The Best Horror Novelists (Who Happen to be Female)

Posted by Cybil on October 15, 2019
We asked the authors of the newly released Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction to tell us what horror writers we should be reading as we prepare for Halloween. Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson are sharing some of their favorite novels by women who have contributed to the horror and speculative fiction genres.

Be sure to add the books that pique your interest to your Want to Read shelf.


October is our favorite time of year. The weather turns cooler. The leaves change to brilliant colors. And everyone wants everything spooky.

We love horror in all its forms. We love creepy, atmospheric tales with ghosts hiding in attics or just outside the window. We devour those books that make us want to keep the hallway light on at night, and those stories that make us jump into bed so that our feet don’t dangle over the edge for too long, out of fear that the monster under the bed might reach its gnarled claw out from the darkness and grab us.

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So why do we read horror when it scares us so much? Because horror often helps us confront what terrifies us in the real world. It’s a safe place to work through nasty emotions and difficult life events, like trauma and grief. Maybe this explains why women can write horror so expertly.

When you think about it, women have been uniquely positioned throughout history to write genre fiction, a kind of writing that can offer marginalized individuals an avenue to speak their truth through fiction.

Haunted house stories often revolve around a horrific past related to family relationships. Ghostly mothers and children seek redress for wrongs. In novels like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, the nurseries are the haunted rooms. And in some cases, like in Edith Wharton’s story Mr. Jones, a young woman who has inherited an estate must constantly bow to the wishes of an imperious former caretaker, the titular Mr. Jones. Physical violence takes place inside the private domain of the home and can bleed into horror fiction as well. It’s no wonder women can create such memorable monsters.

In Monster, She Wrote, we celebrate the women who have contributed to the horror and speculative fiction genres. Here are just a few of our favorites.


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The haunted house novel hasn’t been the same since Shirley Jackson published The Haunting of Hill House in 1959. Everything from Stephen King’s The Shining to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves has elements of Jackson’s ultimate haunted house. She isn’t called the “Queen of Horror” for nothing.


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Daphne du Maurier has been labeled, perhaps unfairly, by readers as a romance writer. Her 1938 novel Rebecca is a perfect example of a Gothic romance, with its grand estate and moody setting and a heroine at risk of being crushed beneath her new husband’s secret. The 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film helped solidify du Maurier in the literary canon. But it’s her collection Not After Midnight (1971) (published as Don’t Look Now and Other Stories in the U.S.) that shows her to be a master of horror. The story Don’t Look Now is sure to give readers all the chills.


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Gwendolyn Kiste’s 2018 debut novel, The Rust Maidens, is set in Cleveland, Ohio, where the narrative moves between present day and the 1980s. It’s a deftly written monster story; the girls slowly transform into something horrific, mirroring the rot and decay of the hometown they can’t seem to escape. The Rust Maidens won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, and we think Kiste is just getting started.


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Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved is about the real history and horrors of slavery. Beloved is also a ghost story. Morrison confronts slavery and its resulting traumatic past through the spectral presence of Beloved who haunts the characters of the book, in particular her mother, Sethe, who killed her rather than see her enslaved. It’s no wonder that one of the characters questions whether there is any house in America that isn’t haunted.



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The vampire is a tried-and-true trope of horror novels, so you may feel like you already know all about them. Jewelle Gomez, however, writes vampires like no author before her. In her debut novel, The Gilda Stories (1991), Gomez introduces us to Gilda, a young girl who escapes slavery and then meets two women who just happen to be vampires. Once Gilda is turned, her journey allows Gomez to take on bigger questions of immortality and consent.


Hopefully, this list will start your Halloween season off right, giving you enough creepy vibes to satisfy those darker urges. But, if you are like us, and are already dreading the end of October, don’t worry. We have a bonus recommendation for some post-Halloween horror.

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Releasing in December 2019, Damien Angelica Walters novel, The Dead Girls Club, is about a group of girls obsessed with macabre stories of serial killers and horrifying urban legends. They delight in scaring the wits out of each other. The fun ends, though, when one girl is killed, just after insisting that one urban legend, the tale of the “Red Lady” is true—and she had seen her. Is the “Red Lady” real—a true life boogeyman out to get the girls of the club? Or is one of the club’s members hiding a more sinister secret? This book gets major points for 1990’s nostalgia, but it also delivers the chills.


