Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore NA

The Ghost of Deer Island

Deer Island sits just offshore from the coast of Mississippi. It’s maintained by the Mississippi Coastal Preserve and it’s 400 acres are home to the great blue heron as well as ten different rare or endangered species. If seen from the nearby beaches of historical Biloxi, one would hardly assume this undeveloped paradise for boating and beach recreation is also home to some of the state’s most haunting urban legends – The Ghost of Deer Island.

Deer Island Biloxi bay

One of the legends tells of a supernatural occurrence from centuries prior. The “Firewater Ghost”, as it became known, was a mysterious blue light that people would see roaming Biloxi Bay between Biloxi and Ocean Springs. One sighting, from back in 1892, describes a luminescent ball hovering about a foot over the water’s surface. It’s believed to be a restless sentry protecting the bay.

Legend of the Headless Ghost

The most famous urban legend from the area concerns a headless ghost that haunts the island. As the story goes, two fishermen happened upon the island back in the 1800s. They explored and decided to camp for the night. Later that evening, while tending to their fire, they heard rustling noises coming from the bushes. They assumed the raucous was caused by wild hogs, but when it didn’t let up they went to investigate. Imagine their surprise when a headless skeleton jumped out of the palmetto bushes and chased them all the way back to their boat! They returned to the spot the next morning, but the creature had vanished without a trace.

Skeleton hand reaching in the dark

This particular story was first documented in a 1922 article written by local author and historian A.G. Ragusin for the Sun Herald. His primary source for the article, appropriately titled “Headless Ghost Haunted Deer Island In Olden Times”, was Captain Eugene Tiblier, Sr., who had lived in the area his entire life. But he also had the story verified by other fishermen who had visited the island and experienced similar sightings. In all instances, the men were confronted with a terrifying bone man before narrowly escaping his clutches, and this infamy has earned him the title of “Ghost of Deer Island”.

Fact or Fiction?

This legend of a headless haunt appears to originate from an even older source. According to an old pirate tale, a pirate captain once steered his ship to Deer Island in order to hide a large amount of treasure. Once the gold was buried, the captain asked for volunteers to stay behind and guard it. One of the crew members volunteered, not realizing that this participation would involve cutting off his head so that his ghost could guard the hidden riches instead (the captain assumed his eagerness was due to the fact that he wanted the treasure for himself when everyone left). His head was hung in a tree and his body laid to rest nearby, allowing his ghost to be sole protector of the loot. 

Haunted Treasure chest in sand

Despite the grisly account, and the few eyewitness accounts from long ago, there hasn’t been much in the way of recent sightings. But the legend is still entertaining, and it remains a favorite piece of lore for the area. And who knows? The alleged treasure has never been found and could still be out there. Perhaps one day soon a happy go lucky tourist, sailor, or fisherman will cross the wrong spot at the wrong time and come face-to-skeleton with…the Ghost of Deer Island.

Sources

https://www.sunherald.com/living/article39639327.html

https://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/biloxighost.html

https://theresashauntedhistoryofthetri-state.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-headless-skeleton-of-deer-island.html

Categories
Best Of Best of Comics Comics and Graphic Novels Featured Horror Books Reviews

Book Recommendation – Black Stars Above

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Black Stars Above from Nightfall, an imprint of Vault Comics.

Black Stars Above is written by Lonnie Nadler, illustrated by Jenna Cha, colored by Brad Simpson, and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou.

Panel from Black Stars Above comic with alien creature

Synopsis

LET THE BLACK STARS GUIDE YOUR WAY.

The year is 1887 and a storm brews. Eulalie Dubois has spent her entire life tending to her family’s trapline, isolated from the world. A chance at freedom comes in the form of a parcel that needs delivering to a nameless town north of the wilderness. Little does Eulalie know, something sinister hides in those woods and it yearns for what she carries. A chilling historical cosmic horror tale of survival from the deranged minds of Lonnie Nadler (The Dregs, Marvelous X-Men) and debut artist Jenna Cha.

Collects the complete five issue series. 152 pages.

Review

“A sterling example of elevated horror in comics.”

Newsarama

“An exemplary creative work that shows the heights a work can reach when creators pay respect to the work that inspired them.”

AiPT

“Sublime literary horror that channels the best of weird fiction. If you’re looking for something that expands on the work of Lovecraft – look no further. Fans of Alan Moore will eat this up. Beautiful, stunning, and haunting work by Cha throughout. Easily the best horror comic of the year.”

