Return of the Revenge of the Featured Creatures Massacre IV: Chicago Area Horror Writers Share Horror Recommendations

Once again, it’s time for me to slip out of my TCR Lit Editor role and into my Crypt-Keeper robe. In celebration of Samhain, I contacted several Chicago-area horror writers and asked them to suggest their favorite local horror creators. If you’re looking for a few extra chills on this frigid Halloween, check out the following—as well as the writings of our gracious/ghoulish guests. Many thanks to the writers below, and Happy Halloween to all!—Dan Kelly

Recommended by Donald J. Bingle

Not all ghost stories and horror novels need to be grisly or gory. Atmospheric horror as an overlay to mystery can be effective, too, and may appeal to an even broader audience. R.G. Ziemer's The Ghost of Jamie McVay has everything you could want from a novel: coming of age, family, secrets, danger, love, loss, life, death, afterlife, and, most of all, redemption. Told with vibrant, flowing prose from the point of view of a likable, loner teen, the events and the emotions portrayed—from mundane to mystical—all feel natural and believable. The local Illinois history and sense of time and place of the setting envelops the reader with casual authenticity. And a consistent, relatable voice and a quietly compelling plot make for an easy, enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

R.G. Ziemer was born and bred on Chicago's south side where he learned to appreciate a good story. He has taught English from junior high to college, but also worked in construction. These days he might be found canoeing near his home on the DuPage River west of the city. He also teaches writing at the College of DuPage, publishes poetry and short fiction, is a practicing genealogist, and participates in local writing groups.

Recommended by Donald J. Bingle, author of eight books and more than 70 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. He also edited Familiar Spirits, an anthology of spooky ghost stories. His latest release is Morse Code Mysteries and Missives. See more at donaldjbingle.com.

Recommended by Lauren Bolger

I’ve wanted to read This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno for a while now. I only recently found out he’s a Chicago author.

The first thing that drew me to the book was the cover. It’s an experience. You suspect that if you stare too long at that thin red strip in the center, those radiating lines will move, and something might happen. The cover fits well with the novel. From the very beginning, this book is about Death; capital “D” intended.

The story begins with a funeral, which we see plenty of in horror. But I didn’t find myself thinking about the usual tropes. Good authors can do that, of course. If everything feels genuine, then you’re just into it, you know?

The main character, Thiago, tells the whole story as though he’s telling it to Vera, his deceased wife. A very different choice that worked well. Their relationship, and Thiago’s personality and quirks, are front and center through much of the beginning. His relationship with her mother, Diane, feels flawed, but whole, which becomes more and more crucial to the story as well.

The way he ushers in the dread, the odd things that happened to him before Vera’s death—such as when he was still half-asleep, mistaking the window for the bathroom door… I love when an author can make objects horrifying. Early on in the book, when so much is still steeped in enigma, that hovering “something", which is so close to being tangible, looms large. When things escalated, I found myself reading some masterful horror set pieces. Body horror, more creeping dread, scenes that make you want to squeeze your eyes shut as if you’re watching a movie, and some of my favorite cosmic horror scenes ever. His musings on death, whether it’s personally based on each person’s beliefs, or just nothingness forever, or something even worse, haven’t left my mind since I finished. And that ending, ah! A beautiful and horrifying read with heart and sorrow I won’t forget.

Lauren Bolger is a horror writer who, after all these years, is still easily startled. Her debut novel, Kill Radio, about a crystal radio that opens a portal to hell, was released April 2023 with Malarkey Books. She also plays the drums, which her husband, kids, and cat so graciously tolerate. Find more on her news, appearances, and publications at laurenbolger.com.

Recommended by John Everson

Chicago novelist Brian Pinkerton has been creeping out readers for almost 20 years with novels of suspense and horror. His first mass market paperbacks were taut thrillers (Abducted, Vengeance) released by New York’s Leisure Books. But I first read Brian through his fourth novel, a fast-paced horror thriller called Rough Cut, which to me is the perfect novel to read for Halloween. It’s a story about down-and-out horror film director Harry Tuttle, who is desperately trying to recover his lost box office hitmaker status. You might even say he’d kill for the opportunity. To quote the back, “A suspicious film critic, beautiful young starlet, and deranged fan become entangled in the cut-throat competition where hungry hopefuls will go to any means necessary to break into the big-time…and no one is safe.”

I first read Rough Cut (2011) because it was published by independent publisher Bad Moon Books and they asked me to create the book cover art (I used to create covers for several small presses). I read the novel to figure out what to do for the cover and couldn’t put it down. I fell in love with the book and created what is probably one of my best book covers. This story will creep you out and keep you turning the pages until the bloody conclusion… it is a no-let-up spiraling thrill ride.  

