What Scares You, Rob Osler?

Rob Osler writes mysteries featuring LGBTQ+ main characters. Each time I’ve seen him present his work during one of those “speed dating with the authors” events at mystery conferences, he always shares information about his books in delightful rhyming poetry. I thought about trying to do that for my intro, but then I realized no one wants to be subjected to my terrible poetry.

So instead I will tell you that Rob’s won a lot of awards for his fiction. His short story “Miss Direction” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Sept/Oct 2023) was a 2024 MWA Edgar Awards finalist. His debut novel Devil’s Chew Toy, predecessor to Cirque du Slay, was a 2023 Anthony, Macavity, Agatha, and Lefty Awards finalist. His first short story, “Analogue” (EQMM), won the MWA 2022 Robert L Fish Award. Rob lives in California with husband and a tall gray cat.

But what makes the hair on his arms stand on end? Read on to find out…

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I remember going to the movie theater as a kid to see The Poseidon Adventure. I would have been around ten. When the movie ended and I rose from the seat, my back hurt. I realized I’d had my entire body clenched and hadn’t moved a muscle for an hour. If memory serves, there is a scene where Shelley Winters must swim underwater for a nearly impossible length of time. It was beyond intense for my young brain.

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

Speaking to others—not just public speaking but speaking to people I didn’t know—even on the telephone. My mom helped me by having me write down ahead of time what I would say on the phone. I would write out the conversation like a script and rehearse before making the actual call.

What person living today terrifies you the most and why?

Donald Trump. He manifests the worst behavior of what humans are apparently capable of, but what makes him truly terrifying is that he stirs hatred in so many people.

What are your phobias?

I do not like heights or turbulence during a flight.

What is your favorite urban legend?

I grew up in Idaho and then lived in the Pacific Northwest for decades, so Sasquatch was a thing. I never really thought he/she/they existed, but I can easily envision Sasquatch romping through the forest and catching salmon from a stream with its bare hands.

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What Scares You, Mindy Quigley?

Mindy Quigley is a delightful human being, and I’m so thrilled to feature her here!

Mindy is the author of two lighthearted mystery series. Her latest, the Deep Dish Mysteries (Minotaur-St. Martin’s Press) was a Woman’s World book club pick and has been featured in Parade magazine. Mindy’s non-writing career is stranger than fiction, having taken her from the US to the UK, where she worked as the personal assistant to the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep and as project manager for a research clinic founded by the author J.K. Rowling. She now lives in small-town Virginia with her Civil War history professor husband and their children.

If all that isn’t cool enough, read on, my friends…

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Where to start? That everyone will hate my books. That I’ll become mentally or physically ill and not be able to meet my deadline. That I’ll forget how to write. That I’ll write something that pisses people off and then they’ll hate me. That I’ll be a failure and have wasted my life pursuing this dream. That I’ll be a success and not know how to handle it. That the mild arthritis in my fingers will become debilitating and I won’t be able to type my books. That my poor eyesight will become even worse and I won’t be able to see the computer screen. That I’ll make a stupid mistake in a book and no one at the press will catch it and it’ll go to print that way and everyone will think I’m dumb and careless. That my writing peers will hate my books. That readers will hate my books. That my family will hate my books. That I’ll die alone and stray cats will gnaw at my decaying corpse for weeks before someone calls the cops about a suspicious stench and they come and shovel what remains of me into a five-gallon bucket. Wait, what was the question again? 

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

When I was younger, I was obsessed with Dark Shadows. Maybe that’s more of a gothic romance than a pure horror show, though? Anyway it’s got sexy vampires and a governess-wealthy dude romance à la Jane Eyre, and a dual timeline sitch that’s akin to Outlander. BUT DID I MENTION THE SEXY VAMPIRES?

How do you deal with fear?

Three cheers for drugs! I’m very outgoing, so people are often surprised to learn that I have an extreme fear of public speaking. It got so bad that my doctor wrote me a prescription a few years ago for beta blockers that actually says “For Public Speaking” right on the little orange bottle. Now, about 30 minutes before I take the stage at an event, I pop a beta blocker. Sometimes, if I’m super-duper nervous, I’ll add half of an Ativan. That combo is enough to tame the butterfly mosh pit in my tummy and keep my heart from exploding out of my chest like that razor-clawed creature in Alien.

