Posts tagged "short stories"

What Scares You, Stacy Woodson?

Stacy Woodson

Happy New Year! I can’t believe I’m entering my fifth year of doing these interviews. I feel like I’ve learned so many interesting things about people’s fears, and I hope you have, too.

Excited to kick off 2024 with Stacy Woodson, a fantastic short story writer and friend. Stacy’s newest published piece is a novella, “The Cadillac Job,” the first in Michael Bracken’s latest crime serial from Down and Out Books. Each episode features Huey’s Auto Repair, an auto shop in Dallas that doubles as a chop shop, and the ruthless man who runs it.

Read on to hear about all the things that freak Stacy out, including snakes, dolls, and incredibly large rodents. Also, if you’d like her son to lead us all on a ghost hunting tour, please raise your hand….RIGHT? I’m so ready.

What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is something happening to my children. I’ve deployed to a combat zone, jumped out of airplanes, and fought cancer. This, by far, is what scares me the most.

What is your weirdest fear?

This question immediately made me think of one of my college roommates. She’s afraid of melon—cantaloupe, honeydew—anything in the melon family. For me, it’s rodents of unusual size. (Yes, I’m a Princess Bride fan.) I was working background for Wonder Woman 1984. Between takes, I saw a rat the size of a schnauzer run across the sidewalk. I wasn’t expecting it, and I think that made it worse.

How do you deal with fear?

When I’m afraid, I get angry. Talk to whatever the fear is like it’s a tangible thing—which usually involves a string of expletives and sarcasm. Then, I take the hill (so to speak). If the fear is tied to a yes-or-no choice that I can make, I push myself to say yes. For example, I hate public speaking and always say “yes” hoping it will get easier. (I’m still hoping.)

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions. How did you deal with it?

My nine-year-old son is obsessed with ghost hunting. He even has equipment. We visit places that are rumored to be haunted, take ghost tours, etc. Our favorite place is Ocracoke Island. It’s rich with history, and we often stay at a haunted inn called Blackbeard’s Lodge. Room nine is known for paranormal activity, and the innkeeper let us in late one night. My son claims to have seen a ghost in the mirror and bolted out the door. I went after him and didn’t stay long enough to confirm it.

“My son claims to have seen a ghost in the mirror and bolted out the door. I went after him and didn’t stay long enough to confirm it.”

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What Scares You, C.M. Muller?

I am excited to be wrapping up the What Scares You year with C.M. Muller! My first-ever horror short story was published this year by C.M. in the very cool anthology Come October, which features a lot of very creepy stories about leaves (among other things) and is available here if you’d like to spook yourself.

C.M. also just edited the fourth installment of Chthonic Matter, which will be out on the 21st or you can pre-order now.

After you get all your ordering done, read on to discover all the things that terrify this master of horror…

What’s the scariest story and/or book you’ve read?

I’ve always been particularly fond of Jason A. Wyckoff’s story “Knott’s Letter” (Black Horse & Other Strange Stories, Tartarus Press, 2012), an epistolary tale that still gives me the creeps. As far as novels go, I would have to say that Michael Aronovitz’s Alice Walks takes top honor, a ghost story beyond compare. Both of these horrors have sunk deep into my DNA.

What’s your favorite horror movie or television series?

Lately, I’ve really enjoyed the weird films of Panos Cosmatos, which include Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy. He’s not very prolific, but has such a unique vision. One of his short films was featured on my newest favorite series: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. While I loved each episode, I thought Panos’s contribution (“The Viewing,” starring Peter Weller) was the highlight.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I must have been ten or so, and a friend of mine (who lived across the street) invited me over to watch Alien. We sat in front of his blocky “big screen” ’80s TV, growing more and more terrified as each scene washed over us. When the movie ended, it was dark outside, and I was absolutely terrified to cross the street. I ran as fast as I could to my front door, all the while imagining an acid-filled xenomorph hot on my trail.

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What Scares You, Barb Goffman?

