distraction no.99

Nova Ren Suma | On Writing & Writing Distractions

Not an Author Newsletter… something else.

Halloween Horror Guest Post: What Scares Libba Bray

(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)

By Libba Bray

There are few things I love more than a good scare.

Wait, before you sneak up behind me and grab my neck, let me clarify: I don’t mean scared in the sense of, “Wait, did I forget to file my taxes?” or “What’s that spot on my leg?” I mean a proper scare courtesy of masterful horror—the sort of gray, October sky, leaves-skittering-across-a-sidewalk, impending doom feeling that has you pushing up your collar and hurrying your steps for no reason you can really name and wait, was that someone standing at the upstairs window in that old house on the corner, the one no one’s lived in for thirty years…not since…the murder?

Oh, yeah. I’m there.

Horror has always been my genre of choice. The creepy, the spooky, the phantasmagorical—all catnip to me. Summers when I visited my superstitious, Pennsylvania Dutch great-grandmother, she would regale me with ghost stories about my great-great-great-grandmother, an undertaker’s wife and psychic who could, allegedly, see and speak to the dead. Then she’d send me to sleep in the attic. This is why I have issues.

I watched Dark Shadows every afternoon and Hammer Horror films whenever I could, thrilling to the gothic, Pinewood Studios sets and anachronistic beehive hairdos. Dario Argento’s Suspiria gave me gorgeous Technicolor nightmares and a healthy fear of stained-glass ceilings. I read horror comics that I hid under my bed and, when I was older, I gobbled up stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King. Salem’s Lot is the book I have reread above all others.

But the thing that always made me look over my shoulder, more than the prospect of vampires, clowns, zombies, strangers in scarecrow hoods, or Olan Mills family photography, is anything having to do with the occult. Satan in particular. Beelzebub, baby. You know, He Who Pwns All.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in the church (I’m a PK), or the fact that the mid-1970s of my childhood were rife with Satanic movies, books, cults, and fears, but anything remotely demonic scared the…well, BeJesus out of me. And yet, I craved those stories. I mean, dude! Let other people go head-to-head with Jason, Freddie, and Michael Myers. Battling The Big D? Go big or go home. That’s my motto.

The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, The Sentinel, Satan’s School for Girls—this is my terror turf, the sort of thing that makes me want to put on my Bruce Campbell outfit, fire up the chainsaw, and say, “Groovy.”  When I was twelve, I went to see The Omen with a friend, and she and I stayed up half the night hiding in her closet, surrounded by anything that looked vaguely religious—a Bible, Popsicle sticks which could be made into a cross in a snap (It is a well-known fact that the Dark Lord does not like frozen ice treats), “holy” water in a Snoopy glass that we had blessed ourselves. A collection of scarves. (Even at twelve, I understood the importance of accessorizing.) We were terrified. We were also thrilled. It never dawned on us that Old Scratch probably had better places to visit than a closet in Denton, Texas. I mean, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were just thirty miles away.

Our twelve-year-old logic was this: You can outrun, outwit, or out-wait some crazy psychopath in a hockey mask. But Lucifer’s got game. The Dude’s not going anywhere until your soul is his or you’ve made a grand gesture of offing yourself in the name of can’t-be-turned holiness—or you’ve figured out his weak spot. The stakes are high. Too high for a horror gambler to leave the table. And along the way, Satan will possess your cat, make the walls bleed, kill people in hideously mysterious ways, play Carmina Burana out of nowhere when you are walking in the woods even when you say, “Quit it, Satan! That’s, like, super creepy!”, order ominous nannies to your house, record Led Zeppelin albums, do the freaky backwards voices on conveniently running tape recorders that when played will make you soil yourself, send his demons to eat the last Little Debbie snack cake, and just generally mess with you in ways that have you and everyone else doubting your sanity. And he’ll probably look good doing it, too. I mean, Robert DeNiro in Angel Heart? Hot.

So what’s a girl to do? Meet Satan for dinner to talk it out? Here’s how I imagine that conversation going:

(Satan and I are in a restaurant. Satan has ordered the filet mignon, naturally. It’s perfectly medium rare and paired with a nice Cabernet. I am having pizza that keeps hissing, “Your soul is stained! STAINED!” It’s difficult to eat pizza that’s talking to you. I’m just saying.)

