Synergy! Sharing Favorite Scary Stories with Carrie Vaughn, Charlie Huston, Jimmy Palmiotti & More!

Synergy is back! If you haven’t seen this column before, the basic idea is that we put the same question to a variety of professionals (and sometimes amateurs) who interest us to create a plateful of amuse bouche interviews. This time around we took the question straight to some of the hottest names in horror, comics, urban fantasy, and more.

The question? What was your favorite scary story as a kid? The answer could be anything from an urban legend to “vampires” to a specific book or movie or comic. Anything at all…as long as it was something especially striking to you….

David Lubar – What was my favorite scary story as a kid? I’m going to have to take poetic license with my answer if I want to discuss anything meaningful. Though, given that I don’t write much poetry, let’s call it prosaic weaseling. Those things that scared me enough in my childhood to linger in memory all the way to my current Nixonian-speed-limit age of 55 can’t be called “favorite” in any way. The safe scares and fun scares have faded.

I’ll also weasel a bit as far as quantity. I’m going to touch on several things that span a swath of my childhood. Number one – a close-up shot of an eye. Village of the Damned was on Million Dollar Movie when I was a kid. I never saw the movie, but the ad totally paralyzed me. It was mostly an extreme close-up shot of an eye, along with creepy music. The big problem was that, back in the days of monochrome television and a scant handful of networks, Million Dollar Movie ran its offering for an entire week. So I was in danger of coming eye to eye with that eye any time I turned on the set. Later, perhaps when I was in fifth or sixth grade, we were all haunted by The Green Man. I think this was the first urban legend to capture me. He was spotted on the roof of the school, in the woods, and that most mysterious of all places – the girls’ locker room at the community pool. He had a collie.

He might have had claws. Details beyond that were hazy, but I knew I’d run into him. He shadowed me for months, but never struck. I eventually got even by putting him in a short story. Third memory – when I was in high school, and getting closer to the age when the horrors were mostly real, I saw Night of the Living Dead in a theater. It snowed during the showing, and the town was deserted. I walked a mile without seeing another person. That one still haunts me. I’m still waiting for it to strike.

David Lubar has so far published thirteen books for young adults with the intent of entertaining and delighting, including Hidden Talents which is still in print ten years after publication. He also spent years as a video game writer. His next book, The Curse of the Campfire Weenies, is due out in November. You can find out more about David at his website.

 Charlie Huston – I didn’t really like scary stories as a kid.

They were too scary.
But I had an early love of the old Universal monster movies.
I remember that they didn’t scare me so much as make me sad.
The Wolfman.
They’re all so somber in tone and style. Lon Chaney Junior still breaks my heart.

Charlie Huston is a writer of books, comic books, and the occasional short story, most of them in the noir and/or horror vein of crime fiction.  He is the author of the Joe Pitt Casebooks series, among many others, most recently including the stand-alone novel The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death.  You can find out more about Charlie at his website, Pulp Noir.

Brian Lumley – When I was maybe ten I read The Monkey’s Paw, by W. W. Jacobs. That was a frightener! At any rate it got to me. My parents were out at the time or I wouldn’t have been reading it. They must have wondered, when they came in, why all the lights in the house were on!

Brian Lumley is the best-selling author of the Necroscope series.  His books have been published in thirteen countries (and counting).  He received 1998’s Grand Master Award at the World Horror Convention, and his works spawned their own convention that ran annually from 2000-2006.  You can find out more about Brian at his website .

Jimmy Palmiotti – My neighbor in Brooklyn was an older gentleman in his late 60s when I was 12.  One summer night, I found myself sitting on stoop when he came by and asked how I was doing. I told him I was bummed about not getting something, and he said for me to be careful about wishing for things. He sat down and told me about when he was a child and slept with his brother in the same room at night.

He told me about how he would always say “I’d give anything for…” and one night he woke up in the middle of the night, and there was a man in a tuxedo standing at the foot of the bed…dressed all in black with a top-hat, and no face, and he just stood there for what seemed like hours and then went away. He screamed to his parents and they rushed in, but saw nothing and told him to go back to sleep.  It happened a few nights later, and the whole time, his brother slept in the bed next to him, sound asleep. The second visit ended the same, he screamed to the parents, and nothing.  He told me that the next day he spoke to a priest at school, and the priest told him it was the devil coming to visit to make some kind of deal.

The priest told him to say a few Hail Mary’s if it happened again, and he would surely leave. Well…a week later he awoke, and there he was again…so he started saying the Hail Mary’s, but was so scared he couldn’t speak, so he said them in his head…and then suddenly he heard his brother scream in the bed next to him. He was pointing to the end of his bed when the parents rushed in…the brother had seen him this time. He said after that incident, he stopped wishing for anything, and he was never visited again.