I’ve known Barb Goffman since before I started writing crime fiction myself. I was impressed not only with the way she crafted her stories, but also the way she talked about them. Whenever I heard her talk about her stories, it immediately made me want to read them. Apparently, many other people feel the same way, since Barb has been nominated more than 35 times for major crime awards! (One of those is her current Agatha Award nomination for the story “Beauty and the Beyotch,” which you can read in the #29 issue of Sherlock Holmes’s Mystery Magazine.

I was excited to chat with her about what scares her and possibly inspires all those great story ideas. Read on to discover the one horror movie she watched that made her avoid them forever (honestly, I wish it had been a better one) and the creepiest room in her childhood home.

What is your greatest fear?

Being buried. Some people would say being buried alive, and yes, that prospect scares the crap out of me. But the idea of being buried while dead also freaks me out because I’m claustrophobic and—even though it’s nonsensical—I keep thinking, what if I’m sentient inside my body after death, and not only can’t I move but I’m stuck inside this narrow box. FOREVER. It makes it far more understandable why Lord Voldemort wanted to avoid death at all costs.

What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?

I was maybe four years old, watching TV in our den. My mom was upstairs in the kitchen, sitting with her back to the back door, which in those days wouldn’t have been locked during the day. A man walked past the den’s sliding-glass door and started up the steps to the back door. I opened my mouth to let her know that the man was sneaking up on her, but no sound came out. After two failed tries to cry out, I scrambled up the stairs and found my voice on the way. It turned out the man was the meter reader, and all was well. But for decades afterward I had dreams in which I’d be in danger and would try to scream for help but no sound would come out.

What is your weirdest fear?

A lot of people are afraid of public speaking. Not me—except if I have family in the audience. Then my heart pounds like crazy. Considering that family is what gives most people comfort, it’s weird that family triggers my fear.

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

My story “Evil Little Girl” is about a twelve-year-old ostracized girl who is repeatedly raped at sleepaway camp. I don’t find this story particularly scary, but it was critiqued by the writers group I was in when I wrote it, and one of the women said that when she first read it, she thought I needed to cut back on the details, that they were too horrifying. But when she read the story a second time to mark the spots that needed pruning, she couldn’t find them. I’d written the rape scenes sparely, but the emotions were real enough that she saw the details in her head—details that weren’t on the page. I guess that qualifies as the scariest thing I’ve written (though my gothic story “Nightmare” might run a close second). Both stories appear in my collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.

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What Scares You, Christopher Allen?

Today I get to deep-dive into the pools of fear with my very dear friend Christopher Allen. Chris and I were co-editors of SmokeLong Quarterly for many moons, and now he has taken it over and done many beautiful things. If you are a flash fiction writer or reader, you need to know SmokeLong.

Christopher is a man of many talents, though. A fine writer, editor, and singer among them. There is no other person (besides Helen) that I’d want to do karaoke with. He’s smart and hilarious and reliable and snarky and kind and all the things. He is also great at entertaining young people by telling them how to say silly phrases (“I pooped my pants”) in German.

I can go on and on, but you’re really here for the Woman in Wood that marred his childhood, so let’s proceed, shall we?

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

I grew up in the Baptist Church with demons and The Devil and the very real threat of hellfire. The woodgrain on my bedroom door—the side that would face the hallway if closed but never was—had the rough outline of a woman’s face exactly at face height. My mother said I just needed to close my door and I wouldn’t have to see her, but I was terrified of sleeping in my room with the door closed. Sometimes when the moon shone just right through my window at night, I would wake up with the woman staring at me—still better than being in the room “alone” with the door closed.

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

Besides sleeping in a room with the door closed? Quite a few. When I was a teenager, I thought I’d never be able to live alone. I was so afraid of the dark, of being alone in a house, and being left alone in the house with my brother. I was also afraid of needles (anything sharp) and swimming in the ocean. I was terrified of my brother and freaked out by heights. These days I enjoy a dark empty house, have no fear of needles, and have a scuba-diving license though I’m still afraid of swimming in the ocean. My brother died in 2007. But heights. Oh god. My body turns to goo.

