Anna Byrne: Prologue – Curiosities in the Loft

Categories
Indie Horror NA Short Horror Stories

THUD … What the hell was that noise… My eyes were still heavy with sleep but my heart was pounding from being yanked from my otherwise undisturbed dreams. THUD … there it was again, someone was in my den. I hope it’s not… ahhh shit, I need to get up and check. I gently pulled the sheets back trying not to disturb Clara who was still deeply asleep. Good, I think, as I didn’t want to have to explain what might be in my office that late at night. I needed to take care of the source of the disturbance before her sleep was unduly interrupted. My feet found the ice-cold floor to my dismay, the farmhouse wood flooring did nothing to hold in the heat–it was January in Alaska after all, once the fire in the wood-stove died down the heat sapped out of the cracks of our home quickly; I slid into my woolen slippers and pulled my Remington out from between to my side of the bed and my side-table. It seemed as if the entirety of this old house was composed of creaking floors and dry whining hinges, but after so many late-night trips back to bed after getting sidetracked in my den, I felt as if I were able to expertly navigate through without causing too much of a fuss. Even though I had memorized my path through this dark and groaning structure, I breathed easier knowing that the bedroom door was already open.

When I crossed the kitchen, I saw the flickering light that filtered out from underneath the door to my office door—someone was in there, I was sure now—that wasn’t good. I pumped a round into the chamber as quietly as I was able, took a deep breath and eased open the door. An awful, high pitched cry wailed from the cold metal hinges as they rotated against the door-pin. I heard a small yelp, my heartbeat caught in my throat and I quickly realized that the supposed intruder was my sweet, curious, and precocious eight-year-old daughter, Anna, sitting at the bottom of the stairs that led up to my loft.

“Anna!” I felt her name burst forth in a stern whisper and I dropped the shotgun safely to my side.

“Yeah, Da’?” her reply embodied her youthful timid guilt.

“What are you doing in my den at, what time is it—” my eyes shifted to the antique grandfather clock in the corner of my den, “—3 am?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she looked down at the fraying old tome that weighed down her petite arms, “I wanted to read one of your cool old books.”

“Anna, my lamb, I told you those books are not for children. I believe I have also told you on more than one occasion that some books in particular, need to be cared for and studied before they can be read—and that furthermore, some are simply too dangerous to read at all.” I wanted to be angry that she had gone through my cabinets—my locked cabinets—that lined the walls of my study. I felt my mouth fall slack, “how did ye’ even get the lock open on that cabinet?”

“—but Da’ it’s just a book,” she ignored my question and proceeded to whine, “can’t I just read a bit of this one?” She struggled to hold the worn leather book up to show me until my eyes focused on the faded lettering, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, I had been simply disconcerted—but when I saw the title I promptly snatched the book from her innocent little hands.

“Anna, this is no regular book, this one can be incredibly harmful to you, me, and mum, don’t you understand?” My little red-headed child crumpled into a ball on the floor after she relented the book, “now back to bed ye’ wee scamp,” then I saw her face scrunch into a grimace. I had been calling her that her entire life, but recently it seemed as if she no longer found it amusing. I knew I would have to tell her the truth eventually, her curiosity could lead her to nose into things that would get her into serious danger, but … not tonight. Until I could be certain that I would no longer be able to keep them safe, I would much prefer that they remain blissfully ignorant to the world that lurked behind the cryptic, evil words that the books held hostage—a world where they as of yet, were not experienced.

Anna scurried back to her room, scorned and annoyed; I wished for a moment that I could help her to understand why, but it was for her own good. I stopped at the wood-stove and opened it to find that the last log was near to embers and wave of immense heat escaped, to my delight, in waves over my chilled bones. I tossed a few logs into the iron belly of the stove and poked at the red-hot coals until a flame overtook the dried birch logs then, at last, I returned to bed where Clara was still sound asleep. I sat down, deep in contemplation, where I returned the shotgun to its resting spot next to me; I knew I would need to have a long chat with Anna soon, it was something that I deeply feared, but her future would be precarious if she were not prepared for this ever-expanding supernatural plot that lay before my family.

