Return of the Living Featured Creatures: Chicago Horror Creators Share Favorite Fictional Terrors

It’s Halloween, and everyone’s entitled to one good scare. Lucky you. Third Coast Review has once again asked several Chicago area horror writers and artists for their recommendations on the best horror you haven’t heard of. Looking for a frightening read, vision, or listen? Here’s a selection of tips for you.

Recommended by Donald J. Bingle

Although principally known for her multicultural steampunk anthology, Steampunk World, and her collection of short horror romance tales, Dead Girls Don’t Love, midwestern teacher Sarah Hans has delivered one of the year’s best debut horror novels with Entomophobia. Life for her protagonist, Meri, is hard and depressing, and getting worse every day. Meri not only has money troubles, but a severe phobia, a psychotic ex-husband, an overbearing mother, an alcoholic ex-boyfriend, a daughter caught in the crossfire of a bitter divorce…and a curse. Entomophobia is creepy, raw, psychological horror that is not only totally original in concept and vivid and brutally honest in execution, but also has such credible dialogue and such a fluid narrative that it makes for a compelling, fast, and devastating read. (I read it in a single day, turning each page wondering–and a bit afraid of–what would happen next.) Certainly among the best horror novels I have ever read.

Sarah wrote the opening tale in Familiar Spirits, a ghost story anthology I edited six years ago, and her writing just keeps getting better and better. Find out more about her at sarahhans.com.

Donald J. Bingle, is the author of eight books and more than 60 shorter works in the horror, thriller, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, comedy, and memoir genres, including The Love-Haight Case Files, Books 1 and 2, about two young lawyers representing the legal rights of supernatural creatures treated as other-than-human in modern-day San Francisco, and Frame Shop, a tale of murder in a suburban writers’ group, punctuated by violence, humor, and occasional writing advice. Find more about Don at donaldjbingle.com or catch his stories on Vocal or Simily.

Recommended by Shawnna Deresch

Born in New York and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, author Scott Kenemore now calls Evanston, Illinois his home. His humor/satire book The Zen of Zombie: Better Living through the Undead published in 2007 launched him as a master of zombie literature. His other works such as Z.E.O. published in 2009 and The Art of Zombie War published in 2010 solidified him as a guru of zombie self-help books. His love affair with zombies began because of how relatable they are. Kenemore wrote and read scary stories when he was young, but credited H.P. Lovecraft’s work which he read at the age of 10, as what boosted his love of horror. His national bestselling novel Zombie, Ohio published in 2011, weaved horror and humor as college professor Peter Mellor becomes a zombie after a car crash and struggles to keep his brains about him without eating the brains of the survivors during the apocalypse. Kenemore followed that up with the sequel, Zombie, Illinois, which tells the stories of three Chicagoans during the first 24 hours of a zombie outbreak. He rounded out the series with the 2014 novel Zombie, Indiana. His most recent novel published in 2020, Lake of Darkness, is cosmic and uncanny horror that follows the story of officer Joe “Flip” Flippity who is investigating a serial “decapitationist” in Chicago during World War I. In this tale, Kenemore tackles issues such as race/class/power with a touch of supernatural.

Kenemore is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Zombie Research Society. He’s also the drummer for the pop-punk band The Blissters. Kenemore can be found at scottkenemore.com or Twitter @ScottKenemore.

Shawnna Deresch is a Chicago-based horror and dark fiction author. She is the Horror Writers Association Chicagoland Chapter Coordinator. Shawnna can be found at shawnnaderesch.com or Twitter @shawnnaderesch. Her short stories have appeared in Kandisha Press’ Women of Horror Anthology, Vol. 3 and D&T Publishing’s ABC’s of Terror, Vol. IV.

Art by Don England

Recommended by Corinne Halbert

Don England is an exceptional artist and fantastic person. His love of horror and dedication to his artwork is palpable and inspiring. 

I’ve been a fan of Don’s work for years. He’s had multiple designs printed by one of my favorite Horror Merch companies, Pallbearer Press. His work has been published into collections, such as Masters of the Dark Art Vol. 1 and Late Night Snack. Check out his art on Instagram: instagram.com/donaldengland_art and you can support him here: etsy.com/shop/dengland71.

I asked him a few questions so we can learn more about the man behind the monsters.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Well I’ve been a horror and comic fan since as long as I can remember. Grew up spending a lot of time watching late night cable, shopping at the comic stores and drawing whenever I could.

Is there a particular horror sub genre that you are most excited by? Monsters, body horror, slashers, psychedelic horror etc. 

I like a wide variety of horror but if I had to narrow it down I’d probably say slashers as a sub genre.

When did you first get into horror? 

I’d have to go back to early grade school years, I’d watch Sir Graves on Saturdays. He would play a lot of the classic horrors.

At what age did you start drawing? 

My mother painted and she started me drawing before I can actually remember. So pretty much as soon as I could hold a pencil.

What are your favorite works in horror? From the arena of film, artists, horror comics etc.

Films, Texas Chainsaw is my personal favorite. Artist Bernie Wrightson tops the list. Comics, Deadworld is a favorite. It was the first Indy black and white comic I had bought and Locke’s art just drew me in; never seen anything like it at the time.

Can you tell us about any fun commissions or collaborations that you are particularly fond of?

One of my favorite commissions is the cover I do every year for Erie Tales. It’s an anthology that comes out yearly from the Great Lakes Horror Writers. Each year is a theme and every cover has to have a lighthouse. So it’s become fun trying to figure out what to do with the lighthouse every year. It’s been earrings, a fabric pattern, a Rorschach test.

