Latest Blog Posts — Page 2

What Scares You, Edwin Hill?

I’m thrilled to welcome Edwin Hill to What Scares You! I’m a big fan of Edwin’s writing, and I also just really really like him as a person. It was great fun to be on a panel together for the Suffolk Mystery Festival earlier this year (despite the stupid tech issues) and an even better treat to catch up with him in person at Malice Domestic last weekend, where he was a finalist for the Best Contemporary Novel Agatha Award for Watch Her. His latest novel and first standalone thriller, The Secrets We Share, sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to check it out. And now we get to hear more about the things that keep him up at night…..

What is your greatest fear?

I’ve developed a late-in-life and thoroughly annoying fear of heights, which I discovered while standing atop one of the pyramids in the Tikal National Park in Guatemala. Before that, I hadn’t really had those kind of mortality fears, but now, I think about plummeting to my death more often than I’d like. If it happened, I’d be so angry with myself that I let it happen!

What scares you most about the writing process?

My novels tend to be pretty complex, with lots of interweaving pieces. There is this period—and it can last for months—where I don’t believe the pieces will ever come together. So far, they have, but there’s always next time!

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

I wrote a short-short called “Outside” for This Time for Sure, the 2021 Bouchercon Anthology that Hank Phillippi Ryan edited. It is about a group of terrible high school kids in the drama club who drink a lot of Bartles & Jaymes. The last line gives me chills!

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What Scares You, Tessa Wegert?

Tessa Wegert writes the Shana Merchant series, which takes place in the Thousand Islands. I love these books. They are creepy, atmospheric, twisty, and tense, with a great cast of characters. The third in the series, Dead Wind, was just published this month (buy it here!) and I hear she’s finishing up Book 4, which means more, more, more!

You can also learn more, more, more about Tessa’s fears right here:

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I was a pretty serious sleepwalker as a kid; I once walked right out the back door of our house and apparently hung out in the driveway until my dad clued in and retrieved me. I never had any memory of those nocturnal adventures, so I spent a lot of my waking life afraid of what I might do the next night. Now I have a daughter who sleepwalks and who once walked out our back door in the middle of the night, too. I might have gotten over those early fears, but let me tell you, they all came rushing back the second I found my kid sobbing on the front porch in her nightgown. 

What is your weirdest fear?

I’m terrified of swimming in dark or murky water, which is only weird because I do it all the time both in the Thousand Islands — where my mystery series is set — and in the Long Island Sound, close to where I live. Swimming at night is the absolute worst. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something creepy lurking down in the weeds. 

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What Scares You, Sherry Harris?

Sherry Harris writes the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and the Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mysteries. Things I know about Sherry: She’s a great writer, she’s got an amazing laugh, she likes a good cold beer on a hot summer day, her husband makes a mean paper airplane, her daughter is delightful and smart, and I’m lucky to call her a friend.

What I don’t know about her? What scares her!

So here we go… 

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

Going down into our basement. It was dank and dark with rough, gray stone walls. On the way down the steps, I had to pass a leering coconut head that my dad brought back with him from the Philippines after WWII. I still shudder at the thought. When we moved from that house when I was five, the coconut head moved with us to the basement of our new house. Even though it wasn’t as dark and dank, that basement scared me too.

What is your weirdest fear?

I’m afraid there’s going to be a snake in the toilet. I don’t know why—I guess from reading stories about them. Although I may have been one upped because I recently read a story about a Komodo dragon in a toilet. Moral of this fear—never go to the bathroom in the dark.

What was your worst nightmare ever?

I remember one from when I was in third grade where I was in a dark, creepy Victorian house. There was a clank, clank, clank, coming down the steps. In the dim light I could see a robot with three vertical openings for a mouth. It was coming for me. But my scariest dream came not long after I was married while my husband was out of town. I dreamed I was being dragged off the bed by a man. He had hold of my foot, and I was helpless to stop him. It was such a vivid dream that I woke up with my heart pounding. Moral of this fear—never sleep with any body part over the edge of the mattress.

“Never sleep with any body part over the edge of the mattress.”

What scares you most about the writing process?

Sitting down at the computer wondering if any words will come. So far they always have, but some days the walk down the hall to my office is a terrifying one.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

With my first book it was a bad review, but I survived that. Now, it’s being called a fraud or a fake. I think a lot of writers feel this way and I’m not sure why. Anyone that’s brave enough to write and publish a book opens their soul to criticism. Authors are heroes and we slay our insecurities every time we write.

