Posts in "What Scares You" Category

What Scares You, Art Taylor?

My husband, Art Taylor, is one of the most stable, rational, smart people I know. So I was excited to read his responses here, since I always wondered what rattles him (besides eyeballs…I know that from watching horror movies with him).

We’re also celebrating the release this month of Art’s much-anticipated collection of stories, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74, which you can buy right here. The collection includes all his award-winning stories, including “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2019. 

Let’s see what he has to say about fear. 

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

Like a lot of kids, I was always one who stared suspiciously at the closet door or at the tree outside my bedroom window (one of the reasons why the movie Poltergeist impacted me so strongly). But beyond those common fears, one memory jumped immediately to mind as soon as I read this question.  

Woods and fields backed up against the small neighborhood where I grew up in Richlands, North Carolina, and the boys next door and my brother and I spent a lot of our days tromping around out there—exploring the wilderness, cutting down small trees with our axes and machetes, building forts. One day, some group of us were climbing over a fallen tree by a small creek, and after I jumped from the trunk back to the ground, I turned around and saw that I’d landed near a snake hole—with a snake’s head peeking out, suddenly staring me down. The other boys still up on the tree trunk urged me on in different directions. Just step away slowly! Just jump back as fast as you can! Neither extreme seemed appealing—and so I just stood there, waiting for… what? I didn’t know. Petrified is the word that stands out—not only as a synonym for fear but also because I felt completely frozen, like I shouldn’t, couldn’t, move. Finally, one of the other boys crept up behind the hole and quickly covered it with the flat part of his own machete. But that snake’s eyes…. I remember them well.  

Side note: Those fields and those boys next door were part of the inspiration for “The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74”—though this specific memory wasn’t included in the story.  

Do you have a recurring nightmare?  

For many years, I dreamed pretty regularly about tidal waves—with one or two specific images recurring: either a large wave rising high toward a tall building on the coast (as if I was an onlooker to what was happening) or else water crashing against the downstairs of my family’s house at the beach, pushing through the windows, flooding everything, and me in the middle of it all this time, fighting not to drawn in the onrush.  

I’m not sure why these images have haunted me so consistently. Something about loss of control maybe, of being overwhelmed? There’s definitely a helplessness I felt whenever the nightmare hit.  

I’d landed near a snake hole—with a snake’s head peeking out, suddenly staring me down.

How do you deal with fear?  

Take a deep breath, and push through as best I can. Hope for the best. Be ready for the worst. 

When I was in elementary school, I became inordinately panicked about a doctor’s visit—crazy upset with fear about having to get a shot, crying, thrashing around, even to the point of almost fighting against my pediatrician. Rose Pully was her name—a legend really in our part of North Carolina—and Dr. Pully wrestled me to the exam table one visit when I was upset about a booster shot, held me tight, looked me straight in the eye, and told me, firmly, sternly: “When it hurts, you can cry all you want. But until then, until it actually hurts, you don’t cry, you understand?”  

Her words—the sternness behind them—startled me into silence. And those words have stayed with me these many decades later. (I’ve told this story to our son over the years as well, and now he quotes it back to me as well.)  

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

When you first read my story “Parallel Play,” you told me two things: You thought it was the best story I’d ever written, and you never, ever wanted to read it again. At its core, “Parallel Play” is about being a parent, protecting a child, and how far you’d go to protect your child. Would you die for your child? Would you…?  

I have to admit that I didn’t realize myself how disturbing the story was—not until you told me. (Not sure this is the kind of “scariest” you meant with the question, Tara, but….) 

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

In my teen years, I went through a period where I read everything I could by Stephen King—and Pet Sematary troubled me to no end. The idea of love and loss and grief and wanting to get your loved one back—and then getting your wish, but not how you expected. Completely engrossing, and ultimately scare-me-senseless horrific.   

Who is the best villain, fictional or in real life? 

As I’m writing this, a news alert just popped up that the Trump administration is proposing changing school menus to allow more potatoes and pizza and fewer vegetables and fruits—and it crossed my mind that his particular brand of villainy too often seems like caricature, parody, an Onion article: Dastardly Dan stroking his mustache. 

More seriously: I’m gonna skip the more villainous villains (Darth Vader, Hannibal, Voldemort) and go with Tom Ripley from Patricia Highsmith’s novels. Protagonist? Villain? Ripley’s a complex and compelling figure. As Tom says in the brilliant movie adaptation in 1999 (played there by Matt Damon), “whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head? You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person.”  

What’s worse: closed-in spaces or heights? Why? 

I know you expect me to say heights because I have such tremendous anxiety about them; between atrium hotels and some hiking adventures that have taken us too close to cliff-side, I’ve had more opportunities for that fear to show itself. But it completely ruins me to read a story or see a movie where someone is buried alive in a box—that’s truly terrifying.  

