Celebrating the Female Writers of Horror

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

Women don’t get a lot of credit in any field that they may excel in, so why should the world of literature be any different? While, they get recognized by their peers, how many of you can name more than a handful of famous female horror authors off the top of your head? It’s unfortunate that most can’t, to say the least, but that’s something that we plan to remedy here today.

Woman in the dark
Photography by H.F.E. & Co.

While we are asserting that all of the writers listed here are horror writers, a lot of these amazing women have actually produced written work that is outside of the horror genre–or, even more astoundingly, their main genre of work may not even be horror.

Mary Shelley

(08/30/1797 – 02/01/1851)

Mary Shelley

Born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Shelley is best known for her novel Frankenstein (1818) which is quite widely cited as the very first Science Fiction horror novel. Unfortunately, her career wasn’t quite as prolific as some modern writers, but her work seems to have been more about quality, rather than quantity. Unsurprisingly she wasn’t the first writer within the horror genre, but she was the first female horror writer and she did invent two completely different subgenres of horror. I do find it rather nice though, that all of her works are within the public domain and can be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to read her Gothic-styled genius.

Check out our coverage of Mary Shelley in her Dead Author Dedication we did earlier this year.


Daphne Du Maurier

(05/13/1907 – 04/19/1989)

Daphne du Maurier

Daphne Du Maurier has generally been classed as a romantic novelist, but the stories she produced in her lifetime have been described as “moody and resonant,” and most if not all of them have paranormal and supernatural overtones. Critics never gave her a fair shot when her bestselling works were first published, but her exceptional talent with her voice in narrative changed their minds and earned her a persistently unparalleled reputation.

A few of her novels have been adapted into films—quite successfully in fact, including Rebecca (1938), adapted by Alfred Hitchcock to film in 1940—which starts off as such an innocent romance, but quickly turns into a story with such a haunting atmosphere, you can’t be sure if it’s a ghost story, or one of subterfuge. Don’t even get us started on his adaptation of her novel The Birds (1952) which was released in 1963!

Some Books to Read by Du Maurier

  • Jamaica Inn (1936)
  • Rebecca (1938)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • The Birds (1952)
  • Not After Midnight and Other Stories (1971)

Unfortunately, we haven’t covered the life and times of Daphne Du Maurier as of yet, but believe us when we say that her style of writing is phenomenal–actually, don’t believe us, read some of them and decide for yourself! Since we’ve been trying to cover a single dead author per month, in memoriam during the month in which they passed, we won’t be visiting the life and achievements of Daphene Du Maurier in full until April of 2021.


Shirley Jackson

(12/14/1916 – 08/08/1965)

Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson is one of those writers that the weird, dark, and haunted can thoroughly relate to–personally, I believe that she is the one writer I can relate to the most. Not because she was insanely talented–I’m not self-centered enough to believe I rank on her level–it’s because she never made an attempt to pretend that she was in any way normal and I mean that in complete admiration.

If you’re interested in learning more about Shirley Jackson, take a look at the articles we did to honor her for August’s Dead Author Dedication:


Lois Duncan

(04/28/1934 – 06/15/2016)

Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan made a name for herself by writing for young adults–those transitioning from childhood to adulthood, who needed a voice to relate to that would help them understand what it was like to have to evolve into a responsible human being, even under the worst of circumstances. As a horror writer for the young and the young-at-heart, Duncan left a legacy, not only for her readers, but for those who were inspired to follow in her footsteps.

She paved the way for writers and creatives to finally be able to appeal to the younger audiences who, otherwise would only have had adult horror to turn to–because, let’s be honest, those among us who love horror now have loved horror for a long time and if it hadn’t been for Duncan’s books we might not have had age-appropriate content for our nerdy dark brains to dive into.

You can learn more about Lois Duncan through our exploration of her life, literary achievements, and legacy–Puzzle Box Horror style, in our Dead Author Dedication in July 2020.


Anne Rice

(10/04/1941 – Present)

Anne Rice

She is a best-selling American author and having sold nearly 100 million copies of her books, is one of the most widely read authors in modern history. World-renowned, among her works the most well-known are the Vampire Chronicles, where she demonstrates her ability to convey love, death, immortality, existentialism, as well as the human condition under the umbrella of the gothic horror genre. One thing is certain, aside from Mary Shelley, Rice is possibly the most popular female author on this list!