Zac Thompson, author of Come Into Me and I Breathed a Body

“I love the way the story is told and the strong cosmic horror elements. The format of narration-through-journal-entries gives it the feel of an old school text-based horror game. There are so many bizarre and unsettling scenes, plus a constant layer of dread blanketing the tale like snow. It’s a massive metaphor about coming of age, going out on one’s own, and identity – and yet it’s also so much more. Highly recommend!”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Black Stars Above is available now at Horror Hub Marketplace

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Reviews

Book Recommendation – Tome

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Tome by Ross Jeffery.

Ross Jeffery is the Bram Stoker nominated and Splatterpunk Award nominated author of Tome, Juniper & Tethered. He’s also a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Ross has been published in print with with a number of anthologies. His work has also appeared in various online journals. Ross lives in Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie). You can follow him on Twitter here: @Ross1982

Ross Jeffery author photo

Synopsis

Juniper Correctional, jokingly abbreviated to JC, a dark jewel in the crown of the godawful American prison system, where the very worst of Juniper rot for life-sentences that seem to stretch forever. In this hell-on-earth, it’s hard to tell most days who is worse: the inmates or the corrupt guards that enact the will of the monomaniacal Chief Warden Fleming. Fleming is a fallen star, a once bright-minded leader who turned the prison around, now hiding a terrible secret eating him away from the inside, a secret he’ll do anything to cover up. But Fleming has problems, problems that threaten to unveil his secret. There is killer among those housed at Juniper Correctional. Inmates keep turning up dead, murdered in ungodly ways, but nobody knows how or why. The only thing that connects them is a nameless book from the prison’s library.

Review

“So what were my favourite things about this particular story? Well something that I loved, was the little nods to the horror community. Both Joshua and Gemma Amor, another fellow West Country author, got a shout-out and there were a few little nuggets like that. Those meta references always make me smile, an if a normie was to read it, you never know, they might just go and google their name and hence, a new fan is born. I also really liked the fact that Ross wasn’t afraid to get right down to the nitty gritty with some of the gore. We had blood and viscera a plenty and I love that! Yes I know, horror doesn’t have to be in your face to fill you with dread but gimme some ghoulish gutting scenes and I’m in heaven – or hell haha.”

Janine Pipe, author of Twisted: Tainted Tales

“If you like the perverse mystery of Fincher’s Se7en (but with demons), the violent prison setting of Brawl in Cell Block 99, or the literary quality and bleak humanity of much of Cormac McCarthy’s writing, then you will absolutely enjoy this! The characters, though immensely flawed, are all fascinating and multifaceted. The story line is full of twists and scenes I will never forget.”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

On the Verge: Folk Horror Authors You Need to be Reading

We know we’re not allowed to pick favorite genres of horror here at Puzzle Box, but we do tend to get particularly excited when discussions turn to folk horror. Creepy cults, pagan rituals, rural isolation, and frightening folklore all spell a good time. It seems the further we rush into the future, the more the past becomes something strange, disquieting, and enticingly foreign to us. Especially for those of us who live in bustling cities and urban areas, the thought of being lost or trapped out in the countryside, out of our normal element, is quite discomforting.

Though the history of folk horror leans heavy into film for its exemplars, there are also plenty of fantastic books being written in the genre. In particular we want to highlight and promote the work of authors who are self-published or writing for indie presses but who deserve mainstream attention. So without further ado, here are five of our top picks for folk horror authors you need to be reading!

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis author photo

Stephanie Ellis is based in Southampton, UK, and writes dark speculative prose and poetry, much of which has been published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. Her latest work includes a novella, Bottled, published by Silver Shamrock, and novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel. She has been published in Flame Tree Press’ A Dying Planet anthology, the charity anthology Diabolica Britannica and is included in Silver Shamrock’s Midnight in the Pentagram anthology. Her poetry can be sampled in the Horror Writer Association’s Poetry Showcase Volume 6 and 7. She has collected a number of her published, and some unpublished, short stories in The Reckoning, dark verse in Dark is my Playground, and flash in The Dark Bites, all available on Amazon.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I’m a writer of dark fiction, having recently made the move to writing full-time. Prior to this I had a convoluted career path via quality control in pharmaceuticals, quality assurance in raw materials (food industry), programmer and technical author and most recently, teaching assistant and librarian in a secondary school. The shift to writing has been made possible due to a supportive husband and a house move to Wales!

