Crime Writer Halloween Guest blogs. Be sure and check them all out and the list of Halloween Mysteries. Today I welcome mystery writer Nancy Pickard.
Nancy Pickard is a 4-time Macavity winner for her novels and short stories. She lives in Merriam, Kansas, where she is at work on her third “Kansas” novel following “The Virgin of Small Plains” and “The Scent of Rain and Lightning.”
My What Big Teeth You Have by Nancy W. Pickard
It’s not easy to scare me.
Oh, I still startle easily—walk up behind me and go Boo, and I’ll jump most satisfactorily, even when it’s not Halloween. Especially when it’s not Halloween. But I don’t get outright scared much anymore. Partly, I think it’s just a stubborn reaction to the politics of fear that’s going around like an epidemic of pretend chicken pox. To that, I dig in my heels and say, “No! Cut the crap.” It’s also partly because I am actually braver than I used to be; I did take those flying lessons, after all, even if I refused to do “stalls” all by myself. (Talk about terror!) I even can, as a grown-up, walk casually into a dark basement without needing to fumble in a panic for a light switch.
But I think the real reason lies with werewolves.
When I was way too young, my normally-cautious mom screwed up and let me go to the movies (what we used to call them then, because they literally were plural) with some older girls. Mom was practically as innocent as I was, and it didn’t occur to her to ask if they might be taking me to see THE SCARIEST PICTURE SHOW ON THE PLANET. (Scariest until “Psycho,” that is, but that was still many years away from forcing me to duck into the lane between the seats and cower there with my hands over my ears until the screeching was over.)
So little me, eight years old, skipped off to see the original Lon Chaney “Werewolf.”
Okay, so maybe my heart rate went up a little bit the moment I typed that capital “L,” and maybe it’s still beating a little faster than is strictly necessary for a woman who’s writing this on a porch at a friend’s house on a sunny day. But really, I’m over it. I’m fine with werewolves now.
“Scared” doesn’t begin to describe how that movie made me feel back then, however. My mom found out how scared when she had to run into my bedroom when I screamed for help that night because I was too frightened to sleep alone in the dark.
The werewolf virus infected me, but good.
From then on, I couldn’t go to scary movies, couldn’t bear to hear scary stories at slumber parties, couldn’t read scary books. And we’re talking about decades here, not just a few years of childhood. When I was in my twenties, I tried to read “The Exorcist,” and got so scared that I ran outside with it and buried it in a trash barrel! I didn’t like being that way; I wanted to “enjoy” chills and shudders the way other people did who hadn’t been bitten by the fear creature when they were too young to tell real from pretend.
But I’m over it now.
Really, I am. I even wrote a werewolf story for Charlaine and Toni’s anthology about same. That was my victory, that story. That was my ultimate triumph over the forces of hair and teeth and bloody transfiguration.
I even made the werewolves the good guys, of sorts.
One of the things that helped me emerge from Werewolf Phobia was a novel I wrote called The Whole Truth. Up until that book, I had skated around my villains, avoiding looking deeply at the worst they could do. But I had finally come to realize that was cowardly; I was a mystery writer, for heaven’s sake. The least I could do was meet my bad guys face-to-face, stare them down, dig deep into their lives and psyches, and find out what caused their mutations from human to monster.
That helped, because it turned them back from werewolf to human again, and it also probably made me a better writer. I may, in fact, owe my later books at least in part to my mother, Lon Chaney, older girls who didn’t have the good sense God gave a possum, and to centuries of werewolf lore.
One last observation before the full moon rises. . .
My maiden name was Wolfe.
cue sound of howling in the distance
Of all the monsters in all the gin joints in the world, which ones scared you more than any others?
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