Posts tagged "horror"

What Scares You, Alma Katsu?

Let’s welcome Alma Katsu to the What Scares You blog! Her latest book, The Deep, is about the Titanic and hauntings, and it was released right smack in the middle of the current pandemic, so you should buy it to support her and read it to scare yourself silly.

Alma writes really terrifying books that freak out a lot of people, but she’s an absolute delight of a person. I had the pleasure of chatting with her at an event in D.C. late last year and immediately fell in love with her. So of course I wanted to find out what really scares her. You will not be disappointed!

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

I grew up in a very spooky little town in Massachusetts. It seemed there was some horrific legend associated with many of the buildings and such. There were a ton of old cemeteries, and two funeral parlors each a block in different directions from my house. We lived in an old, rundown Victorian that was also creepy as hell, and growing up Roman Catholic gives you this weird, superstitious outlook on life. The total of all these experiences is that I grew up believing in the supernatural.

I don’t believe in any of that stuff now. It’s a little sad that all that kind of mystery has been taken out of my life. But I’d had a strange career in defense and the intelligence business and been exposed to really horrible things that people do (genocides! Mass atrocities!) and so stories like that kind of pale in comparison. For a long time, I didn’t scare, really, and now that I’m retired it’s only coming back to me slowly.

And I write horror stories! Oh, the irony.

Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?

I don’t not believe in ghosts but it’s getting harder to sustain this possibility every day. My husband likes those ghost hunting reality shows and so we watch a fair amount of them (I keep him company), and I haven’t seen anything that seems conclusive, not to me. And yet we keep watching them.

What was your worst nightmare ever?

When I was very young, I dreamed once that the earth ran out of water and some people were committing suicide by setting fire to themselves, because no one would waste the water needed to put them out. And my father decided this was what we’d do, so he had us sit in the living room and set the house on fire. I could see the flames devouring the house, but my family were all sitting on the couch, not budging, and finally I ran away from them because I didn’t want to burn, but I felt awful about not dying with them. Then I woke up, but the dream has stayed with me for decades.

Yeah, my home life wasn’t fucked up at all.

“I dreamed once that the earth ran out of water and some people were committing suicide by setting fire to themselves, because no one would waste the water needed to put them out.”

 Is there anything you are terrified of eating? Why?

By saying “terrified of eating” you imply that I’d actually consider eating it. I stopped eating things I don’t want to eat a long time ago. You have to understand, I’m half Japanese and grew up watching my mother eat things that any normal person would not consider edible, like dried fish heads. Saturday mornings usually began with my mother pickling tiny octopuses in a jar. So, no, I cannot be shamed or cajoled into eating weird things.

The question of eating weird things came up, naturally, with my book The Hunger, which is about the Donner Party. You cannot write about the Donner Party without studying up on cannibalism or asking yourself if you would consider resorting to cannibalism if the circumstances were right. (The answer to that is no.) I found out, on book tour, that most people don’t want you to bring up cannibalism at all but some people, a very small minority, really really want to talk about it. And oddly know a lot about it.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Probably the normal writer fear that I won’t be able to get the current novel to work. Just because you wrote one book, or a dozen, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to write the next one.

As for being able to write things that scare people, my hang-up is not writing something that completely freaks people out. Because of my time being around genocidaires and torturers (see above) kind of burned out my front-end filter, and things that didn’t seem like a big deal to me kind of freaked normal people out (read my first book, The Taker, if you want to see what I mean). 

One of the things I learned from that experience and from writing horror novels is that everybody thinks that what they like is “normal”. I get bad reviews from people who think my books shouldn’t be considered horror at all, and from people who think they’re terrifying. And each one of them thinks their level is set perfectly. It’s a challenge for all writers, how far to take “it”, whatever the “it” is in your story. As artists, we’re supposed to challenge people. The problem is too many people these days don’t want to be challenged.

 What’s worse: being haunted by a demon or having a stalker?

I don’t mean to take the stalker thing lightly, but people underestimate how hard it is to be prosecuted for murder. I mean, if there was no known association between you and this stalker you could probably kill him, and they’d never connect you to the body or his disappearance. Problem eliminated.

Alma Katsu is the award-winning author of five novels that combine history with the supernatural. THE HUNGER (2018) was named one of NPR’s Favorite 100 Horror Stories and was nominated for a Stoker and Locus Magazine award for best horror novel. Her debut novel, THE TAKER, was one of Booklist’s Top Ten Debut Novels of 2011. THE DEEP (2020), her most recent novel, is a reimagining of the sinking of the Titanic with a horror twist. Her first spy novel, RED WIDOW, will be published spring of 2021.

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.


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, 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.