AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Karissa Laurel

Meghan: Hey, Karissa! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books! What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Karissa: I like that Halloween makes it culturally acceptable to indulge the darker side of our human natures. We can explore our feelings about monstrous and evil things without explicitly approving of them. The world is both light and dark, and most of the times we’re not supposed to acknowledge the dark stuff, but on Halloween, it’s acceptable.

I also love the aesthetics of Halloween—skeletons and bats and spiders and gothic clothing. I love costumes and how, for one night, you can be something or someone completely different. I love the idea of trick-or-treating, that we let down our guards and open our homes, even temporarily, to the community. It’s one activity that will never work as a virtual, on-line event. You only get the candy if you’re willing to go door to door and actually meet your neighbors. Some people hate that part of it, but I always liked the human interaction aspect of trick-or-treating.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Karissa: In my day job, I work in an office in a historical home in the downtown area of my city. My office/house is adjacent to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and that neighborhood goes ALL OUT at Halloween. They put up very elaborate decorations. The city shuts down one of the main streets in the neighborhood to keep cars out, and there’s a huge street party and tons and tons of trick-or-treating. Ever since I started working near that neighborhood about six years ago, I’ve been taking my family there on Halloween night. My kid is too old to trick-or-treat any more, but we enjoy going to see the decorations and the costumes. There’s also a Krispy Kreme nearby and we always stop in and grab some of the Halloween themed donuts.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Karissa: I don’t know that I have a favorite holiday because there’s something I like about most of them. I guess, if I had to choose, I like Thanksgiving most of all because it’s all the best stuff about Christmas but without all the commerciality and pressure to spend money and give gifts. I love to eat, I love spending time with my family, and there are fewer expectations. But Halloween might be my second favorite (even though we don’t get any days off from work for it. Why not? Who do I send a petition to about that?) because of all the things mentioned previously. So many holidays are similar, but there’s nothing else quite like Halloween, culturally speaking. It’s all about having fun, letting loose, indulging in fantasies.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Karissa: I am not really a superstitious person, although I do sometimes feel afraid to acknowledge out loud when something is going well or when I’ve had a streak of good fortune. Some part of me seems to think that acknowledging good luck is the fastest way of making sure that good luck comes to an end. But I’m not afraid of anything like broken mirrors, walking under ladders, or black cats.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Karissa: This is a hard one, mainly because there are so many good ones. I conferred with my kid (who is 19 y.o. and not much of a kid anymore) and he chose the demon from the Jeepers Creepers franchise, and I agree he’s a good choice. He only shows up every so often, but once he does, he’s impossible to kill. No matter what you do (like run him over with the car until he’s pulp in the road), he just keeps coming back. And he has the scariest face ever. That is some quality special effects make-up right there.

But while the Creeper is high on my list, I think Tim Curry’s performance as the demon clown in Stephen King’s It is probably top of my list. He was utterly terrifying in the most subtle way. He could just stand there in his clown make-up and pointy yellow teeth and scare the bejeezus out of me.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Karissa: I do watch quite a lot of true crime shows and listen to podcasts, but I can’t say there’s one that really fascinates me more than another. I was intrigued by the story of Hae Min Lee’s death, and whether or not Adnan Syed, convicted for killing her, really did it. Check out Season one of the Serial podcast for the whole story. I have to say, based on what I’ve heard and what we know in the years since…I think there’s a really good chance Adnan didn’t do it.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Karissa: Not so much an urban legend but when I was little, I had a book of local, North Carolina ghost stories that fascinated me. Ever since then, I’ve had a special place in my heart for local stories like the Devil’s Tramping Ground and The Maco Light.

The Devil’s Tramping Ground is a camping spot located in a forest near the Harper’s Crossroads area in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Lore says that the Devil “tramps” and haunts a barren circle of ground in which nothing is supposed to grow. Things left there will disappear overnight. Of course, there are some scientific explanations for why this place is so strange, but speculating about the devil is more forum

As for the Maco Light, according to the most common version of the legend, Joe Baldwin was in the rear car of a Wilmington, NC-bound train on a rainy night in 1867. As the train neared Maco, Baldwin realized the car had become detached from the rest of the train. He knew another train was following, so he ran to the rear platform and frantically waved a lantern to signal the oncoming train. The engineer failed to see the stranded railroad car in time, and Baldwin was decapitated in the collision. Some say the head was never found

Shortly after the accident, residents of Maco and railroad employees reported sightings of a white light along a section of railroad track through swamps west of Maco station, and word spread that Joe Baldwin had returned to search for his missing head. The light was said to appear in the distance, before approaching along the tracks facing East, bobbing at a height of about 5 feet, and either flying to the side of the track in an arc or receding from the viewer. Other reports spoke of green or red lights, or other patterns of movement

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Karissa: Although I like true crime a lot, I don’t tend to care for serial killer stories. It’s one thing to get a thrill from a fictional murderer like Mike Myers, but I don’t like anything that smacks of glorification of real-life killers in any sort of way. I tend to shy away from serial killer mythology.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Karissa: I probably had seen movies that were considered horror at an earlier age, but don’t remember anything specific. However, I do remember having a Halloween sleepover with some girlfriends when I was in middle school, I was probably about 12 years-old, and my mom let us rent The Lost Boys. I was absolutely enthralled. I don’t know if that can actually be considered a horror movie, but Kiefer Sutherland and his band of vampire misfits were certainly no vegetarian, sparkly Twilight vampires. I still love that movie to this day.

