraft and this will appeal to Lovecraft fans but few others. Lumley's series Necroscope however, may be an antidote to the Twilight series. In Lumley's universe vampires are not supernatural beings but biological ones and they reproduce by impregnating human women, after which their children eat their way out. Lumley's series is full of fun and gruesome twists on conventional horror tropes. Unfortunately, he has never been able to work his way out of the pulp fiction ghetto to find mainstream success but his Necroscope series is a must read for any hardcore horror fan.

RICHARD MATHESON

Matheson is best known for the many short stories that he contributed to The Twilight Zone. He also invented the zombie novel with I Am Legend, a novel that has been filmed three times (most recently with Will Smith) but has never matched the original source in terms of great storytelling. Much of what Matheson has written fits into other genres. He has written as much science fiction as horror (like his contemporary Ray Bradbury) but when he has turned to the horror genre he has consistently done great work. His ghost story Stir of Echos remains an underead gem.

PETER STRAUB

Straub started as a serious literary writer but when his ghost story Julia became a huge hit he switched over to horror for good. He has since won multiple Bram Stoker awards and collaborated with Stephen King on a series of novels. His novel Ghost Story deserves to be held up one of the great Gothic novels of all time. He won the World Fantasy Award for his novel Koko, one of his most famous and best works. Perhaps because of his literary origins Straub is one of the more subtle horror writers on this list, but it makes him no less effective.

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Comments 12 comments

rabecker profile image

rabecker 5 years ago

Nice list of horror writers.


Painted Seahorse profile image

Painted Seahorse 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA

Great overview of some horror writers. I enjoy Neil Gaiman and Peter Straub. I'll have to check out some of the others.


mortimerjackson profile image

mortimerjackson 5 years ago from California

There's this author called Mortimer Jackson. He also writes some pretty good books if I do say so myself. Why, his first book, Fear of the Dead, has been received quite well. And what's this? It's on Amazon Kindle? For only a dollar?

OMG!

Good article by the way. I never knew Stephen King had a son. Or that he was a writer.


Esmeowl12 profile image

Esmeowl12 5 years ago from Sevierville, TN

I am flabbergasted that I have never heard of these writers (except for Straub). I guess I've been too stuck on my favorite, Stephen King! I'm definitely going to bookmark this site for reference when I next go to the library or the used book store. I appreciate all the info.


Amber Vyn profile image

Amber Vyn 3 years ago

Nice overview here. I'm definitely going to check out Brian Keene's work. Voted 'up'!


Willsummerdreamer profile image

Willsummerdreamer 3 years ago from Marietta, Georgia.

Love Neil Gaiman's work. Great list.


findwholeness profile image

findwholeness 3 years ago from Midwest

Fantastic. I had only heard of a couple of these authors. Thank you for the suggestions.


Pierre 3 years ago

Yes many have left the church but they have also left dulsaim, beliefs, values and a way of being behind. Many didn't get booted out but booted the church out of their lives.


UndercoverAgent19 profile image

UndercoverAgent19 2 years ago

This was a great hub with many excellent suggestions. Although I'm really into horror movies, I haven't read many novels or short stories that fall into the horror genre. Now I definitely have some options to get me started!


Tolovaj profile image

Tolovaj 2 years ago

I personally believe horror genre is in kind of crisis these days. As you already noticed, Clive Barker, who was without number one a decade ago, is already almost out of business. Movies are obviously more interesting to him than books (and his best works were probably his first collections of short stories), Neil Gaiman is more fantasy than fiction (Dean Koontz too), Richard Matheson is dead, same is true with Lovecraft and Bradbury, ... I have read few good pieces from Dahl as well, but an author specialized in horror is actually hard to find. Even King is not so classic anymore.

Time for redefining the genre?

Thanks for this list. I'll check names which are new to me:)


Stefani Robinson profile image

Stefani Robinson 2 years ago from Chandler, AZ

A very good list, nicely done! Some of those names are new to me so I will check them out. I decided after NOS4A2 that Joe Hill is quickly going to be a better writer than his father. He isn't there yet, but he is as good as Stephen King was in his prime and better than Stephen King has been for the 15 years.


UndercoverAgent19 profile image

UndercoverAgent19 22 months ago

This is an awesome list. I'm not particularly familiar with the horror genre, so I am looking forward to checking out the work of the authors you mentioned. I am, however, a big fan of Ira Levin, and I'm glad you included him in your hub. Rosemary's Baby is simply divine and is one of my all-time favorites.

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