It’s safe to say that we are experiencing a great moment in time for speculative fiction—across all genres. More so, as indie publishers step up to the plate and with major publishers like Macmillan expanding their draw with imprints like Nightfire, we’re seeing horror grow across hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio formats. Chief among a large groundswell of new talent is the growth of the horror novella as a means of not only innovating narratively but also getting books out on store shelves more quickly than typical trade publishing models allow.
In 30 thousand words or less, a single book introduces readers to brand new fears—many they’ll never be able to shake. From Doug Murano’s Bad Hand Books to Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s horror imprint, Ghoulish Books, Sadie Hartmann’s Dark Hart Books to venerable indies like Death’s Head Press, the novella is experiencing a boom and we’re totally here for it.
We gathered some amazing examples of horror fiction maximizing the novella form.
Stargazers (My Dark Library #1)
The first in an immaculately curated collection of novellas for Cemetery Gates, Sadie Hartmann has picked out a great lineup under her “My Dark Library” banner. Hernandez’s Stargazers centers around one Henry Sylva during a sort of societal collapse spurred on by social-media-driven horror and spectacle involving people called “stargazers” that become devoid of humanity yet with a sudden need to destroy. Henry has a family to protect and a history of trauma from his time as a soldier in the army, Hernandez’s swift novella uses the flexibility of form so often resonant with novellas to tell a tender yet truly haunting story.
We Can Never Leave This Place
If you haven’t read Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, go do that right now. Actually, if you haven’t read any of Eric LaRocca’s recent releases, queue them up because they are all top-notch novellas.
His latest, We Can Never Leave This Place tells the tale of a young imaginative girl who lives a sheltered, reclusive life with her mother in a house until a mysterious man enters the picture, welcomed by her mother, beginning the unraveling of her known world. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and it is soon made a known commodity that the life she has lived inside that house isn’t exactly healthy nor welcoming. The novella is dripping with gothic horror and dark fantasy and is among the best you’ll find in the genre. LaRocca is carving out their own castle of literary horrors.
Like a far more gore-filled and decadently dark rendition of Nightcrawler (the x movie, not the Marvel character), Dimaro’s Viral Lives introduces readers to Simon Hinch, a car salesman by day and “gore reporter” by night. He is the sort of person that, come nightfall, goes into the worst places, seeking the most heinous crimes hoping to record whatever it is that is the night’s most disturbing offering to then flip it and capitalize on it for a handsome fee. So, when he encounters a dying man, he decides to record it, effectively a snuff film, instead of helping the man. The video goes viral and is a hit on the dark web. After the filming, things go awry and the supernatural rendition of karma comes back to haunt Simon, ensuring that all of his own secrets are revealed, his life torn to shambles.
There’s so much going on in this novella, it’s insane to think that Dimaro managed to pack such a devastating punch into a single novella. Truly harrowing stuff.
McCarthy’s Immortelle glimpses the lengths at which a mother will go to save the spirit of her dead daughter. The daughter in question, Elinor, is found dead in an animal trough and Elinor, her mother, seeks justice on her own terms. An artist by trade, in an indirect effort to overcome the loss, she begins creating immortelles, or flower arrangements for the graves of the dead. It becomes popular enough that even the dead reach out to her for such memorials. After another girl dies, presumably under similar circumstances, it’s proof that Elinor has much left to be done in order to seek closure and more so justice.
I’ve been a huge fan of Laurel Hightower’s work since her novella, Crossroads, blew me away with its delicate balance of horror and heart, tackling one of humanity’s saddest losses, the loss of a child.
In Below, Hightower demonstrates her range as she enters the mythological world of the Mothman. We’ve all heard and seen the legends surrounding the mysterious figure. Hightower manages to take the creature and morph it into an equally heartbreaking narrative surrounding a divorced woman driving through the mountains, experiencing an accident, and forced to adapt to the frightening conditions, complete with placing her trust in the hands of a stranger. Hightower keeps the pages turning and the supernatural atmosphere intoned within masterful prose.
Kolesnik is a bonafide powerhouse and her previous novella, True Crime, is required reading. It’s a rule (I don’t make them, I just make sure people read good books).
In Waif, her latest novella through Grindhouse Press, readers meet Angela, someone seemingly content and finally in possession of everything she’s ever wanted: the house, the marriage, the money. Yet all it takes is a chance encounter, a glimpse, to send her into the underground world of pornography, fueled by sexual lust and thrills. And that’s just the very tip of the proverbial iceberg. Kolesnik takes things to their absolute depths in a way that many other writers might fumble and make it seem too outlandish to suspend disbelief.
For those of us that were around for the beginnings of the internet, talking dial-up modem days, there’s always been that allure (or trepidation?) of stumbling upon a forum, download link, or server that you can’t unsee.
In Keisling’s disturbing novella, Scanlines, a rumored live recording of a congressman killing himself on TV is said to be shuffling around the darker corners of the web. Called “the Duncan Tape,” our protagonist Robby and his curious friends are the right sorts of teenage boys of the would-be 1980s-90s to seek out the truth. And you bet they find it. Not even a spoiler because Keisling really goes for broke with Scanlines, taking readers around corners they never knew existed.