“To see a movie where someone is buried alive in a box–that’s truly terrifying.”


What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why? 

Clowns. They thrive on being unpredictable, and too often an undercurrent of madness or malice shimmers beneath all that face paint, no matter how wide the smile. (Don’t get me started on Stephen King’s It.)  

ART TAYLOR is the author of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense, to be published February 28His previous book, On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and several Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He teaches at George Mason University.

What scares you, Ed Aymar?

I can’t remember when Ed Aymar and I became friends. One day, he was just suddenly there, like a fungus. However, if you’re going to get a fungus, Ed’s probably the best one out there.

In addition to being such a good friend that I have no problems comparing him to a spore-producing organism, Ed’s also a great writer. His latest book, The Unrepentant, is the kind of thriller I wish I could write. It’s non-stop, gasp-worthy, and keeps you turning the pages until the very end.

Ed’s also terrified of EVERYTHING. Want to know more? Read all about what scares him….

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

I had a dream, when I was very little, of three women’s heads sitting on a table in our living room. I don’t know how young I was, but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been older than five or six. I remember walking past the heads, and they stayed still. But when I went outside, the heads had turned to watch me.

I’ve since had scarier dreams and experiences, but that’s my first memory of a nightmare.

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I mean, I’d kind of like to? The idea that our loved ones are nearby, and that there’s something mystical and maybe wonderful after our lives end, is powerful.

And I never want to say that I don’t believe in ghosts because I’m always afraid a ghost will read that and decide to scare me. Like, the ghost is saying, “Believe in me now, motherfucker!”

So maybe I do. I dunno. But this question reminds me of a poem by Marie Howe (“Buying the Baby”) that has remained with me for years, and seems the perfect answer to your question:

Sometimes I prayed so hard for God to materialize at the foot of my bed
it would start to happen;
then I’d beg it to stop, and it would.

So I guess I do believe.

(I bet you didn’t think I read poetry but I do. It’s one of my layers.)

“I had a dream, when I was very little, of three women’s heads sitting on a table in our living room.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I had terrible sleep paralysis growing up. I would lie in bed as a child, believing I was awake, but then realize I was still asleep. I’d hear (actually, dream I heard) people around me, sitting next to the bed and talking, but I couldn’t move. I would strain to lift my arm or pull the covers over my face, as some sort of meek protection, and then discover, in fact, I was still asleep. But discovering I was asleep made me believe I was actually awake, and the process would begin again. It was exhausting and frightening.

Sometimes the people talking were my parents, sometimes they were strangers. Sometimes it was a figure standing at the foot of my bed, watching me. And I would try with all my might to wake up, to pry one eye open. I remember groaning, hoping that my parents would hear me and come wake me…but even those groans were part of the dream. In reality, I was lying in bed, entirely still. And the room was empty. And I was fighting and screaming in silence.

I still get hit by sleep paralysis – not frequently, usually when I’m exhausted. And it does worry me. Not so much for me, but for my son. I hope he doesn’t have to go through that as he grows up, at least not as frequently as I did. I hope he’s not scared that same way, calling for me to help him, and I don’t come.

How do you deal with fear?

This sounds like a brave answer, but it’s not because I’m not: I have to face it.

That’s not to say I’d be the type to charge headfirst into battle or walk down the stairs to confront a killer. But the idea of not knowing a danger, and have it out there and waiting, isn’t something I can distance myself from. That type of haunting will remain with me.

So a fear has to be confronted, but that doesn’t mean I’m charging into a dark room, biceps flexed, roaring “BRING IT ON!” I’d have the cops go first, then peek over their shoulders.

“Twitter is a long field of people being loudly tortured for their sins…”

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

This time in social media is so threatening to people. Every day someone makes a mistake, and social media is relentless in its reprisal. Twitter is a long field of people being loudly tortured for their sins, and I would hate to be one of those people. Some are made for it, and they navigate that ground easily, casting insults and proclamations and brushing off comebacks. I’m not one of those people. The minute someone yelled at me, I’d probably just delete my account and join MySpace or something.

Strangers yelling at you, often stupidly, isn’t really the fear, of course. The fear is that it’s deserved, that you do something wrong worth exposing, and that every element of nuance is brushed aside. That your life is suddenly and irrevocably yanked from your control.

All of my answers in this interview, I now see, touch on something that’s imperative to my happiness – a sense of control. Most of us have fashioned our lives to our liking, or we’re attempting to. We can prepare to have that taken from us but, when it does happen, it’s violent and unexpected and, often, not what we anticipated. I think that’s where fear preys. It’s what we can’t imagine, but is often inevitable. Like the end of a good story. Or the end of a life.