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

The next book is always the scariest thing I’ve ever written because what if it’s not as good as the last one? Absence of Alice is a little darker than my other books because Sarah is cut off from all the people who she normally turns to for help and her good friend has been kidnapped to get to Sarah.

What animal scares you the most?

Probably horses because they are so big and powerful, but also so beautiful and they don’t look threatening. Why? I’ve had a couple of bad experiences on horses—once as a child and once as a teenager.

What’s scarier: attics or basements?

You might guess from my childhood memory above that basements are scarier. To me attics are places filled with old trunks that have delightful things in them—treasure maps, beautiful costumes, a diary, a wardrobe that leads to some fantastical world. They are light-filled and cobweb-free, at least in my dreams.

Sherry Harris is the Agatha-Award-nominated author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mystery series and the Chloe Jackson Sea Glass Saloon mysteries. Sherry is a past president of Sisters in Crime, a member of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Sherry loves books, beaches, bars, and bargain hunting — not necessarily in that order. She is also a patent-holding inventor.

What Scares You, K.L. Romo?

I know K.L. through her work with The Big Thrill magazine, where she is assistant editor and writes wonderful and thoughtful articles about crime fiction authors and new releases. (She even made me look good.) She also reviews books for the Washington Independent Review of Books and Library Journal, among other places. Because she’s so good at interviewing people, I wanted to turn the tables on her! So here we are—and here we go. What scares K.L.? Read on and find out…

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

My five kids are grown now, but when they were teens, my greatest fear was that one of them would derail their lives by getting pregnant (or getting someone pregnant). It happened with two of my girls when they were 16. With the first one, the fear was visceral, like a huge fist had grabbed my insides and twisted, leaving me terrified of the future for my daughter and my family. But then something happened that was even worse than a teenager having a baby—the teenager losing the baby. My daughter had a stillbirth when she was about six months along. The experience brought our family closer together and taught us that as long as everyone is alive, we can figure out a way to get through anything. My grandson’s death gave us a unique perspective that we still hold on to.

What is your greatest bodily fear?

I am terrified of suffocating. My father choked to death, as did a young cousin, so I’m supersensitive to the danger of a clogged windpipe. Either choking to death or suffocation because of drowning are both right up there at the top of my fear-factor list.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

I’m most fearful of writing something no one wants to read. Although writing is cathartic to “get things off my chest,” and it’s part of my DNA to put words on paper (or the computer screen), the main point of writing is to leave a mark on readers. If no one reads what I write, what’s the point?

“I’ve also developed a strong respect for Ouija boards.”

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What Scares You, Jennifer Anne Gordon?

Jennifer Anne Gordon is one of the hosts of the delightfully entertaining podcast Vox Vomitus and a true lover of all things Halloween. So of course we are soul mates, right?

She also writes creepy fiction and her novel Pretty/Ugly is currently on sale on Amazon for $.99. That’s right, kids. One dollar. What are you waiting for?

She has made her living as an actress, a magician’s assistant, a “gallerina”, a comic book dealer, a painter, and burlesque performer, and, for the past 10 years, an award-winning professional ballroom dancer, performer, instructor, and choreographer.

BUT WHAT SCARES HER? Let’s find out!

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

The first time I really remember being afraid of something was when I was watching the Electric Company. I was probably about three-years-old. I don’t really remember why, but they showed an X-ray. I was mortified by the thought of bones. It scared me to see what was inside of us. The next day in pre-school I told some of the girls during lunch. One girl, I still remember her name, told me that at night sometimes she saw a skeleton walking around in her hallway.

I think that broke my brain a little. I was scared enough just thinking of an X-ray of an arm or leg, but to think that all the bones in a body could move without the actual body. Well, that was more than three-year-old Jennifer could handle.

I remember some sleepless nights after this and making sure that the hallway closet was closed tight, and that we kept a light on in the hall. I remember staying up most of the night staring into the hallway and just waiting.

The fear of the skeleton eventually went away, but what did stick with me was the need for a nightlight. I still sleep with one, and the need to have all closets closed tight before bed!

What is your weirdest fear?