Brian has written many novels since then, and recently has veered into sci-fi thriller territory with The Gemini Experiment and The Nirvana Effect. His latest, however, is another title perfect for Halloween reading because, like Rough Cut, it will provide the feeling of a great drive-in movie. While Rough Cut offers the “behind-the-scenes” grindhouse horror of horror film, The Intruders (Flame Tree Press) will make you think of those black and white drive-in movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and The Day The Earth Stood Still…with maybe a touch of Stranger Things. When Greg Garrett returns home from a business trip to Engles, Indiana, he discovers his wife and children have disappeared. Others are also disappearing without a trace, but that’s just the beginning of a strange incursion of not-rain, swarms of deadly insects, and desperately mute ghosts. I’ll leave it to you to discover the terrifying secret behind The Intruders. You can find Brian’s novels online at the usual bookstores, or visit his website for more info at brianpinkerton.com.

John Everson is a Bram Stoker Award-winning horror author with more than 100 published short stories and 14 novels of horror and dark fantasy currently in print. His first novel, Covenant, won the Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel in 2005. His sixth novel, NightWhere, was a Bram Stoker Finalist in 2013. His fourteenth novel, the long-awaited NightWhere sequel The Night Mother, was released in June 2023. His characters Danika and Mila Dubov appear in the Netflix series V Wars.

Recommended by Aleco Julius

Bleak landscapes, fog-shrouded castle ruins, dark and stormy skies. These are the images elicited by dungeon synth, a style of music that is currently experiencing a new golden age of dreary output. Usually instrumental, this music juxtaposes fantasy elements with ominous, inward-searching journeys of dreadful beauty. This isn’t just a Halloween atmosphere, it’s an everyday state of mind. 

One new project that all fans of dark music should celebrate is Great Lakes Dungeon Synth, a collective of musicians whose vision is to establish a thriving scene in the Midwest. Led by Chicago artist Nightshade, the collective aims to bring attention to this deeply evocative music, through performances and recordings. He wishes for the project to “usher in a new era of dungeon synth oneness through our variety of artists and general fellowship with the global movement.”

If you’re in Chicago, I implore you to experience the gloom of Nightshade and The Human Veil and Sombre Arcane (the latter will headline a show on November 12, at Cole’s Bar). Find more information about these shadowy artists and their upcoming, often free, performances at greatlakesdungeonsynth.com

Aleco Julius is a member of the Horror Writers Association. His writing has appeared in Dark Matter Magazine, Vastarien, Hellebore, Anterior Skies, Myth & Lore, and more. His book of essays, Endless Depths: Cosmic Themes, Weird Lore, & Hidden Knowledge, releases on November 6. Find him on Instagram as @dagger_of_the_mind. He lives under the airplane flight paths of Midway Airport.

Recommended by Scott Kenemore

I very much enjoyed Suburban Monsters, the 2023 horror story collection by Chicago-area author Christopher Hawkins. Christopher’s stories remind me of the work of contemporary writers like Bentley Little because—though all falling within a “big tent” definition of horror—you really never know what you’re in for. The tone and content can vary wildly, as can the depths to which the narrative is likely to descend. Sometimes, the tales lead will you to an amusing stumble that only goes down a step or two, but in others you’re going to find yourself falling straight down an elevator shaft before you even know what the hell is happening.

Most of the tales in Suburban Monsters take place in the suburbs, or at least in suburb-adjacent settings. Reading the collection, what struck me was how strange it is that more horror stories are not set in the pristine environs of white picket fences and manicured lawns. After all, so much effective horror involves something that first appears safe (a favorite food, a children’s carnival, a zombie-proof bunker) being gradually revealed as unsafe, or something that first appears familiar (a beloved corporate mascot, a summer camp, a trusted religious officiant) being gradually revealed as incomprehensibly alien and “other.” The suburbs have been tirelessly, some would say tiresomely, explored in works of mainstream, midcentury fiction like Revolutionary Road and John Updike’s “Rabbit” novels. But it seems to me, it doesn’t get much darker than the fact that the suburbs can suck you in, and then make you decide you like it there. You become vaguely unfulfilled, and then your wife develops a prescription speed problem, and… Zzzzz. Oh, excuse me. Anyhow, in delightful contrast to this, Hawkins’ suburbs feature actual scenarios of terror, from piñatas full of offal, to basements that incubate super-villains, to mysterious workplaces where it’s difficult to discern with any precision which of your colleagues are, or ever were in any real sense, “alive.” If Richard Yates’ work was already devastating enough for you, then by all means give this collection a hard pass. But if you put down Revolutionary Road wondering what the hell all these good-looking, financially successful suburbanites were so angsty over, then I have good news: Christopher Hawkins is here to give them a few things to really worry about.

Scott Kenemore is a horror writer who has lived in the Chicago area since 2004. His most recent novel is Lake of Darkness. Lake of Darkness was published in 2020 by Skyhorse Publishing.

Recommended by Cynthia Pelayo

Michael Allen Rose has been busy.

Rose is an author, musician, and performance artist based in the Chicago area. He is an award-winning author whose works include The Last 5 Minutes of the Human Race: An Apocalyptic Coloring Book, with artist Jim Agpalza, which was recently nominated for a Wonderland Award for Best Collection, Jurassichrist a 2021 Wonderland Award-Winning Novel for Best Novel, Embry: Hard Boiled, and more.

