Whether you’re frightened by the extraordinary or the monsters we can become, Halloween is the perfect time to indulge in spine-tingling reads. From mysteries to short stories, from nonfiction to classic horror, the editors of Writer’s Digest share their scariest reads.
"I'd always been warned that The Shining was King's scariest book, but Salem's Lot was the one that got my imagination working the most. Even in the light-hearted environs of an all-male dormitory on an urban college campus, I felt like vampires must be hovering just outside my window—ready to get me whenever I was foolish enough to fall asleep."
—Robert Lee Brewer, Senior Content Editor of Writer’s Market
"There’s a short story that I read in high school that really scared me, and I’ve reread it a number of times since then: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. It was written in 1966, and was inspired by an article in Life magazine about a serial killer in Tucson, Arizona.
The story is about a narcissistic 15-year-old named Connie who spends her evenings flirting with boys at the local Big Boy. She ends up attracting the attention of a creepy older guy, who follows her home. She’s home alone—her parents are away at a barbecue or something—and the guy insists she come for a ride with him. He makes some veiled threats, and in the end she leaves with him. Then the story just ends. We don’t know her fate. The central irony of the story is that her beauty, which she values above all else, ultimately leads her into this awful situation.
What makes the story particularly unsettling is the subtle menace behind the bad guy, Arnold Friend. Oates doesn’t have him drag Connie into his car or pull out a gun, but uses big chunks of dialogue to establish this sinister undertone that, by the end, almost makes the reader queasy. Definitely worth a read!"
—Tyler Moss, Managing Editor of Writer’s Digest
"It terrified me because truth is always scariest than fiction. It took a serious look at exorcisms and possession, and made me believe that some scary things are very real in our world."
—Chuck Sambuchino, Editor of Guide to Literary Agents and Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market
"I'd say Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn—not because the book was scary, but it was scary how betrayed I felt when learning Amy's true character; I'd identified with the good Amy and couldn't believe I'd been duped by her, like Nick was."
—Baihley Grandison, Assistant Editor of Writer’s Digest
"Stephen King's short story "The Man in the Black Suit" has always unnerved me. Having spent time playing in the woods with friends growing up, there's something creepy about them as you venture further in. While a simple story, and not necessarily all that original, with the devil appearing as an ordinary man to the young boy Gary, it's the way that King describes the entire scene that makes it both surreal and believable. I think the childhood fear of strangers, and constantly being told to avoid strangers, comes into play here, too. The man in the black suit is the worst of the exaggerated stories that parents tell their kids when they tell them to stay away from strangers. Combine this all with the fact that Gary, now telling the story as an old man, escaped the devil by pure luck makes it especially eerie. At his age, it seems unlikely that the inevitable second encounter with death and the devil will play out in his favor."
—Cris Freese, Associate Editor of Writer’s Digest Books
"While most books and movies don’t scare me, The Long Walk by Stephen King (written under the alias Richard Bachman) has terrified me for years. I have this reoccurring nightmare that I’m part of the walk, having to keep up and stay above that dreaded 4 miles per hour in order to avoid the ultimate penalty of being shot and killed. I envision that some of my friends are part of it too, so not only am I scared for myself I’m scared for them. I know other novels since have followed this model of survival of the fittest, but nothing will quite freak my out like The Long Walk."
—Brian Klems, Online Editor
"This is one kept me up at night. What’s particularly frightening about this book is the antagonistic force preys on the vulnerable—kids, the elderly, those who are isolated—and hides from anyone who can help. The unpredictably of this force, and the inability of the characters to find a protector, scared me the most."
—Chelsea Henshey, Associate Editor for Writer’s Digest Books
Chelsea Henshey is an associate editor for Writer’s Digest Books. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaLHenshey