Choosing my ten favorite paranormal novels is like walking through a candy store and trying to choose only a few favorite pieces. I discovered the paranormal and horror genres at a young age, and instantly fell in love, submerging myself in everything from Stephen King movies (Carrie was my favorite when I was a kid) and any ghost stories I could get my hands on. By the time I was ten, I was pretty well-versed in the ways of the weird, and while I appreciate just about anything with a paranormal bent, there are a few classic books that really stand up. Below are the top ten paranormal novels that shaped who I am as reader as well as a writer.
1. Violin by Anne Rice
I put this novel at number one on just about every top-ten list, and here’s why: This story changed me; it reached inside of me and rearranged deep things. This is more than a ghost story – it’s a human story and it’s as dark and doleful as it is healing and hopeful. Violin follows a ghost named Stefan who travels to modern-day New Orleans in search of release from his own torment, and while reading this stunningly well-written emotional roller-coaster, I fell in love with Anne Rice. I cringed, I cried. I laughed, I loved. But most of all, I just kept reading and reading and reading. This book gave me no other choice.
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Long considered the daddy of all horror novels, Dracula has more than earned its place among my favorites. This novel, perhaps more than any other, is not only the reason I write what I write, but the reason I write at all. I tried reading this book when I was only eight years old, and though it was way over my head, those images of the Count climbing up the castle walls never left me. Nor did the very atmospheric carriage ride – the fog, the moors, the howling of the wolves – that Jonathan Harker took on his way to said castle. And when I returned to the book as an adult, I found it just as riveting, just as powerful.
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Beautifully-written and well-told, The Picture of Dorian Gray has a way of creeping into the dark corners of your mind and lying dormant there for years. Then, when you least expect it, this dark little tale of vanity and self-obsession rears its beautiful but tragic head to remind you of its existence within you. I only wish this book could have gone on much longer than it did.
4. It by Stephen King
When people think of Stephen King’s It, they immediately think of creepy clowns … and while there is plenty of that to be had in this book, I can’t help feeling that most people are missing the point. It is a story about childhood and coming of age. It’s about bonds and those rare lifelong relationships we all crave. And perhaps above all else, it is – of course – about fear. But it’s not interested in your garden-variety creepy-crawlies – this book is about all fear, every fear … and most of all, it’s about your fear – and that’s what made it the kind of book I simply couldn’t put down … and I really wanted to. At over 1,000 pages, that sucker is heavy!
5. The Sentinel by Jeffrey Konvitz
Welcome to the creepiest old brownstone in New York. When an emotionally troubled fashion model – she’s attempted suicide, a big no-no for Catholics – moves in, she is beset by nightmares and troubled by the elderly, blind Catholic priest who sits vigil in the window of the top floor. Her new neighbors are supremely weird, and when she asks the realtor about them, she’s shocked to be told that only she and the reclusive priest live there. As she and her boyfriend delve into the mystery, everything escalates – including encounters from the phantom neighbors. The Sentinel is one of the creepiest, most disturbing books I’ve ever read – there’s even a nod to it in my new novel, Sleep Savannah Sleep. The movie is dated yet still nearly as effective as the novel. Both will give you nightmares.
6. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons
A contemporary Southern gothic, The House Next Door revolves around neighbors to a brand new home designed so well that it seems to grow organically from the earth. Everyone who moves in suffers misfortune or death – the house itself is a psychic vampire and more. It’s especially intriguing because the main character, neighbor Col Kennedy is a little too snobbish to be likable, yet draws you in as she begins to truly understand the horror that sits next door. Anne Rivers Siddons is not a horror author, but a writer of southern fiction. However, her grasp of the inherent evil makes her as terrifying as King, Saul, or Straub. Try Fox’s Earth if you want to meet a psychopath that is at least as horrific as anything Stephen King has ever created.
7. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Expectant mother Rosemary Woodhouse is thrilled about the upcoming birth of her child, but her neighbors are a little too interested in her pregnancy, insisting she use a certain doctor, take certain herbs, and drink foul-tasting concoctions. Who could argue with sweet little old lady, Minnie Castevet? As Rosemary’s suspicions and rebelliousness grow, her husband, Guy, becomes darker and stranger. The novel is one of creeping terror that builds and builds until all you can do is be glad the novel is short – there is no way you can put this one down until you’ve finished the very last page.
8. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Catholic or an atheist, The Exorcist will frighten you … unless you’re also a sociopath. In the book (and movie), the real world is bright and shiny. Movie star mom Chris MacNeil and beloved daughter, Regan, take a house in Georgetown while Chris is making a movie. Then Regan finds a Ouija board and things begin happening. At first, they think they have rats, but they have so much more. Atheist Chris is forced to look to Catholic priest Damien Karras for help when science fails her daughter. The Exorcist is possibly the single most frightening novel written in modern American history.
9. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
While not exactly paranormal – at least not in the obvious in-your-face sense of the term – Rebecca remains one of my all-time favorites. It’s about the ghosts of the past, and one woman’s desperate quest to exist outside of the very tall shadow cast by Rebecca, the woman who came before her. Rebecca exudes the quiet, subtle kind of horror that raises the tiny hairs on the nape of your neck – just a little – and compels you to keep reading not only because of its smooth-as-warm-butter style, but because of what may or may not be waiting for you around the next corner and on the next page. And when it comes to payoff, Rebecca delivers. Boy, does she deliver …
10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
“Whose hand was I holding?” is possibly the most frightening line in literary history. The Haunting of Hill House oozes and creeps and crawls with fear on every perfectly-written page. Hill House frightens without spilling a drop of blood. It’s psychological and supernatural terror at its best, partly because Eleanor Vance is an unreliable witness. Is she imagining things or isn’t she? Jackson’s finely drawn characters want to believe Eleanor is somehow responsible for the terror – it makes it more palatable to them – and that makes for interpersonal behavior that’s almost as frightening as the hand-holding, breathing doors, thunderous pounding sounds, and cold spots. Personally, I don’t think Eleanor is causing any of it beyond being there to help bring the house to life.