Posts in "What Scares You" Category

What Scares You, Steve Weddle?

“So many options to choose poorly.”

That’s the way Steve Weddle describes one of his recurring dreams, and it’s also pretty much the sum-up of my life, feels like. But despite Steve’s aimless dreams, he’s not doing too shabby in the world of writing. Steve’s newest book, The County Line, will be published by Lake Union in January 2024. Pre-order it now and give yourself a post-holiday treat.

And then read on to discover more about Steve’s fears and worries and the book he read as a child that may or may not actually exist….

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I’m in a car driving somewhere, usually along the interstate. The weather could be anything – rain, clear, sun, mist. I’m heading somewhere on a vague deadline. I don’t know this interstate, certainly not this section of it. The interchanges are coming up. So many options to choose poorly. Or I’m driving down a long road across Kansas or west Texas and realize I’ve been going in the wrong direction for the past few hours. You don’t have to order the newest dream dictionary to figure those out, you know?

What scares you most about the writing process? 

Having a few really good options and being forced to go with one. As a writer, I see so many possibilities for what the story could be, but the reader only gets the one, if I do my job. I could spend so much time writing out one version of things only to realize it doesn’t work and have to go back and change everything. What a nightmare. Hey, wait a minute.

What animal scares you the most?

I don’t trust the way snakes move. They seem to have broken a sort of understanding that we have with other animals. You see a dog bounding your way or a cat waiting to pounce. With snakes, though, there seems to be a great disrespect for the laws of physics, in that they slither around in fits and spurts, dangle down from tree limbs, slide across bike trails. Once, in Baton Rouge, my lovely bride and I were walking trails near a bayou when a water moccasin crossed the path in front of me. As I was taking the lead, I had to elbow my wife out of the way as I raced in the other direction. She picked herself up, looked for the snake as she’s more curious than cowardly, then tracked me down the way we came and helped me down from the tree I’d climbed. So, yes, probably snakes.

I suspect my parents were terrified that I might do something horrendously stupid, such as set fire to the town or accidentally chop off my own noggin with the lawn mower. I was a careless and curious kid, which is a terrible combination for a parent to have to deal with. To my recollection, I never committed, or at least was never accused of having committed, any felonies. And I never knowingly caused the death of anyone who did not, in some way, deserve it. I wouldn’t say I was a model child, but I do hope my parents’ fears were unfounded.

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What Scares You, Annette Lyon?

In reading through Annette Lyon’s answers to my interview questions, I was struck at how many of her fears are so specific to motherhood. I very much identified with a lot of them myself. There’s both the fear that many parents share–that something bad will happen to your child–but also more complex variations on that theme: I won’t survive to have kids or I won’t be able to get back to my children or see them again. All of these resonated with me on a core level.

Annette just published her first suspense novel, Just One More, which she says is the scariest thing she’s ever written. You can buy your copy here or wherever you most like to buy your books.

How do you deal with fear?

In the middle of a fearful situation, I stay outwardly calm and push through, almost detached from the situation. When it’s over, then I fall apart. One example: My freshman year of college, I attended an event with a speaker at an arena. This was way before 9/11, so security was basically nonexistent. A man rushed the platform and held the elderly speaker hostage, saying he had a bomb and would detonate it if the speaker didn’t read his manifesto. (The speaker refused.) A friend was totally freaking out, crying, screaming, and trying to run (toward the floor!). I stayed weirdly calm because I had to calm her down. Not until the situation was resolved and I was alone did I come unglued. The same pattern happens today, only even more so as a parent. I’ve done all kinds of things with outward calm that I’d have never done at all if it hadn’t been that one of my kids needed me to. And then I fall apart afterward. I doubt I’m unusual in that.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

Oranges. Weird, but there’s a good reason. I was about 12 and was home alone with my sister. She said something funny as I was taking a bite of an orange wedge, and when I laughed, it got sucked into my windpipe. I literally was choking—no air getting through at all. I tried pulling it out with my fingers, but my throat was clamped tight around it. I tried to Heimlich myself against a counter. No dice. My sister just stood there in shock. I remember thinking I was going to die in front of her. I prayed, saying I couldn’t die yet because I was supposed to grow up and be a mom. Then my throat muscles released, and I could pull out the orange wedge.