What Halloween reading would you recommend to your fellow readers? Let's talk books in the comments!

Check out more recent articles:
The Big Books of Fall
October's Most Anticipated New Books
Comedian (and New Author) Ali Wong Talks Writing and Reading

Comments Showing 1-40 of 40 (40 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Allenson The first science fiction novel in English which is also a famous horror story.
"Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.


message 2: by Randy (new)

Randy Money The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan. Kiernan falls into overlapping subgenres, Lovecraftian, weird, cosmic horror, dark fantasy. She's an extraordinary writer.

Wormwood: A Collection of Short Stories Poppy Z. Brite's first story collection, which I found fascinating because it's in order of writing so you see a young writer mature into her greatest power.


message 3: by Randy (new)

Randy Money Gayle wrote: "RUBY JEAN JENSEN - terrific horror author - published 30 books and over 200 short stories. E-BOOK NOW AVAILABLE on Amazon Kindle HEAR THE CHILDREN CRY ---https://www.amazon.in/dp/B07YJ73XSS

MORE R..."


Do you think Gigi Hadid sat for the cover artist?

(I am being facetious.)

More on topic, she only wrote one horror novel, but Anne Rivers Siddon hit a homerun with The House Next Door.

I've only read Gemma Files' Experimental Film but hope to read more since I found this one exceptionally compelling.

And, because I enjoy shorter stories, I'd recommend Tananarive Due's story collection, Ghost Summer: Stories. The title story alone is worth the price of admission.


message 4: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Medina Highly recommend Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-garcia. Deals with vampires in Mexico. Also try Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand. A haunting good read.


message 5: by Lynn (new)

Lynn I've been reading a bunch of Amy Cross books lately. She writes very creepy stories.


ℓ◎♥℮ т☺ яεαḓ Beauty Secrets of the Martyrs by Verity Holloway


message 7: by Sophie (new)

Sophie Alanbooth wrote: "Try "The Life of Death" by Lucy Booth. A uniquely intriuging novel about how the personification of Death (a young girl) struggles with her nemesis (the Devil) to regain her life & be able to love...."

Looks really good. Thanks for mentioning it!


message 8: by Amy (last edited Oct 21, 2019 06:54AM) (new)

Amy Of course "Haunting of Hill House" is the scariest ever, but another author and her writings have come to my attention.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare Written by Simone St. James, this one is super scary and she has written other books that pull you into her web also.


message 9: by kittykat (new)

kittykat I'd add to this list the excellent Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia E. Butler and Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2) by Octavia E. Butler by the late great Octavia E. Butler as most of the plot is horrific, especially in book 2.


message 10: by Bark (new)

Bark I would like to point everyone to the Ladies of Horror Fiction website: http://www.ladiesofhorrorfiction.com

We have a directory of LOHF writers, reviews, recommendations and many guest posts written by LOHF. If you're looking for the newest releases by LOHF we have those too!


Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You Bark wrote: "I would like to point everyone to the Ladies of Horror Fiction website: http://www.ladiesofhorrorfiction.com

We have a directory of LOHF writers, reviews, recommendations and many guest posts writ..."


Thanks! I found this article a bit weak, even for Goodreads. So many great female horror writers. Nothing against Toni Morrison, but I'm not too sure she fits this bill. Sure, you can stretch "horror" to be almost anything these days - sappy romance novels would be a horror to me! - but I think they could have done better with this one :/
Again, thanks for the link :)


message 12: by Gene (new)

Gene Borowski Amy wrote: "Of course "Haunting of Hill House" is the scariest ever, but another author and her writings have come to my attention.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare Written by Simone St. James, thi..."


I just finished "Silence for the Dead" about a week ago. I'll have to put "Maddy Clare" on my TBR list.


message 13: by Gene (new)

Gene Borowski "The Woman in Black" is great if you're looking for a case of the eerie's.


message 14: by Bark (new)

Bark Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You wrote: "Thanks! I found this article a bit weak, even for Goodreads."

