Though we focus on all different varieties of dark genre fiction on Ink Heist, it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that our first literary love is horror, and we’ll be talking a lot about it here in the months and years to come. We and all of our contributors embrace and read in every sub-genre imaginable, from classic horror, to cosmic horror, to the most outrageous bizarro imaginable. But one of the things we love more than just about anything are the amazing female voices that have dipped their pens in the dark and terrifying well of outstanding horror fiction on offer, and it’s a safe bet that if you’re not an avid lover of female-written dark fiction, you’re not one of the contributors to this space. Today we offer you ten of the most amazing authors in any genre and we consider ourselves blessed that they’ve chosen to dwell in the sort of literary darkness that we all love. So here, compiled jointly by Rich Duncan and Shane Douglas Keene, are ten of the most amazing women working in the genre right now.
While I’ve not yet had the pleasure of a novel-length work from this brilliant author yet, Lucy Taylor still holds one of the top slots in my black little heart when it comes to horror fiction. Her body of work includes multiple anthology and magazine publications as well as the Bram Stoker award winning novel The Safety of Unknown Cities, the novella Sweetlings, and her most recent–fucking stellar–collection Spree and Other Stories, which I’ll be reviewing next week here on Ink Heist. My first experience of this amazing author was with the story “Moth Frenzy” in the Grey Matter Press anthology Peel Back the Skin, a story that became an instant favorite and that I’ve revisited four times since. It is to me the poster child of all her stories in that, like Clive Barker before her, her tales are always darkly sensual, erotically tintillating, and somehow made all the more horrifying because of it.
A last minute addition to the list on my part, I recently read her newest novel Providence and instantly became the proverbial “Constant Reader” of this young author with one of the most incredibly captivating voices in modern literary darkness. Author of the breakout debut novel You and the highly successful follow-up, Hidden Bodies, she captured the hearts and minds of thousands of fans and immediately cultivated a dedicated following including none other than the king himself, Mister Stephen King, who quite accurately described her work as “Hypnotic and scary” and “totally original.” I’ll read everything Caroline Kepnes has written or will write going forward and so should you. I’ll be reviewing Providence here soon but definitely don’t wait for that to get hands on this amazing author’s words.
J. Lincoln Fenn
When 47North published J. Lincoln Fenn’s debut horror novel Poe in 2013 people immediately and for damn good reason started buzzing about it. Fenn is an author of remarkable ability and vision and her love of the English language shines through in every spare, perfect line of prose in her books. My first experience of her work was actually her second novel, Dead Souls, and to say that novel was literally breathtaking at times would be an understatement. You can read my review of it on This Is Horror, but suffice it to say I absolutely love this author and am constantly jonesing for more of her work. With a voice imbued with lush darkness and a willingness to embrace familiar themes–and having the ability to completely turn them on their heads–Fenn is an author whose work should be on the shelves of everyone who calls themselves a fan of dark literary horror. Get her in your brain, kids!
When I think of this author’s most recent novel, Aletheia, the word that always immediately pops into my head is wow. With numerous essays, short stories, and poems in publication as well as one absolutely superb novel, American Monster, Breukelaar was already a force to be reckoned with in the realm of literary dark fiction. But nothing could have prepared me for the brilliant noir/horror mashup that is Aletheia. That book floored me with it’s quirky characters, both alive and dead, unreliable narrators, and the glorious, gorgeously haunting prose that she’s so incredibly adept with. J.S. Breukelaar is an author performing at the top of her game and one of the absolute best when it comes to scaring the fuck out of you while simultaneously breaking your heart. If you haven’t read her amazing work yet, do it. You need Aletheia on your shelves and in your mind ASAP.
Not enough can be said about this outrageously talented author. One of my favorite short story writers of all time, she has at least four collections of the most amazingly dark, surreal neo-noir fantasies that have ever been penned, including Get in Trouble, Pretty Monsters, and Stranger Things Happen. Kelly link writes all over the literary board, making her difficult, if not impossible, to shoehorn into any one category. With tales of hauntings, real and imagined, magical realism, and straight up horror, she’s one of the most powerful voices in dark literary fiction and you never know what you’re going to get from her. You only know that it’s always going to be something original, brilliant, and completely genre transcendent, no matter what trope she chooses to take on. If, like me, you’re a fan of great short stories and you haven’t read this author, you’re screwing yourself out of one of the greatest voices, living or dead, male or female, that’s ever taken pen to paper.
