What Scares You, Sarah Strohmeyer?

Sarah Strohmeyer writes fantastic suspense novels. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read her latest, We Love to Entertain, I highly recommend it. She’s also incredibly funny and an amazing person with a ton of great stories. I’m thrilled to welcome her to What Scares You so we can all hear about the creepy ghostly encounters she’s had in her lifetime.

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

Oh, man, my childhood was filled with terror! I was the youngest kid of three. My brothers were much older, and my parents were old parents. So, while it was the Sixties and Seventies, there was something very Victorian about my childhood.

The worst was being sent to bed before everyone else. We used to rent a small, silver-shingled house on a remote island off Cape Cod (now very trendy, unfortunately), and I had to sleep in a bedroom off a long hall with the utilities. The pines whispered outside the windows, and there was a separate door to the outside. (God, now that I think of it, it was LOVELY!)

Anyway, my bed faced that damn hall. No feng shui at all. I’d wake up several times a night and see figure in the doorway. Even when I got into my teens, I screamed and ran to the rest of the house.

Years later, I rented the same house with two friends. One got up and left in the middle of the night, vowing never to return. Felt icy fingers through her hair. My best friend of all time, a diehard Roman Catholic and horror reader, said she’d sleep there no problem. And she did. No ghost.

My sister-in-law slept there with her newborn and woke to find two figures standing around the crib. So, yeah….

The house has been expanded. It’s now a super fancy mansion. I left a note in the door to ask the owners if they’d ever had an experience; heard nothing. So, somewhere in Massachusetts is a rich family that thinks I’m nuts.

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

Flying. I used to be in a long-distance relationship in my twenties and had to fly frequently from Cleveland to New Jersey. Had several scary flights (Maybe because I was going from Cleveland to New Jersey?)

Later, when I became an author and they sent me on book tours, I realized I had to make myself get over this fear. I started by pretending that we weren’t 35,000 feet in the sky. Then I took up knitting, which helped as a distraction, and then I got old and figured, screw it. If we go down, we go down.

Now, flying is scary for other reasons, of course.

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What Scares You, Jennifer J. Chow?

Today’s What Scares You features cozy mystery writer Jennifer J. Chow, who writes the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. They will keep you turning pages and also make you very very hungry. Kirkus Reviews said her latest, Hot Pot Murder, has “great characters and a delightful mystery filled with luscious descriptions of food.”

Are there any foods that Jennifer is afraid of eating? Urban legends that unsettle her? Childhood memories she can’t quite shake? Read on to find out…

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

I remember watching The Fly and irrationally believing I would turn into a giant insect. That night, I begged to sleep with my parents.

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

Public speaking. I hated doing school presentations in front of the class. In high school, I joined the drama club and overcame that fear. It’s helped me understand that I can be confident in myself and reminds me to continue to learn and achieve.

What is your favorite urban legend?

During summer camp one year, I heard the ghost story about the woman who wore a velvet ribbon around her neck to keep her head attached to her body. For some time afterward, I was worried whenever I saw someone wearing a choker necklace.

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

Snakes. I’ve picked snakes up without a problem. And I think it’s kind of nice touching their cool scales.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

Live bugs. But apparently, also cooked bees. I was once treated to a local delicacy of bees and larvae. I just couldn’t with the wings.

“I’ve picked snakes up without a problem. And I think it’s kind of nice touching their cool scales.”

What scares you most about the writing process?

The muddy middle of a manuscript. I always hope I don’t get sucked into its murky depths and never finish the actual draft.

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

Clowns, for sure. We stayed at Circus Circus in Las Vegas one year. It was the worst hotel experience I ever had as a kid.

Jennifer J. Chow writes cozies filled with hope and heritage. She is an Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Award-nominated author; her most recent series is the L.A. Night Market Mysteries. Death by Bubble Tea was reviewed by the New York Times, featured in Woman’s World, and hit the SoCal Indie Bestseller List. Jennifer currently serves as president on the board of Sisters in Crime and blogs at chicksonthecase.com. She is an active member of Crime Writers of Color and Mystery Writers of America. Find her online at JenniferJChow.com.

What Scares You, Greg Herren?

Greg Herren lives in New Orleans, which means ghosts follow him around everywhere. Right? Well, you need to read on to find out. I will say that his writing is filled with a gothic spooky atmosphere and mood that makes you feel like you’re in a haunted Southern home where anything can happen.

