Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore

Walking Sam – Urban Legend

Near the Black Hills of South Dakota sits one of the largest Indian reservations in the country: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, Pine Ridge has a long history of trauma. It’s the site where hundreds of Lakota Indians were killed during the Wounded Knee Massacre, and it’s currently one of the poorest county’s in the United States. When it made headlines in 2015 for a spree of teen suicides, many began to suggest that darker supernatural forces were at work in Pine Ridge, citing the urban legend of Walking Sam.

Sign for Pine Ridge Indian Reservation

Between December of 2014 and March of 2015, there were 103 suicide attempts made. Nine of those were successful, and none of the victims were older than twenty-five. Many died by hanging. In previous years there had been other clusters of suicides, but none this large. Stuck in a crisis situation with no clear answers, many began to point to a sinister force that has long existed in Native American tradition and lore. Children raised in Lakota households grow up hearing of “suicide spirits,” “stick people,” or shadow people who attempt to lure adolescents from the safety of their homes at night. Over time, and with the explosion of popularity in Slender Man, these stories may have morphed into the single figure now known as Walking Sam.

The Legend of Walking Sam

Though he goes by other names as well (most notably “Tall Man” or “Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot”), most of the stories describe Walking Sam as a seven-foot tall figure with eyes but no mouth, sometimes wearing a stove-pipe hat. When he raises his arms one sees the bodies of previous victims hanging beneath. When teenagers hear him calling, he tries to persuade them of their worthlessness, encouraging them to kill themselves. Some believe he targets younger people because they are more susceptible to his tricks.

Shadow of man standing in dark tunnel

There are also those who believe he is not even necessarily a malicious entity, but rather one who wanders the forests as some sort of punishment and is merely looking for companionship. There are also the obvious ties to boogeyman folklore and Slender Man legends, but from a cryptozoological standpoint some believe he may be another version of, or in fact related to, Bigfoot. Finally, for a people group who have such an intertwined spiritual connection between the land and their heritage, some believe that Walking Sam is a sort of physical manifestation of the hurt and trauma that Lakota Indians experience on a regularly basis.

A Growing Epidemic

Whether Walking Sam is real, or perhaps a metaphor for depression, many of the adults at Pine Ridge take the threat he represents seriously, asking for help from government officials in curtailing the devastating effects of the legend. Disturbing videos have surfaced of teens explaining how to tie the rope just right. Pastors and teachers have stepped in at the last moment to stop group suicides. Authorities find nooses hanging grimly from trees. Whether or not these young adults are having their dark desires exacerbated by an ominous urban legend boogeyman remains a mystery. However, what is clear is that in a land plagued by extreme poverty, alcohol abuse, and skyrocketing high school drop out rates, teens are struggling with mental health issues and need proper care and support.

References

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Comics and Graphic Novels Featured Horror Books Indie Horror

On the Verge: Sci-Fi Horror Authors You Need to be Reading

In the world of sci-fi horror literature there are some common names that spring to mind first: Mary Shelley, Harlan Ellison, Philip K Dick, and Jeff Vandermeer. However, there are plenty of lesser known authors, or authors still early on in their careers, who are writing stories just as full of technology and terror as the genre classics. At Puzzle Box Horror we’re all about finding and promoting the best in horror, so we thought we would help shine a light on some of the newer or less known writers who need to be on your radar! When it comes to finding the best sci-fi horror books, you’re going to be glad you broadened your search and gave these authors a chance.

Sci-Fi Horror Authors

Joseph Sale

Sci-fi horror author Joseph Sale

Joseph Sale is a prolific novelist and editor. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He is published with The Writing Collective and has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his love-letter to fantasy: Save Game. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth. His short fiction has also appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet, Storgy Magazine, and numerous anthologies.

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

My name is Joseph Sale, but many call me the Mindflayer. I am a writer of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and many things in-between, as well as an editor; two titles I edited last year went on to the Bram Stoker preliminary ballot, and one is on the Nomination list! I love helping writers achieve their vision. As I say frequently, “The aim of an editor is not to point out what is wrong, but to see what the writers intended, and help them achieve that.”

In terms of horror writing, it came slightly later on for me. When I was initially starting out as a writer, I was mainly trying to write sword & sorcery fantasy. They were very hackneyed and derivative, and ultimately, they didn’t really read like “me”. They were Tolkien clones, aping the archaic style (but falling far short of it). But one day, I encountered a little known writer called Stephen King! The first book I ever read by him was The Stand. It blew my mind. I think I felt like King had found a way to translate that fantasy epic feeling into a modern setting. From then on, I became a horror junkie, and I started to write horror. I quickly realized that horror facilitated an exploration of darker themes; it allowed me to take off the shackles of decency and normality and delve into the roiling darkness of my own psyche in a way my previous attempts at swashbuckling fantasy had not allowed. This was a very therapeutic and healing process. Ultimately, in exploring the darkness, which only horror allowed me to fully do, I came to the light, so to speak.

Black Gate book cover
Beyond the Black Gate book cover
return to the black gate book cover

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?