I can’t specifically remember when I picked up my first horror novel, but I do remember that The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree was one of my most favorite books as a little kid—I was always drawn to spooky things and didn’t scare easily. I read way ahead of my grade level, and I grew up reading Stephen King, Christopher Pike, V.C. Andrews, and Dean Koontz. My mom was very open minded about reading, and I have no memory of her discouraging me from reading anything.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

As a kid, I remember reading The Tommyknockers by Stephen King and being so freaked out that I had to go outside in the daylight to finish reading it. But the most recent thing I’ve read that made me feel deeply unsettled is The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. The whole book is full of moments that took my outside of myself in a frightening, disturbing way, but there is a climactic chase scene near the end that is one of the most downright horrifying things I’ve read in a long, long time. Jones establishes a prolonged period of heightened tension that is torturous, but in a really good way, and it’s never boring or tedious. If you love horror and haven’t read that book yet, you must.

I also have to shout out to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s nothing like the Will Smith movie, by the way. It’s one of the most gorgeously written books I’ve ever read and filled me with so much existential dread. It’s also extremely timely and relatable to the current pandemic culture we’re all experiencing.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Karissa: Horror, like comedy, is highly subjective, right? What scares one person won’t scare the next. I’ve watched tons of horror over the years and little of it has actually scared me. However, I can’t stand movies that are classified as horror but are actually just torture porn, such as House of 1000 Corpses. My husband, when we first started dating years ago, asked me to watch that movie with him and his friends. I ended up putting a blanket over my head and going to sleep instead of watching it. It didn’t scare me so much as sicken me. I still won’t go anywhere near that franchise, and I’m reluctant to watch any Rob Zombie productions because of that movie.

I wouldn’t say it scarred me, but George A. Romero’s ’68 Night of the Living Dead scared the crap out of my when I saw it years ago. It still gives me chills, and it’s still my favorite zombie movie, ever. With little in the way of special effects and nothing like CGI even remotely possible, Romero had to be clever. He used music and sound effects, lighting, and careful pacing to create a highly atmospheric movie that is thick with dread and horror. The opening scene, with that slow shambling zombie in the background, out of focus, slowly coming closer and closer… That was pure cinematic genius. I still prefer it over newer zombie movies that rely too much on CGI.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Karissa: As a kid, I was kind of spoiled and precocious about costumes. My mom was crafty and could sew. I always insisted that she make me one-of-a-kind costumes, and she indulged me. The biggest hit of my childhood costume career was when I went as a whole bag of M&Ms. My mom sewed me a costume that looked like a classic bag of regular M&Ms complete with the logo and barcode—it was kind of like a giant, brown, rectangular dress. I painted my face to look like a green M&M poking out of the top and put M&Ms made from balloons on my shoulders. I won a costume contest, and my mom sent pictures of me to the Mars chocolate company that owns M&Ms. They sent back stickers, coupons, and a personalized thank you letter.

I don’t sew like my mom can, but I like making things, so I’ve managed to make some pretty good costumes for my kid over the years. He’s been Popeye (that was a big hit with the old folks in my neighborhood), a Ghost Buster, the Ghost Rider, Gene Simmons from Kiss, and many more. When I used to work in a bigger office, I once made fancy witch hats for all the ladies in my section to wear on Halloween.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Karissa: Easily the answer to that is Thriller. I am Gen-X and was a little kid when that album came out. I loved everything Michael Jackson in those days. I didn’t see the video until I was a little older, maybe around seven or eight years old, and I remember being absolutely captivated by it. I still love the song and the video after all these years, even when it’s not Halloween.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Karissa: When my son was still trick-or-treating, I always looked forward to taking his Mounds or Almond Joys. I love coconut, but he didn’t, so it worked out well for me to take those and leave the rest for him. I especially like Mounds because I prefer dark chocolate. I absolutely cannot stand Twizzlers. They taste like wax to me. Ugh.

Meghan: Karissa, this was fantastic! Thanks for stopping by. Before you go, can you leave us with your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Karissa:

Top Ten Horror/Halloween Movies:
10 The Cabin in the Woods
9 It (The 1990 Miniseries)
8 Jeepers Creepers
7 Blade (1 and 2)
6 Bram Stoker’s Dracula
5 Three Witches of Eastwick
4 The Lost Boys
3 Alien (I and 2, especially 2)
2 Tumbbad
1 Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968)

Top Halloween Books:
10 The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (much more terrifying than the musical version)
9 Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
8 Dracula by Bram Stoker
7 Prodigal Son (Frankenstein Series) by Dean Koontz
7 The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
6 The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
5 The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
4 Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
3 The Sandman by Neil Gaiman (The BBC audio production is wonderful)
2 The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
1 I am Legend by Richard Matheson


Boo-graphy:
Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, dark chocolate, superheroes, and Star Wars. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. In the summer, she’s camping, kayaking, and boating at the lake, and in the winter, she’s skiing or curled up with a good book. She is the author of the Urban Fantasy trilogy, The Norse Chronicles; Touch of Smoke, a stand-alone paranormal romance; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA second-world fantasy trilogy.

Serendipity at the End of the World
Serendipity Blite and her sister, Bloom, use their unique talents to survive the apocalyptic aftermath of the Dead Disease. When Bloom is kidnapped, Sera is determined to get her back. Attempting a rescue mission in an undead-infested city would be suicidal, so Sera forms a specialized team to help retrieve her sister. But unfortunate accident sets Sera teetering on the edge of death. She must fight to save her own life, because surviving could mean finding family, love, and possibly a cure.

You can find it on Kindle Vella
New episodes come out every Saturday

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