Book Club Nominees

Paint a picture with 5 Horror Novels about Artists

by @Wytwavedarling (Jennifer), curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for November’s “The Art of the Night” category

We’ve all read horror novels centered on writers and artists, but what about stories centered on or directed by the work of such artists? They’re out there, and this category seeks to explore them. In the spirit of books such as Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray, King’s vision of art interacting with reality in Duma Key, and the very act of artistic creation so central to Frankenstein, I present to you books that seek to showcase artistic vision rather than artistic figures alone, where music, film, and art are central to a story’s meaning and delivery. 

Cover of The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros. Cover shows a sepia colored photograph of an old small town cobblestone street lined with storefronts.

The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros

“One has to write with considerable authenticity to pull off a story steeped in magic and swamp water that examines race and class, death and rebirth, Haitian voodoo, and the beginnings of jazz in 1891 New Orleans. Maistros’s gritty debut novel follows the interconnected lives of the Morningstar siblings–all lovingly named by their father after disease– as they wrestle with a powerful demon, con outsiders, kill and die, die and are reborn. The plot is complex and magical, grounded in the history of the city, without being overly sentimental. There is a comfort with death as a part of life in this work that reveals deep feeling for the city and its past. Of course, every novel about New Orleans must have a good hurricane. Like the one in Zora Neale Hurston’s classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, this hurricane destroys the city while making hope possible. Highly recommended for all fiction collections, especially where there is an interest in jazz.” (Library Journal)

This is the book that, in many ways, inspired this category. I discovered this novel soon after it was first published by Toby Press, and its mixture of horror, jazz, and gorgeous prose fascinated me from the beginning. It translates jazz and music into atmosphere in a way that I’ve seen few works of prose deliver, and although it’s debatable whether this is more horror or magical realism, or simply indefinable, it is worth reading. If you want to take a chance on a dark, historical depiction of New Orleans that’s just a little bit long (Amazon says the book is 452 pages, though the one delivered to my mailbox is 410), I hope you’ll pick this up at some point even if you don’t vote for it now. The book has been revised/expanded since I read it, so what’s on sale is a version I have not read, but am anxious to try.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Lost Village by Camilla Sten. Cover shows a dark, weathered wooden abandoned house standing against a stark landscape.

The Lost Village by Camilla Sten

Documentary filmmaker Alice Lindstedt has been obsessed with the vanishing residents of the old mining town, dubbed “The Lost Village,” since she was a little girl. In 1959, her grandmother’s entire family disappeared in this mysterious tragedy, and ever since, the unanswered questions surrounding the only two people who were left—a woman stoned to death in the town center and an abandoned newborn—have plagued her. She’s gathered a small crew of friends in the remote village to make a film about what really happened. But there will be no turning back. Not long after they’ve set up camp, mysterious things begin to happen. Equipment is destroyed. People go missing. As doubt breeds fear and their very minds begin to crack, one thing becomes startlingly clear to Alice: They are not alone. They’re looking for the truth… But what if it finds them first? (Amazon)

I’m a sucker for haunted/bad house novels, and in some ways, it sounds like Sten has expanded that sort of story to focus on a small village. Add in a documentary film crew that’s not just there to find evidence, but tell a story, and I can’t wait to see how the goal of putting together a documentary feeds into a horror story like this one. It’s just been released, and Sten is a new author to me.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Shockadelica by Jon O’Bergh. Cover shows a silhouette of a figure, minus the face, in purple and orange colors, with goat ears and horns. The image is psychedelic in appearance, with various swirling colors.