Wow, this is a hard question. I think my first tip would be less is more. I had a tendency to over-write to the nth degree when I started out. I still think that maximalism trumps minimalism in writing, and I prefer over-written to the “stark” and soulless prose of many popular writers today, but too much is very clumsy and ultimately detracts from the very emotional power one is trying to generate. 

My other piece of advice would be to listen. By this, I mean to the inner voice. Sometimes, the intellect cannot solve a problem, only intuition and the deeper Muse can. It might sound flighty and poetic, but it is the truth in my experience. We all have this reservoir of knowledge. Our subconscious makes the right decision before we know it consciously. I too rarely listened to my creative intuition back then. Now, I am always waiting for that quiet voice to speak. 

Next, structure, structure, structure. Many writers seem to believe they can find their way without understanding the internal structures of narrative (and I certainly used to be one of them). However, now I’ve learned (and teach) the 5-Act structure, it has totally transformed my fiction. I would highly recommend the 5-Act structure for its simplicity, versatility, and clarity (for more information, check out my blog here). However, we all have to find the one that works for us! 

Lastly, I highly recommend joining a mastermind group / writer’s sharing group (again, something I never did until recently). The feedback and energy of a group is invaluable. That sense of community, being able to puzzle out problems with others, and also having access to workshops – all of these are so empowering. I am a member of Let’s Get Published run by amazing writer Christa Wojciechowski. It’s been a transformative experience.

The Meaning of the dark book cover
Seven Dark Stairs book cover
Orifice book cover

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

Horror and sci-fi have been linked for a long time, Mark Shelley’s Frankenstein being a prime example. I often conceive of science fiction arising from a place of anxiety. In the case of Frankenstein, this is certainly true – it’s clear that Shelley was disturbed by the idea of men playing God with galvanization, and, by virtue of doing so, supplanting the woman as the natural mother and giver of life. One need only look to the atomic bomb for further evidence that technology should be viewed with healthy suspicion. 

Another way to look at it is that in some ways, sci-fi horror is an oxymoron, and I am always interested in contrasts! Horror is sometimes said to be the only genre defined by an emotion. The aim of horror is to make us feel something: horror, revulsion, disgust, paranoia, perhaps even terror, the list goes on. That is a very raw, potent thing. Science Fiction, on the other hand, is in general more intellectual. It appeals to the left side of the brain. It is imaginative – hugely so – but it comes from a place of trying to logically envision a future, be it dystopian or otherwise. When we blend the two together, we have a recipe for success: the rational science – the logic of humankind – pitted against the irrational horror. In many ways, this is mythopoeic and psychological, it almost seems to describe the battle between our conscious minds with our unconscious fears. It is a marriage made in heaven. And, of course, we all know that logic will never truly triumph over emotion, which makes the presence of horror in a sci-fi universe all the more powerful. 

Biomelt sci-fi horror comic book cover
Nameless horror comic book cover
Frankenstein book cover

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

Three?! Only three? You are cruel. 

Biomelt by Carlton Mellick III has got to be up there. The book is a work of genius. The science fiction is perfectly blended with horror. In this crazy, crazy novel, the overpopulation problem has been solved by people being “combined” in a bizarre scientific procedure that merges their physical matter, experience, and personality. I can’t say much more than that or it will give the game away – suffice to say something goes horribly wrong. This book is overflowing with incredible ideas and characters, including my personal favorite, a serial killer known as Porn Eyes, because he has watched so much holographic pornography it’s been seared onto his eyeballs. Amazing stuff. 

To cheat a little, and branch out into the realm of graphic novels, I would also say Grant Morrison’s Nameless. Essentially, an asteroid named Xibala is heading towards Earth, and it’s going to be an extinction event. A group of astronauts is dispatched to destroy the asteroid, Armageddonstyle. However, it soon becomes apparent that Xibala is no mere asteroid, it’s a remnant of a cosmic war, fought by Lovecraftian beings, a gateway to a dimension best left unfound. It is a truly harrowing read that effortlessly moves between science fiction, terrifying cosmic horror, and finally, into a universe of dream-language. It is mesmeric and profound. Don’t expect answers to come easy, though!  

The last I’d have to recommend would be the great Frankenstein. Shelley’s prose is so potent. Every time I re-read Frankenstein, I see new things in it, new depths. Its relevance has only increased as time has gone on. Now, we have the capability to “improve” children by “removing” genetic defects – we are, more than ever, a society playing God, and if nothing else that has serious consequences for the psyche. 

There have been many attempts to artificially modernize Frankenstein but invariably – at least in my view – they fail because they remove the best part of it: the language. Shelley’s style, and her sense of “what lies beneath”, is what makes the novel the powerhouse it is. The only remotely successful attempt in my view is Junji Ito’s manga-isation, which is a masterpiece (and which also remains extremely faithful to the original). I think the key thing is that for all Victor Frankenstein’s wordy monologuing on science, life, despair, creation, much is left unsaid in Frankenstein, and that is its true power, and a lesson to all horror writers.

