I mean, it’s Friday the 13th and a global pandemic, so what better day to post another round of terror?
Carol and I have bonded over many things, but perhaps the most significant moment was when we discovered our mutual love of The Kraken. She’s a delightfully dark and wicked writer, and the more I get to know her, the more I love her.
Her latest dark fantasy story is “Deal with the Devil” in Across the Universe: Tales of Alternate Beatles. This “what if” anthology—edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn, from Fantastic Books—shows The Beatles in alternative world situations and has received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Analog, and a starred review from Library Journal.
But the important reason why we’re here? To discover what scares the hell out of her. Here we go:
What is your greatest fear?
Losing my identity or my mental capacity is my biggest fear. I took both my parents through Alzheimer’s, and they each turned into some other person who forgot they even had family, even though I went to care for them every day. Our own identity, mental capability, and memories are what make us unique and different from the animals. Being left without the ability to properly understand, think, and reason is a terrifying thing.
I’m slowly working on a piece of my memoirs about this period and the aftermath—of facing the fear of getting Alzheimer’s—because there are actions we can take to keep our brains in good shape.
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
My greatest fear is writing something that doesn’t reach people on a deep level, whether it’s science fiction, horror, mystery, or even women’s fiction. One of my beta readers told me that my writing tends to “punch you in the feels” and, while that may be a bit of a dated analogy, it made me really proud.
What’s the scariest movie or TV show you’ve ever seen? Why?
The first science fiction show that I likely ever saw—as well as one of the first ones on television, coming a few years after Twilight Zone began—was the initial episode of The Outer Limits, “Galaxy Being.” It aired on September 16, 1963 when I was six years old.
I remember that I was in the TV room all by myself, and it came on after some show that my parents deemed safe to watch. They were in the kitchen out of earshot and had no idea what this next show would be like.
Suddenly, the screen was filled with squiggly lines and test patterns, with eerie, compelling music. An ominous voice proclaimed,
“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. … For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.”
Well, okay, I was a well-behaved six-year-old who did what I was told, especially if it meant I got to watch more TV past bedtime, so I sat and watched—and believed. This first episode launched into a story about a radio station manager who was investigating electro-magnetism and somehow drew an alien life force into the station. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen; the alien was a guy in a rubber suit who was filmed in reverse negative and super-imposed on the other footage, making it glow from inside with eerie effect.
The alien was only trying to help people and get home, but it caused radiation burns and electrocuted everything around it. Eventually, it sacrificed itself to save the people in the area.
Well, as this was going on, I was getting more and more frightened of the creature, as it was hurting people, but I also felt so bad for it because nobody would listen to what it was saying. My parents eventually found me on the couch, curled up and hiding under a towel so the alien couldn’t see me, or reach out and zap me.
I had nightmares for years afterward, even still getting scared in fifth grade when the baseboard heat came on in our next house. The pipes expanded and made clunking noises as the hot water approached my room—I just knew it was that alien’s footsteps, coming to get me!
Watching this show was a very formative moment, as I remember feeling so bad for the creature, far from home, while at the same being terrified of it touching and zapping me. In everything I write now, I try to do the same thing, and reach into the heart of my characters so the reader gets more than just an adventure story. The show explored the human spirit confronted by dark, existential forces—isn’t that a significant concept to explore?
What is your favorite type of monster? Why?
I’m a huge fan of cephalopods—octopuses and squid are intelligent and fascinating, boneless and mutable, and aren’t always scary monsters, but when they are … yikes!
I think it’s in part because humans are already at a disadvantage when we are in the water, and thus the fear factor is amplified. And they can do so many things we can’t.
Picture yourself submerged and floating in the dark, cold, ocean. You can feel the pressure of the water on every part of your body. Breathing—something we take for granted on land—is dependent upon some external device that may not be under your control. You can’t hear or see things the way you are used to.
A flash of movement scuttles along the edge of your field of vision. Suddenly, you feel a gentle touch on your leg as something slides up and wraps around your ankle, then the other one. Suckers grip your flesh.
It’s an intelligent creature that’s decided to make a wish, and you are the wishbone.
It’s an intelligent creature that’s decided to make a wish, and you are the wishbone.
What’s worse: closed-in spaces or heights? Why?
Heights! I was actually never afraid of them until I was a new driver, heading across a bridge, and my mom confessed her own fear of heights. Suddenly, I could picture just driving off the edge—down, down, down.
I had that same reaction recently when I was hiking out in Utah in Arches National Park. I was by myself (I know, I know, that’s not good) and was walking along a tall fin of rock that was about ten feet wide and a hundred feet high. I sat down in the sun and just looked around me for a long time, down each side and into the distance, becoming one with the world around me. Eventually I pictured myself just stepping off into the void and hightailed it out of there!
I was relieved to learn that both of those are actually considered healthy reactions. It’s called High Places Phenomenom (HPP) and the basic thinking is that we have to recognize the danger of plummeting to our deaths in order to affirm our desire to not go over the edge. The French call it L’Appel du Vide, or call of the void.
What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why?
Oh man, clowns are WAY worse. Spiders are perfectly natural—they do what they are supposed to do. But a clown? Nothing natural about it. The face is obscured and made to look like a caricature of a certain emotion. Masks free up the person to do or be something else— something other—and can remove their sense of moral connection. Did you know that some of the major recreational parks (such as Great Adventure in NJ) hold Halloween events but don’t allow people to wear masks that obscure the face?
And granted, all that is assuming there actually is a person inside the clown costume, anyway!
You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?
Nope, nope, nope. We’ve all seen the movie and yet, they never do the right thing. Turn around and get the heck out of there. Go hang out in the garage where all the chainsaws are! That’s gotta be safer.
Of course, the little kid already has me wrapped around their finger. What could go wrong?
Carol Gyzander creates sci-fi, dark fantasy and horror … and a little mystery! She’s the editor of the Writerpunk Press anthologies; their latest, Taught by Time: Myth Goes Punk, contains punk stories inspired by myth, folklore, and legend and releases early April 2020. Her story contributions to WP include cyberpunk Shakespeare and Lovecraft, steampunk Poe and Tom Sawyer, and a biopunk myth of Echo and Narcissus. Recent horror short stories appear in Stories We Tell After Midnight from Crone Girls Press, and Hell’s Highways, edited by April Grey. “Runt of the Litter” is in Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse from Camden Park Press, March/April 2020. Carol lives in northern New Jersey with two felines—neither of which are battle cats, except in their own minds. Her work, including Across the Universe: Tales of Alternate Beatles, is available on Amazon.