Why do we love Serial Killers?

2 years ago 0

In other words: “Is something wrong with me?” This Saturday ScareHouse is opening the Basement for a special Valentine’s Day production based on the notorious H.H. Holmes, otherwise known as America’s first serial killer (well the first celebrity serial killer, if you will). I finished reading Devil in the White City last fall and, like many Americans (including Leonardo DiCaprio who bought the book rights and is turning the story into a film), I became fascinated with this real life story of murder and mayhem. The mysterious and downright terrifying characters, a time of radical change (science and electricity were finally becoming mainstream! Women were moving to cities to live and work alone!),  a world’s fair?! PEOPLE KILLED IN A BASEMENT?! It was all just to perfect for a special Basement production, and as Amy Hollaman had pointed out after we watched the documentary on Netflix, Dr. Holmes did sort of have the first haunted house.

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“SCREAM” It’s real!

2 years ago 0

Last week I had one of the most surreal moments of my life: I held my book for the first time. I was at the Book Expo America, the biggest book expo in North America, signing advanced copies of my book (not the final thing, but you can pre-order here!), and it was the strangest thing I’ve experienced. I went on an emotional roller coaster as I walked up to my publisher, PublicAffairs— part of the Perseus Book Group–and saw my book sitting on the table. I couldn’t believe it was real. I picked it up and flipped through the pages, catching a word here and there that triggered memories of the moments I had written them.  The word “Leviathan” jumped off the page and I instantly recalled sitting in the converted church retreat last summer in the Poconos, writing with my friend Bessie (who by the way just successfully defended her dissertation,

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Adventures at Eastern State Pen

3 years ago 2

I spent this past weekend in Philadelphia, PA at Eastern State Penitentiary. This was actually the second time I visited, the first time was last year when I went out to experience their Masquerade.  You can listen to a podcast on that here: Party at the Pen. It really is the annual do-not-miss Philly party and it’s happening again this Saturday (sorry tickets are obviously already sold out). My visit this time was under very different circumstances and for very different reasons. First, I wanted to find out more about ghost hunting and paranormal investigations. While not exactly in the same category as rollercoasters, scary movies, or haunted houses it is a form of engagement with ‘scary’ material and I wanted to learn more about how and why people go about it. It obviously holds a lot of mass appeal in the US–some of the most popular reality TV shows are based on ghost hunting (see

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And then a panda showed up…

3 years ago 2

Suicide Forest This has been quite a day. I started the day at the base of Mt. Fuji in the Aokigahara forest, also known as the ‘Suicide Forest’ due to the hundreds of people who have chosen the spot as their final destination (Vice did a very moving documentary you can watch here ). I’m not actually going to blog about my trip there, that conversation needs a lot more than a blog post to truly capture, instead I’ll just say this—death is one of our biggest fears, but for many living is the hard part.  This is a topic I’m anxious to dig into, but not here.


While I was there I also visited the Saiko Ice Caves  which were SO COOL. We’re talking ‘oh my god Christian Bale must be sitting right around the corner’ cool. I wasn’t expecting the degree of, well, danger that was very clear and very present. I’m used to visitor and tourist areas being as safe as a bounce house and tall enough to fit a giraffe but these warning signs were not joking (at least I think they were warning signs).

There is still a great deal of snow at Mt. Fuji, it was a harsh winter and the ice in the caves was thick. Luckily I was the only one there (and the only one on the hour bus ride) and I had free reign to explore and TOUCH ALL THE THINGS (another tourist attraction no-no). So I poked around and imagined my life as a superhero. It was fun and nature never ceases to remind me that it rocks.


From there I came back east to Tokyo, I managed to navigate the multiple train transfers until I got to Shinjuku. Now, at this point I had been pretty much isolated without much interaction with, well, anyone so coming into the Shinjuku station was a bit overwhelming to say the least.  I figured out though (because I’m incredibly cheap) that I could walk the final trek to my Tokyo hotel rather than transferring again to a non-JR line (that will make sense to some). So I ventured out onto the streets with my iphone maps in hand. Some people budget for fancy meals, I budget for data SIMs abroad, honestly I couldn’t care less about the food, sorry foodie friends– I’ve been living on convenience store crap and green tea.  Anyway I walked the 2 miles to my hotel, which really was very nice. I wanted to explore the city and this was a great way to get my bearings. 

There were so many free bikes! (joking) Honestly though I do love that people here feel comfortable leaving their bikes (and sometimes purses?!) on the street with no lock. That is awesome. It makes me think too about the connection between safe societies and thrilling attractions…..

Thanks to Scott who posted about my adventures in the Haunted Attraction Industry Facebook page I met a guy who knows a lot about haunts in Japan and within a day he connected me with a friend of his here in Tokyo who was willing to go with me to The Lock Up (you need at least 2 for a reservation). This place was bananas.

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It wasn’t scary, but it was a great example of how we can use scary material and imagery to create fun and engaging activities. The entrance and set design was better than a lot of haunted houses I’ve seen, it definitely set the mood. And it was packed, these places (it’s a chain) are full every night.

