Latest Blog Posts — Page 3

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. 

Read More

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.

Read More

What Scares You, Alice Henderson?

Friends, I devoured Alice Henderson’s first book A Solitude of Wolverines. I’ve got an obsession for survival tales, and combining that with a great mystery is a perfect book for me. I love Alice’s heroine, Alex Carter, a female Rambo/MacGyver combo. I’m so excited to read the second in the series, A Blizzard of Polar Bears, which just published this month. If you’ve got a nature lover or a survivalist or a mystery fiend on your Christmas list, I’ve just solved ALL your problems for you.

And now on to Alice’s favorite scary things! She’s got some good ones here…spoooooky!

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I grew up around the corner from my grandmother, who lived in a beautiful old house built sometime in the mid-late 1800s. Strange things happened in that place. Rocking chairs rocked by themselves. Footsteps creaked down the upstairs hallway when no one was there.

Once I was playing in her attic alone, going through old books and photographs. My grandmother liked to scare me, and this afternoon I heard her creeping up the attic stairs. So I snuck to the top of the stairs, and when her footsteps reached the top step, I jumped out, intending to turn the tables on her. Only she wasn’t there. I raced down the stairs, calling for her. No answer. Then I happened to glance out of the window, where I saw my grandmother way in the very back of her yard, gardening. I tore out of there, and the attic door slammed by itself behind me!

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I do indeed believe in ghosts, and not just because of my grandmother’s place.

Once I was in the Stanley Hotel, that magnificent edifice in Estes Park, Colorado, that inspired The Shining. It was late at night, and I was standing in the billiard room. Not many people were still up, so I had the room to myself. Adjoining the billiard room was what I assumed to be a music room, as someone was playing the piano in there beautifully. But the double doors that separated the two rooms were closed, so I couldn’t see. I didn’t want to disturb the player, but I was curious, so I snuck to the doors and peeked through the crack to see who was playing. No one was. The music cut off abruptly. The bench in front of the antique grand piano was empty. The whole room was empty.

Alice, being very brave at the haunted Stanley Hotel.

What is your favorite urban legend?

When I was a kid I remember hearing about mutant alligators growing to gigantic proportions in sewers and storm drains. My friend Becky and I would routinely explore this large storm drain in my hometown, going deep inside the dark tunnels, bent over with flashlights. More than once we heard something scrabbling down there, but instead of picturing alligators, for some reason we always thought it was rabid clowns out for blood or mutant carnivorous creatures that could see in the dark, with long, raking claws.

Read More

What Scares You, Wanda Morris?

I feel like I already know the answer to this question, and I’m sad to say the answer is: me. I scare Wanda. Or at least, this is what she tells me on my Instagram posts. If I can scare Wanda, then what else is she scared of? This is what I had to find out!

Wanda’s debut novel, All Her Little Secrets, published this month, and let me tell you, it’s a must-read. I had the special privilege of reading an early copy of this novel, and I was blown away. It’s a terrific thriller about a toxic workplace and what we’ll do for family, and I hope everyone reads it and loves it as much as I did.

Now, on to the scary stuff….

What is your greatest fear?

Outliving my children. If you’re a parent, you know what I mean.

What is your earliest childhood memory of fear?

There was a serial killer roaming through my city killing young girls and women. I was probably 6 or 7 years old. I would eavesdrop on my parents and listen to them talk about it. I was worried sick whenever my mom or my sisters would leave the house at night. Of course, I never told anyone about my fears, so I suffered in silence. I recall being relieved when again, eavesdropping, I learned the killer was caught. Although I read mysteries about serial killers, I don’t know if I could write one. It would mean tapping into that childhood fear. I don’t want to go there.

What is your weirdest fear?

You know those eighteen-wheeler trucks that haul cars stacked on top of one another? I’m always afraid of driving behind them for fear that the cars will suddenly break loose and fall down into the highway onto my car. Weird, right?!

What are your phobias?

I have a fear of “open heights.” I am fine with looking out of airplane windows. Not so much with looking down from the balcony of a twenty-story building. This made things interesting when I took my kids parasailing. Let’s just say I was very quiet. When we traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, we rode to the top of Mont Blanc in a cable car. It was probably the most fearful ride I’ve ever taken in my life. My husband has pictures. It was not my finest moment.

“It was probably the most fearful ride I’ve ever taken in my life.”

How do you deal with fear?

I try to attack it head-on. Like that parasailing experience with my kids—I was scared beyond words, but I didn’t want to exhibit behavior that my kids would emulate. I leaned into my fear and came out on the other side. Likewise, with that cable car up the side of that mountain. I was a sweating, panting mess, but I did it!

