The Fright Stuff

Sexy Spooky

Do you remember Marion Cotillard saying “Pain is in the mind” when she walked through your dream in a red sequin evening gown in Inception? Did you practice Aaliyah’s walk from Queen of the Damned in front of your mirror? Were you ever obsessed with Lady Macbeth? When someone tells you that you’re dressed like a bride of Dracula do you smile and say, “Thank you so much, I was questioning this lipstick before I left the house, and that just made my day!” Because, yes, you are wearing oxblood lipstick in the middle of the day, in front of God and everyone.

I’m Mary Kay, your Virgil, and if you answered yes to any of those questions, you might belong in this specific ring of hell, the Sexy Spooky. Welcome to The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. After all, Halloween, according to Mean Girls, is an excuse to wear lingerie in public. (Not that we need an excuse, am I right?)

Ear Worm: “Hot Knife” by Fiona Apple–arguably the sexiest, spookiest love song I’ve ever heard… plus, how dope is it that she plays the timpani in her own music video, which is directed by P.T. Anderson of There Will Be Blood (I want to be her friend SO BAD.)?

Fresh Hells: (FKA New Releases)

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu edited by Carmen Maria Machado

Technically, this novella (published in serial) is the first published vampire text. Their mythology has been around MUCH longer than that, of course, but Carmen Maria Machado edited this version, and that changes things. While Carmilla has always been a lesbian romance, like so much classic literature, one can ignore the overtures due to the propriety of the time period in which they were written. Machado does not let that happen. In addition to fleshing out the story itself with myriad footnotes, she supplies clarification as to the nature of the protagonists’ relationship. This edit maintains the same kind of gritty urban legend tone as her collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties.

Tender: Stories by Sofia Samatar

This collection is divided into two parts, “Tender Bodies” and “Tender Landscapes.” The weird tales talk about the fragility of bodies in settings as vast as medieval Egypt to the stars, AND this collection was recommended as a must-read by the author above, Carmen Maria Machado. If you like Tender, then you should try Samatar’s Monster Portraitsnext. (That one even has illustrations by her brother, tattoo artist Del Samatar, and it’s GORGEOUS.)

“Our Town’s Monster” in the collection, Growing Things by Paul Tremblay

Granted, although all of the stories in this collection are horrifying–or at least deeply unsettling–“Our Town’s Monster” is the one that will have you laughing and gasping in terror as the swamp/marsh monster attacks a couple who has just moved into a house nearby. The other stories in this collection will leave you unraveling them for days, as well, like the spooky sexy, “Something about Birds” or sort of (I mean, kind of, at first) “The Teacher.”

Crypt Keepers: (well-beloved reads that are still on-theme)

geek love cover katherine dunn the fright stuffGeek Love by Katherine Dunn

I can already tell I’m gonna catch hell for this one, but if you don’t get the burlesque comedy of this macabre novel… well, you aren’t really the best audience for the freak show. This book really packs a punch, it’s full of sex in a way that is not really SEXY per se so much as INTERESTING, which, let’s be honest, we who love to read horror want you to keep that perfect intimate moment crap to yourself! The premise of this novel is that a sideshow couple want to create their own sideshow, so they take powerful drugs to ensure that their children will all have anomalous bodies and odd powers. From there (yes, that is the starting point), things quickly spiral out of control. If you do like freak show horror, definitely check out “The Mermaid in the Tree” by Timothy Schaffert, as well.

interview with the vampire cover by anne rice the fright stuff newsletterInterview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

Name an ’80s baby that didn’t experience their sexual awakening at the vampire Armand seducing their human sacrifice to succumb to the coven’s will at the Théâtre des Vampires. Or at the very least one who didn’t read a little more quickly when Lestat seduces Louis into immortality. If you haven’t yet read this new-and-improved vampire novel, now is the time. And if you like Anne Rice’s horror, but you want MORE sexy, try her erotic novel series, The Sleeping Beauty Quartetwhich retells the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale for a much more adult audience.

