Posts in "What Scares You" Category

What Scares You, Alice Henderson?

Friends, I devoured Alice Henderson’s first book A Solitude of Wolverines. I’ve got an obsession for survival tales, and combining that with a great mystery is a perfect book for me. I love Alice’s heroine, Alex Carter, a female Rambo/MacGyver combo. I’m so excited to read the second in the series, A Blizzard of Polar Bears, which just published this month. If you’ve got a nature lover or a survivalist or a mystery fiend on your Christmas list, I’ve just solved ALL your problems for you.

And now on to Alice’s favorite scary things! She’s got some good ones here…spoooooky!

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I grew up around the corner from my grandmother, who lived in a beautiful old house built sometime in the mid-late 1800s. Strange things happened in that place. Rocking chairs rocked by themselves. Footsteps creaked down the upstairs hallway when no one was there.

Once I was playing in her attic alone, going through old books and photographs. My grandmother liked to scare me, and this afternoon I heard her creeping up the attic stairs. So I snuck to the top of the stairs, and when her footsteps reached the top step, I jumped out, intending to turn the tables on her. Only she wasn’t there. I raced down the stairs, calling for her. No answer. Then I happened to glance out of the window, where I saw my grandmother way in the very back of her yard, gardening. I tore out of there, and the attic door slammed by itself behind me!

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I do indeed believe in ghosts, and not just because of my grandmother’s place.

Once I was in the Stanley Hotel, that magnificent edifice in Estes Park, Colorado, that inspired The Shining. It was late at night, and I was standing in the billiard room. Not many people were still up, so I had the room to myself. Adjoining the billiard room was what I assumed to be a music room, as someone was playing the piano in there beautifully. But the double doors that separated the two rooms were closed, so I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to disturb the player, but I was curious, so I snuck to the doors and peeked through the crack to see who was playing. No one was. The music cut off abruptly. The bench in front of the antique grand piano was empty. The whole room was empty.

Alice, being very brave at the haunted Stanley Hotel.

What is your favorite urban legend?

When I was a kid I remember hearing about mutant alligators growing to gigantic proportions in sewers and storm drains. My friend Becky and I would routinely explore this large storm drain in my hometown, going deep inside the dark tunnels, bent over with flashlights. More than once we heard something scrabbling down there, but instead of picturing alligators, for some reason we always thought it was rabid clowns out for blood or mutant carnivorous creatures that could see in the dark, with long, raking claws.

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What Scares You, Wanda Morris?

I feel like I already know the answer to this question, and I’m sad to say the answer is: me. I scare Wanda. Or at least, this is what she tells me on my Instagram posts. If I can scare Wanda, then what else is she scared of? This is what I had to find out!

Wanda’s debut novel, All Her Little Secrets, published this month, and let me tell you, it’s a must-read. I had the special privilege of reading an early copy of this novel, and I was blown away. It’s a terrific thriller about a toxic workplace and what we’ll do for family, and I hope everyone reads it and loves it as much as I did.

Now, on to the scary stuff….

What is your greatest fear?

Outliving my children. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

There was a serial killer roaming through my city killing young girls and women. I was probably 6 or 7 years old. I would eavesdrop on my parents and listen to them talk about it. I was worried sick whenever my mom or my sisters would leave the house at night. Of course, I never told anyone about my fears, so I suffered in silence. I recall being relieved when again, eavesdropping, I learned the killer was caught. Although I read mysteries about serial killers, I don’t know if I could write one. It would mean tapping into that childhood fear. I don’t want to go there.

What is your weirdest fear?

You know those eighteen-wheeler trucks that haul cars stacked on top of one another? I’m always afraid of driving behind them for fear that the cars will suddenly break loose and fall down into the highway onto my car. Weird, right?!

What are your phobias?