I have an intense fear of eyes, specifically having to touch my eye or have someone else touch my eye. I can’t even have someone do makeup on my eyes, and I have never worn false eyelashes. (That’s saying something seeing as I have been a professional performer on some level for most of my adult life.)

I blame all of this on an unfortunate incident from second grade. It involved a very sharp pencil, me fainting in the bathroom, and then eventually getting sick all over my teacher—Sister Assunta—because, of course, this was in Catholic School.

The worst part of all of this (besides the sharp pencil in the eye) is that it happened on Hot Dog Day. So I also have a fear of hot dogs, and maybe this plays into why I became a vegetarian.

“I have an intense fear of eyes, specifically having to touch my eye or have someone else touch my eye.”

What are your phobias?

Eyes, spiders, ticks, heights, closed spaces, wide open spaces, going under water, accidentally dropping a baby, car accidents, being kidnapped, death by hammer, driving—yikes this is a lot.

And to answer the question people are probably asking themselves…yes, I am on anti-anxiety medication.

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What Scares You, Christopher Gonzalez?

It’s an exciting day here at What Scares You because I get to chat with Christopher Gonzalez, one of my favorite flash fiction writers and now my SFWP publishing sibling. Christopher’s collection, I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat, is showing up on “Must Read” and “Best-Of” lists everywhere and for good reason. It’s also got one of the best covers I’ve seen in a while! So go get yourself a copy and support Chris and also our favorite small press, Santa Fe Writers Project.

Now, then, let’s get down to business. How does Christopher feel about scary things? Read on to find out…

Do you believe in ghosts?

I’ve grown up with too many ghost stories not to believe in them. Mostly from my mom. She’s very much a child of the ‘70s. I’ve never had any supernatural encounters myself. Still, there’s something about being raised Catholic that instills this fear of demons and the demonic in you, this fear of evil, specifically, that doesn’t plague my adult life as much but was certainly a huge part of my childhood. Maybe that has to do with movies like The Exorcist. I believe that if there are ghosts, they aren’t all malevolent beings. To haunt isn’t always to want to do harm, even if harm can be a byproduct. I guess I also think about ghosts being alive in memory and regret, which gets away from what you’re really asking, though I think that sense of endless lingering connects the real ghosts with the emotional ones.

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

Not at all, really. I’m sure there was a time when jumping out from behind a door and yelling “boo” at a family member was peak humor. Now, I’m such a scaredy cat. My roommate could walk into the kitchen while I’m washing dishes, and even if I knew he was home, his sudden appearance in the space would cause me to jump. I hate it. I hate feeling so easily shaken. So I don’t much enjoy scaring others.

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

Yes—I flat out refuse to watch most horror movies. I can do psychological horror and thrillers, with your everyday violence. Extreme blood and gore make me queasy, so that’s usually out. If there is comedy woven into the horror, I’m much more likely to stomach my fears and watch. Honestly, with horror movies, it’s the noises and jump scares that do me in. I’m such a baby that way. Even with the diet horror I have consumed, I’ve had to be forced to watch them. All that said, anything with demons or dealing with religion? Count me out. There goes that Catholicism again.

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

My feelings about death and dying have shifted over the years. The first death I remember was a classmate’s passing in 4th grade. One day he was in class and the next week his parents appeared to retrieve his belongings. He was gone. I still think about him sometimes, the life he might have lived, and whether or not we’d have become better friends. Who would he become? I guess that was the thing: back then, with death, I thought about the what ifs and what might have beens. The past few months we’ve lost a lot of extended family to COVID, and death is now imbued with this feeling of injustice, of feeling robbed. This feeling that it didn’t have to be this way. I think this shapes my feeling toward death and has for several years before the pandemic. I guess I no longer think about death as this individualistic thing that either comes about because a person ages into it or how their health plays some kind of part. Yes, sometimes it’s random and unpredictable. Absolutely. But I’ve started questioning what factors can lead to one’s death, whether it’s state-sanctioned, racist and gendered violence, lack of medical access and opportunity in this country, economical weariness, or the confluence of it all. So I don’t know if I fear dying itself, but rather what kind of agency is stripped from us in death, that I have no clue what circumstances will lead to my own death.

What scares you most about the writing process?