I’ve been writing several years now. I am 57 years old to those who think they are too old to start writing! My start came as my three children grew up and I’d been dabbling in protest poetry at work for a select few colleagues to read(!) – it was a good way to vent – and I thought I’d try writing short stories. I used to subscribe to Writers News and they would list markets and I remember a call from Theresa Derwin’s KnightWatch Press and subbed a story – “Death is not a Potato”. It was dark but it wasn’t “horror” enough, though Theresa encouraged me and I responded to their following calls with some success and it all evolved from there.

I never read horror in its pure form growing up, apart from Edgar Allan Poe. The specific children’s books I remember and which stayed with me are Alan Garner’s Owl Service and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen and also Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising. I only started reading the more traditional horror at the end of my teens, early twenties, and yes that was Stephen King, but I have since expanded and read a lot more within the genre although with a huge amount to catch up on.

In terms of writing the sub-genres, that seems to have evolved naturally and I have three main “go-to” sub-genres: gothic, post-apocalyptic/dystopian and folk. The folk horror side has grown considerably as I created my own world in the novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, and the characters refused to die. They have returned in the sequel, Reborn, which is currently resting after the first draft write up, and also in my collection As the Wheel Turns – More Tales from the Weald, which was just released.

These stories have allowed to me to use elements of the people and land I knew growing up, revisit British rural traditions and create a world which feels like home to me. The rituals in The Five Turns were completely made up but I researched some actual traditions for use in my collection.

Horror to me, and I’ve said it quite often, is not something instilled by movies, but by the senses. Twilight is the time, day in, day out, which makes me pause and think there’s something else, something lurking in the darkness. It’s a feeling that never goes away – when the sun sets, the owl hoots and the shadows grow. It always makes me shiver.

As well as writing, I am co-editor of Trembling With FearHorrorTree.com’s online flash zine. This is a weekly publication which I’ve been working on for nearly four years now with Stuart Conover, the owner of Horror Tree. This is a huge demand on my time as it is 52 weeks of the year with little let up but it’s been my way to give back to a site which published the opportunities which gave me my break. It is also an excellent place for new writers to get their first publication!

Bottled book cover with house in a jar
The Reckoning book cover with grim reaper chess piece
The Five Turns of the Wheel book cover with tree and fire

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

I knew it would be hard to break into publication, but the sheer amount of resilience required to pick yourself up after rejection upon rejection – which still happens to me, despite my successes – is considerable. I always felt my writing wasn’t good enough, and it probably wasn’t in the early days, but a number of rejections are based on fit or just not to the editor’s taste. Rejection does not mean you wrote a bad story. I didn’t really come round to that idea until a couple of years ago! Be prepared for this. It is a mentally draining and sometimes soul-destroying career. You have to be determined.

Another tip is read submission guidelines. I’ve always followed these but with my editor’s hat on at Horror Tree’s Trembling With Fear zine, the number who send in wrong story lengths (e.g. novellas for a flash market) are considerable. And format correctly. NEVER use spaces to indent or center paragraphs.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

The setting! The British landscape is a character in its own right and plays a huge part in my stories. It is the idyllic canvas covered with roses and honeysuckle which hides bloody tradition beneath the blooms. I love the juxtaposition of apparent beauty and perfection with evil and death. Subversion of what is assumed about the countryside allows so much scope.

There are also many weird and wonderful traditions in our country which offer a huge amount of material to write stories in this vein. Some of them are in my collection – e.g. “Running the Hood” is based on the Haxley Hood, an ancient “rugby type” game of village against village. Look it up on YouTube. Mummers troupes, May Day celebrations, seasonal fires – there is quite a calendar to pick from.

When I was younger I developed a considerable awareness of the countryside, its moods and seasons. Your eyes are open in a different way than if it was just a day out in the country from the city. The relationship between the people and the land is much more evident. This relationship is something I also like to explore. I do have a dig at those who move from the urban to the rural and then complain about the noise or the smell. I also dislike those from the city dictating to those who manage the countryside about how it should be done with no consideration for the realities or difficulties those folk already face. Perhaps if people think they might end up on one of the pyres lit by Tommy, Betty and Fiddler, they might think again about how they treat country folk.