I know you’re probably thinking, why so many vampires? Think about the O.G., Dracula: he was tall, darkly mysterious, rich, powerful, and his teeth were so white and straight and pointed… and unlike other sexual monsters, vampires require consent: they have to be invited in. Want to know who your vampire soulmate is? Yes, you do. 

The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert

Ooh, y’all, if you haven’t read this, you got to get on it right away! This novel isn’t a book of straight-up horror so much as it has a horror attitude, if that makes sense, the way that stories full of whimsy and magic often slide into the macabre. When the handsome ventriloquist crashes the balloon he stole from Omaha’s World Fair at the turn of the century, and ghosts start showing up, and his dummy talks, and he falls in love with a Vaudeville actress, it has the elements of both the burlesque and the Gothic. It’s fantastic.

And if you want a bonus rec/reminder, definitely check out Robert Levy’s novella, Anais Nin at the Grand Guignol


Victor Hugo (author of Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables) was kind of slutty? But in a fun way. I think.

In case you want to buy Jane Austen’s chronicle of outrageously horrifying dental procedures, you can do that.

Jared Harris and Lee Pace will star in the 10-episode adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi series, Foundations. 

Speaking of adaptations, the Netflix original film Wounds is killing it, and it’s based on the novella The Visible Filth by Nathan Ballingrud.

This Irish whiskey bar has a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on display!

Need inspiration for your literary Halloween costume? Look no further.

Spooky Empire is this very weekend. Y’all go see Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell and Mia Farrow and Elvira, and ME.

Also… everyone is changing their Twitter names to something spooky and Halloween-themed… what’s yours? (Mine’s Merricat McBrayer, hehe.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this prowl through the spooky scary. Y’all come on and follow me through more circles on IG @marykaymcbrayer and TW @mkmcbrayer , and definitely, absolutely, please send me any horror news that I may have missed. Until next week…

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Kids in Horror

It’s time I came clean to you, dear reader, about the trifecta of shit I can’t handle: number one on the list is Evil Kids.

I’ll be the first to admit that all children are feral children, kids are chaotic neutral and we teach them to be good or evil, et cetera, but in the world of books, when there’s a kid, and they’re evil… well. I bust out the wall like the Kool Aid man. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some badass little kids, the ones who negotiate with you for an extra cookie, but when it comes to horror… kids? Fuckin’ nu uh.

I’m Mary Kay McBrayer, true crime author and horror movie podcaster, and most importantly, your Virgil through Book Riot’s weekly horror newsletter, The Fright Stuff. If you, like me, are terrified of evil children, you’re in the fright circle of hell.

Fresh Hells: (FKA new releases)

fever dream by samanta schweblin and megan mcdowell book cover the fright stuffFever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Hooookay, so this one is terrifying. Translated from the Spanish, this novel reads exactly like it sounds: it’s surrealist horror at its very core. When Amanda moves with her family to a new town, she discovers something wrong with her neighbor’s son only because, in fragmented, purposefully disorienting prose, his mother tells on him. The reader spends most of the book on the edge of her seat, wondering what exactly is wrong with David… is he a ghost? a changeling? just a creepy little boy? I’ve been recommending this book to anyone who will listen… not only because I need someone to bond with over my fear of evil kids.

If you like Fever Dream, you should also check out her book of essays that released earlier this year, Mouthful of BirdsPlus, she has a new-to-English book coming out in the spring! (Don’t worry: I won’t let it get past you.)

i am behind you by john ajvide lindqvist book cover the fright stuffI Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

You likely remember this author from his novel and its film adaptation, Let the Right One Inand although I’d argue this one is less viscerally upsetting than the one about the child vampire in Sweden, I Am Behind You does carry on the motif of the evil kid. Something is up with Molly. When an entire campsite wakes up in a landscape of… well… basically NOTHING, we get the sense that this little girl knows more than she lets on… and that maybe she’s responsible.

the quelling barbara barrow book cover the fright stuff newsletterThe Quelling by Barbara Barrow

This book has not one, but TWO evil kids in it: the novel traces the sisters from the violent crime they commit as pre-adolescents through their mental health residency. “The Quelling” references a particularly bizarre therapy that (without giving too much away) also alludes to the trope of the evil child. We get the story from both sisters’ perspectives, as well as their doctor’s, and two direct-care workers, which shows both their unreliability and their confirmation biases. This novel is so unsettling… you’re gonna love it.

