What Scares You, Carol Gyzander?

I mean, it’s Friday the 13th and a global pandemic, so what better day to post another round of terror?

Carol and I have bonded over many things, but perhaps the most significant moment was when we discovered our mutual love of The Kraken. She’s a delightfully dark and wicked writer, and the more I get to know her, the more I love her.

Her latest dark fantasy story is “Deal with the Devil” in Across the Universe: Tales of Alternate Beatles. This “what if” anthology—edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn, from Fantastic Books—shows The Beatles in alternative world situations and has received positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Analog, and a starred review from Library Journal.

But the important reason why we’re here? To discover what scares the hell out of her. Here we go:

What is your greatest fear?

Losing my identity or my mental capacity is my biggest fear. I took both my parents through Alzheimer’s, and they each turned into some other person who forgot they even had family, even though I went to care for them every day. Our own identity, mental capability, and memories are what make us unique and different from the animals. Being left without the ability to properly understand, think, and reason is a terrifying thing.

I’m slowly working on a piece of my memoirs about this period and the aftermath—of facing the fear of getting Alzheimer’s—because there are actions we can take to keep our brains in good shape.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

My greatest fear is writing something that doesn’t reach people on a deep level, whether it’s science fiction, horror, mystery, or even women’s fiction. One of my beta readers told me that my writing tends to “punch you in the feels” and, while that may be a bit of a dated analogy, it made me really proud.

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

The first science fiction show that I likely ever saw—as well as one of the first ones on television, coming a few years after Twilight Zone began—was the initial episode of The Outer Limits, “Galaxy Being.” It aired on September 16, 1963 when I was six years old.

I remember that I was in the TV room all by myself, and it came on after some show that my parents deemed safe to watch. They were in the kitchen out of earshot and had no idea what this next show would be like.

Suddenly, the screen was filled with squiggly lines and test patterns, with eerie, compelling music. An ominous voice proclaimed,

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. … For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear.”

Well, okay, I was a well-behaved six-year-old who did what I was told, especially if it meant I got to watch more TV past bedtime, so I sat and watched—and believed. This first episode launched into a story about a radio station manager who was investigating electro-magnetism and somehow drew an alien life force into the station. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen; the alien was a guy in a rubber suit who was filmed in reverse negative and super-imposed on the other footage, making it glow from inside with eerie effect.

The alien was only trying to help people and get home, but it caused radiation burns and electrocuted everything around it. Eventually, it sacrificed itself to save the people in the area.

Well, as this was going on, I was getting more and more frightened of the creature, as it was hurting people, but I also felt so bad for it because nobody would listen to what it was saying. My parents eventually found me on the couch, curled up and hiding under a towel so the alien couldn’t see me, or reach out and zap me.

I had nightmares for years afterward, even still getting scared in fifth grade when the baseboard heat came on in our next house. The pipes expanded and made clunking noises as the hot water approached my room—I just knew it was that alien’s footsteps, coming to get me!

Watching this show was a very formative moment, as I remember feeling so bad for the creature, far from home, while at the same being terrified of it touching and zapping me. In everything I write now, I try to do the same thing, and reach into the heart of my characters so the reader gets more than just an adventure story. The show explored the human spirit confronted by dark, existential forces—isn’t that a significant concept to explore?

What is your favorite type of monster? Why?

I’m a huge fan of cephalopods—octopuses and squid are intelligent and fascinating, boneless and mutable, and aren’t always scary monsters, but when they are … yikes!

I think it’s in part because humans are already at a disadvantage when we are in the water, and thus the fear factor is amplified. And they can do so many things we can’t.

Picture yourself submerged and floating in the dark, cold, ocean. You can feel the pressure of the water on every part of your body. Breathing—something we take for granted on land—is dependent upon some external device that may not be under your control. You can’t hear or see things the way you are used to.

A flash of movement scuttles along the edge of your field of vision. Suddenly, you feel a gentle touch on your leg as something slides up and wraps around your ankle, then the other one. Suckers grip your flesh.

