How to Get Your Book Reviewed

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

Authors, especially ones who self publish or publish with indie/small presses, understand the importance of getting their books reviewed. Promotion and consumer feedback are the lifeblood of a new release, and having readers write reviews* is a vital component to this. Not only will seeing reviews splashed across social media motivate onlookers to purchase, but they play a major role in how a book ranks and gets exposure on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.

(*by the way, if you’re a reader and you’re not regularly writing reviews, please consider starting now – Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, blogs, social media, anywhere. Seriously, it doesn’t have to be long and it doesn’t even have to be glowing. Every single one helps)

row of scary old books

Before Your Book is Reviewed

Before you even begin reaching out to people for reviews, there are a few items you should have in order first:

  • Reassess your editing and formatting. You could have the most original story idea ever, but if your manuscript is riddled with typos of bizarre formatting issues you could lose someone right out of the gate. Many reviewers have a hard time overlooking such errors, so it’s certainly in your best interest to make sure your book has been edited and formatted correctly (ideally by professionals in those specifics areas)
  • Set up author accounts on Goodreads, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. These are the three main sites you’re going to want people to submit reviews to, so you will need to make sure your book is actually available to be purchased from and reviewed on these particular platforms. Ideally you will have set these accounts up far in advance of your book’s release date so readers/reviewers can explore them as soon as you begin reaching out.
  • Put together a media/release kit. If you’re releasing the book through a publisher, odds are some of this will be done by their marketing team. However, if you’re self-publishing, or if the press doesn’t do much outreach, there are a few items you should prepare before seeking out reviewers. These items include: copy of the book (either digital or physical, depending on your means), short press release (think of it as an advertisement for your book), plot synopsis, brief author bio, and finally author and book cover photos. Not every reviewer will want all of this, but the more you have ready the better prepared you are just in case.
  • Set up social media accounts. Having an established presence online is often critical to the success of your book. Not only is engaging on social media a great way to attract reviewers, but it’s an important part of marketing/promoting your work as well as yourself as an author. The main platforms being used are Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We recommend setting up accounts and engaging with the book community for at least a few months prior to asking for reviews. This gives people a better chance of knowing your name ahead of time, and possibly means they would be more receptive to your request.

Getting Your Book Reviewed: Thoughts from Actual Reviewers

So authors, wondering about best practices for getting your horror book reviewed? I have my own personal opinions on the subject, but I also decided to reach out to the review community for their input. Lo and behold, it basically matches what I said. If multiple reviewers are all saying the same thing, it’s probably worth taking note. Below are some of the most popular suggestions (including the reviewer’s name and Instagram handle):

“I always appreciate when an author takes the time to get to engage with me and get to know my interests better before reaching out. The initial review request should mention why I’m a good fit, what the book is about, what format you’ll send, and if you’re looking for a specific time frame (if you are I probably will say no because I can’t guarantee anything right now). Personally I’m fine with a DM, but I know some reviewers take emails more seriously. A good way to lose my interest immediately is to send communications that are brusque, incoherent, or impersonal.”


Ben Long (@reading.vicariously)

“I’m willing to review books for people who think I would be a good voice for their books, so they’ve taken me and my personality into consideration. They’ve interacted with me enough & approached me in a friendly manner. I am not willing to review books from people who have not followed me, have not interacted with me, don’t offer any kind of free copy, and don’t take into consideration stuff I like to read. I prefer physical copies for pictures, but I can make things work with an electronic copy. If you can offer physical copies though, definitely do.”

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Melissa (@melissanowark)

“Flattery helps. I’ve had people approach me and say they liked my other reviews or they liked my aesthetic and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing theirs. Or they said they’ve seen what I’ve reviewed and think their book might be something I’d be interested in and asked if I’d be willing to give it a try…approach is everything. But an organic approach is best. I want to feel like you’ve taken time to see if I’d even be into your book. I’m also not interested in buying your book just to do you a favor because you “cold called me.” I’m far more likely to review if you offer me a copy and even more likely if you offer me a physical copy. I prefer them for photographing.”

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Sarah (@thebookish_daydreamer)

“Find reviewers that specialize in your genre or have an interest in your genre. Accept a negative review as valuable feedback. Personalize your review pitch rather than copy and pasting generic ones. Once the review is written, return the favor by sharing the review with your audience. And finally, don’t chase a reviewer down and ask if they have read your book. It is ok to ask a reviewer for a time frame. If they give you one and its elapsed, it is then ok to follow up.”