Crypt-Keepers: (well-beloved reads that are still on-theme)

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Y’all already probably know that I reference this novel any time I’m able–it’s a true masterpiece from the late, great Toni Morrison. Though it’s based on the true story of a fugitive slave, this book brings a baby ghost back. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling the book: the first line is, “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” Why is she so angry? Look, if you haven’t read this book yet, I don’t know what you have been doing with your life. I really don’t. GET. ON. IT.

Ear Worm: “La Llorona” by Chavela Vargas (This rendition of the song is from Julie Taymor’s film Frida, based on the life of Mexican folk-surrealist painter, Frida Kahlo, but the myth of La Llorona is a terrifying one of a drowned ghost and family annihilator. And how fitting for her to torment children in this newsletter featuring children as tormentors…)


You can win a trip to see the premiere of Doctor Sleep, the latest chapter in Stephen King’s The Shining series.

So, this is more of a news-to-me situation than an actual news situation, but did you know that the original Jack-o-Lanterns were carved from turnips or beets, and that they were HORRIFIC? Check out this post about the Irish folklore to prove me right.

Seven years ago, Donald Ray Pollock hoped there would be someone gutsy enough to adapt his novel, The Devil All the Time into a film. Now, it’s happening. (Slated to release in 2020.)

Want to hear about the history of the maligned first line, “It was a Dark and Stormy Night?” Click here.

Do you want to sleep in the Addams Family Mansion? You do.

Clive Owen will star in a limited series adaptation based on Stephen King’s novel, Lisey’s Story. All eight episodes will be written by King.

Speaking of Kids in Horror, visit the Halloween Museum in Salem, MA that devotes itself to McDonald’s role in the development of Halloween!

The Haunting of Hill House, Netflix’s series inspired by Shirley Jackson’s novel of the same name, is now available on Blu-Ray.

LeVar Burton reads Carmen Maria Machado’s short story “Blur.”

Augusten Burroughs’ new memoir is about his life as a witch.

Will I see you at Spooky Empire in Tampa, FL, this Samhain? (But seriously… are you coming to see me? THIS OUR SPOT! Hollaaaaa!)


I hope you’ve enjoyed this horrorscape of evil children and fresh hells. Y’all come on and follow me through more circles on IG @marykaymcbrayer and TW @mkmcbrayer , and definitely, absolutely, please send me any horror news that I may have missed. Until next week…

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

Books About Horror Movies

Can you recount the Ancient Egyptian curse that Evelyn reads aloud from the Book of the Dead in The Mummy? Do you remember that in Evil Dead, the Necronomicon was bound in human skin? Did you wonder what the binding process was for The Book of the Beast in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and if it was the same for The Witch? 

I’m Mary Kay, your Virgil, and if you answered yes to any of those questions, you might belong in this specific ring of hell: books about horror movies. Welcome to The Fright Stuff, Book Riot’s weekly newsletter about the latest and greatest in horror. This week, we focus on the cinematic, in one way or another.

Ear Worm: “Gimme Some More” by Busta Rhymes (It’s not every day one of the most skillful rappers in the game samples the score of the film that started the slasher subgenre….)

Fresh Hells: (FKA new releases)

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman

In light of all the remakes and reboots happening in the film industry right now, Clay McLeod Chapman’s novel, The Remaking talks about the phenomenon that horror lovers love most, the cursed film. The book takes a revolving perspective, starting with a metaphorical campfire story about the witch exiled from the town, and her fatherless child. The story goes that the mother was burned at the stake, and then her daughter jumped on the pyre with her. The protagonist, Amber, is first cast as the daughter in a low-budget 1970s drive-in feature, and like many child stars, she never fully recovers from it. Amber, however, lives in the shadow of a different kind: this witch doesn’t want her story misrepresented, not even by the sexy new director who insists on casting Amber as the witch in the early 2000s reboot. This movie is perfect for the Halloween season, when all the world’s most beloved franchises get stretched a little further.

