Did you know there are more than a hundred lesbian vampire books? We basically invented the genre. But that’s not where the queer women horror books end. In fact, there are dozens of queer women horror books, zombie books, werewolf books, and even ghost stories. Here are just a few of my favourites, for when you want to curl up with a creepy sapphic story.
I have to start with a classic of the genre:The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This was published in the ’50s and relies on subtext for the queer content, but it’s definitely there if you’re paying attention. (Inseparable by Emma Donoghue has a great discussion of the clues that Shirley Jackson leaves for queer readers.) This is obviously a haunted house story, but it is a subtle, psychological one. You really dive deeply into the characters, which makes the haunting all the more disturbing.
The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez is worth reading any time of year. This is a vampire story, but it’s not horror or erotica. It follows Gilda from 1850 to 2050, showing glimpses of her life in different time periods. This is part historical fiction and part science fiction, and it deals with trying to live an ethical life as a vampire. It also tackles what has changed (and what hasn’t) in attitudes toward race and sexuality within her extended lifespan. I have been indignant for years that this was allowed to go out of print, but it looks like a fancy new edition is coming out in a few months!
Another haunted house story: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi. Miranda, the main character, has disappeared. We follow the events leading up to this from three perspectives: her twin brother’s, her girlfriend’s, and the house’s. You can already tell that this is a weird read. This definitely isn’t a love story: Miranda and Ore have a dysfunctional relationship that can be painful to read about, and I would have loved to see more of Ore’s point of view, but it is unsettling, and perfect for a late October evening.
I never pass up an opportunity to recommend Sarah Waters, so I have to mention Affinity. Margaret is a Victorian woman who begins visiting women inmates as charity work. She finds herself drawn to Selena, a spiritualist inmate who claims to be able to commune with the dead. Despite her skepticism, Margaret is pulled into this world and struggles to find a way to bring her and Selena together.
Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire edited by Amber Dawn is the book on the list that I most viscerally reacted to. This is a short story collection that seamlessly moves between erotica, BDSM erotica, and horror. The lines are all blurred, and it is an unnerving reading experience. I can’t imagine anyone will read the first story, “Slug,” and be able to forget about it any time soon.
And one last haunted house story: The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Sarah has just moved into a new home and discovered a manuscript by the former owner, detailing his obsession with the ancient oak outside the house. The book switches between excerpts from this manuscript and Sarah’s diary as she gets pulled into this obsession. One of my favourite things about this book, other than the slow build of the horror element, is that Sarah as a main character is hilariously caustic: an “unlikeable” character I couldn’t help but love.
For a little bit of a lighter read, I absolutely love Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram. This is a zombie book that is also basically Michelle Rodriguez fanfiction. (Sorry, “Renni Ramirez.”) It’s funny and gruesome, and who doesn’t want to imagine themselves fighting off the zombie horde with Michelle Rodriguez at their side?
Another zombie book I devoured was The Abandoned, a graphic novel by Sophie Campbell (formerly known as Ross Campbell). I love Sophie Campbell’s illustrations, which tend to have a diverse cast both in terms of race and in size. This is also heavy on the gore, which is pretty crucial, I think, in a zombie comic, and my only complaint is that sadly this series got cancelled after the first volume, so there isn’t any more of it!
And of course, I have to round out the list with a couple vampire books. Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is one of the first vampire novels, predating Dracula by more than 20 years. Of course, this is about the monstrous lesbian and is not trying to be good representation, but I still found it enjoyable. The plot of Carmilla is mostly spoiled by knowing that Carmilla is a vampire, but it’s interesting to get a look at early vampire lore, and to remember that queer women’s stories have always been around (even if they weren’t always the ones we wanted to hear.)
And finally, for a vampire novel more on the erotica/romance side of things, Better Off Red (Vampire Sorority Sisters #1) by Rebekah Weatherspoon. I mean, “Vampire Sorority Sisters” kind of says it all, but this was a really enjoyable read. I thought that it was a bit unevenly plotted, but I appreciated the emphasis on consent in their relationship, especially considering the power dynamics. If you’re looking for more queer women lesbians, I’ll also give an honourable mention to Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Tales by Pam Keesey, which is a collection of short stories, including an amazing lesbian vampire in space story!
So those are some of my favourite queer women horror and Halloween-appropriate reads! Let me know if there are any great ones I’ve missed!