That so much of it is about holding the mirror to yourself and interrogating what it is you truly feel about the world. Epiphanies and clarity don’t arrive without horrific revelations of past mistakes and regrets. Writing feels like excavation of the heart. It’s not all bad in there! But you never know what you’ll expose.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Every answer I think of feels disingenuous. More than anything, I’m afraid I’ll lose it. That I’ll slip into a life where writing has gone from the most pressing matter of existence to the backburner to a distant memory of what it was I dreamt about, woke up for, used to make sense of the world around me. That one day I’ll wake up and it’ll have been ten years since I last wrote. That I won’t miss it at all.

Christopher Gonzalez is the author of I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat (SFWP 2021). A recipient of the 2021 Artist Fellowship in Fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, his writing appears in Poets & Writers online, the NationCatapultBest Microfictions, and Best Small Fictions, among other journals and anthologies. He currently serves as a fiction editor at Barrelhouse magazine and lives in Brooklyn, NY but mostly on Twitter @livesinpages.

Murder in the Magic City (and on the Menu)

This past weekend, I got to be around other writers again in person for the first time in a long time. My husband Art Taylor, our son Dash, and I traveled to Alabama for back-to-back crime fiction festivals—Murder in the Magic City in Birmingham and Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka, which is an annual fundraiser for the Friends of the Wetumpka Library.

It was good for the soul in many ways—from meeting new writers and seeing some old writer friends to hearing from readers and librarians who read and enjoyed my books. Margaret Fenton, Joan Kennedy, Beverly Leboeuf, and Tammy Lynn, our hosts for the weekend, were warm and welcoming and thoughtful. And everyone involved was so kind to our son Dash, who had a blast.

Some highlights from the weekend included:

  • Getting to interview my husband Art Taylor, and in turn, having him interview me, as guests of honor at Murder in the Magic City. I actually learned some new things about him, believe it or not!
  • All the funny and witty things authors said on their panels, such as Mary Dutta’s tendency to use the name “Carl” for all the bad guys in her stories. (For me, “Jack” tends to be my go-to male name, and I often need to go back and change it.)
  • When the librarians at Wetumpka Public Library introduced themselves and said how much they loved One Night Gone and The Mother Next Door. It was so lovely to hear, and so wonderful to get that support. They are all now official members of The Ivy Five, so if you stop by the library and see everyone wearing green ivy leaf pins, you know why!
  • The Tequila Sunrise drink the bartender at our hotel made me. It. Was. Divine.
  • Seeing Dash interact with everyone, chatting about anything from architecture to haunted houses. I think he was more popular than we were, which is how it should be.
  • Visiting Birmingham’s Museum of Modern Art and browsing a very cool used bookstore, where Dash got to touch a 500-year-old book!

Here are a few photos from the weekend. I hope we get to go back sometime! It was truly a memorable weekend.

What Scares You, James Han Mattson?

Back in early October, my good friend John Copenhaver said, “Hey, you might like this new book that’s out. It’s about a scare house.” And yes, dear readers, I definitely did love this book. James Han Mattson’s Reprieve was the perfect October read for me, and honestly, if you need some creepy in your life (who doesn’t?), you should pick it up now. It’s about so much more than a scare house–race, power, greed, fear. James knows his shit.

Since he created one of the creepiest scare houses in fiction, I’m thrilled to have him stop by here and talk with me a bit about what scares him.

What is your weirdest fear?

I’ve always had this strange fear of fish. It’s weird because I come from a fishing family—my brother is a charter fisherman, and growing up, we fished pretty regularly, both on the Great Lakes and on smaller lakes. I always despised it though, and in the scrapbooks, you can find pictures of me as a child standing away from the fish I’d just caught, not wanting anything to do with it. Their flopping always disturbed me, and I hated the soullessness of their eyes.  

How do you deal with fear?

Meditation really does wonders for a fearful psyche. Bringing yourself back to your physical self, your breath, and concentrating on the present moment clears your head and allows fears to, at least momentarily, subside.

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

I’m not usually all that scared by novels, but one scene that’s stayed with me over many years is the scene in Salem’s Lot when Ben Mears has to put a stake through the heart of his love-turned-vampire, Susan Norton. It’s both sad and gruesome, and the lead-up to the scene, and the aftermath, had me gingerly turning pages.

What is your favorite monster/villain?

Freddy Krueger, mainly because he doesn’t take himself too seriously; he’s campy and funny and weird, especially in the earlier Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Jason, Leatherface, Ghostface, and Michael Myers try to be foreboding in their silence, and it can work at times (the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains one of my favorite horror movies), but it’s just not as fun. And Pinhead, the only other major horror villain that talks a lot—well, he takes himself way too seriously.

