The best books to read for aspiring horror authors

T.L Oberheu Author Of The Shadow Dies Loudly: 27 Tales
By T.L Oberheu

Who am I?

I read my first chapter book in Kindergarten, and have been fascinated by literature ever since. From writing a Halloween story in 3rd grade that made my classmates cry and the teacher call my mom, to graduating from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, literature has always been a big factor in my life. As a new writer myself and paired with my long list of books stored on my shelves and in my mind, I simply would like to give my two cents on the stories that caused my inspiration to blossom. 


I wrote...

The Shadow Dies Loudly: 27 Tales

By T.L Oberheu,

Book cover of The Shadow Dies Loudly: 27 Tales

What is my book about?

Within this book are 27 chilling tales. 27 pieces of madness about the things that stalk the dark outside, and things that lurk within us. Stories about murder, revenge, insanity, terrors from beyond our world, failure in every facet of life, and reality itself breaking into fragments. This collection descends into madness with the reader: what starts with two serial killers telling the other how they will kill them, ends with a group of college students who enter a place where the fabric of reality does not quite work the way they are used to.

The dark corners of your bedroom at night will never be the same.

The books I picked & why

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The Doom Stone

By Paul Zindel,

Book cover of The Doom Stone

Why this book?

While short book aimed at younger readers, there’s so much to learn for anyone regardless of age that wishes to exercise their terror-inducing writing muscles. I read this book so long ago that I would guess it was back in 2005. While the time frame is hazy, the details and lessons in the book are anything but. The way Zindel handles the horror parts is what gets this book on this list. The antagonist monster is horrendous of course, but it’s the mystery behind it that is what’s more chilling because it is vaguely hinted at but never outright explained.

Even on the final page, when you learn that this creature isn’t anything new nor anything going away, there are still so many mysteries that will not (and maybe should not) be solved. That is why this book is recommended. When things are over-explained, they tend to lose their magic. A key component to writing in general, and especially if your goal is to unnerve your reader into thinking about your book long after they close the book.


Deeper

By James A. Moore, Alan M. Clark (illustrator),

Book cover of Deeper

Why this book?

A fun read, and while this book wasn’t the cause of a flooding of readers in bookstores when it was released, that does not diminish the quality of it. This story takes the Mythos from H.P Lovecraft and adds protagonists that put up a fight against the infamous Deep Ones that every horror aficionado should already know about from Lovecraft’s century-old short story “Dagon”. I recommended this book for the simple reason of writing a protagonist that doesn’t cower in fear doesn’t disqualify the terror if done correctly. As a matter of fact: I would argue it enhances the horror aspects, since showing violence toward a violent enemy early on, rather than a dramatic showdown, can get the hero in much hotter water than they initially planned on.


John Dies at the End

By Jason Pargin, David Wong,

Book cover of John Dies at the End

Why this book?

Possibly the most famous book on this list, this book was included not for its fame, but for the author’s ability to handle the Eldritch/Cosmic horror trope and make it hilarious. A wonderful mix of horror and comedy, the pseudonymous Wong is also the main character in the book. His first-person narration paired with other details paints this book as an actual series of events that he is risking his life and all of reality by telling you these bizarre events. An homage to the Lovecraftian style and several real-world paranormal mysteries will surely entertain readers, however for writers, it shows you how to blend the real-world, inspiration from other literary worlds, and your own creative content to make a fantastic story. 


Outer Dark

By Cormac McCarthy,

Book cover of Outer Dark

Why this book?

A book from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author should always be on any list about teaching new writers. With Outer Dark, McCarthy goes down a violent and disturbing route that’s more art than book. Its graphic scenes and heavy plot material won’t even be the most disturbing aspects of this book. It’s the lack of setting and time that will trigger deep existential feelings of a primal sort of fear that is difficult to explain. The book takes place in the deep south of the United States (possibly) sometime in the past. But how far in the past? How much time passes between the first page and last page? How do the brutal antagonists know the things they know? This book is perfect for setting the bar for how to properly handle the surreal and psychological aspects of writing, which in this book’s case is far more terrifying than a hook through the jaw or drinking the blood of a victim (I did explain the villains were brutal after all). 


Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

By Alvin Schwartz, Brett Helquist (illustrator),

Book cover of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Why this book?

This one was obvious, wasn’t it? The little books that were frequently put into elementary and middle school libraries that kept kids up all night were and still are a fantastic source of inspiration for not even just horror writers but any type of creative person. Complied of short stories from all over the globe and throughout history, the infamous collections are a segue into what people have thought was horrifying throughout time and space. Reading these collections will either turn an adolescent into an adult who can’t watch cable crime dramas without anxiety, or an adult who masters the macabre. 


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