Tara Laskowski is no stranger to being scared, and she loves it. Her latest novel One Night Gone is a creepy thriller about a beautiful beach town named Opal Beach, a woman’s mysterious disappearance, and another young woman’s discovery that all is not right in the posh hamlet. Here, Laskowski dishes on the three things she’s most afraid of and how they found their way into One Night Gone.
I was born on Halloween. Maybe that means I was destined to love creepy things. Or maybe they just grew on me like an alien parasite or snuck up on me like a zombie man with a chainsaw. However this interest happened, I’m a total sucker for all things weird, slightly off, or downright terrifying.
I find a wide spectrum of horrifying things delightfully wonderful, from true ghost stories to campy horror movies. And I’ve got my own weirdo fears that others might not entirely get (I’m terrified of bloated worms on a sidewalk after a rainstorm, for example). But there are three things that creep me out the most (in a good way!) and I find myself always wanting to incorporate them into my writing.
Now that my debut novel One Night Gone is out in the world, I’ll share with you those three shiver-inducing nightmares and the ways that I incorporated them into my book.
Being alone in someone else’s house
A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I was in graduate school and had to take several odd jobs to help pay my way. One of them was a part-time job as a dog walker/pet sitter for a local pet care company. For one week, I had to watch two cats that lived in a townhouse community, and I had to feed them at night. The townhouse, though perfectly normal and surrounded by many other houses, always gave me the creeps, but there was no real discernable reason why. I just did not like being alone in that place. It had giant windows with no blinds, and I remember feeling like I was being watched. (Who knows? Maybe I was.) And the cats seemed so desperate and sad—I was relieved when my week of going there was up and nothing terrible had happened.
I believe that houses carry an energy that deepens and changes depending on who lives there and what happens inside the walls. And whatever was going on in that house, it didn’t feel great.
I thought about that house when I started writing One Night Gone. My book starts when Allison, a recently divorced woman, takes a job house-sitting in an expensive beach home with an ocean view. I liked the idea of having a character living inside a gorgeous, spacious home, but feeling somehow uneasy about it and not quite knowing why. I mean, we all can understand why it might be scary to climb the front steps of a run-down, creaking cabin in the woods, but it’s somehow a little more unsettling to be freaked out by a home that on the surface looks like the perfect place, but isn’t.
Deep sea creatures
The ocean is a terrifying entity. It’s so damn big and holds so many frightening things. Sunken haunted ships. Deadly sharks. Strange, misshapen creatures who can sting you or bite you. I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with the kraken. How can you not be? A giant squid the size of a small city that terrorizes sailors lost at sea? With a weird undulating body and deadly tentacles that can wrap around you in seconds? COME ON. That’s insanely creepy.
There aren’t any giant squids in my novel. However, one of my main characters has a great appreciation for the depth and mysteries of the ocean. She understands the fear of standing in the water, face turned up to the sun, but not knowing what could be swimming at your feet.
I was going to say “creepy dolls,” but who are we kidding? All dolls are creepy. And I love to freak myself out by finding the most terrifying ones. The dolls that are perched on a high shelf in an antique store, their eyes seemingly following you as you walk by. The jars full of doll body parts at a craft fair. The little sailor boy your weird aunt has in her guest bedroom, his lips slightly parted like he’s waiting for the opportunity to suck out your soul.
You get the idea. I love it! I mean, I don’t want to own any of these dolls, but I love knowing they’re out there, gathering up momentum for a quiet army that will one day take over the world and make us all pay for our weaknesses.
And here’s an insider story: I had a creepy little doll in an earlier draft of my novel that looked like Medusa meets the Bride of Frankenstein. But in editing, the doll scene got cut out. Which, though ultimately the right decision, means that I’ll have to write another book someday that features a strange, unsettling doll.
If one doesn’t get to me first, that is!
Tara Laskowski is the award-winning author of a debut novel, One Night Gone, and two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders. Her debut novel One Night Gone will be published in October 2019 by Graydon House Books. She is the editor of the online flash fiction journal SmokeLong Quarterly, an Agatha Award winner, and a member of Sisters in Crime. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia.