distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Guest Post: What Scares Micol Ostow

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Micol Ostow, author of family

I love, love, love to be scared.

No, seriously.

Mind you, I should clarify that by saying that I am a giant fraidy-cat; I get spooked out easily and the slightest sense of discomfit will keep me up at night.

But somehow, that doesn’t stop me from indulging in thrills and chills.

I maintain that this love of the dark side is inherited from my mother, who, when I was little and she was in graduate school, used to work on her Master’s coursework with B-horror movies on mute in the background. It was not uncommon for five-year-old Micol to walk into our den to see “classics” like The Red-Eyed Monster playing out on the small screen in the background.

Needless to say, it made an impression. These days, mother-daughter horror movie marathons are our standard form of bonding session, and we have both worried, only semi-jokingly, about what we will do if and when my impending daughter (due this December, sadly too late for Halloween ’11) chooses to eschew our beloved pastime for girlier pastures.

Of course, I’ve always been an avid reader, as well, and my mother also passed along a great love of the master, Stephen King. I stole away to the darkest corners of the library to read The Shining in secret at age eleven. When I was twelve, my father, realizing that he was quickly getting left out of the loop, came home with a gift for me.

Helter Skelter, the true story of the Manson Family murders.

“You’ll love it,” he said. “It’s like Stephen King, but true.

Oh, yes. And so it was.

Did I mention the book had a photo insert? A photo. Insert.

I was twelve.

I tore through the first third of the book immediately.

I didn’t sleep that night.

Not even after moving to a sleeping bag on my baby brother’s bedroom floor.

And when I woke up in the morning, my father had left a note under my pillow—Helter Skelter, just like what the Family had scrawled on the walls of the Tate-LaBianca murders.

So, you get why I am the way I am, right?

Many years—and countless therapy sessions—later, I’ve managed to make this obsession with the macabre work for me. I’ve even somehow parlayed it into a career of sorts. If that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.

So what scares me, other than deadlines, you ask? Well, Charles Manson, obviously, and just about anything by Stephen King. Beyond that, I’ll just briefly touch on some of the classic tropes:


Or other dolls-come-to-life. They gave Buffy “the wig,” and so goes my nation.

Excessively Precocious Children:

Particularly when possessed or otherwise dangerous.


See also: boiler rooms, etc. People, stay above ground.


“Come and play with us, Danny…”

Abandoned Gothic Mansions:

If someone offers you cash to spend the night in one of these places? Seriously, people—don’t even. A little tip from me to you.

Micol Ostow is half Puerto Rican, half Jewish, half reader, half writer, and, when under deadline, often half asleep. Micol was working as an editor of young adult fiction when she began to write her own books; since then, she has published over 40 works for readers of all ages. Her novel, Emily Goldberg Learns to Salsa, was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, and her graphic novel hybrid, So Punk Rock: And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother, was chosen as a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Teens.

Micol received her MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2009, and currently teaches a popular young adult writing workshop through Media Bistro. She lives in NYC with her Emmy-award winning filmmaker husband, Noah Harlan, and a persnickety French Bulldog named Bridget Jones. 

Visit Micol at micolostow.com.

Follow @micolz on Twitter.

Comment on this guest blog and you’ll gain an extra entry for the big Halloween giveaway on October 31, containing prize packs of signed books plus books and ARCs donated by my publisher Penguin Teen!  

Here’s a sneak peek of some books I’m giving away:

You can keep track of all the “What Scares You?” guest blogs with this tag.

26 responses to “Guest Post: What Scares Micol Ostow”

  1. Basements are totally scary. I gave up an awesome room in the basement of my parent’s house complete with a window that was perfect for sneaking out when I was a teenager because I was too scared of the basement.

  2. Creepy children! Gah! They freak me out more than anything. Just that picture from The Bad Seed will probably give me nightmares!

  3. My mom was worried about me because I went through the first of many read-up-on-serial-killers phases when I was five; but then, that was 1990 and my mother was attending night classes in the middle of the Danny Rollins’ student murders, and we all lived with the fear of that.


  4. Yeah, dummies are really creepy. I think it’s the whole blank face thing. Dolls are creepy when you get older too, especially older ones that are not plastic.

  5. Okay, I admit the Child’s Play movies kind of freaked me out when I was in junior high… and I knew there was a reason I didn’t play with dolls growing up. Helter Skelter, however, might have had the same effect on me if I had read it that young. I was a few years older, though, so the photo insert didn’t bug me as much but. Wow.

  6. I love beign scared, too. But when I’m watching a scary movie with my family, it’s like we’re all playing this unspoken contest to see who can appear the least scared. I don’t usually win. :] Thanks for the guest post!

  7. Child’s Play still scares me. I love this post. Basements freak me out. I can’t believe you read that when you were twelve! I think about reading about the Manson murders and it totally unnerves me!
    Thanks for the post

  8. That list sums up a number of my fears for sure. I think the more relevant question for me is “What Does Not Scare You?” That is definitely the shorter list. Was hanging your feet off the edge of the bed on that list? If not, it should be. I do take comfort in knowing that covers are impervious to monsters. So as long as I’m safely under the blankets in my bed, nothing can get me…even if it means sweating to death in the middle of July.

  9. Hey! I’m a twin…..does that mean I’m creepy? Twins aren’t scary. We just want friends to play with. Play with us….Come play with us.

  10. OMG I hate being scared lol xD The slightest things give me nightmares, my best bet is to forget about them. Like just the concept of Chuckie gives me the creeps O.O

  11. Buffy had it right. Dolls are creepy. I had a doll that looked like Chucky. Needless to say it lost it’s head and had it had a heart it would have lost that too after I saw Chucky.

  12. Mary D [M.A.D.]
    Those choices are PERFECT!!
    Would you believe I didn’t watch The Shining until I was 40 years old?!?
    Those twins & the bathtub scene freaked me out and haven’t watched it since lol

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