On the Verge: Folk Horror Authors – Part 2

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The “On the Verge” series at Puzzle Box Horror is all about highlighting horror authors who are standouts in various genres. Some of these authors are bigger names in the industry, but many of them are indie writers who publish through small presses or self-publish. The point is to emphasize these fine folks and their contribution to a specific genre, enlightening the reader while also bringing attention to the authors and their work.

In our last post in the series we focused specifically on authors who write in the folk horror genre. Because the genre is such a favorite of ours, and because there are just so many great stories in this category, we decided to put together a second article featuring additional authors. So prepare to dive back into the realm of isolation, folklore, and supernatural mystery as we present six authors of folk horror you need to be reading!

Adam Nevill

Adam Nevill folk horror author photo

Adam L.G. Nevill was born in Birmingham, England, in 1969 and grew up in England and New Zealand. He is an author of horror fiction. Of his novels, The Ritual, Last Days, No One Gets Out Alive and The Reddening were all winners of The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. He has also published three collections of short stories, with Some Will Not Sleep winning the British Fantasy Award for Best Collection, 2017. Imaginarium adapted The Ritual and No One Gets Out Alive into feature films and more of his work is currently in development for the screen. The author lives in Devon, England. 

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

I’m a British writer of horror. This year’s novel, Cunning Folk, will be my tenth novel published and I have three short story collections available too. Since my Dad read me the ghost stories of M. R. James when I was a child, horror has always been the fiction I’ve wanted to write and the field that I’ve wanted to contribute to. I’ve been writing horror since 1995 and my short fiction was first published in 2003, my first novel, Banquet for the Damned, in 2004. I’m a horror lifer and an enthusiast for horror in fiction, film and comics. I pretty much set my goal on becoming a horror writer in my mid-teens, way back in the 1980s.

My break to the next level from the underground of small presses and series fiction to the international publishers happened in 2009, when my second and third novels were taken on by Pan MacMillan in the UK. They were Apartment 16 and The Ritual. Horror had been out of vogue for a long time in publishing, but when it returned to favour, a door opened.

I am now in my third decade as a writer of horror. It took me ten years to complete the first three novels so it’s been a slow, steady evolution for my career. I now have my own imprint for some of my titles, Ritual Limited, and two of my novels have been adapted into films. No One Gets Out Alive will be out this year on Netflix. The Ritual was the first film adapted from my novel of the same name.

No One Gets Out Alive book cover with dark house

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 developed as a writer within the old, traditional route: you had to get an agent to even get a publisher to read a line of your work. It took me 11 years to find an agent. There was no indie publishing as we know it today, or Amazon KDP, hardly any small presses, the internet was small or non-existent etc. But I guess, I’d tell my younger self not to despair so much during the first 15 years, nor to be so extreme about my mission. My endeavours seemed futile for a long time and yet I remained driven – the way of angst. Flipside, I never gave up and focused on what was important – reading, studying writing and, of course, writing more.

I’d mainly insist that my younger self be better informed about publishing and the book trade and how the business works. I didn’t really start figuring that out until 2005, when I became a fiction editor. But the basics of becoming a writer I’d mercifully grasped in adolescence: to read the best writers in the field and to read widely beyond horror. Learning to rewrite early on was transforming for my work too.

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

I’ve always found elements of folk stories, folk culture and pagan mythology equally enthralling and grotesque – it’s that combination of mystery and the ghastly that drew me in imaginatively. Particularly certain details that seem almost credible, as if folklore has a basis in something intangible but genuinely supernormal.

In Great Britain we’ve no end of ghost stories and a long tradition of believing in witchcraft, hauntings and curses. I’m surrounded by inspiration; a sense of ancient presences, pagan deities, charmed locales that can influence the human mind and even whole communities. So much of a strange and unknowable past is buried in this island. Much of it no one understands so it’s enigma is appealing; so the idea of the present being affected by what is hidden or misunderstood or obscured by time appeals to me.

I live by two cave systems that contained treasure troves of prehistoric artefacts; I can see the scars of the last ice ages on the landscape around my home; and almost anywhere you go in Britain, you will see vestiges and relics of a darker and more superstitious time. This really distilled in my novel, The Reddening.

So, I guess my favourite aspect of folk horror would be its aesthetic, be it ancient or modern.

The Wicker Man movie poster
Midsommar movie poster
Blair Witch movie poster

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

I’ll go with film: The Wicker Man, Midsommar & The Blair Witch Project.

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

William Meikle

William Meikle folk horror author photo

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines. He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company. When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

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

I write to escape.

I grew up in the sixties and seventies on a West of Scotland council estate in a town where you were either unemployed or working in the steelworks, and sometimes both. Many of the townspeople led hard, miserable lives of quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, desperation. I was relatively lucky in that both my parents worked, but I spent a lot of time alone or at my grandparent’s house.

My Granddad was housebound, and a voracious reader. I got the habit from him, and through him I discovered the Pan Books of Horror and Lovecraft, but I also discovered westerns, science fiction, war novels and the likes of Mickey Spillane, Ed McBain, Alistair MacLean, Dennis Wheatley, Nigel Tranter, Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. When you mix all that together with DC Comics, Tarzan, Gerry Anderson and Dr Who then, later on, Hammer and Universal movies on the BBC, you can see how the pulp became embedded in my psyche.

When I was at school these books and my guitar were all that kept me sane in a town that was going downhill fast. The steelworks shut and employment got worse. I -could- have started writing about that, but why bother? All I had to do was walk outside and I’d get it slapped in my face. That horror was all too real.

So I took up my pen and wrote. At first it was song lyrics, designed (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me closer to girls.