robert levy anais nin at the grand guignol cover novella Anais Nin at the Grand Guignol by Robert Levy

This novella is a fun, sexy, macabre spin on the works of renowned author Anais Nin. When the show at the famous morality theater, the Grand Guignol, goes more realistic, more devilish, than ever before, the fictional representation of Anais (as a character) has to save the life of the woman with whom she is infatuated, not to mention her own. Granted, this book doesn’t talk about film specifically, but rather live theater, which produces a very interesting dynamic among audience members as tacit participants, especially in The Grand Guignol, a theater full of sex and murder, and not always in that order.

how to survive a horror movie Seth Grahame-Smith the fright stuff newsletterHow to Survive a Horror Movie by Seth Grahame-Smith

This book is a short, handbook-style manual on how to survive typical horror movie scenarios. It starts with a few personality-quiz type questions to determine if, first, you are in fact in a horror movie, and from there, it produces your survival rates. It’s not a scary book, but it does talk about your shot at living through all the movies that do scare you. Plus, it’s written by Seth Grahame-Smith, executive producer of It (Chapters I & II) and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, among other horror films, so he would know!

SA bradley screaming for pleasure book cover the fright stuffScreaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy by S.A. Bradley

Part memoir and part film criticism, Bradley talks about living in a fundamentalist household, preparing for the apocalypse, and the apocalypse not happening. He then dives deep into the crevasse of scary movies and how they affected his childhood, and adulthood. This book is perfect for those either very well-versed in horror film or interested in becoming more familiar with it. He examines motifs of horror movies, their evolution and new applications, and uses his personal experiences with them to analyze them.

The Crypt-Keepers (FKA, backlist of on-theme reads):

she-wolf a cultural history of female werewolves by hannah priest the fright stuffShe-Wolf: A Cultural History of Female Werewolves edited by Hannah Priest

Though not every representation identified in this book is from film or television–many are from folklore, books, and fairy tales–this collection does very closely examine the trope of the female werewolf and what she represents. It features essays by big names and up-and-comers alike, and Barbara Creed weighs in on Ginger Snaps!

Let Me Clear My Throat by Elena Passarello

This book of essays focuses entirely on memes of the human voice, and while many of them are from film, not all of them are from horror movies. The entire first section, though, is entitled “Screaming Memes,” and if you aren’t yet in love with Marlon Brando via Stanley Kowalski’s STELLA scream, you will be after you read this collection! Want to know why all the screams in old Hollywood movies sound the same? Want to know what a ventriloquist dummy thinks about when he’s ordering his own voice? Want to know why the castrati singers are so sexy? Passarello explains. (Trust me: you want this book.)

Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover

This is THE. ONE. The book about women represented in horror films–and slashers in particular, that pioneered the way into our critical subgenre. Not only is it a really important book of theory, but it’s FUN. The language is accessible, but the ideas are complex. Don’t believe me that it’s a must-read? Carol J. Clover is the one who coined the term, “Final Girl.”

Horror Noire 

horror noire a history of black horror documentary the fright stuff

As you may have noticed, most of the books above are written by men, and nearly all of them are written by white authors. To balance the scales a little, I recommend watching Shudder’s documentary, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, about Black representation in horror film. And once you realize that you love it, read around on Graveyard Shift Sisters, the blog that “purges the Black female horror fan from the margins.” There’s a lot of juicy stuff on there about minorities in horror film. Ashlee Blackwell, executive producer of Horror Noire founded the blog–and ya girl wrote about Midsommar for her!

Other news:

You’ve Been Poisoned Tea Cup and Saucer is a dope allusion to Shirley Jackson, plus look at this craftsmanship!

A new Dracula graphic novel will adhere to Bram Stoker’s plot but use Bela Lugosi’s likeness as the titular role.

Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments was short listed for the Booker Prize before it was officially released.

And of course, don’t forget to pick up your copies of The Remaking and Anais Nin at the Grand Guignol–hot off the press!

That’s all for this week. Y’all be sure to follow me and my bullshit on TW: @mkmcbrayer and IG: @marykaymcbrayer … and always let me know if there’s a bit of horror that I missed!