Of E.A. Aymar’s The Unrepentant, Publisher’s Weekly wrote, “Readers who appreciate depth of character alongside gritty nonstop action will be rewarded.” His newest thriller is the novel-in-stories anthology The Swamp Killers (in which he served as co-editor and contributor with Sarah M. Chen). He has a monthly column in the Washington Independent Review of Books, and he is also the managing editor of The Thrill Begins on behalf of ITW; he also serves on the national board of that organization. He was born in Panama and now lives and writes in the D.C./MD/VA triangle.

What Scares You, Dan Stout?

Honestly, Dan had me sold when I found out he wrote novels set in the 1970s, my favorite decade by far. Check them out here for all the disco and grit you need.

But as to his deepest, darkest fears? Those were still a mystery…but no longer. Join us as we take a trip into the shadows and learn about what makes a great monster and how hypnogoria makes David Letterman seem utterly terrifying.

What are your earliest childhood memories of fear?

I had intense fever dreams when I was very young, and they terrified me. There was one in particular that I still remember, about cannon fire echoing and reverberating so loudly that it actually became physically painful. It was actually worse than the spider dreams.

And of course I had all the usual piles of clothes and half-open closet doors that transformed into menacing shapes at night.

While we’re on the topic of dreams, what about recurring nightmares?

I’ve never really had recurring nightmares, but I have had several instances of hypnogoria, which is when your dreamstate carries over into waking life. I’d wake up and dream imagery would literally be imposed on the world around me. So I might walk down the hall to find someone standing there, looking as real and substantial as any other person. Which is, you know, kinda disconcerting.

It’s a condition that often gets attributed to supernatural causes. I totally understand how people can interpret it that way and might have done so myself if it weren’t for the fact that the images almost always reflected the last thing I’d seen on TV before going to bed. For example, one time I found David Letterman standing behind my bathroom doorway. (This was before he had the giant beard, so it wasn’t as frightening as it could’ve been.)

“One time I found David Letterman standing behind my bathroom doorway.”

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

That I don’t have what it takes to keep producing high-quality work. I usually work at the fringes of my craft, meaning that I’m pushing myself to get better with every project. The upside is that it’s extremely rewarding, the downside is that I constantly feel like I’m about to fail. I strive to always deliver the best work I can, but there’s part of me that thinks that still won’t be good enough.

Scariest movie or TV show you’ve ever seen?

Holy crap… ALL of them! When I’m immersed in a good story, I have a very visceral reaction. My mirror neurons fire on all cylinders, and even the most laid-back movie gets a strong reaction from me.

What is your favorite type of monster?

I’m torn on my favorite monster—I can never decide between Godzilla and Springheel Jack.

I discovered both of these monsters at a very young age, and they’ve both stuck with me through the decades. They’re two ends of the spectrum in that Godzilla and other kaiju are forces of nature, almost cosmic horrors that plow over the face of the Earth with little regard for humanity and our petty concerns. Springheel Jack, on the other hand, is a character with roots in true encounters (whether that was originally pranksters, amateur magicians, or malevolent assailants), but over time he became an urban legend, imbued with powers and a narrative far beyond anything tied to reality.

You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?

So, the flip side of being scared of every movie is that I stumble through life in blissful ignorance. The old man with a lantern would certainly cause me to slow down and peer at him with curiosity. The kid in pajamas might cause me to stop completely and put in a call to the police. No matter how initially weird the scenario, I just plod happily along.

In short, I’m *totally* the guy in the movie who goes into the basement alone, with the half-dead flashlight, to see what that weird noise is during the thunderstorm.

__

Dan Stout lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he writes noir with a twist of magic and a disco chaser. His prize-winning fiction draws on travels throughout Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Rim as well as an employment history spanning everything from subpoena server to assistant well driller. Dan’s stories have appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post, Nature, and Intergalactic Medicine Show. His series of noir fantasy novels, The Carter Archives, is available from DAW Books.

What Scares You, Dana Diehl?

Happy New Year’s Eve! The last day of 2019, a time to look back and look ahead to (hopefully) more good times. Do you feel any sort of dread or fear when a new year rolls around? Too many expectations? Resolutions? Another year older?

Or do you find a new year exhilarating? A chance to start over, conquer your fears, try new things?

Whatever your feelings toward ringing in a new year, I wish you all the very best in 2020. May all your spooky dreams (and, ok, non-spooky dreams) come true.

To say goodbye to 2019, I have Dana Diehl here today to talk about her fears and anxieties. In reading some of Dana’s answers, I identified with her on a number of levels, especially the anxiety pieces. I, too, am a worrier. It’s hard to conquer those types of fears.

