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February is Women in Horror Month. We are happy to celebrate the women who have brought so many chills and thrills to their readers.

All Around the Town by Mary Higgins ClarkSince 1956, Mary Higgins Clark, known as the “Queen of Suspense,” has published dozens of suspense books and she’s still going strong. One especially creepy suspense book, All Around the Town, features Laurie, a recovering kidnapping victim and new college student, trying to put her life back together.  While struggling to adjust to life with flashbacks and disturbing “hallucinations”, we see that a number of different personalities emerge from Laurie, who with the help of a psychologist, help to solve the mystery that plagued her as a kidnapping victim. Laurie and her many personalities concurrently investigate the various mysterious occurrences that are going on in Laurie’s life and the people around her.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley JacksonIn 1959, Shirley Jackson brought us The Haunting of Hill House.  This psychological thriller became widely famous and is considered the scariest haunted house novel ever written. Jackson invented characters that are easy to remember such as Eleanor, the shy and troubled yet curious visitor that the story revolves around. Also important is Theodora, Eleanor’s brave and out-spoken counterpart.  This story is known as a classic and is delightfully chilling with its carefully calculated moments of suspense that jump out of nowhere. How creepy is the scene where Eleanor hears the phantom knocking on her bedroom door after dark… and Eleanor reaches out to squeeze Theodora’s hand for comfort… well, I don’t want to give away too much.

Christina Schwarz brought us Drowning Ruth in 2000, a story about two very different sisters in the late 1930’s.  The novel is told from two perspectives—Amanda and her niece, Ruth. The author does a superb job showing Amanda’s struggles as she tries to portray normalcy to those on the outside, while she fights with the demons inside her mind.

More recently, Sarah Waters introduced The Little Stranger in 2009, a gothic novel that takes place in the 1940s.  Waters introduces us to Faraday, a doctor, and Caroline, a young unmarried maid, both living in a large mansion. These two characters are inexplicably drawn to one other as they try to deal with a possible haunting. The author slips us into the thoughts of the beings that occupy this larger than life mansion, that are both disturbing, and yet, almost romantic (which, in itself, is disturbing enough!).

An expanded list of my favorite contemporary women horror writers would include Gemma Files, Patricia Cornwell, J.A. Jance, Elizabeth Gaskell, Sarah Langan, Elizabeth Massie, and Anne Rice. Right here at Apex, they have a great stable of female horror writers, including Dru Pagliassotti (An Agreement with Hell), Chesya Burke (Let’s Play White), Gill Ainsworth (Seasons of Insanity), and Elizabeth Massie (the upcoming zombie novel Desper Hollow).

While women have brought many great accomplishments to the horror scene in directing, acting, playwriting and of course, horror writing – today, I ask that you consider joining me in a small tribute to some of today’s female writers of psychological thrillers.  If you had to choose your favorite contemporary women horror writer(s), which writer(s) would you choose?  Which books are their most horrifying, in your opinion?

Learn more about Women in Horror Month.

Krissie McMakin writes historical mysteries, loves horror movies and editing opinion and fiction articles.

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