I now find that I can often give talks without these chemical crutches. Like Dumbo’s magic feather, the knowledge that the pills are there if I need them can be enough to calm me down.

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The Weekend Retreat wins the Agatha Award! Plus other Malice Moments…

Malice Domestic, held every year in North Bethesda, Maryland, is one of my very favorite conventions. It feels like a giant family reunion, in the best way, because these are all my chosen family. This year was particularly special for many reasons, one being that The Weekend Retreat took home the Agatha Award teapot for Best Contemporary Novel! I was stunned, I will tell you. And enormously grateful.

During one of her toastmaster speeches, Lori Rader-Day was talking about how special Malice was to her, and how she often talks to people about “Malice Moments.” I love that term, because I do always feel as though I experience those kinds of magical interactions, happenings, serendipitous times that make the conference so special.

This year, my favorite Malice Moment might’ve been the live auction. I donated a signed copy of The Weekend Retreat, a bottle of wine from the Finger Lakes region (TWR is set in the Finger Lakes), and signed copies of the maps that my son Dash drew for my novel. As I was coming back from dinner on Friday night, I started getting text messages from people about how the bidding for my item was going–very well, it turns out! Let’s just say there was a VERY GENEROUS donation to KEEN, the charity that benefited from the auction. And that donation was all because of Dash’s drawings. (No one likes me that much.)

But it was so fun to see how excited Dash was to have his drawings be so popular, and lovely to be able to help send funds toward a great cause. Truly a Malice Moment!

I enjoyed catching up with many friends and attending some wonderful panels. I was also excited to be the moderator of an excellent panel based on my What Scares You Q&A series, and my panelists Carol Goodman, Tracy Clark, Lori Rader-Day, and Alexia Gordon made it all worthwhile.

Now, back to reality. Sigh. But looking forward already to next year’s Malice!

What Scares You, Katherine Hayes?

Author, speaker, educational consultant, and editor Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes, Ed. D. has had her hand in leadership for many years. She loves speaking to groups and delivering messages with a quick wit and real-life stories. Her first thriller, A Fifth of the Story, is the suspenseful, action-packed tale of one man’s courage and resilience as he works against the clock to save the lives of his two best friends and, ultimately, the freedom he’s fought for as a CIA agent during one of the US’s history’s darkest hours.

Katherine is a freelance writer/content editor, a content editor/writing coach for Iron Stream Media, and a sensitivity reader for Sensitivity Between the Lines. She belongs to Florida Writers Association, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Crime Writers of Color. Katherine also hosts the podcast Murder, Mystery & Mayhem Laced with Morality.

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

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

I have successfully penned two thrilling novels. The first one is titled A Fifth of the Story, and the second one is currently awaiting publication. Both of my books deal with the spine-chilling issue of extremism that is rapidly affecting our country.

As an author, I have researched the subject matter thoroughly, and the topic kept me on edge while I wrote the books. Through my writing, I want to highlight the grave consequences of extremism and how it can disrupt the social fabric of our nation.

A Fifth of the Story and my upcoming novel delve into the topic in different ways, and I aim to educate and entertain my readers while also making them aware of the risks that exist in our society. 

What is your weirdest fear?

Despite being an expert swimmer and even a swimming teacher, I have a somewhat bizarre fear of deep water in swimming pools. I can’t help but feel anxious and uneasy whenever I’m in the deep end of a pool, as if something is lurking beneath me. It’s an irrational fear, but I can’t shake it off. I’m afraid that a shark will attack me, even though I know that it’s highly unlikely. I believe that this fear is a result of the book and movie Jaws, which I read and watched when I was too young to differentiate between reality and fiction. Even though I know that sharks don’t exist in swimming pools, I can’t help but imagine a shark suddenly appearing out of nowhere and attacking me. It’s a silly fear, but it still manages to bother me whenever I’m swimming in a pool with deep water.

What is your greatest fear?