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

The Freshest Hells, Folk Horror, and More

I bid you welcome. Right here, this is The Fright Stuff, the den of all the scary shit, from the clown with the tear-away face to the woman in the attic… but mostly books, cursed books, books with covers made of human skin, et cetera. I’m Mary Kay, and I’ll be your Virgil.

This week’s earworm is “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac.

The Freshest Hells (FKA New Releases… but LBH, abandon all hope, ye who enter here):

 Monster, She Wrote by Lisa Kroger and Melanie Anderson is basically your necronomicon for all women writing horror. If you’re looking for recommendations, this is your desired circle of hell. There will be your obvious pioneers, like Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson, and you’ll learn about other amazing women whose writing has been buried alive. Essentially, if you’re looking for all the women who were written out of your canon of horror, you’re in the fright place. Bonus: even if you learn nothing–which I seriously doubt possible–you have some damn delightful illustrations. (See if you can spot your favorite horror author’s monster!)

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill is a novel that you really can’t miss if you love family curses, literary horror, and scandal. I couldn’t put it down–I literally sat down with it after opening my mail and did not get up for hours I got so enchanted! Plus, it references all of your favorite Lovecraftian stories while wending its own narrative. Even the narrative perspective is novel, telling the family’s story from before the protagonist’s birth. It’s an origin story of sorts… but more complex. You’re gonna love it.

Other fresh hells: 

HOLD THE PRESS. A24, the film production studio, now has a book imprint. Of its first three volumes (released on Monday, 9/30 with a limited run of 2000), one of them has detailed directorial notes and sketches from Robert Eggers on his film The Witch, AND it comes with writing from Carmen Maria Machado. This first run sold out in a matter of minutes, but you can pre-order the next edition here. SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY, am I right?

Rest in peace, Sid Haig, beloved actor of the horror genre!

Check out these People Pot Pies. Not Sweeney Todd, exactly… better.

And while we’re on the food train, there’s Nightmare Before Christmas themed cereal coming out… I just hope the prize at the bottom of the box isn’t a shrunken head.

And, did you know that Disney world is hosting Nightmare Before Christmas themed Halloween bash?

The new season of American Horror Story has begun: 1984.

You can now stream Ari Aster’s Midsommar online.

Torture of the week is FOLK HORROR:

While the definition of folk horror is subjective, just like any genre boundaries, a consistent motif is obsession with ritual, in particular European or pagan ritual. For film reference, think of David Bruckner’s The Ritual or the aforementioned Ari Aster’s Midsommar. I also argue that Robert Eggers’ film The Witch is folk horror because although it’s set in New England, the characters are all British, as are their traditions and obsessions. (By the way… did you see the interview with Ari Aster and Robert Eggers in this quarter’s FangoriaTalk about wanting to be a fly on the wall!)

Here are a few books that really exemplify folk horror as I understand it:

gingerbread by helen oyeyemi cover the fright stuff newsletterGingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Speaking of family and hereditary traits, if you missed Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi, you’re in for a treat (see what I did there?). This novel wends its nonchronological narrative around the mythos of gingerbread from fairy tales. It’s a truly amazing, horrifying retelling of a family from a nation whose literal existence is disputed, but that is referenced as a “nightmare country” by those who know. It utilizes folklore from England, Scotland, and Wales, like changelings, witches, poison, and magic gingerbread, but it also weaves in the politics of immigration, intergenerational relationships, and love.

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

I had two close friends recommend this book to me in the same week, so I went out, bought it, and had finished it within 48 hours. It’s an amazing folk horror novel about a teenage girl whose father is obsessed with lifestyles during the Bronze Age of northern England. He takes his family on their family vacation to team up with an anthropology class who reenacts life as it happened then. As happens with people obsessed with rituals of bygone barbaric eras, the experience quickly flies off the rails. This book is amazing, and you should read it as soon as you’re able.

Carmilla edit by Carmen Maria Machado (original author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu)

If you know Dracula, you should know Carmilla, too, since she was his predecessor. Though originally published in serial form in 19th century France, this new edit by Carmen Maria Machado brings the story to life with footnotes, backstory, and mythos surrounding the actual novel’s writing as well. In case you missed it, Carmilla is a beautiful girl whose carriage crashes in front of the castle of another beautiful girl, a lonely girl who lives with her father and nurse. A love affair blooms between them, but Carmilla’s aversion to churches and all the rituals of Christianity create supernatural problems between the lovers. It’s absolutely a book you cannot miss. (If for no other reason than its decadent illustrations!)

As always and forevermore, probably, you can find me and my bullshit at my author page, or on Book Riot. And follow me on social media! (TW: @mkmcbrayer , IG: @marykaymcbrayer )

Happy autumn, everyone.

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

The Fright Stuff: Horror From The Backlist

I bid you welcome. Welcome to the prototype of The Fright Stuff weekly newsletter. I’m Mary Kay, and I’ll be your Virgil. This time we journey through the backlist of the horror inferno. If you’re like me (and I assume that everyone is), you consider September 20 WELL INTO Halloween season. Kind of like 5:12 is WELL INTO happy hour. Let’s be honest, though, it’s never NOT Halloween season. From April 1 to September 24 it is summer, and Halloween is year-round. If you’re behind the time of the season, or if you just want to make sure you’re primed for horror, you’re in the right place.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of the top six books to scare the literal shit out of you. (I know that sounds like an overstatement, but I can’t be the only one who, when she gets actually scared, runs to the bathroom to poop. There’s no way I’m the only one affected with that natural selection fail. Quit playing. Be honest. Just don’t take the book with you to the bathroom. Or maybe do… one-stop shopping, if you will.)

As a bonus, I’ll be supplying you with a soundtrack each week, just one song, to accompany your horror shows…

Ear worm of the week:

“Time of the Season” by the Zombies

The List:

cover of toni morrison beloved the fright stuff newsletterBeloved by Toni Morrison

I recommended this book by the late, Great Soul, Toni Morrison, to a literary friend of mine, and he was ill with me because I didn’t tell him it was horror. I said, “Well. It’s about slavery, so… I don’t know what else you needed to know.” In retrospect, I could have told him that there’s a child murder, a spiteful baby ghost, and a narrative of the Middle Passage. This novel is truly one of the most haunting, gripping things I’ve ever read, and I recommend it to everyone I can: I really can’t ever oversell it. I mean, there’s a reason why she won the Nobel Prize.

of love and other demons by gabriel garcia marquez the fright stuff newsletterOf Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

You’ve likely heard of Gabo before, and you probably know him for his magical realism, but this short novel is the epitome of his themes and motifs, plus a demon. The novel takes place in the 1770s in coastal Colombia, with a 12-year-old girl’s birthday and a bite on her ankle from a rabid dog. Her father spends months with professionals and faith healers trying to cure her rabies, and just when he has run out of options, someone suggests that Sierva Maria is actually possessed. Don’t worry: it gets worse.

blood meridian cormac mccarthy the fright stuff newsletterBlood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Honestly, this book is so visceral in the most literal way that I’ve started it three separate times, and I have yet to make it through. A band of mean men join together to bounty hunt and essentially raise hell in the wild west. It’s a tale full of gore and violence during a time of essentially genocide against Native Americans. I’ve tried to read it at Thanksgiving for the past several years because it seems like the appropriate time to set the record straight, but honestly, it is just too atrocious.

james hogg the private memoirs and confessions of a justified sinner cover psychological horror booksThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

I was assigned this novel in college, and I really underestimated its scariness. On his birthday, our protagonist makes a new friend, reading a Bible written in red, who tells him that he is among the Elite, or those souls predestined to go to heaven. Looking for peace of mind, our protagonist believes him. This novel essentially answers the question of what happens when there are no consequences for your actions… and what do you do when you suddenly realize, after all your sinning, that you actually ARE responsible for all your actions?

woman warrior maxine hong kingston“No Name Woman” by Maxine Hong Kingston

This essay is one in the collection called Woman Warriorbut this one in particular makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I reach its conclusion. As an adult, Maxine looks back on the boogeyman story that her mother told her, of the Aunt who got pregnant out of wedlock and drowned herself and her child in the village’s well, and whom, as a punishment, her family has sworn to never mention. The drowned ghost, according to the Chinese, is a spiteful ghost.

