What Scares Authors? Featuring Diane Bator


What Scares Authors? Featuring Diane Bator

I’m not scared of anything.

Okay, except running out of toilet paper.

Maybe bugs I can’t identify.

Hearing creaks in the attic and pretty sure there’s a killer up there instead of a raccoon (an idea I’m using in a future novel!)

My cat ranks up there. By day, he’s sweet and snuggling. At 2am when he tiptoes up to the side of the bed and howls in my ear, not so much. Pillows have been thrown.

To be honest, my books have never scared me but the likes of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Karin Slaughter…enough to make me go to bed and keep the lamp on!

Aside from that, nothing scares me.

Well…running out of coffee is right up there. How’s a writer supposed to write without coffee?

Ghosts don’t scare me. Much. After all, my day job is working in a building erected in 1875. Ghosts are a thing. Mostly, they knock things over and create havoc with the computer and phones some days. Of course, I’m rarely alone in the building and never late at night, so…

I think people are much scarier than anything else. All those moods and anger some days are what help create great characters for mystery and horror writers! Ever seen someone throw a fit in Walmart? They go in a book. Same for that person who argues with a barista because they asked for a double espresso vanilla latte with two shots of vanilla, foam, and chocolate curls. Into a book you go, possibly as the victim. Or maybe the killer. That’ll teach you!

Writing mysteries you definitely have to put yourself in your main character’s place to feel how they would feel. Not only “she was scared” but to describe how her heart raced, her palms sweated, and her breath came in short gasps while she fumbled her phone to call for help. Feeling the fear (or any other emotion/sensation) is all a part of writing.

Here’s a look at Diane’s latest release DEAD MAN’S DOLL:

Christmas blooms in Sugarwood in the form of a brightly lit tree in town square, colourful ornaments, and a snowstorm. It’s just Audra Clemmings’ luck that she literally stumbles over the local butcher in Miss Lavinia’s shop. Then a witch doctor arrives in town.

Can Audra solve the mystery before the killer turns their sights on her?



Thursday, November 24

Sugarwood, Ontario, half an hour from Lake Huron, was known for two things: maple
syrup and the Christmas tree lighting festival that always went off with a variety of
creative challenges, yet never failed to impress the semi-enthusiastic crowd. This year,
fluffy snowflakes fell over the town making Sugarwood look like a Christmas card photo.
They’d help make the event even more magical. As long as we didn’t end up finding a
body on a bench like we did during the town’s Halloween bash.
“Do you think we have enough decorations for tomorrow?” Merilee Rutherford asked,
making me jump. My partner both in Stitch’n’Time and crime solving chuckled. She’d
circled November twenty-fifth with a fat, red marker weeks ago.
Where other Ontario towns held their Santa Claus parades and tree lightings a week
or two earlier, Sugarwood preferred to do the whole shebang one month before
Christmas. No matter which day of the week the twenty-fifth fell on. Call it one of the
quirks that gave us charm and created a nightmare for those who worked out of town.
“I think Santa would feel right at home in our workshop. All that’s missing are the milk
and cookies.” I grinned, gazing around the store at the large shiny balls that hung from
the ceiling.
Strands of garland draped over the top of every cupboard filled with threads and
every cabinet stacked with fabric. A plastic, four-foot tall, green tree that once belonged
to my dad glistened in the front window. We’d spent a couple of hours wrapping
assorted sizes of empty boxes to pile underneath then added needlepoint kits, fabric
swatches, and sewing kits to show off our inventory and attract customers.
“Good idea,” she said. “We can put them out for the sewing circle next Wednesday.”
Drake, my Golden Retriever-slash-Husky with massive puppy paws, raised his head
as though he expected cookies to magically appear.
“How about the Wednesday before Christmas?” I asked.
“Okay,” she grumbled. “I’m going to run to the bakery to grab lunch, lattes, and
“Santa will have to bring me a whole new wardrobe at this rate.” I tucked a thumb
inside the waistband of my pants which were getting snug and it wasn’t even December.
I had half a mind to tell her to hold the latte. No way was I giving up cookies a month
before Christmas. In the end, I kept my mouth shut.
Once she left the store, Drake returned his full attention to the heat vent and took a
nap while I strung one last string of lights around the inside of the front window. I
swayed to the soft Christmas music we’d discovered on YouTube that morning almost
forgetting a couple times that I was on a stepladder.
Winter was off to a snowy start, I’d taken to crossing my fingers whenever I thought
about the tree lighting tomorrow. Usually we got this much snow in January and
February, not so much in November. I hoped the ceremony and carol sing would go off
without a hitch. I could deal with spilled hot chocolate, but not another body.
I shuddered as the gloom brightened with an abrupt swirl of blue and red lights from a
passing police car. Since there was no way anyone could speed on Main Street given
the current slick conditions, I had to assume the police were on their way to an accident.
Drake stretched, doing a downward dog before he ambled toward the door.