I have a fear of “open heights.” I am fine with looking out of airplane windows. Not so much with looking down from the balcony of a twenty-story building. This made things interesting when I took my kids parasailing. Let’s just say I was very quiet. When we traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, we rode to the top of Mont Blanc in a cable car. It was probably the most fearful ride I’ve ever taken in my life. My husband has pictures. It was not my finest moment.

“It was probably the most fearful ride I’ve ever taken in my life.”

How do you deal with fear?

I try to attack it head-on. Like that parasailing experience with my kids—I was scared beyond words, but I didn’t want to exhibit behavior that my kids would emulate. I leaned into my fear and came out on the other side. Likewise, with that cable car up the side of that mountain. I was a sweating, panting mess, but I did it!

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

I do not enjoy scaring other people because they have a tendency to want to reciprocate, and I don’t like being scared. When I was little, my mom would let me stay up late with my older brothers and sisters to watch TV. They liked to watch scary movies and television shows. Once, I watched an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour where people were being killed off in a house, and the roads were washed out so they couldn’t escape. I was far too young to be watching something like that. My brother slipped away and returned to the room yelling and brandishing a fake knife. It scared all of us! That was my last time staying up late to hang out with the older sibs. It was also the first time I realized I don’t like scary pranks.

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What Scares You, Jonathan Maberry?

Happy Halloween, my loves! And what better way to spend the spookiest day of the year than with one of the masters of horror, Jonathan Maberry! I’m thrilled to welcome Jonathan to What Scares You today, and I know that you will love his answers.

I recently read Don’t Turn Out the Lights, a story anthology Jonathan edited that’s a tribute to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and I knew I had to ask him to do this Q&A. The anthology is a tribute in the very best way–the stories in the book have the same fun and twisted feel to them as the original books, and they brought me back to my childhood immediately. I highly recommend you go buy yourself a copy now.

And now, for the Q&A:

What is your favorite urban legend?

I’ve always been a fan of the Jersey Devil, a cryptid (a creature not officially known to exist but believed by many people). I grew up in Philadelphia, right across the river from New Jersey, and I spent a lot of summers as a kid camping in the Pine Barrens, which is the home of that particular monster. It’s an old legend dating back to Colonial times, and one with plenty of creepy variations. So many people have claimed to have seen it, including Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, who wrote about it in his diaries when he was in exile in America. Commodore Perry, one of our greatest naval heroes, claimed to have shot it down during an artillery exercise, but the thing got up and flew away. People report it all the time. It’s eerie, strange, inexplicable, and kind of fun. I will likely write a novel about it one of these days.

How do you deal with fear? 

There’s an old Samurai adage: “If you’re afraid of ghosts, sleep in a graveyard.” I learned that while studying jujutsu, and I’ve taken it as a manifesto. So, because I had a terrible fear of heights and falling, I signed up to learn skydiving. Yes, it was terrifying for about half the way down during my first jump, but then it became amazing. I’ve since went looking inside my head for other fears and applied the same process—confronting them head on, and thereby taking agency over them. It sounds weird, but it’s actually kind of fun. It’s like leveling up in a video game.

What’s something that most people are afraid of that you are not? Why aren’t you?

I’m not afraid of the “slasher with a knife” thing, which is so popular in urban legends and movies. I’m a 6’4” tall 8th degree black belt and former bodyguard. I’ve dealt with attackers with knives, icepicks, and other weapons. That’s not on my list of things to fret about. I’m much more frightened by things like pandemics, politicians who put party over the needs of the people, and mishandled technology. Those things are beyond my skill set to combat, and therefore they unnerve me more than a little.

Do you enjoy scaring other people? Why or why not?