mules and men zora neale hurston cover the fright stuff newsletterMules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Let me be clear: it’s only the second half of this book that will scare you, and that’s not even the point of this text. It’s supposed to be (and is) an ethnography of folklore among Black people in the American south. The first half is full of “lies,” as Hurston calls the oral traditions, but the second half details her indoctrination and practice under several hoodoo doctors in New Orleans. It’s scary because it’s unknown–even as she tells certain horrific rituals in detail, Hurston says of others, it’s a secret. It leaves the reader to wonder: if you COULD tell me about love spells and revenge curses, what kinds of horrors CAN’T you tell me?

Fresh Hells:

And speaking of the backlist of horror… did you see that Nickelodeon has released its new trailer for the reboot of Are You Afraid of the Dark? I was never a REAL member of the Midnight Society (mostly because I don’t want to shit in the woods anymore), BUT I do remember watching it through my fingers as a child. Y’ALL. Remember when that girl got trapped in the painting?! That was my JAM. She should have known sooner–what art teacher ENCOURAGES you to only use one brush? Ignorance.

And enjoy that new release of We Have Always Lived in the Castle on Netflix… maybe have a cup of coffee sweetened from this pot.

And in case you need a dose of true crime in your cauldron, Quibi (a new mobile device streaming service) will host Murder House Flip, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a home improvement show for houses in which someone has been killed. Good thing the episodes are short…?

As always and forevermore, probably, you can find me and my bullshit at my author page, or on Book Riot. And follow me on social media! (TW: @mkmcbrayer , IG: @marykaymcbrayer )

Your Virgil,

Mary Kay

The Fright Stuff

6 Nonfiction Horror Books for Those Who Need True Scary Stories

Horror fans! To get the most out of life… you’ve really got to die! Welcome to my grave.

The part of any horror movie that makes it so scary is the reality of it, whether it’s the plausibility of the events or their repercussions happening, the authenticity of the characters, or, as S.A. Bradley puts it, “the stinger.” He says that the stinger “elicits the visceral emotions the [reader] would feel if they were watching the real event…when horror is at its best, it can challenge both sides of an issue without insulting or boring the audience.” Although Bradley was talking specifically about film, I think the concept of “the stinger” extends to literature as well—if not more so. In particular, nonfiction horror books pack a particular punch because, well, it did actually happen, so you have the terror of WILL it happen, on the front end, and then the lingering horror of OH. SHIT. IT DID. FOR REAL.

This list, though, is even more specific than that, because it’s specifically memoir, meaning that all of the terrible things that happen actually happened to the people telling the stories. For me, the experience of reading nonfiction horror books, especially written by the person whom the events affected, is cathartic. I’m the person who watches murder documentaries, listens to true crime podcasts, and reads books like these. Not everyone gets it. Sometime I have to explain. I generally oversimplify it to this: I NEED TO KNOW ALL THE MOST HORRIFIC SHIT SO THAT I CAN AVOID IT.

And then, of course, I need to talk about it. I am a part of the family who, at any social gathering, can be expected to take the conversation somewhere disturbing. For example, when the conversation lulled at Father’s Day dinner, I asked my dad and first cousin, “In a survival situation, who at this table would you eat first?” We all answered the same, laughing: the baby, of course. Like veal, probably. And then finished our meals. (None of this is true. We would never consume human flesh. It was just a game. But still.)

If you’re like me, that’s what you need, though: talking about horror makes you feel ready for it, though there are honestly a million billion other reasons to love true horror stories. If you do, you’re in the right place: here they are, the memoirs for people so looking to be scared that they need the horrors to be true.

SA bradley screaming for pleasure book cover horror memoirScreaming for Pleasure by S.A. Bradley

S.A. Bradley is the author I mentioned above, and his book Screaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy is a genre-bending look at horror film, criticism of it, and personal narratives about how various films impact the narrator.