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

I do not enjoy scaring other people because they have a tendency to want to reciprocate, and I don’t like being scared. When I was little, my mom would let me stay up late with my older brothers and sisters to watch TV. They liked to watch scary movies and television shows. Once, I watched an episode of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour where people were being killed off in a house, and the roads were washed out so they couldn’t escape. I was far too young to be watching something like that. My brother slipped away and returned to the room yelling and brandishing a fake knife. It scared all of us! That was my last time staying up late to hang out with the older sibs. It was also the first time I realized I don’t like scary pranks.

Read More

What Scares You, Jonathan Maberry?

Happy Halloween, my loves! And what better way to spend the spookiest day of the year than with one of the masters of horror, Jonathan Maberry! I’m thrilled to welcome Jonathan to What Scares You today, and I know that you will love his answers.

I recently read Don’t Turn Out the Lights, a story anthology Jonathan edited that’s a tribute to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and I knew I had to ask him to do this Q&A. The anthology is a tribute in the very best way–the stories in the book have the same fun and twisted feel to them as the original books, and they brought me back to my childhood immediately. I highly recommend you go buy yourself a copy now.

And now, for the Q&A:

What is your favorite urban legend?

I’ve always been a fan of the Jersey Devil, a cryptid (a creature not officially known to exist but believed by many people). I grew up in Philadelphia, right across the river from New Jersey, and I spent a lot of summers as a kid camping in the Pine Barrens, which is the home of that particular monster. It’s an old legend dating back to Colonial times, and one with plenty of creepy variations. So many people have claimed to have seen it, including Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, who wrote about it in his diaries when he was in exile in America. Commodore Perry, one of our greatest naval heroes, claimed to have shot it down during an artillery exercise, but the thing got up and flew away. People report it all the time. It’s eerie, strange, inexplicable, and kind of fun. I will likely write a novel about it one of these days.

How do you deal with fear? 

There’s an old Samurai adage: “If you’re afraid of ghosts, sleep in a graveyard.” I learned that while studying jujutsu, and I’ve taken it as a manifesto. So, because I had a terrible fear of heights and falling, I signed up to learn skydiving. Yes, it was terrifying for about half the way down during my first jump, but then it became amazing. I’ve since went looking inside my head for other fears and applied the same process—confronting them head on, and thereby taking agency over them. It sounds weird, but it’s actually kind of fun. It’s like leveling up in a video game.

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

I’m not afraid of the “slasher with a knife” thing, which is so popular in urban legends and movies. I’m a 6’4” tall 8th degree black belt and former bodyguard. I’ve dealt with attackers with knives, icepicks, and other weapons. That’s not on my list of things to fret about. I’m much more frightened by things like pandemics, politicians who put party over the needs of the people, and mishandled technology. Those things are beyond my skill set to combat, and therefore they unnerve me more than a little.

Do you enjoy scaring other people? Why or why not?

You’d think that because I write horror, I’d be delighted to scare the bejeezus out of people, but that’s not really it for me. I don’t write about monsters. Not really. I write about people who fight monsters, which is a heck of a lot different. My stories deal with people of all kinds —from ordinary folks to Special Ops shooters— who are confronted by something bigger and badder than them. In order to survive, and to protect the people they care about, they have to discover/learn information, get tougher, band together, and level up. It’s a celebration of what’s possible when people are pushed to their limits but also realize that they —and the ones they love—are really worth fighting for. This particularly matters to me because I grew up in an abusive household and I survived —and escaped it— by throwing myself into academics (to open doors via education that were otherwise closed to a poor kid) and by studying martial arts so that I was physically tougher than the threats I faced. That worked, and I spent the next 35 years teaching martial arts and self-defense to other people who needed that same advantage. Now I write stories about people overcoming apparently impossible odds. Sure, they might be frightened by the monsters in the book, but I want the readers to feel that it’s possible that my characters can be proxies for them, and they can see that their own survival is possible.

Read More

What Scares You, K.E. Flann?

Just in time for the Halloween season, dear reader, I bring you the perfect book for that favorite monster in your life. K.E. Flann’s newest, How To Survive a Human Attack, is pretty much my soul in book form. It’s funny and clever and dark and super, super weird. An instruction manual for monsters, the book has fun illustrations and a wonderful premise. I’m mad I didn’t write it myself.

Kathy stopped by What Scares You to chat about her very human fears, and I’m delighted to have her. Read on for the terrors of small talk, children in large quantities, and mismatched flip-flops. I warned you.