I tried my hand at a few short stories but had no confidence in them and hid them away. And that was that for many years.

I didn’t get the urge again until I was past thirty and trapped in a very boring job. My home town had continued to stagnate and, unless I wanted to spend my whole life drinking (something I was actively considering at the time), returning there wasn’t an option.

Operation Congo book cover
Operation Syria book cover
Operation North Sea book cover

My brain needed something, and writing gave it what was required. That point, back thirty years ago, was like switching on an engine, one that has been running steadily ever since.

It’s been a slow and steady progression, from UK small press pay in copies markets for much of the nineties, to getting a novel published in the USA in 2001, then starting to hit the pro short story market, and finding a home for novels with the higher end small presses. I went full time in 2007 and I’ve now got over 30 novels, a whole load of novellas and over 300 short stories in print, including a success story in my current S-Squad series where a bunch of sweary Scottish squaddies fight a ‘monster of the week’ in each book. (I’ve managed to shoehorn in some folklore, Scottish stuff in particular)

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?

Two things:

I’d have started earlier. I didn’t get going until i was 34ish, and now regret leaving it so late. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. That’s the simplest yet best advice you’ll get.

The other thing is to develop a thick skin. Rejection doesn’t mean you’re crap, just that you sent the wrong thing to the wrong editor at the wrong time. Keeping your bum in your chair and keeping going is the best way to cope with it.

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

I love the sense of deep time. It’s something I miss since leaving Scotland. I have a deep love of old places, in particular menhirs and stone circles, and in the past I’ve spent quite a lot of time travelling the UK and Europe just to visit archaeological remains in places like Orkney, Salisbury Plain, Carnac, Malta and Crete.

I also love what is widely known as “weird shit”. I’ve spent far too much time surfing and reading Fortean, paranormal and cryptozoological websites. The cryptozoological stuff that’s embedded, particularly in Celtic folklore with its tales of kelpies, selkies, black dogs and lake monsters especially fascinates me, and provides a direct stimulus for a lot of my fiction.

The Ceremonies book cover
The Owl Service book cover
Night of the Demon movie poster

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

Books:

  • The Ceremonies by T.E.D Klein – the masterpiece of the genre. I learn something new from it with each reading
  • The Owl Service by Alan Garner – fifty years plus on from my first reading and it’s still as tight and unsettling as ever
  • “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner – OK, it’s a short story, but its just about the best folklore related fiction there is

Films:

  • The Wicker Man – oft imitated, never bettered
  • The Witch – my favorite of the recent bunch purely for the consistency of vision. A remarkable work.
  • Night of the Demon – my all time favorite, and the thing that hooked me on the genre all those years ago.

If you’re interested in learning more about William Meikle, check out his website at www.williammeikle.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@williemeikle), Instagram (@williammeikle4595), and Goodreads (@William_Meikle). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Tracy Fahey

Tracy Fahey folk horror author picture

Tracy Fahey is an Irish fiction writer. In 2017, her debut collection The Unheimlich Manoeuvre was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award for Best Collection. She has published two further collections; New Music For Old Rituals (2018, Black Shuck Books) and I Spit Myself Out (2021, Sinister Horror Company) and one novel, The Girl in the Fort (2017, Fox Spirit Books).

Fahey’s short fiction is published in over thirty American, British, Australian and Irish anthologies including Stephen Jones’ Best New Horror, Nightscript V, and Uncertainties III, and her work has been reviewed in the TLS and Black Static. In 2019, her short story “That Thing I Did” received an Honourable Mention from Ellen Datlow in The Best Horror of the Year Volume Eleven.

Fahey holds a PhD on the Gothic in visual arts, and her non-fiction writing on the Gothic and folklore has appeared in Irish, English, Italian, Dutch and Australian edited collections. Her writing has been commissioned by visual artist Marie Brett and the Crawford College of Art. She has been awarded residencies in Ireland and Greece.

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

Horror has always fascinated me; even as a child I was enthralled by stories my grandmother told me about local dark folklore—tales of the banshee, ghosts and other supernatural occurrences. My very first job (when in school) was writing and doing readings of my own short stories on a local radio station. Those stories borrowed heavily (and unapologetically) from authors who intrigued me, Edgar Allan Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Ray Bradbury…and the writers of Misty, the British paranormal comic for girls. So my roots in horror came from folklore, storytelling, reading and writing.

However, life intervened, and for a few decades I focused on work, teaching and writing on visual arts and design. But my allegiance to horror deepened, and after a severe illness which left me in recovery mode for about a year, I started to tentatively write. I was drawn towards one of my obsessions, the idea of the dark home and its roots in Irish culture. And from this source I began to write short stories which found homes in several anthologies by Fox Spirit Press, Hic Dragones, Dark Minds Press and other small presses. Three years later, I had finished my PhD (on the Gothic home in Irish visual art) and my first collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, which was published in 2016 by Boo Books, and has been reprinted twice by the Sinister Horror Company; in 2018 and again, in a deluxe edition, in 2020.

Five years later, I’ve written several more books, two of them explicitly exploring folk horror – my YA novel The Girl In The Fort (2017, Fox Spirit Press) and my second collection, New Music For Old Rituals (2018, Black Shuck Books) – and a third collection on female body horror, I Spit Myself Out (2021, Sinister Horror Company).

The Unheimlich Manoeuvre book cover with house
New Music for Old Rituals book cover
I Spit Myself Out 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?

Read everything. Although the primary genres I write in are the Gothic and folk horror, I have very catholic tastes. I read omnivorously, and always have. It’s through reading you find what you admire, that you find new ways to write. And because I read across genres, it gives me a bigger lens through which to analyse the writing of others—seeing what works and what doesn’t.

