Latest Blog Posts — Page 2

What Scares You, Hannah Mary McKinnon?

I’m a big fan of Hannah Mary McKinnon’s thrillers. She’s not afraid to “go there” when it comes to being dark, which I love. Her latest, You Will Remember Me, just released last week, and it’s a wonderful page turner. A wicked summer read you won’t want to miss.
I discovered some interesting things interviewing Hannah Mary about what scares her. Including an amazing collection of terrifying masks that she owns. She seems so nice, too! Just remember–if you stay at her house, make sure you always check under the bed before getting in it.

What is your greatest fear?

Losing my husband and my kids. Come on, Tara, what are you doing to me? You said this would to be fun! 🙂

What’s the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

When I was about eight, I woke up one night and saw a man in the corner of my bedroom, unmoving and staring right at me. I shut my eyes tight and counted to I don’t know how many, heart thumping, throat running dry, and when I opened my eyes he was gone. I screamed, my parents rushed in but didn’t find anyone in the house. Everybody insisted I’d had a nightmare but to this day I’m not convinced he wasn’t real. It was terrifying, not to mention at the time there was a prowler on the loose.

What are your phobias?

I’m not very keen on heights, snakes make me run away, and I hate raisins because they remind me of the blood-filled ticks that dropped off our dog (I stood on one once and it burst, it wasn’t pretty). I’m also terrified of sharks and bears. It’s all completely irrational.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I have two. One is pretty tame; for whatever reason my Bachelor of Science degree is invalid, and I have to retake an algebra exam (which I absolutely sucked at) but I haven’t studied. The other one is odd—I’m in a house or building that gets smaller and smaller, and I have to escape before it crushes me to death. Or maybe I keep getting bigger like Alice in Wonderland? Either way, it’s very unpleasant.

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What Scares You, Mia P. Manansala?

I’m so thrilled to welcome Mia Manansala to What Scares You. Mia’s book Arsenic and Adobo was released this month and has gotten some amazing press (including a review in the New York Times, thank you very much!) And every time I see that cover, I sigh with pleasure. It’s so awesome, isn’t it?
But the big question today is: What scares this writer of culinary mysteries? What foods terrify her very soul? Find out this…and more…below.

What’s worse: the black abyss of space or the black abyss of the bottom of the ocean?

Bottom of the ocean, easily. There are prehistoric horrors down there! The fact that it’s easier to explore space than it is the greatest depths of the ocean really tells you something. I absolutely love being by and in the water, but I have zero interest in going further down.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

That instead of growing and challenging myself, I get stuck writing the same book over and over and over again. Also, that my ignorance and unconscious biases could lead to me writing harmful material. However, with that latter one, I hope that when I mess up (because everybody does) I will have the grace to acknowledge it and accept responsibility, then put in the work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

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What Scares You, Jeffrey Marks?

I am pleased to be talking today with one of my favorite people in the crime fiction world–Jeff Marks. Jeff had the “pleasure” of sitting next to me at the Agatha Award banquet when I was nominated for Best Short Story and felt like vomiting all over myself from nerves. Despite that, he still talks to me, so he is a kind person as well as a talented writer, editor, and publisher. His work with Crippen & Landru Publishers has brought many amazing books into this world, including a short story collection by Charlotte Armstrong, The Columbo Collection, and, of course, my husband Art Taylor’s The Boy Detective and the Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense.

Let’s see what scares the man behind the publishing house with a gallows as its logo….

What is your greatest fear?
Death. I’ve had this rather morbid obsession since I was a child. When I was young, I was horrified to learn that if I died in a position that wouldn’t fit into a coffin, they could break my bones to put me in the coffin. So for several years as a teenager, I slept in the coffin position, on my back, ankles together, arms crossed over my chest. I do have my service planned out, plots purchased, and such. I’m not sure why I am always aware of the end of life, but I am.

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

My scariest early memory was my first bad asthma attack at the pool. It was a reaction to the chlorine, which we didn’t know at the time. Hyperventilating, wheezing, and then it went black, which is probably not a good thing close to a pool. No one knew what was going on, since I had not had any attacks prior to that. I don’t recall anything beyond that point. I woke up in the backseat of our car in the parking lot of a local pharmacy.

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What Scares You, Dani Hedlund?

Dani and I met when she published my flash fiction story about a Kraken. I feel like that’s all you really need to know about our budding friendship, since we clearly are soulmates. However, I want to say that if you haven’t read F(r)iction, the lit mag that Dani edits, then you need to. Right now. Go subscribe. We will wait.

F(r)iction breaks all the molds. It’s daring and fun and delightful. And beautiful. The magazine is a work of art. And if it’s not cool enough, Dani is currently working on a deck of Tarot cards (did I mention we are soulmates?)

So, read on to find out what terror lies in the depths of Dani’s soul….

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

I’m sure some terrible fear predates this, but the first one that comes to mind is watching FernGully. I should preface this by saying I am not a wimp about horror. The first book I read cover to cover was Stephen King’s IT…at age nine. And although I found the entire orgy scene utterly befuddling—like what were they doing with those body parts I knew nothing about?—I generally couldn’t get enough of King’s books. Sure, to this day I’m afraid of clowns—and, as an extension, women with too much makeup on—but none of that, NONE OF IT, compared to FernGully.