Rose is also the President of the Bizarro Writers Association. The Bizarro Writers Association holds an annual conference, BizarroCon, in Portland, Oregon. He is also active in the Horror writing genre and others. Rose is an eternal champion for supporting writers and highlighting all things related to kindness in the area of writing and publishing.

You can learn more about Michael Allen Rose at michaelallenrose.com

Cynthia Pelayo is a Bram Stoker Award and International Latino Book Award-winning author and poet. Her works include Children of ChicagoThe Shoemaker's Magician, and Crime Scene. Her forthcoming novel, Forgotten Sisters will be released in March 2024. Preorder Forgotten Sisters here.

Recommended by Damian Serbu

Anyone interested in queer horror needs to know the name Rick R. Reed. I’ve read Reed’s stories for a long time, and he never disappoints. He dabbles in a variety of genres, including gay romance, suspense, and, of course, horror. Just thinking about his volume of published works exhausts me! More amazingly, he produces this amount of material with a consistently high quality of writing and storytelling.

Reed roots a lot of his haunts and scares in the Midwest, particularly in Chicago. He grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio; attended university in Ohio; and after graduating lived for a long time in Chicago. This background led him to set his stories in these familiar places. I love how he crafts a narrative you could set almost anyplace, but then he creates a profound depth and sense of the familiar by using midwestern locations.

The amount of material to choose from had me staring at my bookshelf for a long time, trying to select a great example. When I spotted A Demon Inside, I knew at least one novel to feature! Hunter Beaumont, the main character who resides in Chicago, gets a deathbed wish from his grandmother to destroy an old family house in remote Wisconsin. LGBTQIA+ readers will relate to the notion of having fled tiny Midwest locations to find acceptance and community in the big city. Yet often the pull of home and the past generates a yearning for a slower pace. As with Hunter, this can come during a period of loss or sorrow. Of course, venturing into the Wisconsin woods also furnishes a great way to scare the crap out of readers. Reed makes Hunter a sympathetic character, and the Midwest locations provide perfect fodder for a haunted story with meaning.

Another fright Reed set in Chicago was his novel, IM. Playing around with what lurks on the other end of social media and messaging makes the story feel authentic—or perhaps too real? The vibrant gay community in Chicago gives the perfect scene for this type of fear. With a gay Chicago Police detective as the primary character, this one is Chicago through and through!

Reed can set his tales anywhere and get a chill, thrill, or romance going. But I’m drawn to his Midwest settings because that’s where I come from and live. If you haven’t been scared by Rick R. Reed, you have to check him out!

Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Mika and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. Serbu is an author of gay horror/speculative fiction. After over 20 years of teaching history at the collegiate level, he now writes full time. You can find him at DamianSerbu.com.

Recommended by Shawnna Deresch

Chicago author Lauren Bolger has made a splash with her debut novel Kill Radio published in April 2023 by Malarkey Books. Backed by Bolger's love of cosmic horror, the occult, and supernatural fiction, Kill Radio is about a custom crystal radio that opens a portal to hell. What began as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge in 2018, morphed into several versions during the years while Bolger attended college, married, and had children.

With a school writing assignment in second grade, Bolger wrote a spooky story and homage to Mary Downing Hahn’s, Wait ’Til Helen Comes. Thus, began her writing journey which has led her to dabble in writing short stories, micro fiction, and poetry.

Bolger’s short fiction is collected in the Tales from the Clergy anthology (October Nights Press). “Commendation of the Dying” is a short gothic horror story inspired by one of her favorite groups, Ghost, a Swedish rock band. ​“These Woods”, a short horror story in Hellarkey-Malarkey Books Halloween zine, and Junk Soul short horror in “In Somnio”, in the Tenebrous Press anthology.

Bolger’s micro fiction includes “Tina’s Song”, a pop culture-themed piece in Drunk Monkeys’ April 2023 issue, and “Songs that Play Behind your Voice” in The Second Bullshit Anthology from Bullshit Lit, along with her poem, “Wiping your Kid’s Ass at Target”, July 2023. Her latest short story, ​“Storm Queen at 80”, will appear in a future issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

In her free time, Bolger strived to be a guitar virtuoso, but confessed she was not a great student of her guitarist teacher husband. She prefers beating out music on her drums. Bolger is a member of the Horror Writers Association Chicagoland Chapter and can be found at laurenbolger.com, X @renBolger and Instagram @lrnbolger.

Shawnna Deresch is a Chicago-based horror and dark fiction author. She is the Horror Writers Association Chicagoland Chapter Co-Chair and a member of Chicago Writers Association and Women’s Fiction Writer Association. Shawnna can be found at shawnnaderesch.com and on Instagram @shawnna_deresch_author. Her short stories have appeared in The Sirens Call eZine, D&T Publishing’s ABC’s of Terror, Vol. IV, and Kandisha Press’ Women of Horror Anthology, The One Who Got Away.

Picture of the author
Dan Kelly

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