Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Nancy Pickard Guest Halloween Guest Blogger

Hope you're enjoying the 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?


clpauwels said...

Lovely story!

Now to face down my own monsters...

Margaret Maron said...

More than any movie, Nancy, were the creepy stories on the radio that my brother insisted on listening to in the dark. Even today, a door hinge in need of oil creaking open in the night . . . eeek!

Nancy P said...

CPatLarge, oh, those are the worst--whatever they are!

Margaret, if I'd had a sibling who did that, I'd have died of fright, right there by the radio.

Camille Minichino said...

Inner Sanctum! Though years later I couldn't believe I reacted at all let alone with fright.

But really Nancy? Wolfe?? How cool.

Nancy P said...

Hey, Camille. If I'd kept that name for my books, at least people could have pronounced it. :)

Yvette said...

Great post, Nancy. Perfect for the season.

A film that had the same effect on me - I saw it with, of all people, my mother, when I was about ten or so - was THE LEOPARD MAN. It starred Dennis O'Keefe, the least scary man ever. But he wasn't doing the killing. For years afterwards, I could not watch this film - EVER. I mean, it frightened me to death. I had nightmares for the longest time. But then, as an adult I saw it and while it was pretty creepy still, I didn't run screaming from the room. Ha!

THE WOLFMAN is one of my all time favorites. As a kid we used to call Lon Chaney, "Larry Wolfman Talbot."

Janet Rudolph said...

I went to the Saturday matinee (yes)and saw House of Wax. My mother definitely didn't know what the film was about. I can't tell you the nightmares I had. I must have been about 6 and my sister 9. She took me with her friends. Those were the days. You walked to the movies and went unchaperoned. Definitely the wrong film, though. Very scary! To this day, I'm not fond of wax museums.

Carol F said...

Wow. Coincidence, Janet. My sister brought me to see House of Wax when I was 5 or 6 and I had nightmares for a long time. Also Them - a movie about mutant ants. To this day I HATE ants.


"A Night To Remember" was probably the worst scare when I was little, which is why I refused go see "Titanic" when it came out. I finally did see it, and was incredibly disappointed that it wasn't scary.

I may write ghost stories, but can I read them after dark? Noooo...

But, I must say, I haven't heard the politics of fear described so beautifully as above.

Bobbi Mumm said...

Thanks for a great column, Nancy. Wonderful books, too. Ten years ago we had a 27-Ingredient Chili Con Carne party. When I was young I watched, on television, the old film, "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte". Not a good idea. I still can't watch anything remotely suspenseful - particularly when my husband is away.
Thank you, Janet, for hosting these terrific guests.

Nancy P said...

Yvette, "The Leopard Man?" That's a new one to me. I *think* I'll look it up. Maybe, lol.

Janet and Carol F. . .House of Wax! Now we can laugh about how funny it is to be terrified of ants and wax museums, but back then. . .oh, you poor babies. What were our mothers (not) thinking!

Elena, I get disappointed now, too, if something that's supposed to scare me does not. It makes me laugh even to type that. (And--thank you.)

Bobbi Mumm, it's good chili! I can say that without boasting, since it was Mrs. Rich's recipe, not mine. I haven't had any of it for years, but for a while there I couldn't do a bookstore signing without running into a bowl of chili, ha! Interesting that you still can't watch suspense. It took me a loong time, too.

I'm watching the rescue of the Chilean miners. Now there's scary!

Nancy P said...

Yvette, I can never seem to remember the real name of My Scariest Movie is "The Wolfman." I think it's imprinted in my brain as THE Werewolf, as opposed to all those other lesser werewolves out there, lol.

jenny milchman said...

I had a similar experience, Nancy, with the movie War of the Worlds. Sometimes I wonder if many mystery/suspense authors were deeply affected by a book or movie, and have a need to give others that same experience with their own books...

Anyway, I love yours--you've definitely given me some grown up werewolf moments!

Nancy P said...

Jenny, lol, and thank you.