If you’re interested in learning more about Joseph Sale, check out his website at www.themindflayer.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@josephwordsmith) and Goodreads (@Joseph_Sale). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


Caitlin Starling

Sci-fi horror author Caitlin Starling

Caitlin Starling is an award-winning writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction. Her novel The Luminous Dead won the LOHF Best Debut award, and was nominated for both a Locus and a Bram Stoker award. Her other works include Yellow Jessamine and a novella in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us. Her nonfiction has appeared in Nightmare and Uncanny. Caitlin also works in narrative design, and has been paid to invent body parts.

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

I started writing really young and never really stopped, though my interests and goals have of course shifted over time. In particular, there was a period after high school until my mid 20s where I convinced myself that professional writing was far too hard and unrewarding a field to pursue. It sounds very cynical, but it was actually extremely freeing. It let me just write what I wanted to, without needing to stress too much about what it was “for”. I wrote a lot of fanfiction and did a lot of text roleplaying back then.

The whole time, I was undeniably drawn to tell darker stories (though not, notably, tragedies – those are way too sad!), but for a long time I didn’t think I liked horror. Really, I thought I was too much of an anxious weenie for it! And yet there I was, sending my characters through hell, always reaching for the most unsettling, fucked up option whenever I needed some details. I wrote so many words about death curses, obsessive research that led to ecstatic oblivion, seances gone horribly wrong, the terror of your identity being changed without your permission… Eventually, around the time I started what became The Luminous Dead, I figured out that I’d been writing horror of some kind all along, and decided to lean into it and start doing my homework so I could make it scarier for everybody.

(There are still times where I wonder if I’m “really” writing horror, and then a reader will offhandedly mention that I’ve made low battery notifications traumatic, and it’s like, yes, okay, I might not be scared of what I write, but everybody else sure is!)

Luminous Dead Book Cover
Photo credit: www.ericarobynreads.com

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?

Have fun whenever you can. It gets way harder the more pressure is on you, but no matter what point of your career you’re in (at least up to where I am now!). Stepping back and writing something because it’s fun is always some combination of relief, freedom to experiment, and opportunity to learn without necessarily realizing you’re doing it. Like I already mentioned, I spent so many years writing fanfiction or doing text-based roleplaying with friends, and I banged out more words and tried more approaches with the “fun” writing than I ever managed to with my “serious” projects. Plus it was just enjoyable, and kept me focused on the truth that, no matter how hard it gets (and seriously, it gets hard, it just does) I still just fundamentally enjoy writing.

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

Technology doesn’t care if it’s good for us (neither do the people who create it, in a lot of cases). Every helpful facet of every tech advance seems to come with either a tradeoff or an unexpected consequence. It’s just really fun to play with, honestly: how can I take this neat invention I’ve created because it’s cool or to solve a plot issue and use it to cause even more plot issues. With The Luminous Dead, Gyre has a suit that keeps her fed and warm and protected from the cave. It carries her gear. It connects her to the surface so she isn’t alone. Great! Now what horrible things also come along with that? How does she get plugged into that suit, and what does it feel like a week on, a month? What happens if the communications feature doesn’t so much stop working as work in a way Gyre doesn’t understand? What’s it like, to be cared for and constrained by the same indispensable object that has no feelings about you either way?

So not only does tech change the landscape of what your characters can do or explore, and not only can it be a weird and surprising new threat, but those two things can be completely linked. It’s elegant and honestly really upsetting sometimes!

Annihilation book cover
The Last Astronaut by David Wellington book cover
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson sci-fi horror book cover

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which is a completely intoxicating mindfuck. I feel like it’s what would happen if The Thing and House of Leaves had a really environmentally-conscious baby.

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington does some extremely cool stuff with expectations of physical scale in space that I really, really loved. Not to mention some great psychodrama.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson is just a wild ride, start to finish. The sequel just cranks it up even higher. Clones! Secret government programs! Constant, relentless violence against yourself! It really has everything.

(Also, as a bonus: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey – first of The Expanse novels, you may have heard of them – isn’t a horror novel per-se, but the horror elements in it? Incredible.)

If you’re interested in learning more about Caitlin Starling, check out her website at www.caitlinstarling.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@see_starling), Instagram (@authorcstarling), and Goodreads (@Caitlin_Starling). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


Scott Jones

Photo of sci-fi horror author Scott R Jones

Scott R. Jones is a Canadian writer living in Victoria BC with his wife and two frighteningly intelligent spawn. He is the author of When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (Martian Migraine Press) and the weird fiction story collection Shout Kill Revel Repeat (Journalstone/Trepidatio). His debut novel Stonefish was published by Word Horde in 2020. He was once kicked out of England for some very good reasons.

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

I’m a Canadian fella from the west coast of British Columbia, so I’ve been steeped since childhood in that weird PNW vibe. Also, grew up in an apocalypse cult, so combine the two influences and you’ve got me and my work: paranoia, things in the woods, ultraterrestrial entities offering bad deals, crumbling “real” realities, compelling false realities, and so on.

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’m pushing 50 now and I know I lost a certain momentum by taking a long break from writing at the turn of the century, which I absolutely should not have done. I’d tell myself to not take that break, basically. Consistency in output is key; it doesn’t have to be good output, even, just make sure you keep at it regular-like. I’m not a “write every day” guy because c’mon, that’s impossible for most, but yeah, be consistent with putting your butt in the seat and your fingers on the keyboard.