You're very welcome! It's a labor of love for all of us. I hope you find the website helpful.


message 15: by Corinne (last edited Oct 21, 2019 09:33AM) (new)

Corinne We got a link to the Ladies of Horror Fiction website in msg 12 but there is also a companion group right here on GRs: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

From the description: Ladies of Horror Fiction was created to bring about a multi-dimensional way to support women in the horror community.

Everyone is welcome to join us in our efforts to support and promote the ladies of horror fiction



message 16: by Brianna (new)

Brianna Soloski Why isn't Sarah Waters on this list? Also, why does it matter that they're female? Can't they just be the greatest horror writers or the most popular horror writers?


message 17: by Bark (new)

Bark Brianna wrote: "Why isn't Sarah Waters on this list? Also, why does it matter that they're female? Can't they just be the greatest horror writers or the most popular horror writers?"

There are plenty of lists like that on the GR horror blog. This one was specifically titled "The Best Horror Novelists (Who Happen to be Female)"


message 18: by Randy (last edited Oct 21, 2019 10:58AM) (new)

Randy Money Brianna wrote: "Why isn't Sarah Waters on this list? Also, why does it matter that they're female? Can't they just be the greatest horror writers or the most popular horror writers?"

Traditionally, women horror writers are as dismissed as women writers of other genres. For instance, I'm not sure we'd know "The Yellow Wallpaper" if some enterprising genre anthologists hadn't pulled it out of obscurity in the 1960s and feminist critics hadn't picked up on it. (Honestly, that could have been the other way around; I'm not sure.)

Usually men get the glory from Poe to Bierce to the James boys (M. R. and Henry) to Lovecraft to Aickman to King. Meanwhile, the ghost and horror stories of E. Nesbit, Vernon Lee, Marjorie Bowen, even Edith Wharton and Elizabeth Bowen (who made names for themselves in other literary fields), among many others are still pretty obscure to the general reader.

More recently, while King, Straub, Koontz, Saul and a few other male writers became as close to household names as the genre has ever had, only Anne Rice has reached the same level of renown and popularity; while Lisa Tuttle, Melanie Tem, Nancy Holder, Kathe Koja, and many other female writers have worked the field with less success at gaining a wide audience.

So a list like this one is just an attempt to pinpoint the disparity and address it.


message 19: by Corinne (new)

Corinne Thanks for that Randy.


message 20: by Bark (new)

Bark Yes, thank you Randy. It's too bad it needed to be said at all but there it is.


message 21: by Ginger (new)

Ginger Pollard Ania Alborn's The Bird Eaters should be on this list.


message 22: by Randy (new)

Randy Money Bark, it's a legit question maybe stemming from the counter-argument that in a fair world there wouldn't be a need to distinguish and maybe to make it a fair world, we shouldn't. Unfortunately, the world resists becoming fair.


message 23: by Emily (new)

Emily Ninth House - Leigh Bardugo
The Good House - Tananarive Due
Wilder Girls - Rory Power
Bunny - Mona Awad
Theme Music - T. Marie Vandelly
The Last Harvest - Kim Liggett
The Luminous Dead - Caitlin Starling
House of Salt and Sorrows - Erin A. Craig
Her Body and Other Parties - Carmen Maria Machado
Sawkill Girls - Claire Legrand
Here There Are Monsters - Amelinda Berube
To Be Devoured - Sara Tantlinger
Gretchen - Shannon Kirk


Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You Brianna wrote: "Why isn't Sarah Waters on this list? Also, why does it matter that they're female? Can't they just be the greatest horror writers or the most popular horror writers?"

I would guess that women are featured because, in general, historically in literature, women are NOT featured. you, of course, can ignore that if you wish. or bemoan it, whichever. i am glad the fact is noted, as time is long past due for women to be noted for what they have done and are doing.
when more than 50% of the world's people have been silenced, there is surely a lot that has been missed. sadly.


message 25: by Heather (new)

Heather Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You wrote: "Bark wrote: "I would like to point everyone to the Ladies of Horror Fiction website: http://www.ladiesofhorrorfiction.com

We have a directory of LOHF writers, reviews, recommendations and many gue..."