I have been a huge fan of Ania Ahlborn’s work ever since I stumbled across her demonic-horror debut Seed on Amazon. I remember being blown away by her ability to craft a story that was both elegantly written yet scary as hell. After I read Seed’s final, brutal twist, I knew right then and there that I was going to be a fan for life. What always impresses me about Ania’s work is her ability to totally immerse readers in her stories. Every time I pick up one of Ania’s books, it doesn’t take long before it completely takes over my life. I love reading (obviously) but there is a difference between reading a good book and reading one that you feel like you need to read. Pretty much all of Ania’s books fall into that “need to read” category and I think that speaks volumes about her ability as a storyteller. I also love that you never know what to expect with Ania as she has covered a lot of topics in her career thus far. There are a few that fall into the demonic-horror category such as Seed, The Devil Crept In and I Call Upon Thee. However, she has also written the straightforward thriller The Neighbors, the creature-filled The Shuddering, and a bleak haunted house novel The Bird Eater, just to name a few. Really, I could spend an entire entry alone gushing about how much I love Ania’s novels, but I recommend just picking one out and jumping in. You can’t go wrong. The Bird Eater definitely ranks on my all-time favorite list and Brother is a truly dark and disturbing book that will leave its mark on you. Much like the infamous scene in Kealan Patrick Burke’s Kin, Brother has a few dark secrets that will rattle you the first time you read them.
I have been impressed with Runge’s writing ever since I read her story “Hope is Here” in the outstanding anthology Suspended in Dusk, which was edited by Simon Dewar. After that, I was hooked, looking out for her short stories whenever they appeared in an anthology and then fully cementing myself as a life-long fan when I read her brilliant debut collection Seven Sins. While her talent is on evident display in her standalone stories, Seven Sins is incredibly impressive and showcases her willingness to take risks with her stories and there were a few that had interesting layouts and structure that only added more power to her words. Needless to say, when I caught wind of her debut novel Seeing Double from Grey Matter Press, I could barely contain my excitement.
Seeing Double is a character driven piece and Runge expertly breathes life into these characters, which is important because there is a heavy psychological element to this story. Stories that depend on this sort of psychological tension live and die on the strength of the author’s abilities to create realistic characters and Runge accomplishes that with ease. I have to applaud Runge for the rich layers and complexity of her narrative in Seeing Double, a novel that I think establishes Runge as a force in the genre.
Damien Angelica Walters
The first time I read Damien Angelica Walters’ work is when I received an ARC of her mesmerizing debut Paper Tigers. This was a novel that engaged me instantly with it’s unique take on haunted houses and ghosts. While the premise is one that lures readers in, the real strength is Walters characters. Alison is the protagonist of this novel and she is one of the most interesting and complex characters in recent memory. She not only has to deal with the supernatural, but battle through the grief and trauma she sustained in the real world. It’s a richly layered novel that is essential reading for fans of the horror genre.
Walters’ short fiction is also exemplary as well. Her most recent collection, Cry Your Way Home, features one of my all-time favorite short stories “The Floating Girls: A Documentary”. I love everything about it – the interview format, the plot and the characters. Walters is a truly special talent and I eagerly await whatever she releases next!
Sisters of Slaughter (Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason)
Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – who go by the nickname The Sisters of Slaughter- burst onto the scene in 2016 with Mayan Blue, their Stoker nominated debut that took readers on a bloody trip into the Mayan underworld. Mayan Blue was a blast to read and ended up in my top 10 last year and I couldn’t wait to see what they came up with next. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long as they released their sophomore novel Those Who Follow just a year later. As much as I loved Mayan Blue, the Sisters of Slaughter have taken their writing to another level with Those Who Follow. This novel is dark and brutal, featuring a villain that relishes the torment and horror he inflicts on his victims. If you like your horror a little more on the extreme side, you definitely want to check out The Sisters of Slaughter’s work. They have also recently released Kingdom of Teeth through Eraserhead Press (which I still need to read, but sounds AWESOME) and are gearing up for the release of the eagerly awaited serial project Silverwood: The Door.
I cheated a bit with this one as French’s works are considered crime fiction, but there are dark elements to them that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror novel. Without venturing into spoiler territory, her gripping debut In the Woods features a detective who is haunted by an incident in his childhood. Three of his friends disappeared from the woods never to return. When the police found young Rob Ryan that day, he was gripping a tree in terror, wearing blood-stained sneakers and no recollection of what happened. Then there was the weird scratching noises and mysterious holes in the wall that appear throughout the fourth installment in the Dublin Murder Squad series, Broken Harbour.
Tana has a great voice, excellent pacing and the ability to craft mysteries that slowly but deliberately mess with your mind. If you haven’t delved into her books yet, I highly recommend them. I also loves the way she handles the characters in the series, starting with In the Woods. Each book primarily focuses on one or two characters heavily with the others serving as secondary characters, with each member of the Dublin Murder Squad getting their chance to shine in their own book. This allows for constant growth and keeps the stories fresh. A secondary character you may hate in one book has their story fleshed out in subsequent books, allowing you to see then in another light. If you love dark crime novels, you’re going to love the Dublin Murder Squad series. This Fall will also see the release of the standalone novel, The Witch Elm, which is high on my list of most anticipated books for 2018.