Stonefish book cover
Shout Kill Revel Repeat book cover
Cthulhusattva book cover

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

I think it speaks to a truth we are increasingly feeling to be relevant to our existence in the 21st Century. Lovecraft warned us of the “black seas of infinity” that surround our species and true to form, we are exploring that void of unknowing and correlating our contents! Will we go mad from the revelation? Seems we’re halfway there already. Sci-fi horror and weird horror are the genres in which we can explore these ideas most effectively, to my mind.

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Communion by Whitley Striber

If you’re interested in learning more about Scott Jones, check out his website at www.scottrjoneswriter.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@PimpMyShoggoth) and Goodreads (@Scott_R_Jones). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


JZ Foster and Justin Woodward

Sci-fi horror author JZ Foster

Born and raised in Ohio, JZ Foster moved to South Korea after college and lived there for 8 years, running a small English school, marrying a Korean woman and having a baby. In his time in South Korea, he’s become well versed in Korean politics and has done multiple radio interviews on South Korean and North politics. Since returning to the U.S., he’s launched his writing career and three series.

sci-fi horror author Justin M. Woodward

Justin M. Woodward lives in Headland, Alabama with his wife and two small boys, Nathan and Lucas. He is the author of three novels and dozens of short stories. You can follow him on all social media to reach out to him.

On a space station on Mars, a terrible mistake opens a gate to an alternate reality — and something comes through from the other side. After the station cuts off communication, a crew is sent to investigate, but they’re unprepared for the nightmare that awaits them…

Enter the world of Reality Bleed, a sci-fi thriller series by best selling authors J.Z. Foster and Justin M. Woodward (published under their press Winter Gate Publishing). Fans of Doom and Aliens will love this!

Reality Bleeds sci-fi thriller cover art with robot.

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

J.Z. Foster: Like most horror writers, I’ve been watching horror movies and reading horror books since I was a kid. I still have a deep love for the Resident Evil games/books, and the movie Aliens has honestly had an impact on my life. I started writing because I had a hard time trying to find the types of books that I wanted to read. That and I love telling stories. I ran roleplaying games for my friends for years before I ever started writing, so I was telling stories then too.

Justin Woodward: I was interested in horror at a young age. I vividly remember begging my parents for the latest Goosebumps book every time we went to the store. I always wanted to create my own stories, even wrangling my babysitter into helping me “write a horror book”. To this day, I’m not sure what happened to that. Unfortunately, I didn’t start actually writing long fiction until I got the idea for my first novel, The Variant, which was more of a sci-fi thriller than horror. It wasn’t until the idea for Tamer Animals came about that I took the plunge to delve deeper into my dark side.

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?

J.Z.: I only started outlining stories recently, and I found out that it helps a lot. I’d definitely recommend new writers do that! Other than that, I’d tell others (and myself) not to be too hard on their own work. Sometimes it’s difficult for writers to judge if their own work is ‘good’ or not, and all it ends up doing is slowing down the writing process.

Justin: Don’t waste time. Don’t second guess yourself. Put the content out there and be true to yourself. Don’t worry about following trends or the market, and don’t depend on anyone but yourself.

Hell on Mars book cover
Call of the void book cover
Crash Burn Die book cover

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

J.Z.: Certainly world building. I like creating a unique world for the characters to live in. I feel that in sci-fi, the world and environment needs to be a character itself.

Justin: I think I’m drawn to the fact that most things depicted in sci-fi horror are things that are actual possibilities in the real world, all we need to do is give it enough time.

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

J.Z.: That’s a good question, I’m not sure! Certainly a lot of Lovecraft and the Alien books, along with a myriad of comic books I’ve read in the genre. I can give you three movies though: Aliens, Pandorum, and The Thing.

Justin: Believe it or not, I haven’t read a ton of sci-fi horror. I was always into the genre as far as films go, but I never really got deep into the literature side of it. A few I’ve enjoyed are I Am Legend, John Dies At The End, and 1984.

If you’re interested in learning more about JZ Foster check out his website at www.jzfoster.com You can also follow the author on Twitter (@jzfosterauthor), Instagram (@jzfosterauthor), and Goodreads (@J_Z_Foster). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

If you’re interested in learning more about Justin Woodward, check out his website at www.justinmwoodward.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@justinmwoodward), Instagram (@justinmwoodward), and Goodreads (@Justin_M_Woodward). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured

Book Recommendation – Hell on Mars

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Hell on Mars by JZ Foster and Justin Woodward. This is the first book in Reality Bleed, their ongoing sci-fi horror series.

Born and raised in Ohio, JZ Foster moved to South Korea after college and lived there for 8 years, running a small English school, marrying a Korean woman and having a baby. Since returning to the U.S., he’s launched his writing career and three series. Justin M. Woodward lives in Headland, Alabama with his wife and two small boys, Nathan and Lucas. He is the author of three novels and dozens of short stories. Both are making a name for themselves in the sphere of sci-fi horror authors.