You’d think that because I write horror, I’d be delighted to scare the bejeezus out of people, but that’s not really it for me. I don’t write about monsters. Not really. I write about people who fight monsters, which is a heck of a lot different. My stories deal with people of all kinds —from ordinary folks to Special Ops shooters— who are confronted by something bigger and badder than them. In order to survive, and to protect the people they care about, they have to discover/learn information, get tougher, band together, and level up. It’s a celebration of what’s possible when people are pushed to their limits but also realize that they —and the ones they love—are really worth fighting for. This particularly matters to me because I grew up in an abusive household and I survived —and escaped it— by throwing myself into academics (to open doors via education that were otherwise closed to a poor kid) and by studying martial arts so that I was physically tougher than the threats I faced. That worked, and I spent the next 35 years teaching martial arts and self-defense to other people who needed that same advantage. Now I write stories about people overcoming apparently impossible odds. Sure, they might be frightened by the monsters in the book, but I want the readers to feel that it’s possible that my characters can be proxies for them, and they can see that their own survival is possible.

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What Scares You, K.E. Flann?

Just in time for the Halloween season, dear reader, I bring you the perfect book for that favorite monster in your life. K.E. Flann’s newest, How To Survive a Human Attack, is pretty much my soul in book form. It’s funny and clever and dark and super, super weird. An instruction manual for monsters, the book has fun illustrations and a wonderful premise. I’m mad I didn’t write it myself.

Kathy stopped by What Scares You to chat about her very human fears, and I’m delighted to have her. Read on for the terrors of small talk, children in large quantities, and mismatched flip-flops. I warned you.

What is your greatest fear?

Small talk! Nothing sets my heart racing like someone saying, “How have you been?” A clammy sweat breaks out while I scramble to decide what’s “appropriate” to say. I feel like I’m about to lie under oath. How have I been? Well, I’ve had various crises since I saw the person last or some really cool stuff has happened. But I don’t feel like I can say, “My dad died” or “I won an artist award” because even though both of those things have happened since the pandemic started, they would be “big talk” topics, right? Plus, the question asks not only what’s been happening, but how I’m handling what’s happening. And honestly, I have no idea! Am I doing a good job? What does a good job even mean? But if I say, “I’m fine,” that’s vague and maybe even rude? I start mumbling some half-sentences that don’t make sense together and then I realize I can side step the whole thing by just saying, “But oh my gosh, how are YOU?” And my chest is heaving like I’ve crossed a finish line, and I’m thinking, Calm down, you weirdo. At least listen to the answer. I’ll choose spiders or a dark alley any day over small talk.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

When I was about three years old, I was in the car with my mom one day, riding up front (because …1970s). We stopped at a red light behind a school bus full of kids, all talking and laughing and making faces out the rear window. My mom pointed and said, “You’ll be on that bus one day.” I instantly burst into tears. I wailed, “I don’t want to get on that bus. Don’t make me get on that bus.” She laughed. “I don’t mean now.” I was like, “I never want to get on that bus.” It was the worst thing I could imagine – being trapped in there. To me, whenever kids were gathered in critical mass, they seemed one step removed from Lord of the Flies. Honestly, I think I stand by it.

“My mom pointed and said, ‘You’ll be on that bus one day.’ I instantly burst into tears.”

What is your favorite monster/villain?

This is kind of like trying to choose a favorite child! I love them all. But I have special tenderness for the swamp monster because he’s all alone and doesn’t want to be. In swamp monster stories, there’s usually no one else in the world exactly like him. He doesn’t understand why he can’t connect with humans. There’s no rage or hostility in his “monstrous” activities, as we see with other solitary types, like mummies or werewolves. He’s not strangling or eating anyone. He just wants a friend. Or a girlfriend (which I’ll grant is problematic when it comes to relying on abduction rather than dating apps). That’s why “Swamp Monster Makeovers” was one of the earliest pieces I wrote for the book. He’s like someone who just needs a fresh start and a bit of confidence. Initially, when I first published the piece in a magazine, I illustrated the makeovers myself, but in the book, the fabulous illustrator, Joseph McDermott, brought to life so many looks for the swamp monster, rendering his haute couture outfits with hilariously precise detail. It was nice to pamper the swamp monster – he deserves it!

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

Like most recurring nightmares, mine takes place at Walmart. At the end of an aisle, there’s this giant bin of discounted flip-flops, none of which are paired. All these single flip-flops are navy blue with black rubber soles. I clutch one size 8 flip-flop like it’s found treasure. The dream consists of rummaging with my one free hand for a matching size 8. The bin is so deep that I can’t see the bottom. THIS. GOES. ON. FOR. HOURS. I have a physical sensation of holding my breath, and I wake with a gasp.

What the heck? Is my greatest fear missing out on a great deal? In all seriousness, what freaks me out in the dream is that I can’t stop myself. This flip-flop search is obviously not a worthy pursuit, and I know that even while it’s happening, but it’s as if I don’t have control. And isn’t that what all nightmares are about – loss of control?

What’s something that most people are afraid of that you are not? Why aren’t you?

In moments of actual danger, which thankfully have been few, I don’t experience fear the way I expect. For example, the burglar alarm went off in our house one December night at 2 a.m., and I leapt out of bed. My husband hopped up, too, and he kind of stood there with his phone, trying to think what to do. I yelled, “What are you waiting for? Come on, let’s go!” I flung open the door, and charged downstairs, where I imagined the trouble was, which seemed literally in my mind like the only choice. Somewhere behind me, my (six-foot-three) husband was saying, “Wait,” but my adrenaline was too loud. I stopped short in our freezing kitchen, facing a window pried all the way open with a crowbar, the winter wind rattling into the room, blowing on my bare feet. Only then did I think that a plan might have been a good idea. Thankfully, the intruder had been scared out the back door by the alarm. But what would I have done? I still have no idea. I’ve caught myself doing the same thing at other times. In the “fight or flight” moments, I seem to go for “fight,” something that no one is more surprised by than I am. It’s like my mind thinks it’s all down to me. I don’t get scared until after the fact. And then I’m like, Whoa.

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?

I read Stephen King’s Cujo when I was thirteen, and the whole ordeal when they’re trapped in the car by the dog is still so vivid. Partly, I think that the setting of the car is genius. We all know that if a car isn’t working or if it’s blocked from moving, you can be incredibly vulnerable. The windows put you on display, and you’re stuck in a seated position, unable to run or get into strong fighting positions. We probably all hate it when someone approaches the car window when we’re stuck at a traffic light. To me, this setting was worse than any scary story that takes place in a house.

But then also, stories in which the dog dies have always wrecked me (and still do). Cujo was the worst combination — the dog as both victim and aggressor. The agony of the book was in that tension.

At the time, I had a terrible little dog named Snickers, who looked like Toto from The Wizard of Oz, but behaved like Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas. He would slip out the door any time we opened it to receive a package or whatever, and he’d run off for miles. He’d scrap with all the neighborhood dogs. I’d been bitten breaking up fights many times. And I loved that dog with everything I had. I spent so much time walking around the neighborhood calling his name and sobbing. Cujo was probably the “right” book at the right time to scare the bejesus out of me.

What scares you most about the writing process?

With fiction and memoir, the hardest part to me is the first draft, when I don’t know if something is going to become anything. I am terrified of working for a long time on something only to discover it’s awful and boring. Sometime during the fifth draft or whatever, there’s a moment of full-body, existential relief when scenes become vivid to me or I figure out what I was trying to say.

With humor, though, it’s such fun because it’s the opposite. In the early draft, or even the first draft, I kind of know if it’s going to work. If the concept itself doesn’t make me laugh, I don’t even bother working on the piece. I feel like there’s less fear with it in a way. I mean, of course, there’s the fear that other people won’t think it’s funny, but on the other hand, part of me is like, Well, they’re wrong. And that’s an incredibly funny and scary thought, isn’t it? When I have a thought like that, I feel sure humans are monsters.


K.E. Flann’s prose has appeared in McSweeney’s, The North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and others. In addition to How to Survive a Human Attack, a guide for movie monsters from Running Press/Hachette, her published books include Write On: Secrets to Crafting Better Stories, from Stay Thirsty Publishing, and two award-winning short story collections, Get a Grip and Smoky Ordinary.

What Scares You, Hank Phillippi Ryan?

I’m so thrilled to welcome one of my favorite people to this blog today. Master storyteller, talented reporter, and seriously one of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met, Hank Phillippi Ryan is a true force. Only my 9-year-old son has more energy than her. Her newest thriller, Her Perfect Life, was released this month and already went into a second printing. So there’s plenty more copies for you to order!

She also, as you’ll read below, shares my fear of being too optimistic. Among other things. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what scares this phenomenal woman, so let’s get to it…

What is your greatest fear?

That is such a strange question, because it seems like that should be easy. But I think my greatest fear is that some kind of buggy leggy antenna-waving creature will crawl on me. I know that’s ridiculous. I fear grasshoppers, when they leap up and jump on you. I also fear being old and alone. I can almost not face even the idea of that. Oh, also. Making a mistake. That haunts me. Or saying something inadvertently that hurts someone.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

Watching The Twilight Zone. For some reason my parents let us watch it, and I loved it, but the episodes about the zoo, and the astronaut, and the cookbook…oh, I can’t even think about it. Even though I was so enthusiastic about it, I was way too young to watch that!  I was also too young to watch that movie with the pod people. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Someone told me the story of it at night, over a campfire at Girl Scout camp, and that was traumatic enough, but then the counselors tried to convince us THEY were pod people, and that was lastingly terrifying.  I saw it anyway, peer pressure, and I can still envision it.

“Someone told me the story of Invasion of the Body Snatchers at Girl Scout camp, and then the counselors tried to convince us THEY were pod people, and that was lastingly terrifying.” 

Is there any fear you’ve overcome?

Yes. I used to be ridiculously frightened of flying. Isn’t that crazy, knowing how my life is now? And I can tell you I once went to the extent of taking the train, 23 hours, from Boston to Chicago in order to avoid flying. I understood the physics. I took a few flying lessons. Even that didn’t help me get over it. But you know what? On my first book tour with Prime Time I had to fly somewhere. I had no choice. But I was so happy about doing it that I think the joy erased the fear. And now, I fly all over the place–in the before times at least–and the fear does not cross my mind.

What is your weirdest fear?

Comes right out of flying, see above. I am afraid that if I say something hopeful or optimistic or specific out loud, it will jinx it. This is a very difficult way to live. And I try to avoid it. And now I have said it and now it is out there.

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What Scares You, James Tate Hill?

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.

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What Scares You, Terrie Moran?

I adore Terrie Moran! She’s hilarious and sincere and supportive and a wonderfully talented writer. I also adore Murder, She Wrote and Jessica Fletcher—and when I found out that Terrie was taking over the helm of writing the MSW books, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. The first one, Killing in a Koi Pond, is already out (get it here), and her second, Debonair in Death, will be releasing in November 2021.
I miss seeing Terrie at all the crime writer conventions—she’s one of the top highlights of those events—so I decided to get my Terrie fix by asking her creepy questions about her fears. Join me in learning more…

Would you rather find an ogre or a banshee living in your house?

A banshee, of course! All of my ancestors are of Irish descent, having come to America from counties such as Derry, Cork, Cavan, Tipperary and so on. And in Irish culture the banshee, or “woman of the fairy mounds,” is a female spirit whose keening foretells the death of a member of the family that she has been following for hundreds of years. The death can occur near or far away. The banshee will know the death is imminent and her keening will announce it to the family. Other than the fact that the keening could split your eardrums, a banshee will do you no harm. In fact, I am so interested in banshee traditions that I wrote a short story called “The Awareness,” which was published in the Mystery Writers of America anthology Crimes By Moonlight, edited by the magnificent Charlaine Harris. I re-published it in an e-collection called The Awareness and Other Deadly Tales, giving the banshee top billing!    

“The banshee is a female spirit whose keening foretells the death of a family member.”

Do you believe in ghosts?

I believe in spirits, which is the same in my mind. I believe that the souls of those who came before me are always keeping an eye on me and guiding me. The discussions I have inside my head when making a decision—well, those are really the ancestors hashing out the pros and cons, keeping me safe and plotting out my future.  

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

Until I was seven, we lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. The apartment had a long hallway from the living room to the kitchen that was great for sock sliding. Our apartment door was at the top of the first floor staircase, so I could hear my friends coming home and going out. (“Mom, Peggy is bringing her doll house to the stoop, can I go out?”) But by the time I was five, I knew there was one thing missing. We had no chimney. How was Santa Claus going to come down a chimney that didn’t exist? I worried about this for months before I finally told my mother who, as mothers do, fixed the problem by writing a letter to Santa explaining that she would leave the living room window wide open and that his cookies and milk would be waiting on the window sill. When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, there was that one window open and the entire apartment was freezing. But when I awoke on Christmas morning, all was toasty and there were presents under the tree. Crisis averted.

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What Scares You, Andrea Bartz?

Oh, hi, you may have heard of Andrea Bartz? You know, her new book, We Were Never Here? That’s a Marie Claire #ReadWithMC pick? And, oh, a Reese’s Book Club pick? And, oh, a New York Times bestseller????
It’s been a thrill to see this book get so much buzz because it’s SUCH A GOOD BOOK. And while I would never, ever, go on vacation with Andi after reading WWNH, I will read anything and everything she writes. I highly recommend you do the same.
And while her book tapped into one of my greatest fears–encountering a scary stranger while traveling in an unfamiliar place–we are here today to find out what freaks her out…..

What is your greatest fear?

One of my fears—a very human fear, but one we don’t talk about much—is saying or doing something that would make me unlovable. I think that’s why I write female protagonists who seem to have it all together but, under the surface, worry that they’re too much or not enough…and, in their most vulnerable moments, they believe that if others saw the chinks in their armor, their loved ones would turn on them. Shame is such a powerful emotion, and I love using interior dialogue to bring characters’ deepest fears out into the light. Sure, some readers hate them for it (calling them “unlikable” or “annoying” or “whiny”), but forcing my characters to be honest about their fears makes me feel braver, too. 

 

What is your weirdest fear?

Marionettes have always freaked me out! Especially vaguely realistic ones. I remember when TEAM AMERICA came out, I had to look away every time an ad for it showed up on TV.

 

Do you believe in ghosts?

I do, because it’s comforting to think that the energy of our loved ones lives on after they die. To me, it’s like “believing in” crystals or Tarot cards—what’s the harm in seeing a little inexplicable magic, or at least acknowledging there’s more to the universe than what we can prove?

 

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

No, but I have an opposite: I know many people who won’t watch a horror movie or read a thriller if the dog dies. I’m a total animal lover, but I don’t understand this at all—it’s fiction! No actual pets were harmed in the making of this book or film!! If it’s just an empathy exercise, shouldn’t we be more offended by all the fictional human carnage?!

 

What’s worse: being buried alive or bitten by a vampire?

Being buried alive, for sure! A vampire bite grants you power and immortality. Which comes with its own existential panic, I’m sure, but better than dirt compressing my lungs and filling my nostrils.

Andrea Bartz is a Brooklyn-based journalist and author of We Were Never Here, The Lost Night, and The Herd. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Martha Stewart Living, Redbook, Elle, and many other outlets, and she’s held editorial positions at Glamour, Psychology Today, and Self, among other publications.

What Scares You, James Ziskin?

I’m thrilled to welcome James Ziskin to my blog this week. A fine writer and all-around good person, James has won or been nominated for nearly every major mystery fiction award. My husband Art Taylor recently read aloud James’ story “The Twenty-Five-Year Engagement,” featuring Sherlock Holmes, and I honestly forgot that it wasn’t a Conan Doyle original as we were reading.
But today we are here to discover what terrifies James to his bones. Let’s get to it!

 

What is your greatest fear?

