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Best-selling authors reveal their childhood fears

At long last, it’s finally here! Childhood Fears, which contains my novella The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, is released today.

In honour of this momentous occasion, I asked some of my favourite authors to reveal their childhood fears.

Read on…

Sara Gruen“Monsters under the bed! I had to take a running leap to get into bed, and as long as all of me was entirely on the bed I was safe, but anything that hung over the edge might get eaten.”

Sara Gruen#1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Water for Elephants, At the Water’s EdgeApe House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes.


Cheryl Strayed“As a child I had a nightmare that I was abducted by gigantic rodents.They’ve deeply creeped me out ever since.”

Cheryl Strayedthe #1 New York Times bestselling author of the memoir WILD, the bestselling advice essay collection Tiny Beautiful Things, the novel Torch, and the quotes collection, Brave Enough.


John Douglas“I think my greatest fears were a fear of heights, and claustrophobia would be another. I think it may have been learned behavior because I remember my grandfather avoiding driving in tunnels and over bridges in NY. My mother had those same fears as well. Fortunately, I eventually outgrew those fears.”

John Douglasone of the FBI’s first criminal profilers and a founder of the Behavioural Science Unit. Bestselling author of Mindhunter, Law & Disorder, The Anatomy of Motive, and many other true-crime accounts, Douglas inspired Jack Crawford’s character in Silence of the Lambs.


“My fear as a child was the most common of them all, and a fear that still tickles my reptilian brain: the dark. Fearing the dark is the purest kind of fear, as it embodies the fear of the unknown — what we can’t see is always scarier than what we can. And that’s a pretty good lesson for horror writers, too, I think.”81E9GrmUHXL._UX250_

Chuck WendigNew York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Aftermath and social-media behemoth. His new release is Zeroes, which he swears is a horror novel.


Diana Gabaldon“Claustrophobia. It wouldn’t make a good costume.”

Diana Gabaldon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning Outlander series.


kathryn casey“Well, I had a monster who lived in my dresser drawer. I would wake up at night and think that I heard the drawer open. But by the time I walked over to check, it was closed. Really sneaky monster.”

Kathryn Casey, true crime and mystery author of Shattered and Evil Beside Her.


“When I was a kid, my parents built a house in a rural area of Central Texas. Upon completion, many of the scorpions that had been living in the surrounding woods apparently decided that the air conditioning ducts were preferable to wherever they’d been spending their time before the house came along. My bed was directly underneath an air conditioning vent, so it was only a matter of time before a scorpion landed on me in the middle of the night. The sting was very painful, and hurt for a while–but the fear of scorpions lasted for years.


Jonathan MooreJonathan Mooreauthor of the soon-to-be bestselling The Poison Artistwhich will be released in January 2016. Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) called it, “…an electrifying read. I haven’t read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon.


“Cellars and basements paralyzed me with fear as a little boy. IndefinableEric Red unknown terror lurked in the darkness past the bottom of the basement stairs in my child’s imagination. Back then, I would never, ever set foot past a cellar doorway—literally, physically I couldn’t. Can still recall how that grip of fear felt as tangible as a force field I dared not cross.”

Eric Redscreenwriter and creator of The Hitcher and Near Dark, and author of the scary-as-hell White Knuckle.

Ronald Malfi“In the canon of my childhood fears, there was no greater terror than the giant, strutting, monocled, anthropomorphic Peanut Man–he who tromped the boardwalk of Wildwood, New Jersey, that frozen rictus grin on his crenellated face, the sun gleaming in the single glass lens over one eye, those slender, shimmery black limbs protruding from his terrible hourglass shape. Many nightmares were born of the Planters Peanut Man, and my life as I knew it would never be the same.”

Ronald Malfi, multi-award-winning author of Little Girls, which I highly recommend. (And yes, he actually was afraid of Mr. Peanut.)

“I can’t remember any so-called normal fears, like that of the dark or the Dacre Stokerbogey man under my bed. But I somehow developed a tremendous fear of confined spaces—claustrophobia.

I played in plenty of snow forts while growing up in Montreal, and never had a traumatic experience that I can remember, but I do remember at some point freaking out when playing hide and seek in a laundry hamper.  Years later I had to enter an MRI machine and just about lost it and had to come out.

Ever since then, no tight spots for me!”

Dacre Stokergreat-grand nephew of Bram Stoker and author of Dracula the Un-dead.

Now it’s your turn! What was your childhood fear?