He has two novels coming in fall 2023: Mississippi River Mischief and Death Drop: A Killer Queen Mystery. And you can read more about his greatest and weirdest fears right here!

What is your greatest fear?

Being buried alive. I have both a fear of the dark and claustrophobia. Whenever I see a new report about someone being rescued from being trapped somewhere in a tight space after “days,” I always think, they’d pull me out of there stark raving mad and I’d never come back from it.

What person living today terrifies you the most and why?

It’s a six-way tie between the conservative Supreme Court justices. They seem determined to rewrite our judiciary system “under his eye.”

What are your phobias?

Spiders, snakes, claustrophobia, the dark.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

It’s not always the same, but similar enough: falling from a great height. Sometimes I dream I am bouncing on a trampoline and wind up going too high to safely come down; sometimes it’s out of a window, sometimes out of an airplane, sometimes off a cliff. The last thing I see in the dream is the ground, rushing up to me, and I wake up just as I hit the ground—sweating, shaking, and breathing hard.

How do you deal with fear?

I avoid great heights, the dark and tight spaces. If I don’t have a choice, I grit my teeth and just start counting until I’m no longer in a scary place.

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

I live in New Orleans, where every house is haunted. Yes, I’ve had unexplained experiences in every apartment we’ve lived in here. The worst was when I was pet-sitting for a friend who’d just moved into a new place. The entire time I was there I just had this sense of being watched, like I wasn’t alone in the space, but whatever else was there was just out of my sight. It finally creeped me out so much I had to leave and come back later to feed the animals and walk the dog. I never did stay overnight there, and any time I’d visit I felt uncomfortable. The ghost in my current appointment likes to play simple tricks—moving something from one counter to another when my back is turned. I’ve never gotten a bad feeling from that ghost, but sometimes I know he or she is there.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating? Why?

Yes. Anything that has a slimy consistency—eggs, flan, custards, oysters. I always think I’m swallowing snot.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

That one day the words and stories won’t come; that the bottomless well of creativity in my brain will eventually run dry.

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

There’s a scene in my book Lake Thirteen that was based on a real experience that I think is terrifying, but others might not agree.

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

Movie is the original 1963 Robert Wise production of The Haunting. TV series? Friday the 13th the Series. I wish it was streaming somewhere.

What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?

‘salem’s Lot by Stephen King. The scene when Danny Glick comes to Mark Petrie’s window. I was living in a very small town in Kansas when I read the book and stayed up reading during a thunderstorm. Just when I got to the part where Danny scratches on the window, a tree branch brushed against my bedroom window. I think I had to change underwear and wash the sheets.

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

I don’t know that people are so much afraid of dying as they are afraid of not knowing what happens when you die. I’m a gay man in his sixties who lived through the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I never thought I would live this long, frankly, so it all feels like extra time for me. No, I’m not afraid of death, but it’s not something I am looking forward to, either. I’m afraid I’ll die before I write all the things I want to more than I am afraid of actually dying.

“I’m afraid I’ll die before I write all the things I want to more than I am afraid of actually dying.”

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

The empty back country roads of rural Alabama at night. It gets so dark there.

What’s something you’ll never do because you’re too scared?

Visit the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

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


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?

Centuries-old demon witch for sure. I live for revenge.

Greg Herren is the award-winning author of more than 40 novels and 50 short stories. He is also an award-winning editor, having edited over 20 anthologies.

What Scares You, Megan Collins?

Megan’s book, Thicker Than Water, released this week! It’s a thriller about two sisters-in-law who “are at painful odds when the man who connects them—the brother of one, the husband of the other—is accused of a brutal crime.”

There’s a reason many of us write suspense and thriller novels about family. Because the people closest to us often have the capacity to mess us up the most. I’ve been doing these interviews long enough now to note that many of our fears stem from childhood things, such as Megan’s example below about watching a spooky movie too early (and having a MEAN sister who capitalizes on that to scare the pants off you).

Read on to hear more about Megan’s fears of natural disasters, penguins, free-falling, and other happy topics. And then, go buy her book!

What is your greatest fear?

It’s a three-way tie between tornadoes, appendicitis, and being buried alive.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

As a kid, I was terrified/traumatized by the movie The Watcher in the Woods. And yet, every time it came on TV, or every time my sister and I saw it a Blockbuster (oof, am I aging myself?), we had to watch it. The image that scared me most was that of Karen, the sixteen-year-old girl who was trapped in another dimension and appeared to the main character in mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Karen is blonde, blindfolded, and whispering “Help me,” and one night, my blonde sister put on a blindfold and shuffled into my bedroom whispering “Help me.” And though I knew it was just my sister torturing me (like older sisters tend to do), it was also very much Karen, who’d walked out of the television screen and beelined straight toward me. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night.