Write without fear, and write what you love. Tap in to what obsesses you. For me it this continues to be ideas of liminality, the uncanny, the body, and dark folklore. Explore it. Write authentically. Write what you’d like to read. Find your comfort medium; poetry, short stories, novellas, novels. And when you find your narrative, your medium and your voice, just experiment with writing out these passions and finding different ways to do it.

Submit. I can’t emphasise this one strongly enough. Although you start writing for an audience of one—yourself—it’s so wonderful to have your writing read by others. You learn so much from editors, from reviewers. Sure, it takes courage to send work out (and stamina to deal with rejection) but the simple joy of being published and having your work in the public eye is magical. And when you submit, always be mindful of what editors want, how they want it formatted, and be polite and gracious whether work is accepted or not. There are some excellent websites out there such as Submissions Grinder and The Horror Tree which advertise upcoming submission genre opportunities.

Go to conventions. Another game-changer for me was discovering the British genre scene through conventions. It’s where I met my tribe, people I have subsequently worked with, edited with, written with, and, most importantly, become friends with. It’s not only where you network but where you genuinely connect with others who are on a similar mission.

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

That’s a difficult question, as this is one of the genres I’m most drawn to and researched most fully. In 2020 I taught a seminar programme on the Folk Horror Revival in Limerick School of Art and Design. This winter I’m delivering a workshop on Crafting Contemporary Folk Horror at the forthcoming UK Ghost Story Festival which will run in Derby this November 26 th -28 th (for more information on this follow @UKGSFestival on Twitter).

But as a writer, and as an Irish writer, my favourite aspect of folk horror is the idea of reinventing and reinterpreting the folklore of my home country. I have a huge interest in my native Irish folklore since I was a child, and through my academic research I’ve spent a lot of time researching legends, customs and superstitions to do with the home. In my own work I borrow from folklore as inspiration, but the twist I take on it is contemporary. I believe that folklore teaches us a lot about values and community, and I welcome the current folk horror revival which brings a renewed focus to the idea that stories have value, that stories can act as warnings, cautionary tales.

I’m interested primarily in my own cultural history and the idea of connecting to my heritage through folk horror. Although the legends and stories of other cultures fascinate me, I’m aware that I don’t want to appropriate or misuse tropes from other histories. But within my own culture I’m continually learning more about the way folklore changes and reinvents itself. And because Irish folklore is one of the richest in the world due to its flourishing under colonial rule, it’s a never-ending source of inspiration.

I’m also fascinated by ideas of transmission and legacy through storytelling. I’m living proof of how folklore operates in that regard; many of my seminal influences date back to a childhood spent listening to stories. As I don’t have children, writing my interpretation of folklore is one of the ways in which I feel I can actively contribute to the continued growth and diversity of the Irish contemporary folk tradition.

The Hole in the Ground movie cover
To Drown in Dark Water book cover
The Fiend in the Furrows book cover

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

One of my favourite folk horror movies is Ari Aster’s 2019 Midsommar. I’m very interested in contemporary takes on folk horror, and I found this movie intensely satisfying. It keeps true to the tropes of folk horror – outsiders come to a remote community that operates under its own moral imperatives, the importance of tradition, and the necessity of sacrifice for the greater good – but this movie is also outstanding in the way that it becomes an avenue to explore themes like loss and the importance of community. Unlike many horror movies it doesn’t rely on the helpful adjuncts of darkness or jump-scares, instead utilising precepts of the uncanny to create an evocative and intense viewing experience. Furthermore (and without spoiling the movie) it also speaks to ideas of redemption and reconnection. And every time I watch it, I find a different layer, deeper resonances. In terms of folk horror film, also I love Robin Hardy’s 1973 The Wicker Man, and the work of Ben Wheatley – especially Kill List (2011). Special mention also for the 2019 low-key Irish folk horror movie, directed by Lee Cronin, The Hole In The Ground.

Next up on my list is a 2017 non-fiction book by Adam Scovell, Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange, which looks at the roots of folk horror and explores ways in which folk horror has expressed and continues to express itself in different media. It’s a fascinating primer on what the genre is and how it has been explored by various creative practitioners. In terms of non-fiction collections of Irish dark folklore, I’d strongly recommend Meeting The Other Crowd by Carolyn Eve Green and Irish storyteller Eddie Lenihan.

In terms of fiction, we’re spoiled for choice, but I’m going to single out Eden Royce’s 2015 Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror. Eden draws upon her rich Gullah/Geechee heritage to craft visceral horror stories through her lyrical writing and use of sensual language. I’m very much looking forward to reading her 2021 Root Magic, which takes the same source but focuses on ideas of childhood, tradition and, of course, root magic. I also love Steve Toase’s excellent 2021 folk horror collection, To Drown In Dark Water, which showcases his own background and interest in archaeology and folklore, and Priya Sharma’s beautiful collection, All The Fabulous Beasts, which deftly plays with international folk motifs and archetypes using her trademark evocative prose. Special praise also for Nosetouch Press and their folk horror anthologies, The Fiends in the Furrows (2018) and The Fiends in the Furrows II (2020).

If you’re interested in learning more about Tracy Fahey, check out her website at www.tracyfahey.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@TracyFahey) and Goodreads (@Tracy_Fahey). Finally, to purchase her books check out the author on Amazon.