My deepest fear is to exist in a world where I am devoid of God’s presence. I believe that true joy, fulfillment, and purpose come from having a relationship with Him. Without Him, life would be meaningless and empty. My faith in God is the foundation of my existence, and the thought of living without it is terrifying to me. I strive every day to maintain a close connection with Him, so that I may never have to experience a life without His love and guidance.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

As a child, I had a deep fear of thunderstorms. The sound of thunder would send shivers down my spine, and the flashes of lightning made me feel like the skies were about to come crashing down on me. However, there was one storm that stands out in my memory as the worst one I ever experienced. The wind was howling, and the rain was pounding against the windows with such force that it felt like they were about to shatter. The flashes of lightning were so bright that they illuminated the entire room, and the sound of thunder was so loud that it seemed like it was right outside my door. I couldn’t bear to stay in my own room any longer, so I made my way to my parents’ room, seeking comfort and safety. I crawled into bed between them, and finally, with their arms wrapped around me, I was able to fall into a peaceful sleep.

“The flashes of lightning were so bright that they illuminated the entire room, and the sound of thunder was so loud that it seemed like it was right outside my door.”

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What Scares You, K.T. Nguyen?

Today I welcome K.T. Nguyen to What Scares You. K.T.’s debut psychological thriller novel, You Know What You Did, will be released on Tuesday, April 16, and is already getting so so much buzz. I can’t wait to read it.

K.T. is a former magazine editor whose features have appeared in Glamour, Shape, and Fitness. After graduating from Brown University, she spent her 20s and 30s bouncing from New York City to San Francisco, Shanghai, Beijing and Taipei, and has now settled just outside Washington, D.C., with her family. K.T. enjoys native plant gardening, playing with her rescue terrier Alice, and rooting for the Mets.

And now we’ll find out what scares her…

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

When I was three years old, my family moved into a house on a street that ended in a ravine. My sister, six years older than me, told me disembodied feet walked the ravine in tall boots. She was the one who informed me Santa isn’t real, so I knew she was a straight shooter. I was terrified of the ravine for years. 

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

I used to be afraid of heights. Growing up, I couldn’t walk near the railing and glass on the upper floor of malls without feeling dizzy. I would have nightmares of sliding towards the edge, as if pulled by unseen hands, then plummeting. (Yes, I would wake up before contact.) As an adult, I’ve been able to stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon, traverse a long, skinny suspension bridge in Taiwan, and zipline in the Costa Rican rainforest (I did get stuck and needed the guide to rescue me).

What are your phobias?

Trypophobia. Irregular patterns of raised bumps or clustered holes trigger intense feelings of disgust in me and set off obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. In recent years, researchers have examined brain activity and found that many phobias, like trypophobia, trigger disgust, not fear, in subjects. In my debut thriller You Know What You Did, the main character Annie battles disgust-driven OCD. 

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

A “resort casino” in Henderson, Nevada. Because of my contamination-based OCD, which I manage beautifully with medication, I dislike hotels, even the finest five-star luxury boutique accommodations. This particular Sin City-adjacent hotel did not fall into that category. I was there for work, and my boss told us, “Sleep with your coats on girls!” It wasn’t particularly dirty, but an invisible layer of misery coated everything. Long, skinny hallways poorly lit; a sad smoky casino in the basement; a subterranean gift shop that sold paintings of big-eyed girls.

“Long, skinny hallways poorly lit; a sad smoky casino in the basement; a subterranean gift shop that sold paintings of big-eyed girls.”

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

Not without consent, i.e. not in real life. However, if a reader opens my book, a psychological thriller tinged with horror, then they expect to experience disquiet, surprise, electric thrills. I want to deliver that!

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

My favorite horror movies are Jordan Peele’s. His form of social horror and his images of distorted reality make my blood run cold. In terms of television, the imagery in Twin Peaks terrified me for years. Nothing scares me more than distortion, disproportion, wrongness in everyday surroundings. 

What animal scares you the most?