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  1. Chris

    Awesome post! I can totally relate to Sara Gruen’s all-limbs-on-the-bed strategy. And I wonder if Cheryl Strayed saw The Princess Bride as a child. Those R.O.U.S. were pretty scary.

    • JH

      Thanks, Chris! I loved the authors’ answers. It was an interesting post to write.

  2. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    Congratulations on the release!
    Getting stung by a scorpion would be awful. I worried about that when I was a kid living in Arizona.

    • JH

      Thanks, Alex! It happened to my best friend when we were in Zimbabwe. And yes, it wasn’t fun. She was in excruciating pain, and the scorpion was tiny…about the size of a postage stamp.

  3. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    Giant rodents?! Yikes!

    I’m with Chuck Wendig – fear of the dark, fear of the unknown – totally terrifying.

    And I’ve got Malfi’s book on my TBR list/shelf already. 🙂

    • JH

      I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, Madeline. Little Girls is awesome. Very unpredictable, which is hard to find these days.

  4. Lisa S.

    Interesting that a few of the writers mentioned claustrophobia. Maybe their heads are so full of imagination that they find small enclosed spaces scary.
    Definitely believe in the ‘all limbs on bed’ theory myself. ?

    • JH

      I have a horrible case of claustrophobia as well, but I can’t remember if it started when I was a kid or not. I can definitely relate. I tried to get Stephen King for this post, but from what I’ve read, he had so many fears that listing them would fill up the page!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, my friend. 🙂

  5. Elle

    Those are some creepy fears for little kids!

    • JH

      I know, hey? But childhood is when our imaginations are at their most powerful.

  6. C. Lee McKenzie

    Those are some truly huge childhood fears! Mine was Alligators Overhead. Sorry. That’s kind of book plug, but it’s true. I had a knotty pine ceiling and I swore there were alligators up there. That’s where my book title came from. I had to deal with that fear some way.

    • JH

      Wow, that’s really different, Lee. I think you win the invisible prize for Most Original Childhood Fear.

      Apparently, Stephen King also writes about his fears in order to deal with them. That man must be scared of a lot!

  7. Birgit

    This was very entertaining to read but the scorpion got me. I dislike them and I don’t live anywhere near them. I have a phobic fear of heights. Spiders-nope-don’t like them which might stem from when I was about 10 or 12 and told to spray raid under the diningroom window outside. All these spiders started coming down all over me. I jumped off the little ladder I was on. The 3rd was waking up one morning and looking up at the heating vent only to see 4 beady eyes staring down at me. They were mice.

    • JH

      Ooh, those are creepy, Birgit! Especially the spiders. That’s enough to traumatize a child for life. Do you write horror? Because if you don’t, you definitely should!

      Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the post!

  8. Lexa Cain

    I enjoyed reading all the authors’ fears, especially the para about John Douglas. While I think fear of the dark, claustrophobia, or of a monster under the bed is pretty usual, I’m unnerved by bridges over water. Along with John’s grandpa, I’d avoid those NY bridges too!

    • JH

      Thanks, Lexa. I’m just glad he got over it. I can’t imagine an FBI agent being afraid of those things and getting away with it. I loved his response. 🙂

  9. Chrys Fey

    I LOVED your book, J.H., so I am definitely interested in the others. I remember leaping off my bed at night. And sleeping right in the middle so nothing can grab me.

    • JH

      Aw, thanks Chrys. Your support means so much to me. I really appreciate the kind words.

      I wonder if anyone else suspected their stuffed animals came alive at night, since they were always on the floor in the morning.

  10. Roland Yeomans

    Mark Twain’s childhood fear centered around his brother and sister dying, for which he held himself responsible. The woods at night haunted him … and the sound of a spinning wheel, for which he could never find a reason for the fear.

    I incorporated all of them in the first of my novel on him and his life-long mentor, Samuel McCord which ends with him in 1895 Egypt. You will be able to read his childhood nightmare in my entry for Denise Covey’s Write … Edit … Publish. Great post as always. 🙂

    • JH

      Hey Roland,

      That’s interesting, but it’s also totally cheating! I want to know what *your* childhood fear was.

      Who’s this Mark Twain character? 😉 I want to know about you.

  11. Patricia Lynne

    I can’t recall any childhood fears. Maybe nightmares because I remember having them a lot. No idea why I had so many either.

    • JH

      Hmm…that’s kind of creepy on its own, Patricia. Can’t you see a scary movie or a book where a girl keeps waking up from a nightmare, but can’t remember what it was about?

      There’s some potential there.


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