Photo of author JZ Foster
Photo of author Justin Woodward

SYNOPSIS: Something went wrong in the Mars Felicity Station. A gate to another reality was opened, and a mysterious alien plague threatens humanity. After communications with the station are cut, the crew of the Perihelion is sent to find out what happened. Outmatched and unprepared, they’re forced to make war on this new enemy and rescue what remains of the survivors.

Rating: 5/5 Mutant Heads

“If you love science fiction and horror then this is THE BOOK for you.”

Marcy (@MarcyReads)

“The monsters are scary as hell and the violence is explosive and bloody. If you’re looking for an excellent sci fi horror action book, look no further.”

Matt (@teamredmon)

“Characters were believable, the danger felt real, my heart was drumming a thousand beats a minute, and I was left with a cliffhanger that made me want to flip a table!”

Nina (@the_wandering_reader)

“Basically this book blends together the best parts of Doom, The Thing, Aliens, Event Horizon, Dead Space, and Stranger Things (all of which I love so much). Maybe I should knock off points for copying some, but I was just having too much FUN to care! Really though it manages to still stand alone as it’s own exciting entity, full of exhilarating action sequences, grotesque monsters, and great character development.”

Ben (@reading.vicariously)

To read the full review, click here!

Hell on Mars by JZ Foster and Justin Woodward is available now.

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers NA

On the Verge: 3 Alaskan Horror Authors

Intense cold. Darkness. Isolation.

Many successful horror stories have at least one, if not all three, of those factors playing a major role in their plots. Though such inhospitable elements make for terrifying environments in fiction, there are many people in the world thriving in such places as Alaska.

In our quest to find the best horror across the nation, Puzzle Box has made it to The Last Frontier. A land of ice and snow, full of untamed wilderness and ancient lore. Here, seemingly tucked away from the rest of the country, we have sought out several authors who hone their craft amidst what many would consider to be a desolate landscape. Yet these writers find their surroundings actually help spark their imagination and inspiration. So without further ado, allow us to introduce the Alaskan horror authors you need to be reading.

Jamey Bradbury

Jamey Bradbury author

Jamey Bradbury is the author of The Wild Inside, from William Morrow (2018). Her work has appeared in Black Warrior Review (winner of the annual fiction contest), Spark + Echo, Sou’wester, and Zone 3. She won an Estelle Campbell Memorial Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters. Jamey has an MFA from the University of North Carolina Greensboro. She lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

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

I have always loved being scared, since the days I entertained myself through boring sermons at church by reading the book of Revelation and scaring myself with images of unholy beasts and rivers of blood. But my grandmother was a huge storyteller–and if she was in the right mood, she would tell me about the spirits she saw and the premonitions she had. As a girl, she had encountered a handful of ghosts, and hearing about these incidents thrilled my spooky little brain. From early on, I liked making up my own stories; it’s no wonder, with Grandma whispering spooky tales in my ear, that I tended toward the scary.

I was never a Goosebumps kid, but I loved the middle grade novels of Betty Ren Wright, especially Christina’s Ghost and The Dollhouse Murders. Those were my doorway into stuff like Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison, the way the old black-and-white Universal horror movies became a doorway to The Thing, Poltergeist, and Nightmare on Elm Street.

Once, a friend of mine who can’t do horror asked why I loved horror movies and books so much. I honestly think the attraction is all about heightened emotion for me–that, and I love the way horror allows me to talk about and explore big feelings and ideas in really tangible ways. The metaphors horror offers makes it easier and more accessible to deal with topics that might otherwise feel too scary to come at directly.

The Wild Inside book cover
Photo Credit: www.shereadswithcats.com

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?

Maybe this is the boring answer, but I think I’d go back and tell my younger self to learn more about the business of writing. Students in MFA programs and writing workshops spend thousands of hours talking about craft and structure and all the things that theoretically will help them write something that will someday be published–but no one ever talks about what comes after that, or how to make good decisions about publication, or any of the hundred other things you encounter when you’re trying to find an audience for your work. I think this is something more programs should spend time on.

When it comes to writing process, though, I’d say trust your process. It’s interesting and somewhat helpful to read about how other writers tackle their drafts, and I can daydream all I want about how easy it must be for plotters to whip out a perfect, polished draft in one take–but the truth is, writing is never easy for anyone (not even for plotters), and in the end, what works for me is what works for me. I can’t copy anyone else’s process; I had to figure out what works for me, and learn to trust that.

3. Has living in Alaska influenced your writing at all?

Alaska has been a huge influence on my writing. Strangely, it was only when I left Alaska for a time that I found myself really drawn to writing about it. While I was away, first in North Carolina to get my MFA, and then later, living in Vermont, I discovered how much I missed Alaska, and pretty quickly resolved to go back as soon as I could; in the meantime, I started writing about the landscape I was longing for. That quickly became my first novel, The Wild Inside.