It’s an intelligent creature that’s decided to make a wish, and you are the wishbone.

It’s an intelligent creature that’s decided to make a wish, and you are the wishbone.

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

Heights! I was actually never afraid of them until I was a new driver, heading across a bridge, and my mom confessed her own fear of heights. Suddenly, I could picture just driving off the edge—down, down, down.

I had that same reaction recently when I was hiking out in Utah in Arches National Park. I was by myself (I know, I know, that’s not good) and was walking along a tall fin of rock that was about ten feet wide and a hundred feet high. I sat down in the sun and just looked around me for a long time, down each side and into the distance, becoming one with the world around me. Eventually I pictured myself just stepping off into the void and hightailed it out of there!

I was relieved to learn that both of those are actually considered healthy reactions. It’s called High Places Phenomenom (HPP) and the basic thinking is that we have to recognize the danger of plummeting to our deaths in order to affirm our desire to not go over the edge.  The French call it L’Appel du Vide, or call of the void.

What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why?

Oh man, clowns are WAY worse. Spiders are perfectly natural—they do what they are supposed to do. But a clown? Nothing natural about it. The face is obscured and made to look like a caricature of a certain emotion. Masks free up the person to do or be something else— something other—and can remove their sense of moral connection. Did you know that some of the major recreational parks (such as Great Adventure in NJ) hold Halloween events but don’t allow people to wear masks that obscure the face?

And granted, all that is assuming there actually is a person inside the clown costume, anyway!

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?

Nope, nope, nope. We’ve all seen the movie and yet, they never do the right thing. Turn around and get the heck out of there. Go hang out in the garage where all the chainsaws are! That’s gotta be safer.

Of course, the little kid already has me wrapped around their finger. What could go wrong?

Carol Gyzander creates sci-fi, dark fantasy and horror … and a little mystery! She’s the editor of the Writerpunk Press anthologies; their latest, Taught by Time: Myth Goes Punk, contains punk stories inspired by myth, folklore, and legend and releases early April 2020. Her story contributions to WP include cyberpunk Shakespeare and Lovecraft, steampunk Poe and Tom Sawyer, and a biopunk myth of Echo and Narcissus. Recent horror short stories appear in Stories We Tell After Midnight from Crone Girls Press, and Hell’s Highways, edited by April Grey. “Runt of the Litter” is in Cat Ladies of the Apocalypse from Camden Park Press, March/April 2020. Carol lives in northern New Jersey with two felines—neither of which are battle cats, except in their own minds. Her work, including Across the Universe: Tales of Alternate Beatles, is available on Amazon.

What Scares You, Shannon Kirk?

Shannon and I have never met in person, but I’m pretty sure we’d be fast friends. For one, we’re both awesome…..I mean, both writers. Writers of creepy things, interested in creepy things. And I think we both have a similar sense of humor (or, at the very least, I find her hilarious online.)

I loved her book, Gretchen, which was one of the most original and surprising and downright scary books I’ve read in a long time. And I definitely wanted to know more about what terrifies her. She graciously agreed to share.

What is your greatest fear?

Insanity, the kind in which you don’t know if you’re insane and you take harmful actions in reality that have real consequences. I have always, I think ever since I watched the Kathleen Turner film, Julia and Julia, had this unrelenting fear. I was too young to watch Julia and Julia, I think I was 14 or 15, either that or my developing brain seized and froze on the absolute darkness of the film. In adulthood, with what I think (hope) is finally a fully formed front lobe, I can contextualize and rationalize the plot of Julia and Julia. But frankly, I’ve never been able to truly shake it. If you haven’t watched it, it is by far the darkest film I’ve ever watched, and that’s saying a lot since in my adulthood, I gobble (and even write) psychological horrors. In it, Turner plays Julia, a widow, who imagines (or is it a paranormal experience?) her dead husband and son are still alive. She flits back and forth between this fantasy and reality. She becomes so twisted between fantasy and reality, she kills a man in reality and winds up in the final scene in a hospital for the mentally unwell. It is never clear if her turns in fantasy-land are real or not, but to me, the watcher, there is no doubt that Julia was suffering psychotic episodes throughout and didn’t know it. Anyway, this, this type of insanity, the type in which you act out and harm another in reality, but don’t realize how upside down you are, that is the most frightening thing in the world to me.