Agreed. Beloved by Toni Morrison is a stretch for horror.


message 26: by Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You (last edited Oct 21, 2019 05:15PM) (new)

Shall I Download A Black Hole And Offer It To You I had no idea Du Maurier wrote "Don't Look Now"!! Wow. I may have to read this, though I am quite sure it won't be as amazing as the film version, with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie...


message 27: by Alicia (new)

Alicia A. kittykat wrote: "I'd add to this list the excellent Parable of the Sower (Earthseed, #1) by Octavia E. Butler and Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2) by Octavia E. Butler by the late great Octavia E. Butler as most of the plot is horrific, especiall..."

Absolutely! Thank you for posting this, because I was going to if someone else hadn't already!


message 28: by JD (new)

JD Has anyone read Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber?" This is a modern-day retelling of the Bluebeard Legend.

I love "The Haunting of Hill House" and the original movie, too.

Daphne Du Maurier also wrote the horror short story, "The Birds," which became, of course, the Hitchcock film.

I love the idea of a list of horror stories written by women; this is typically a genre women have been excluded from.


message 29: by Hoolia (new)

Hoolia No Angela Carter? The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is the second-most important book in the feminist horror tradition (first, of course, is Frankenstein). This list isn't very thoroughly researched at all.


message 30: by M (new)

M  - The long hot spell I LOVE the cover on Murder She Wrote - so gorgeous!


message 31: by David (new)

David I should really read The Haunting of Hill House. The netflix series is the best horror anything I've ever seen.


message 32: by Bill (new)

Bill Hsu Not a lot of surprises in the list.

I actually think The Rust Maidens is one of Kiste's weaker books. And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is much more interesting and well-executed.

A few more suggestions:
Carmen Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
Emily Cataneo, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories
Sofia Samatar, Tender
Mariana Enriquez, Things We Lost in the Fire
Livia Llewellyn, Furnace
Livia Llewellyn, The One That Comes Before


The Masked Reader This is definitely an intriguing list.


message 34: by Robbert (new)

Robbert Jessica Amanda Salmonson - Anthony Shriek or Lovers From a Darker Realm. One of the very few horror books that literally made me cry.

Also:
Melanie Tem - Wilding
Kathe Koja - The Cipher
Kathe Koja - Skin
Kathe Koja - Bad Brains
Kathe Koja - Strange Angels


message 35: by Lori (new)

Lori Lamothe JD wrote: "Has anyone read Angela Carter's "The Bloody Chamber?" This is a modern-day retelling of the Bluebeard Legend.

I love "The Haunting of Hill House" and the original movie, too.

Daphne Du Maurier a..."


Yes - great story. Hill House too.


message 36: by Dua (new)

Dua David wrote: "I should really read The Haunting of Hill House. The netflix series is the best horror anything I've ever seen."

Keep in mind that the Netflix series is very loosely based on the source material. I haven't read the book yet, it's on my to-read list, but as far as I know there's no family in the book and the plot is different.


message 37: by Gill (new)

Gill Hooper I loved The Haunting of Hill House and Don't look now. Beloved was fantastic though the plot didn't grab me as much as the language did. I'm missing Cathy Dobson's The Devil's Missal in this list - a superbly creepy book and a must-read for those who like historical occult fiction.


message 38: by Randy (new)

Randy Money For those who enjoy Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, I'd strongly recommend Caitlin Kiernan's The Red Tree (just ignore the cover; it's not really representative). Kiernan admits a strong Lovecraftian influence in her writing, but there's also an element of Jackson in her depiction of women (and of Arthur Machen in some of her story choices).

And, what the heck, once you've finished that one, look into her The Drowning Girl.


message 39: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Gore Two words: The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. It took her 10 years to write and is a vampire story, a detective story and a love story all in one. I am jealous of any person who has not read it because you get to read it for the first time.
Also, I entirely agree that Sarah Waters belongs on this list. The Little Stranger? Amazing. Fingersmith? I love that the house is called Briar. So forbidding.


message 40: by kittykat (new)

kittykat Festus wrote: "Hello my name is lamon my finance broke up with me last week i was so sad I changed completely, I wasn't eating and i wasn't talking to anybody, I cried a lot,I was so depressed and stressed out th..."

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