author interviews / other writers / writing

What Scares Brenna Yovanoff? (+Giveaway)

What scares you? That’s the question I asked YA authors for this blog series. Stay tuned for interviews and guest posts as authors visit and reveal their frightening—even surprising—fears.

Today’s guest author is Brenna Yovanoff, author of The Replacement and The Space Between. Her new novel, Paper Valentine, comes out this January. (And be sure to enter the giveaway to win a signed ARC of Paper Valentine!)

What scares Brenna? Read my interview to find out.


Q: What do you think draws you toward writing dark, disturbing, even frightening things? Do you have any idea how you got this twisted?

Okay, so when I was six, I saw an actual horror movie in an actual theater for the first time, and it was terrible. But I didn’t know that. I thought it was good, and also that this was what movies should be like, and also that I wanted to see a million-billion more.

However, unbeknownst to me, my parents had expected the movie to be radically different from what it was and didn’t take me to see any more horror movies for a very long time. So I mostly had to content myself with writing incomprehensible ghost stories and drawing pictures of giant Godzilla-esque dinosaurs wrecking cities. Which is to say, I’m probably not going to be able to respond to this question in a satisfactory way, because the answer is basically, “I don’t know, I was a pretty weird child.” Which seems incomplete. (Also, the movie was House. You’ve probably never heard of it, and that’s okay. It is aggressively not one of those necessary horror classics. No one needs to see it.)

Q: If you were spending the night all alone in a creaky old cabin in the middle of the woods, what book or movie would you absolutely refuse to take with you because it would frighten you down to your bones? Why does it scare you so much?

Oh, I know this one! Pet Sematary by Stephen King. Also, I would refuse to take it with me to the opera, a dentist’s office, and an ice-cream parlor. The only safe place to read this book is snug in bed with the blankets pulled up and the lamp on and the cat clutched tight for safety. Which I do. Repeatedly. Because I am a sucker for whatever is the most upsetting thing. (It’s very scary, because there are zombie animals and people and they hate you and want to eat you. Also, you brought them on yourself.)

Q: What is the most terrifying place you’ve ever set foot in, in real life? Has it ever found its way—disguised or otherwise—into one of your novels?

This is going to sound like an absolute cop-out, and I promise you it’s NOT—it is one hundred percent true. The actual most terrifying place I’ve ever, ever set foot in was high school. Where I went one grim and disorienting day after having been homeschooled for my entire life.

Also, as with most awkward and unpleasant things, I immediately became obsessed with it and took copious notes, and now high school regularly finds its way into my books, my short stories, my conversations, and roughly half the content on my blog.

Also, when I was 14, I went to a cadaver lab and it did nothing to prepare me for high school. Because you’d think the cadaver lab would be scary, but it was actually incredibly spacious and brightly lit and clinical. It was essentially the Ikea of cadaver labs.

Q: If a scene from your deepest nightmares came to vivid life, where would you be transported, what would be crawling all over your body, and what disturbing sight would be staring at you when you opened your eyes? (Or is it even worse than I could prompt you here?)

Okay, this is a little bit of a weird situation. My scariest dreams revolve around a cavern so huge that the ceiling is completely lost in darkness. There’s a big stone floor with a vaguely circular pit in the middle that is too dark to see into, but I know without question that it goes down and down forever.

Also, nothing scary ever happens in this dream. It is just abjectly terrifying by itself, without any kind of violence, threat, or coherent storyline. Similar to if I told you that my scariest dream was about a toaster. And you would say, “But it’s totally one of those vicious, carnivorous toasters, right?” And I would say, “No, it’s just sitting there. But it’s really scary, though.” It’s like that.

Q: Back when you were five years old, what would have been the most mind-numbingly terrifying thing to discover hiding under your bed at night? Part two, same question, only how about now, under your bed… tonight?

I already know that I’m not going to be able to adequately explain this, but when I was little, I was deathly afraid of things without faces and more specifically, without eyes. The idea that someone could just be rambling around out there without the benefit of features (because that’s what I really mean when I say no faces—in order to be scary, there still had to be a place where a face should be) was unspeakably horrific.

Also, I’m pretty sure that I can pinpoint the exact source of this phobia, because once as a child, I watched an entire miniseries on the Civil War and at one point there was this guy, and he had a prophetic dream that the Gregory Peck version of Abraham Lincoln was lying in a boat with coins over his eyes. Which was unequivocally the most upsetting thing I had ever, ever seen. You may think I’m joking, but I’m so not joking. (Also, I think it would be pretty upsetting to find coin-eyed zombie-boat Abe Lincoln under my bed, even as an adult.)

Q: Your friends have convinced you to play the Ouija board with them. But as soon as your fingers touch the planchette, it whips away and moves on its own to spell out the scariest thing you could imagine, shooting you through with terror. What did the Ouija board just communicate to you?

The words: Twenty-seven flowers. I don’t have to justify this to you. It’s between me and the spirits.

Q: Have you ever scared yourself with something you’ve written?