Dana and I both went to Susquehanna University for undergrad, though at different times, so we share that as well. And Dana is a fabulous writer. Her stories are delightful and surprising and original, and I’m so pleased to feature her here today.

Let’s darken the lights and chat. In 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1……

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

As a kid, I was afraid of heights, and robbers, and snakes in my bed.

But the most intense fears I had were of all the ways my body could fail. I remember one night, sitting in the hallway, back against the wall, gasping because I’d convinced myself I couldn’t breathe. I remember watching the episode of Arthur in which the cartoon aardvark gets his glasses, and then spending an afternoon testing my vision, terrified that my eyes had stopped working, too (I wouldn’t actually need glasses for at least another five years).

I have vivid memories of the summer the kids next door all had chicken pox, and I searched my arms and stomach for red welts every morning, horrified at what could spring up from under my skin. The more I learned about the body, the more it seemed full of hidden traps, an enemy lying in wait.

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I both believe and don’t believe. There’s a line in an Amber Spark’s essay, “Magical Thinking for Girls,” that I think answers this question for me: “What I mean to say is that I have never believed in ghosts, but I have always been afraid of ghosts.”

Recently I was talking to a friend who has had experiences with spirits, and I told her that I’ve never seen a ghost and never want to. It would be too scary for me. She suggested, as others have before her, that maybe that’s why a spirit has never presented itself to me. To be honest, part of me does want ghosts to exist, because I love magic and mystery and because I believe in my friends’ experiences. But another, bigger, part of me doesn’t, because I don’t want to live in a world where I’m afraid of what might grab me from the shadows of my own home. Because I’m afraid that my version of reality is wrong.

Here’s an almost-ghost story: When I was in middle and high school, I had a friend who lived in a farmhouse next to this incredible old barn. I think her dad used the barn to store tractors and tools. It also contained some pet rabbits that we’d pet with our pinkies through their wire cages. My friend told me, in secret, that both the barn and her house were haunted. The ghosts spoke to her at night. As proof, she showed me a crude carving of the house etched in one of the barn doors. It looked spooky. I slept over that night but couldn’t drift off as I waited for the ghosts to talk to me, too. In the morning I knew my fears had been silly, that my friend’s stories couldn’t be true. But in the dark, I had believed.

“I don’t want to live in a world where I’m afraid of what might grab me from the shadows…”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I have recurring nightmares about being on the top floor of a too-tall building. A building so tall it sways, threatens to snap.

I also dream regularly about being back in high school or college. In the dreams, I’m usually running late to class. Or I can’t remember my locker combination.

In other dreams, I’m not a student, but I’m a teacher. And I realize at the very last minute I’m not wearing the appropriate pants! Or maybe I’m showing my 4th graders a video but don’t realize until it’s too late that there’s cursing in this video, and the projector won’t turn off, and now the kids are upset, and I’m going to get so many angry parent emails!

What’s the scariest movie or TV show you’ve ever seen?

In high school, my friends and I had regular sleepovers in a friend’s basement. We liked to go to Blockbuster and rent the scariest-looking movie we could find from the horror section. It was fun to turn off all the lights and huddle together on the couch, laugh-screaming and covering our eyes with a shared blanket.

We rented the movie Signs in 2003 when I was thirteen. It wasn’t the goriest or most suspenseful movie I’d ever seen, but it genuinely unsettled me. The scariest part was the home video of an alien stalking through a kid’s birthday party. The way the horror was brought into broad daylight. It showed me that fear didn’t just exist in haunted houses or dark cornfields or thick forests—it could show up at any moment, when you feel your safest.

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

I’m not sure if I’ve overcome any fears, but I’ve gotten better at understanding my fears. And at sorting the useful ones from the ones that don’t serve me.

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder. Like when I was a child, worried that I might suddenly forget how to breathe or be struck by chicken pox, my worries are often directed at qualities within myself instead of at anything tangible in the world. I worry about the choices I’ve made, about hidden illness, about if I’m honest enough or good enough at what I do.

I have an Ursula K. LeGuin quote on a broadside on my wall: “To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.” Figuring out which questions (or worries) are helpful to pursue and which aren’t has made me a happier and less fearful person.

Who is the best villain?

I’m a sucker for the bad-guys-turned-good-guys trope in fiction. I love villains like Spike from Buffy, Loki from The Avengers, Snape from Harry Potter, and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. I’m hoping Kylo Ren from Star Wars will make this list, too (by the time this interview is published, I’ll know!).

These characters are fun, because even when they’re good, they’re still a little dangerous. They still don’t like to follow the rules. There’s always a chance they’ll go back to the dark side.