What are your phobias?

I am scared of stairs (falling) and of grapes (choking).

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

How timely this question. My worst nightmare and the most recurring is one I’ve had since about 10 or 12. And it is so vivid and tangible in my mind, still, at age 46, that I just wrote an entire novel around it (this is my current WIP, The Peculiar House of Fearz).

Here’s the dream: I’m seated, somehow confined to this seat somehow, at a bare wooden table. Next to the table to the right is a window with a single potted plant. To my left, and in the interior of the room, is a rolling, grinding machine, which serves as a threat from my unseen tormentors (and who are they? The dream never reveals). The looming threat is that I will be “squished” in the rolling, grinding machine.

Who the hell knows what this dream means, or why it is recurring. No idea! I just know this. To this day, I sort of cringe when I’m in a room that is as bare and pastoral, old, antiqued like this one. Now, I grew up in a house full of antiques, but there’s a certain unique quality about this one that is hard to explain, and I have, indeed, encountered from time to time.

THE WINDOW PLANT OF TERROR!!!!

And I positively cannot tolerate single potted plants on windowsills. I don’t put one on any of mine, and I cringe if I ever see that. I know. Weird. Super weird. But that dream ruined plants on windowsills for me. So watch out for Peculiar Fearz, because this dream sunk in me so deep, I baked it all in that novel.

What scares you most about the writing process?

The knowledge that I will work myself into a sure panic with every book every time I send it off and wait for the reaction. And knowing I must endure the wait and the panic.

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

I have an entire horror manuscript, named GOAT, in a drawer. The simple explanation is that it’s based on the mythical goat man, but it layers on that family traumas and a significant, physical assault on the main character when she’s only seven. This manuscript has been fully edited twice, gone through reads by my agent and her staff. I have notes to edit it further, but I honestly just can’t do it. It’s been in a drawer a few years now. My mom won’t read it; she says it scares her too much. And once, when I was in the thick of the last round of editing it, I wound myself up so much, nightmares and all, I feared a demon was talking to me through the NEST camera. It was really just my husband playing a joke on me, but the fact that I allowed myself to believe a demon for even a second, and the fact I didn’t just immediately go to the logical conclusion that it was obviously my husband pranking me, led me to seal GOAT away in a bottom drawer, and under several layers of file folders on my computer. Not sure if I can ever return to it.

I have an entire horror manuscript, named GOAT, in a drawer.

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

The best “villain” is Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ VEEP character, Selina Meyer. My absolute favorite genre across everything is irreverent satire. And VEEP is the apex pinnacle of irreverent satire. The Meyer character is sooooooo totally a villain, the satirical representation of all the horribles in modern U.S. politics. She is malignant narcissism; the only thing that matters to her is winning the next election. Her wardrobe, like for all excellent female villains, is absolutely fantastic. Honestly, the tip-top best. She is a flat-out brilliant character, hilarious, and you hate to love her and love to hate her all at once. The very best.

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

Closed-in spaces!

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?

A little kid in pajamas is far more scary than Old-Man Rivers with a lantern. The latter I’d pull over for and follow into a swampy forest, allowing him to lead me to some haunted mansion. Thrilled for the experience. The kid in PJ’s is obviously a ghost-demon meant to trap me in some ninth layer of hell.

Not a ghost-demon…just Shannon and her son messing with photo filters. (Hopefully.)