ME: Dude, this is not a fair fight.

SATAN: Why not?

ME: You’re Satan.

SATAN: Ah. So I am. (Dabs lips with a damask napkin) You could always forfeit and give me your soul.

ME: Yeah, gotta say, that seems to lack dramatic tension.

SATAN: Agreed. Could you pass the steak sauce?

ME: (Passing sauce. Note that Satan needs a manicure.) Besides, if I give in to you, my head will swivel on my neck, I’ll have the eyes of a rabid dog, and my sinuses will produce vomity-hair gel snot.

SATAN: Not always. Rupert Murdoch looks good. Very nice suits. Here, try the beef. It’s outstanding.

ME: I’m not falling for that.

SATAN: Falling for what? It’s just steak. And it’s perfectly seasoned. (shrugs) Suit yourself. Look, there’s always a chance you’ll defeat me.

ME: For realz?

SATAN: (laughs) No. False hope. I manufactured that. See: Boston Red Sox, 1918–2004. (pats cheek) Face it—you will be a vessel for evil. Which is much better than being a vessel for, say, olive oil. Celebrate the little things. That’s what we say in hell. We say it between screams, but you know. It’s the thought.

When I was younger, I thought that movies about demonic possession were terrifying object lessons in “You better not pout, you better not cry, you better not shout or SATAN CLAUS WILL DRAG YOU TO HELL!” (Please also see: Fear of Christmas.) But as I got older, I began to see these movies as representations of our fears about a loss of identity and individualism. I mean, you can be POSSESSED! Through no fault of your own! “Honest, Father O’Brien, I was just sitting here playing with this here Ouija Board while listening to Black Sabbath and burning my flesh with the hot wax of midnight mass candles and the Devil done invaded my soul without even an Evite from me. Gettin’ to be that a body don’t even feel safe drinking from her I Heart Goats mug, anymore.” It’s the fear that your humanity can be stripped from you bit by horrible-convulsions-on-the-bed-head-turning-completely-around-doing-icky-things-with-a-crucifix bit by some amorphous, invisible, malevolent force with whom there is no reasoning. You know, kind of like the current political climate.

So when October rolls around and the sky darkens, when the wind howls like the last cry of a doomed man and children in Halloween costumes run past laughing those little-kid laughs that sometimes make you wonder if said children were made in a test tube by an escaped Nazi bent on overthrowing the world order, you’ll find me nestled on my couch watching Rosemary’s Baby, and hoping against hope that she’ll win the ultimate fight. But I’ll have my Popsicle sticks with me. Because, you know, I’m not taking any chances.

Libba Bray is hard at work on The Diviners, the first book in a four-book series that is full of the creepy. She’s listening to “Tubular Bells” while she writes.

Visit Libba’s blog at libba-bray.livejournal.com.

Follow @libbabray on Twitter.

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

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

44 responses to “Halloween Horror Guest Post: What Scares Libba Bray”

  1. hahaha… totally love the Satan conversation! I agree with fearing zombies, though. Watching a movie about them makes me get all paranoid, especially at night!

  2. Loved this! Love it. And this part about great grandma:

    “…she would regale me with ghost stories about my great-great-great-grandmother, an undertaker’s wife and psychic who could, allegedly, see and speak to the dead. Then she’d send me to sleep in the attic.”

    My twelve year old self is totally jealous. Ultimate scary for me at that age was going to see Count Yorga, Vampire. Then walking home, alone, after. THEN, my dad (funny RCMP man) thought it would be funny to scare me. Um. Yeah. No. Funny now, though! Happy Halloween!

  3. I should have realized in advance that this was not a blog to read while attempting to eat- it’s very hard to laugh and eat at the same time, and you always manage to crack me up.


  4. God I love me some Libba Bray! (And see that was a comment to GOD, not that other dude.) Take no chances, I say.

  5. Trilogy of Terror, ABC TV movie written by Richard Matheson.
    A knife-wielding doll terrifies Karen Black. Aaaaaahhhh!!!!!!!
    Beware of dolls!

    Now Action Figures like G.I. Joe…perfectly safe.

  6. Love the Tubular Bells music. I first heard it on an album at a friend’s house and it was,some 20 years before I realized it was the theme music for The Exorcist.