I think Alaska offers a perfect setting for horror. The endless dark, cold winters are an obvious backdrop for spooky stuff, but the glaring sunlight and long, sleepless summer nights offer their own sort of disorienting atmosphere. There’s a lot of space up here, a lot of land to get lost–or to lose yourself–in. I can’t go for a hike without thinking about all the different kinds of terrors that could befall a person alone in the woods or on the mountainside. Maybe that’s just my freaky brain, but I think that in addition to being one of the most beautiful places on earth, Alaska is also one of the most inspiring–and one of the scariest.

As a bonus, it’s also just a great place for a writer to live. I absolutely love the long winter and the way I can curl up like a hibernating bear in my house and completely focus on whatever I’m working on.

Hex book cover
My Best Friend's Exorcism book cover
Ghost Summer book cover

4. What are your top three favorite horror books?

Top three favorite horror books – at least for the moment!

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Truly the creepiest book I’ve read in quite a few years–so creepy, that I read it a second time within just a few months (not something I normally do)–and not only did the book hold up, it was even better the second time. The town of Black Spring, New York is held hostage by the ghost of a witch who was executed by the townspeople centuries earlier; no Black Spring citizen can leave town without becoming suicidal. A group of teens sets out to expose the ghost on the internet–but things quickly backfire on them. Possibly the scariest aspect of the book, especially for writers: Thomas Olde Heuvelt wrote the book in Dutch, set in Belgium, then rewrote the entire thing in English and moved the action to New York, to better appeal to American audiences.

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. For all the ’80s babies out there, Grady Hendrix’s tale of demonic possession among teenage girls is a nostalgic trip back to one of my favorite eras of horror. This is one that makes me laugh and cry as much as it scares me–and it’s such a great portrait of female friendship, especially that heady, dramatic, love-hate that can happen between teenage girls.

Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due. A short story collection by a master of the genre, Ghost Summer is like a collection of precious, cursed jewels. Each story reveals layers of complexity with simple, elegant language that also manages to get at both real and supernatural fears that live deep within the characters.

If you’re interested in learning more about Jamey Bradbury, check out her website at www.jameybradbury.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@JameyBradbury), Instagram (@jameybee), and Goodreads (@Jamey_Bradbury). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


DM Shephard

Author DM Shephard

DM Shephard pulled up anchor at 18 and joined the Navy to escape a small town in the Mojave desert. Through many twists and turns she made her way north to Alaska. She came for a job, but stayed for the adventure. When she’s not playing with live electricity, she’s out exploring what Alaska has to offer, or hanging out at her off-grid cabin near the tiny community of Chicken with her husband Ray. She blends together her experiences in STEM into her own brand of Suspense, Horror, and Romance.

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

I grew up in Victorville, CA, a small town in the Mojave Desert, that has been the setting for many horror and sci-fi movies over the years. One of the most influential for me was the 1977 version of The Hills Have Eyes. Michael Berryman, who played Pluto actually came and did a talk at my school when I was a kid. From Dusk Til Dawn (1996) was also shot in my hometown, along with Breakdown (Kurt Russell, 1997). I liked to concoct stories based on the local legends in the desert. I joined the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program and went forth seeking adventure. Unfortunately, a diagnosis of MS cut my dreams of becoming a super-spy short. So I became a super electrical engineer. Through many twists and turns, I made my way north and got a job in one of the toughest environments on earth, Prudhoe Bay. My husband and I are now trying to turn 30 acres of Alaska wilderness into an off-grid non-profit, Fortymile STEAM Foundation.

The Dark Land book cover

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?

My writing has improved greatly over the years. And I read as much as I write. The best advice I can offer is to sit down and write it. You can’t edit a blank page. What you write initially is going to suck. I look back at my earliest writing and think how that is terrible. But that’s okay. It’s far better than agonizing over everything and never getting the story down on paper. Write now, edit later.

3. Has living in Alaska influenced your writing at all?

Alaska has greatly influenced my writing. I moved to Alaska in 2007 for a job, but stayed for the adventure. My Dark Land series that I am currently self publishing is based on Athabascan Legends and experiences that my husband and I have had in the backcountry of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. I am also querying a gothic horror based on the Klondike Gold Rush set in Dawson City. I have several Blog posts on both.

http://dmshepard.com/alaskan-writing-inspiration/

http://dmshepard.com/getting-there-is-half-the-adventure-my-trip-into-wrangell-st-elias-national-park-in-the-name-of-writing-research/

http://dmshepard.com/the-ghosts-of-the-palace-grand-theater/

The Stand book cover
You book cover
The Great Mortality book cover

4. What are your top three favorite horror books?

Three favorites? Tough call, since I love reading. Tie between The Stand and Carrie by Stephen King. You by Caroline Kepnes. For non-fiction, The Great Mortality (about the Black Plague in 1348).

If you’re interested in learning more about DM Shephard, check out her website at http://dmshepard.com//. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@dmshepard13) and Goodreads (@D_M_Shepard). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


Mary Farnstrom

Profile of author Mary Farnstrom

Mary Farnstrom has been a freelance writer and illustrator for over a decade, with a focus on the horror genre. She is currently finishing her dual degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks while writing for Puzzle Box Horror and creating the image for her own brand as well.