Shannon Kirk is the international bestselling and award-winning author of Method 15/33The Extraordinary Journey of Vivienne MarshallIn the VinesGretchenViebury Grove, and short stories in four anthologies: The Night of the FloodSwamp Killers (TBP, 2020), Nothing Good Happens After Midnight (TBP, 2020), and Border Noir (April, 2020). Shannon is also a contributor to the International Thriller Writers’ Murderers’ Row. Growing up in New Hampshire, Shannon and her brothers were encouraged by their parents to pursue the arts, which instilled in her a love for writing at a young age. A graduate of Suffolk Law School in Massachusetts, Shannon is a practicing litigation attorney and former adjunct law professor, specializing in electronic-evidence law. When she isn’t writing or practicing law, Shannon spends time with her husband, son, and two cats.

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.

E-book sale for One Night Gone!

Happy Valentine’s Day early!

One Night Gone is on sale for $2.99 in any e-book format from now until Feb. 9. That’s less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks!

Check it out on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, or Google, and buy yourself (or a friend!) a little winter treat.

About the book:

A Finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, Agatha Award, and Lefty Award

“A subtly but relentlessly unsettling novel.” —TANA FRENCH, author of The Witch Elm

It was the perfect place to disappear…

One sultry summer, Maureen Haddaway arrives in the wealthy town of Opal Beach to start her life anew—to achieve her destiny. There, she finds herself lured by the promise of friendship, love, starry skies, and wild parties. But Maureen’s new life just might be too good to be true, and before the summer is up, she vanishes.

Decades later, when Allison Simpson is offered the opportunity to house-sit in Opal Beach during the off-season, it seems like the perfect chance to begin fresh after a messy divorce. But when she becomes drawn into the mysterious disappearance of a girl thirty years before, Allison realizes the gorgeous homes of Opal Beach hide dark secrets. And the truth of that long-ago summer is not even the most shocking part of all…

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.

One Night Gone a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award!

So, um, I’m having a week. On Wednesday morning, upon opening my email and seeing my name listed as a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, given out at the Edgars, I started to cry. Not just because I was a finalist, though that’s super exciting, but because the other authors on the slate are so magnificent. CHECK IT OUT:

Carol Goodman (THE NIGHT VISITORS)

Catriona McPherson (STRANGERS AT THE GATE)

Emma Rowley (WHERE THE MISSING GO)

Hank Phillipi Ryan (THE MURDER LIST)

I adore these women. I adore their writing. I read their books and aspire to be like that someday, and so to have my book snuggled up next to theirs for such a prestigious award–well, of course I got a little emotional. (I mean, I also cry when I watch dog food commercials, so I have a low threshold for emotional stuff, people.)

Anyway, I’m quite excited to go to the Edgars again (my husband, Art Taylor was up for–AND WON–an Edgar last year, so we get to go two years in a row, lucky us!).

If anyone wants to go dress shopping, let me know.

Check out the full list of nominees right here. Pleased to see so many friends on here, and also a bit panicked to add yet more reading to my pile. So many books, so little time.

One Night Gone is a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel

How exciting to announce that One Night Gone is a finalist for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel! I’m thrilled to be in the company of these fine debut novelists: Connie Berry, S.C. Perkins, Ang Pompano, and Grace Topping.

Also, massive congratulations to all the other finalists, many of whom I call friends. One special shout-out: My husband, Art Taylor, is a finalist in the Best Short Story category for his story “Better Days,” which appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine last year. Yay!

You can see the full list of finalists right here! The winners will be announced in early May at the Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, Maryland.

One Night Gone nominated for a Lefty Award

So pleased to find out today that my first novel, One Night Gone, is a finalist for the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Mystery Debut Novel from Left Coast Crime. What an honor to be recognized, especially in the company of fellow debut authors Tori Eldridge, Angie Kim, John Vercher, and Carl Vonderau.

Much congratulations to the other finalists as well, many of whom I’m lucky to call friends. To see the full slate of finalists and categories, see the LCC web site.

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.

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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.