The orange was there long enough that it damaged my vocal cords. I had a scratchy voice for months and couldn’t sing even a little for a long time.

The fear of oranges has leaked into my kids. When they were little, I always made sure to cut up orange wedges, and when they got older, I regularly lectured them to take tiny bites.

It may sound bizarre, but I can’t attribute the fact that I’m alive after that to anything other than other-worldly intervention.

“I was taking a bite of an orange wedge, and when I laughed, it got sucked into my windpipe.”

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

In a controlled environment, yes, meaning it’s a situation when people expect to be surprised or scared and choose it. Like the time as a kid, I set up a “haunted house” in our basement and charged neighbor kids a nickel to go through it. I had a blast with that and happily freaked out a few kids on my street.

But I had plenty of jump-scare-type things as a kid when I felt trapped or thought I was about to be hurt, things that I still have a visceral reaction to. I’d never do that to someone else.

Writing a scary book, though? That’s under the first category. If it’s a suspense novel, the reader knows what they’re getting into. They’re in control, and they’re able to close it at any time. I’m quite happy to scare someone that way!

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What Scares You, Alice Slater?

A self-proclaimed Scream girlie, Alice Slater’s debut novel Death of a Bookseller published just last month and is a “darkly funny suspense” about true crime, bookstores, and the limits of friendship. You can get your copy right here. And then read on to find out her favorite horror movies, big fears, all the other things that terrify Alice…dum dum dum.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

My first brush with fear—real, gut-wrenching, blood-to-ice fear—was the Honey Monster, the yellow yeti-style mascot of the cereal brand Sugar Puffs. My small brain understood that danger lay within that cheerful exterior, and I went into fight-or-flight mode every time his guffawing mug appeared on our television screen. 

What are your phobias?

I’m quite frightened of the dark, although I’m not sure why. Somewhere between a real-world fear of who and an irrational fear of what could be lurking in the shadows, I suppose. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in the way they make me feel. I don’t believe it’s likely I’ll come across a stranger in my home, or in my garden late at night, but it isn’t impossible. I use a lot of my own fears and paranoia in my writing, and I hope that shines through in my debut novel, Death of a Bookseller

What is your favorite urban legend?

Do you know the one about the babysitter and the clown statue? A young babysitter, a suburban home full of weird art. Every time she checks on the sleeping children, she finds herself creeped out by this horrible clown statue standing in the corner of the room. Freaked out by its cold dead eyes, she throws a blanket over it so she doesn’t have to look at it. When the parents finally get home, they ask how her evening was and she says it was fine, but she has to apologise for covering the children’s clown statue with a blanket. The parents look confused, and the mother says, “I’m sorry but I’m not sure what you mean—what clown statue?” [Editor’s note: You can listen to a super creepy homage to this story over at The Strange and Unusual podcast.]

It’s so silly, but I remember the first time I heard it, a real curl of fear unfurled within me. My brother also found it deeply disturbing, which lead my mother to wonder what shared childhood experience we might have had for us to both find it so upsetting. As far as I’m aware, we have never encountered a clown anywhere it shouldn’t be. 

How do you deal with fear?

I’m an incredibly fragile little baby, so I either refuse to face my fears entirely (I’m queen of covering my eyes in the cinema) or I demand mollycoddling. If I was a dog, I’d be a shivering chihuahua that requires human contact at all times. 

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

I’m a Scream girlie, and my order of preference is 1 > 4 > 2 > 3 > 5 (I haven’t seen 6 yet as I’m on a deadline for book two, and it’s killing me). Aside from Scream, I love 90s slashers, 70s Hollywood, big sharks, and smart, strange movies with a really incredible female lead: Carrie, Midsommar, Ginger Snaps, May, Excision, It Follows, St Maud, Us. You get the vibe. The only thing I really don’t like is extreme violence: 00s splat pack—Hostel, Saw, House of 1000 Corpses and the like.

