I’m very excited to chat with Carol Goodman for this installment of What Scares You. Carol’s books are among my favorites of all time. They are filled with spooky houses, buried secrets, myth, Gothic imagery, writers and artists, and ghosts. With all that swirling around in her mind, how could this interview not be interesting? Read on to find out what scares Carol.
What is your greatest fear?
That something will happen to my daughter.
What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?
I remember when I realized that people died, specifically that my parents would die someday and that I would die someday. I would like awake at night obsessing over that, and finally the only way I could overcome my fear was to make up a story where my family and I were transported to a planet where we would all be immortal—at least, I think I included my family in this fantasy at first. Eventually it was just me who got to go live on the planet and be immortal. This fantasy was really comforting until I became a parent, and then I couldn’t resort to it because I somehow knew I wouldn’t be able to bring my child with me. What self-respecting child wants to go live on a planet with their mom?
Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?
See above: Mortality conquered by fantasy. Also, I used to be frightened of being alone in a house, but mostly I’m not anymore.
What is your weirdest fear?
None of my fears seem weird.
Do you believe in ghosts?
My daughter recently answered this question with: “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I am afraid of them.” I love ghost stories, but if I actually saw a ghost, I’d completely lose it.
What is your favorite urban legend?
I remember hearing “The Claw” when I was a teenager and being terrified that I’d be out parking with my date and hear that scritch-scritch-scritch on the roof. There was a version of it, too, where the woman is driving and people are pointing at her car with horrified faces and when she gets home she realizes there’s a madman on her roof—or maybe a corpse? That terrified me because of the idea that other people could see the danger you were in but you couldn’t.
Do you have a recurring nightmare?
For years I had the classic school anxiety nightmare in which you are sitting down for an exam and realize you’ve forgotten to come to the class all semester, only in my version the exam would be in my Greek class (I took Greek for two years in college) and my Greek teacher Mr. Day would be towering over me like Zeus, brandishing a lightning bolt, and the exam would be in Sanskrit.
How do you deal with fear?
I make up a story that’s even worse than the thing I’m afraid of, and then I write that story. For example, when I was in my early thirties I’d separated from my husband and gone to live at my parents’ house with my two-year-old daughter. I was afraid that my life was over, that I’d have to live with my parents forever, and that my soon-to-be-ex-husband would kidnap my daughter. So I thought: this could be worse; what if I hadn’t had my parents to come home to? So I made up a story about a woman in similar circumstances who takes a job at her former boarding school so that she’ll have housing and childcare. The only thing she has to worry about is the vengeful figure from her past wielding an ice-pike. Somehow I found this comforting, and it was the origin of my first novel, The Lake of Dead Languages.
What scares you most about the writing process?
Every morning when I sit down to write I feel a little frisson of dread. I’m not sure why. I think it has to do with exposure—the sense that I’ll have to peel away the protective layer between my inner self and the world—and, worse, that there won’t be anything there when I do.
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
That I won’t have anything left to write.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?
I recently wrote a scene in which a man saws his own hand off. That was scary.
Do you have any horror movie deal-breakers?
I hate whenever anything happens to a character’s hands. And yes, I know that contradicts the answer above.
“I recently wrote a scene in which a man saws his own hand off.”
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?
The Shining was for a long time the scariest book. The Kubrick film absolutely terrified me the first time I saw it (in the movie theaters when it first came out) and haunted me for years. Probably when the twins appear and say “Come play with us.” When I read the book years later I was amazed that the book was AS scary. I also remember being really creeped out by Superstition by David Ambrose. Billy O’Callaghan’s The Dead House scared me, so then I read it a second time.
In which post-apocalyptic scenario are you most likely to survive and thrive: 28 Days Later (zombies), The Stand (sickness kills all but a few), or The Last Policeman (asteroid hits Earth)?
Well, given our present situation, let’s hope it’s The Stand. I really wouldn’t do well with zombies, and I haven’t read The Last Policeman.
What’s worse: being haunted by a demon or having a stalker?
I’ll take the human stalker. Demons are definitely scarier.
You are renting a remote house with a few close friends when all the electricity cuts out. Are you the friend who goes down to the basement to check on the situation? If not, what do you do when someone else does, and you hear them calling your name from that dark basement? (Assume your cell phones don’t work out there in the remote wilderness.)
Since I am the Mom in my house, I am ALWAYS the one who goes down to the basement to fiddle with the circuit switches even though I LOATHE the basement. So yeah, I’m the one who goes down. I’m calling for you now. Taaarrraaa …. Come play with me … foreverrrrr ….
Carol Goodman is the author of twenty-one novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize, The Widow’s House, which won the 2018 Mary Higgins Clark Award, and The Night Visitors, which won the 2020 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family, and teaches literature and writing at The New School and SUNY New Paltz.