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Tali (escapereality4now)

“I appreciate it when someone tells me if they would like it read by a certain date or specifically the release date so I don’t have to ask. I’ve gotten excited about reading review copies and then when I ask they have wanted it done by the release date in a couple weeks or so and had to decline.”

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Keely Fuse (@keelyfuse85)

“For me personally, an author has a higher chance of me reviewing their book if they have engaged with me in an organic way prior to asking. ALWAYS ask if you may send the book. Do not send a link in the initial contact. It shows you are not concerned with connecting with me as much as getting your book out. Authors should also survey my feed, read my other reviews, and check out my blog and socials to make sure your book is really a good fit for me. Physical copies are expensive so electronic copies are fine, but if you are going to send electronic for the love of everything good and pure do not send a PDF. Also, Do NOT expect a review to be completed by a certain time. Reviewers are human and this isn’t their job, its a hobby. Finally, continue engaging after I receive your book. Stay in the reviewers line of sight WITHOUT being pushy.”

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Roxie Voorhees (@the.book.slayer)

“Don’t DM reviewers you don’t know asking for reviews. Go to their blog or look for an email address. Include promotional links and a summary. Don’t tell me you’ve written the best book ever written.”

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Matt (@teamredmon)

“It’s important to be personal and real. Don’t send messages requesting a review for your book that appear to be copied and pasted and impersonal. Also, if you’d like your book reviewed in a certain time frame, be up front about that with your potential reviewers. I personally always consider a paperback copy to review over a digital copy due to eye strain from screen reading, but also because I find a physical copy to be easier to photograph and promote. I know all readers are different though, so having digital or physical copies available for reviewers is great, but I also know that is not always possible. When seeking engagement surrounding your book, build up hype, ask engaging questions related to the book topics, host giveaways, and interact with anyone who shows an interest in your writing or the genres you write in.”

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Amanda (@spooky.octopus.reads)

“Bullying or unbecoming behavior will not be tolerated and I will sever ties completely if needed. My interest has already been piqued by the time I’ve chosen a book and that spine has been cracked open (or the Kindle powered on). I am your target audience, as such I don’t necessarily need to be won over but I am your reader to lose.”

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Zakk Madness (@zakkmadness)

“Be cool, be not creepy, be nice.”

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Ashley (@spookishmommy)

To reiterate, here are the reviewers’ top “Dos” and “Don’ts” summed up:

DO

  • Engage authentically with potential reviewers
  • Have organic interactions with potential reviewers (likes, comments, shares, tags, etc)
  • Express understanding of a reviewer’s interests and genres they prefer
  • Consider the manner and medium with which you make first contact
  • Offer physical copies if possible, but if not then check to see if digital is fine (typically MOBI or EPUB)
  • Scan your messages for typos

DON’T

  • Communicate aggressively (audacious tone, repeated messages, commands to buy your book, etc)
  • Pressure the reviewer
  • Demand specific deadlines (requesting a time frame may be fine, as long as the reviewer is on board and the understanding is that the deadline may not be met)
  • Assume everyone wants to read your book
  • Harass people who leave negative reviewers
  • Act in a trolling, bullying, or otherwise unpleasant manner online (you never know who could be a potential reviewer that you’ve turned off with inappropriate/negative behavior)

After Your Horror Book is Reviewed

So you’ve gotten a review (or twenty)? Hooray! While you should bask in the glow of knowing people are reading and writing about your book, don’t stop there. To really get the most out of each and every review, consider doing the following:

  • Keep engaging! It’s important that your engagement has been authentic, and a reviewer’s positive experience means they will be much more likely to review future books down the line.
  • Write a thank you! Reviewers like knowing you appreciate their feedback. Even if the review was less than stellar it shows you’re willing to listen and engage as an author.
  • Use those reviews! Share quotes from positive reviews on social media, marketing/press materials, your website, and even on the book cover (if you got them in before print or if you end up reprinting) – anywhere you can share the good things people are saying about your work.

The Bottom Line

Obviously there’s a lot more that goes into the success of a book release (including social media marketing, promotional giveaways, blog tours, and even the right cover to name a few things). But when it comes to successfully pitching your work to reviewers and bloggers in your niche, following these tips will go a long way in helping get your horror book reviewed!

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)

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

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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.

