Ever wonder what sorts of things unnerve the folks who make a living scaring their readers? We polled a few of our favorite local horror authors for the most spine-tingling October attractions, events, sites and sounds — and, some of their answers were as unexpected as the plots twists you’ll find in their latest compilation, Nightmares Unhinged, from Hex Publishers.
1) Stephen Graham Jones
Stephen Jones is the author of 15½ novels, six collections and well over 200 stories. He lives in Boulder and has been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award, the Bram Stoker Award and the Black Quill, among others.
“There's no purer feeling in the world than being scared,” says Jones. Haunted houses are one of his favorite Halloween frights, and the one that scares him most is City of the Dead, at 7007 East 88th Avenue in Henderson.
“Inside it you kind of lose your sense of direction, have to start trusting this wall, those doors — and, once you do that, some of that trust gets associated with all the monsters and dead people and killers around the corner," he explains. "If you believe in the door, then you kind of accidentally start believing in the darkness it opens onto.” He always wears boots with low heels whenever he goes to City of the Dead, he admits, "because I always end up running by the end!”
When Jones isn’t testing his shoes at a nearby haunted house, he heads to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. “October's usually good for screenings of horror I never saw on the big screen,” he says. “In 1984, when Nightmare on Elm Street came out, not only was I twelve and couldn't get into an R movie, but I lived twenty miles from a theater. So my first experience of it was on VHS. Getting to see my favorites like that in an actual theater, it's the best kind of magic.”
2) Josh Viola
Josh Viola is an author, artist and video-game developer, as well as the founder of Denver-based Hex Publishers. His book The Bane of Yoto has been honored with more than a dozen literary awards, and Viola edited Nightmares Unhinged.
Like Jones, Viola loves haunted houses. “My two favorites are the 13th Floor and The Frightmare Compound,” he says, adding that he goes to both several times a year. “They're very different experiences," Viola explains. "13th Floor has a big budget with some fantastic sets and animatronics. Frightmare has an independent feel, which is great — you can sense the passion.
“I also love touring cemeteries after dark, and visiting various abandoned locations,” Viola adds. “I guess I'm attracted to the suspense: Anything can happen in those situations.” While Viola claims he's never actually been frightened — "You don't scare easy when you don't believe in the paranormal,” he says — he admits to being “totally fascinated by the concept." Plus, he notes, "I could probably get arrested for trespassing at some of the locations I frequent, so that's scary.”
3) Jeanne C. Stein
Under her own name, Jeanne Stein writes the bestselling Urban Fantasy series, The Anna Strong Vampire Chronicles; as S. J. Harper, she writes The Fallen Siren Series.
“I don’t go to slasher movies. I’ve never been in a ‘haunted’ house that was scary,” says Stein, who admits, “I'm not very sensitive to hauntings.” In fact, she adds, “As a writer who often has monsters of various ilk in her stories, the question that always comes to mind is: Who are the real monsters?” Oftentimes it’s people – the real, live psychopaths – who give Stein the heebie-jeebies.
A few times a year, though, Stein stays at the Hand Hotel Bed & Breakfast in Fairplay, where there are supposedly haunted rooms. “I never felt a thing,” says Stein. Except, of course, for that one time when a shelf fell down in the room next to hers in the middle of the night.
“Warren Hammond, another writer in Nightmares Unhinged, was staying in that room,” Stein recalls. “I remember hearing the crash, waiting a minute and then thinking, ‘Well, no screams. I guess I'll go back to sleep.’” And she did.
4) Steve Rasnic Tem
Steve Tem's Southern Gothic novel of 1930s Appalachian life, Blood Kin, won this year's Bram Stoker Award. In addition to five novels, Tem has published over 400 short stories.
“Although I've written horror fiction professionally for over 35 years, I'm not a huge fan of haunted-house attractions or slasher film marathons,” says Tem. “Most of what I know about creating terror I learned from reading ghost stories on quiet evenings at home — or, even better, listening to a great actor as he or she recreates those stories on stage.”
Tem still seeks out the sorts of performances he adored as a kid and young adult. He also goes to the Molly Brown House to get his fill of frights at Victorian Horrors, now in its 22nd year. Tem describes the annual experience as “actors performing from classics of Victorian Gothic in a gorgeous period setting.” He also recommends Zombies 'R' Us at Buntport Theater by “the always reliable Stories on Stage crew,” he says.
5) Warren Hammond
Warren Hammond is known for his gritty KOP series, which takes the best of classic detective noir and reinvents it on a destitute colony world. KOP Killer won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for best mystery. Warren's latest novel, Tides of Maritinia, was released in December 2014.
“The last two years, my favorite haunt is the Denver Botanic Gardens,” Hammond says. “The gardens were built on top of Denver's oldest cemetery.” Hammond didn't know that until he took the Ghosts in the Gardens tour, and learned all about mass graves, tuberculosis wards and “many decades of unexplained phenomena,” he continues. “The dark chill of an October night sets a perfectly eerie mood for creepy explorations and great storytelling.”
6) Mario Acevedo
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Mario Acevedo wrote the bestselling Felix Gomez detective-vampire series published by HarperCollins. His debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats, was chosen by Barnes & Noble as one of the best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Decade and was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award. He's also one of Westword's 100 Colorado Creatives.
“At my age I've since learned there are no monsters under the bed,” says Acevedo. When a rare horror book or movie grabs him, “It's because of the great storytelling rather than the vampires, zombies or whatever,” he says.
So what raises the hairs on Acevedo’s arms? “Idiots running red lights and big, mean dogs slamming into fences do jerk a knot of fear through me,” Acevedo admits. “When I'm looking for a scary thrill, I'll stand on the bank of Cherry Creek during a flood, or beside a train roaring past to remind myself that there are forces in this world that can smash me to pulp if I'm not careful.”
Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.