“Do you need to go out?” I asked, holding the top of the three-step ladder as I
Rather than paw at the glass, he sat and yawned.
“Good to know it’s not an emergency. I’ll take you out when Merilee gets back.”
Less than a minute later, she bustled through the front door carrying a cardboard tray
and a paper bag. Her head and shoulders were coated with feathery snowflakes. Drake
blocked her path with a string of drool seeping from one corner of his mouth.
“The weather’s getting worse,” she said. “This snow would be perfect for the tree
lighting tomorrow,” she said, stomping snow off her high-heeled boots. “The bakery’s
deserted, so Hilda threw in a free handful of cookies.”
I chuckled. “Ahh. He smelled cookies. What a surprise.”
Closing the front door behind her, I stared out the frosty glass at the snow. The
meteorologist had promised—the man even pinky swore on air!—the snow would hold
off until later tonight. I should’ve known better than to believe a tall, handsome man who
mispronounced precipitation on a daily basis. Differently every time, too. While I itched
to go down to the Toronto studio to teach him how to say it right, Merilee figured it was
part of his charm. She figured he pronounced it wrong because he wanted to be the
sportscaster. People never blamed the sportscaster when their team lost, but woe to the
meteorologist who got the forecast wrong.
“Looks like you’ll be walking home in puffy flakes of snow.” Merilee leaned over my
shoulder as a cab pulled up in front of Stitch’n’Time.
“Drake will be happy. He can eat as many snowflakes as he wants.” I glanced toward
the counter where my eighty pound dog sat licking his massive paws. “Rex is supposed
to be out of town today. I hope he and Andrew changed their plans to stay in the office.
Or make it back to town safely.”
Merilee handed me a latte as I watched the cab driver emerge. “Figures it would
snow like crazy the one day this week I have to pick Tony up from work. It’ll take a few
minutes to warm up the truck. I can give you and Drake a ride home. It won’t be fun
walking home in a blizzard.”
“It’s not exactly a blizzard, I can still see the real estate office across the street,” I told
her. “Walking will be more fun than loading Drake into your truck. Riding in cars isn’t his
idea of fun. Last time we took him to the vet, he howled all the way there and all the way
“I would, too. Good thing he loves the truck. He wanted to stick his head out the
window last time, but kept hitting his nose on the glass.”
“You’re right. It’s the vet he doesn’t like.”
She chuckled. “You think? Last time he was there he lost part of his manhood.”
The cab driver opened the trunk to remove a walker as an elderly lady pushed open
the back door. Judy Wells, our friend Charity’s mom and a vocal part of our Wednesday
afternoon sewing circle, emerged. She’d finally resorted to taking cabs since she could
no longer drive nor walk as well as she used to.
Guilt seized me when she leaned on the walker and shuffled out of the way of the
cab door. “I should go clear the sidewalk.”
Merilee caught me by the upper arm. “You’re not well enough to be shoveling snow.
I’ll clear a path while you unpack our lunch.”
“I feel fine,” I insisted.