The Indie Horror Creation Process: Scare Me (2020) & Make Cool Sh!t

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Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror film makers

While some of us were wondering when we’d be able to get our next haircut, Josh Ruben (indie horror creator/director/actor of Scare Me) and Aaron Kheifets (host of Make Cool Sh!t) were immersed in getting new eyes on indie horror-comedy Scare Me (2020). When considering the classic horror comedies, such as The Evil Dead (1981), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Gremlins (1984), or even newer films like Jennifer’s Body (2009), Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010), and The Babysitter (2017) we see that there are consistent themes present—demons, aliens, or in the case of Tucker and Dale, stupid teenagers. These movies tend to take serious horror topics and spoof them, but in a legitimate way that eases us into scary themes through a variety of comedy tropes.

Scare Me (2020), a movie that defies the genre in every other way fits into this trend as well. Josh Ruben took a simple concept and created a film that is not only hilarious and over-the-top (in the best way possible), but is also chilling in its commentary on an issue that remains a hot-button issue in our culture.

This movie is a perfect mix of comedy actors who just so happen to capture horror with ease; Josh Ruben (of CollegeHumor), Aya Cash (of You’re the Worst), Chris Redd (of SNL), and Rebecca Drysdale (of Becks) are all the movie needs. The small cast created a somewhat claustrophobic atmosphere that allowed us to suspend judgment as we waited to see what happened next. What we got, was a literary adventure with a dark realistic twist.

The Horror of the #MeToo Movement

As a woman in an industry that portrays women as victims or sexual objects, this movie was refreshing. The lead female character is not only intelligent and hilarious but also successful without needing to be hypersexualized. Josh wrote this movie at the height of the #MeToo movement; he pulled his inspiration from women in his life who had experienced trauma at the hands of men.

What emerged from that trauma and feminine nightmare was a horror-comedy that (perhaps) unwittingly showcases what it’s like to be made into a victim, where a woman might otherwise have been an independent and strong character. The movie cut my safety net and plopped me into a dark alley with a creepy guy with bad intentions.

While some men might not be able to appreciate this movie for the horrific scenario that it is, it’s likely that any woman who watches this will be able to relate in some way. I can honestly say that this movie hit all of its promised marks—it made me laugh (hard), but it also terrified and left me with anxiety that lingered far longer than anything else I’ve seen recently. If you’re still wondering whether or not you should watch this movie (you can find it on Shudder or YouTube), just watch it. It’s a perfect representative of horror-comedy.

Make Cool Sh!t – A Journey Through Indie Horror Creation

While Josh Ruben was busy at work directing and acting in his first feature film, the producers of Make Cool Sh!t were busy bursting in on actors at comically inopportune moments to try to capture the grit of creating an indie horror film. If you’re an indie creator thinking of making a movie, I highly recommend this podcast—you’ll find it to be an invaluable resource of information on what to do next.

Aaron Kheifets wasn’t on the set during filming, but he became the voice of the process; his insights on it are invaluable even if he balks at the idea. After all, he earned a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology then broke the news to his mother that he was going to be a comedian. I would say he has more insight into human psychology than he gives himself credit for.

Using Kheifets, a longtime associate of Ruben, as the voice of the podcast was an excellent choice. He brought personal touches and academic cognizance of issues that an audience might not otherwise understand. For those of us who foresee our futures in the horror industry, we look at an undertaking like Scare Me and hope that one day it will be within our grasp as well. Josh Ruben showed us that hoping for our big break is unproductive and counterintuitive. You might as well be sitting in the dark and trying to read Homer’s Odyssey.

If you want to be successful, you have to put in the work; being discovered happens so rarely and as we see in Scare Me, entitlement doesn’t pay off. Ruben showed us that it’s difficult but unavoidable (and worth it!) if we truly want to make it happen.

Behind the Minds of Indie Horror – Let’s Talk Indie Horror

I interviewed both Josh Ruben and Aaron Kheifets in regards to their work on Scare Me and Make Cool Sh!t. It was an eye-opening experience where I was given an opportunity to pick the brains of some really talented individuals. They gave me some really honest answers to some really difficult questions. It showed me that they were more than just actors, or characters. They were human.

So, if you have a chance to watch the interview I conducted with them, check it out! It’s some pretty insightful stuff and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed talking to them. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

If you’ve already seen Scare Me, then let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!

Also, check out this article on How to Write and Promote Your Indie Horror!