If you haven’t seen FernGully, it’s a 1992 animated kid’s film that is supposed to teach you an environmental moral of: stop fucking with the forest, lots of magical things live here, and you don’t need another shopping mall that badly.

To nail this theme, the writers needed a villain, a sort of personified monster of human greed and pollution. Thus, I give you Hexxus (pictured below).

Hey…I’m Hexxus!

Creepy right? Now imagine it singing…sorta sexily, about how hungry it is. How it wants to devour everything.

Now imagine that you grew up on a farm where everyone you love is always covered in thick, black mud, motor oil, and grease from the tractor. Now imagine you’re convinced those grease stains are going to seep off your mum’s apron and your daddy’s flannel and your own dirty hands, start sexily singing to you, and then eat your flesh.

WAY scarier than King’s worst villain.

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Ladies and gentleman, my edits are done!

Friends, I need to chat for a moment about edits.

I heard a lot about the dreaded second book. How hard it is to write. The worries about if it be as good as your first book. The pressures of writing to a deadline if you have a contract.

I believed all those warnings, I did. But I don’t think I was prepared for just how hard it would be.

It didn’t help that on top of a deadline and performance pressure we were hit with a deadly global pandemic. A fraught presidential election and insurrection. Countless examples of racial injustice. Writing fiction at times felt both pointless and frivolous when so many others were suffering so badly.

But write I did. I crafted an outline, with the help of my agent and editor, and went for it. I thought it would be so much easier this time with a road map. I knocked out 70,000 words and a rough first draft in about six months.

And then we figured out that the book wasn’t working at all. I tried to resist it at first, but alas, it just wasn’t fixable. I cried. I threw things. I said some mean and snotty things about myself.

And then I sucked it up and tossed it all out and started again.

But now I was severely behind in my timeline. No one else seemed to think this was a problem. My agent and editor were like, “Oh, you got this. No worries.” My husband was like, “You’ll be fine.” I was like: “HOLY SHIT I’M DOOMED THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK I’M MOVING TO A REMOTE ISLAND AND HIDING UNDER A BLANKET FOR FOREVER.”

But then I sucked it up and started writing. Again. And again I got about 10,000 words in and realized I needed to change the point of view.

I cried. I threw things. I said mean and nasty things about myself.

You can sense the cycle here. Needless to say, it never really got easier. I did finally find the POV I needed. The story got tighter and tenser and more suspenseful. I threw in some crazy stuff that I love–like Halloween, like creepy urban legends, like cultish friend groups. I cursed some more and cried some more and all through it my editor, my agent, my husband, my friends were like, “You’ve got this.”

(Moral of the story here: Surround yourself with some good people.)

I wrote another 70,000 words. More than that, if you count all the scenes I threw out. I edited those words. I edited it more. And again and again. My eyeballs fell out of my head a few times. I had to start PT for my shoulder and neck issues. I haven’t watched much TV in a year unless you count Murder, She Wrote (and you should always count Murder, She Wrote.)

The piles of pain (double-sided).

And this morning I finally turned in the book for galleys. It will still go through copy editing and proof reading, and yes, I’ll have more edits to do. But it’s there, it’s done. People will read it. (Hopefully some will like it).

I. Did. It.

But yeah, what they say is true. Writing the second book really sucks.

The Mother Next Door, my second novel, will be out October 12, 2021 from Graydon House Books. You can pre-order it now!

What Scares You, Sean Murphy?

Sean Murphy is the founder of 1455 Literary Arts, a Washington, D.C.-area literary arts foundation that conducts festivals, workshops, residencies, and is friend to many writers and artists in the area.

Sean and I met very recently, even though we have a million friends in common, and we chatted as part of his 14:55 Interview series (we went slightly over the 14 minutes and 55 seconds). It was a brief meeting, but even so I could tell he was one of those people I’d love to have beers with and chat about everything from books to ….well, terrifying memories. So here we go:

What are your phobias?

Acknowledging this is the epitome of first-world fragility, I have what some might consider an unhealthy fear and loathing of public bathrooms. I, of course, consider it a healthy obsession, or phobia, having borne witness to the ceaseless parade of anti-hygiene everywhere from locker rooms to airports (ugh) to the banal atrocities of the corporate men’s room. There’s a recurring theme in my novel NOT TO MENTION A NICE LIFE where the narrator riffs on the sights, smells, and crimes against humanity he endures on a regular basis.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

Two in particular, and they are at once absurd and inscrutable. The first always finds me back in high school, and I’m in between classes but have forgotten my locker combination. It’s ridiculous, because obviously some administrator should be able to assist me, but worse (in that weird way dreams work) I’m usually me, now, yet somehow back in high school, still worried that everyone will mock me, or that I’ll be late for class. WHO CARES?!

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What Scares You, Helen Rye?