What are your phobias?

Heights. I am afraid to stand on anything I can see through, especially if it is very high. Zip-line platforms scare the hell out of me, but the zip-line itself is great. Once I’m harnessed and flying, I’m fine. I’m afraid of people walking toward me on the street. If I’m walking with someone and also approaching someone who is walking toward us, I make sure the person I’m walking with is between me and the other person when we cross. Does that make sense? I feel like I should draw a diagram. In a hotel, very much like David from Schitt’s Creek, I’m afraid of sleeping on the side of the bed closest to the door. Alexis would have had to buck up and take that bed if I’d been David.

Person sitting with feet dangling over city.

“I am afraid to stand on anything I can see through, especially if it is very high.”

Do you have a recurring nightmare?

I used to have a recurring nightmare that The Devil was laughing at me. The dream was usually set in the church I attended 3 times a weeks from birth to university. I would usually be in a Sunday school room with my friends. The laughing would begin as a whisper somewhere above us, then crescendo until the ceiling began to crumble above our heads. Once I woke up and could still hear the laughing.

When I was younger I walked in my sleep almost every night. Convinced that someone was trying to kill me (the recurring bit I guess), I left my room and roamed our house so often that my parents put a croquet set in front of my (open) door so they’d hear me when I tried to leave my room. I guess I got good at moving the croquet set because I sometimes woke up under the kitchen table.

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

I grew up singing on stages for lots of people, so I’m not afraid to sing on stage. In fact, it doesn’t take much for me to burst into song. Public speaking, I discovered at university, is different. I hyperventilate and stammer quite a lot.

Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions? How did you deal with it?

As I’m writing this, I’m discovering that my childhood bedroom was an awful place. Maybe it would have been a nicer place without all the SATAN IS REAL talk I dealt with every single day of my youth.

I once saw a woman’s face surrounded by sparkles rise from the foot of my bed, which sent me into hysterics, which provoked my mother’s presence and her slapping me repeatedly, screaming “Snap out of it!” I still know exactly what the woman looked like.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

That I won’t have the time, the energy, and the talent to write the important story I should have told years ago.

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

I can’t watch cruelty or graphic violence of any kind. The images stay with me for decades. This means that I don’t watch horror at all.

Do you like Halloween? If so, what’s your favorite part? If not, why?

I have actually never had Halloween. My parents did not allow my brother and me to participate. We turned all our lights out on Halloween at 6pm and did not answer the door. The next morning the trees in our front yard were always rolled. Oh wait, once I was invited to a “fall sleepover” at a Baptist church across town. I was probably 14? When I arrived, it soon became clear that I didn’t know anyone. How fun? This Baptist church was considerably more liberal than my parents. They’d actually created a haunted house in the church, which I immediately disappeared into. A few minutes later I found a piano, sat down and started playing spooky music, which scare the shit out of everyone there because they had no idea who I was. This is my favorite—and only—Halloween experience.

Christopher Allen is the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press, 2018). His work has appeared widely and is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2022 and Flash Fiction America (Norton) in February 2023. Allen has judged The Bath Flash Fiction Award, Micro Madness, the Cambridge Flash Fiction Award, and is the 2023 flash fiction judge for the Bridport Prize. He has a BA in music business from Belmont University and an MA in English from Middle Tennessee State University. Allen is a nomad.

What Scares You, Dan Malmon?

Coming off my Bouchercon 2022 high, where I got to hang with some of the best people on the planet, I am so pleased to be uploading this chat with Dan Malmon. Who, yes, is one of those best people I just got to see in person. From the moment I heard he and his wife Kate were editing an anthology in which all the stories had to kill him off, I knew that they were my people. I was correct about that.

So, friends, grab your coffee or tea or vodka and read on to discover all the things that terrify Dan Malmon. And that fierce (but incredibly adorable) doggie that will protect him.

