Erica Wright has chosen to write a book about snakes. When I found that out, I decided I needed to know what scares her. Little did I know she grew up in a haunted house! Gold mine! Read on to discover more gems from Erica, and pre-order her essay collection Snakes right here.
What is your greatest fear?
If you had asked me this a few years ago, I would have said snakes. I’ve seen three of the four Indiana Jones movies, and you can probably guess which one I turned off after the hero descended into a pit. Seriously, why did it have to be snakes? But in 2013, I attended the Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival in Claxton, Georgia, and started to gain an appreciation for this animal. The beauty pageant contestants posing with vipers gave me the heebie-jeebies, but most of the presentations involved nonvenomous species. I was particularly taken by The Orianne Society, which focuses on conserving ecosystems in order to protect reptiles and amphibians. They had this little booth where they told small groups about Eastern Indigos, a snake that’s almost iridescent up close, like an oil spill. The one they showed us really was beautiful, and my fear was pricked with admiration. Fast-forward seven years, and I’m about to publish a collection of essays about snakes (a.k.a. danger noodles, a.k.a. nope ropes) for Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series.
What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?
This is a sweet rather than a scary memory, but it involves fear. When my brother and I would sleep over at my grandmother’s house, we would sit on her porch swing at night making up stories for each other. She lived in the country, so it was often dark and spooky out, but we were tucked safely under a blanket. The stories I made up were always about monsters and witches and dangerous men waiting to gobble up wayward children. But I would end every one with “and then they lived happily ever after”—no matter how many people had died—which would make my brother and grandmother laugh. I don’t think my storytelling aesthetics have changed very much, to be honest.
“I would end every [story] with ‘and then they lived happily ever after’—no matter how many people had died.”
What is your weirdest fear?
I don’t know if “fear” is the right word, but sometimes I get paranoid that I’m going to get stuck in my clothes. This is especially true if something’s a little bit tight. I can be out having a grand old time, then start to worry about what I’ll do if I get home and the dress or shirt or pants won’t come off. This is less of a concern now that I’m married. I figure Adam can cut me out of anything that decides to squeeze me to death.
Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
My childhood home was haunted. Footsteps in the attic, children’s laughter in the foyer, that sort of thing. My grandfather was helping us with plumbing one summer afternoon when he felt an icy hand on his shoulder and turned around to empty space. A very religious—not at all superstitious—great aunt recalled a glass shattering in the middle of the night. The supernatural occurrences were common enough that I never thought to be afraid of them, though. I was afraid of the Bell Witch, which was a Tennessee urban legend. If you say her name in the mirror three times, supposedly she appears, but I don’t have a death wish so I’ve never tried.
Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?
Almost all of the paranormal experiences I remember as a child were auditory, but one night my mom, brother, and myself saw these floating orbs outside the living room window. We turned off all the lights to better see, and they were out there hovering. Maybe four or five? They looked like those splotches on photographs that are the result of a camera flash hitting a dust mote at just the right angle. But this was real life. No cameras involved. We didn’t do anything. I remember feeling unnerved, but also a little in awe. It’s kind of wonderful that there is still so much we don’t understand about the world.
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
Last summer, I was lucky enough to visit Ireland and went to a W. B. Yeats exhibit at the National Library. It was a surprisingly emotional hour for me, reading original drafts of some of my favorite poems. Yeats is a writer who defied my greatest writing fear, which is that poetry is a young person’s game. He wrote “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” (and other exceptional works) late in life when he could have rested on his laurels. But I do believe that there’s something pure about writing poems while still learning how to write poems, without a focus on publishing. I understand the yearning for validation—for audience—but there’s a lightning that can strike while noodling, especially when your mind is nimble and open.
What is your favorite monster or villain?
For my book about snakes, I spent some time researching regional animal legends like the Lake Hopatcong anaconda (which turned out to be someone’s pet boa constrictor). I’m partial to the Honey Island Swamp Monster because it sounds like a summer cocktail. It’s a Louisiana Bigfoot of sorts. Then there’s the Eel-Pig of Herrington Lake in Kentucky. I find that combination more funny than terrifying. I want to be friends with whoever dreamed up an eel-pig.
Erica Wright’s essay collection Snake will be released this fall as part of Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series. Her latest crime novel Famous in Cedarville received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She is the author of three previous novels and two poetry collections, Instructions for Killing the Jackal and All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned. She is the poetry editor and a senior editor at Guernica Magazine as well as a former editorial board member for Alice James Books. She grew up in Wartrace, TN, and now lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their dog Penny.