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

I’m not really scared of death. I’m scared of dying, for sure, because of how absolutely cruel it is, but the abyss afterward doesn’t phase me. I think that whatever form we find ourselves in after death is so unfathomable to our current consciousnesses that any contemporary depictions of it are bound to be absurd.

What’s scarier: attics or basements?

Basements. Attics seem easier to escape—they almost always contain a window, and their floors double as ceilings, making them rife with all sorts of noisy possibilities. Basements are much trickier, escape-wise, and they’re usually damp, dark, cold, and full of all things creepy-crawly.

James Han Mattson was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in North Dakota. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has received grants from the Copernicus Society of America and Humanities North Dakota. He is the author of two novels: The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves (Little A: 2017) and Reprieve (William Morrow/Harper Collins and BloomsburyUK: 2021), which was named a best book of the year by Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Library Journal, and Crimereads, and was a Fall 2021 Book Pick by The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Chicago Tribune, O Quarterly, Entertainment Weekly, and the TODAY show, among others. He is currently the fiction editor of Hyphen Magazine.

What Scares You, Alice Blanchard?

Happy New Year, all you scary folk! We are back with my first installment of WSY for 2022! Alice Blanchard writes the Natalie Lockhart mystery series, books set in one of my favorite places in the U.S.–Salem, Massachusetts. Yes, there are witches and murder and black magic and all kinds of delightfully dark things in her books, so get get ’em!

But first, read on to discover all the terrible things that haunt Alice, including some pretty awful childhood ghosts…

What are your phobias?

Okay, well, after getting a bad case of food poisoning, I developed a serious phobia about raw chicken.  Trust me, don’t Google it.  It’ll keep you up at night.

Do you have any horror movie deal breakers??

Yes, whenever there’s a hideous, homicidal monster out there, the characters shouldn’t split up and go looking for their lost cat.

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

I used to be afraid of failure, but after countless misadventures and stumbles and pratfalls, I accept them as part of the path to success.

Do you believe in ghosts?

Yes, and not just because I grew up in a haunted house. My sisters and I used to play with a Ouija board when we were little, and I’d never do it again. It’s a long story, but… disembodied voices, footsteps in the attic, strange goings on. I’m convinced there was at least one ghost in that centuries-old farmhouse. 

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What Scares You, Thomas Pluck?

It’s my last scary interview of the year, and I’m pleased to chat with Thomas Pluck just before the holiday season takes over. I met Thomas at a Noir @ the Bar event many years ago, and I was impressed by his no-holds-barred style of writing, very noirish and gritty and real, but also writing with a heart and soul and a great sense of humor. This combination is hard to do, and it’s stuck with me over the years.

I’m excited for Thomas’s newest book in the Jay Desmarteaux Crime Thriller series, The Boy From County Hell. Read more about it and buy it from Down and Out Books. And check out that fantastic ’70s-vibe cool-as-hell cover, kids.

Now, what scares him, you ask? I just happen to know…

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

I was afraid of fighting. I don’t like conflict in general. I want everyone to get along. So I never learned to fight until I was in my thirties, and I went all out. My best friend was training to fight mixed martial arts, and I joined him. It was a hardcore school run by a guy who fought bare knuckle in Myanmar. I lost any fear of someone throwing a punch at me after that. I’ve been hit so hard I couldn’t see, and I kept fighting. I don’t train there anymore—I like my brains unscrambled.

Do you believe in ghosts?

I don’t believe in the supernatural. But as I like to say, that doesn’t mean it’s not real. I don’t believe in God, either. But I was raised Catholic, so my attitude is, I may not believe in him, but he can still punish me. That’s how I feel about ghosts.

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I used to have this awesome recurring dream about a Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing me down my grandmother’s street. I loved that dream. So, needless to say, I was a big fan of Jurassic Park when it came out.

What is your favorite monster/villain?

I like the Wolf Man. The old one, with “even a man who is pure of heart…” but I also love An American Werewolf in London. I like that it’s a curse, they are doomed. Because we all are. And I’m afraid of hurting the people I love. Not worried about eating them, but you know, emotionally. The werewolf legend ties into that well, for men. We’re the real monsters.

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