Dear Readers… Today I chat with Richie Narvaez about all things scary. Richie teaches lit classes to fashion students, so his horror lens ought to be incredibly interesting, right? Also, check out his YA mystery Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, which won both the Agatha Award and the Anthony Award. Finally, I will say that Richie’s argument for why basements are scarier than attics seems pretty damn solid to me, so I’m officially convinced. Onward!
What is your greatest fear?
Hah! That I “may cease to be / Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.” And I mean, teeming! A fear that just gets exacerbated by my own procrastination, which is in turn is exacerbated by the state of the world, which brings up my second greatest fear, for democracy and civilization, our imperiled, fragile institutions, and this in turns causes nightmares about armageddon. So thank you for bringing that up! I need a hug now.
What’s scarier: attics or basements?
When I was about five or six, one of my uncles died, and his daughters told me that he had been killed in their basement by the Devil because basements are closest to Hell, so, duh, that’s how the Devil gets into your house.
Now, where I lived, our landlord would, on cold nights, ask my brother or me to go down to the basement to turn on the boiler. She was older, and the narrow stairs were rickety and lit by a single naked bulb, so she would ask us to do it. You had to feel in the air, in the absolute darkness, for the pull-string hanging down. You’d often find the string with your face, and, if you were an imaginative child, you could easily think it was a spider’s web or the caress of a corpse’s finger. Once you got the string and yanked it, the light was feeble, so the basement remained murky, full of hidden things. The boiler itself was set in a corner, and, thanks to my cousins, I had become convinced that behind it must be a tunnel that connected directly to the underworld, and that when I went to turn the little handle for the boiler, the Devil’s hand would fly out and grab me.
So, I would say: basements. By the way, years later, my father told me that that uncle had been shot to death in the basement—by a drug dealer.
Do you believe in ghosts?
I don’t. Beyond the power of coffee to revive the dead, I no longer believe in anything paranormal or supernatural. But the idea of ghosts is fascinating to me—and tragic. To be disembodied, to be able to do no more than moan and rattle and maybe spew a little ectoplasm while witnessing the world move on without you—what a terribly sad thing to imagine. That said, as a kid I dressed as Casper for three Halloweens in a row and quite enjoyed it.
What is your favorite monster/villain?
The Wolfman! Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolfman, that is. In fact, a frequent part of his outfit—besides the hair, I mean—was a black or dark shirt and pants. So whenever I happen to be dressed like that I like to imagine I’m Larry Talbot. It’s very satisfying.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?
I wrote a speculative fiction/horror story called “Room for Rent” that seems to weird readers out. In the story, extraterrestrials have taken over Earth, and humans are considered vermin who infest the buildings that extraterrestrials want to occupy. That story touches a nerve.
But to me nothing is scarier than reality. I’d say the story I’ve written that scares me the most is “Courtesy. Professionalism. Respect.” from the Under the Thumb anthology, edited by S.A. Cosby. That story is about how idolization of authority figures can lead to tragedy. It’s pretty brutal, and I was shaken when I finished writing the last line.
Richie Narvaez is author of the collection Roachkiller and Other Stories and the thriller Hipster Death Rattle. His most recent novel is the historical YA mystery Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, which won an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award. His latest book is the collection Noiryorican, which was nominated for an Anthony. Narvaez teaches writing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and lives in the Bronx. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.