What is your weirdest fear?

This isn’t something I’m afraid of, per se, but the name for it has “phobia” in it. I’m repulsed by clusters of circles and/or holes, or as I put it for much of my life before I learned it had a name, “round things close together.” The name for it is trypophobia, and some things that really trigger it for me are wasps nests, honeycomb, barnacles, and some plant I don’t know the name of and refuse to google because that would mean having to look at it.

What is your favorite urban legend?

There’s that one about the babysitter who’s trying to watch TV after the kids go to bed but is totally spooked by a clown statue in the room. She finally can’t take it anymore, so she calls the parents and asks permission to move the statue, at which point they tell her: “We don’t have a clown statue.” There are various conclusions to this story—the clown is an escaped mental patient, or a serial killer, or a ghost—but it doesn’t really matter to me how it ends. “We don’t have a clown statue” is chilling enough for me.

“There’s that one about the babysitter who’s trying to watch TV after the kids go to bed but is totally spooked by a clown statue in the room.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

When I was a kid, I had a recurring nightmare of my grandfather walking into a room with a penguin. The dream was always in black and white, and my grandfather’s hands were always shaped into claws, which he shook at me as he slowly approached. This dream never made sense to me. My grandfather did not scare me in real life—and why was there a penguin there?? Why was it in black and white?? This is probably not the worst nightmare I’ve ever had, but it always freaked me out so much, until I woke up and was like “Gramps doesn’t even have a penguin.”

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

Does my terrifyingly bad sixth-grade poetry count? If not, I’ve been told that my scariest book is The Family Plot. Apparently, my dad jumped like three feet out of bed one night while he was reading because he heard a noise from another room, and other people have told me it left them unable to sleep. I don’t find it scary myself, but I do think it’s likely my creepiest book to date.

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

The Netflix show Midnight Mass, created by Mike Flanagan. It’s not the series that scared me the most (that might be Requiem, which I also discovered on Netflix), but it’s the horror series I found to be the most brilliant and breathtaking. It’s beautifully written, filled with horrifying surprises, and I love what it’s saying about religious extremism, about the dangers lurking in close-knit communities, about guilt and regret and what it means to be “good.” Every single performance in the show is an absolute masterclass, and the fact that it received zero Emmy nominations is one of the biggest snubs of all time, if you ask me.

What animal scares you the most?

Do spiders count as animals? If so, spiders. Especially those enormous ones that live in Australia. I once saw a picture of a spider that was hiding behind a clock—like the kind of clock you’d see in a school—and YOU COULD SEE THE ENDS OF ITS LEGS POKING OUT FROM UNDER THE CLOCK. A spider should not be bigger than a clock!!! As for the why: I do not care for their creeping or their skittering or their insane number of eyes and legs.  

What’s something you’ll never do because you’re too scared?

Jump out of an airplane. WHY? Why do people do that? Nope. Uh-uh. It is not for me. I will watch safely from the ground. Actually, I won’t watch because I’ll be too terrified that I’m about to see you die, because, again, you jumped out of an airplane.

Megan Collins is the author of Thicker Than Water, The Family PlotBehind the Red Door, and The Winter Sister. She taught creative writing for many years at both the high school and college level and is the managing editor of 3Elements Literary Review. She lives in Connecticut, where she obsesses over dogs, miniatures, and cake.

What Scares You, Misty Simon?

I have a stuffed Yeti on my desk who looks at me every day when I sit down to write. His little umbrella has a message on top that says, “You’ve got this.” It’s silly inspiration, but I swear it works every time.

I have Misty Simon to thank for him.

Misty and I don’t know each other well, but I think if we did, we’d get along swimmingly. She’s got an infectious energy that’s addicting to be around. She’s got a FABULOUS wardrobe. And she’s interested in all the best things. (Ghosts? Cemeteries? Classic monsters?)

Her latest book in the Tallie Graver series, Par for the Hearse, is coming soon, and you can check out her web site for news about when it will drop.

In the meantime, enjoy our conversation about nightmares, shadow figures, untreated wood, and other good stuff.