What’s creepier: clowns or dolls?

I’m very fond of both, actually, but I think clowns have the edge. I love the uncanny fear that clowns strike into the hearts of adults, and I find it really difficult to imagine a pre-Pennywise world in which clowns weren’t intrinsically linked to murder. Dolls I don’t consider a particular threat to my peace. Chucky, Annabel, and Brahms aren’t anywhere near as scary as Art, Captain Spaulding, or Twisty. I do think there’s space within this question to raise a possible third option though: how do we feel about waxworks? I’d rather be trapped in a lift with M3gan than the Peru waxwork of Lady Gaga. Google her. Vile. 

Alice Slater is a writer, podcaster and ex-bookseller from London. She studied creative writing at MMU and UEA. She lives in London with her husband and a lot of books.

What Scares You, Lori Rader-Day?

There is definitely something about that feeling of being somewhere new and far away, alone, and realizing that no one really knows where you are. In this interview with Lori Rader-Day, she starts off with that hint of fear, and it’s definitely one that I can relate to. I distinctly remember the moment, during my first week of studying abroad in England, when I was sitting on a bench on my new college campus with no one around and realizing that I could disappear right then and there and it would take a while for anyone to notice. It’s truly a chilling feeling.

Lori touches on a bunch of other fears here that I think many of us can relate to, and her fiction can be equally as chilling and introspective. It’s exciting to know we have a new LRD novel on the way–The Death of Us is releasing in October 2023, and it features a mother who will stop at nothing to protect her son when the discovery of a submerged car stirs up buried secrets and a small town’s vengeance. Pre-order your copy now.

And find out what else scares her…

What’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?

I’m just back from traveling to Alaska, where I suddenly realized how vulnerable you are traveling solo. No one knows precisely where you are…

The scariest place I’ve ever been, though, was on a group trip. I was on a trip with Ball State University, my twice-over alma mater and where I worked for nearly ten years, visiting Asia. While in South Korea, we got special permission and careful escort to go the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea—a tiny little place carved out and primarily used for talks between the two countries. It’s not a tourist spot. You had to dress a certain, respectful way and be careful of your actions while you were there, so that the photos that were absolutely being taken of you couldn’t be used as propaganda against America or South Korea. There was a building right down the middle of the border so that North Koreans stayed in their country and South Koreans stayed in theirs, even as they were meeting across a table. A microphone cord delineated one country from another. I asked if we could step over the cord. So technically I have been in North Korea—very briefly. I was glad to get back over that cord and then out of that place. It felt like a place where anything might happen.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is probably that my husband will make me a widow. I know, I know, we all gotta go sometime, and the alternative, that I will make him a widower, isn’t great either. But it’s mostly about the timing, that he might make me a—OK, I wanted to say YOUNG widow but that ship might have finally sailed. Anyway, they say you should write about what scares you, right? So I wrote my (Edgar Award-nominated, hi) novel Under a Dark Sky to explore those feelings. (It’s about a young widow who is afraid of the dark.) Writing that book didn’t exorcise the fear, but at least I can say I cleaned out the metaphorical closets a bit.

These days I’m afraid I or someone I love will be killed in a mass shooting. The odds just keep getting better. What do we do about this?

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

I used to be gut-sick scared of public speaking. Hated it. Got through high school speech by the skin of my teeth; changed my major in college to avoid another speech class. There’s some statistic out there about how most people would rather shave years off their life than speak in public, and that felt true to me.

On the occasion of my first public reading, I was making myself absolutely sick with dread, until I realized that getting the chance to read my work in public was part of the success I had dreamed of my entire life, that I was working so hard for. That realization didn’t cure me, but it gave me enough courage to get up on the stage that night. And then I just kept saying yes to opportunities until I didn’t get nervous anymore. Now? Give me a mic. I live for it. My high school speech teacher came to one of my events a few years ago and was astounded.