This book is perfect for those either very well-versed in horror film or interested in becoming more familiar with it. He examines motifs of horror movies, their evolution and new applications, and uses his personal experiences with them to analyze them. In particular, he talks about living in a fundamentalist household, preparing for the apocalypse, and the apocalypse not happening. He then dives deep into the crevasse of scary movies and how they affected his childhood. Or adulthood.

carmen maria machado in the dream house book cover horror memoirIn the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is a memoir that focuses on the horrors of queer domestic abuse. What interested me most about this book (besides its importance to our society, which apparently believes that domestic abuse is not a thing among non-heterosexual couples) is its format. She discusses the self-doubt involved in emotional abuse, the gaslighting, the self-blame, and the doubt about the abuse’s existence, but does it through metaphor. Each chapter examines a different storytelling motif, to make (in my opinion) the narrative itself more accessible. It’s a genius move, super effective, and super scary, since it renders the experience ethereal, surreal. While we never doubt her honesty, we are made to feel the doubt of the narrator in regards to her own experiences. (If you like this book, you should also get Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of stories, Her Body and Other Parties.)

kathryn harrison the kiss horror memoir book coverThe Kiss by Kathryn Harrison

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison is a very short memoir, and it’s told from the perspective of a woman who has a love affair with her biological father. Consensually. She knows who he is. She knows. And yet.

That’s really all there is to say. Just read it. You’ll blow through it in a single sitting. That’s how horrific this memoir is.

ann rule the stranger beside me book cover horror memoirThe Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

You likely know this memoir already as the book on Ted Bundy, but Ann Rule’s classic true crime book The Stranger Beside Me is about so much more than just him. Ann Rule actually knew Bundy, as a friend and a coworker at a suicide hotline. She became a crime writer long after beginning her friendship with him, and even after she was assigned his case, she did not immediately put the pieces together. In fact, while she was first writing about the serial murders, she noted all the similarities of the killer to her friend, Ted, and rejected her own intuition.

This book shows how the deviant mind can trick even those closest to him into believing he would never be capable of the many atrocities which he was consistently committing. Rule illustrates exactly Bradley’s principle of “the stinger” through showing her ambivalence toward her long-time friend. His ability to manipulate the most wary of writers is truly horrifying. Bundy is the worst; Ann Rule is the best.

matt baglio the rite horror memoir book coverThe Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio

If you’re familiar with William Blatty’s book The Exorcistyou’ll like Matt Baglio’s memoir, The Rite: The Making of a Modern ExorcistThis memoir details the training of an American priest in Rome, learning how to exorcise demons. It’s a true story, and not meant to scare, but hearing the recounting of actual demon possession, and how many sessions cannot often exorcise them, is truly haunting.

This book also details the convention of exorcism and demon possession as documented by the Catholic faith. It also talks responsibly about the process of exorcism, and how it has often been performed incorrectly, which results in torture and sometimes death. It’s a true terror.

whoever fights monsters robert ressler tom perkins horror memoir book coverWhoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman

You may have heard of Robert Ressler before, but if you haven’t, you’re definitely familiar with works for which he’s been consulted. Thomas Harris utilized the FBI criminal profiler’s expertise for authenticity when writing the Silence of the Lambs trilogy, so if you liked/loved Hannibal Lecter, you have to read this memoir.

The title, Whoever Fights Monsters, is this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Which is perfect, because Ressler was on the forefront of developing the process of criminal profiling (so that it wasn’t just straight-up racism, as it had once been), meaning he interviewed all of the worst men in existence. This memoir is his recounting of those experiences. You won’t be able to put it down. (I actually got it on audiobook, and believe, me, my house has never been cleaner…although I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I found myself leaning against the counter with a dripping mop listening to Tom Perkins narrate these experiences.)

Because there are not a lot of horror memoirs written by authors of color, the last text is the documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black HorrorThe film interviews filmmakers, actors, and theorists about the roles of Black people in horror film. Though it’s not written down, each person interviewed states their personal experiences with horror, which I think definitely qualifies as horror memoir.

If you like memoir, but you don’t need it to be horror, you should check out this post next! And if you like horror, but you don’t need it to be memoir, check out this one! And if you noticed that I’m missing a really important book from this list, by allllll means, please. Let me know!