Maine Crime Writers here, celebrating Friday the 13th by sharing stories of the books, movies, and real life events that have scared us. It may not always be true, but one of the benefits of being a crime writer is that anything can be grist for the mill. It lets us turn life’s big scares into emotions we can tap for the page. So here, without further ado, our stories:
Kate Flora: Back when I was a kid, and going to the movies was a rare thing that involved driving all the way to Rockland, my brother got the bee in his bonnet that we should all go to see a movie called The House on Haunted Hill. Somehow, I was convinced that it would be funny. To find the money for tickets, we scoured old purses, went through coat pockets and even vacuumed registers to find lost coins. Then, money in hand, we went to the movies. It was NOT a funny movie. It was a terrifying movie. One of those Ten Little Indians sorts of films where everyone got killed off. I had nightmares for years and having entirely forgiven my brother John for suggesting it.
From Wikipedia: House on Haunted Hill is a 1959 American horror film. It was directed by William Castle, written by Robb White and stars Vincent Price as eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren. He and his fourth wife, Annabelle, have invited five people to the house for a “haunted house” party. Whoever stays in the house for one night will earn $10,000. As the night progresses, all the guests are trapped inside the house with ghosts, murderers, and other terrors.
Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: The scariest movie from my childhood? The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad! I spent weeks looking over my shoulder, expecting to find the Cyclops behind me. They used pretty hokey special effects by today’s standards, but back then? Terrifying!
Maureen Milliken: When I was a preteen, my brother, sister and I took turns reading The Mystery of the Crimson Ghost by Phyllis A. Whitney to each other (was that weird, that we used sit around reading to each other? I don’t know). I don’t remember much about the book, except that there was a giant ghost dog that glowed crimson and it scared the hell out of me. I know there was a logical explanation for it at the end, but that image is the one thing I can remember — the unknown, unexplained and terrifying.
By the way, here’s a thought about Friday the 13th and writing: I don’t think one month has gone by since those young years that on the 13th of the month I haven’t thought of Pogo, my all-time favorite comic strip. On the 13th of the month, if it wasn’t a Friday, one of us kids would say “Friday the 13th comes on a (whatever the day is) this month.” I’m not superstitious at all, but that resonates with me, the idea that a small, innocuous thing can trigger such big feelings in people. It also always makes me think of the other great line from Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” As a writer, I’m constantly absorbing impressions — seriously, I didn’t pick this, it picked me — and the things that trigger feelings in people, whether it’s Friday the 13th, Pogo, a crimson dog ghost tend to form the bigger ideas that end up being the foundation of books.
I’ve realized that all the “big” things in my books — tone, voice, character — all come from these little snapshots in my head, many of which I’ve had for decades. Sorry if that’s all new-agey and navel-gazey, but I’ve got the third book forming (with number four elbowing in) and the process is all-consuming. In fact, it reminds me of another quote from Pogo: “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”
Bruce Robert Coffin: When I was twelve-years-old I read my first Stephen King novel, Salem’s Lot. Having been a fan of the supernatural genre, this was not my first foray into the world of literary macabre. It was however my first “adult” horror novel, as my prior reading was mainly limited to what readers of today might call young adult (YA) novels. I still remember the scary Bookland television commercial for the King novel, which usually ran just after dinner each night.
The story about a writer who revisits his boyhood home of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine is filled with creepy characters, a haunted house, and vanishing townsfolk. If you like horror stories, this book is a must read. But be forewarned, lock all of your doors…
Chris Holm: Hmm. What to talk about? My first brush with grown-up horror? (Like Bruce’s, it was a Stephen King novel.) My all-time favorite horror movie? (John Carpenter’s The Thing, which may be my favorite movie period.) The time, when I was little, that I woke up to find myself covered in insects? (Yup, that actually happened. It inspired a lifelong phobia and a creepy scene in The Wrong Goodbye.)