While I don’t think I can honestly say that I’ve ever actually scared myself, I have occasionally written things that are so viscerally gross I almost can’t stand it. That’s usually how I know how to dial it back down a little, because if it’s so gross that it gives me a skin-crawly feeling, then 99.9% of all people ever are going to find it completely repellant and slam the book shut. And I don’t want that. I want them to briefly consider it, and then muster their courage and press on!

Thank you so much for letting me interview you about your fears, Brenna! Readers: Be sure to enter for a chance to win an ARC of Paper Valentine (scroll down for giveaway details).

Brenna Yovanoff was raised in a barn, a tent, and a tepee, and was homeschooled until high school. She spent her formative years in Arkansas, in a town heavily populated by snakes, where sometimes they would drop turkeys out of the sky. When she was five, she moved to Colorado, where it snows on a regular basis but never snows turkeys. She holds an MFA in fiction from Colorado State University and is the New York Times bestselling author of The Replacement and The Space Between. Her next novel is called Paper Valentine and comes out in January of 2013. She currently lives in Denver with her husband.

Visit her online at

Follow @brennayovanoff on Twitter.

Want a chance to win a signed ARC of Brenna’s new novel, Paper Valentine, which will be published in January 2013?

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you to everyone who entered! The winner will be announced soon.

Come back tomorrow for more in the What Scares You? series… The next author to share fears with us is: Daniel Marks, author of Velveteen!

Series art by Robert Roxby. Email to contact the artist directly.

19 thoughts on “What Scares Brenna Yovanoff? (+Giveaway)

  1. I went from a tiny private elementary school to a big public middle school, and I agree that it was terrifying! I love Brenna’s books & am very excited for Paper Valentine. Also, how gorgeous are her covers? Love!

  2. This is easy and anyone that knows me know this. Squirrels! Specifically ones that target me when I go into the basement. Their gleaming eyes and their twitching heads as they race around planning to prank me! Or nibble on my feet!

  3. Eep! This series is so, so perfect for this month. Just reading the questions and answers reminded me of the things that freak me out. In general, I am afraid of knives. It might have something to do with the serial killer movies I watched as a younger person…

  4. I wish there was a way to prove how much I NEED TO READ this book. I’d do one of the things that scares me. Like, I’d find a spider to touch with my bare hands, or I’d sing in public, or I’d put my head underwater (normal for most people, but I LOATHE putting my head underwater.) I’d videotape it, too. Let me know if anyone takes pity on me and wants to exchange an ARC of Brenna Awesomeness for an embarrassing and frightening (for me) vlog.

  5. Hi Brenna and Nova! This post is very fitting, as I just had two very scary dreams last night. Plus, I scare easy, so I’m always fascinated by people who are brave enough to write scary🙂

    So excited to read Paper Valentine. (The cover is gorgeous!)

  6. So I think your cave nightmare means that you’re Batman, or well Batgirl. Hahaha All that is missing are the bats.

  7. Long driveways in heavy woods on Halloween. Yes, I lived in the country and those trick-or-treet treks were scary. My parents expected us to do it alone. And, oh, the house where a poor unfortunate had hung himself in the barn. Total terror.
    When you mentioned the dark cavern I was reminded of the uber-scary scenes in Ursula LeGuin’s The Tombs of Atuan (part of the Earthsea series). Freaked me out.
    I love your books and their covers, so would be excited to win this ARC. Thanks for the opportunity.

  8. I can’t wait for this book. What a preeety cover! I am scared poopless of heights! I want to go sky diving and go to the top of super high places just to see the view but I am too scared!

  9. I can totally relate to the uber-scary dreams that aren’t technically about anything scary. My worst dreams involve trying very hard to do something, but not quite being able to, as if I’m perpetually half asleep or my internal clock is just slightly slower than the rest of reality. And I’m not talking about trying to do something important, like shouting, “The zombie is right behind you!!” No. I’m just trying to, like, answer a phone, or tell somebody what I want for lunch, but I can’t move fast enough to actually *do* it. And it’s the scariest. So bizarre.

  10. Not much scares me other than when my kids leave the house. They may be semi-adults but I fear for their safety.

  11. I am not the type to get scared by things. But if I do it’s usually a nightmare. Somehow my brain comes up with my fears of losing my husband and it completely undoes me.

  12. My most favorite line of the interview: “It was essentially the Ikea of cadaver labs.” I work at a hospital. We have one of these! Now, I will forever be tempted to tell everyone I’m going to Ikea instead of the morgue.>:D

  13. Oh, man, I am such a Brenna fangirl, and can’t wait for Paper Valentine! And I love the answer to the last question… I always tell people, when something is so visceral I can’t handle it, it must be really awful since so many things don’t really phase me.

  14. Congrats on the new book Brenna! I loved The Replacement.

    Beyond spiders I think things that freak me out is loss in general. Sometimes films, and especially literature, latch onto that. I think it’s why “Walking Dead” is so popular and such. Losing family and loved ones and having to survive? How scary is that?

  15. I sometimes have nightmares that take place in a building or location that I have never been before. There have been three times when later in life I have been to those locations and have had an absolute freak-out. One was a location in my hometown, one was during my first ever trip to Atlanta, and one was during my first ever trip to Vermont.

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