My First Fright featuring Ania Ahlborn

Ania Ahlborn

I grew up with two younger sisters who probably owned five million dolls between the two of them. They had plenty of mass-market stuff like Barbies and Cabbage Patch Kids, but also a few “lifelike” porcelain dolls. I wouldn’t say that these dolls “scared” me, but there always was something more mysterious and unsettling about them, with their stiff, white bodies and old-timey dresses.

From Child’s Play to Annabelle to the Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll,” dolls have been mined for their horror potential for a long time. What is it about dolls that makes them so freaky? Author Ania Ahlborn has some thoughts. She saw a doll-centric horror movie early on in life that left such a impression on her, she went on to write scary stories of her own.Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Jonathan Janz

Jonathan Janz

I lived a good chunk of my childhood on a small, rural road. All of the homes had families and were fairly well-kempt, so my siblings and my best buddy who lived next door didn’t really have a typical “haunted house” to be afraid of; but that didn’t keep us from concocting weird stories about the surrounding property. That creepy orchard up the hill? A kid my mom used to babysit for convinced us that he had seen a severed hand from World War II hanging from a tree up there (yep, from that famous WWII battle fought in Upstate New York, of course). Then there was the turnaround where I swear I saw a UFO land one night (okay, maybe that was just a dream). When you’re a kid, your imagination runs wild, and seemingly innocuous places can transform into terrifying locales. Jonathan Janz can relate—he read a story back in seventh grade that touched on just that idea, a story that stuck with him and put him on a path to creating strange stories of his own.    Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Gemma Files

Painting from the NIGHT GALLERY episode “The Cemetery.”

In Night Gallery, the 1969 film that served as a pilot for the anthology TV series of the same name, there’s a segment titled “The Cemetery” that will forever haunt me. In this macabre tale, the lead character, Jeremy Evans, who has murdered his uncle and lives in his dead relative’s mansion, owns a painting which depicts the mansion and the family graveyard, where his uncle is now buried. As the story progresses, the painting changes. To Jeremy’s horror, his uncle rises from the grave in the painting and lurches closer and closer to the mansion, until….well, I won’t spoil it for you. But the image of that painting, of the undead uncle creeping toward the mansion, has been seared into my brain since I was a kid. Author Gemma Files knows that feeling. She happened upon a book when she was but a child, one filled with images that would haunt and thrill her for years to come. Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Grady Hendrix

If you’ve read Paperbacks from Hell, you know that Grady Hendrix is an expert on horror fiction, most specifically mass-market paperbacks produced during the boom of the ’70s and ’80s, with their often eye-popping—some might say “garish”—cover art. What, you might ask, inspired such a fascination for weird, macabre books? In Hendrix’s case, it was a lot of things, but it certainly had something to do with a strange book he discovered while living abroad in England in the late ’70s. A book not intended for kids.

Grady Hendrix is a writer and public speaker based in Manhattan. Along with the aforementioned Paperbacks From Hell (2017), he is the author of the novels Horrorstör (2014) and My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2016). He is currently working on a new novel. Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Edgar Cantero

I saw Edgar Cantero’s new book Meddling Kids pretty much everywhere I looked this year. On Instagram, Twitter, displayed prominently in both Barnes & Noble locations and independent bookstores (just look at that stunning cover!) The book is often described as, get this, “Scooby-Doo meets H.P. Lovecraft.” That’s some pitch—simple, with recognizable inspirations. I mean, who doesn’t love Scooby-Doo? So with that in mind, I probably should have seen the answer a mile away when I asked him, “What was your ‘first fright’?”

Edgar Cantero is a writer and cartoonist from Barcelona, Spain. He is the author of the punk dystopian thriller Vallvi (2011), The Supernatural Enhancements (2014), and the aforementioned Meddling Kids (2017), which, as of this writing, was nominated for a 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Horror.Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Michael Wehunt

Usually, I avoid stuff that gives me nightmares; I’m funny like that. I don’t get much sleep as it is (father of two little ones) and when I do, I prefer to sleep soundly, my dreams free of terrifying imagery.

Michael Wehunt apparently doesn’t value his sleep. He watches movies that give him nightmares and keeps going back for more! But perhaps that unbridled enthusiasm for the macabre helped lead to his success as a writer?

Wehunt is an Atlanta-based author. His debut collection, Greener Pastures, was shortlisted for the Crawford Award and a Shirley Jackson Award finalist. His short fiction has appeared in publications like Shock Totem, Innsmouth Magazine and, yes, Cemetery Dance.Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Ronald Malfi

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is a beloved family classic, the tale of a lonely young boy and a lost alien who form a deep, psychic connection and who, ultimately, have to say goodbye. Sweet, right? Touching. Tears. For Ronald Malfi, however, the film was a harrowing experience, akin to other Spielberg horror classics like Jaws or Poltergeist. Who knew that weird little alien with the glowing finger could be so terrifying?Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Mercedes M. Yardley

Merc3edes M. Yardley
Mercedes M. Yardley

Mercedes M. Yardley was only eight years old when she read her father’s copy of Stephen King’s It. Pretty intense material for someone so young, wouldn’t you say? But years earlier, Yardley had been introduced to what i09 referred to as “The Most Horrifying Children’s Movie Ever Made.” Perhaps she was better prepared to handle the horrors of Pennywise the Clown after repeatedly watching a scary movie starring….a pink-haired unicorn?

Yardley is a Bram Stoker Award-winning writer residing in Las Vegas, Nevada. A self-described dark fantasist, she is the author of multiple books and short stories, including 2013’s Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love and 2014’s Pretty Little Dead Girls. We had a video chat about her first fright, and her choice was unexpected, to say the least.Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring D.J. MacHale

I’m a big fan of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the horror/fantasy TV series that ran on Nickelodeon back in the ’90s and early 2000s (if you’re unfamiliar, think Tales From The Crypt Jr., or The Twilight Zone for kids). The show wasn’t my first introduction to horror, but it definitely helped fuel my then-burgeoning interest in the genre. Seen by millions over the last few decades, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is likely the first fright for more than a few writers pounding out spooky fiction today. So, I couldn’t help but wonder, what would it be like to interview the brain behind the show, an architect of First Frights himself, and find out what, in turn, inspired him.Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Paul Tremblay

As you get older, you find that many of the things that scared you when you were little are actually so tame, so silly, that it was crazy that they ever frightened you to begin with. For example, I used to dread the 1988 version of The Blob (the part where the titular monster devours this kid Eddie in the sewer was particularly traumatizing). Now I can watch it and laugh at the dated effects and ridiculousness of it all, at least with the light on….

Paul Tremblay, whose 2015 novel A Head Full of Ghosts “scared the hell” out of Stephen King, had a similarly mortifying experience as a boy. While Tremblay sees that film as “pure cheese” today, it did help instill a love for horror in this award-winning author, and for that reason it’s worth looking into. Continue Reading

My First Fright featuring Kealan Patrick Burke

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As horror fans, we all have that book, movie, comic book, etc. that served as our entry point to the genre. For me, it’d have to be Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the Young Adult book series written by Alvin Schwartz and boasting nightmarish illustrations by Stephen Gammell. There was something about those books that left a huge imprint (scar?) on me as a child and helped spark a lifelong interest in the macabre.

I often wonder how other horror writers first became interested in the genre. Was it after watching the IT miniseries or reading dad’s old Tales From The Crypt comics? “My First Fright” is a new interview series where we look at one work that provided horror authors with that initial spark. Continue Reading