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

A few years ago (Maybe more? Time has been really weird the last few years.), my wife Kate and I were visiting friends in Chicago. One of our very favorite cities. Great food, great folks. While out seeing the sights, we decided to go to the Willis Tower/Sears Tower. To get to the observation deck, you must go through a long cattle line. We were just packed in there, with no room to move. After a period of slow, shuffling movement, the line just stopped. Everyone grumbled and waited for the line to move again. No biggie. But for me, the room started to spin. Cold sweats, shortness of breath. I haven’t ever really cared about close quarters before, but at that moment there was no greater need in the world than to get the hell out of there. Not gonna lie, that freaked me out badly.

Once we got to the top, I was fine. The tower has these clear plastic enclosures that extend out from the building. You can step inside and it’s as if you are floating in midair, high above the city. I was first in line: I knew in my heart of hearts that this was something I had to do. That if I chickened out here, I would regret it forever. I paid for the ticket, now it was time to take the ride. I finally got to the front of the line, and I thought to myself “HERE GOES…!”  And I stepped out over the line from sturdy floor to clear plastic cubicle… and it was the greatest thing ever.

That being said, my palms were sweating as I was typing all of this.

“I knew if I chickened out here, I would regret it forever.”

Do you believe in ghosts?

Probably? I haven’t encountered any, but I’m not saying no. I have friends that swear that they have stayed in haunted hotels. The stories they tell are freaky as hell. But I honestly get more chills from going back to childhood neighborhoods, driving past your old schools. Those are the ghosts that you carry with you, and they are always around.

What is your greatest fear as an editor?

My greatest fear when we were putting out KILLING MALMON was that people wouldn’t see past the gag and see the exceptional work that we were showcasing in the book. The hook was simple, “Somewhere in your story, a character named Dan Malmon must die. The story can be scary, funny, happy, or sad, but somewhere in the story he’s gotta die.” It was a fun premise that opened the door to tons of different stories. People seemed to like it, and the experience was incredible. But I was worried that the public would think of it solely as a gag and ignore the quality of the stories inside. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?

The Omen and The Exorcist. I’m not religious but there’s something about those films.

Can’t do it.


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“The Long-Term Tenant” is a finalist for a Thriller Award!

I was super excited to get the email that my story “The Long-Term Tenant,” published last year in the July/August 2019 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, is a finalist for International Thriller Writers’ 2020 Thriller Award for Best Short Story.

Kudos to EQMM, which has four stories on the list of finalists! Here’s the list:

Hector Acosta — “Turistas” (Down & Out Books)
Michael Cowgill — “Call Me Chuckles” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Tara Laskowski — “The Long-Term Tenant” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Lia Matera — “Snow Job” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)
Twist Phelan — “Fathers-in-Law” (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

I don’t often like my short stories after they’ve been published–I mean, I like them ok, but I mostly just see errors or things I could’ve fixed. But I’m particularly proud of “The Long-Term Tenant,” and I’m so pleased that it’s been recognized in this way. It was a really fun story to write–I’ve always found the desert a spooky place where anything can happen.

If you’d like to read the story, you can buy a back issue of EQMM (while you’re at it, subscribe!) or you can hear me reading it on the EQMM podcast right here!

Thank you to ITW and to the judges for this honor, and congratulations to all the finalists in all categories! I look forward to tuning in for the winners in all the categories in July.

What Scares You, Adam Meyer?

Whenever I hear Adam Meyer talk about his stories, I am immediately interested. Maybe it’s the screenwriter in him, but he’s got a great talent for reducing down a plot line into a great pitch that hooks you in. I’ve bought several anthologies just because I heard what Adam’s story was about and wanted to read it.

Therefore, of course, I wanted to find out what creeps him out, since he does a pretty great job of creeping his readers out. Read on to find out…

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

For a long time, one of my greatest fears was public speaking. I can still remember standing up for the 4th grade spelling bee and being barely able to speak, let alone spell! This fear stayed with me into adulthood, and in my early thirties I decided to conquer it by trying the scariest thing I could think of: standup comedy.