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

I grew up in Southern California, but moved to Alaska when I was twenty-seven, which means this August I’ll have lived here for five years. I have loved the horror genre and surrounding culture ever since I was traumatized by Child’s Play (1988) at the age of three (maybe four?). I’ve always loved writing and was lucky to have a lot of my teachers throughout my youth encourage me to pursue it.

The road to a higher education for me has been incredibly long, but mostly because I spent a lot of time flipflopping between English to Linguistics and Central Alaskan Yup’ik, then finally (most recently) back to English. That being said, I’m one class away from having my bachelors in Yup’ik, so I’m planning on finishing that degree alongside an English degree.

What really decided it for me was when I took a Creative Writing class for a Linguistics degree requirement and I wrote a flash fiction horror story. It was exhilarating and tied into my love of the genre—then the most amazing ego-stroke happened. People actually LOVED it and even though I absolutely love, I had no idea that people would love my horror fiction. That’s around the time I found Puzzle Box Horror and the rest is pretty much history.

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?

Write. Write every day. Even if it’s just a journal entry, it’s an exercise in using language to express yourself. Don’t be afraid of critique, it’s actually one of the most beneficial things a writer can receive. It can illuminate the things that you might be having difficulty with and it can often point out things that don’t work.

If you find you’re having trouble writing, remind yourself that all first drafts are shitty. In fact, they’re literally called “shitty first drafts,” but that’s what the editing process is for. Write that shitty first draft, then set it aside. I look to Stephen King a lot when I think about the editing process, he recommends at least six weeks between finishing your shitty first draft until you go back and edit the shit out of it.

Let people read your writing when you’re done! Don’t be afraid to put your work in front of someone. Don’t be afraid of rejection when you finally submit for publication, because rejection doesn’t mean you failed. It’s just a learning experience and it will help you grow as a writer. Also, even though you should shoot for the stars, not everyone ends up a best selling author. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a feasible living doing what you love.

3. Has living in Alaska influenced your writing at all?

I can honestly say that it has! I’ve seen most of the state, but I still have a lot to explore—through my study of indigenous Alaskan cultures I’ve come across such a treasure trove of Alaska Native cryptid and ghost lore. Hopefully I’ll be illustrating the rich culture of lore and haunted nature of a lot of the abandoned places in the state with our next edition of Atlas of Lore.

Rosemary's Baby book cover
Psycho book cover
The Shining by Stephen King book cover

4. What are your top three favorite horror books?

This is a crazy good question—I absolutely love Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin, Psycho by Robert Bloch, and The Shining by Stephen King. I think the honorable mentions would be anything by Shirley Jackson, who was a total boss, and The Turn of the Screw, a novella by Henry James.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mary Farnstrom, check out her website at www.theunhingedalaskan.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@RealMacabreMary) and Instagram (@realmacabremary)

Categories
Best Of Best of Movies Featured

Best Sci-Fi Horror Movies

Though the sci-fi horror genre has been around for century, it’s really in the last few decades that it has hit it’s stride. Nowhere has that jump in popularity more prevalent or evident than in the world of film. The 70’s and 80’s represent a golden era in sci-fi horror movies, with the rise of such giants in the industry as John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, and Ridley Scott. But even from the 90’s onward sci-fi horror shows no signs of slowing down, and some really incredible entries have come out in just the last couple of years.

There are so many excellent sci-fi horror movies out there that it was very hard to narrow this down to a manageable list. Even with an “Honorable Mentions” section at the end, we know we missed plenty of viable candidates. Let us know some of the better films we left off down in the comments below!

Color Out of Space (2019)

Color out of space 2019 poster with sci-fi horror background

Did you know colors could be scary? H.P. Lovecraft certainly thought they could be, and he wrote a deeply unsettling story to prove it. Color Out of Space is a cosmic horror film based on that titular story, and it’s about the Gardner family who find that a meteorite has crash-landed on their farm. Suddenly, their once peaceful life in the country is shattered as the family finds themselves fighting an alien being that can infect and mutate their bodies and minds. Come for the Nicolas Cage performance, stay for the grotesque practical effects. With a slow build in the first half and a wild spree of body horror in the second half, Color Out of Space is a rare example of a Lovecraft adaptation done right. 

Annihilation (2018)

Annihilation horror movie poster with scary sci-fi landscape

Criminally underrated and suffering from a shoddy release, Annihilation is a film that deserves your attention and awe. Based on the book by Jeff Vandermeer, it’s a story about a group of scientists who venture into a mysterious zone called “the Shimmer” to collect data and locate the early explorers who have vanished inside. The movie shares some similarities with the book, but writer/director Alex Garland also made some significant changes and it’s best to view them as alternate entries in a shared universe. It’s notoriously difficult to translate cosmic horror to the big screen, but Annihilation manages to do it and do it well. Full of mind boggling images and a deep unfurling dread, this is a movie that really translates a sense of hopelessness and unfathomable fear.

