The best horror prose writer

D_Davis

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I love King. He's one of my favorite living authors. Few authors write stories that I enjoy more than King when he's on.

However, I agree with most of JD's analysis of his style, as it were.

I would probably describe his style as workman-like. It gets the job done.

Where I think he excels is, like I said, at writing about things that get under a lot of people's skin. He's good at writing about the things that scare people in general. That's why he's so popular.

In many ways, it's because of his workman-like style that he is so popular and successful. He has a very broad audience, and he doesn't alienate people with his approach.
 

dask

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I don't know if there is a major difference between fiction and nonfiction for a professional writer but his writing in DANSE MACABRE left me breathless with admiration. Come to think of it, so did "The Mist." Maybe there isn't a difference, I dunno. "The Gunslinger" as it first appeared in F&SF is mindboggling good. Can't help but wonder with someone who is capable of writing stunningly good that when he gives us something we don't care for, whose fault is it really?
 

Toby Frost

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I think Danse Macabre may be one of his best books. It makes an excellent companion to On Writing. In particular the analysis of selected novels in the second half is really good.

That said, I think both Salem's Lot and The Shining are very good.
 

D_Davis

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King is actually a very good non-fiction writer, and I think the difference is that his non-fiction work isn't 800 pages long. His articles in EW are awesome, and On Writing is great, and I think them being short has a lot to do with it.

King's short stories are almost always better written, with better prose, than his novels are. He actually excels in the short format.
 

dlsevern

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Sorry that I sounded so chippy j.d., I had some b.s. going on here at home and I let it seep into this forum. I still do not agree with anything you said but I shouldn't have been snippy with you, I did ask you to explain yourself after all, lol. My apologies mate.
 

j d worthington

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King is actually a very good non-fiction writer, and I think the difference is that his non-fiction work isn't 800 pages long. His articles in EW are awesome, and On Writing is great, and I think them being short has a lot to do with it.

King's short stories are almost always better written, with better prose, than his novels are. He actually excels in the short format.

I think I'd agree with this in the main. His short stories are (necessarily, of course, but nonetheless...) tighter, more controlled, and the prose is more compact and each sentence carries more weight; more information is concentrated into a shorter space, making the impact (generally) more intense. Even when you're dealing with a story such as "It Grows on You", which seems to ramble and digress terribly, there is very little wasted space -- nearly every detail plays into creating the actual situation, which is never explicitly stated but is really quite admirably hinted at. (It is a theme which he has used more than once; a version of it is at work in The Shining, for instance; while a more directly related version was also put to use in the television production Rose Red.)

And yes, his nonfiction tends to be, generally speaking, leanly written in comparison to his novels (though there are of course exceptions in the latter category, where the novel was also written without a great deal of excess).

On my point about his tendency to be derivative... for a couple of examples (out of several): the rain of stones in Rose Red and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House; or the quite stereotyped handling of the vampire theme in 'Salem's Lot. There is precious little original going on there, when you look at it. And that is where I find it disappointing, because he can be original, even when using older materials -- Needful Things, for instance, uses the same theme, essentially, as Benet's "The Devil and Daniel Webster", and the novel itself bears a striking similarity in basic situation to Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, save that the latter was a carnival as opposed to a shop... yet he gives it his own stamp of originality nonetheless. It isn't his best work, but it nonetheless shows that he can use older materials without being completely hackneyed about it....
 

D_Davis

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As far as originality goes, IMO that trait is highly overrated. There just aren't that many stories to tell, and I value execution over originality.

For a King example, take his short story "The Jaunt." He is building off of a concept coined (I think) by Alfred Bester, but King turns the concept of jaunting into one of his very best short stories; and an all-time great horror short story, at that.
 

Fried Egg

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I don't mean to be rude but I really didn't want this thread to turn into a general debate on the qualities of Mr. King as a horror writer.

I want to see people talking about great prose in the horror field, particularly about those authors that I haven't read before...
 

j d worthington

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Hadn't meant to turn the thread so much in that direction; this (to me, at any rate) was simply a digression within context, looking at King in particular in comparison to other writers, pro and con; just as it is likely such a discussion might arise concerning Poe, Lovecraft, or any of the others mentioned....

However, this particular digression probably has gone on a bit too long and, though I have a response to DD's most recent comments, that had best be reserved for another place and/or time....
 

Fried Egg

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As you mentioned Joe Pulver, would one read any of his work and find good prose or should one start somewhere particular?
 

j d worthington

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I haven't read that much of Pulver (yet), but I was quite impressed with his abilities in Blood Will Have Its Season. I recently received a copy of SIN and ashes, but have not yet had a chance to get to it. Nightmare's Disciple (a novel centered around Lovecraft's Mythos) has received mixed responses, and I would say it's something to tackle later, rather than as an introduction to his work.

Here's a couple of things to look at, which may help you decide:

http://griffinwords.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/words-in-the-orphan-palace-by-joseph-s-pulver-jr/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_S._Pulver

I also thought "Engravings" (in Black Wings -- retitled in paperback Black Wings of Cthulhu, which rather screws the original reference out of all recognition), while not entirely successful on all fronts, is an impressive performance....
 

Fried Egg

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Thanks J.D.,

What about Walter de la Mare...is there a collection of his you would recommend?
 

j d worthington

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Not to be facetious, but... for those who can afford it, I'd suggest going for the two volumes of his Short Stories: vol. 1: 1895-1926 and vol. 2 1927-1956, as these collect together all his shorter works save those written for children (which were collected in a third volume).