Fun fact: Helen and I were twins in another life. Now in this life we are almost-sisters. I’ve only known her for about three years, but she’s one of my favorite people in the world and she’s a kick-ass writer. Too bad there’s an entire ocean between us, keeping us from hanging out in pubs every night and singing karaoke. However, I’m convinced one day we’ll be old and retired and sitting on a porch drinking lemonade spiked with gin and laughing about nothing at all.

Enough sentimentality, though. Let’s get to the terrifying shit.

What is your greatest fear?

I have one or two people I just can’t imagine life without and I’m no-filters terrified of something happening to them. I’m never far removed from the raw, existential sense of all of us as a bunch of small, soft animals clinging onto the surface of a rock, alone in infinite space. I don’t really understand how we’re supposed to live day to day with the knowledge that everyone we love is going to die. This makes me a LOT of fun at parties.

But seriously, it’s a scary old life, and I think the ability to forget this has never been hardwired into me in quite the same way it seems to be for some people. I suspect this proximity to mortality and the baffling, shooting-star fragility of life is one of the things that makes us write. I know if I said this sort of thing in a pub, most people would suddenly recognize someone they knew on the other side of the bar and not come back, but writers would nod in silent recognition and get another bottle of bourbon for the table. And then we’d all get really drunk together and do karaoke and have a rare old time. Because there’s nothing like an awareness of the ephemeral nature of everything you care about to make you want to really live, while you’re here.

Anyway, in practice this translates to me worrying horribly when someone I love has a health scare and doing reassuring things like crying when they tell me stuff because I can’t bear to think of them being really sick. And writing stories about apocalypses and singing in the darkness at the edge of the world. It feels like the pandemic has kind of brought everyone else to where I am, in terms of trying to work out how to live alongside this inescapable awareness of death, and suddenly everyone’s writing about how fragile everything is. I’m a bit Get your tanks off my lawn about it, honestly.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

I grew up on a ‘70s TV diet of action movies and the Dukes of Hazard. Every TV car crash I’d ever seen ended up with the car blowing up in a spectacular fireball, so when I was nine and the car we were travelling to our holiday in suddenly lost its steering, flipped over and over and landed on its roof in a field, I knew exactly what to expect. I remember the interior of the car spinning around us like we were in a washing machine, and then the next thing I knew I was standing on the other side of the field with my little brother shoved protectively behind me, waiting for the explosion and the blooming cloud of flame. Of course, nothing happened. It was a solid, ancient Volvo estate; everyone was fine, even the dog (who I’d forgotten about, and who was in the boot with a load of deadly projectiles in the form of camping gear and food cans). I was the only one to execute that classic run and dive into a protective hedge I’d seen modelled so many times. So the scariest part of the whole experience never actually transpired, which you’d think would be a lesson in not being scared of things that might not happen. It was pretty freaky, though.

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What Scares You, Donna Andrews?

Thrilled to welcome the great Donna Andrews to What Scares You on this icy, chilly, spooky February day. Donna’s award-winning Meg Langslow series has given her loyal, dedicated fans. I especially appreciate the bird puns in each title, and fun fact: my son Dash actually helped her name one of her Christmas books: Owl Be Home for Christmas. What scares the pants off Donna, you ask? Well, read on to find out…

What is your greatest fear?

I think for most of us the greatest fear is, ultimately, the fear of death. Which is unavoidable . . . but we all deal with it by channeling it into lesser fears, fears of things that can be avoided. If you’re afraid of heights, confined spaces, crowds, rabid beasts, clowns, zombies, penguins—you can at least try to avoid them.

What are your phobias?

I think my biggest one is claustrophobia, with a generous side order of acrophobia. Which is what makes my experience with caving so peculiar. Some of my friends used to go caving quite often, and the very thought of it both terrified and intrigued me. It took me quite a while to get up the nerve to even ask if they’d take me, preferably to a really easy cave that they were thoroughly familiar with. When we got there, we all half-walked, half-slid down a gravel-covered slope, rather like an amphitheater, to a hole in the side of a cliff. So far, so good. But the actual cave opening—I pictured a rough-hewn archway. Okay, there it was. Check. And some rough-hewn rooms. Check. But the entrance to the main body of the cave was just a hole in the ground, like something a large mole could have dug. I panicked. Somehow I levitated to the top of the gravel-covered slope—I really don’t remember climbing up—and stood there, trembling, telling them not to wait for me.

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What Scares You, Kristopher Zgorski?

Kris Zgorski is truly a gift to the crime fiction writing community. I’ve discovered many of my favorite crime writers by reading Kris’s reviews at BOLO Books. He has a distinct talent of getting to the heart of every book he reads, making his reviews works of art in and of themselves.

Since he reads and watches so much crime, horror, and mystery, is there anything left that can truly scare him?

Why, yes. There is.

Read on to find out what…

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

I have a distinct memory of being put to bed one night as a young child and for whatever reason, being conscious of my heartbeat. As I started to drift off to sleep, I could sense that it was slowing down. Of course, it turns out this is perfectly normal and expected, but my young brain was not aware of this, and I became convinced I was dying. I believe this was the beginnings of the mildly hypochondriac side of myself.

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