Now that it doesn’t scare me to speak in front of an audience, I’m more confident in my abilities and can make sure the audience has a good time, too. I think it would be difficult to be a publishing author without some comfort with public speaking. 

Lori conquering her public speaking fears at the 2017 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference, her first keynote speech.

 How do you deal with fear?

My examples so far show you exactly how I tend to deal with fear. I face it. I hand it to a character and inspect it from all angles, or dig deep for why I’m in a position to face a fear. Now, we’re not talking about all my fears, here. Spiders? No, thank you. I’m not facing a big spider if I don’t have to, and so far in my life I haven’t found a reason to have to face a big spider. Are there places in the world I’d like to visit, except for their spider population? Yes. But there are plenty of places in the world I want to see, some of them not known for spiders. Or…caves. I can barely type the word caves. *shudder* That’s all I’ll say on the topic. I’m not facing that one. Shut up.

What scares you most about the writing process?

I love writing the beginning, and I love writing the ending, once I know what it is. I don’t usually know what it is until pretty late in the game. The middle scares me. The beginning is where you hook the reader, ask them questions. The ending is where you reward the reader, answer the questions you’ve asked. The middle is where I can get lost, but it’s also where I figure out what I’m writing and why. All the discoveries about character are made there, and then I revise the beginning in support of them. I love the process of discovery in writing, but it’s also daunting, every time.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

I’m scared that I won’t get another idea, or that I won’t be able to pull off the next idea I have. Or that something will happen to me, health-wise, that will keep me from doing this, long-term. I’m almost two years out from a breast cancer diagnosis, done with treatment, but in the early days of chemotherapy, I wondered if I would ever write another book. It was a scary place to be, because I’ve always been a writer, from a very young age. Who would I be, if I couldn’t be a writer anymore?

On a more daily basis, what scares me is that I’m somehow letting down my readers. My personal goal is always to try something new each time out—to scare myself, just a little, I guess—but that I’m entertaining myself, not readers. Maybe I would sell more books if I were a different sort of writer. I guess I worry I’m not the right kind of writer.  

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

I remember the first time I read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” It blew my mind. A piece of assigned “literature” about crime that pulled zero punches? The story was first published in 1953, so I expected… something else, I guess, but even 70 years later, I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone. That first time I finished it, I thought… “You can DO that?” Well, Flannery could.

Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar Award-nominated and Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of Death at Greenway, The Lucky One, Under a Dark Sky, and others. Her latest book, forthcoming October 2023, is The Death of Us (Harper Collins.) Lori lives in Chicago, where she co-chairs the Midwest Mystery Conference and teaches creative writing at Northwestern University.

What Scares You, Valerie Burns?

Ok, so I know that people joke all the time about burning down the house if they find certain things inside it–namely a snake. Or a spider. Or a flying squirrel. Or…you get the idea. An exaggeration. But honestly, I’m not sure how Valerie Burns spent even one additional evening in her house after opening the closet and finding that creature inside. Yes, you have to read on to find out what I mean.

Also, given all the trauma it must’ve caused, the least you can do is go buy her newest book, Bookclubbed to Death, the 8th book in her Mystery Bookshop Mystery series.

And, of course, read this great interview with her about all things terrifying…

What are your phobias?

I have a fear (some would call a phobia) of reptiles and rodents. Okay, so it’s my pest control technician who said it was a phobia just because I saw a mouse and threatened to burn my house down if he didn’t come out (after-hours on a Saturday) to catch it, and YES, I want it REMOVED. For the record, he came.

What is your favorite urban legend?

Snakes and small reptiles that people have dumped into the sewer coming up through the pipes and ending up in your toilet. Why? See comment above about phobias. 

How do you deal with fear?

I avoid it. I don’t enjoy being afraid and my reaction isn’t proportionate to the fear. So, my first goal is to avoid things that scare me. If I can’t avoid it, then I become a psycho-killer with no limits. For example, I don’t like spiders. So, I pay a pest control company to spray a barrier around my home to prevent their entry. IF a spider manages to cross the barrier, then I have been known to crush it with a broom/shoe/large heavy object and then use an entire can of bug spray to melt the beast until there is nothing left but a mound of foam and the outline of a carcass. If I had a flame thrower, I’d probably be homeless.  

