What Scares You, Mandy McHugh?

Hi my ghostly friends! I’m here today with Mandy McHugh, whose debut novel Chloe Cates Is Missing was one of my favorite reads of 2022. If you haven’t read it yet, go pick up a copy for one of the most memorable and deliciously wicked characters you’ll ever have the pleasure to hang out with for a few hundred pages. AND I’m so excited that Mandy has a new novel out–It Takes Monsters. I cannot wait to read this one. You can grab yourself a copy here.

But now we will spend some time chatting about “the nature” and zombies and Mandy’s really great taste in horror movies. (Hi, if you haven’t seen The Descent yet? Go, now.)

What are your phobias?

My friends laugh because I call it “the nature.” Spiders—actually, all bugs, especially ones that fly or buzz near my ears. It’s so weird, too. I grew up playing outside in the woods with my friends. We’d spend all day in the dirt, picking up daddy longlegs, climbing trees, pretending we were pioneers—and none of it fazed me. Fast forward to one afternoon when I was fourteen and got lost in the woods walking back from a local lake with a friend. It was dark, humid, and we got swarmed by these black flying bugs. We had to walk with towels draped over our heads because they were on us like Amityville bad. Ever since then, I’ve had a really hard time with outdoorsy situations.

What is your favorite urban legend?

Ooh, I love urban legends. The first one that came to mind when I read this question was Bloody Mary. There wasn’t a sleepover after the age of eight where we weren’t in the bathroom with the lights off saying Bloody Mary three times. I knew it wasn’t real, but there was always that little “what if” of fear running through me right before I said her name for the third time.

This one also managed to bleed into local legend. I grew up in a small town in upstate NY near one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country. One Halloween as I was watching Leprechaun and handing out candy to the neighborhood kids, my dad told me about a statue of Mary whose eyes would allegedly bleed. He may have dared me to sneak into the cemetery that night to see for myself, which I did not do but definitely considered, but some of that imagery has made its way into my own writing. I think every town probably has some version of this story, but that’s always been one of my favorites.

“There wasn’t a sleepover after the age of eight where we weren’t in the bathroom with the lights off saying Bloody Mary three times.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

Sometimes I feel like my subconscious hates me because I have so many nightmares, recurring and otherwise. The two most frequent ones are a tsunami and a zombie apocalypse.

The tsunami one is intense because there’s always a backstory leading up to the moment when this giant wave is about to crash down on me. It’s a ten-year college reunion. Me and a few friends spend the afternoon catching up before the warning is called, but there’s not enough time to escape. Sometimes I wake up before the wave hits; most of the time I can actually remember the moment when my head goes under.

The zombie apocalypse dream I’ve been having for years, and the imagery is so strong. There’s an old house, cracked and peeling gray and white paint. A low porch with a crawl space. Overgrown grass and fields. This ominous moment when I know something bad is just about to come over the horizon line. The narrative around it changes, but it’s always the same location and people.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Ooh, this is such a good question. More than never being published again or never making a best-seller list, my biggest fear as a writer is running out of things to say. What if I lose the words? What if I’ve already written the best thing I’ll ever write? What if inspiration never strikes again? There’s always this hiccup of doubt right before I start a new WIP—like I’ve somehow forgotten how to put a book together, and I question every sentence as it hits the page. Every writer battles imposter syndrome, but that fear manifests in so many different ways throughout the process. It’s a constant battle of believing in yourself, a back-and-forth of doubt over confidence. So much of publishing is out of your control as a writer, so the idea of not finding the story on top of all the outside variables is the epitome of anxiety.

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

Does it count when I have to divide them into different categories? I think at the top of my list is The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The premise is so interesting, especially how they approach the concept of belief systems. Not to mention the things that Jennifer Carpenter does with her face in the barn scene give me perpetual chills. Classics? I love The Exorcist and Pet Sematary and The Descent. Slasher? Give me the original Scream. Campy? I will *always* watch Thirteen Ghosts or My Bloody Valentine. Recent? Ready or Not was so much fun. I’ll watch anything Samara Weaving does. Lesser known? Hole in the Ground. HOLE IN THE GROUND. Just watch it.

What’s something you’ll never do because you’re too scared?

Bungee jump. Being up high makes me feel uneasy but doesn’t necessarily scare me. Jumping off a bridge and trusting that a glorified slinky will save me from plummeting to certain death? Nope. Hard pass.

Oh! I will also never go cave diving, ancient ruins searching, or anything that involves me getting lost in the nature. I’ve seen The Descent. And The Ruins. More importantly, I do not ever want to be in a situation where I am in a confined, dark space where I could be stuck and have no way to signal for help.

What’s creepier: clowns, dolls, or wax figures?

Clown dolls—so dolls lol. Hands down. (Although I’ve never been to a wax museum, so I reserve the right to change my mind). There are just so many dolls that look like they’re a) possessed b) about to be possessed c) evil incarnate. I’d like to blame RL Stine for creating Slappy, but I think I saw Poltergeist before that, so probably a combination of the two.

My daughter picked out a terrifying baby doll from a consignment shop when she was a year old. Choppy hair, realistic eyes that seemed to watch you. We named it Annabelle (obviously) and I wasn’t sad when she ended up in the garbage after a particularly terrible diaper blowout. I half expect her to show up on the porch again someday.

Which evil, murderous persona most matches your personality and why: slow-walking psychotic serial killer; vampire stalking victims in the wee hours of the night; rich megalomaniac with grand plans to take over the world; centuries-old demon witch looking for revenge; or Hyde-like, fueled with rage and no impulse control?

To preface: I laughed out loud reading this question. I’d have to go with a vampire stalking victims in the wee hours of the night. For starters, there’s the nostalgia that comes with vampires. I was always partial to those narratives. One of my favorite Are You Afraid of the Dark? episodes was about a family of vampires that moves in next door. The first short story I ever wrote was about a boy who is abducted by a vampire and his older sister has to search for him. Can’t go wrong with Dracula vibes.

On top of that, my insomnia is pretty bad most nights, so I already keep the same vampiric hours. And during the wee hours of the morning, I’ve fallen down some crazy TikTok rabbit holes. Recently, I stumbled onto this woman’s account whose only purpose is to locate pretty much anyone through only social media analysis—which is *terrifying* and makes you feel incredibly vulnerable when you realize how much of ourselves we put online.

Mandy McHugh is an author from upstate NY. Her short stories have been featured on The NoSleep Podcast and in various horror anthologies. Her debut thriller, Chloe Cates Is Missing, was one of Popsugar’s best mysteries and thrillers of 2022. Her sophomore thriller, It Takes Monsters, was published in October 2023. When she’s not writing, you can find Mandy buying too many books, singing wherever she goes, and planning adventures for her kids.