Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Most readers (and writers, for that matter) have a short list of the novels they have most enjoyed, the best of the best, so to speak, or “the top ten.” Of course, these lists differ from one person to another, because we all have our own likes and dislikes, our own interests, biases, values, beliefs, and concerns. We also have different levels of sophistication as readers--and different backgrounds.
Any list of the “best” or the “top” novels in the horror, or any other, genre is necessarily subjective. There may even be someone (besides M. Night Shyamalan himself, I mean) who enjoyed his dreadful movie, The Happening.
Despite the idiosyncratic nature of such lists, perusing them, especially if they are annotated by their creators with the reasons that the novel is on the list (that is, why the lost maker listed the book), can be instructive for writers who write with their readers’ interests in mind. On his blog, Antibacterial Pope, Nick Cato offers such a list, citing the following as the best of the best for the past year, in “My Top Ten HORROR Novels of 2009”:
1. Blue Canoe by Tim Wright
2. His Father’s Son by Bentley Little
3. Cursed by Jeremy A. Shipp
4. This entry is missing for some reason.
5. Far Dark Fields by Gary A. Braunbeck
6. Afraid by Jack Kilborn
7. Depraved by Bryan Smyth
8. As Fate Would Have It by Michael Louis Calvillo
9. Sacrifice by John Everson
10. Orphan’s Triumph by Robert Buettner
Except in general terms, I won’t identify the reasons that Cato considers these books the best of the best for 2009; you can visit his webpage for that information. In general, though, he cites their credible characters, innovative perspective, cross-genre content, philosophical musings, action, intensity of pace, suspense, gore, and, of course, frightening fare.
Michael Marshall Smith has also offered a “top 10 horror books” (apparently, of the “of all time” type) list:
1. Dark Feasts by Ramsey Campbell
2. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
3. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
4. Dead Babies by Martin Amis
5. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
6. Night Shift by Stephen King
7. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
8. The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson
9. At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft
10. Best New Horror (edited) by Stephen Jones
In general, Smith cites such criteria for his judgments as “disturbing.” storylines, cross-genre content, setting, creepiness, atmosphere, psychological realism, style, and variety.
Not to be outdone, I have likewise offered my own lists, both of what I consider the top ten horror movies of all time (“Toppers”) , “Horror Story Failures” and “Ideas That Don’t Work” and a list of horror novels that I believe should be on everyone’s “Contemporary Horror Fiction Bookshelf.”
There’s no need, of course, to rehash my views here. Anyone who’s interested in them can peruse my previous posts easily enough and decide whether they are the perceptions of genius or imbecility (that is, whether he or she agrees or disagrees with them).
The important point is to identify what other readers and writers like. By doing so, you, as a writer, can address these concerns and interests in your own fiction, increasing its relevance to others and, perhaps, your work’s sales appeal as well.
I’m not suggesting pandering, but a meeting of the hearts and minds or readers and write, when possible, in the pages of your novels. In many cases, you are apt to find that we all like pretty much the same sorts of things; the horror genre is, after all, a genre, and genres appeal to specific audiences or communities who share similar views, interests, and concerns.