A wolf spider hanging out on Valerie’s clothes. Nope.

What scares you most about the writing process?

Sending my manuscript off to my editor scares me. Even after 20 books, I get scared when I press SEND. A feeling of terror grips my heart, and I anxiously await an email telling me that my writing sucks and they are now canceling my contracts.  

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What Scares You, Michael Sims?

Michael Sims is a literary scholar, editor, and cultural critic. His books have racked up or been short-listed for many awards, including Arthur and Sherlock, which was a finalist for the Edgar. He is a thoughtful, smart writer and researcher and a fantastic person to find at a cocktail party to chat.

In October 2023, Michael’s book The Penguin Book of Murder Mysteries will be released. From the description, it’s sure to be a delight, featuring “evil masterminds, suspect narrators, early female detectives, shipboard murders, and psychological and scientific inquiries” from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Given all this, I knew he’d be the perfect person to discuss fear with. And so we did.

What is your greatest fear?

I think it is still the one I developed way back in the Reagan years: nuclear war. The vision of complete and utter annihilation of much of society and all its infrastructure and protections, and then the haunting legacy of radiation. Deformity and monstrousness. I feel as if the apocalyptic fantasies of my Baptist upbringing have just been replaced by a human apocalypse—one caused by fear and hatred fueled by lies and power plays. One that most of us didn’t deserve. 

What was your worst nightmare ever?

I think my worst nightmare was about, well, the horror of embodiment—all the awful things that can happen to your body, but also the sheer shock and horror of being in a body. I dreamed that chunks of flesh were suddenly peeling off my arm like over-cooked chicken. I saw my white radius and ulna sticking out. Then I looked down: a toenail opened like the lid of a box and a snake crawled out.

What scares you most about the writing process?

The chasm between what I want to say and what I am able to say. The layers and connections that disappear during their journey between my imagination and the page. How sad I feel when I admit my deep-down yearning to write something powerful and significant and how impossible that seems for someone at only my level of talent. 

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

Many. I’ve learned to be, it embarrasses me to say, timid about the visual images I let in to haunt my obsessively visual imagination. I am far less cautious about what I read. I even edited an anthology of the original bloody old vampire stories, which get quite, um, specific. What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?

I still think often of how scary I found some scenes in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, ages ago when it was new. A teenage character’s dawning awareness of the magnitude of the risk to him and his friends. But it would be Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon that horrified and devastated me to the point that I will not read serial-killer stories even today, much less watch a cinematic version. 

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What Scares You, Barb Goffman?

I’ve known Barb Goffman since before I started writing crime fiction myself. I was impressed not only with the way she crafted her stories, but also the way she talked about them. Whenever I heard her talk about her stories, it immediately made me want to read them. Apparently, many other people feel the same way, since Barb has been nominated more than 35 times for major crime awards! (One of those is her current Agatha Award nomination for the story “Beauty and the Beyotch,” which you can read in the #29 issue of Sherlock Holmes’s Mystery Magazine.

I was excited to chat with her about what scares her and possibly inspires all those great story ideas. Read on to discover the one horror movie she watched that made her avoid them forever (honestly, I wish it had been a better one) and the creepiest room in her childhood home.

What is your greatest fear?

Being buried. Some people would say being buried alive, and yes, that prospect scares the crap out of me. But the idea of being buried while dead also freaks me out because I’m claustrophobic and—even though it’s nonsensical—I keep thinking, what if I’m sentient inside my body after death, and not only can’t I move but I’m stuck inside this narrow box. FOREVER. It makes it far more understandable why Lord Voldemort wanted to avoid death at all costs.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I was maybe four years old, watching TV in our den. My mom was upstairs in the kitchen, sitting with her back to the back door, which in those days wouldn’t have been locked during the day. A man walked past the den’s sliding-glass door and started up the steps to the back door. I opened my mouth to let her know that the man was sneaking up on her, but no sound came out. After two failed tries to cry out, I scrambled up the stairs and found my voice on the way. It turned out the man was the meter reader, and all was well. But for decades afterward I had dreams in which I’d be in danger and would try to scream for help but no sound would come out.