In addition, the pagan element of so many of our rural traditions draws my interest, these are so strongly linked to the land, the seasons and the reliance of people on nature for food and shelter and the ever-increasing extremes people will go to in the belief it will grant their prosperity and survival. Something very clearly demonstrated in The Five Turns of the Wheel.

Harvest Home book cover with creepy house
The Wicker Man book cover with burning wooden figure
The Ritual book cover with skull in the woods

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon. I read this a few months back and it’s wonderful. It is very much the subversion of the absolute idyll leading to one of the most chilling endings you could imagine.

The Wicker Man (70s film and book). I’ve seen this film a few times and there are two parts which have always stayed with me. The parade of characters led by Christopher Lee as the half-man, half-woman with others dressed as the Hobby, the Fool and the like. If you look at old pictures of real processions, it’s strange how sinister they can appear at a time of celebration and goodwill. That sort of garb hints at evil, despite any other intentions, and I like to use that in my stories. The other part is when Sergeant Howie sees the Wicker Man and understands what is to happen and the emotion in his voice as he prays despite the fire. That gets me.

The Ritual by Adam Nevill is extraordinarily claustrophobic as the group of men travel through the forests (and yes, trees!), trying to find their way out of the Scandinavian wilderness. The element of paganistic discoveries underpinning their journey builds the terror and suspense.

And I know you said three but I’d like to give a shoutout to Kev Harrison, he’s coming up in the world of folk horror which is very niche and demands more readers and writers! His novella, The Balance, is a great new addition with its Eastern European setting and retelling of Slavic folk tradition.

If you’re interested in learning more about Stephanie Ellis, check out her website at www.stephanieellis.org. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@el_stevie) and Goodreads (@Stephanie_Ellis). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Horror Hub.

Kev Harrison

Kev Harrison author photo

Kev Harrison is a writer of dark fiction and English language teacher from the UK, living and working in Lisbon, Portugal. His nomadic lifestyle has previously taken him to various cities in the United Kingdom, as well as to Turkey and Poland. He has an unquenchable thirst for travel and is passionate about food, photography, and music, as well as fiction. He is a staff writer for This is Horror and has had short fiction published in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first novella, The Balance, was released early in 2020, through Lycan Valley Press.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I’m a British writer of horror and dark fiction, in my forties, living in Lisbon, Portugal. To go straight in with a cliché, I started telling stories when I was very young, whether that be oral storytelling or writing, it was just something I always gravitated towards. The first horror piece I wrote was for a school camp talent show, which ended with tears, nightmares and angry teachers. I stepped away from writing for a long time due to allocating my time to being in various bands, travel writing and some other pursuits, coming back to it in my late thirties. When I did start writing again, I knew it was horror or dark stuff more generally that would be my home.

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

I would definitely tell myself just to do it and do it earlier. I always thought writing was something other people did. That you needed permission, or something daft like that. If I’d done a bit more investigation, I’d have seen that there are pathways into writing for anybody, as long as you can tell a good story. So don’t wait for the invite – get stuck in as soon as you feel ready.

The Balance book cover with woman in forest
Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See book cover with monkey statue
Paths Best Left Untrodden book cover with man's shadow

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

I think folklore is likely the pre-cursor to what we now think of as horror. Stories around the campfire, with elements – real and imagined – from the daily lives of the storyteller and the audience. These stories were probably allegorical – don’t go into the woods at night or the monster will get you. Bury your dead properly or bad things will be afoot, etc. So, much as horror is maligned by some foolish individuals, through folklore, we can understand that horror is where it all began. I think, too, that folk horror brings out a location or a population like no other sub-genre. The folklore and the situ are inextricably linked. The rules are there, often known intimately by the population, yet someone transgresses – be that a member of the community or an outsider.

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

For books, I’m going to pick out Stephanie Ellis’ brilliant, The Five Turns of the Wheel. I had the pleasure (terror?) of beta reading the novel and I immediately knew she was onto something special. The way it twists extant British folklore into this monstrous, self-contained world of the Weald is as impressive as it is horrifying.

After that, I’ll plump for Victor LaValle’s The Changeling. LaValle is one of those authors who writes so well, I’d feel obliged to hate him a little bit if he wasn’t such a nice guy. The Changeling takes a folkloric tale that’s thousands of years old and exists in some form or other in so many cultures, and plants it into modern New York. And when the final act kicks off…well, just don’t have anything planned for the rest of that day.