Catherine Cavendish

Catherine Cavendish folk horror author picture

Catherine Cavendish is a writer of horror fiction – frequently with ghostly, supernatural, Gothic and haunted house themes. Her latest novel – In Darkness, Shadows Breathe – is published by Flame Tree Press, as well as the two previous novels The Garden of Bewitchment and The Haunting of Henderson Close. Her latest novella – The Malan Witch – is now out from Silver Shamrock Publishing. Catherine’s Nemsis of the Gods trilogy is out now from Kensington-Lyrical, and she’s had numerous novellas and novels published by Crossroad Press. She lives with a long-suffering husband and a delightful black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

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

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil in my chubby toddler paw. Then it was mostly utter rubbish and balderdash – well, if I’m entirely honest, mainly squiggles. Then I learned how to read and write properly and we had these English lessons at school where we were required to write essays. Now, the other kids used to groan when faced with an essay to compose. Me? I would have shouted “Bring it on” if people did indeed shout that at the time. I settled for the more commonly used “Groovy” instead. (Yes, I am THAT old).

The years passed, I left school, went to work, read loads. Found my favourite fiction genres were Historical, Crime and… you guessed it…Horror. I continued to write, but essays had long given way to short stories and novels. I went through the gamut of romance, children’s, historical, and crime but found increasingly that everything I wrote tended toward the ghostly, supernatural and horror. From there it was a short step into writing my first horror novel. Ironically it could be described as folk horror as it centred on the ancient stone circles at Avebury in Wiltshire. This story was never published and has been lost along the way, but I learned a lot from writing it – significantly that of all the genres I had attempted, horror was my far and away favourite.

Some years later, an editor agreed with me, and I signed my first publishing contract.

The Garden of Bewitchment book cover
The Malan Witch 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?

Read. Read, Read. Now this is a lesson I learned very early on. If you want to write in a particular genre, make sure you’ve read extensively in it. Make sure you know what works and what doesn’t. Focus on authors who you admire and read their work critically. What is it that hooks you in? What keeps you reading? How can you make your dialogue sound realistic (quick tip – read it out loud as if you are rehearsing a play). Look at how they manipulate the rules of language to improve the story, quicken or slow down the pace. Also read other genres. In other words, learn your craft.

Remember a first draft is merely that. The first draft. Once it’s down on paper, that’s when the real writing begins. Whoever said “novels aren’t written, they’re rewritten” knew their stuff.

Get a first-class beta reader (or more if you prefer). This should be someone who is literate, knows how to craft a good story and is a reader in your genre – in other words, your target market. When they offer constructive criticism, take it on the chin. You’re going to need the hide of a rhino so might as well start now.

And of course, be tenacious. If you are writing what you love and loving what you write, as well as continuing to grow as a writer, chances are that one day someone is going to like what you do enough to take a chance on you.

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

The sheer breadth, scope and variety out there. So many wonderfully different stories have been woven around the folklore myths and legends surrounding Mothman, Big Foot , the Green Man, Salem, Pendle and much, much more. I particularly find myself drawn to Asian tales handed down through generations and involving some pretty gruesome creatures and ghosts. Myths and folklore from around the world have provided the inspiration for a host of films such as The Curse of La Llorona, The Ring, The Wicker Man and a host of others.

I also love the way that, with such a wealth of extraordinary material existing out there, it is still possible to successfully create your own folk horror myth. The Babadook is but one example of this and Adam Nevill’s The Ritual and The Reddening are others. As a folk horror writer, you are never short of ideas once you tap into folklore and let your imagination do the rest.

The Hungry Moon book cover
Those Who Came Before book cover
The Ritual book cover

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

This is a tough one because there are so many. I’ll stick with books because the minute I add films into the equation, my head explodes.

One of my favourite horror authors is the great Ramsey Campbell who has the ability to craft superb folk horror tales of which there are many examples throughout his long career to date. It’s tough to choose just one but I’ll settle on The Hungry Moon.

J.H. Moncrieff is a Canadian writer who has been emerging as a real talent, taking a creepy folklore tradition and turning it into a scary, twisted folk horror tale. One outstanding example I have loved recently is Those Who Came Before.

I couldn’t leave Adam Nevill out. His writing and ability to weave a twisted, frightening tale keep me awake at night. As with the other two, he has a number of examples of great stories within the folk horror tradition. I know I’ve mentioned it before but I’ll pick The Ritual which, if I were also to include folk horror films, would almost certainly make the cut. Read the book first though!

If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine Cavendish, check out her website at www.catherinecavendish.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@Cat_Cavendish), Instagram (@catcavendish), and Goodreads (@Catherine_Cavendish). Finally, to purchase her books check out the author on Amazon.

Tony Evans

Tony Evans folk horror author photo

Tony Evans is a crafter of horror and dark fiction, father, wildlife biologist, and member of the Horror Writers Association. Originally from the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky, Tony grew up listening to stories about mountain monsters and holler witches, and his love for these folktales shows in his writing. While he enjoys all types of horror, he definitely has a hard preference for stories about dark entities, demons, witches, and boogeymen. Tony has published over twenty short horror stories in various online and print anthologies and magazines to date. His debut short story collection – Better You Believe – was released in February of 2019, and his debut novel – Sour – was released in October of 2019. He currently lives in New Albany, Indiana where he spends his time coming up with bad story ideas and trying to entertain his wife and two young daughters – his favorite little monsters.

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

Well, my name is Tony Evans (not the preacher…haha) and I was born and raised in Eastern Kentucky in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. When I was about four years old, my dad started telling me stories about “holler witches”, Bloody Bones, and mountain monsters and I guess those stories just kinda stuck.

As I grew older and started traveling outside of the area, I found that people not familiar with the region really seemed to enjoy when I would retell all of those old tales from the mountains, and so I decided to start writing them down. I guess I just wanted to tell the stories that my dad told to me as a child in the hopes that someone else found them just as fun and fascinating as I did and still do.  