Nah. Instead, I’ll highlight something new that scared the heck out of me: the indie horror movie Hush. It’s a gorgeously acted and directed movie about a deaf woman (and thriller writer!) who winds up terrorized by a would-be home invader. (Spoiler: she proves more resourceful than he bargained for.) Made on a shoestring by a husband and wife team (they co-wrote; she stars; he directs), it’s smart, scary, and satisfying from start to finish. It’s also streaming now on Netflix.
Brenda Buchanan: I read Helter Skelter the first winter I lived in Maine. I was living in a cottage that creaked and groaned when the wind howled across the adjacent marsh. I started Vincent Bugliosi’s account of the investigation and trial of Charles Manson and his gang on the Friday of a long weekend when my housemate had gone off to Boston. Once I started reading I could not stop, even though it meant I slept with every light in the house blazing all three nights. I’m not one bit ashamed to admit it, either.
Jessie Crockett: When I was about 10 I read And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. I had started it in the afternoon and couldn’t put it down. After I was supposed to be in bed that night I read it under the covers. Between the setting, the creepy use of a nusery rhyme and worrying about being caught for staying up past bedtime I was terrified. But I couldn’t stop reading. I guess that is why Christie is still a bestseller!
Barb Ross: When I was five or so, we had an older woman who babysat for us. A night owl even then, I’d go to bed and stay awake as long as I could, then wander back to the living room rubbing my eyes and whining, “I can’t sleep.” Once when I did that she was watching an episode of Perry Mason. It was about a little girl who comes to Perry’s office and says, “I want you to find out who I am.” Of course, he takes the case. She gets dolls at regular intervals from Switzerland, so Perry goes there to investigate. At the halfway point, a doll arrives at Perry’s hotel room with it’s neck broken clean in half and a note that says, “This can happen to little girls, too.” And then the stupid woman sent me to bed!! I never saw the resolution. I was terrified by this for years.
John Clark: Seriously deer ticks freak me out as much as anything fictional. When you’re hunting and realize that little devils are crawling over you in droves, it’s beyond uncomfortable. This happened five years ago on the family farm in Union. I ended up stripping down to my underwear (not the smartest thing to do in deer season) and by the time I was done, I’d picked off and killed 34 deer ticks. I haven’t hunted since and just the memory makes me shudder. Imagine what life might be like if a burst of cosmic rays mutated a few into something the size of a coyote.
Readers, what scares you?
I agree with Brenda. Helter Skelter was the scariest book because it was true, there were real people out there doing horrid things to other people. In fiction Red Dragon by Thomas Harris was so sick and scary that I vowed never to read another by him. I have never watched the movies either.
The fact it was a true account was what made it so terrifying. That and the meticulous account of how the investigation unfolded. The suspense quotient in that book was off the charts.
Helter Skelter ( the actual murders) forced me to voluntarily to cast aside the Beatle’s White Album; the crimes were so horribly intense, and I imagine reading the book would have been quite terrifying.
“The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957), now a cult movie, but generally thought of as science fiction, because of the premise, and also reviewed on horrornews.net (spoiler alert)
For years I’ve had dreams, strike that, nightmares, about some of the scenes, though I’m thankful they’ve been less frequent in recent years. And even if it doesn’t shiver your timbers, it’s a thought-provoking film.
I have had several real-life frights, but living just outside the NJ Pine Barrens, most of us believe in ghosts and other scary things; however, the movie Psycho was terrifying to me, the novel It by Stephen King really gave me shivers as well as a novel by Nicholas Conde entitled In the Deep Woods—-that book truly scared me.
Maureen, I loved Phyllis Whitney as a preteen but I’ve never read that book!! My scariest experience was watching “The Birds” when I was babysitting overnight when I was in seventh grade. That might be why my tolerance for frightening scenes in books and movies is low–yet I have no problem writing the few that I’ve attempted as I know how they are going to turn out.
I read it, Karen, and like you I loved Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden and Victoria Holt when I was younger.
what scared me….
On the Beach novel by Nevile Shute (about nuclear war)
Burnt Embers (horror movie)
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