Only recently have I overcome my fear of opossums. Despite their beady eyes, sharp snouts, and bald scaly tails, opossums are shy creatures who are key to keeping suburban rodent populations in check. While I’ve made my peace with the possum, I am still not a fan of the maned wolf. Their disproportionately long legs frighten me. There is one in the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., that my daughter made us visit. We didn’t see the animal, but our noses were filled with the pungent odor of maned wolf urine, which is known to smell like cheap cannabis.

What’s creepier: clowns, dolls, or wax figures?

Clowns, because there is a human under that makeup. See: John Wayne Gacy.

What Scares You, Lauri Schoenfeld?

It’s a rainy, gloomy day as I post this interview with the wonderful Lauri Schoenfeld. This weather seems fitting, however, since we’re discussing dark and gloomy subjects like possession and revenge!

Lauri resides in Utah, overlooking the mountains from her front yard. She’s the host of The Enlightenment Show, an editorial manager at Twisted Whisperings Press, and the author of the psychological thriller, Little Owl.

Read on to discover her greatest fears, writing worries…and the time she died.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is my kids getting kidnapped or being possessed.

What is your favorite urban legend?

Homey the Clown. As a kid, I was convinced the killer clown was on the loose. It didn’t help that “IT” by Stephen King came out shortly after that. I also found Bloody Mary pretty terrifying. In sixth grade, I struggled to look in the mirror, afraid that she’d see me.

 How do you deal with fear?

I have a fear journal. When something comes up for me, I write down my thoughts and feelings about it so I can begin to investigate where it came from and why. It helps me to think I’m partnering up with Nancy Drew as I solve this mystery within myself.

What is your greatest fear as a writer? 

Not having my writing received well is a hard one for me. It’s something I’m continuing to learn along the journey to remember that I don’t have control over how people choose to receive things, but it’s still this itch of fear in the back of my mind that sticks around.

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

I have a few hidden stories about possession. The idea of being possessed and no longer being yourself feels so real and terrifying. It’s my way of trying to understand the paranormal experiences I’ve had throughout my life.

People often say death is their greatest fear. What are your feelings about death/dying?  

When I was thirteen, I died from a morphine overdose for six minutes. I’ve lived with this interesting survivor guilt about it, and also some panic that I already died once, so I don’t get a second chance. The past year, I’ve been really working on using meditation and breathing techniques when that fear comes up.

“When I was thirteen, I died from a morphine overdose for six minutes.”

What’s creepier: clowns, dolls, or wax figures? 

This question has me rolling. All the above. Oh my gosh. These are all nightmare-filled items for me, but clowns are probably the worst. 

Which evil, murderous persona most matches your personality and why: slow-walking psychotic serial killer; vampire stalking victims in the wee hours of the night; rich megalomaniac with grand plans to take over the world; centuries-old demon witch looking for revenge; or Hyde-like, fueled with rage and no impulse control?

This question is amazing! I’d be closest to the centuries-old demon witch looking for revenge. I mostly get this with the mama bear part of me. I’m super fierce and protective of the ones I love, specifically with my kids. 

What Scares You, Terry Shepherd?

Terry Shepherd is the author of the Jessica Ramirez Thrillers, The 221B Club stories for middle-grade readers and the COVID-19 children’s classic, Juliette and the Mystery Bug. Terry’s short stories have been published in several anthologies. He is also a prolific book narrator, podcaster, and owns a publishing company focused on helping indie authors get their stories into wide circulation. He lives and writes on the ocean in Jacksonville, Florida.

And now, let’s find out what scares him…

What is your greatest fear?

It used to be drowning. Now it’s being broke.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

The first time I was in a movie theater. I had never seen people so big. I started screaming and my dad had to take me out. I was way too young to understand what was going on.

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

Around 2000, I made a list of every fear I had and decided to face them all and either conquer them or die trying. I took a scuba course to get over the drowning fear.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

As a former DJ, I have the recurring nightmare that I start the next record and there is nothing but dead air. As a writer, it’s releasing my next book and getting a flurry of emails from authors I admire telling me how bad the book is.

“The first time I was in a movie theater. I had never seen people so big. I started screaming and my dad had to take me out. I was way too young to understand what was going on.”

How do you deal with fear? 

So far, I attempt to study it from a place of intellectual curiosity. That usually mitigates it.