California’s Haunted Lighthouses

Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore NA

Lighthouses are a common fixture in the world of horror, and there are many reasons why. Perhaps it’s the eerie crashing of the waves, or dim light that may or may not bring lost ships to safety. But there’s one aspect that definitely plays a part in the horror of lighthouses – the real-world fear of loneliness. Lighthouse keepers often choose to live in solitude, spending their days alone as they save ships from danger and witness horrific shipwrecks. It’s very common for lighthouse keepers to die alone in their chamber of solitude, and continuously haunt the area for years to come. This is the case with some of the most haunted lighthouses in California, which combine the common fears of the sea, lost spirits, and abandonment for a true horror story. Here are the top haunted lighthouses in California that you need to know….

Point Sur Haunted Lighthouse

Point Sur Haunted Lighthouse

Location: Monterey, CA

Nestled on the rocky coastline between Carmel and Big Sur, this lighthouse isn’t just one of the most haunted in California, but the entire country. That being said, you’d never know just by looking at it. It’s perched on a volcanic rock with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean, on a beach that’s more serene than spooky. It’s when you get close enough that you realize it’s haunted by the souls of all those who perished in shipwrecks near the shore. And even the families who lived here in harmony, and simply wish to return as spirits and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views. Many ghosts have been sighted throughout the years, but one of the most famous is a tall man in dark blue, 19th century attire – and you’re guaranteed to hear about him when you take a guided tour of Point Sur State Historic Park.

Battery Point Haunted Lighthouse

Battery Point Haunted Lighthouse

Location: Crescent City

Believe it or not, you can actually apply to work as a keeper at Battery Point Lighthouse. You’ll work on a one-month rotation, help upkeep the museum, and keep the ghosts at bay! Okay, maybe not. But there has been some extreme paranormal activity inside this red-bricked building. People have heard footsteps on the tower stairs during storms, slippers have moved in the middle of the night with no explanation, and strange smells of cigars are a common occurrence at the Battery Point Lighthouse, even more than 100 years after it was built. Visit the museum and learn more about the haunted history of this lighthouse!

Point Piños Haunted Lighthouse

Point Piños Haunted Lighthouse

Location: Pacific Grove, CA

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the Point Piños Lighthouse was just a cute little house… not a haunted institution. Can’t it be both? It’s still in use today as a way to warn ships of upcoming rocks and dangers, and also has museums and exhibits on the grounds. Many apparitions have been seen throughout the years, but one of the most popular spirits is that of Emily Fish, the “socialite lighthouse keeper.” She served as a keeper from 1893 to 1914, and it was quite rare at the time for women to hold such a position. She did a great job upkeeping the grounds and keeping the lighthouse in top shape, and as it turns out… she does the same thing in death. Fish is frequently seen hanging out around the lighthouse and keeping things running!

Alcatraz Island Haunted Lighthouse

Alcatraz Island Haunted Lighthouse

Location: San Francisco, CA

There’s a very good chance that you’ve heard of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, and the prison that once housed some of the worst criminals in America. It’s hard not to be consumed by evil when you’re surrounded by murderers and thieves – many of whom were killed by other inmates or while trying to escape “The Rock.” Many of these bad vibes can also be felt in the lighthouse, which has been out of service for decades. Take a cruise to Alcatraz and discover why the island, and its lighthouse, are considered to be some of the most haunted places in California.

Introducing Stephen Brown, Author of – “Pray Cathal” and “Kill The Wolf”

Categories
Horror Books Indie Horror NA

Puzzle Box Horror’s first interview with dynamic writer Stephen Brown. From existential space horror to musical werewolf movies we are pleased to introduce Stephen Brown.

First, tell me a bit about yourself and what got you into writing, is Pray Cathal your first novel?