Once you pass the several very intimidating doors, you’re greeted by a scantily clad law enforcement agent who puts you in cuffs and leads you to your ‘cell’ which is actually your dining room.

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There you’re locked up and told of the evening specials. I ordered some drink that came in a     beaker with a side of what tasted like smashed up sweet tarts (alcohol and sugar, sure why not!).

Then, as you’re enjoying your eats and drinks the whole place goes into lock down. The lights go out, some heavy metal music starts playing and black lights come on.Then you can order a variety of foods that come in the form of of macabre arrangements, Freddy Krueger chicken spears, grave yard pork, drowning dumplings, you get the idea.

And then a clown comes by.


And then a panda shows up (sorry for the image quality, this was happening in lightening speed).

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And the law enforcement agents chase these characters through the cell block.

There is also some criminal running around in a skull mask.

The loud speaker is booming with narration of what is happening, apparently the panda is a thief and the clown is an escaped criminal and chaos is ensuing.  It’s kind of nuts. At one point I think a fire extinguisher went off….

Then the lights come back up, the loudspeaker says something and you continue on with your meal.

Again, not entirely scary but that’s not the point. It was fun, it built anticipation, and it was an engaging experience.

Not a bad way to spend a day.

Tomorrow–Hanayashiki  and Joypolis!

Here we go!

Welcome to Japan

3 years ago 1

Mt. Fuji

Hello everyone! This post is coming to you from the base of Mt. Fuji, yes in Japan. This is the first of a handful of international adventures I’m undertaking for my upcoming book SCREAM: Adventures in the upside of Fear. I’ll be going to Bogota and Toronto later this year, along with hopscotching across the US to experience as many thrills and chills as possible.

I made it here yesterday after a very pleasant 14 hour plane ride from Toronto (I had a seat in the bulk head, so I just kept thinking of David Sedaris and his opinion of that seat and laughing). Anyway I wrote the whole time and was comfortable so it was all good.

During my layover in Canada I spent a good amount of time reflecting on how dependent I’ve become on my phone for engagement and what it would mean not to have that for a whole 24 hours. I kept finding myself reaching for it and then realizing nothing was going to be there (did you know we look at our phones an average of 110 times a day? Edith Zimmerman over at The Hairpin also did a cute story about our special relationship with our phones). But once I let go of the idea of being connected it was fine and even freeing, my time was my own. That point really opened up the creative flood gates because I ended up writing about 20 pages for my book (which for me means about 6 pages of usable text, ha!).

After arriving and immediately getting a SIM card with data for my iphone I continued the next leg of my trip out here to Mt. Fuji. It involved changing trains three times, and I have to pat myself on the back for getting from platform to platform with relative ease. I just kept asking myself what the most intuitive option would be and then I go with that– it usually works out. More importantly though everyone has been so insanely nice to me. I looked just a bit confused at one point and a nice woman asked me where I was going and pointed me in the right direction. It just makes me want to be nice to everyone, it is contagious.

I finally made it to my hotel around 8:30pm on Monday– I had left Pittsburgh at 4am on Sunday (after daylights savings time, so really 3am). I’m not really sure what kind of crazy time travel happened in between but I went to bed immediately. I only woke up in a panic twice.


Yesterday I spent the whole day at Fuji-Q Highland. This amusement park is known for its coasters and a couple of big haunted houses so it was a natural choice for my adventures.





The day was amazing, the rides were unbelievable. My favorite was the 4D coaster, the Eajanika. As soon as you walk into the queue area your heart starts racing and the anticipation is unbelievable. Everyone was literally bouncing behind the gates waiting to be let on.


This coaster has seats that rotate 360 degrees, so you have to take your shoes off along with anything that could fall out. Once you’re strapped in the floor drops out and they tip you upside down as you make your way around the first curve. And then it hits you, you are being held in by harnesses and if it breaks you’re going to die. That thought never really left my mind but as I was flipped and twisted and whipped around and around I screamed my head off and enjoyed the incredible adrenaline rush. When it was over (and you’ll have to read the book for the full breakdown of this ride and more) I had tears coming out of my eyes, I was sweating, and very close to just jumping out of my skin or passing out.

It. Felt. So. Good.

It was exhilarating. I jumped out of my seat and even though I do not speak Japanese, and we had not talked at all while waiting in the long line, my fellow riders and I all high-fived, smiled, and threw our fists in the air. I felt close to them. And then I wanted to turn to a friend, someone close to me, and share with them what it felt like. But I was alone, whomp whomp.


One of the reasons these activities are so amazing and fulfilling is because we share them with people we care about (we even get a physiological kick from doing so). They are still fun when you’re on your own, but one thing I’m quickly realizing about these adventures—I need to bring people with me.

I haven’t even gotten to the haunted houses….but I should probably go to sleep, you’ll just have to read the book!

Stay tuned for more! Up tomorrow—the Aokigahara Forest.