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

I just published a story about a woman who starts dating a man whose city apartment is full of nothing but tons and tons of dirt. She’s kind of into it at first. But then some spooky stuff happens where he starts looking like her ex-boyfriend. And then she finds objects from her past buried in the dirt.

My editor described it as “powerfully unsettling” and my “darkest, for sure,” which made me very happy to hear. I’m hoping that my writing continues to get even spookier over time!

Dana Diehl is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (Splice UK, 2018) and the collaborative collection, The Classroom (Gold Wake Press, 2019). Her chapbook, TV Girls, won the 2017-2018 New Delta Review Chapbook Contest, judged by Chen Chen. Diehl earned her MFA in Fiction at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in North American Review, Passages North, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere.

What Scares You, David Dean?

David Dean is one of the nicest people you’ll ever hope to find yourself sitting next to at a dinner party, and yet, you might worry about meeting him at all if you’ve ever read his fiction. His stories and novels can often be twisted and dark (my favorite kind!), and I was very excited to hear what he had to say about all things scary.

You will be, too. Join us for small, dark spaces, vampires, and masked swordsmen….

What is your greatest fear?

If I had to pick the thing that terrifies me more than any other (and there are plenty of things that terrify me), I would have to say waking up in a coffin six-foot-deep in the earth. I probably have Edgar Allan Poe to thank for that, though I don’t blame him entirely.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and as a kid I tried slithering through a narrow storm drain that ran under Sixteenth Avenue. It probably evolved from a dare—we did a lot of daring back then.

About midway through, I discovered two things—I didn’t like dark confined spaces and apparently I had disturbed a great many tiny spiders, who began to crawl all over me. It was warm weather, and I was wearing my usual ensemble of white T-shirt, blue jeans, and no shoes—not a lot between me and the incensed arachnids. I was about one-third of the way through the pipe, and it was too tight for even a skinny kid to turn around. I had no choice but to go forward. All I could think about was what else might lie between me and the circle of light ahead. It was hard not to start screaming.

Nonetheless, I crawled as fast as I could until I tumbled out the opening and began to slap and brush all the crawlies off me. In the end, all I had was a lot of bites on my arms and neck, some really skinned-up elbows, and a permanently damaged psyche. Not keen on spelunking, as you might imagine. Oddly, I have no fear of spiders, just the confinement.

“It was hard not to start screaming.”

What is your weirdest fear?

Besides premature burial, I fear blindness, dementia, heights (this is a recently arrived phobia and something that never used to bother me at all—I was a paratrooper for God’s sake!), and masked swordsmen. This last may require a little explaining since I was a big fan of the Zorro TV series.

It arose from a childhood nightmare in which I was inexplicably answering the door at one of my friends’ houses. For reasons unknown, I chose to peek out the glass panel in the door before opening it. There on the porch stood three swordsmen dressed in satin-like material, one in red, one in blue, and the last in green; plumed hats, knee-high boots, and rapiers. You get the picture—the Three Musketeers as conjured up from a candy-wrapper. The sole difference being that each sported a matching eye-mask.

Upon seeing my face, the one closest leaned in toward the glass staring straight into my eyes…then began to scream. Not a shriek of fear, but of delight and bloodlust. Immediately they all began to scream and force their way through the door, their needle-like swords thrust ahead of them, seeking to pierce me through and through. As they advanced upon me, each grinning in anticipation of my skewering, I began to scream as well, but mine was certainly out of fear. That woke me. No more Musketeer bars for this kid.

Do you have any recurring nightmares?

I have only one, and it began in childhood as well. I dream of going blind in the midst of some task, or other, until I’m just groping and stumbling about in pitch darkness. Different scenes, but always the same ending.

What’s the scariest movie you’ve seen?

One of the most disturbing films I’ve ever watched is Suspiria(the original—I haven’t seen the remake). It has a fairy tale-turned hallucinogenic horror story quality to it, with some of the most bizarre events and nerve-jangling music of any movie I’ve seen. Not for nervous or squeamish natures. 

What’s the scariest book you’ve read?

Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird. I read it a very long time ago and have never re-read it, which is unusual for me. It disturbed me that much. It’s about a little boy in Poland during World War II. As I recall, he’s separated from his parents and finds himself in the care of a number of different households. Each chapter is a story of some fresh horror that he witnesses or experiences. The worst for me being a scene in which a young man has his eyes gouged out with a spoon by a husband that thinks he’s been cuckolded. You can understand why I find this particularly horrible.

Best monster?

My favorite (or would it be least favorite?) type of monster is the vampire. Why? Traditionally, they arise from dark, confined spaces—remember the storm drain? Secondly, and far more importantly, they prey on anyone, including those that loved them in life, and may turn them into vampires as well. To me, this is a bit like your mom, husband, wife, or daughter telling you one day that they’ve always hated your guts and hope to see you in hell—”…Mom?”

