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Featured Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers

How to Get Your Book Reviewed

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!

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Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers NA

On the Verge: 3 Alaskan Horror Authors

Intense cold. Darkness. Isolation.

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

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

Jamey Bradbury

Jamey Bradbury author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What are your top three favorite horror books?

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

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

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

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

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


DM Shephard

Author DM Shephard

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

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

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

The Dark Land book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What are your top three favorite horror books?

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

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


Mary Farnstrom

Profile of author Mary Farnstrom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What are your top three favorite horror books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephanie Ellis

Stephanie Ellis author photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kev Harrison

Kev Harrison author photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine McCarthy

Catherine McCarthy author photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gemma Amor

Gemma Amor author photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A.J. Vrana

AJ Vrana author photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sci-Fi Horror Authors

Joseph Sale

Sci-fi horror author Joseph Sale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three?! Only three? You are cruel. 

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

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

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

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

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


Caitlin Starling

Sci-fi horror author Caitlin Starling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Scott Jones

Photo of sci-fi horror author Scott R Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Communion by Whitley Striber

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


JZ Foster and Justin Woodward

Sci-fi horror author JZ Foster

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

sci-fi horror author Justin M. Woodward

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

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

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

Reality Bleeds sci-fi thriller cover art with robot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Indie Horror Creation Indie horror film makers

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

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!