What Scares You, Michael Landweber?

Michael Landweber

Hi, friends! Today we’re celebrating the stuff that scares the pants off Michael Landweber. We’re also celebrating the release of his new Audible original The In-Between, which has a fascinating premise involving teleporting. And if you sign up for my author newsletter right here [link], I’ll be giving away two free downloads of Michael’s book next week. So get on it!

What is your greatest fear?

These are strange times. It almost feels irresponsible to answer this question with anything other than global pandemic. We all have our own specific fears, but it is very unusual to be living in a moment where everyone has the same fear. Not to mention that we are all learning to fear things that very few people were scared of before, such as: 

  • Going to the grocery store
  • People not wearing masks
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Joggers

Seriously, I have never been more terrified than the other day when I started down an empty aisle in a grocery store and suddenly someone entered from the other side NOT wearing a mask. If that person had started jogging or throwing cardboard boxes at me, it would have been game over.

Also, climate change.

But this is about my personal fears, not global ones. So, in that context, I really have to go with blueberries.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

So, let’s talk about blueberries.

When I was a very small child in the 1970s, my parents took me to see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This was a mistake. First of all, let’s be honest, that is one of the creepiest movies of all time. It is seriously terrifying. A middle-aged loner, who sometimes looks like Gene Wilder and sometimes like Johnny Depp, lures children into his “factory” by giving them golden tickets and promises of all their favorite candy, then seriously messes them up when they take his “tour.” Really, it isn’t that different from the plot of Stephen King’s It.

This horror show was the matinee of choice for my parents and four-year-old me. I made it through the kid getting sucked up into a tube out of a chocolate river. But when the girl started blowing up into a giant blueberry after chewing a piece of gum, I ran screaming from the theater. That was the end of the movie for me. I had no idea for years that the kids didn’t die. This fear has also provided me with my longest-lived neurosis. I do not eat blueberries to this day.  

Blueberries….striking fear in the hearts of men (well, Michael) for all of eternity.

Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?

I’m not sure that I can say I’ve overcome my fear of flying, but I have definitely managed it. I still hate to fly. Every bump makes me grab the armrest and stop breathing for a moment. I know all the arguments about how its safer to fly than drive and so on. But every bit of turbulence makes me check out the window to see if the engine has fallen off. And I need to sit near the window so I can see the ground. This may seem counterintuitive, but when it is night or the plane is in a cloud, my anxiety goes way up.

In my latest book, The In Between, I imagine a world where climate change has made the atmosphere so turbulent that passengers take a powerful sedative before take-off and the flight attendants wear magnetic boots. In the story, challenges with flying led to teleportation becoming a commercial means of travel. But sometimes when you teleport, you disappear.

But I digress … look, I get it, it does not sound like I’ve overcome my fear at all. But my management of it definitely changed when I had kids. I’ve always flown a fair amount. Every interesting place I want to go seems to require a plane trip, and I like to travel. Before kids, I did very little to hide my anxiety. I just let it all hang out there. Not like screaming in the aisles, but definitely making travel less pleasant for my wife. After kids, I realized that I needed to let my kids develop their own fears, rather than imposing mine. So I learned to hide my fear of flying when I was with them. That’s progress, right?

What is your weirdest fear?

Let’s go with the blueberries.

What are your phobias?

If you believe the internet, I’ve already discussed my aviophobia and bebuphobia. I’ll wait while you Google them. So how about arachnophobia. I really don’t like spiders.

We have a division of labor in our house for dealing with any non-human invaders based on number of legs. I handle all critters with two (birds), four (squirrels) and six (so many things). My wife disposes of the eight-legged abominations. There is an ongoing debate about anything with more legs than that, such as centipedes and millipedes. The one time we were completely flummoxed was when a slug got into the house. We had no contingency plan at all for no legs.

What scares you most about the writing process?

I tend to write without an outline. I have a vague idea where I’m going when I start writing a novel, but I have no plan on how to get there. I take it on faith that the road will reveal itself along the way. That can lead to a lot of wrong turns and dead ends. So there is always a moment about halfway into a first draft where I get scared that I’m not going to figure out the rest of it. I calm down by reminding myself that it has come together before and will work out this time too. Probably.

What’s the scariest movie or TV show you’ve ever seen?

I don’t watch a lot of straight-up horror movies. But I do like a good slow burn with a creepy twist. Get Out. The Sixth Sense. The Cabin in the Woods. Scream. The Others. All great twisty flicks that I can’t watch alone at night. But one that really scared me was Identity. It’s an indirect riff on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None with an amazing cast. Definitely an underrated gem. 

What’s worse: clowns or spiders?

Yeah. Spiders. No contest.

Michael Landweber lives and writes in Washington, DC. He is the author of three novels: The In Between, We, and Thursday 1:17 p.m. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Barrelhouse, and American Literary Review. He is an associate editor at Potomac Review and a contributor for the Washington Independent Review of Books.

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