What is your weirdest fear?

A lot of people are afraid of public speaking. Not me—except if I have family in the audience. Then my heart pounds like crazy. Considering that family is what gives most people comfort, it’s weird that family triggers my fear.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?

My story “Evil Little Girl” is about a twelve-year-old ostracized girl who is repeatedly raped at sleepaway camp. I don’t find this story particularly scary, but it was critiqued by the writers group I was in when I wrote it, and one of the women said that when she first read it, she thought I needed to cut back on the details, that they were too horrifying. But when she read the story a second time to mark the spots that needed pruning, she couldn’t find them. I’d written the rape scenes sparely, but the emotions were real enough that she saw the details in her head—details that weren’t on the page. I guess that qualifies as the scariest thing I’ve written (though my gothic story “Nightmare” might run a close second). Both stories appear in my collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.

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What Scares You, Jeffrey James Higgins?

It’s Valentine’s Day! And what better way to celebrate than to discuss all the things in life that scare the hell out of you!

I like to keep it dark over here, so I’m thrilled to chat with a wonderful thriller writer and retired special agent, Jeffrey James Higgins. Jeff’s latest novel is Unseen: Evil Lurks Among Us, about a rookie homicide detective who investigates a string of murders in Washington, DC and uncovers both a vigilante killer and a terrorist conspiracy—making himself a target. He also recently wrote this fab blog post about mistakes writers often make when writing about deadly force, which I found incredibly insightful.

I don’t believe Jeff and I have crossed paths IRL (soon to be rectified! We will be on a panel together at the Suffolk Mystery Authors Festival next month!), but we spend a lot of our lunch hours together during the Chessie Chapter of Sisters in Crime lunchtime write-ins.

From the stories he’s told there, I knew this was gonna be good. AND I WAS RIGHT.

What is your greatest fear?

What I fear most is losing my loved ones. My brother-in-law, Amir Farahat, recently passed away, and his death devastated our family. The loss of a family member is a phobia most of us share. The flip side of that worry is being lucky enough to have people in my life that I love. When I write thrillers, I often create dread in readers’ minds by threatening my character’s family or friends. What are higher stakes than death? 

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

I was a shy kid with a strong interior life, like many writers and readers, and public speaking terrified me. I remember having to present a paper to my class and being unable to get out of my seat. Eventually, I confronted my fear and overcame it. As a special agent, I gave hundreds of briefings to police, ambassadors, generals, and cabinet members, and as an elected official, I routinely spoke to large audiences. As an author, I give talks, sit on panels, and actually enjoy the thing that once scared me most.

What is your weirdest fear?

I chased terrorists and transnational criminals around the world for decades. Bad guys have shot bullets and missiles at me, and I’ve fought hand-to-hand to save my life. I don’t have PTSD, but after living in austere environments in developing countries, I developed germophobia. I try to control it, but it worsens when I’m fatigued. Sometimes, I think it’s gone, then I catch myself opening a door with a tissue. Shooting it out with terrorists doesn’t scare me, but bacteria…yikes.

“My dogs have always been my best friends, and I won’t even watch a movie where a dog dies of natural causes.”

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I’m a rational person who relies on data, evidence, and reason, however (and you knew a however was coming), science can’t explain everything we observe in the natural world. Quantum mechanics and general relativity are incompatible theories, quantum entanglement seems to prove the impossible, and many physicists believe ten or more nine dimensions exist—so it’s possible what we call ghosts has a scientific explanation. I know many people who’ve had supernatural experiences, myself included. I don’t know how to explain those incidents, but I know they happened. For thousands of years, humans have believed in the spirit world, and doubt only crept after the scientific revolution when things had to be measured and tested to be accepted. I believe paranormal activity exists, but we don’t have the science to explain it.

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What Scares You, Christopher Allen?

