What Scares You, Heather Levy?

Heather Levy’s debut novel Walking Through Needles was published this month and is getting some amazing attention, including a review in a little hometown newspaper called The New York Times. Get your copy right here, or wherever you love to buy books.
Here’s a description:
“From an early age, Sam Mayfair knew she was different. Like any young girl, she developed infatuations and lust–but her desires were always tinged with darkness. Then, when Sam was sixteen, her life was shattered by an abuser close to her. And she made one shocking decision whose ramifications would reverberate throughout her life.
Now, fifteen years later, Sam learns that her abuser has been murdered. The death of the man who plagued her dreams for years should have put an end to the torture she’s endured. But when her stepbrother, Eric, becomes the prime suspect, Sam is flung back into the hell of her rural Oklahoma childhood. As Sam tries to help exonerate Eric, she must hide terrifying truths of their past from investigators. Yet as details of the murder unravel, Sam quickly learns that some people, including herself, will do anything to keep their secrets buried deep. Walking Through Needles is a riveting and unflinching look at violence, sexuality, and desire from a compelling and unforgettable new voice in Heather Levy.”
I am so pleased to catch up with Heather and hear more about her writing and her encounters with fear, including a house spirit that needed to be snuffed out.

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?

I can’t say I believe in ghosts in the traditional sense, but I one hundred percent believe in good and bad energy after a person has passed. One of the most terrifying experiences my husband and I ever had happened a few months after my dad’s unexpected passing. We were living at our prior home, an old English Tudor, and our son was a toddler still. Out of nowhere, he started waking up in the middle of the night, screaming as if someone was murdering him. My husband would sleep through it, so I’d get up to check on our son. One night, I opened my son’s door to see him, eyes wide, staring at the opposite corner of his room as he uncontrollably sobbed. The look of pure terror on his face made my knees knock, I was so scared for him. I tried to enter his room; I say tried because there was what felt like an invisible force pushing against me, preventing me from entering. All I wanted to do was to get to my baby and take him out of that room, so I pushed through the dense force to get to him. I never told my husband about it because it seemed too nuts to be real.

Not too long after that night, my husband and I were inexplicably fighting over every little thing—something unusual for us—and I left the house to cool off, leaving my husband in the house with our son. When I got back, my husband was sitting on the couch, his face white and blank with fear. He told me our son woke up crying, and when he tried to enter his room to get him, he sensed a force he described as “not friendly” blocking him from entering. Now, my husband is the biggest skeptic, even more so than me, and I could tell he was afraid he was losing his mind until I admitted my own experience. After I told my younger sister about it, she suggested doing a sage smudging, which she and I did throughout the house. After the smudging, our son stopped waking up screaming and our house felt so much lighter. It was the weirdest thing, and I swear it had to have been related to my father’s death. I imagined he was confused and maybe pissed about his passing, and his energy was hanging around our house.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

As a writer, my greatest fear is having my intentions misinterpreted. With my debut Walking Through Needles, I knew it was going to be a tough, possibly triggering book for some people. I tried to approach the difficult themes in my book as delicately as I could, but no writer can please every reader. It’s impossible. All we can do as writers is get out the best damn story we can; the rest is out of our hands. 

What’s something that most people are afraid of that you are not?

I’ve never been afraid of death, not even from a young age. I’ve always been drawn to darkness and the unknown, wanting to know what’s behind the curtain and what’s next after we die. I’m not religious, but I had what I’d consider the closest thing to a religious experience being with both of my parents when they died. If you’ve ever gone through that experience, you know how impossible it is to describe to others, but I’ll say it was both beautiful and crushing.

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

Torture porn! I just can’t. Movies like Eden Lake, Hostel, and Human Centipede are too much for me, but give me horror like Hellraiser, Candyman, and The Last House on the Left. Some might even consider The Last House on the Left to be torture porn, but—hey—I’m all about revenge horror. Like can we please have the film version of Layne Fargo’s They Never Learn now?

What are your phobias?

I have pretty bad trypophobia, and I have no idea how it started. I can’t look at certain things with holes for too long before I feel physically ill. The strangest thing is that I’m obsessed with watching things like Dr. Pimple Popper videos on YouTube. I mean, pores on skin are still holes, but it relaxes me to watch blackheads getting popped (much to my husband’s horror).

I also have a fear of small heights. Yes. Small heights. I used to rock climb up cliffs with my older brother and younger sister growing up, and it never scared me. However, ask me to get on a stool two feet off the ground, and my vertigo goes nuts. Actually, the older I get, the worse my vertigo becomes to the point where I have to look away from watching a TV show or movie if a scene involves quick camera sweeps over a tall building.  

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?

Oh, that would have to be Thomas Tryon’s The Other. Any book that has identical twins is instantly creepy to me, but this classic takes it to a different level. The twist at the end involves a scene and image I will never get out of my head. If you’ve read it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

“Any book that has identical twins is instantly creepy to me.”

Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life?

One of my biggest fears has been rejection. It’s prevented me from accomplishing a lot in life, and it mostly stems from social anxiety. I can’t say I’ve overcome my social anxiety (my husband is still an excellent security blanket for me at conventions and other social events), but I did overcome my fear of rejection in relation to writing. And once I started putting my work out there, I found an agent and a publisher, and now I’ve got a book out this summer! Before, I felt like a liar face telling my two kids to go for their dreams when I wasn’t doing that myself out of fear of what other people might think. I try not to think of all those wasted years and focus on the fact that I’ve changed into a more confident writer. 

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?

Hmm, I’d say a short feminist horror piece I wrote for an anthology, Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror, published by Muzzleland Press. There’s a scene in “You Should Smile More” involving the protagonist’s family that I still can’t believe I wrote because it made me sick to even think about.

Heather Levy is a born and bred Oklahoman and graduate of Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA program for creative writing. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including NAILED Magazine, Crab Fat Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Dragon Poet Review. WALKING THROUGH NEEDLES is her debut novel through Polis Books. She lives in Oklahoma with her husband and two kids. Follow her on Twitter @HeatherLLevy