James Tate Hill is the author of the memoir Blind Man’s Bluff, which was published in August 2021 to great acclaim. It’s a memoir about his blindness, and how for a very long time he tried to hide it from his friends, family, the world. You can read more about it—and buy it!—here.
James is also the editor of Monkeybicycle, a fantastic online magazine that publishes short fiction. He’s also one of my favorite people on Twitter—seriously, go check it out. He makes me laugh nearly every time I read one of his tweets.
I’m thrilled that he was able to take some time to talk to me about fear.
What is your greatest fear?
Sharks. Great white sharks. Like many, I saw Jaws at a young age, and the impact was profound. Jaws 2, to be precise, which I maintain is the scariest of the franchise. Growing up in the landlocked state of West Virginia did not mitigate my fear of sharks in the least. In public swimming pools, I didn’t venture into the deep end because the darker shade of blue allowed me to imagine sharks. Never mind that I could see the bottom of the pool.
I didn’t shower until sixth or seventh grade because the chaos of the shower spray could provide cover for, you guessed it, sharks. It was all baths for me until then, and never more than a few inches of water. Also, I couldn’t close my eyes for more than a couple of seconds, which made rinsing the shampoo from my hair more complicated than it should have been.
But I’ve come a long way. I shower without fear, at least most of the time. Swimming pools don’t bother me. And I’ll venture into the ocean all the way to my ankles.
Do you enjoy scaring other people?
I used to, as a child. The appeal has faded substantially as an adult, perhaps upon realizing that I myself do not enjoy being scared. It might also have coincided with my first reading of The Phantom Prince by Elizabeth Kendall, the former fiancée of Ted Bundy. In the book, she recounts how much Ted loved to scare her and her young daughter. Fortunately they both survived to tell about it.
What is your favorite urban legend?
In elementary school, when my family lived in the city, my schoolmates and I referred frequently to someone we called “the killer.” We developed elaborate theories about where he might have been in recent days, concocting narratives around whatever trash we found on the playground. For self-defense, I assembled what I referred to as my “mystery kit,” consisting of old batteries, a mostly empty tube of aloe vera, and a plastic film canister filled with BBs. I stored all of it in the cardboard box of my LEGO firehouse set, bringing it along on sleepovers just in case.
Only now does it occur to me that this generic killer might have been less an urban legend than the neighborhood children’s translation of some actual event. In a city the size of Charleston, WV, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that someone might have committed murder, and that the parents of a second grader might have discussed it in their presence. The opposite, in fact, seems less likely.