Corinne Halbert is a Chicago horror artist with an extensive book collection. Her work is heavily influenced by an avid obsession with 1970s cult films and vintage comics. She is the creator of Acid Nun.

Recommended by Christopher Hawkins

The Twenty Percent True Podcast is a treasure trove of ghost stories, cryptids, and twisted fairy tales. It’s the brainchild of Carolyn Rahaman, a local author who writes, produces and hosts the show with flair and a keen instinct for what makes a great story. While not horror per se (at least not always), it has a lot to offer fans of strange creatures, tall tales and folklore. It’s a great listen, and, with eight seasons and counting, there’s plenty to keep your ears busy during Chicago’s blustery autumn days.

Christopher Hawkins is an award-winning Chicago-area dark fiction writer, with short stories appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies. His debut collection of short stories, Suburban Monsters, arrives in March from Coronis Publishing. For more information about his upcoming projects, visit his website, christopher-hawkins.com, or follow him on Twitter @chrishawkins.

Recommended by Brian Pinkerton

In The Sorrows, Jonathan Janz composes horror with sweeping grandeur, artfully shifting from finely tuned solos that define individual cast members to full-blooded orchestration when the shit hits the fan. Musicians Ben and Eddie are struggling against a looming deadline to score a new movie. They rent a studio at Castle Blackwood on a remote island, hoping for a muse. That muse becomes much more than they bargained for when they encounter a demonic presence that embodies dark secrets from the castle’s tortured past. Janz amplifies Ben and Eddie’s journey with an ensemble of supporting characters who share the story’s perspective in swirling surround sound. He masterfully conducts the simmering backstory tensions and layers them into a crescendo of depravity for a dynamic finale that hits all the right notes.

One of the Midwest’s great horror talents, Janz lives in Indiana, but we consider him an honorary Chicagoan. He’s a die-hard Cubs fan, and when he’s not penning memorable novels, you might find him cheering on his favorite team at Wrigley Field.

Brian Pinkerton is the USA Today bestselling author of The Nirvana Effect, a dystopian horror novel about a future society enslaved by technology. Find him at brianpinkerton.com and @BrianJPinkerton.

Recommended by J. Rohr

The Midwest is more than a matter of geography. It’s a mentality composed of suburban sprawl, hostility hidden under a polite façade, and the nerve-crackling implication of vast galactic emptiness implied by long, vacant rural routes. Its landscape as well as psychosocial demands make the Midwest a truly horrifying place to live and author Kyle Winkler expertly captures that.

Winkler, author of The Nothing That Is, Oh Pain, and recently, Boris Says the Words crafts fabulous metaphors for all of life’s trivial concerns, especially the Midwestern variety. Many of which seem monumentally important until something unfathomably sinister sinks in its teeth. Yet, Winkler shines by juxtaposing everyday horror—those deaths by a thousand cuts—against incomprehensible hideousness of a cosmic variety. It’s all done in crisp prose that gets to the point and sticks to it for a tight, effortless read.

Winkler’s writing is wonderfully brief while remaining rich in implicative details. Furthermore, there’s a marvelously inventive uniqueness to some of the frights fabricated. Unsettling, and saturated in, as his own site says, humor and despair, the weird and wonderful works of Kyle Winkler are well-worth exploring.

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. Currently, he writes articles for Horror Obsessive. His fiction has appeared in anthologies such as Decades of San Cicaro, a list of which can be found at his site Honesty is Not Contagious. To deal with life’s more corrosive aspects, he makes music in the band Beerfinger.

Recommended by Richard Thomas

There are many great authors of dark fiction in Chicago, but as I live in the northern suburbs now, I tend to get up into Wisconsin on a regular basis. It’s there that I discovered and got to know one of my favorite horror authors, Sarah Read.

Sarah started out as a student of mine, but quickly evolved, not only publishing widely, but taking on an editing role for various projects. Along the way she wrote a novel—The Bone Weaver’s Orchard. I was honored when she approached me to edit it, before she shopped it around to try to find an agent and/or press. I’d loved her shorter work (some of which got into The Best Horror of the Year anthologies) and I even taught some of those stories in my classes (such as “Endoskeletal”). But as I read and edited her first novel, I kept thinking to myself that The Bone Weaver’s Orchard was something special—dark, complex, unsettling, and original. So I wasn’t that surprised when JournalStone (Trepidatio) scooped it up. And then it took off—getting great reviews and blurbs, from voices such as Bird Box author Josh Malerman, and Stranded author Bracken MacCleod. When I saw it made the Bram Stoker Ballot for First Novel, I was thrilled. And when it won the award, I felt like a proud papa—or maybe a beaming big brother.

What I’m trying to say here is that if you aren’t reading Sarah Read yet, you need to change that. Her stories are everywhere, and The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is a book you MUST pick up this Halloween season. The Old Cross School for Boys? Following pet insects to a pool of blood behind a false wall? A ragged grey figure stalking the abbey halls at night? What’s not to love? In fact, here’s my official blurb for the book:

“Sarah Read is one of the best authors currently writing contemporary dark fiction, and this is a journey you’ll want to take with your eyes open wide and your coat pulled tight. A haunting, lyrical, visceral story.”

Keep an eye on Sarah Read—she’s doing amazing things, and she’s only getting better.

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of three novels, four short story collections, 170 stories in print, and the editor of four anthologies. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Thriller, and Audie awards. Visit whatdoesnotkillme.com for more information.

Dan Kelly
Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly has been a writer and editor for 30 years, contributing work to the Chicago Reader, Chicago Journal, The Baffler, Harvard Magazine, The University of Chicago Magazine, and others.

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