Posts tagged "fiction"

What Scares You, Shannon Kirk?

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

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

What is your greatest fear?

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

What are your phobias?

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

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

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

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

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

THE WINDOW PLANT OF TERROR!!!!

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

What scares you most about the writing process?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closed-in spaces!

You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?

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

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

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

What Scares You, Art Taylor?

My husband, Art Taylor, is one of the most stable, rational, smart people I know. So I was excited to read his responses here, since I always wondered what rattles him (besides eyeballs…I know that from watching horror movies with him).

We’re also celebrating the release this month of Art’s much-anticipated collection of stories, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74, which you can buy right here. The collection includes all his award-winning stories, including “English 398: Fiction Workshop,” which won the Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2019. 

Let’s see what he has to say about fear. 

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

Like a lot of kids, I was always one who stared suspiciously at the closet door or at the tree outside my bedroom window (one of the reasons why the movie Poltergeist impacted me so strongly). But beyond those common fears, one memory jumped immediately to mind as soon as I read this question.  

Woods and fields backed up against the small neighborhood where I grew up in Richlands, North Carolina, and the boys next door and my brother and I spent a lot of our days tromping around out there—exploring the wilderness, cutting down small trees with our axes and machetes, building forts. One day, some group of us were climbing over a fallen tree by a small creek, and after I jumped from the trunk back to the ground, I turned around and saw that I’d landed near a snake hole—with a snake’s head peeking out, suddenly staring me down. The other boys still up on the tree trunk urged me on in different directions. Just step away slowly! Just jump back as fast as you can! Neither extreme seemed appealing—and so I just stood there, waiting for… what? I didn’t know. Petrified is the word that stands out—not only as a synonym for fear but also because I felt completely frozen, like I shouldn’t, couldn’t, move. Finally, one of the other boys crept up behind the hole and quickly covered it with the flat part of his own machete. But that snake’s eyes…. I remember them well.  

Side note: Those fields and those boys next door were part of the inspiration for “The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74”—though this specific memory wasn’t included in the story.  

Do you have a recurring nightmare?  

For many years, I dreamed pretty regularly about tidal waves—with one or two specific images recurring: either a large wave rising high toward a tall building on the coast (as if I was an onlooker to what was happening) or else water crashing against the downstairs of my family’s house at the beach, pushing through the windows, flooding everything, and me in the middle of it all this time, fighting not to drawn in the onrush.  

I’m not sure why these images have haunted me so consistently. Something about loss of control maybe, of being overwhelmed? There’s definitely a helplessness I felt whenever the nightmare hit.  

I’d landed near a snake hole—with a snake’s head peeking out, suddenly staring me down.

How do you deal with fear?  

Take a deep breath, and push through as best I can. Hope for the best. Be ready for the worst. 

When I was in elementary school, I became inordinately panicked about a doctor’s visit—crazy upset with fear about having to get a shot, crying, thrashing around, even to the point of almost fighting against my pediatrician. Rose Pully was her name—a legend really in our part of North Carolina—and Dr. Pully wrestled me to the exam table one visit when I was upset about a booster shot, held me tight, looked me straight in the eye, and told me, firmly, sternly: “When it hurts, you can cry all you want. But until then, until it actually hurts, you don’t cry, you understand?”  

Her words—the sternness behind them—startled me into silence. And those words have stayed with me these many decades later. (I’ve told this story to our son over the years as well, and now he quotes it back to me as well.)  

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

When you first read my story “Parallel Play,” you told me two things: You thought it was the best story I’d ever written, and you never, ever wanted to read it again. At its core, “Parallel Play” is about being a parent, protecting a child, and how far you’d go to protect your child. Would you die for your child? Would you…?  

I have to admit that I didn’t realize myself how disturbing the story was—not until you told me. (Not sure this is the kind of “scariest” you meant with the question, Tara, but….) 