Octavia E. Butler

(06/22/1947 – 02/24/2006)

Octavia E. Butler

Butler started her writing career in her twenties after studying at several universities and she blended elements of science fiction and African American spiritualism in her novels. Her first book, Patternmaster (1976) which would kick start her first series of books. It wouldn’t be her last series, however, as she continued to write and publish books up until her death in February of 2006. Although Butler was better known to be an author of science fiction, she often incorporated elements of our favorite genre, horror. Her most horror-inspired novel was published just a year before her death and told the story of a girl who discovers she’s a vampire. Often hailed as a genius, Butler worked to address racism from her vantage point as a writer and exposed the horrors of oppression in American history. When talking about one of her most popular books, she explained that, “[she] wanted to write a novel that would make others feel the history: the pain and fear that black people have had to live through in order to endure.”

Join us in February of 2021, for when we honor Butler’s contribution to horror.


Kathe Koja

(01/06/1960 – Present)

Kathe Koja

As a writer, director, and independent producer, Kathe Koja is a multiple platform powerhouse of a woman—her talent allows her to work within several different genres, from Young Adult, to contemporary, to historical, as well as horror fiction genres. Several of her novels have won awards and have also been translated into multiple different languages and her work has also been optioned for film and performance pieces.


Caitlín R. Kiernan

(05/26/1964 – Present)

Caitlín R. Kiernan

As an Irish-born American, Caitlín R. Kiernan is a published paleontologist and author of both science fiction and dark/horror fantasy. An accomplished author in her own right, Kiernan has published ten novels, a series of comic books, and over two hundred fifty short stories, novellas, and vignettes—for all of her hard work she has received both the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker awards twice!


Tananarive Due

(01/05/1966 – Present)

Tananarive Due

Tananarive is an all-around wonder when it comes to the horror community, not only is she an award-winning author, she also teaches about Black Horror and Afrofuturism at the University of California Los Angeles. But wait, there’s more—as a prominent figure in black speculative fiction over the last twenty years, she and her husband collaborated to write “A Small Town” for the second season of the reboot of The Twilight Zone. This is by no means a complete biography for Due but we hope it’s enough to interest you in her incredible literature and work for equality as she helps to educate in the exclusionary history of not just American history, but horror history.

To get better acquainted with Tananarive Due, check out her official website and the upcoming article we have dedicated to her work in horror.

For a more in-depth look at the history of horror and the role that black people have historically played within the genre, keep an eye out for Shudder’s Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Tananarive Due is listed as an executive producer for this highly anticipated documentary and it’s coming out in February 2021, just in time for Black History month!


Gemma Files

(04/04/1968 – Present)

Gemma Files

London-born, Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic—but she had quite a meager start as a freelance writer until she landed a continuing gig with an entertainment periodical called Eye Weekly. It was this position that led to her gaining local traction, as she began critiquing horror, independent, and Canadian films. In 1999 Gemma won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story, with The Emperor’s Old Bones. Since then, five of her short stories have been adapted to television for The Hunger series. She’s been nominated for countless awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award in 2009 and 2010 for a short story and novelette respectively.


Jemiah Jefferson

(01/01/1972 – Present)

Jemiah Jefferson

Another elegant African American horror author, Jemiah Jefferson toes the line between horror and erotica through her gift to horror-loving women everywhere—her Voice of the Blood series about the famous creatures of the night has been called “smart, beautiful, sexy, and vicious.” (I’m not going to lie, I may have purchased all four of them the very same day I discovered her.) Jemiah has a lot more to offer in the way of novels and short stories, however, and we’re exceptionally excited to share her with you all.


Helen Olajumoke Oyeyemi

(12/10/1984 – Present)

Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi and her writing are equally unique, her writing transcends any genre that attempts to confine or define her, so the best way we can describe her work is a blend of horror, fantasy, fairy tales, and folklore. While not a dedicated horror writer, her work is often unsettling (just the way we like it), frightening, and she often explores the paranormal, bizarre, and supernatural elements of fiction. When she was a young woman, just twenty years of age, she published her first novel The Icarus Girl (2005), which mixed the paranormal with Gothic horror themes and Nigerian folklore. In 2009, her novel White is For Witching, was published and is considered one of the great modern cosmic horror novels—we personally loved it!


Kat Howard

(09/14/19** – Present)

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As a modern-day writer in a genre dominated by a more masculine influence, Kat Howard is a refreshing change of pace–since the best writing is when you are allowed to immerse yourself in the story and are otherwise unaware of the writer’s gender, skin color, sexuality, or how they otherwise identify themselves.