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

Ohhhh… well now. For years we owned a saltbox house built in 1820. We used to have a small black shadow that you would see running across the landing behind you at the top of the stairs when you looked in a mirror at the bottom of the stairs. I very calmly told it that it could stay as long as it hurt no one in our house. Five years later, we renovated and never saw it again. Maybe it didn’t like how the previous owner had part of the floor held up with a half a stop sign and broken paint sticks. Maybe it was protecting us and once we put a real floor down, it felt its job was done. Either way, it never walked across the landing again. I missed that little shadow and said goodbye, just in case, when we sold the house three years ago.

What is your weirdest fear?

Untreated wood. Any wood with no polish or coating that is rough. It’s a texture thing. Actually, it’s more a physical thing than a fear, but I cannot use wooden spoons or even enjoy those dixie cups with the wooden paddle thing included because just the thought makes me gag. Excuse me, I’ll be right back…

What is your favorite urban legend?

I adore anything that has to do with cemeteries, or the very real fact that people used to be buried with a string attached to a bell at the surface of the grave just in case they’d been buried alive.

What was your worst nightmare ever?

Oh man, worst nightmare ever… it was recurring when I was about seven. Every night I would be stuck in a pinball machine and would be chased through the machine by all the classic monsters. Once they caught me, they would hang me from a noose on the flipper and then run off for me to die. But I’d undo the noose, try to escape, and the whole thing would start over again. I never did find out what I’d done to earn that hanging, but I was so happy to stop having the dream about a year later.

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What Scares You, James D.F. Hannah?

Hey! We’re here celebrating the release of James Hannah’s newest novel, Because the Night, which was published this week.

Here’s what it’s about:

“Backed with campaign funds from the owner of the local strip club, ex-state trooper and recovering alcoholic Henry Malone’s running for sheriff. But because he can’t say no to a bad idea, he also agrees to look for a pregnant woman’s missing ex-con boyfriend. With his well-armed AA sponsor Woody in tow, Henry’s search for the boyfriend soon connects with a homicide investigation run by Lt. Jackie Hall—probably the last cop in West Virginia who still likes Henry.

A violent confrontation leaves Jackie near-death and Henry determined to find justice. Except vengeance isn’t simple for Henry, especially when an old enemy appears out of nowhere, more bodies stack up, and a series of betrayals and double crosses climax with a morning assault on a farm house that pits Henry and Woody against a deadly band of criminals with nothing to lose.”

We are also talking about all the terrors that keep James up at night, because that’s kind of how I celebrate everything. So once you go buy his book, come on back here and learn more about the creepy shit that James thinks way too much about.

What is your greatest fear?

Pseudocoma. For the Metallica fans, it’s what happens in the video for “One”; for the Dalton Trumbo fans, it’s what happened after Johnny got his gun. It’s described as “locked-in syndrome,” where a person can’t move or communicate verbally due to paralysis. (This is super-specific, I know.) But as a writer, as a parent, and as a friend, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than being so locked inside your own body and mind that you can’t express yourself to the world, or can’t convey your feelings to those you love. 

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

The commercial for the horror film It’s Alive. By today’s standards it’s really nothing—just a voice-over and a bassinet and this weird scream and sweet Jesus but is that smoke coming out of the bassinet and why is there something glowing?—but when I was four, it came on TV and I bolted from the living room like someone had fired a starting pistol. For years afterward I had this Mandela effect thing going on, convinced that something jumped out of the bassinet at the end of the commercial, and then I found the commercial on YouTube and realized I was remembering it wrong, probably because I had never actually made it to the end of the commercial.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

Snails. Can’t do it. Anything that leaves a slime trail across the driveway shouldn’t be consumed by a human, I don’t care how much butter and garlic is involved.

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What Scares You, Steve Weddle?

“So many options to choose poorly.”

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

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

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

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

What scares you most about the writing process? 

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

What animal scares you the most?

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

Do you have a childhood memory of your parents or other trusted adults being truly terrified by something?

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

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What Scares You, Annette Lyon?

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

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

How do you deal with fear?

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

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

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

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

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

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What Scares You, Alice Slater?

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

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

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

What are your phobias?

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

What is your favorite urban legend?

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

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

How do you deal with fear?

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

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

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

What’s creepier: clowns or dolls?

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

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

What Scares You, Lori Rader-Day?

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

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

And find out what else scares her…

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

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

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

What is your greatest fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 How do you deal with fear?

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

What scares you most about the writing process?

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

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

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

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

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

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

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