What is your greatest fear?

Small talk! Nothing sets my heart racing like someone saying, “How have you been?” A clammy sweat breaks out while I scramble to decide what’s “appropriate” to say. I feel like I’m about to lie under oath. How have I been? Well, I’ve had various crises since I saw the person last or some really cool stuff has happened. But I don’t feel like I can say, “My dad died” or “I won an artist award” because even though both of those things have happened since the pandemic started, they would be “big talk” topics, right? Plus, the question asks not only what’s been happening, but how I’m handling what’s happening. And honestly, I have no idea! Am I doing a good job? What does a good job even mean? But if I say, “I’m fine,” that’s vague and maybe even rude? I start mumbling some half-sentences that don’t make sense together and then I realize I can side step the whole thing by just saying, “But oh my gosh, how are YOU?” And my chest is heaving like I’ve crossed a finish line, and I’m thinking, Calm down, you weirdo. At least listen to the answer. I’ll choose spiders or a dark alley any day over small talk.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

When I was about three years old, I was in the car with my mom one day, riding up front (because …1970s). We stopped at a red light behind a school bus full of kids, all talking and laughing and making faces out the rear window. My mom pointed and said, “You’ll be on that bus one day.” I instantly burst into tears. I wailed, “I don’t want to get on that bus. Don’t make me get on that bus.” She laughed. “I don’t mean now.” I was like, “I never want to get on that bus.” It was the worst thing I could imagine – being trapped in there. To me, whenever kids were gathered in critical mass, they seemed one step removed from Lord of the Flies. Honestly, I think I stand by it.

“My mom pointed and said, ‘You’ll be on that bus one day.’ I instantly burst into tears.”

What is your favorite monster/villain?

This is kind of like trying to choose a favorite child! I love them all. But I have special tenderness for the swamp monster because he’s all alone and doesn’t want to be. In swamp monster stories, there’s usually no one else in the world exactly like him. He doesn’t understand why he can’t connect with humans. There’s no rage or hostility in his “monstrous” activities, as we see with other solitary types, like mummies or werewolves. He’s not strangling or eating anyone. He just wants a friend. Or a girlfriend (which I’ll grant is problematic when it comes to relying on abduction rather than dating apps). That’s why “Swamp Monster Makeovers” was one of the earliest pieces I wrote for the book. He’s like someone who just needs a fresh start and a bit of confidence. Initially, when I first published the piece in a magazine, I illustrated the makeovers myself, but in the book, the fabulous illustrator, Joseph McDermott, brought to life so many looks for the swamp monster, rendering his haute couture outfits with hilariously precise detail. It was nice to pamper the swamp monster – he deserves it!

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

Like most recurring nightmares, mine takes place at Walmart. At the end of an aisle, there’s this giant bin of discounted flip-flops, none of which are paired. All these single flip-flops are navy blue with black rubber soles. I clutch one size 8 flip-flop like it’s found treasure. The dream consists of rummaging with my one free hand for a matching size 8. The bin is so deep that I can’t see the bottom. THIS. GOES. ON. FOR. HOURS. I have a physical sensation of holding my breath, and I wake with a gasp.

What the heck? Is my greatest fear missing out on a great deal? In all seriousness, what freaks me out in the dream is that I can’t stop myself. This flip-flop search is obviously not a worthy pursuit, and I know that even while it’s happening, but it’s as if I don’t have control. And isn’t that what all nightmares are about – loss of control?

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

In moments of actual danger, which thankfully have been few, I don’t experience fear the way I expect. For example, the burglar alarm went off in our house one December night at 2 a.m., and I leapt out of bed. My husband hopped up, too, and he kind of stood there with his phone, trying to think what to do. I yelled, “What are you waiting for? Come on, let’s go!” I flung open the door, and charged downstairs, where I imagined the trouble was, which seemed literally in my mind like the only choice. Somewhere behind me, my (six-foot-three) husband was saying, “Wait,” but my adrenaline was too loud. I stopped short in our freezing kitchen, facing a window pried all the way open with a crowbar, the winter wind rattling into the room, blowing on my bare feet. Only then did I think that a plan might have been a good idea. Thankfully, the intruder had been scared out the back door by the alarm. But what would I have done? I still have no idea. I’ve caught myself doing the same thing at other times. In the “fight or flight” moments, I seem to go for “fight,” something that no one is more surprised by than I am. It’s like my mind thinks it’s all down to me. I don’t get scared until after the fact. And then I’m like, Whoa.

