Oh, the Horror! Author Daniel Kraus Joins Us
It’s Halloween season, that extra spooky time of year when kids and parents get dressed up and exorcise their inner demons. But what do we do about those inner demons during the rest of the year? Why we read, of course!
Today we welcome Daniel Kraus, author of The Monster Variations, Rotters and the forthcoming Scowler, to talk about horror books, a list long enough to keep you up late reading, but only after you make sure all the doors and windows are locked. Be afraid, be very afraid.
On the dedication page of Stephen King’s nonfiction classic Danse Macabre, he writes, “It’s easy enough—perhaps too easy—to memorialize the dead.” That’s the quote I think of when trying to come up with a list of favorite horror novels. It’s tempting to fall back on the greats: Shelley’s Frankenstein. Bradbury’s October Country. Matheson’s I Am Legend. Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel.
It bugs me, this thing where people keep dipping into the same shallow pool of books over and over. So I decided to make a top 10 list of modern horror fiction that you probably haven’t read. Trust me. I’ve swum in these deeper waters and look at me. I emerged just fine. Didn’t I? What do you mean, I don’t look fine? Oh, to hell with you anyway.
I’ve written a few scary books myself—Rotters, The Monster Variations, Scowler (coming in March 2013), and something called Trollhunters that I’m writing with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Someday—not too long from now—you might make your own top 10 list and put one or two of my books on it. In fact, I know you will. You’ll do whatever I say. How am I so sure?
Because I’m under your bed right now.
Let’s get this list started off weird. This is a collection of 200 urban legends told in a black-and-white graphic-novel format, each by a different illustrator. And it chills me to the bone. Very few books, even those on this list, pull that off. Then again, I’m a sucker for these. A classic example: a woman finds her dog choking and takes it to the vet. She returns home only to receive a call from the vet that she needs to get out of the house immediately. What did the vet find in the dog’s throat? Human fingers—from an intruder who was still in the house.
Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge (2006).
If there’s one title on this list that screams “classic”—and I mean screams—it’s this Bradburian look at a curious tradition in an Everytown, U.S.A. Each Halloween night, able-bodied teen boys are let loose to chase down the October Boy, “reaper that grows in the field, the merciless trick with a heart made of treats.” Beautifully consistent to its own dream-logic, this has a folk-tale timelessness that makes it near-perfect Halloween reading.
Garbage Man by Joseph D’Lacey (2011).
Okay, brace yourself. Through some unholy combination of aborted fetuses, live flesh, electrical current, and the Britain’s biggest landfill, the Fecalith (look it up if you dare) is born—essentially the Blob, except made of sticky, seeping trash. Let loose this repulsive monster onto a suburban soap-opera backdrop and you’ve got a recipe for some serious stomach upset.
The Grin of the Dark by Ramsey Campbell (2007).
Scary clowns are a dime a dozen. But scary silent-film comedians? Enter the world of Tubby Thackeray, a cinema star lost to time until a writer begins digging up the details. Supposedly Tubby’s audiences literally died laughing. Seriously unnerving material herein involving white, bloated faces appearing in everyday objects. Also some pretty interesting stuff that equates clowning with the web, where everyone gets to wear a mask. By the end, even Campbell’s prose seems to have gone totally… utterly… mad.
Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon (1973).
I was a little kid the first time I saw this book. My mom was reading it and when she saw me looking at it, she said, in an ominous tone, “If anyone ever asks you to be the Harvest King, don’t do it.” (Mom was wildly proficient in the art of scaring the hell out of me.) Cut to 20 years later when I run across a used copy, buy it, read it, and fall in love. Imagine Children of the Corn meets The Wicker Man (if you’re not familiar with either of those, I’m shaking my head in dismay) and you’ll have some sense of the pagan plotline.
Little Star by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2012).
Horror fans know Lindqvist as the author of Let Me In (the source material for the excellent movie Let the Right One In). This brand-new book is even better—a sprawling, ungainly, violent, media-soaked epic. Here’s the deal. A baby found in the woods seems to be “pure music”—her flawless musical ability is innate from birth. So two fame-hungry adults keep in a basement and raise her to as a prodigy. But things go—guess what? Wrong. They go wrong. Oh, boy, do they ever go wrong.
The Mailman by Bentley Little (1991).
Here’s a wonderful example of a simple—maybe even laughable—premise taken to grotesque, giddy heights. After a small town’s beloved postal carrier dies, a replacement arrives, a red-haired ghoul who goes by “John Smith.” The perennially overlooked Little plumbs an all-too-easily-forgotten fact: nobody enjoys access to our secrets more than a mailman. [This is the spot where you can write your own “going postal” joke. You’re welcome.]
A Matrix of Angels by Christopher Conlon (2011).
No other book on this list is so elegant. A woman returns to the town where she lived as a child and becomes flooded with memories of her first best friend, who was murdered by a serial killer. She can’t help but track down a few characters from the past—and wonder if there still might be clues to who did the killing. Told in alternating past/present chapters, this is a haunting tale of young friendship so gently told that the moments of extreme violence are all the more powerful. This book isn’t going to show up in Wal-mart book aisle. You need to seek it out. So do it. You’re still here. Why are you still here?
Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein by Dave Zeltserman (2012).
I know, I know. Aren’t we done torturing poor Frankenstein? Well, maybe after this one. Told from the point-of-view of the monster (aka Friedrich Hoffman, if you can believe them apples), this describes Dr. Frankenstein as a madman murderer working in cahoots with the Marquis de Sade, and whose story, as relayed by Mary Shelley, was an “outrageous fabrication.” Zeltserman maintains Shelley’s high tone but ups the salacious content. So you get your pulp fiction and your high-brow lit all in one tidy package.
Pin by Andrew Neiderman (1981).
You’ve seen the 1998 cult movie by the same name? No? (What am I going to do with you?) In truth, only last year did I read the original novel, and it’s a terrifically icky story in the Flowers in the Attic mold about sibling love that goes a little too far, if you catch my drift. Young adults Leon and Ursula have lived without supervision since their parents’ death, unless you count Pin, the translucent medical dummy that used to be in their doctor father’s office. When Ursula gets a boyfriend, it’s up to Leon and Pin to get the family back to normal. “Normal,” I suppose, is always relative, right?
You can find Daniel’s books Rotters, The Monster Variations, and Scowler (available in March 2013) at your favorite bookstore or library. He is currently co-authoring the novel Trollhunters with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Visit him at danielkraus.com/ and https://twitter.com/DanielDKraus.
Many Thanks to Daniel Kraus for joining us at RAOReading and thanks for all the scary book recommendations.
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