    No lie.

    I was in my early teens when The Exorcist came out and I refused to go see it, or any horror film that dealt with the spiritual war between heaven and hell, between good and evil, for that matter. See, I KNEW what scared the Bejeezus out of me and I wasn’t gonna go there, although, for a while, I have to admit that dinosaurs ranked a close second.

  7. Hilarious post from Libba. I especially liked the dialogue. I agree with you that some of the classics are still the scariest, even after all this time. Thanks for the laugh!

  8. Satan’s a heavy hitter to be sure, but its zombies that always scared the bejeebers out of me. Laughed hard at your wittiness and the little Satan conversation.

    Thanks for posting!

  9. Loved this post Libba! And I wish I would have been able to watch TV & go to the movies with you when I was a kid (I wasn’t allowed to go to those kinds of movies until I was old enough to get in myself). I had to survive with what was on TV. One of my favorite memories is watching Night of the Living Dead, at home, alone. I still love zombies!

    Can’t wait for The Diviners! Libba Bray + creepy story: sounds like fun to me!

    Ani (a.k.a. Stephanie Ruble)

    p.s. I’ve imagined a conversation with Satan too, except mine always changes, and I never figure out who wins in the end.

  10. I’m too much of a wuss to watch any of those horror shows of which Libba speaks (I’ve always been a wuss, and I’m really good at it), but I just love her sense of humor. Thanks Libba, for the laughs, even though I’ll have to check under the bed, and behind all the doors, before I go to sleep tonight.

  11. I absolutely do not watch any horror films– much too scary for someone with a shaky stomach about those things. But it was fun to read about Libba Bray’s perspective on growing up on the creepiness she did. I am definitely much better at reading about scary things than seeing them! 🙂

  12. Dark Shadows has always been an old favorite. I’m so psyched for the new movie they are doing based on it. It’s rare to find someone who actually has heard of it, let alone loved it. And Tubular Bells has always been extremely scary and creepy. Definite Halloween music.

  13. My friends and I used to watch scary movies and tell ghost stories and then go to bed clutching the Bible. So I love the hiding in the closet surrounded by religious objects – I’m glad we weren’t the only ones who resorted to that. Great post, Libba is genius.

  14. Libba,
    Come to Asheville, NC and we will take you on the Haunted Asheville tour. Super creepy. Possession stories are soooo scary. Can’t even watch commercials about those kinds of movies.

  15. I’m so out of my league here–I love campy old sci fi type horror movies, but anything too realistic is too much (last one I saw in that category was Poltergeist and that was, well, when it was playing in theaters…yep, I’m old). Horror books are a different story, just because I can close them and take a break when things get to be too much!

  16. LOL great post! I am a total scaredy cat but I used to always watch “The Haunting” whenever it was on TV and it would scare the crap out of me, but I’d watch it anyway 😛 The ones with demon possession were the worst, they’d keep me up at night for hours, and then I’d have to run to my brother’s room, where I would get kicked out, and then I ran to my parents room (it was further away) and then refuse to leave for the rest of the week.

  17. The conversation with Satan was hilarious. The Exorcist made me fear Satan and demon possession so bad when I was a kid. I probably watched that a bit too young, but I still love to watch them come Halloween. Awesome post.

  18. Mary D [M.A.D.]
    I completely forgot about Rosemary’s Baby … that is another very creepy movie, the whole atmosphere of the movie leaves the viewer feeling anxious & edgy. I am SUCH a weenie ;P

  19. Rosemary’s Baby didn’t scare me, but the Exorcist absolutely terrified me. That music too, when I hear it I get chills. Thanks for the story.

  20. Great conversation with Satan. I havent seen too many possession movies to tell the truth. Not even the exorcist though it’s on my list.

  21. Loved the post…but seriously just looked over my shoulder out the window because I have a serious fear of Satan. I’ve seen The Omen, The Exorcist, and the likes (well, parts of them) and I don’t like any kid, adult, actor named Damian. I was never allowed to play w/ a Ouija board and remember taking part in a ‘game’ at a sleepover and I got in so much trouble! Ok, now I have the shivers…thanks for adding the humor, otherwise I might now sleep at all tonight!

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