I am from the North East of England and live with my wife and three daughters. I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My mother bought me a typewriter for my 8th birthday and I began putting the ghost stories my sisters told me onto paper.  When they ran out I started making my own.. Hopefully, I have improved since then. My interest in horror was something also shared with my Father who let me pick films from the local video store.  This is how I saw the likes of the Evil Dead, The Thing and more obscure films like C.H.U.D and Xtro. Pray Cathal is my first novel.  I am currently writing a sequel as well as working on a couple of unrelated projects. 

Author Stephen Brown's Pray Cathal Book Cover

Pray Cathal has some interesting crossovers in it from outer space to seemingly zombified earth. What inspired that?

It’s more about the big questions like why and how we are here, it tackles religion and our perception of humanity. Basically saying we had everything wrong and are about to be punished for not figuring anything out. Where we are more flesh than soul our overseers are more soul than flesh so once they infect the soul within, what people become is more twisted than zombies,  it transforms people into manifestations of their darkest desires.  So fueled by greed and hunger that they want nothing more than to infect the rest of the world. It was inspired by my own beliefs that if we could just admit we don’t know why we’re here or how then we could start to move on as a species.

What were some of the biggest challenges writing Pray Cathal?

As it neared completion the computer I was writing it on crashed and the disk became unreadable.  I holed up in the bedroom for weeks with a word processor (bought by my Wife’s Grandparents) trying to write as much from memory as I could.  Overall I think it benefited from it but there was a time there when I wanted to tear every hair out of my head. Other than that I had a number of endings but think I chose the best one.

Where can I get Pray Cathal?

It’s available in hard copy and digital from Amazon

Tell me about “‘Kill The Wolf” which is a musical werewolf slasher movie? How did this combination come to be?

The main character came first.  I really liked the idea of a singer held back by his own curse. With all the ability to be a star but under the shadow of what he is.

“‘Kill The Wolf” has it all – conspiracy, mystery, werewolves, and cults – Is this a plot you developed alone or are you working with the producers of the movie?

The plot was developed while trying to come up with something we could do ourselves. Trying to use the people around us and the limited resource we have and still make something we would all want to see.

In “Kill The Wolf” will there be singing mixed into the action? If so who is writing the score and songs? Are you collaborating on lyrics?

The singer keeps the beast at bay with song, music literally taming the savage beast.  He sings to stop himself changing so the music is often the calm before the storm or the soundtrack to reign it in.I have written the songs for it and came up with the melodies but have someone else doing the music. Heavily influenced by Nick Cave, Tom Waits and the Tindersticks.  He needs poking with a stick every now and then but it should all come together.  Obviously in the present climate everything is a bit up in the air..

I’m going to guess you are a horror fan so hit me with your recent recommendations for horror films to watch and anything you think is worth reading right now?

Of the new horror films I’ve seen I really Liked Vivarium,  The Platform, and The Color out of space.  When I get time to read I’ve been enjoying the Crossed graphic novels and “If it Bleeds” by Stephen King.  I just finished the “Boatman’s Daughter” by Andy Davidson which I would definitely recommend and “Here in the Poison Garden” by Colin Mulhern which is also a great read.

Thanks for your time. Where can we find and follow you on the internets?

I can be found on Twitter as @sevrin73.

Let’s Talk About Survival Horror

Categories
Featured Horror Books NA Scary Movies and Series

The differences between some horror games are like the differences between a haunted house ghost ride and being chased by an actual deranged killer. Being startled is one thing, but the feeling of being pursued by a genuine threat is as hellishly exhilarating as it is difficult to simulate. Horror video games such as Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1999) laid foundations for the concept of ‘Survival Horror’ as much as later titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) and The Forest (2014) branched out and developed what it meant, finding new ways to milk the formidable dread of being stalked. The feeling could arguably translate to many mediums of art and entertainment, none however finding it nearly as easy to achieve as video games. When a player can digitally embody a character’s perspective, or further still, make a character to look just like them, then immersing the common individual shouldn’t be all that hard.

