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Ode to the Horror Novella


Even when my brain is too fried to sit down with a novel, I'm always up for reading a good novella. The size of the volume alone makes it feel compact—manageable. You know you're not committing to more than 130 pages with it. That's far less daunting than a multi-book series or a gigantic novel that weighs more than a small dog. You can usually finish a novella cover to cover in one sitting. In short, novellas are great for those days when life kicks you in the teeth and you just want to feel like you've completed something. Anything. That you've put your mind to good use, in spite of everything, and come out the other side with a win.

But it's not just that novellas are convenient. Brevity all by itself brings a sense of urgency and immediacy to the table, but throw horror into that mix and it's like injecting any other genre with adrenaline. Horror is high stakes to begin with and when you serve it up on an expedited timeline, it only makes the stakes feel higher. Meaner. Fiercer. The novella is also the place where a writer can experiment with structure. It provides room to try out ideas that might not necessarily be suited to a longer work. Creativity flourishes. It's spectacular to witness. And much of this is thanks to small presses. Big publishers, if they publish novellas at all, usually stick to novellas from well-known authors. Small presses are the ones seeking out novellas from new voices and giving that experimentation at platform through which to flourish.

In July of 2021, I started down a horror novella rabbit hole through which I am still happily tunneling. That summer, I read Night of the Mannequins and Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones. I read She Who Rules the Dead by Maria Abrams and Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca back to back and became an instant Weird Punk Books fan. In fact, I am wearing a Weird Punk sweatshirt as I write this. From there I read To Offer Her Pleasure by Ali Seay and Neon Hemlock Press's The Secret Skin by Wendy N. Wagner.

These stories split my mind open. They moved me as a reader. As a writer. As a human experiencing the power of storytelling. Each was so different and precise and impossible to tear away from without reading just a few pages more…and then a few pages more…until before I knew it, I'd finished the book and forgotten to eat dinner (which has pretty much happened to me with every Eric LaRocca novella since Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke).


As of July 2023, Goodreads lists 469 titles on its Horror Novella Books shelf. If you scroll through the titles, you see that a lot of them were published in the past six or seven years. A recent Tor.com article writes we're living in "a golden age of novellas of all genres" and I certainly agree.


"There was a time when, in order to read a speculative novella, one had to subscribe or purchase an issue of one of the notable genre magazines that publish them…" notes Lyndsie Manusos for Book Riot. "[Now] publishers and magazines alike are making them more accessible to audiences."

Through small presses and social media word-of-mouth, more and more novellas are getting into the hands of readers who want shorter works. Don't get me wrong. A 365-page book is great, but not every story is a 365-page story. Some are meant to be told in sleek, frenetic prose over the course of about 80 pages.

Last year, I spent a great deal of time preparing a novel for submission and now, this year, for publication. Subsequently, I have yet to start work on a new novel because my brain can't handle two full-fledged novel arcs simultaneously. That said, I've been rolling stories around inside my head my whole life. I can't just not have a project in the works. Even if it's something I only turn to occasionally, I need a backup story for my mind to chew on when it gets restless. Short stories are a lot of fun, but you finish writing one and then have to start another.


Cue, the novella.


I've been working on the same novella project for about a year or two. I will go weeks at a time without thinking about it, then open it up on my computer and write or revise a chapter when I feel inspired. It's longform enough to keep me engaged but structured on a smaller scale so I don't feel like I'm trying to balance two novels at the same time. It gives me room to explore and feel creative without any kind of pressure. Much like reading novellas helped me at a time when I felt stuck as a reader, writing novellas is helping at a time when I feel stuck as a writer.


So, if you haven't read a novella in a while, now might be the time to crack one open. You never know how it'll move you. And in this day and age, there are more choices than ever before.


Feel free to share your favorite novella in the comments!



[Image Credit: photo by PIxabay via Pexels]

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