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

I’m not afraid of death. The older I get, the less it scares me. I’ve lost people I love and have a mild curiosity about what’s next. 

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What Scares You, Darby Kane?

Darby Kane is a former divorce lawyer with a dual writing personality. Her debut thriller, PRETTY LITTLE WIFE, was a Book Of The Month pick, #1 international bestseller, and has been optioned by Amazon for a television series starring Gabrielle Union. Darby’s books have been featured in numerous venues, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and Cosmopolitan.

But what scares her? Read on to find out…

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Our town was more idyllic farm country than anything else. The crime rate was not high. Kids stayed out playing until the streetlights came on. I walked to and from school by myself or with friends. Despite this cocoon of safety, I had an almost irrational fear that I was going to be attacked by a stranger in my house. Back then I didn’t consume true crime information like I do now, and I have no idea where the fear came from, but I do have specific memories of being alone in the house and walking down the hall with my back to the wall so no one could sneak up on me. Thinking about it now makes me anxious. I never told my parents until years later.

What is your weirdest fear?

These aren’t current fears, but I remember being bombarded with information about the Bermuda Triangle, nuclear annihilation, and quicksand growing up. I’d think about all three all the time and how to escape or survive each. It would have made more sense to be afraid of being run over by farm equipment, but no. I’ve heard this from other people my age, so I’m blaming adults in the ‘80s for this.

What are your phobias?

Heights and open water. The fear of heights kicked in when I was a little kid and my mom made one of my older brothers take me on a Ferris wheel. He didn’t want to go, so the whole time we were up there he told me scary stories about people falling and dying. I’ve never gone on a Ferris wheel again. The open water fear is relatively new. I love swimming. I went to the beach and swam in the ocean every summer.  As an adult, I can’t tolerate the idea of being in water where I can’t see what’s happening below me.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I practiced family law for years. During that time, I had a recurring nightmare completely unrelated to being a lawyer about someone breaking into the house. One time the terror was so real I felt like I was being held down, trapped in my covers, suffocating, and unable to move. I woke up screaming. The interesting thing is that the nightmare went away when I left the full-time practice of law.

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

Tight spaces. I had a friend growing up who is now a scientist with the U.S. Forest Service. She loved doing anything outside that involved adrenaline and exertion, her favorite being caving. As a result of going in and out of caves and exploring with her, I’m fine being confined in a dark, small space.

What scares you most about the writing process?

There is a point during the writing of every book where I wonder how I’ve ever finished a book before. It’s paralyzing. I don’t think I can move forward, and I don’t really want to. I’d rather do anything else. Eventually the panic subsides, and I remember that this is, unfortunately, part of my process, then move forward. I worry that one day, while writing some future book, I will hit that point in writing and not be able to overcome it.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

My greatest fear is that the book I just turned in will be the last one any publisher will ever buy from me.

What animal scares you the most?

Hippos. I read that hippos are the deadliest mammals on the planet. They are aggressive and territorial. They move fast. They can run 30 mph and they do this thing in the water where they go under and run on the bottom then pop up again. The videos of that are absolutely terrifying. I try very hard to never be in a position to meet a hippo.

Thank you, thank you

The Weekend Retreat has been out for two months now, and I just want to express my gratitude to everyone who has helped make it a success and/or read the book. Thank you to all the bookstores and influencers and podcasters who invited me to talk about the book or helped share it. Thank you to the libraries who are carrying copies of the book on their shelves. Thank you to the book clubs who are reading my novel! Thank you to friends and family who’ve been telling their friends and family about the book. Word of mouth is so powerful! I’m so grateful to folks for doing this.

The Weekend Retreat is a finalist for the Agatha Award!

I’m thrilled to announce that my third novel The Weekend Retreat is one of five finalists for the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel. Agathas are presented each year at the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, Maryland.

This is particularly exciting because I share this honor with four amazing writers–Ellen Byron for Wined and Died in New Orleans; Annette Dashofy for Helpless; Korina Moss for Case of the Bleus; and Gigi Pandian for The Raven Thief.

The Agathas winners will be announced on Saturday, April 27 at Malice Domestic.