Timecrimes (2007)

Timecrimes horror movie poster with creepy killer

Though perhaps more of a sci-fi thriller than horror, there are enough shocking scenes and gut-twisting suspense to earn the Spanish language film Timecrimes a spot on this list. The film opens with a man named Hector spying on a beautiful woman. His moment of voyeurism is suddenly disrupted when he is attacked by a man whose head is wrapped in bandages. Fleeing the scene, Hector is able to find refuge in a remote lab where a scientist convinces him to hide in what turns out to be a time machine. To say more would be to spoil critical scenes, but just know this movie, though saddled with a low budget and amatuer actors, is a wonderfully confounding and deeply disquieting.example of sci-fi horror.

Event Horizon (1997)

Event Horizon sci-fi horror movie poster with space ship and planet

Sure it flopped on its initial release (as did several other films on this list). Sure it’s been panned by critics and holds a highly debated place in film fandom. But whether you hate or, in our case, love it, there’s no denying that Event Horizon is fully ingrained in pop culture and space horror sensibilities. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about a spaceship that stumbles across a portal to hell. As this infernal dimension begins to assert it’s dark influence the crew is slowly driven into a violent madness. Full of existential dread and shots of pure horror, Event Horizon is a film not to be missed. Just hope you return from the experience in a better state than the crew.

The Fly (1986)

The Fly horror movie poster with a fly and black background

We’re big fans of both body horror and practical effects over here at Puzzle Box, and one of the movies that best combines those two elements is David Cronenburg’s The Fly. Really there are many great choices in the Cronenburg cannon, but picked this one for its engaging premise and delightfully gross effects. Jeff Goldbloom, who gives a particularly captivating performance, plays a scientist whose failed experiment in teleportation transforms him into a gigantic insect. It’s a disgusting and nightmarish riff on Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, but it’s also a surprisingly poignant look into the complexity of human relationships. 

Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator horror movie poster featuring a severed head and a creepy scientist

Herbert West, a slightly off-kilter scientist, has discovered a secret formula that can reanimate dead tissue and ultimately bring the deceased back to life. After a successful trial run on a fellow student’s cat, West takes his extraordinary elixir to the morgue and from there all havoc breaks loose. Though the movie is loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story, there were some major changes made and a lack of overall otherworldly dread. Instead we get a gloriously violent and darkly comedic romp full of gore and humor, all centered around the delightfully cheesy performance of actor Stewart Gordan. And really, what more could you want?

The Thing (1982)

The Thing 1982 sci-fi horror movie poster featuring a man in an arctic suit with beams of light coming through his head

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterpiece of paranoia and gorey practical effects. Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John Campbell Jr, Carpenter’s version is actually the third adaptation of the story and by far the most famous. In an isolated arctic setting, a team of scientists uncover an ancient alien being. Despite their best intentions, the creature is revived and begins to take them out one by one. What makes this plot particularly terrifying is the alien’s ability to mimic other lifeforms.The frenzy of shapeshifting that ensues, from the normal humanoid forms to the outrageously bizarre spectacles, keeps the scientists (and the audience) guessing on who is friend or foe. For the staff at Puzzle Box Horror, this is easily one of our favorite sci-fi horror films.

Scanners (1981)

Scanners horror movie poster from 1981 featuring a man whose head is exploding

Ok we swear this isn’t cheating, but we’re double-dipping in the Carpenter oeuvre. His movie Scanners, essentially about a group of telepathics seeking world domination and the counter-group fighting to subvert them, is what we consider essential viewing when it comes to the sci-fi horror genre. Yes it has the infamous head-exploding scene, and yes it’s as entertaining and memorable as you’d assume from a Carpenter film. But it also features some fine character acting and touches on some intriguing sociopolitical themes. Overall it’s a satisfying blend of cerebral commentary and visceral chaos. 

Alien (1979)

Alien 1979 horror movie poster featuring an alien egg

It’s impossible to talk about sci-fi horror without the angular, toothy distorted image of a xenomorph coming to mind. The whole alien franchise is fantastic (yes, even that one), but we have to give credit to the one that started it all. Ridley Scott’s Alien is dark, tense, and claustrophobic; a slow-burn of mounting dread and unseen foes until about the halfway mark when it explodes (literally) with stomach-churning horror. Featuring the unforgettable designs by H.R. Giger and inspiring decades of filmmakers after it, Alien stands as a shining example of the “horror in space” genre.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1978 movie poster featuring aliens and a person in a cocoon

It’s not often that a remake is better than the original, but the 70’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers is arguably superior to its predecessor. The enthralling performances of the leads, the creepy practical effects, the unnerving musical score, and the harrowing ending all work in perfect unison to make this a shockingly scary film. The cold war paranoia of the first movie has also been updated to showcase more relevant social metaphors, such as the loss of self and breakdown of community. Body possession movies have always been terrifying, and this one, about an alien plant that consumes its sleeping host and assumes their form, is a must-watch entry in the sci-fi horror genre.

Honorable Mentions

Possessor (2020)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Life (2017)

Ex Machina (2014)

Europa Report (2013)

Sunshine (2007)

Slither (2006)

28 Days Later (2002)

Donnie Darko (2001)

The Faculty (1998)

Demon Seed (1997)

Mimic (1997)

Cube (1997)

Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)

Aliens (1986)

From Beyond (1986)

Altered States (1980)

The Fury (1978)