Posts in "What Scares You" Category — Page 2

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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What Scares You, Alexia Gordon?

Today we chat with Alexia Gordon, who is known not only for her excellent crime fiction writing, but also, according to my 10-year-old son Dash, her incredibly thoughtful thank-you notes. Dash isn’t impressed easily, so this, my friends, is an endorsement to be taken seriously.

Alexia has penned the Gethsemane Brown mystery series, and you can find the first book in the series, Murder in G Major, here. She is also the host of a bi-weekly podcast The Cozy Corner.

But what scares her, you ask? Read on to find out…

What is your greatest fear?

That no one will show up for my funeral, except the funeral director and the priest.

What is your weirdest fear?

That no one will be willing to be my emergency contact.

What is your favorite urban legend?

I can’t pick one favorite—I like them all! I think Slenderman has stuck with me the most because it’s a great example of how although the way urban legends grow and spread has changed (Slenderman started as an online creepypasta and then developed a life of its own that, sadly, inspired a real-life murder attempt), the tradition of urban legends persists. At the end of the day, is Slenderman much different from a creepy clown in the 1980s or the boogey man in the 1500s? I will mention one of my favorite podcasts, Camp Monsters. The host takes urban legends and campfire stories and gives them a modern spin. I also like two of the Candyman movies, the 1992 original and the 2021 remake. They’re a love letter to the best urban legends.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I don’t have a recurring nightmare. However, I have experienced transient sleep paralysis with hypnopompic hallucinations—a fancy, insurance-billable way of saying hag riding. This is a neurological phenomenon/sleep-wake disorder which many people still attribute to supernatural/paranormal forces. Basically, your brain wakes up while your body is still paralyzed in REM sleep. You sense a physical presence in your room, you see some “thing” in your room—and you’re terrified. Because the “thing” is the embodiment of actual evil. Call it a demon, call it a hag or a witch, call it misfiring neurons. Doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s fucking evil, and all it has to do is reach out its arm and get you and you can’t. Fucking. Move. Knowing that there’s a scientific/medical explanation for it doesn’t make it any less horrific. That’s the one thing I actually wouldn’t wish on anybody, not even people I dislike.

What animal scares you the most?

Chihuahuas. Those are some vicious little shits. You can be six blocks away and they’ll start barking. They always act like they want to rip your eyebrows off. On the other hand, they make great burglar alarms. I used to have a chihuahua named Barron. He had three legs, and he was the meanest dog in Dallas. He had creeper radar and any man that even thought about looking at me funny got the full-on fuck-around-and-find-out treatment.

“Chihuahuas. Those are some vicious little shits. They always act like they want to rip your eyebrows off.”

How do you deal with fear?

I deal with fear by trying to unpack it. What’s making me fearful? Is fear a reasonable response to the situation/stimulus? Fear is not always a bad thing. If I’m afraid to make give a presentation at work, I unpack that sensation and realize that I’m actually afraid of making a mistake because I’m afraid a mistake will make me appear incompetent. Then I walk through the worst that can, realistically, happen if I make a mistake. Realistically, embarrassment is the worst that would happen.

On the other hand, if the sensation of fear is triggered by a dark alley in an isolated area late at night after I’ve just withdrawn money from an ATM, that’s a reasonable warning that I’m entering a potentially dangerous situation and I should turn around and call a ride share service or wait for someone I know to walk with me or find a different path. Reasonable fear is a tool our brain uses to keep us safe.

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What Scares You, Steph Post?

You’re in for a treat today to hear from the lovely and inspiring Steph Post. She’s a writer and an artist, and she’s got the best wildlife and farm animals at her home. One day I’m just going to show up there and hang out with all the chickens and dogs and owls. (Don’t tell her!)


Seriously, the owls!

Check out Jasper. I’m not sure how she ever gets any writing done with all the amazingness outside her window, but she does! You can find out more about all her novels and stories on her web site, and you can also visit her Etsy store and get yourself some wonderful prints and tea towels and ornaments and other beautiful things.

