What Scares You, James D.F. Hannah?

Hey! We’re here celebrating the release of James Hannah’s newest novel, Because the Night, which was published this week.

Here’s what it’s about:

“Backed with campaign funds from the owner of the local strip club, ex-state trooper and recovering alcoholic Henry Malone’s running for sheriff. But because he can’t say no to a bad idea, he also agrees to look for a pregnant woman’s missing ex-con boyfriend. With his well-armed AA sponsor Woody in tow, Henry’s search for the boyfriend soon connects with a homicide investigation run by Lt. Jackie Hall—probably the last cop in West Virginia who still likes Henry.

A violent confrontation leaves Jackie near-death and Henry determined to find justice. Except vengeance isn’t simple for Henry, especially when an old enemy appears out of nowhere, more bodies stack up, and a series of betrayals and double crosses climax with a morning assault on a farm house that pits Henry and Woody against a deadly band of criminals with nothing to lose.”

We are also talking about all the terrors that keep James up at night, because that’s kind of how I celebrate everything. So once you go buy his book, come on back here and learn more about the creepy shit that James thinks way too much about.

What is your greatest fear?

Pseudocoma. For the Metallica fans, it’s what happens in the video for “One”; for the Dalton Trumbo fans, it’s what happened after Johnny got his gun. It’s described as “locked-in syndrome,” where a person can’t move or communicate verbally due to paralysis. (This is super-specific, I know.) But as a writer, as a parent, and as a friend, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than being so locked inside your own body and mind that you can’t express yourself to the world, or can’t convey your feelings to those you love. 

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

The commercial for the horror film It’s Alive. By today’s standards it’s really nothing—just a voice-over and a bassinet and this weird scream and sweet Jesus but is that smoke coming out of the bassinet and why is there something glowing?—but when I was four, it came on TV and I bolted from the living room like someone had fired a starting pistol. For years afterward I had this Mandela effect thing going on, convinced that something jumped out of the bassinet at the end of the commercial, and then I found the commercial on YouTube and realized I was remembering it wrong, probably because I had never actually made it to the end of the commercial.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

Snails. Can’t do it. Anything that leaves a slime trail across the driveway shouldn’t be consumed by a human, I don’t care how much butter and garlic is involved.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Mediocrity. Telling a boring story. People deciding I’ve been a fraud this whole time. Because I’ve been fortunate to publish alongside some truly remarkable writers—folks who were my heroes as I worked my way into this game—and I’m someone who believes there are no laurels to rest upon, that you’re as good as the story you are writing, and your job is to keep getting better and to keep challenging yourself. There’s nothing worse than the idea of coasting.

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

“The X-Files” debuted when I was in college, and it was the perfect show at the perfect time for me. The entire series was driven by the need to expose the truth; it fostered a healthy distrust of authority; it showed how much tonality you could have in storytelling, balancing horror and humor and humanity; and it made being a nerd almost kind of cool. But more than anything, it managed to get under your skin in ways you rarely expected. Case in point: “Home,” where Scully and Mulder investigate the discovery of an infant’s body in a small town and it leads them to a trio of brothers and some deeply disturbing secrets. There’s nothing supernatural in the entire episode, but instead it was a study in the contrast between the banality of small-town existence and the tacit acceptance of palpable evil right there at everyone’s door.

James D.F. Hannah is the Shamus Award-winning author of the Henry Malone series, including the novels Behind the Wall of Sleep and Because the Night. His story “No Man’s Land” was selected for Best American Mystery and Suspense 2022, edited by Steph Cha and Jess Walter. His short fiction has appeared in Playing Games, edited by Lawrence Block; Under the Thumb: Stories of Police Oppression, edited by S.A. Cosby; Trouble No More; Rock and a Hard Place; Shotgun Honey; Crossing Genres; and The Anthology of Appalachian Writers. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where all the bourbon is.