I took a class with a professional standup, and we worked on our routines over several weeks. At the end we were supposed to do ten minutes in front of an audience, and I almost bailed. But my classmates and teacher were so supportive, and I practiced like crazy, and when the time came, I did my ten minutes and had a blast.

I’ve done standup a few times since, and it’s always terrifying and usually great fun. But when I get up in front of a group of people to talk about writing? It doesn’t really scare me, not anymore.

What are your phobias?

Claustrophobia is my big one! It doesn’t often come up, but sometimes I’ll be in the backseat of a car or on a long bus ride and before I know it, whoa! I feel like the walls are closing in, and my heart races, and I’m white-knuckling it the whole way.

My other phobia is dogs. The neighborhood where I grew up in New York City sat against this huge stretch of wild marsh. My parents had forbid us from going in there, so naturally my little brother and I went in there all the time! These wild dogs would roam around, and I can remember one barking fiercely and chasing after us. In retrospect, this scraggly mutt was probably more scared of us than we were of him, but the fear I felt that day has stayed with me.

These wild dogs would roam around, and I can remember one barking fiercely and chasing after us.

What is your greatest fear as a writer?

Like almost every writer I know, I fear the blank page. Starting a project always scares me, even if I have a good sense of where it’s going. What if it’s no good? What if I run out of ideas midway? What if people read it and think it sucks?

After the first few pages, that fear usually drops to a low murmur. But as much as I fear beginnings, I also fear endings, especially on longer projects. What if I can’t stick the landing. And what’s the next project going to be?

All of this said, I like to be scared when I write—that’s how I know I’m challenging myself, and that’s where the fun lies.

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

My first novel, The Last Domino. There’s nothing supernatural in it, but it’s about a school shooting and is told from the point of view of the perpetrator and his best friend. I remember writing the scene late in the novel where the shooting unfolds—I did it several times, throwing it away and starting over.

The last time, I put myself into a kind of trance, imagining myself in that school with bullets flying. It all seemed so real that I wrote down what I felt and saw and that was the version that made it into the final book.  

A colleague told me that when his teenage daughter read it, she was traumatized … which I feel badly about, and also take as a compliment. My own daughter is seven now and she’s asked when she can read The Last Domino. My wife told her not until she’s sixteen. I say when she graduates college … maybe.

What’s the scariest movie or TV show you’ve ever seen?

I can remember so many from when I was a kid, maybe only ten or twelve years old. In Search Of, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, is a favorite. The stories of ghosts and aliens were all supposedly true and that added to the delicious scariness.

I also remember my brother and I had a babysitter who’d let us stay up late on Sarturday nights to watch Tales from the Darkside. The opening titles alone were terrifying!

Later, I watched the original Halloween on VHS in our neighbor’s basement. The masked face of Michael Myers, the eerily repetitive John Carpenter score. I was terrified and hooked.

But the absolute scariest thing I remember watching as a kid was A Nightmare on Elm Street. Those images of Freddy Krueger have stayed with me for over thirty years now, and if I put on that DVD late at night, chances are I’ll have nightmares. But so worth it, because I still love that movie.

How do you deal with fear?

For years, I was terrified of the dentist. Sitting in that oversized chair, feeling the scrape of metal on my teeth, hearing the whine of the drill …

This is a somewhat common fear—Marathon Man, after all—but I took it seriously. I long avoided the dentist whenever possible, and when I finally had to deal with some problem teeth, I vowed to face my fear instead of running from it.

What I did was learn to meditate. It’s a great tool. Incredibly simple, but it’s been a lifesaver for me, and I use it in almost any situation where fear comes up—including at the dentist’s office, where I now go for regular checkups. Of course, it helps that my current dentist is a super nice guy … and looks nothing like Laurence Olivier.

Adam Meyer is a fiction writer and screenwriter. His latest short stories appear in the anthologies Crime Travel, the Joni Mitchell-inspired The Beat of Black Wings, and Seascape: Best New England Crime 2019. He’s written several true-crime TV series and TV movies, including the upcoming film Deadly Ransom. He’s also the author of the novel The Last Domino and is currently finishing his second novel, Missing Rachel.