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?

If I could go back in time, I think I would give myself two pieces of advice regarding writing.

First, I would tell myself that rejection is not a bad thing. It happens to EVERYONE who writes. No matter how good you think that story you’re writing is, and no matter how much you work on it and do everything you can to get it in the best possible shape it can be in before you submit it…chances are that it, or another one you send, will get rejected. It’s just a part of the game. I’ll never forget the first short story I ever did. I was absolutely sure it would be a huge hit. I’d send it in (to a very well known small press, actually), the editor would fall all over themselves trying to buy it from me, and I’d get rich! Boy, was I wrong! However, the editor was kind enough to give me some pointers on my mistakes, and there were many,  free to sort of help me along. Since then he and I have become pretty good friends. I’ve still not sold that story, come to think of it…but it’s going in a collection I’m putting out in a month or so. Point is, rejection happens to everyone, and it helps you grow as a writer.

Better You Believe by Tony Evans cover
Sour by Tony Evans cover

The second piece of advice, and this one I’ve found to be very important, I got from a talk given by one of the masters of short fiction, Ray Bradbury. During his keynote address of the Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, Bradbury said, and I quote, “Get rid of those friends of yours who make fun of you and don’t believe in you. When you leave here tonight, go home, make a phone call, and fire them. Anyone who doesn’t believe in you and your future, to hell with them.”. To this day, this quote makes me cry. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and want you to succeed. I think a lot of writers are pushed away from what they love because someone in their family or some of their so called friends say things like, “that’s a fun little hobby, but…”, or “well, that sounds cute, but what do you do for a real job?”. So, as Ray Bradbury said, I’d tell my younger self to hell with them!

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

I typically look at folk horror as something rooted in folklore/local urban legends and/or something that’s sort of derived from traditional religious backgrounds, magic, or witchcraft in general. The way that folklore, even in today’s modern age, persists in spite of all the technological and scientific advances is just amazing in my opinion. I always tell people that I don’t believe in any of that stuff, and I consider myself agnostic…but I can remember that even as a child I was scared to death that I’d walk through my house and see Jesus standing there. Very irrational, I know, as Jesus is supposed to be a symbol of good. It’s the thought of seeing something I can’t explain that scared me, and still kinda does. I guess that means that I have to believe in something, deep down, perhaps.

So my favorite aspect of folk horror is how the stories linger, the way they persist throughout the years no matter what, and the fact that the whole genera sort of falls in a realm where science can’t prove or disprove the content’s existence…kinda like the twilight zone. That has always fascinated me.

The Witch movie poster with raven
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt cover

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

  • The VVitch – hands down one of my favorite movies of the last 50 years.
  • The Ritual by Adam Nevill, both the book and the movie – a fantastic modern-day folk horror story.
  • HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt – one of the best witch books written. This novel is a fantastic blend of aged traditions and modern-day society.

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

Mary Rajotte

Mary Rajotte folk horror author pic

Canadian author Mary Rajotte has a penchant for penning nightmarish tales of folk horror and paranormal suspense. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies and she is currently querying her first novel. Sometimes camera-elusive but always coffee-fueled, you can find Mary at her website http://www.maryrajotte.com or support her Patreon for exclusive fiction at patreon.com/maryrajotte.

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

As one of the resident Goths at my high school, it’s no surprise that my first dark writing was poetry. In my last year, I took a Writer’s Craft class where I wrote a vampire story inspired by Anne Rice and that’s when I realized I wanted to write for a living. My paternal grandmother was a writer. Her stories were more literary tales about her life growing up, but I’ve always been inspired by her and her drive to continue writing, even after her health declined. 

Thicker Than Water book cover with house
Women of the Woods book cover with 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?

Don’t be afraid to experiment and let go of the reins a bit. I still have trouble with that myself. I’m a plotter by nature but I sometimes feel I can be a little too rigid so I’m trying to follow my writerly instincts more and allow myself to have more fun. I also encourage new writers to continue honing their craft by trying new things and embracing their interests. Now that I have fully embraced my own love for folklore, superstitions and darker themes, I feel I have found my voice. 

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

I love superstition and folklore not just for the stories but the reasoning behind them. I’ve come across some of the strangest tales that make me wonder why people believed them. And there’s pretty much a superstition for everything! Like, who ever came up with the idea that taking a tooth from a dead man’s skull and wearing it on your person would prevent toothaches? Or burying the hair cut from the head of an ill person in the ground would cause their sickness to molder away in the earth and they would be cured? These little seeds are just the thing to inspire the types of strange tales I love to tell. 

The Witch movie poster
Gwen movie poster
Pyewacket movie poster

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

One of my favorite modern anthologies is The Fiends in the Furrows from Nosetouch Press. It had all the classic folk horror elements – isolation, strange arcane rituals and paranoia, all with a modern twist.

For movies, I loved The Witch, Gwen and Pyewacket. They all have a similar tone, that sense of dread that lurks over the characters, and misfortune that they can’t seem to escape. The cool thing is that even though the first two are similar, Pyewacket is a great example that folklore and the occult can take place in a modern setting and still be unsettling.

If you’re interested in learning more about Mary Rajotte, check out her website at www.maryrajotte.com/blog. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@MaryRajotte), Instagram (@maryrajotte), and Goodreads (@Mary_Rajotte). Finally, to purchase her books check out the author on Amazon.

On the Verge: Body Horror Authors to Read Right Now

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

Body horror is a smaller genre under the umbrella of Horror that deals in attacks and atrocities committed on the human body. These inflictions are typically physical or psychological in nature, though they carry a strong emotional resonance as well.