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

In my teen years, I went through a period where I read everything I could by Stephen King—and Pet Sematary troubled me to no end. The idea of love and loss and grief and wanting to get your loved one back—and then getting your wish, but not how you expected. Completely engrossing, and ultimately scare-me-senseless horrific.   

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

As I’m writing this, a news alert just popped up that the Trump administration is proposing changing school menus to allow more potatoes and pizza and fewer vegetables and fruits—and it crossed my mind that his particular brand of villainy too often seems like caricature, parody, an Onion article: Dastardly Dan stroking his mustache. 

More seriously: I’m gonna skip the more villainous villains (Darth Vader, Hannibal, Voldemort) and go with Tom Ripley from Patricia Highsmith’s novels. Protagonist? Villain? Ripley’s a complex and compelling figure. As Tom says in the brilliant movie adaptation in 1999 (played there by Matt Damon), “whatever you do, however terrible, however hurtful, it all makes sense, doesn’t it, in your head? You never meet anybody that thinks they’re a bad person.”  

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

I know you expect me to say heights because I have such tremendous anxiety about them; between atrium hotels and some hiking adventures that have taken us too close to cliff-side, I’ve had more opportunities for that fear to show itself. But it completely ruins me to read a story or see a movie where someone is buried alive in a box—that’s truly terrifying.  

“To see a movie where someone is buried alive in a box–that’s truly terrifying.”


What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why? 

Clowns. They thrive on being unpredictable, and too often an undercurrent of madness or malice shimmers beneath all that face paint, no matter how wide the smile. (Don’t get me started on Stephen King’s It.)  

ART TAYLOR is the author of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense, to be published February 28His previous book, On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. His short fiction has won an Edgar Award, an Anthony Award, and several Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. He teaches at George Mason University.

What Scares You, Laura Ellen Scott?

Happiest Halloween! The best day of the year, and not just because it’s my birthday!

My birthday gift to myself–and to all of you–is getting to chat with Laura Ellen Scott about the things that most disturb her.

Laura is not only a dear friend, but also one of the weirdest writers I know–and that is a high compliment. Check out her books here, and also one of my favorite stories she’s ever written right here.

But what we all want to know is: What scares you, LES? Read on to find out:

 What is your greatest fear?

I’m evenly afraid of illness, driving, heights, and spider babies. These are all self-explanatory, except for heights: I’m great at going up, but lose it on the way back down. I had to butt-scoot down the pyramids in Tikal, while all these Guatemalan women in high heels trotted past me. Related–after my first book tour, I developed a fear of flying. (That’s not my greatest fear, just my most inconvenient one.) I guess the worst thing would be if I was taking care of a sick spider-baby and I had to drive it to a hospital on a cliff to see the only in-plan arachno-pediatrician.

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

Earliest would be Uncle Steve’s fingers. There weren’t a lot of them. 

This would have been my scariest memory had I known about it:  There was a large, white iron crib sealed up behind the wall of my old room. I was already grown when I spotted it through a tiny hole in the paneling. When I asked my parents about it and they said, “Oh, we had nowhere else to put that old crib,” like that was a reasonable answer. 

My parents were weird people who made weird decisions and weren’t very parenty. They treated me like a little crime-buddy and took me to abandoned houses to look for stuff left behind, and I was pretty scared that we would get caught by the bandits that lived there. Get it? I thought they were “bandit houses.”

Here’s a pic of a dude who thought my house was abandoned. Turns out he was stealing crap, like vases and towels, to sell at his mother-in-law’s weekly yard sale. 

Most terrifying photo ever.

What is your weirdest fear?

Definitely horses. I have no idea why they don’t spend every minute of the day trying to pound humans into jelly.  

What are your phobias?

Street grates and hatches. Condiments. Toddlers with pickles.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Two things: One, that I might get over it. Two, that I might stick with it until long after people stop reading. You’ll be able to come see me “write” as an exhibit at an historical village alongside the coopers.