Finally, I’m going to choose Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Witches are well-trodden ground and something that is so hard to do in a way that is new and different. Heuvelt skilfully builds the folklore of the town of Black Spring around this witch who was put to death centuries earlier, but whose spirit persists. How might a modern Hudson valley town deal with such a thing? Read Hex and find out.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kev Harrison, check out his website at www.kevharrisonfiction.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@LisboetaIngles), Instagram (@mrevilkev), and Goodreads (@Kev_Harrison). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Horror Hub.

Catherine McCarthy

Catherine McCarthy author photo

Catherine McCarthy grew up in the industrial valleys of South Wales where she went on to teach in primary education for almost three decades. Having been “shown the light” by her mother, who had the tradition of oral story-telling down to a fine art, she quickly developed an insatiable appetite for all things literary. Her first published novel, The Gatekeeper’s Apprentice, is a fantasy, magical adventure for middle grade readers. Her second novel, Hope Cottage, is a dark and mysterious family saga of triumph over adversity, reconciliation and, well…hope. Her most recent publication is a collection of ten portal stories for adults, entitled Door and Other Twisted Tales. Having traded the challenges and rewards of teaching for the hurdles and merits of writing, Catherine McCarthy now lives with her illustrator husband in a two hundred year old cottage in West Wales amidst spectacular, story-inspiring countryside.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I’m a Welsh author and an ex-primary school teacher who writes dark fantasy and quiet horror in a variety of sub-genres such as folk horror, psychological horror and Gothic horror. My work is more creeping dread than explicit horror. I prefer to hint at the unknown and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. It’s difficult to say what got me started in horror writing other than I’ve always been very much in touch with my dark side. Even as a young child I was keenly aware of illness, grief, death, and the powerful consequences such states have on us as humans. Writing about the human condition during times of angst helps me come to terms with my own demons, therefore it’s a cathartic act of creativity.

Hope Cottage book cover with stained glass window
Mists and Megaliths book cover with stones
Immortelle book cover with red bird

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

I’ll give you two: one from a marketing point of view, the other from a practical point of view. When I published my very first book, a middle-grade novel, I was so wet behind the ears! I imagined the book would simply sell itself, and to some degree it did, but that was because the children and parents from my school bought it, not the wider reading community.

So, tip number one…before you even consider publishing, take time to establish a name for yourself. Join groups on social media, make yourself known in the writing community by reading and reviewing other people’s work. Refrain from confrontation and stay supportive and positive towards others. Begin with short stories and submit them online or to anthology calls, even those that only offer a token payment. As with most walks of life, you really must be prepared to start at the bottom before climbing the ladder. However, there is nothing wrong with ambition. Aim high, but do not lose sight of reality! The motto is, be patient.

The second tip I would give is to revise and edit thoroughly and tirelessly, because if you put an unprofessional product on the market you will gain an unprofessional reputation. Remember, you are expecting people to pay for your work and therefore need to offer a product of high standard. If you put stuff out there too soon, before it’s thoroughly edited or formatted, or with a poor quality cover, you are setting yourself up for a fall.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

Folk horror takes me back to childhood. Not because it is childish, but because it evokes all those wonderful feelings I remember having as a child when reading folktales and fairy tales: the eerie power of rural landscapes, sinister conspiracies and strange customs, rituals and sacrifice concealed from outsiders. Folk horror has a natural tendency towards quiet horror, which I have already said I prefer. Take, for example, the slow-burn psychological tension embodied in The Wicker Man or the perfect blend of Paganism and Christianity that flows throughout Arthur Machen’s work. This type of horror has depth and forces the reader to ask moral questions. Much of my own work incorporates elements of religion gone wrong, remote, rural settings, and the power of nature. It isn’t something I set out consciously to write, instead it stems from the subconscious and finds itself on the page as if by chance.

The White People book cover with statue
The Loney book cover with tree and house
The Balance book cover with forest

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

This is the toughest question of all, because there are so many! Is it even possible to reduce them to three? Okay, as a Welsh writer, I have to say Arthur Machen’s The White People ranks among the best, along with Andrew Michael Hurly’s incredible debut, The Loney. Now, I’m going to cheat and mention two indie folk horror writers who, to me, do it so well. They are Stephanie Ellis (The Five Turns of the Wheel) and Kev Harrison (The Balance).