“…they prey on anyone, including those that loved them in life…”

You can’t trust vampires. They’re crafty and cruel and have the experience of ages. They don’t lumber stupidly about, or transition into a ravening beast that cannot control itself. They reason, calculate, seduce, and make helpless their victims, often preying on them over a period of time. In other words, they’re evil. They’re victims that create victims, that create victims….. What do they remind you of? I’m not even going to say it.

– –

David Dean’s short stories have appeared regularly in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, as well as a number of anthologies, since 1990.  His stories have been nominated for the Shamus, Barry, and Derringer Awards, and “Ibrahim’s Eyes” won the EQMM Readers Award for 2007.  His story, “Tomorrow’s Dead”, was a finalist for the Edgar for best short story of 2011.  He is a retired Chief of Police in New Jersey and once served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.  His novels, The Thirteenth Child, Starvation Cay, and The Purple Robe are all available through Amazon.   

What Scares You, Ellen Datlow?

When I thought of the idea for this blog series, I immediately thought of Ellen Datlow as someone to reach out to. Ellen is an expert in horror, after all. She reads hundreds–maybe thousands–of stories each year for the Best Horror of the Year anthology, currently in its 11th edition. Her latest anthology, Echoes, features 30 ghost stories by writers such as Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Tremblay, Alice Hoffman, and others.

Given that she spends so much time reading about the darker side, I wanted to know if she also spent a lot of time thinking about what truly scares her.

And today, my friends, you shall find out…

What is your greatest fear?

Loss of control of my life by Alzheimer’s, paralysis, that sort of thing.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I don’t. I don’t believe in an afterlife. However—I do believe there are inexplicable occurrences.

“I do believe there are inexplicable occurrences.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

My nightmares are only scary to me—and usually pretty obvious as soon as I think about them when awake: I’m in a phone booth, it’s an emergency, and I can’t dial the phone (rotary);  I work in an office, and when I come in one day, I can’t find my office or the furniture’s been rearranged (I haven’t had this one since I started working at home); I’m on the street where I live (not the real street) and can’t find the entrance to my building; I’m in a foreign country and don’t remember where I’m staying (this one prompted me to start getting cards of hotels with their addresses on them).

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

The circumstances while I was reading Salem’s Lot scared me. I was in a friend’s large apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan (most apartment in NYC are small), reading alone in the living room as it was getting darker out. There was very little light in the room. At a certain point I was afraid to get up in the dark apartment to go into any other rooms. There must have been other people in the apartment, but I don’t recall them being around.

Who is the best villain, fictional or in real life?

Hannibal Lector. He’s fascinating and utterly terrifying

What’s worse: closed-in spaces or heights?

For me, heights. I think it’s the idea of falling, tripping, being pushed.

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?

Maybe. Several of us were hanging out in a partly deserted house that a friend was caretaking. The others all went out while I stayed in to read. I was pretty sure I was the only one in the building at the time, but I heard what sounded like footsteps upstairs. I kind of freaked, but figured maybe someone else stayed behind. I did NOT investigate. I ignored it, kept on reading, and waited for my friends to return. They said they all had gone out.

***

Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost 40 years. She currently acquires short fiction and novellas for Tor.com. She’s edited more than 90 anthologies and has won multiple awards for her work. Her next original anthology is Final Cuts, an all-original anthology of movie horror. She has won the Karl Edward Wagner (special) award given by the British Fantasy Convention, and Life Achievement Awards given by the Horror Writers Association and by the World Fantasy Convention.

What Scares You, Dru Ann Love?

I’m very excited to welcome Dru Ann Love to my web site this month. Dru Ann is such a cheerful, supportive person who I’m always glad to see at writing conventions, so I was intrigued when I saw her post on Facebook earlier this year about her experiences with ghosts. I wanted to hear more!

I knew she’d make a great guest blogger for this series on all things scary, and I was right!

What is your greatest fear?

I have two: Because I’m a deep sleeper, my fear is that I won’t hear danger lurking, like a fire or something catastrophic.

Another fear is dying alone and no one finding my body for several days, simply because I like my solitude and may not be in contact before someone notices they haven’t heard from me.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

My father tried to drown me in the ocean, all in the name of trying to teach me to swim. To this day I don’t go to the beach or near a pool. I did, however, dip my toe in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and immediately left both places to get on solid ground.

My father tried to drown me in the ocean…

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

It goes back to the water thing. My Zodiac sign is Pisces, and you would have never gotten me on a boat before, but when I went on my first cruise with friends, I found that I loved it and have been on cruises multiple times. There’s a huge distance between me on a cruise ship or boat and the ocean. You’ll never find me on any boat that skims the water.