As we detailed in our History of Body Horror article, the reason the genre works so well is because it deals with universal themes and fears. Everyone is subjected to physical pain, disease, aging, and death – and so texts that incorporate these elements are both relatable to some degree as well as terrifying. Even when the elements are stretched to bizarre degrees, there is an underlying current of familiarity.

Writers who work in body horror are particularly adept at cutting to the nerve of our human fragility in all its various forms. They have an ability to weave very real pain and fear into their fiction in ways that are surprising and unnerving. And so, here is a short list of body horror authors you should be reading right now!

Zac Thompson

Zac Thompson author photo

Zac Thompson is a writer born and raised on Prince Edward Island, Canada. He’s written titles like Marvelous X-Men, Cable, and X-Men: Black for Marvel Comics. Along with indie books such as Her Infernal Descent, Relay, and The Replacer. In 2019, Zac became the showrunner of the Age of X-Man universe at Marvel Comics. His critically acclaimed miniseries, Come Into Me, was called the best horror comic of 2018 by HorrorDNA. His debut comic series, The Dregs, was called “lowbrow brilliant” by New York Magazine. His novel, Weaponized, was the winner of the 2016 CryptTV horror fiction contest.

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

Hey, I’m Zac Thompson. I was born and raised on Prince Edward Island, which is the smallest province in Canada. Naturally there wasn’t much to do around here as a kid. So I became obsessed with horror at an early age. My brothers and I would bike to the local video store and rent a pile of horror movies long before we should’ve. Regular triple features of insanity basically rewired my brain by the time I turned ten. That led to discovering horror novels, and horror comics… and before long writing for the website Bloody-Disgusting. Writing about horror led to this craving to create my own horror.

I went to film school with the intent to graduate and make my own horror movies. While there, I met my (often) writing partner Lonnie Nadler. We were both writing for VICE at the time and started to see some of the underlying horror of the city we lived in: Vancouver BC. We built out the concept for The Dregs (my first piece of published fiction) with a local artist Eric Zadwadzki. We pitched it as a noir about a city that literally cannibalizes its weakest citizens and we’re told routinely that it was “unmarketable”. Luckily horror is a genre that thrives in the “unmarketable” space and we didn’t give up. After years of looking for a publisher we were lucky that Black Mask Studios saw merit in the transgression of the work.

The Dregs comic cover
The Replacer comic cover
Come into Me comic 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?

Oh man, this is such a multilayered thing. First, I’d say fully understand your contracts before signing them. Pay a lawyer to go over it, I promise it’s worth it. It can be a really exciting prospect to be offered money in exchange for writing a story. But selling the publishing rights always comes with several attached strings. Ask questions until you understand the terms of your payment, who retains ownership of the story, and if/when you’ll ever retain the publishing rights. Set boundaries early in a relationship and reinforce them if you have to. You shouldn’t work for free and you’re not part of a “family” – anyone who says that kinda stuff to you is probably trying to exploit your labour.

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

I love every type of horror but there’s something so universal to me about being afraid of your own body. There’s this primal part of us that understands we’re in this big sack of meat, filled with a complex network of organs that complete complicated processes to keep us alive but we don’t think about it. Until we’re sick. When we feel pain in our bodies it’s this registration that we’re inside this finite thing that can fail us, betray us, even kill us. There’s something so unnerving about that. Walking around every day knowing your sentience depends on some many squishy, fragile things – you can’t escape that. It takes everything about the horror genre and forces it to be entirely localized inside you. There’s no escaping body horror. Even if you cut out the aberration, you have to live for the rest of your life fearing it might come back.

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

So this is just off the cuff, without thinking about it too much because I’ll obsess over this if given the time.

The Troop book cover
Last Days book cover
The Cipher book cover

THE TROOPNick Cutter crafts a weird Lord of the Flies meets Cronenberg mashup that really chilled me to my core. Parasitic alien tapeworms and sadistic little boy scouts. It gets pretty gnarly. Plus it takes place off the coast of Prince Edward Island – so bonus points there.

LAST DAYS – I’m currently on a huge Brian Evenson kick. This is a brutal horror noir with razor sharp prose. A one handed detective is hired by a strange cult known as The Brotherhood of Mutilation to look into the death of one of their one. Unapologetically weird and comes at you with such precision that you wince with every lopped limb. There’s so much amputation in this…it’s actually insane.

THE CIPHERKath Koje’s brilliant weird horror masterpiece just needs to be experienced. Bodies do things I never imagined possible in this.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zac Thompson, check out his website at www.zacthompson.substack.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@ZacBeThompson), Instagram (@zacbethompson), and Goodreads (@Zac_Thompson). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Hailey Piper

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Hailey Piper writes horror and dark fantasy, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. She is the author of Queen of Teeth, The Worm and His Kings, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, Benny Rose the Cannibal King, and more. She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and her short fiction appears in publications such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Tales to Terrify, Dark Matter Magazine, Planet Scumm, and many more. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment making spooky noises.

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

I’ve always loved horror: monsters, creatures, etc. Anything like that was guaranteed to catch my interest, so once I started writing as a kid, it only made sense I’d jot stories of dinosaurs, werewolves, and aliens. I like to think my writing has grown a little more sophisticated since I was a little kid writing those short stories, but I still love monsters and always will.

Queen of Teeth book cover
The Worms and His Kings book cover
Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy 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?