If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine McCarthy, check out her website at www.catherine-mccarthy-author.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@serialsemantic), Instagram (@catherine_mccarthy_author), and Goodreads (@Catherine_McCarthy). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Gemma Amor

Gemma Amor author photo

Gemma Amor is a Bram Stoker Award nominated horror fiction author, podcaster and voice actor based in the UK. Her books include Cruel Works of Nature, Dear Laura, White Pines, Girl on Fire, and These Wounds We Make. She is also co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, starring Kate Siegel. Her stories have been featured on the NoSleep Podcast, Shadows at the Door, Creepy and the Grey Rooms podcast. You can find her in a number of horror anthologies, too.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

Hi, I’m Gemma and I am an author, illustrator and voice actor/occasional podcaster amongst other things. I write genre fiction, contribute to several horror audiodrama fiction podcasts as both a writer and a VO, paint book covers, and have begun to dabble in screenwriting- or at least I have dipped my toes in, which is a start. I’ve been interested in horror from a young age, but my first love was actually fantasy and science fiction- I cut my teeth on Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I studied Shelley and the classics at university, then rediscovered my love of the horror genre in my mid-twenties when I was travelling in India and picked up a second hand copy of Cujo by Stephen King (it was the only book on sale in English). I devoured it and was hooked- I loved how he made character driven horror so appealing, and the world-building around Castle Rock was incredibly appealing for a fantasy nerd.

Cruel Works of Nature book cover with monster pulling off face
Dear Laura book cover with hand holding teeth
White Pines book cover with red door in the woods

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Oh god, I still consider myself “new” to be honest. I often feel like the greenest berry in the punnet, and I know I have an awful lot left to learn. However, if I had to give myself advice, it would be:

  • Routine is essential 
  • Know when to rest
  • Find people you trust, and stick to them like glue
  • Editors are the difference between a shite book and a good book, so respect them
  • Also understand your own boundaries, not just in how you write but how you conduct business 
  • Make playlists
  • Go for lots of walks 
  • Don’t worry about writing well, not to begin with- you can always polish a turd, but you can’t polish a non-existent turd (yikes, I need to work on my mottos) 
  •  Always have a notebook on hand
  • When in doubt, do some research – it works like a treat to unblock any creative snarls 
  • Its okay to ignore all the rules and write whatever feels good, natural and authentic to you.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

For me, growing up in England, I think I have a healthy respect for history, and that history includes a rather big chunk of folklore, depending on where in the country you grow up. It’s also important to define what I mean by folklore. Personally, I don’t think it is simply a case of regurgitating fairy tales, myths and legends. Folklore is exactly that to me: lore of the people, history passed down over the years. It’s culture and heritage, gifted to us, an oral and written tradition that locks our unique heritage in place within history.

Our countryside is liberally littered with cairns, castles, stone circles, forts, processional ways, henges, long barrows and chambered tombs, not to mention old mines and agricultural archaeology from the Palaeolithic to the 20th century, and its enormously evocative to grow up amongst all of that, scrambling over ruins, imagining long-dead knights and druids and children no different to me living out their days in the misty past. Additionally, I grew up in a very flat, agricultural part of the country called the Fens, which is heavy in pre-history and ripe fodder for horror- lots of steely skies, reed beds, marshes, squealing terns and sea birds, mud and bleak (but beautiful) coastline.

Folk fiction, and folk horror in particular, taps into that very specific part of my brain that hungers for stories rooted in the countryside and history surrounding me, which includes witches, faeries, magic and dark, evil curses, sure, but also includes every day people carving out an existence: tribes, hunters, fishermen, farmers, the creatures that live in the seas, forests rivers and skies.

I also love how symbolism and geometry come into play in a lot of folklore and in rituals enacted by ancient cultures. I’m obsessed with the notion of sacred geometry and how that can be tied up with telling and re-telling stories across thousands of years. It’s all extremely exciting to think about as a writer, because there is both so much we know, and so much we don’t know, and those two things can create a wonderful environment to write within – mystery and legend, balanced with a little evidence-based fact.

I tried to include a lot of these ideas in my novel White Pines, which is set in the Scottish Highlands, and blend folklore with geometry, body horror and a sense of legacy and heritage, because these things sang to me so much while I was up there researching the book. I’ll be leaning heavily into folk in the next book I have lined up to write, and I’m extremely excited about it. 