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

I read Stephen King’s Cujo when I was thirteen, and the whole ordeal when they’re trapped in the car by the dog is still so vivid. Partly, I think that the setting of the car is genius. We all know that if a car isn’t working or if it’s blocked from moving, you can be incredibly vulnerable. The windows put you on display, and you’re stuck in a seated position, unable to run or get into strong fighting positions. We probably all hate it when someone approaches the car window when we’re stuck at a traffic light. To me, this setting was worse than any scary story that takes place in a house.

But then also, stories in which the dog dies have always wrecked me (and still do). Cujo was the worst combination — the dog as both victim and aggressor. The agony of the book was in that tension.

At the time, I had a terrible little dog named Snickers, who looked like Toto from The Wizard of Oz, but behaved like Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas. He would slip out the door any time we opened it to receive a package or whatever, and he’d run off for miles. He’d scrap with all the neighborhood dogs. I’d been bitten breaking up fights many times. And I loved that dog with everything I had. I spent so much time walking around the neighborhood calling his name and sobbing. Cujo was probably the “right” book at the right time to scare the bejesus out of me.

What scares you most about the writing process?

With fiction and memoir, the hardest part to me is the first draft, when I don’t know if something is going to become anything. I am terrified of working for a long time on something only to discover it’s awful and boring. Sometime during the fifth draft or whatever, there’s a moment of full-body, existential relief when scenes become vivid to me or I figure out what I was trying to say.

With humor, though, it’s such fun because it’s the opposite. In the early draft, or even the first draft, I kind of know if it’s going to work. If the concept itself doesn’t make me laugh, I don’t even bother working on the piece. I feel like there’s less fear with it in a way. I mean, of course, there’s the fear that other people won’t think it’s funny, but on the other hand, part of me is like, Well, they’re wrong. And that’s an incredibly funny and scary thought, isn’t it? When I have a thought like that, I feel sure humans are monsters.

K.E. Flann’s prose has appeared in McSweeney’s, The North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and others. In addition to How to Survive a Human Attack, a guide for movie monsters from Running Press/Hachette, her published books include Write On: Secrets to Crafting Better Stories, from Stay Thirsty Publishing, and two award-winning short story collections, Get a Grip and Smoky Ordinary.

What Scares You, Hank Phillippi Ryan?

I’m so thrilled to welcome one of my favorite people to this blog today. Master storyteller, talented reporter, and seriously one of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met, Hank Phillippi Ryan is a true force. Only my 9-year-old son has more energy than her. Her newest thriller, Her Perfect Life, was released this month and already went into a second printing. So there’s plenty more copies for you to order!

She also, as you’ll read below, shares my fear of being too optimistic. Among other things. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what scares this phenomenal woman, so let’s get to it…

What is your greatest fear?

That is such a strange question, because it seems like that should be easy. But I think my greatest fear is that some kind of buggy leggy antenna-waving creature will crawl on me. I know that’s ridiculous. I fear grasshoppers, when they leap up and jump on you. I also fear being old and alone. I can almost not face even the idea of that. Oh, also. Making a mistake. That haunts me. Or saying something inadvertently that hurts someone.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

Watching The Twilight Zone. For some reason my parents let us watch it, and I loved it, but the episodes about the zoo, and the astronaut, and the cookbook…oh, I can’t even think about it. Even though I was so enthusiastic about it, I was way too young to watch that!  I was also too young to watch that movie with the pod people. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Someone told me the story of it at night, over a campfire at Girl Scout camp, and that was traumatic enough, but then the counselors tried to convince us THEY were pod people, and that was lastingly terrifying.  I saw it anyway, peer pressure, and I can still envision it.

“Someone told me the story of Invasion of the Body Snatchers at Girl Scout camp, and then the counselors tried to convince us THEY were pod people, and that was lastingly terrifying.” 

Is there any fear you’ve overcome?

Yes. I used to be ridiculously frightened of flying. Isn’t that crazy, knowing how my life is now? And I can tell you I once went to the extent of taking the train, 23 hours, from Boston to Chicago in order to avoid flying. I understood the physics. I took a few flying lessons. Even that didn’t help me get over it. But you know what? On my first book tour with Prime Time I had to fly somewhere. I had no choice. But I was so happy about doing it that I think the joy erased the fear. And now, I fly all over the place–in the before times at least–and the fear does not cross my mind.

What is your weirdest fear?

Comes right out of flying, see above. I am afraid that if I say something hopeful or optimistic or specific out loud, it will jinx it. This is a very difficult way to live. And I try to avoid it. And now I have said it and now it is out there.

Read More