What is your weirdest fear?

That aliens really do exist.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I was about six when I sensed someone was following me, and when I turned around, no one was there, but I knew they were standing next to me as I could feel them.

A week after my friend died, when I was in the laundry room, the washer and dryer would start like she was washing her clothes with me. When I was on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, we took a tour of the swimming room, and a woman waved to me from the bottom, and on a trip to Savannah, a young enslaved girl sat next to me on a bench.

So yes, I believe in ghosts.

How do you deal with fear?

I try not to let it get a stranglehold on me. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t.

What is your favorite type of monster?

Godzilla. Because they keep trying to kill him and he keeps coming back.

What’s worse: closed-in spaces or heights?

Closed-in spaces. I have a touch of claustrophobia.

You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do?

I will call 911, but continue to drive on.

Is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?

Definitely scarier, and I will park on the shoulder and wait for the cops.

***

Dru Ann Love is the creator of dru’s book musings where the “day in the life” and “get to know you” segments are prominently featured. Dru Ann was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Raven Award in 2017 and was nominated for an Anthony Award in 2015 and 2018. Dru Ann is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

What Scares You, Laura Ellen Scott?

Happiest Halloween! The best day of the year, and not just because it’s my birthday!

My birthday gift to myself–and to all of you–is getting to chat with Laura Ellen Scott about the things that most disturb her.

Laura is not only a dear friend, but also one of the weirdest writers I know–and that is a high compliment. Check out her books here, and also one of my favorite stories she’s ever written right here.

But what we all want to know is: What scares you, LES? Read on to find out:

 What is your greatest fear?

I’m evenly afraid of illness, driving, heights, and spider babies. These are all self-explanatory, except for heights: I’m great at going up, but lose it on the way back down. I had to butt-scoot down the pyramids in Tikal, while all these Guatemalan women in high heels trotted past me. Related–after my first book tour, I developed a fear of flying. (That’s not my greatest fear, just my most inconvenient one.) I guess the worst thing would be if I was taking care of a sick spider-baby and I had to drive it to a hospital on a cliff to see the only in-plan arachno-pediatrician.

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

Earliest would be Uncle Steve’s fingers. There weren’t a lot of them. 

This would have been my scariest memory had I known about it:  There was a large, white iron crib sealed up behind the wall of my old room. I was already grown when I spotted it through a tiny hole in the paneling. When I asked my parents about it and they said, “Oh, we had nowhere else to put that old crib,” like that was a reasonable answer. 

My parents were weird people who made weird decisions and weren’t very parenty. They treated me like a little crime-buddy and took me to abandoned houses to look for stuff left behind, and I was pretty scared that we would get caught by the bandits that lived there. Get it? I thought they were “bandit houses.”

Here’s a pic of a dude who thought my house was abandoned. Turns out he was stealing crap, like vases and towels, to sell at his mother-in-law’s weekly yard sale. 

Most terrifying photo ever.

What is your weirdest fear?

Definitely horses. I have no idea why they don’t spend every minute of the day trying to pound humans into jelly.  

What are your phobias?

Street grates and hatches. Condiments. Toddlers with pickles.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Two things: One, that I might get over it. Two, that I might stick with it until long after people stop reading. You’ll be able to come see me “write” as an exhibit at an historical village alongside the coopers.

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

I wrote a kind of ghost story that appeared in The Collagist called “A Picture of a Man in a Top Hat,” where the neighbor says to the narrator, “Don’t look at me, and don’t look in the shed.” That’s actually what a guy said to me on the bus one day, right as I was getting off at my house. I went inside and stared out the back window at our shed until my husband came home. I have a chapbook called Curio that’s mainly stories I wrote after people were weird to me. People are often weird to me, by the way.

What is your favorite type of monster? Why?

I love an original demon, a personal, closet-monster–like The Babadook or Frank from Donnie Darko–as opposed to the unleashed-on-society monster. Although now that I put those two side by side in my mind, maybe I just like monsters with weird eyes.

What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why?

Clowns, because they’re a drag. I love spiders. Remember when I dreamed you had a spider baby? You never did, though. Not yet.

“Maybe I just like monsters with weird eyes.”

You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?

Both are pretty scary because I don’t drive, so it’s extra-bad if I’m out driving at night. That man and that little kid should just dive in the ditch and cling to each other and hope I don’t plow into them.

***

Laura Ellen Scott is the author of four novels, including THE MEAN BONE IN HER BODY and CRYBABY LANE, the first two books in the New Royal Mysteries from Pandamoon Publishing. The series is set in a fictional college/prison town in Ohio, and the third book, BLUE BILLY, is on the way. Seriously, it really is.