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.

My first Malice—A recap.

This past weekend I attended my first Malice Domestic convention in Bethesda, Maryland. I’d been to the Agatha Award banquet dinners in the past — cheering on my husband Art Taylor as a nominee (and four-time winner!) of the Agatha, but this was my first time attending the full conference.

I’ve heard often from regular attendees that Malice is a family, but I never truly understood what they meant by that until this weekend. So many wonderful people have been so kind to me in small and big ways, and that generosity is so amazing. Like all families, there are, of course, some moments of disagreements or bickering, but overall, Malice has always felt very warm and welcoming, and as a debut writer, I’ve never appreciated that more.

Art and I brought our son Dash with us, and while he wasn’t the only child there, he was certainly in the minority, and yet everyone eagerly accepted him into the fold. We had a babysitter (THANK YOU, AVERY!) watching over him, but at times it felt as though we had hundreds of people watching over him. And us, too! During one panel, Art got a text message from someone saying, “I have your name badge!” Turns out Art had lost the name tag in his badge without even realizing it, but he had it back, safe and sound, before the panel was even over.

That’s family.

This year was also my first Agatha nomination — for Best Short Story — so both that was both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking, I’ll admit. And yet, once I got into the swing of things and started to feel that warmth, I realized that no matter what, everything was going to be just fine.

The weekend was a whirlwind, as all good conferences are, but here are some highlights:

  • My first Malice panel on short stories, with fellow nominees Leslie Budewitz, Susanna Calkins, Barb Goffman and my husband Art Taylor, moderated by the wonderful Michael Bracken. I got to talk a bit about Dash entering his first writing contest (which embarrassed and excited him, apparently).
Short story panel!
  • Lunch with my Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine editor Linda Landrigan. It was so great to catch up with her. Later in the weekend, I also got to record an audio reading of my very first AHMM publication, “The Monitor,” which I’ll link to here when it goes live!
  • Talking with new friends and old. I’m sure I’ll forget someone, so I don’t want to even attempt to name names, but I love love love you all!
  • Author signing on Saturday morning, where I got to sign the very first copies of the advance readers of One Night Gone!!
So happy to be signing my first novel!
  • The Agatha banquet! Although I spent the majority of it super nervous, it was truly an honor and a delight to find out I was tied with Leslie Budewitz as a winner of the Agatha for Best Short Story! What an amazing experience! I have my own teapot now! Also, massive congratulations to all the winners this year: Ellen Byron, Sujata Massey, Dianne Freeman, Shari Randall, Cindy Callaghan, and Jane Cleland!

Now it’s back to (boring) reality again. But, can’t wait for next year!

Bystanders Wins the Balcones Fiction Prize!

I am thrilled to announce that Bystanders has won the Balcones Fiction Prize, which is awarded by Austin Community College to an outstanding book of fiction published in 2016. My book was among stellar finalists–Brightfellow by Rikki Ducornet, Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter, Heirlooms by Rachel Hall, Landfall by Julie Hensley, and Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy–and I’m humbled to be in their company.

Final judge Amanda Eyre Ward had this to say about Bystanders:

Her stories pulsed with energy and excitement, like small lightning storms on the page. I was constantly surprised by her characters, and finished the book wishing there were more. I think she is a real talent–original and vibrant–and I’m excited to celebrate her work.”

Past winners of the prize have included Margaret Malone’s People Like You, William Giraldi’s Hold the Dark, Douglas Trevor’s Girls I Know, Hanna Pylvainen’s We Sinners, Katherine Karlin’s Send Me Work, and Linh Dinh’s Love Like Hate.

Thanks so much to Joe O’Connell and everyone in the creative writing department at ACC for your support. Thanks also to SFWP publisher Andrew Gifford for taking a chance on Bystanders.

I’m looking forward to visiting Austin next year, where I’m told the Museum of the Weird is a must-see destination for those of us who appreciate all things creepy.