We were lucky enough to be able to speak to Kat Howard recently—so, check out the interview that we did with Kat Howard, where she speaks about her novel The End of the Sentence (2014), horror, and what it’s like to be a writer. You can check out that interview here if you’d like to know more!

You can find out a bit more about her on her official website, kathowardbooks.com and you can also follow her on twitter!


We reserve the right to update this list in the future to further represent female writers of the horror genre that we may currently be unfamiliar with–an exclusion of an amazing female horror author here only means that we have yet to be introduced to her work! Let us know if you believe someone should be included here!

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: Don’t Take What Belongs to the Dead

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

While attending college in the Interior of Alaska, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Yup’ik—a Central Alaska Native language—on Halloween of my second year, my professor deemed it appropriate to tell us Alaska Native ghost stories. Hearing these stories in Yup’ik gave unique perspective on the particular experience of growing up in such a harsh environment, his soothing rhythm and melodious speech gave it all an otherworldly feeling. It’s important to keep in mind that while this story is told as a folktale, but all folktales begin as oral stories and all of them have honest beginnings.

The Ghost’s Tea Kettle

Snow covered graveyard
Photography by Joy Real

There once was a Yup’ik man and a white man who were traveling from one city to another, during one cold January, by dogsled. The two men came upon an abandoned fishcamp alongside the river, and wishing to avoid the harsh cold of the evening, they made camp in one of the houses for the night. They had forgotten to bring a teakettle, but longed for hot tea to provide relief from the chill of the night—the white man recalled having passed a graveyard near the fishcamp, in which there were several teakettles sitting beside some grave markers. Upon hearing the idea, the Yup’ik man told the white man that it was dangerous to take something out of the graveyard, but this advice fell upon deaf ears.

Once the white man had gotten back from retrieving a kettle from the graveyard, he began to boil snow for their tea, but the Yup’ik man refused to drink any. The two companions began to ready themselves for bed when they heard a snapping sound, the house began to shake, and fog began to drift in through every crack in the house. The white man panicked, he didn’t know what was happening, but the Yup’ik man explained to him that a ghost was trying to get into the house.

Rusty old tea kettle
Photography by Jørgen Håland

Suddenly, the door burst open violently, the ghost seeped into the house like a dense white mist, and the door slammed with a bang behind it. The white man screamed and attempted to run in fear, but his escape route had been sealed off by the ghost and he was trapped. The Yup’ik man approached the ghost without fear and put his hand on the ghost’s head—the ghost was so cold, his hand went numb, but he refused to remove it, knowing what he had to do. He gently applied pressure on the ghost’s head and the ghost began to sink slowly into the ground, but soon he grew anxious and tried to push the ghost down faster, this didn’t work to the Yup’ik man’s benefit and the ghost started to come back up.

The Yup’ik man steadied himself, took a breath, slowed down and pushed down once more with a steady and firm hand, until the ghost slowly disappeared into the ground entirely. Unable to stay in the house any longer, the two men packed up all of their belongings, the Yup’ik man told the white man to return the tea kettle to the grave from which it had been taken. They believed that returning the kettle that it would give them freedom from the ghost, but it continued to follow them as a glowing red orb—the Yup’ik man stopped and made markings in the snow, these prevented the ghost from following them, but ended with them becoming incredibly sick. Once they got to the next village, the Yup’ik man had them roll in garbage to throw the ghost off of their scent and then according to traditional practice when dealing with ghosts, they both urinated around their house to keep the ghost away. Eventually they recovered from their illness and left them with the experience that would help teach others to not take what belonged to the dead.

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: The Red Skeleton

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

Like many other folktales of the arctic region, Yup’ik folklore emphasized keeping children safe from the elements and the dangers of being alone and ill-prepared. This folktale is no different, but it definitely gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it over an early-winter bonfire.

Red skull wall
Photography by Jayberrytech

A very long time ago, in the Cape Prince of Wales, in a village off the shore, there once lived a poor orphaned boy with no one to look after him—because he had no one to care for him, he often found himself being forced to do the bidding of all the other villagers. Every single villager treated him cruelly, especially when they all gathered in the kashim—the men’s communal building where they gathered to stay warm, eat, and keep company during the cold winter months. One particularly blustery night, while the snow was falling harshly upon the village, the other villagers told him to leave the kashim to see if the weather was getting any worse. Due to the fact that he was an orphan, he had no one to make him skin boots or warm clothes, so he objected. It was too cold and the boy did not wish to go outside but was driven out of the kashim anyway. Upon returning inside, he told the others that it had stopped snowing, but the weather had gotten even colder. Every so often, the men would drive him back out into the elements, just to torture the poor boy.