What scares you, Paul Tremblay?

I’m so pleased to have Paul Tremblay kick off my new blog series on fear. Paul is one of my favorite writers, and if his books are any indication, he knows a lot about scary. After reading A Head Full of Ghosts, I knew that Paul was a writer I would be reading for a long time. His latest book, a story collection called Growing Things, is downloaded on my Audible app right now and accompanying me during my favorite month of the year.

It also helps that Paul is one of the nicest humans on the planet.

So, if you haven’t read any of his books yet, now’s your chance to fix that problem. And read on to find out what truly scares him. Here we go!

What is your greatest fear?

Witnessing the end of the world. In the ’80s I was convinced we would die in a nuclear holocaust. Now there are so many options to choose from!

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I don’t because they don’t exist. That’s the agnostic/math teacher me speaking (typing). He has control of my brain between 95-97.5 percent of the time. That guy, he’d say something like billions of people have died and if ghosts were a thing we’d be swimming in them. We wouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat without hitting a ghost, even if only a fraction of those billions had ghosts that came back to haunt us. It’s a numbers game. That guy (sorry I split my personality and went 3rd person too. Don’t know how I lost control of this answer so quickly) would claim there was a scientific explanation (low frequency waves messing with our brains, for instance) to ghosts or paranormal phenomena, and if a scientific explanation doesn’t exist, it’s only because we don’t know enough science yet. That guy (me most of the time) is a lot of fun at parties.

The other 2.5-5 percent of the time, I’m not so sure what I believe. These maybe-there-are-ghosts-and-other-things moments tend to occur after a terrible nightmare, or if I’m home alone at night and I hear a noise.

Do you have a recurring nightmare? What was your worst nightmare ever?

After seeing JAWS in fifth grade, in almost all my nightmares, I would end up in the water and then Jaws (that’s the name of the shark, you see) would attack me. I still have weird shark nightmares from time to time. I used to also have Freddy Krueger nightmares too, but not since I was a teenager. But now that I’ve typed this, I’ll probably have another one.

There was one other nightmare I had multiple times as a kid. I would be climbing the stairs to the third floor of my grandparent’s triple-decker and on the trip up, between the stairs or sometimes in a hole in the wall, would be a face. A face that the dream-me knew was pure evil. Evil in face form. I’m writing about this in a silly way because I don’t want to recall that face too closely or accurately for fear that it will come back.

What scares you most about the writing process?

I’m afraid I’ll run out of good or worthy ideas. I’m not sitting on this giant mountain of great ideas that are waiting to be plucked (plucked?). I essentially work from story-to-story and very rarely have a backlog. I have failed ideas or ideas that I spent time with and even outlined, but for one reason or another I decided they weren’t good/weren’t worth the investment of time and effort. Those lost ideas haunt me and I’m always tempted to go back to them, but it has yet to work out for any of those rejects. The losers.

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

What’s scary is so subjective. What scares you is likely different than what scares me, etc. I roll my eyes when someone whines ‘this isn’t horror because it’s not scary.’ Please spare me and spare us that irresistible review/insight.  

Anyway, that all said, I think The Cabin at the End of the World, particularly the opening chapter, is the most intense and ‘oh no, oh no,’ thing I’ve ever written. It’s a lot of fun to read at readings/signings.

What is your favorite type of monster? Why?

Kaiju are my favorite. They’re so cool and fun, and they were my gateway to horror ultimately. On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid, there was a program called Creature Double Feature. The first movie was typically Godzilla, the second was a horror movie. Godzilla was the hook, and the second movie always scared the hell out of me. Thanks, Godzilla. Thanks a lot.

Though, in general, I like monsters that are lizard or dinosaur-like. A thing that’s almost plausible that it could exist. So the Creature from the Black Lagoon fits in my circle of monster love too. 

What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why?

I’m not innately terrified of either, but both can certainly be scary. If I found a clown climbing on my bedroom wall instead of a spider, I’d be more freaked out by that wall-crawling clown. But, if I came across a spider the size of your average clown, I’d be more afraid of the spider. It’s all about context.

You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?

I’d stop and help the kid, even if it meant my mostly-impossible supernatural death or demise. If it was a guy, I’d keep going. Sorry, lantern dude. Go home, you’re drunk.

Home alone. And scared.

Paul Tremblay has won the Bram Stoker, British Fantasy, and Massachusetts Book awards and is the author of The Cabin at the End of the World, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, A Head Full of Ghosts, the crime novels The Little Sleep and No Sleep Till Wonderland, and the short story collection Growing Things and Other Stories. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly online, and numerous year’s-best anthologies. He has a master’s degree in mathematics and lives outside Boston with his family.