We continue our “Books Authors Read” series with children’s author Jeramey Kraatz, who wrote The Cloak Society and The Cloak Society: Villains Rising, which the School Library Journal declared “will likely find the same wide appeal as Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books.” Jeramey himself is a lovely, wonderful person too — he joined us Sunday for a signing and a “Make Your Own Comic Book” activity with a bunch of kids who were very excited about creating their own superhero/supervillain narratives. We love his books, too. Thanks, Jeramey! — Kristen D.
I was born on Friday the 13th (my name was almost “Jason”). Horror-movie marathons were a regular occurrence in my childhood. I feel at home with zombies, maniacs, and the soul-crushing abyss. Even when I was a kid, these were the kinds of tales I gravitated to. So, in honor of Halloween, here’s a non-exhaustive, completely objective collection of books and stories that have creeped me out over the years, listed roughly in the order in which I read them, from elementary school to now.
1. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Alvin Schwartz (writer), Stephen Gammell (art)
Obviously. These were the Holy Grail of the book fair in elementary school. The kind of books you’d stay up late reading aloud at your friend’s house or hide from your parents because you were afraid they’d take them away from you. There’s a whole generation of readers out there who were equally entertained and traumatized by these gruesome little stories. (And that art. It’s just as gruesome as you remember.)
2. The Fear Street Sagas – R. L. Stine
I made the jump from Goosebumps to R.L. Stine’s teen series while I was still pretty young. There’s no telling how many of those books I read (seriously, go check out the series Wikipedia page—there are over 100 of them), but the Fear Street Saga books were the ones I read over and over again. They were part historical fiction, part family history, and packed with the kind of overwrought drama and twists I loved as a kid. And they were pretty gruesome, too—I remember one death scene involving the kitchen maid and a bunch of rising dough that was the most horrifying thing kid-me had ever read. At least until…
3. Urban Legends (generally)
Here is a very clear memory I have of being in the fourth grade: Jason, my best friend, had checked out a book of urban legends from the Ector County Library and brought it to school, where we passed it back and forth to each other, devouring the tales of insane murderers and men with hooks for hands. (I was especially creeped out by the “Don’t look behind you” and “Humans can lick, too” legends.) We made it about halfway through the book before school was out. That night, those stories were all I could think about. The nightmares were brutal.
The next day, Jason showed up to school and didn’t have the book with him. He told me he didn’t want to read it anymore, not elaborating any further. He didn’t have to.
4. Lord of the Flies – William Golding
I don’t know if I read the book or caught the movie first, but Piggy haunted me.
5. From Hell – Alan Moore (writer) and Eddie Campbell (art)
Moore’s incredibly layered telling of the Whitechapel murders is dense, sprawling, and, occasionally, completely insane. Campbell’s black-and-white art evokes more horror than any amount of blood-red ink could have (the chapter-long murder sequence comes to mind). It’s a must-read for anyone interested in Jack the Ripper.
6. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
This is the book that scared me more than any other! I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m usually a really slow reader, but I devoured this weirdo labyrinth of a novel in one weekend while I was in grad school. It was one of those experiences where I read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, and didn’t realize I was dreaming until I was already convinced my bedroom door had opened up into a dark, unending hallway. I woke up terrified and sweating, and had to finish the book immediately.
7. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, and 8. Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry
When I’m working on a project, I don’t like to read anything that’s in a similar genre if I can help it. A few years ago when I was editing The Cloak Society and starting on the sequel, Villains Rising, I went through a big true crime phase. I’d just moved into a new place—my first time to live alone—and was in the middle of re-reading In Cold Blood when I started the audiobook of Helter Skelter as something to listen to in the background while I unpacked.
In retrospect, it’s really easy to see what a dumb idea this was.
9. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
It’s the classic haunted house story for a reason. It’s slim, and starts off fairly tame, but is deceiving in how claustrophobic and layered it is. That’s one of the best things about the book: you don’t realized how unhinged the narration is until its too late, and by the end you’re wondering if the house was ever really haunted at all. It’s a great example of a book letting you use your own imagination to fill in the gaps of the horror scenes, which is always creepier than just telling you what’s happening (to me, at least).
Also, everyone in this book does some serious Mad Men drinking. No wonder they were seeing things.
10. The Shining – Stephen King
If you’re avoiding it because you’ve seen the movie a dozen times, know that it both gives a lot of great backstory to the characters AND is different enough that things will still catch you by surprise. I just read it earlier this month, and am kicking myself for not having done so earlier. It’s kind of the opposite of Jackson’s book in that there’s no doubt this hotel is one bad, haunted place, but the real horror is in watching Jack slowly fall apart, from his perspective and the POV of his family.
11. Uzumaki – Junji Ito
Uzumaki is a manga about a town obsessed with spirals. It starts out with one man obsessed with the shape, and then gets weirder and weirder as the madness spreads. There’s a vortex that opens up in someone’s forehead, snail people, hair battles…I don’t even know how to describe it other than that it’s got some incredibly potent scenes and images of horror that will stick with me for a long, long time.
Jeramey Kraatz is the author of The Cloak Society series, including The Cloak Society and The Cloak Society: Villains Rising.
You may follow him on Twitter at @jerameykraatz.