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

I wrote a kind of ghost story that appeared in The Collagist called “A Picture of a Man in a Top Hat,” where the neighbor says to the narrator, “Don’t look at me, and don’t look in the shed.” That’s actually what a guy said to me on the bus one day, right as I was getting off at my house. I went inside and stared out the back window at our shed until my husband came home. I have a chapbook called Curio that’s mainly stories I wrote after people were weird to me. People are often weird to me, by the way.

What is your favorite type of monster? Why?

I love an original demon, a personal, closet-monster–like The Babadook or Frank from Donnie Darko–as opposed to the unleashed-on-society monster. Although now that I put those two side by side in my mind, maybe I just like monsters with weird eyes.

What’s worse: clowns or spiders? Why?

Clowns, because they’re a drag. I love spiders. Remember when I dreamed you had a spider baby? You never did, though. Not yet.

“Maybe I just like monsters with weird eyes.”

You are driving alone on a road at night and your headlights illuminate a man standing alone with a lantern in the middle of the road. What do you do? Also, is it more or less scary if it’s a little kid in pajamas?

Both are pretty scary because I don’t drive, so it’s extra-bad if I’m out driving at night. That man and that little kid should just dive in the ditch and cling to each other and hope I don’t plow into them.

***

Laura Ellen Scott is the author of four novels, including THE MEAN BONE IN HER BODY and CRYBABY LANE, the first two books in the New Royal Mysteries from Pandamoon Publishing. The series is set in a fictional college/prison town in Ohio, and the third book, BLUE BILLY, is on the way. Seriously, it really is.

Best book launch week ever.

One Night Gone launched last Tuesday, October 1, and what a wonderful week it’s been. I’ve been so overwhelmed with all the enthusiasm and excitement from friends and readers–you all are the best! Thank you!

I kicked off my first month of events with a book launch party at One More Page Books and More in Arlington, Virginia. I love OMP–they hosted my very first launch party for Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons so many years ago, and I’m still grateful to them for taking a chance on my little chapbook. Eileen and crew are so supportive of local authors. We are blessed to have them here in the D.C. area.

I also had a bunch of other writings, interviews, and reviews published around the Internets. My essay about my mom’s death, ghosts, grief, and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was published in CrimeReads. The best part of this was hearing all the amazing stories from people who have also lost a loved one. I feel very seen.

I also had a Very Important Scientific Study over at Criminal Element. Meaning, my son and I watched A LOT of Scooby Doo episodes and ranked our top 10 monsters. Read it. Then fight us.

The Beast of Bottomless Lake

Bookish featured my essay about the three things that creep me out the most (hint: KRAKEN) and why I chose to write about them.

I chatted with Elena Hartwell on her web site, and also with Leslie Pietrzyk over at Work in Progress. Marni Graff allowed me to blab on about the challenges of switching from writing novels to writing short stories and back again. My husband Art Taylor invited me to discuss the beginning of One Night Gone on his popular blog series The First Two Pages. And I had a really wonderful chat with Meredith Cole and Kristin Swenson on the podcast The Writer’s Story.

The cocktails I paired with my characters were featured in “Drinks with Reads” at Mystery Playground.

And Washington Independent Review of Books featured a really great review of the book, in which I finally unlocked the ultimate level of achievement: a book that’s dubbed “unputdownable.”

WHEW! What a whirlwind. And the fun continues tonight when I get to chat with the always amazing Bethanne Patrick at another favorite D.C. bookstore: Politics and Prose at the Wharf. Hope to see you there–or at another event soon.

Main photo credit by David McDonald

Cover RE-REVEAL: One Night Gone

Surprise! Just when you thought I had a cover….I have a new cover.

The smart, lovely team at Graydon House/Harlequin decided that my original cover didn’t quite speak enough to the suspense/thriller genre that my book really fits in. So they gave it a facelift! And a beautiful one at that.

For those of you who were fans of the creepy house in the original–good news! It’s still there. But we’ve shifted focus slightly to the stormy night sky instead of the sandy beach, giving the overall look one with more menace and intrigue. Check it out!

Same house, added creepiness!