I think as a child I did exactly what I was supposed to do–let my imagination run wild and don’t worry too much. What I would tell the later writer of me is to remember that, keep it close. It took me years to remember to write and not worry over what else was going on. There’s plenty of time in revisions to figure anything else out, but in the writing itself, we need to be free.

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

As with many elements of horror, one of my favorite aspects of body horror is imagination. The subgenre offers endless possibilities and opportunities both for exploring the terrible things inflicted on our bodies or that our bodies inflict on us, as well as taking abstract ideas and applying them physically. We can learn a lot about the horror of those concepts when giving them root in the human body.

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

The Rust Maidens book cover
Akira cover

I can’t say top over all, but three that I love would be The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste (perfect example of taking an abstract concept, such as the deterioration of an entire region and its people, and applying it to the human body), The Cipher by Kathe Koja (which reaches out and works its own category-defying magic), and Akira, which adds a psychic element in how far the human body can be pushed.

If you’re interested in learning more about Hailey Piper, check out her website at www.haileypiper.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@HaileyPiperSays), Instagram (@haileypiperfights), and Goodreads (@Hailey_Piper). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Eric Larocca

Eric Larocca author photo

Eric LaRocca is the author of several works of horror and dark fiction, and his work has appeared in various literary journals and anthologies published in the US and abroad. He is also the author of several plays that have been produced across the country. Eric is represented by Ryan Lewis/Spin a Black Yarn for Film and Television.

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

I began my writing journey actually writing for theatre. I worked primarily as a playwright for a number of years, and I was fortunate enough to have several of my original plays performed by a local troupe of actors in my hometown of Kent, Connecticut. Despite my love of theatre, I had always possessed a distinct love of the macabre. I was always drawn to works that were inherently dark. I worshipped the work of playwright Tennessee Williams and his work led me to other writers. Eventually I sought out the dark delicacies commonly found in horror fiction and began to educate myself as much as possible. I also need to credit my mother for encouraging my obsession with horror as I became really invested in the genre when she first showed me the film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. Ever since I saw that film, I was totally engrossed in the genre and did all I could to savor as much horror content as possible.

Starving Ghosts in Every Thread book cover
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke book cover

The Strange Thing We Become 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?

I think I would caution my former self to be prepared for the criticism, the negativity, and the hatred that writers are often bombarded with. Obviously, there’s no way to mentally prepare for that level of scrutiny and that kind of negativity, but I would simply urge younger writers to find something outside of writing that gives them pleasure. Also, most importantly, do not engage with trolls or haters. There are people on the internet who are actively seeking to start fights and to suck the energy out of people. Don’t feed them. Don’t give in to their negativity.

Another equally important word of advice I would offer my former self as well as newer writers is to take special care of your mental health. This is a very difficult business to navigate and if you’re not mentally equipped to deal with the rejections and the despair, your journey in writing and publishing will be spectacularly miserable. Take the effort to work on your mental health and make certain that you’re healthy and fit to withstand the barrage of rejections you’ll inevitably receive. To that end, do not give up. Keep writing and generating content. You never know when somebody is going to enter your life and ask: “What else ya got?”

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

I think what inherently draws me to body horror is the level of intimacy commonly found in the genre. It’s such a profoundly disquieting subgenre when you actually consider the topics and themes at play. Body horror has the ability to be as visceral and as brutal as possible because it’s the dissection of us, it’s the exploration of our bodies. Most importantly, the genre skillfully illustrates one of humankind’s most detrimental sufferings: entropy and decay. I think body horror is an exceptionally “truthful” subgenre of horror because it’s a reflection of ourselves–it’s an examination of our humanity and our weaknesses.

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

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I’ve been impressed by so many works of fiction and film that cleverly subvert expectations and present body horror in a new, dynamic, and compelling way. I’m immediately reminded of Gwendolyn Kiste’s exceptional novel, The Rust Maidens. Kiste’s writing is so poetic, so lyrical–the horror is so uniquely grotesque and yet so profoundly gorgeous. I also think of Kathe Koja’s Skin as another exceptional example of compelling body horror. Koja’s writing is very unique and it’s a still that belongs entirely to her brand of fiction. Skin was my first introduction to her work, and I’ve been lacking in recent years to check out more of her catalog of fiction. However, Skin definitely stayed with me as a perfect example of dynamic and interesting body horror. Finally, Joanna Koch’s The Wingspan of Severed Hands is another work that I consistently look to for inspiration when executing body horror. Koch’s writing is so hallucinatory and otherworldly. Their command of language astounds me and the way in which they present the narrative in Wingspan is truly remarkable.

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

Jonathan Winn

Jonathan Winn author photo

Screenwriter and author of Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast (“a great read…powerful and jarring” – Cemetery Dance, 2016), Martuk…the Holy (“A Highlight of the Year”), Martuk…the Holy: Proseuche (Top Twenty Best Horror Novels of 2014, Preditors & Editors Readers Poll), the recently released Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast and Martuk…the Holy: Shayateen. In addition, his award-winning short story “Forever Dark” can be found in Crystal Lake Publishing’s Tales from the Lake, Vol. 2 and various essays are included in the non-fiction Horror 201: The Silver Scream and Writers On Writing, Vol. 2, both from award-winning Crystal Lake Publishing.

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

In 2004 I wrote my first play and then my first feature script which, through friends, landed on several desks at DreamWorks. Then, in 2008, tired of the very real constraints of screenwriting, I decided to write a book. Easy enough, right? Well, fast forward four years (yes, four years) and Martuk…The Holy was finally released with its follow-up, Martuk…The Holy: Proseuche, arriving in 2014.

When it comes to body horror, I wasn’t aware that’s what I was doing until the release of Eidolon Avenue: The First Feast in 2016 and then Eidolon Avenue: The Second Feast in 2021.