Finally, the boy came in, stating that he had seen a ball of fire that looked like the moon coming over the hill to the north, but the men simply laughed at him. They accused him of seeing things and told him to go back out and to look again, that he might see a whale coming over the hill instead. When the boy quickly returned inside, he looked scared and reported that the red ball had come nearer to the kashim and that it was right outside of the house. Once again, his words were met with laughter, but the boy was truly frightened and hid within the kashim. As the men were still laughing, a large fiery figure appeared on the gut-skin covering over the vent in the ceiling and it appeared to be dancing. The men were both scared and captivated by the figure and did not notice the figure creeping through the passage into the room on its elbows and knees. The figure was a frightful sight—a human skeleton that with a brief wave of its hand somehow caused all of the men in the room to follow it, as it crawled through of the passage to the outdoors. Under the spell of the skeleton, the men followed it to the edge of the village until every last one of them had died of the elements, at which point it vanished.

 Other villagers returned from fishing to find the rest of the men of the village had died, bodies scattered over the snowy landscape. They entered the kashim finally, finding the orphan boy who recounted the entire story and how the men had died—investigating where the tracks of the skeleton had come from, they followed the tracks through the snow, up the side of the mountain. The tracks ended when they came upon an ancient gravesite—it was the grave of the boy’s father.

History of Demons, Possessions, Exorcisms, and the Films They Inspire

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Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

History of Possession and the Church

On the topic of possessions, it is widely believed that a person’s mind and soul can be possessed by spirits, whether by man, demon, or god. Prior to the biblical explanation of possession, in ancient Greece, the pagans put an emphasis on the belief that the gods would interfere with their daily lives. Their idea of possession was when a God would cause them to act in a certain manner, or simply inhabit their body to achieve an end of their own. Buddhist and Hindu beliefs considered possessive interference by gods and demons to be everyday occurrences; African tribal religions and their respective offshoots consider possession the way that their gods and secondary deities show favor and proof of their power. Christianity over the centuries has been very vocal in regards to possession, declaring that true possession was only ever the work of, “unclean spirits,” either a minion of hell or the Devil himself. There are rare references to possessions by the divine spirit, just as Jesus Christ’s disciples were reportedly overcome with the Holy Spirit after his crucifixion. Alternative theories of this suggest, however, that possession by the divine spirit is actually just the Devil in disguise, in an attempt to fool the vulnerable. Early theologians denied there was ever an instance of possession being anything but the Devil’s handiwork.

St. Francis of Borgia Exorcising a Demon
St. Francis of Borgia – Exorcism by Goya

The Christian culture continues to dominate when it comes to popular theories of demons—any average person is going to associate demons with the Devil and his origin in Christianity—this can be troublesome to those deeply immersed in the religion, as it is still an incredibly popular topic in possession movies. Popular demon culture is the driving force for how we continue to see them in books and films and is what is most concerning to people with respect to horror culture. After all, there’s nothing more terrifying than the thought that a malicious spirit or demon has complete control of your body and mind—that you are what goes bump in the night—and showing signs of unusual behavior or expressing radically different ideals that what was common for the day would essentially damn an individual to being accused of possession. Luckily in the modern era, individuals are given more leeway to change up their perspectives, and essentially change the way their lives are going without being considered to be under demonic possession. Surprisingly, an aspect of possession theory that is not fully explored is exactly how the Devil or his minions claim their victims in the first place. There are two popular explanations within possession lore, that the spirit can pass directly into a person’s mind and soul or by using a witch to curse the victim. Of course, the Church’s position on the method of possession was that the Devil preferred to enlist the help of the evil individuals to do his dirty work—so witches would transmit the demons to the vulnerable through charm, potion, amulet, and most frequently food. The food of choice is the infamous apple—not just the symbol of the fall of man, when Eve took a bite of the apple of Eden, but also a popular symbol elsewhere in folklore, such as the original Germanic tale of Snow White. The only formal rite of exorcism is practiced by the Catholic church, which to this day recognizes clairvoyance, abnormal physical strength, blasphemy, and levitation as proof of demonic possession—the only salvation from possession is a formal exorcism.

The Spiritualist Movement

Many practices began gaining momentum with the spiritualist movements, including the act of psychic mediums inviting possession in order to speak to the dead—the belief is that the possession is temporary and controlled by the medium and their spirit guides. These possessions typically would take place within a séance, in conjunction with other practices such as the use of Ouija boards, or automatic writing.