Now, me being 12, this scared the living shit out of me. It was my favorite story because it’s one I tell by a campfire or late at night, and it always manages to scare someone, like it did me.

Jimmy Palmiotti is co-founder of such companies as event comics, black bull media, marvel knights and the current Paperfilms.  He has created and co created numerous series and characters and is currently co-writing with Justin gray the D.C. comic book series Jonah Hex, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, and Crisis Aftermath: the Battle for Bludhaven, as well as co-writing 2 books for the new Superman movie.  Find out more about his work at the Paperfilms website.

Charlaine Harris – My favorite scary story was Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.” It’s got everything:  murder, guilt, the supernatural . . .

Charlaine Harris is the best-selling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series (upon which HBO’s hit True Blood is based), as well as several other mystery/paranormal series.  Her books have been published internationally and are wildly popular here.  You can find out more about Charlaine at her website.

Carrie Vaughn – It so happens that I was just thinking about this.  I don’t know that I’d call it my favorite scary story—favorite implies liking, while this one genuinely terrified me.  I hated it.  I avoided it.  But it’s the one that imprinted on my four-year-old brain.  You say “scary,” this is what I think of.

It’s the episode of classic Star Trek called “Operation:  Annihilate!”  It’s the one with the rubbery flying parasite thingies that destroyed an entire colony.  The parasites were hideous—they looked like rotten fried eggs, they flew, they made awful squealing noises, they snuck up on you and adhered to your back causing hideous agony, and they made Spock go crazy.

It was about the inhuman, the uncontrollable, and the accompanying primal terror.  It was Alien before Alien.  Even when the crew finds a way to destroy the parasite—a burst of intense UV radiation—the cure causes Spock to go blind.  Damned if you do, etc.

I couldn’t watch Star Trek again for years.  Because of that episode, I associated the show with feelings of horror and dread.   It’s my favorite scary story because it’s the episode that showed me just how scary TV—or any other form of storytelling—could be.

What’s striking to me is no one really remembers Star Trek as horror.  It’s always discussed as this optimistic, forward-thinking vision of the future.  But really, how many episodes were about how the galaxy is filled with horrible monsters who are trying to kill us?

Salt vampires, silicon acid-bleeding hortas, Gorn, murderous space probes, giant ship-swallowing doomsday devices, and so on.  For a show that was supposed to be about the future, technology, science, and so on, it sure knew how to dig into some primal emotions—and scare the pants off little kids.

Carrie Vaughn is the bestselling author of a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, as well as numerous short stories in various anthologies and magazines. She’s also a contributor to the Wild Cards series edited by George R. R. Martin.  You can find out more about Carrie at her website.

Dot Lin – I have special memories of the movie Something Wicked this Way Comes. There was something uniquely scary and wonderful about that movie. And it makes me a little sad that the days of small-town carnivals and clowns (and in the age of Saw and Hostel, clowns don’t seem so scary anymore : ) seem more historical than contemporary now.

Dot Lin is the publicity manager for Tor/Forge books.

Adam Rapp – I saw a movie when I was five in which a woman in a bridal gown kept appearing before her widower husband in a full-length mirror. I was absolutely terrified of mirrors for about five years after that. I would turn them around in whatever room I was in and if they couldn’t be turned around I would hang something over them. I would often go to the bathroom with my eyes closed just so I wouldn’t accidentally look in the medicine chest mirror. Mirrors scared me far more than “The Exorcist” or Michael Myers.

Adam Rapp is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, and musician.  He is the author of numerous young adult novels, as well as writing novels and recently graphic novels for adults.  He is currently working on his second graphic novel (following up September’s Ball Peen Hammer

Jes Battis – My favorite scary story growing up was the urban legend about the guy with the hook who kills you while you’re making out with someone in the car.  Something about the randomness of it:  a stranger, not just missing a hand, but with an actual hook; a dark parking lot; desire and sex and steaminess in the car (I did not think about this until I was a teenager), and then, the paralyzing shock of seeing your lover, killed by some guy with a hook who appears out of nowhere.

I was also quite scared of the theme music from Unsolved Mysteries.  I particularly remember watching an episode about an older man who abducted children “while camping.” Something involving sleeping bags, and the overlay of that ethereal theme music still makes me anxious.

Jes Battis is the author of the OSI (Occult Special Investigator) series, as well as being an academic writer who has published analytical works on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Farscape.  His academic work focuses on pop culture (including fantasy literature and media), gay and lesbian youth studies, and disability.  You can find out more about Jes and his writing at his website.