Kwaidan movie cover with multiple people
The Only Good Indians book cover with deer antlers
The Bloody Chamber book cover with birds and flowers

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

Folk horror is one of my favourite things, but the representation in films is sadly lacking when you compare it to other subgenres like slashers and so on. I adore the staples like The Wicker ManBlood on Satan’s Claw, and Midsommar, but the stories that draw on actual mythology are perhaps my absolute favorite of all, and so in that respect I’d have to say something like Kwaidan (1965), directed by Kobayashi, really hits the spot for me. It’s a horror anthology film that draws directly on Japanese folk tales, and it’s a real trip, aside from being gorgeous to look at. Ben Wheatley is also doing incredibly exciting things with folk horror at the moment, and I’m not sure how firmly Kill List or A Field in England slot into the folklore niche, but I loved them anyway.

In terms of literature, we have more scope. Adam Nevill has a firm grip on folk, and wields his understanding of how the land can influence a story incredibly well. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones is also an incredible example of a raw story rooted in heritage and steeped in the supernatural. And of course, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is a collection of visceral, sexy, alluring fairy tales retold and reclaimed in her mesmerizing, inimitable style – extremely influential for me, and I absolutely adore it. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Gemma Amor, check out her website at www.gemmaamorauthor.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@manylittlewords), Instagram (@manylittlewords), and Goodreads (@Gemma_Amor). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

A.J. Vrana

AJ Vrana author photo

A. J. Vrana is a Serbian-Canadian academic and writer from Toronto, Canada. She lives with her two rescue cats, Moonstone and Peanut Butter, who nest in her window-side bookshelf and cast judgmental stares at nearby pigeons. Her doctoral research examines the supernatural in modern Japanese and former-Yugoslavian literature and its relationship to violence. When not toiling away at caffeine-fueled, scholarly pursuits, she enjoys jewelry-making, cupcakes, and concocting dark tales to unleash upon the world. Her published works include The Chaos Cycle Duology: The Hollow Gods (2020) and The Echoed Realm (2021) from The Parliament House Press, and a short supernatural horror story, “These Silent Walls” (2020), printed in Three Crows Magazine.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I’ve been drawn to horror for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I ate up Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark, and my favourite films always had horror elements. I was pretty obsessed with the first and second Terminator films (don’t ask how I got away with watching those at a grade schooler) and the apocalyptic horror of them. Things hidden and unseen always fascinated me, and this followed me through life. 

Now, I’m working on a PhD that examines the supernatural in fiction and its relationship to violence, and although I started dabbling in fiction eons ago, I didn’t write seriously with the intention of publication until my academic research took off and I had fodder for inspiration. One chapter of my dissertation focuses almost entirely on folklore, and this chapter in particular inspired a lot of the horror in my novels, The Hollow Gods and The Echoed Realm. 

The Hollow Gods book cover with large black bird
The Echoed Realm book cover with weeping willow tree

2. We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

I’d give myself two pieces of advice: First, time is your friend! Letting a manuscript sit for a few months is a totally acceptable (and advisable) thing to do. Taking 2-3 months off before editing will be more productive than diving right into editing and then having to re-edit for the next 2 years because you can’t get perspective on your work. You’d be amazed at the stuff you’ll detect when you’ve let things lie for a while!

Second, it’s okay not to take everyone’s feedback! This is one I still struggle with. You don’t want to seem stubborn or stuck up, so you try to take every bit of feedback you to heart, but in truth, I really think there are only two types of feedback that matter. If someone gives you a piece of critique that excites you and makes you think, “Oh, yeah, that’ll make my story better!” then it’s a good piece of feedback to take. Or, if it’s something you keep hearing over and over again from a qualified editor or beta-reader, then it is definitely something to consider! Who you take feedback from is also pretty crucial; not all opinions are made equal, and you want feedback from people who know the difference between personal preference and critical feedback tailored to the author’s vision.

3. What are some of your favorite aspects of the folk horror genre?

I think folk horror, despite being associated with the past and the pre-modern, is really such a modern phenomenon, which means that most modern people have at least a passing interest in it. 

Folklore studies in most parts of the world only cropped up with the advent of modernity, and folk horror as a genre is inseparable from the academic discipline of folk studies. For example, Jacob Grimm didn’t just record creepy fairy tales; he was a scholar who was deeply concerned with the role of folk culture and folklore in German nationhood and identity. The same could be said about Vuk Karadzić in the Balkans and Yanagita Kunio in Japan. Incidentally, all three of these scholars were in loose contact with one another; Grimm took ideas from Karadzić, and Yanagita took ideas from Grimm. 