“You have cancer, remember? You’re tired and have bags under your eyes big
enough to fit my entire wardrobe—and that’s saying something. You’re also still green,
although it’s a much nicer shade today. More of a soft avocado.” She patted my
shoulder. “You hold down the fort. I’ll shovel the snow.”
Breast cancer. The words still clawed their way into my soul and ate my Christmas
spirit away in nibbles whenever they came up. Over the past couple of weeks, I’d
blinked back more tears than Hoover Dam held water and stitched most of the stocking
for Drake in one hour increments just to keep my hands busy while Rex was away at
work. I will still awaiting more test results, but the doctor had already referred me to an
oncologist. Just in case.
While Merilee went to get the shovel, I turned to see how far Judy had progressed.
She used kind of a lift-and-lean method to inch her way toward the dimly lit curio-slash-
alternative treatment shop two doors over where Miss Lavinia created salves and
potions for her patients who suffered from a wide variety of ailments. Some she used on
miniature replicas of her clients. Voodoo dolls to the rest of us.
Miss Lavinia wasn’t a certified physician, more like a witch. The whole town saw the
voodoo dolls she’d placed in her front window on Halloween. Most people thought they
were cute. I knew better. I’d discovered her massive collection around Halloween and
still had nightmares.
I was happy my father’s doll and mine were safe in embroidery thread boxes in my
closet at home. Somehow my father’s doll had ended up in an old box of decorations at
Halloween. Miss Lavinia returned mine when I saw it in her window, but she’d kept
Rex’s likeness to give him further top secret treatments. Some days that bothered me
more than normal on days where my husband drove me crazy. The ones where I
wanted to beg her to loan me his doll.
“Wish me luck.” Merilee brushed past me still bundled in her designer winter parka
with a bright yellow shovel in one hand.
I was surprised when Drake nudged my hand with his nose. “You must be desperate
if you want out now. It’s cold, your least favourite thing.”
Cold and snowy meant I’d turn the fireplace on once we got home and spend the
evening working on the Christmas stocking I’d started this fall. It also meant Drake
would curl up in front of said fireplace for the evening and sleep.
When my phone pinged, both Drake and I jumped turning toward the counter. I took
one last glance at Judy trudging through the snow before I checked the text message,
crossing my fingers it was from Rex who was more than likely working late tonight.
Or had a dinner meeting.
Or was stuck out of town after a meeting with a client.
Tonight’s message was, “Meetings in Toronto. Be home tomorrow. Don’t wait up.”
“What a surprise,” I told Drake. “Looks like it’s just you and me again. What should
we have for dinner tonight?”
To my chagrin, he was already gnawing on a lovely skein of red, green, and white
yarn with silver thread woven through it. I grabbed the rest before he could polish it off.
Cleaning up after him was never dull. The snow in our backyard was covered in bits of
red and green fabric the birds loved. I pictured quilted nests decorating our yard come

Merilee thumped the snow off her shiny boots as she came back inside. Three-inch
heels, ice, and snow didn’t go well together no matter what fashion designers said. “The
wind’s picking up. You’re not walking home. You’ll blow away and drag Drake with you.”
“Okay. Thanks. I’m sure he’d agree. Did Judy get into Miss Lavinia’s?”
“Yeah, I cleared the path for her, which actually made her flash one of those little
smiles we rarely see.” She put the shovel away and took off her coat. “She hates the
snow because it makes her arthritis worse. That’s why’s seeing Miss Lavinia.”
“I can sympathize.” It made me feel worse for many reasons.
She met my gaze then said, “Let me guess. Rex is out of town tonight, isn’t he?”
“In the city. He’ll be home tomorrow.”
“Then you and I are calling for takeout. We’ll get dinner and a bottle of wine before I
drop you and Drake off then pick up my sexy hubby.”
It was sweet how, after all these years, Merilee and Tony still fawned over each
other. When they were over at our house for dinner, I hoped Rex would pick up on the
little things Tony did for his wife. No such luck. He seemed more concerned with getting
them to sell their fifty acres of prime real estate.
“You’re too good to me,” I told her.
“Don’t take it personally. I can’t run this shop on my own. Why don’t you take
tomorrow morning off and greet Rex at the door in lingerie?”
My face burned. “I’m not sure he deserves lingerie after the way he’s been acting
lately. Lunch would be nice though.”
Speaking of lunch, we dug into ours. Now that we’d taken all the decorations from the
storage room, we could put away the table and chairs the sewing circle had used
yesterday along with a couple Christmassy table cloths at the liquidation store outside of
town when Merilee and I took a shopping trip. Two red and two green. Patterned ones
would’ve made us all crazy if someone dropped a needle.
It was ten to four when Merilee turned away from the window. “Let’s lock up. The
snow’s scaring everyone away.”
I called the Thai place for two separate orders. When she pulled out her credit card, I
batted her hand away. “It’s on me. Tony will be happy to have his favourite tonight, too.”
While Drake filled up on dog food later that afternoon, I reached for the jar of green
supplement powder from Miss Lavinia. The canister was almost empty. I’d have to drop
by to order more since it would supposedly boost my immune system and help keep up
my strength. With Christmas coming, I needed all the help I could get.
Our house seemed quieter than usual that night. I ate Shrimp Pad Thai on fine china
by candlelight with a glass of wine and my evening dose of green sludge to wash it all
down. No updates from Rex or the kids, who were making holiday plans around new
significant others I hadn’t met yet. With a deep sigh, I settled to watch a movie while I
cross-stitched Drake’s stocking.
My furry friend spent a couple more hours in front of the fireplace before he curled up
next to me. He placed his head on my lap and closed his eyes. The warmth of his body
against mine made me grow drowsy enough to give up on the movie and go to bed.
Tomorrow was the tree lighting and I wanted to be well rested. Just in case.


Diane Bator is a mom of three, a book coach, and the author of over a dozen mystery novels and many works-in-progress. She has also hosted the Escape With a Writer blog to promote fellow authors and is a member of Sisters in Crime Toronto and a board member of Crime Writers of Canada.

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