But we’re all here for the fear. So let’s go…

Do you believe in ghosts? 

Yes! I’m not sure if they’re conventional ghosts or not, but I’ve definitely seen spirits and apparitions, so I certainly believe in otherworldly visitations. I was also brought up thinking everyone else did as well! I remember coming downstairs one morning before school and my mom was like, “Oh, by the way, I saw a ghost last night. I think she was one of the sharecroppers who used to live here. [We lived on very old land out in the middle of nowhere.] She came through the living room, so if you happen to see her, just know she’s cool.” And then I went on to toast some Pop Tarts….. So, yep, I believe in ghosts. 

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I have incredibly vivid dreams and can lucid-dream often, but nightmares that I can’t control are the worst. The usual, being killed or dying dreams, are bad, but the worst are dreams about alligators. Although this has never happened (except for the small alligator in my front yard a few years ago that my dog found), I have recurring nightmares of having to fight a vicious alligator that’s trying to kill my dogs. I’ve personally been chased by an alligator and have fought off possums and rattlesnakes from my dogs, but never the way it happens in my dreams. Also, I just realized how these situations must sound to people who didn’t grow up/live now in the woods.

Photo by <a href="">Balaji Malliswamy</a> on <a href="">Unsplash</a>

“I have recurring nightmares of having to fight a vicious alligator.”

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What Scares You, Teel James Glenn?

Happy Halloween! And what better way to spend the best day of the year than chatting with Teel James Glenn about his greatest and strangest fears! Teel is a writer, actor, stuntman, and–I hear–is pretty scary with a sword.

In other words, don’t piss him off.

Also in other words, I bet he’s a blast to have at a party!

Find out more on his web site and check out one of his most recent books, Callback for a Corpse, part of the Maxi and Moxie Mystery Series.

He also has some pretty fabulous stories to tell. So let’s get to it…

What is your greatest fear?

Being homeless. I was for a time after my apartment was flooded out. It was a humbling experience that even with freelance income it was difficult to be able to climb back into the “regular world,” and it drove home how close any of us are to that possibility at any time. I guess it explains why I am a semi-hermit and love sitting like Smaug amongst my books in my Wordcave.

What was your worst nightmare?

I have a vague memory of a nightmare of being trapped in a frozen basement with people trying to hack their way to me but moving in slow motion. I suspect it was after seeing a Twilight Zone episode, but I couldn’t swear to it.

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

Talking in public. I know—I stand up in front of strangers and spew words all the time. But I am actually terribly shy and have to psych myself up every time I go out in public. I was/am a wallflower. In high school I had to make a deliberate attempt to find a “public persona” and Groucho Marx was my model—hence my continued smart-assery…

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

Yes. Absolutely. I have had a number of “encounters” and for a time functioned as a medium, so I feel I believe and have had experience with survival beyond the flesh. No sense in preaching about it, and I never try to convince anyone else, but for me, that unknown country from whose bourn no traveler returns is not scary.

What are your phobias?

I developed a fear of heights after finding a friend who had been tossed out of a fifth-story window—before that, I could do high falls and rappelling. Not since, even with therapy.

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

Fire. I’ve done fire burns for stunts, and while I recognize it is dangerous, I really don’t have the immediate terror most have.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Repeating myself. Mediocrity. I strive to challenge myself, which is why I switch genres frequently, so I am not treading over the same territory; even in the series I write I try to move to fresh places in that particular world so any given tale or series can be reduced to a formula.

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

I can’t bear to see children in jeopardy. Being a father and having spent 30 years teaching young kids, that is a definite deal breaker—why I could not watch a popular TV show that was essentially built around torturing kids.

Second would be depictions of rape—again, having counseled and taught self-defense to survivors it gets my hackles up…

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What Scares You, Bobby Mathews?

Here we are, in the greatest month of all. My various skulls are up. My house ghost Margery is outside keeping watch. I drink my cold brew out of a skeletal hand wine goblet. The leaves are changing. The creepy doll videos are in abundance. It’s a beautiful thing, my friends. Beautiful.