So, while I wouldn’t quite say that folk horror and folk studies are a universal phenomenon, they are definitely transnational in that modernizing nations were interested in the power of folk culture to define regional or national identity. And this is one of the things I find most fascinating about folk horror! It isn’t just some quirky genre that incorporates folklore to scare its audience; it’s tapping into something collective and deeply rooted in our cultural heritage and our shared history. 

In Ghostly Japan book cover with skeleton
Kwaidan book cover with monster

4. What are your top three favorite folk horror books (and/or films)?

Oh, that’s a tough one! I’m not going to lie, I think Japan is the master of folk horror. Japanese cultural productions are just so good at using folklore as a kind of kinetic mythology and reincorporating old tales into new productions. I think some of my favourites come from Japan! Off the top of my head, some of the stories that still get me include Sakaguchi Ango’s “In the Forest Under the Cherry Blossoms in Full Bloom” (seriously creepy), Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s short story “Hell Screen” (based on an old Buddhist folk tale), and really anything recorded by Lafcadio Hearn (Check out In Ghostly Japan and Kwaidan). There are so many others, and it’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint because Japan does such a brilliant job of weaving folk horror into daily life and non-horror genres! 

If you’re interested in learning more about A.J. Vrana, check out her website at www.thechaoscycle.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@AJVrana), Instagram (@a.j.vrana), and Goodreads (@A_J_Vrana). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Urban Legend: The Devil’s Chair of Alma Cemetery

Devil’s Chairs, also known as haunted chairs or witches chairs, are funerary monuments carved into the shape of chairs or benches. Stone furniture such as this was usually placed beside the grave as a sort of “mourning seat” for visitors, though they also functioned as memorial sculptures as well.

Devil's chair made of stone in cemetery

Over time these chairs became imbued with supernatural significance as spots where one may encounter the paranormal (and usually not in a good way). Some were meeting places with the Devil, others were gateways to the underworld. Usually the chairs were cursed in a way that whosoever sat on them would die, either immediately or within a year.

Devil’s Chair in Alma Cemetery

In the heart of the Flint Hills in Kansas sits the quaint little town of Alma. Also known as the “City of Native Stone,” Alma is an unassuming community of less than a thousand people and a multitude of options for outdoor enthusiasts. But hidden beneath the natural beauty and wildlife is a dark secret that has frightened and intrigued urban legend trippers for years. Let’s take a journey over to Alma Cemetery to find out why.

Downtown Alma, Kansas

Cemeteries, by nature, are fraught with paranormal sightings and incidents. However, there is a particularly fascinating story involving the cemetery in Alma. As the urban legend goes, back in the 1800s, before the cemetery existed in its current form, the land was private and owned by a farmer. When the city was being built developers came to purchase the land, but the stubborn farmer refused.

Some say the farmer was pushed into his well, others say he fell in on accident. When the city officials came out again they couldn’t find the farmer, but they did notice strange smells emanating from the stone structure. The Sheriff declared the well empty and had it sealed off. The farmer was never seen again, and the land was eventually taken by the city and turned into the cemetery it is today.

Alma Cemetery in Kasas

The Hauntings

There are a variety of hauntings that people claim to have experienced at Alma Cemetery, from floating orbs to disembodied voices to ghostly physical encounters. But the boarded up well – the site of the farmer’s disappearance long ago and now an altered version of a devil’s chair – holds a particular sway over the area. Back in the 1980s a group of teenagers decided to explore and see if they could catch a glimpse of the dead farmer. One of the teens was dared to sit on top of the well by the others, but when his friends turned back around he had disappeared, never to be seen again.

Sealed and abandoned well

Since then other people have been reported to have disappeared as well after sitting on the fateful well. As with other locations involving infernal chairs, the idea is that an evil presence is forcibly taking these unfortunate souls. Many believe that it is specifically the spirit of the old farmer, exacting his revenge on the city that caused his demise. Either way, if you ever visit the cemetery it’s best to observe the well from a safe distance and, whatever you do, don’t sit on it.

Sources

https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/kansas/kansas-cemetery-alma/

https://www.joincake.com/blog/devils-chair-cemetery/

http://www.theshadowlands.net/places/kansas.htm

https://www.anamparanormal.com/148