What Scares You, Carl Vonderau?

I’m excited to chat with Carl Vonderau this cold January day! Carl and I are agent siblings—lucky enough to have the best agent, Michelle Richter, in our corner. Carl’s debut novel Murderabilia was nominated for a slew of awards and his latest, Saving Myles, is about a father who would go to any lengths to get his kidnapped son back.

Read on to discover Carl’s fears and terrors and all that happy stuff.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

Strangely enough it’s Santa Claus sneaking into my room at night after I was put to bed. I was afraid he would suddenly materialize over me, so hid my head under the covers.

What is your favorite spooky holiday?

I love Day of the Dead. It happens just after Halloween, but Day of the Dead is much deeper than that. Its origins date to more than 3,000 years ago with indigenous people in Mexico and Central America.

What I like is that it isn’t about ghouls coming back to haunt the living, but the living celebrating the lives of their lost loved ones. Those who passed are alive in memories. It is a joyful time rather than a day of mourning.

We have our own little display at our house. I love the bright dresses the skeleton women wear. The skeleton men are always in black tuxedos.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

Yes. It always has to do with a deadline for travel or an exam or some business meeting. Often I’m unprepared and don’t know until that moment that I was supposed to be there. I keep getting lost on wrong streets or wrong buildings or a car goes the wrong way. Then I wake up and am relieved.

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

The Twilight Zone. I still remember some of these episodes from more than forty years ago. Like the blabbermouth who needs money. He accepts a bet that he can’t stay quiet for a year. He has to live the whole time in a room with microphones to pick up any word he says. He succeeds and then, at the end of the year, we find out that the man on the other side of the bet doesn’t have the money to pay him. We also learn that the day before the blabbermouth started the task, he had the nerves to his vocal chords severed.

One thing I never realized until now is that music in that show is wonderful. The dissonant and avant guard passages fit perfectly with the strange themes.

What is creepier: clowns, dolls, or wax museum figures?

Definitely clowns. They were always scary, but since I learned about John Wayne Gacy, they’re even scarier. He made a whole series of Pogo the clown paintings where the clowns were white-faced, and their white hands often held balloons. You can buy these original paintings for $10K or more. Gacy used to dress up as a clown to visit hospitals in Chicago. He murdered 33 young men and hid their bodies in the crawl spaces of his house.

What is the scariest place you’ve ever been?

A long time ago I went to Bogotá, Colombia, to research setting and content for my first novel. It was, of course, never published. I had a friend there who worked with street orphans, and he took me to Cartucho, a section where the authorities allowed crime and drugs. Drug addicts lined the streets. Most of them were hooked on basuco, which was a cocaine freebase. They built shelters from plastic bags filled with newspaper. There were also restaurants. I remember a girl of high-school age serving someone on a terrace. She turned to cast a ferocious look at me. We came across a dead youth in his twenties who’d been shot and his body lay on the street. Murders happened there most every night. The Bogotá police were photographing him. Our group couldn’t take pictures because doing so would have offended the people there. Our guide made sure we weren’t in any danger, but I was still scared.  

Carl Vonderau grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed God could heal all illness. Maybe that’s why he went to college in California. After majoring in economics and dabbling in classical guitar, he ended up with a career in banking. Carl has lived and worked internationally and has managed to put his foot in his mouth in several languages. He brought his banking expertise to his debut thriller Murderabilia as well as to his most recent novel, Saving Myles. He has won Left Coast Crime, San Diego, and American Book Fest awards. Carl is president of the San Diego chapter of Sisters in Crime and also helps nonprofits through San Diego Social Venture Partners.