The Exorcism of Roland Doe

Horror culture classic The Exorcist (1973) was actually inspired by a true story; a thirteen-year-old grief-stricken boy, under the pseudonym of Roland Doe, had recently lost his spiritualist Aunt Harriet a woman who had taught Roland how to use Ouija Boards, as well as many other taboo practices.  Directly following his Aunt’s death, in January of 1949, Roland began to experience troubling things—scratching and other inexplicable sounds echoed from the floors and walls of his room, and his bed would jerk around suddenly. Psychiatrists and their local church were of no help to Roland’s family, but they still sought the help of a local Catholic priest who received permission to perform an exorcism which ended in the priest being slashed by the boy. Roland was still in trouble, scratches appeared on his skin, at night after going to sleep for the night, the boy would scream out, trash about his bed wildly, and speak in tongues. After many failed exorcism attempts, he was finally moved to a hospital where the boy underwent one final attempt, during which he screamed that Satan was with him until the priests called upon St. Michael to rid the boy of his demons. From that day forward, Roland no longer experienced any strange happenings and went on to live a normal life.

Exorcism Movies and TV Shows that you need to see!

Do you have any movies or tv shows about demonic possession and exorcisms you’d like to see on our list? Let us know about them in the comments!

Hoodoo, Horror, and The Skeleton Key

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series
The Skeleton Key Movie Poster

A tragically underrated Southern Gothic style horror movie, The Skeleton Key (2005) has been given a bum reputation; a movie that is often overlooked movie within the horror genre, it’s actually worth watching at least once. Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is a confident, yet sweet-natured hospice nurse living in New Orleans who grows frustrated with the general lack of compassion and care that her patients receive from the home at which she works. This frustration leads her to find a new opportunity wherein she becomes a live-in nurse for Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), an elderly man whose health has rapidly declined directly following a stroke. The wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands) seems reluctant to have Caroline there, insisting that she isn’t the right fit for the job.

After a discussion with the family estate lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), Violet finally agrees that since no one else will take the job, she’ll just have to settle for Caroline. After moving in, it becomes evident that there are disturbing things going on within this neglected mansion in the Bayou. Caroline only becomes aware of these peculiarities after the mute, wheelchair-bound Ben is found trying to escape the house during a storm. She begins to explore the house and comes across strange artifacts in the attic, where she was told Ben had been when he had the stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Suspicions further rise after she learns of the house’s mysterious past from Violet—that it originally belonged to a family that had lynched two African American servants that had a hoodoo room in the attic where Ben supposedly had his stroke.

Violet tells Caroline that the house still belongs to them, insinuating that their ghosts punished her husband for going into their sacred space, but that she refuses to let anything happen to herself. Caroline seems to never fully trust what Violet has to say and decides to investigate further by going to an authentic hoodoo shop to see what it’s really all about and find out if it’s possible for someone to recover after they believe that they’ve been cursed. Her distrust of Violet leads her to perform her own secret hoodoo ritual to try to reverse the state that Ben is in—which results in Ben regaining some ability to speak, immediately asking Caroline to help him get away from Violet.

Caroline walking down the hallway in The Skeleton Key
The Skeleton Key (2005)

It becomes increasingly clear to Caroline that Violet has been performing hoodoo on Ben and her growing belief that hoodoo is real causes her to try to rescue Ben from Violet’s evil clutches. When she’s unable to flee with Ben, she’s caught by Luke and it’s revealed that he has been Violet’s accomplice all along. The culmination of the movie comes when Caroline is somehow able to call 9-1-1, then her friend, where she proclaims that the hoodoo is, “all real,” before the line is cut. She inadvertently traps herself inside of a magic circle where it’s made clear that Violet is actually the female servant Mama Cecile and shortly thereafter, she turns on the recording of the Conjure of Sacrifice, which effectively switches their bodies.

It turns out that Papa Justify had previously been inhabiting Ben’s body and had taken over Luke’s body and after switching bodies with Caroline, Mama Cecile force-feeds Caroline (now in Violet’s body) a potion which induces the paralytic state that Ben had been in. The whole thing had been a trick to get Caroline to believe in the power of hoodoo—because after all, you must believe in hoodoo for it to work on you. Once emergency services arrive in the morning it’s also revealed that Violet had left the house to Caroline so that Mama Cecile and Papa Justify could remain in the home and continue their body-swapping plot as long as they desired.

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