As for what got me started, as I said, there was a desire to move away from the rules and regulations of screenwriting – I mean, not like writing fiction had rules and regulations, right? Oy vey – so the first book, Martuk, quite literally came to me while I was walking in my neighborhood in Greenwich Village. Washington Square Park, to be precise. The arc, the history, where and when it was placed, the Why of What this Martuk, an endlessly tortured immortal, does. I could barely make it home fast enough to get to the laptop.

Martuk the Holy book cover
Eidolon Avenue The Second Feast book cover

The first Eidolon came to me while I was weeding the garden. Or whatever it is you call it when you absentmindedly move dirt around with your foot while chatting on your cell. That book surprised me. I was working with an editor at the time who kept encouraging me to amp it up, make it more, make it worse, don’t be afraid to go really super-dark, don’t worry what people will think, just go all in. And what that did was create stories, bit by bit, rewrite by rewrite, that were radically different from what I’d done, what I thought I’d be doing and, more importantly, what I was aware I could do.

That first Eidolon opened up a whole new world of horror for me. One that encouraged the pushing of limits while rewarding unapologetic courage.

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?

Perfection kills inspiration. Read that again: Perfection kills inspiration. So don’t worry about getting those first words right. Just get ‘em on the page and clean it up later.

Also, especially when you’re twisting the rules, testing boundaries and maybe writing outside the box, stick with it even when people are pelting you with doubt and burying you under constant reminders of what’s done and what isn’t done. I’ve come to realize that when you worry about what others might think, or if what you do will be liked, you run the very real risk of suffocating those parts of your creativity that make you stand out.

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

There’s a testing of limits I appreciate. And courage. I suspect those who write body horror tap into dangerously dark places in order to make what hits the page as impactful and memorable as possible. You have to be brave to face what you find there.

You also have to be super-smart. That’s what really floors me about this genre. It takes real skill to pull this off in a way that’s both believable and still fantastical (or horrifying). The Whys of What Happens in body horror don’t just land on the page. They’re artfully constructed, paced, and planned with a great deal of forethought and talent.

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

To be honest with you, the majority of my reading these days – and over the past several years, really – has been mainly research-based for various projects. So I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t have a current list ready. My apologies.

Junji Ito manga collection

But I will say, although he’s manga and not a novelist, the work of Junji Ito (Japan’s Master of Terror) never ceases to amaze, unsettle, and, by its sheer genius and courage, nudge me to go a bit farther, to stretch my own boundaries, test my own limits. Blindingly surreal and twisted with rock-solid, unique storytelling coupled with unforgettable artwork, the man is a legend for a reason.

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

Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; the occult horror novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, from Nightscape Press; and the folk horror novel, Boneset & Feathers, with Broken Eye Books. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Tor’s Nightfire, Vastarien, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Unnerving, Interzone, and LampLight, as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy series, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts.

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

I’m a horror and dark fantasy author based in Pennsylvania. My books include The Rust Maidens, Boneset & Feathers, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, and Pretty Marys All in a Row, among others. My work has won three Bram Stoker Awards and has been translated into five languages.

I’ve always loved horror. I grew up in a horror-centric family; Halloween and all things creepy were very much normal for us. I started writing little picture books in elementary school, and that led to a lifetime love of storytelling. Since I was always into weird stuff to begin with, my stories have constantly circled back around to horror. It’s definitely where my heart is and will always be. Every good part of my life has been related to horror in some way, from my favorite childhood memories with my parents to meeting my husband when we were both horror filmmakers to being a full-time horror author now. There’s definitely no better place for me in the world than in horror.

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe book cover
The Invention of Ghosts book cover
Boneset and Feathers 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?

It probably sounds too simple, but the best advice is to just keep going. Keep writing, keep reading, and keep doing your best to have fun with it. That can be easy to forget; this industry can sadly be very cruel and competitive at times. But if you do your best to tune out that negativity and just have fun with writing, then that’s really the best way.

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

I love how at its core, body horror deals with themes of identity. It really gets down to the nitty-gritty of who we are as human beings. We often don’t think about it much, because we’re all living in them every day, but our bodies are truly horrifying landscapes. Things can go wrong with them that we never see coming, and our bodies do such weird things all the time. Strange aches and pains and sensations. Plus, from the time we’re born until the moment we die, we’re experiencing constant transformations. That’s part of who we are, and body horror can do a fantastic job of exploring that.

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

The Brood film criterion edition cover
The Bloody Chamber book cover

David Cronenberg’s The Brood is a big favorite of mine. Creepy kids in horror are always fantastic, and the little snowsuit-wearing creatures in The Brood are so great. However, what’s truly unforgettable is Samantha Eggar as their mother Nola. Her performance is seriously seared into my memory, and I love it so much.

The Ray Bradbury story, “Skeleton,” and specifically its television adaptation on Ray Bradbury Theater absolutely terrified me as a child. I was convinced for days after seeing that episode that someone would come along and try to steal my skeleton from inside my skin. shudders

I also love the way Angela Carter deals with body horror in her collection, The Bloody Chamber. She figured out how to take the strange and horrifying elements of fairy tales and tease out the body horror. From the werewolf transformations in her versions of Little Red Riding Hood to her reinventions of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast, she really did some of the most remarkable—and remarkably beautiful—work in body horror of all time. Anytime I reread her fiction, it still takes my breath away.

If you’re interested in learning more about Gwendolyn Kiste, check out her website at www.gwendolynkiste.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@GwendolynKiste) and Goodreads (@Gwendolyn_Kiste). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

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

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

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.