Otherwise, I would suggest Ding Dong Bell (1924, rev. 1936) or The Riddle and Other Stories (1925). The second has several of his most famous stories ("Seaton's Aunt", "The Tree", "Out of the Deep", "The Riddle", etc.), but the first may yet be, in its own way, a better collection, and "Strangers and Pilgrims" is far and away one of his very best tales....
 

Randy M.

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Hi, all.

For my first post at SF Chronicle I thought I'd add a couple of names to this list:

Glen Hirshberg -- I've read two of his collections American Morons and The Two Sams, and I'm currently reading his novel, The Snowman's Children. Hirshberg writes ghost stories, which perhaps tend more toward the Henry James variety than the M.R. James, though (thankfully, for me) he avoids Henry's style of writing. (The Snowman's Children, by the way, isn't a ghost story, but Hirshberg's familiarity with Gothic is intrinsic to the mood he weaves in the novel.)

John Langan -- I read his novel, The House of Windows, the year before last and enjoyed it, finding it intricate, thoughtful and literate. Last October, as part of my October/Halloween reading, I burrowed through several anthologies I own ferreting out stories by him and enjoyed all of them.

I wouldn't call either of these writers stylists in the way I'd call Thomas Ligotti a stylist, since neither emphasizes style in a similar manner, but rather they find the words and phrases that propel their stories with admirable economy. Hirshberg, in particular, is adept at the telling metaphor or simile.

I'd also second Caitlin Kiernan. I haven't read much of her work, only a couple of short stories plus two novels, but what I've read is strong, particularly The Red Tree. Her story-telling is strongly influenced by writing from the southern states -- the tradition of Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren -- which may account for some of the use of language that J. D. Worthington mentions as annoying.

Speaking of J. D. Worthington, I was glad to see him (?) mention Walter de la Mare. "Seaton's Aunt" has been a favorite since I was in my teens. Over Christmas I pulled out Ghost Stories by de la Mare and enjoyed the seven stories greatly. I think anyone who likes his work might also find themselves interested in L. P. Hartley, who was another British writer better known for his other writings who yet wrote some terrific ghost stories.

Lastly, I'd also second (or by now maybe third or fourth) Shirley Jackson, Ramsey Campbell and add Peter Straub.


Randy M.
 

Christopher Lee

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For prose I would have to go with Stephen King. He's a genius with a word processor. The way he can turn a phrase and let an idea flow so easily. Reading his work out loud just flows right off my tongue.

A close second would be Lovecraft. I also like Peter Straub, but that's getting off topic because I surely don't like him for his weird prose. I just like some of his stories.
 

D_Davis

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As you mentioned Joe Pulver, would one read any of his work and find good prose or should one start somewhere particular?

Pulver sounds really interesting. Thanks for this this thread for making the introduction.
 

j d worthington

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Her story-telling is strongly influenced by writing from the southern states -- the tradition of Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren -- which may account for some of the use of language that J. D. Worthington mentions as annoying.

No... what I was referring to was her habit (which she seems to have left behind now; it was only particularly noticeable in her earlier work) of "portmanteau words"... running words together into a single one... but not as felicitously as, say, Harlan Ellison tended to do (and even he had some awkward ones on occasion). What made it annoying is that they would be so unexpected, and so unfamiliar in that form, that it yanked the reader out of the prose into trying to figure out what the word was and how it was pronounced... at which time you recognize the components, and the "complicated" word just became silly as a result. Occasionally, it worked, and added a freshness and strange poetry to her writing; but when it didn't... ouch! However, this was a very minor flaw in an otherwise fine writing style and, as I say, she seems to have left this mannerism behind for a good while now....

Thank for the nod on my mention of de la Mare -- a genuinely unique voice, that one.

Oh, and yes... it's "him"....;)
 

Connavar

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Hey didnt FE say great prose horror writer today ? Poe is great prose horror but he died like 200 years ago almost.

De La Mare is a current writer ? I can find many great classic, modern classic horror(Bradbury type) fine prose horror,weird writers but im pretty clueless about the ones who are active today.

Ligotti is the one name mentioned often although it feels like its easier discovering who Shakepeare really was than finding a Ligotti book in library system or second hand. I have to buy him online.
 

j d worthington

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Hey didnt FE say great prose horror writer today ? Poe is great prose horror but he died like 200 years ago almost.


De La Mare is a current writer ?

Actually, what he wrote was:

Who was the best prose writer in the field of horror? Who's the best still producing work today?

This may well be quite apart from who writes the best stories or is otherwise most entertaining.

And a secondary question is this: how important is the quality of prose in the field of horror?

Which can be taken either way... either referring to the greatest prose writer (question 1) and who is the best still producing today (question 2), or two parts of the same questiuon.... I took it as the first.

At any rate... Yes, Ligotti is often very difficult to get hold of. I had been searching for a copy of The Agonizing Resurrection for nearly a decade without any luck, until Wilum's vlog notified me that Ligotti himself was selling a copy of the new Centipede Press edition... at which point I said to hell with the budget and jumped on it. But you might be able to get hold of the Carroll & Graf edition of Songs of a Dead Dreamer or the mass market paperback of Grimscribe online for a fairly reasonable price.

We have, over the past 10-15 years, been seeing a greater number of writers in the field with an impressive, often lyrical, prose style; sometimes with an astonishingly wide range of prose styles from the same writer. Some of them have been mentioned above, but I'd suggest picking up a couple of modern horror anthologies and checking out which writers have a style which appeals. Go online first and do some research and look for reviews which stress the literary aspects rather than share excitement about the story itself, and you're more likely to find what you're looking for.

Myself, I've found a number of these writers via their connection to HPL -- which isn't to say that all (or even most) of their work is Lovecraftian, but the Old Gent seems to have inspired a number of writers to develop their talent to the very best of their ability in a literary as well as storytelling sense....
 

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