Shockadelica by Jon O’Bergh

Two horror podcasters—drag artist Kendall Akande and best friend Jenna Chen—share a passion for art, fashion, and horror. When they learn their Victorian-era apartment building might be haunted, they see an opportunity for an entertaining podcast episode. But as they investigate further with the help of their quirky neighbors, they uncover something far more sinister. Their quest brings them face to face with a house of curiosities, a witch, and an intimidating musician named the Bone Man with tattoos of serial killers on his arms. Then a stranger appears who promises protection if Kendall sacrifices something of value. While Kendall struggles to understand his recurring nightmare and the demands of the stranger, Jenna struggles to cope with her grandmother’s dementia. As the ghosts of the past become entwined with the growing terror, Kendall and Jenna must use their creativity to confront the evil force that threatens them all. (Amazon)

This book centers on a couple of podcasters who ‘share a passion for art, fashion, and horror’, but from what I’ve read, music plays a real role in how the story plays out while also providing direct atmosphere and direction to the novel. The author is a musician as well as a writer, too, so it seems worthwhile to see how he’d write music into his stories. The author is new to me, and I’m anxious to try him out. The cool extra with this one is that there’s an album of music to accompany it, available on ‘most streaming sites’, supposedly as written by one of the characters in the novel.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Last Ritual: An Arkham Horror Novel by S.A. Sidor. Cover shows an art deco image of a 1920s style building that looks like a very large hotel or apartment building. In an image below that are three figures, two standing together, and one coming in the door, against an art deco backdrop.

The Last Ritual: An Arkham Horror Novel by S.A. Sidor

Aspiring painter Alden Oakes is invited to join a mysterious art commune in Arkham: the New Colony. When celebrated Spanish surrealist Juan Hugo Balthazarr visits the colony, Alden and the other artists quickly fall under his charismatic spell. Balthazarr throws a string of decadent parties for Arkham’s social elite, conjuring arcane illusions which blur the boundaries between nightmare and reality. Only slowly does Alden come to suspect that Balthazarr’s mock rituals are intended to break through those walls and free what lies beyond. Alden must act, but it might already be too late to save himself, let alone Arkham. (Amazon)

This is a stand-alone novel within the Arkham Horror series of novels, and with it being based on a “mad surrealist’s art threaten[ing] to rip open the fabric of reality” (Amazon), it sounds like the perfect novel for this category. Visual art being central to short stories in the horror realm seems fairly common, but I’ve had a hard time finding it in novels, so I was excited to come across this one.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite. Cover shows leafless trees against a purple and pink sky. In the center is an image of a man's face. A claw is reaching toward the face, and the man doesn't seem to be trying to escape.

Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite

In the house on Violin Road he found the bodies of his brother, his mother, and the man who killed them both–his father… Trevor ran for his sanity and his soul, after his famous cartoonist father had exploded inexplicably into murder and suicide. Now Trevor is back. In the company of a New Orleans computer hacker on the run from the law, Trevor has returned to face the ghosts that still live on Violin Road, to find the demons that drove his father to murder his family–and worse, to spare one of his sons…. But as Trevor begins to draw his own cartoon strip, as he loses himself in a haze of lines and art and thoughts of the past, the haunting begins. Trevor and his lover plunge into a cyber-maze of cartoons, ghosts, and terror that will lead either to understanding–true understanding–or to a blood-raining repetition of the past.

This is probably the most well-known book on my list, and it’s one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. It supposedly ‘reimagined the haunted house novel for the 1990s’ (book jacket), and when you combine that with writing/cartoon strips and Brite’s writing, I have to think the result will be fantastic. This is another one that’s slightly on the long side (my mass market paperback is just over 400 pages), but since we’ve read some dense shorter works, I think the ease of reading with this one would make up for the length.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these five books, HOWLers chose to read Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite. Join HOWL Society on Monday, November 1, 2021 to begin discussion!

Jennifer (a.k.a. wytwavedarling) is a full-time freelance editor specializing in Horror, Fantasy, Suspense, and Science Fiction. Her love of horror started when she discovered an abandoned copy of a King book in her elementary school’s library, right around 3rd grade, and grew from there. She now lives in Florida, where she splits her time between editing for indie clients and for a couple of small publishers. She also writes in her spare time–her first chapbook of poetry, Oil Slick Dreams, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2016–and she currently has a novel under consideration with publishers, through her agent Matt Belford at Tobias Literary. You can find her online on Twitter: @wytwavedarling. If you’re interested in editing, her DMs are always open to writers.

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