Today I get to deep-dive into the pools of fear with my very dear friend Christopher Allen. Chris and I were co-editors of SmokeLong Quarterly for many moons, and now he has taken it over and done many beautiful things. If you are a flash fiction writer or reader, you need to know SmokeLong.

Christopher is a man of many talents, though. A fine writer, editor, and singer among them. There is no other person (besides Helen) that I’d want to do karaoke with. He’s smart and hilarious and reliable and snarky and kind and all the things. He is also great at entertaining young people by telling them how to say silly phrases (“I pooped my pants”) in German.

I can go on and on, but you’re really here for the Woman in Wood that marred his childhood, so let’s proceed, shall we?

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I grew up in the Baptist Church with demons and The Devil and the very real threat of hellfire. The woodgrain on my bedroom door—the side that would face the hallway if closed but never was—had the rough outline of a woman’s face exactly at face height. My mother said I just needed to close my door and I wouldn’t have to see her, but I was terrified of sleeping in my room with the door closed. Sometimes when the moon shone just right through my window at night, I would wake up with the woman staring at me—still better than being in the room “alone” with the door closed.

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

Besides sleeping in a room with the door closed? Quite a few. When I was a teenager, I thought I’d never be able to live alone. I was so afraid of the dark, of being alone in a house, and being left alone in the house with my brother. I was also afraid of needles (anything sharp) and swimming in the ocean. I was terrified of my brother and freaked out by heights. These days I enjoy a dark empty house, have no fear of needles, and have a scuba-diving license though I’m still afraid of swimming in the ocean. My brother died in 2007. But heights. Oh god. My body turns to goo.

What are your phobias?

Heights. I am afraid to stand on anything I can see through, especially if it is very high. Zip-line platforms scare the hell out of me, but the zip-line itself is great. Once I’m harnessed and flying, I’m fine. I’m afraid of people walking toward me on the street. If I’m walking with someone and also approaching someone who is walking toward us, I make sure the person I’m walking with is between me and the other person when we cross. Does that make sense? I feel like I should draw a diagram. In a hotel, very much like David from Schitt’s Creek, I’m afraid of sleeping on the side of the bed closest to the door. Alexis would have had to buck up and take that bed if I’d been David.

Person sitting with feet dangling over city.

“I am afraid to stand on anything I can see through, especially if it is very high.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I used to have a recurring nightmare that The Devil was laughing at me. The dream was usually set in the church I attended 3 times a weeks from birth to university. I would usually be in a Sunday school room with my friends. The laughing would begin as a whisper somewhere above us, then crescendo until the ceiling began to crumble above our heads. Once I woke up and could still hear the laughing.

When I was younger I walked in my sleep almost every night. Convinced that someone was trying to kill me (the recurring bit I guess), I left my room and roamed our house so often that my parents put a croquet set in front of my (open) door so they’d hear me when I tried to leave my room. I guess I got good at moving the croquet set because I sometimes woke up under the kitchen table.

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

I grew up singing on stages for lots of people, so I’m not afraid to sing on stage. In fact, it doesn’t take much for me to burst into song. Public speaking, I discovered at university, is different. I hyperventilate and stammer quite a lot.

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions? How did you deal with it?

As I’m writing this, I’m discovering that my childhood bedroom was an awful place. Maybe it would have been a nicer place without all the SATAN IS REAL talk I dealt with every single day of my youth.

I once saw a woman’s face surrounded by sparkles rise from the foot of my bed, which sent me into hysterics, which provoked my mother’s presence and her slapping me repeatedly, screaming “Snap out of it!” I still know exactly what the woman looked like.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

That I won’t have the time, the energy, and the talent to write the important story I should have told years ago.

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

I can’t watch cruelty or graphic violence of any kind. The images stay with me for decades. This means that I don’t watch horror at all.

Do you like Halloween? If so, what’s your favorite part? If not, why?

I have actually never had Halloween. My parents did not allow my brother and me to participate. We turned all our lights out on Halloween at 6pm and did not answer the door. The next morning the trees in our front yard were always rolled. Oh wait, once I was invited to a “fall sleepover” at a Baptist church across town. I was probably 14? When I arrived, it soon became clear that I didn’t know anyone. How fun? This Baptist church was considerably more liberal than my parents. They’d actually created a haunted house in the church, which I immediately disappeared into. A few minutes later I found a piano, sat down and started playing spooky music, which scare the shit out of everyone there because they had no idea who I was. This is my favorite—and only—Halloween experience.

Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press, 2018). His work has appeared widely and is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2022 and Flash Fiction America (Norton) in February 2023. Allen has judged The Bath Flash Fiction Award, Micro Madness, the Cambridge Flash Fiction Award, and is the 2023 flash fiction judge for the Bridport Prize. He has a BA in music business from Belmont University and an MA in English from Middle Tennessee State University. Allen is a nomad.

What Scares You, Michael Hock?

I’m excited to be rounding out 2022 with a chat with Michael Hock, a fellow graduate of George Mason University and owner of three amazing cats. It was an exciting year for him, too! He had his first short story published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine this year. (Not too shabby a place to debut, my friends.)

Read further to find out what scares the pants off Michael and why you should never, ever, ever disturb a Canadian goose if you want to live to tell the tale.

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

Without a doubt, the scariest book I’ve read has got to be Cujo. I’m already pretty afraid of dogs, having been attacked by one when was I little. I knew what Cujo was about; it’s probably the only story that’s famous for everyone being happy when the dog doesn’t survive. And yet, I somehow felt it was a good idea to read it. I still can’t tell you why. Maybe it was the only thing to read? Maybe I was going through a phase where I decided I wanted to be really scared? I don’t know. But the fact that I read up about it afterwards to find out that it was inspired by two different dog attacks and dealing with a Ford Pinto only makes it even more terrifying to me.

The scene that sticks with me is when Donna and Tad are first stuck in the car. It’s a really scary situation: They’re extremely close to safety, but also so far away because this rabid dog has decided to trap them in their car. The sun is beating down. It’s a frustrating and terrifying scenario. It’s also one that seems so weird now, because it seems easily solvable by technology. I’d like to see an updated version of this scene that involves the technology we have now, and how terrifying it would be.

What is your weirdest fear?

It sounds like a joke but I’m being serious. If reincarnation is real, what happens at the end of the universe?

I’m a very spiritual person, and I 100 percent believe there’s life after this one. And part of me likes to think that it’s not just this one go around. I mean, there’s a lot of evidence out there that there’s some kind of reincarnation, even if it’s not the traditional religious view of it.

I tend to overthink things, especially when I can’t sleep. I went through a very terrible bought of insomnia a few months into the pandemic where I couldn’t sleep, so I let my mind wander. For some reason it settled on reincarnation. It was actually a very cool thought at first, trying to think about past lives and future lives. I even considered writing it down for a story. Then I started thinking about how, at some point all of this is going to end. The last star will go out. If we’re being reincarnated, then what happens when there’s nothing to reincarnate to?

At the time, I was obviously thinking about death a lot, and thinking about my own mortality. There was a new virus, we all had to stay inside, I was out of my workout/movie going routine… so my mind went there. I think it terrified me because it put an end point to even an after-this-particular-life. It terrified me, and I still think of it from time to time.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I absolutely believe in ghosts. First, it’s just more fun to think that ghosts exist. Our perception is very limited, so logically I think there’s a lot of the world beyond this one, and of course there would be some kind of interaction with ghosts. There’s a lot of weird stuff out there, why not spirits that are tied to Earth or a person in some way?

Secondly, there are just spaces where you can feel them. Maybe not ghosts in the traditional sense, but there are a lot of places that have an energy to them. I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve been places where the energy really was off, and there was something there. Maybe I brought it on myself by believing something was there, but that is what ties into my perception comment earlier. We have to be open to perceiving strange things and perceiving a world beyond our own. I think ghosts are messages or something to remind us that we need to keep an open mind.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?

Probably my poetry.

I’m just not a very good poet.

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