Friday the 13th movie poster

Films, on the other hand, must rely on a variety of tricks to achieve the fight-or-flight-tickling survival horror sensation. This can include stylistic choices, core concepts and often exploitation of the setting and the themes buried within it. Slasher flicks like Friday 13th (1980) commonly include a group of people desperately trying to escape a killer with their lives which, when done well, forces the viewer to consider their own mortality over and over. Apocalyptic horror films like I Am Legend (2007) can portray a single individual as the last surviving human, posing questions of society and seclusion to its audience while basking in the heavy dread of pure isolation. 

It is within this isolation that many horror films thrive, and setting is one of the more common tools to make it work. Of course the true requirement for audience immersion is quality acting, though setting can often act as a character itself, becoming in some cases the ultimate source of terror. Many horror films such as Backcountry (2015)Willow Creek (2014) and arguably The Revenant (2016) (the latter featuring one of the most savage bear attacks in film history) take place within vast wildernesses for this very reason. When things go wrong, there aren’t many places to go, and chances of survival decrease drastically. One of the most effective of these films, especially for the general British public, is Eden Lake (2004). When a couple retreat to the idyllic titular spot in the woods for a quiet weekend, their worst nightmares manifest in the form of a group of troubled youths. Armed with a capable cast and a believable plot, this violent thriller consistently raises question after horrible question of morality and group mentality, right up until its hair-raising finale. Not a lot of us will have come across bigfoot or even a grizzly bear in our lives, though trouble at the hands of ‘hoodies’ is something many are accustomed to. 

Of course isolation does not necessarily depend upon setting, and the plot of a film can have just as much bearing on this effect. Many stories tell of an apocalyptic age, one taking place after much of humanity has been wiped out, and focus on the exploits of a few survivors. Within films such as The Crazies (1973/2010), Doomsday (2008)I am Legend (2007) and Mad Max (1979) are insights into the psychology of people forced to outlive their species, along with a lot of wacky violence. When characters are thrown into a lawless world of gangs and deadly viruses, new and often brutal measures of survival are employed. Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007) centres around a small town overrun with, you guessed it, an insidious mist. Within this mist, however, are terrors beyond which they have ever known, and the only hope for a modest group is to lock themselves into the local supermarket. As the story progresses, antagonists become more numerous in the form of other survivors, and what follows is a potent and nightmarish surmise into what religion and mob mentality could achieve in such a situation. The story is told through the eyes of David Drayton as he tries to protect his son Billy from the gospel-preaching insanity of Mrs Carmody, and poses a harrowing choice between a world of monsters and the company of his neighbors as they slowly become monsters themselves. 

One must not necessarily wait for the apocalypse to explore the volatile chaos of a group of isolated people. This idea provides the base concept for many horror films from the prolific Saw series to smaller flicks like Await Further Instructions (2018) and Would You Rather (2012) wherein a congregation are held by some sinister means and forced to endure some psychological or physical torture. These films are an excellent vehicle for exploring the psychology of different groups when faced with a life or death situation. While a common trope is to bring a group of (supposed) strangers together for some hellish game, Await Further Instructions pits a British family at Christmas against some unseen, unknown threat that has contained them within their house. It is a brilliantly executed exercise into paranoia, xenophobia and the true meaning of family values when said family is pushed to the brink by an otherworldly threat. 

Alien horror movie poster 1979 showing an alien egg in space

Things not-of-this-earth have been a source of terror for centuries. Being lost in wooded wilderness is one thing, however space is arguably the ultimate setting for claustrophobia and pure hopelessness. Alien (1979) teased us with the idea that an extraterrestrial threat could reach earth while gleefully exhibiting the effects of just one of these organisms on a spaceship’s crew. Where it thrives is within the tight, winding corridors and vents of The Nostromo, where the crew are mercilessly picked off by the ultimate killing machine. Coupled with this internal threat is the vastness of space only sheet-metal’s width away. When properly considered, the extinction of the human race wouldn’t be all that hard (look at how we handle a virus outbreak) and the horror writers and directors who know this will always hit harder at our baser survival instincts. Stay safe, and stay alive. 

On the Verge: 3 Alaskan Horror Authors

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers NA

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)