Heights. They paralyze me and turn my stomach upside down. In my upcoming book, Bombay Monsoon (December 2022, Oceanside), I explore this fear in some detail. Many years ago, I visited the World Trade Center and went up to the roof where there was an observation deck. It must have been a hundred feet or more from the edge, and there was a fence around it. Nevertheless, I had the crippling fear that if I took even so much as a step, I would trip and, with great lunging strides to avoid falling, I would career all the way to the edge and plunge—tumbling and grasping at the air—into the void to my certain death.

I had the same feeling a few years ago when I allowed myself—foolishly—to be talked into visiting the roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. I flattened myself against the wall until the tiny elevator returned to take me back down to terra firma.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

The Northeast Blackout of 1965. I was only five years old, but I remember it distinctly. I was carrying a candle in the dark, and some wax dripped down on my hand. I seriously thought I was on fire and was going to die, burnt to a crisp. A second or two later, I realized that I would live. Not even a scar from the molten wax. But that memory is a strong one.

Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?

Fear of flying. Not related to my fear of heights, though. A totally different sensation. Maybe because the altitude seems unreal, not at all like the feeling I get when imagining those crazy people walking on i-beams as they build skyscrapers. But, yes, I used to be terrified of flying, convinced that every bump of turbulence was going to break off the wings or an engine and take the plane down. The fear didn’t stop me from flying when I had to, but I worried a lot every time I boarded a plane.

About twenty years ago, however, I started doing a lot of travel for business. Dozens of trips to Montreal, Italy, and India. Fifty-seven visits to India alone, and each of those involved about twenty hours in the air. After a while, the flights stopped bothering me. I suppose I couldn’t maintain the fear for so many hours and so many trips. With time, I even grew to love the long flights, especially when the company was footing the bill for a business class seat. Now I look at flying as ridiculously safe, especially compared to driving. The statistics are remarkable.

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What Scares You, Fleur Bradley?

Our whole family read Fleur’s novel Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, which was a delight. Ghost hunting! A spooky hotel! Lots of Clue-like characters with secrets and shady pasts. Our son loved it, and we did, too. And Midnight at the Barclay Hotel is up for an Agatha Award this weekend (fingers crossed for Fleur!) It’s also won a ton of other awards, and been nominated for more, and if none of this is reason enough for you to go check it out, then I don’t know how to help you.
What I do know is that Fleur Bradley has some fears. Let’s find out what they are!

What is your greatest fear?

Oh, my greatest fear is, I imagine, the same one of any parent: for my kids to get hurt. Thankfully, my two daughters are grown now and are very capable of taking care of themselves. But I still worry every time I hear an ambulance and they’re out. It’s a mom thing, I guess.

I’m also afraid of heights—don’t even try to put me on any rollercoaster. When we go to any amusement park, I’m the person who waits at the exit, guarding (and eating) the snacks.

Fleur’s sister is way too cute to scare people….isn’t she?

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I was so afraid of the dark as a kid. And I had very vivid nightmares, and I sleepwalked… It all worked out in the end, but I’m pretty sure I owe my parents an apology for waking them up a hundred million times. My sister liked to spook me sometimes too—she’s still into horror movies, and I’m totally not. I’ll take a mystery over anything scary any day.

Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?

Fear of public speaking, probably. I still get nervous when I have to talk to a large group of people, but I’m not terrified anymore. Thank goodness, because since I write books for kids I have to do author school visits all the time. A group of eighth graders are a tough crowd, let me tell you. But it’s actually rewarding to talk in front of a crowd now.

Do you believe in ghosts?

For Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I had to do a bit of research into ghost hunting, which was pretty fun. I watched lots of ghost hunting shows. Truthfully, I’m more of a science kind of person, so I don’t believe in ghosts or the paranormal a whole lot. Sometimes those ghost hunting shows do have video or audio evidence that’s interesting, but it’s not anything that makes me think ghosts exist. Maybe I’ll come back to haunt people after I’m dead, and then I’ll believe in ghosts.

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