And I get to share it with Bobby Mathews, who is here today to tell us all about his greatest and deepest fears. I’ve only met Bobby once, very recently at Bouchercon when I weirdly went over to him and said hello like we’ve been besties forever and gave him a hug and he was gracious and kind about it and didn’t call security. But he’s got that kind of persona, an infectious sort of energy that makes you feel like you’ve known him a lot longer or better than you actually have. He also, according to his bio, makes the best grilled cheese sandwich, which is clearly a lie, since my dad makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches, but whatever. We’ll let it slide this time.

Anyway, onward! Tell us, what scares the crap out of you, Bobby?

What is your greatest fear?

As the years pass, fear of failure has become much more prominent in my mind. That fear is sometimes nearly crippling. I have two little boys, one just starting middle school and one in elementary school. I worry whether I’m properly equipping them to make their way in the world, and I alternately fear that I’m being too hard on them or too easy on them. I fear failing them, even though I know that I will at some point. I fear overreacting to a given situation or underreacting to it. Parenting is such an easy thing to get wrong, and I think everyone leaves unintentional scars on their children. My hope is that I leave as few as possible. 

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

When I was five years old, my parents went to a drive-in movie theater playing The Exorcist. The movie originally came out in 1973, Google tells me, so this must have been some kind of revival or second run down in the Deep South because it was 1976 or early 1977 by the time my parents and I went. Maybe it was playing in support of the sequel, I’m not sure. Regardless, my parents thought that I was asleep in the backseat of the car, and maybe I was for a time. But I was awake and wide-eyed by the time Regan MacNeil’s demonic head spun all the way around on her body. I stayed quiet and low in the back seat, barely breathing, until the movie was over. Then once the credits began and I knew it was over, I laid back down and shut my eyes tight. I don’t think my parents ever knew that I’d woken up.

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

I used to be scared of heights, but when I was 14 or so my dad got me hired on under-the-table for a summer as a general contractor’s helper. Part of the job was toting bundles of shingles up to the rooftop, hammering in 2 X 4 boards so the roofers had a place to put their feet so that they could maintain their balance and work. Sometimes I laid shingles myself. I hoisted shingles, kegs of nails, boards, equipment, and swung a roofing hammer on top of a lot of houses for the next two years. I learned that I needed to respect heights—because if you lose your concentration, something could go wrong—but going up and down those ladders every day of the week changed the way I viewed heights. As far as changing me, the thing it taught me was that sometimes you just gotta get on with things despite your fears.

How do you deal with fear?

I start by admitting I’m afraid, even if it’s only to myself. I think there’s a dangerous (one might say toxic) element in some masculinity that says that men shouldn’t show fear. I think understanding that you’re afraid—admitting it—is a healthy step in dealing with fear. As a fiction writer, I may lie to readers, but I try not to lie to myself. If I can admit to being afraid, I can think somewhat logically about what to do next in a given situation. I subscribe to the notion that I first heard espoused by Oprah Winfrey: “Real courage is being afraid but doing it anyway.” Part of my writing process is that I try to do something every month that scares me. Submit somewhere that might laugh me out of the slush pile, put together an anthology, give a talk, lead a seminar … whatever “it” is, I try to just be afraid and do it anyway. 

Ladder. Photo by <a href=

“Going up and down those ladders every day of the week changed the way I viewed heights.”

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?

To borrow a phrase from a couple of friends of mine (Hi Paul and Kent!), I think the veil is thin sometimes. I also think that our hunches and feelings about certain places or things often hinge on senses we may not know about. Once, several years ago, I had lunch at what was then a favorite restaurant. I like to dine alone and read while I do it, but some feeling made me restless that day. I could only get a few lines into the book … something kept doing the emotional equivalent of poking me in the ribs. I paid and left. A car came through the wall of the restaurant less than 10 minutes later. It wasn’t exactly where I was sitting, but it was close enough that I would have likely been badly hurt had I stayed.

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