Why Do We Love Scary Stories?

October 13, 2023 | 5 min read


Happy Friday the 13th! It's the perfect day to delve into the spookiest genres. 👻

Why Do We Love Scary Stories?

A fascination with the dark and macabre has deep roots in human psychology and culture. At a very simple level, being scared can trigger an adrenaline rush, which is a visceral, exciting experience — enjoyable for many people.

Reading and writing horror also often serves as a form of emotional release, in which people can confront and process their own fears in a controlled and safe environment. In other words: we can experience danger from a safe distance. Through this experience, we also learn a little about ourselves: How do we react to fear? What does it feel like? How much can we take? Humans are naturally curious, so confronting the unknown and scary “what-ifs” through fiction is enticing.

To find out a little more, we spoke with two spooky authors in the Freewrite Fam about what makes scary stories so tempting to us mortals. We also discussed their writing processes and what's next on their journey into the horrific.

Without further ado, meet Briana Morgan and Connor Metcalf!

Spookier Than She Looks: Briana Morgan

Briana Morgan has more than a decade of experience scaring herself and others. She's also an active member of the Horror Writers Association. And she's spookier than she looks...

Who are some of your favorite horror authors?

Some of my literary influences include Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, Gemma Amor, Laurel Hightower, and Daphne du Maurier.
Why do you think people are drawn to scary themes?

Spooky stories allow us to explore the darker parts of life without risking harm. They provide a safe space for self-exploration, empathy, and growth. Plus, it’s thrilling to be scared (pun intended).

What does your writing life look like?

Until two weeks ago, I was a technical writer for the day job. Now, I’m a full-time horror author. I try to publish at least one book per year, which is mostly within my control because I’m self-published. While my writing is for publication, I write for myself first. If you don’t enjoy writing, then what’s the point?
Process wise, I write at least 2,000 words per day on my Traveler when working on a first draft. If I’m editing, I edit for an hour or two per day.

Tell us a bit about your books.

I’ve published eight books. They’re available everywhere in paperback and audiobook form, and ebook only on Amazon. My book The Tricker-Treater and Other Stories won a Godless 666 Award for Best Audiobook, and my latest, The Reyes Incident, has sold more than 16,000 copies to date.

Anyone who has read my work knows I love character-driven horror. I like a slow burn with personal stakes and flawed people you still root for.

And what are you working on now?

Now, I’m working on a new project, an adult horror novel about a reality TV show on a deserted island that goes horribly awry.

That sounds delightful. Or, not so delightful, really. But spooky. And sometimes that's delightful!

Briana Morgan has a BA in English and Creative Writing from Georgia College & State University. When not writing, Briana loves reading disturbing fiction, playing video games, and spending time with her new husband.

Learn more about Briana on her website, or follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok. Sign up for her newsletter at substack.com/@brianamorgan.




Embracing the Macabre: Connor Metcalf 

Connor Metcalf just finished his debut novel, a sprawling coming-of-age dark fantasy of 98,000 words, on his Freewrite. But what draws him to dark stories?

What genre do you write?

The book I just finished was a horror novel, but of the story’s own volition, became a dark fantasy. However, I'd like to think of the two genres as siblings. Tried and true horror novels didn't necessarily inspire me.

Who are some of your inspirations?

Without a college education, I am perhaps not the typical novelist. I never thrived in school. It wasn't the right environment for me to learn. Instead, my writing stems from reading — a lot of it. Bulgakov, Rushdie, Miller, King — they were my college professors, and they did better for me than any classroom ever could.

Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House, and Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects were all in mind while I was writing my last book — each having varying horror elements, from playful to grotesque.

Why do you think you are drawn to those themes?

God. I was terrified of everything as a child, but for some reason, I always begged my parents to take me to see horror movies. Of course, I would be completely distraught afterward — terrified to even sleep in my room.

I can't say the exact moment, but a switch went off at some point during adolescence. My fear had exited the building. I embraced the macabre and the horrendous and found it, quite frankly, so exciting. There really is nothing like it when horror is properly executed!

Tell us a bit about your writing life.

The ultimate goal is to be published, but there's also a deep-seated compulsion to write and a passionate love for the craft. Most recently, I’ve been writing all day. I start around 10 a.m., go until 4:30 p.m., take a break to work out, and then get in another session after dinner. I was utterly obsessed with my most recent project, which heavily influenced the long hours. We'll see if that changes for the next novel.

My most recent story landed in my lap from out of nowhere on the same day my Traveler arrived. Coincidence? I think not. I ran with it, and at 98,000 words, I'd say it was a successful venture!

Traveler is the only product I own of the Freewrite family, but after playing an instrumental role in pushing me to write my book, I'm considering upgrading with the Lemon Smart Typewriter. I deserve it, right?

What are you working on right now?

I'm in the process of editing a novel that I keep saying is finished but isn't technically complete. The story is finished; it’s just being buffed and polished. It's a dark fantasy novel that focuses on the coming-of-age journey of a closeted high school senior in Orange County, CA, set during the summer of 2003. The protagonist is the prime target of a malevolent woman who happens to be taking over his community.

Wow. We can't wait to read it!

Connor Metcalf lives and writes in L.A. He's found the process of writing his first book to be a profoundly rewarding experience, and he can't wait to continue his literary adventure. He's now in the trenches of the query-crafting process and looking toward his next project. Follow Connor on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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May 24, 2024 8 min read

There’s an age-old debate about the superior version of a story: Is it the book or the movie? Most readers and far too many writers will default to the idea that “the book was better.”

But was it? Was it really?

May 20, 2024 9 min read

Talking to Alex Kazemi doesn’t feel like talking to the guy who wrote 2023’s “most dangerous book of the year,” a book Ellen Hopkins calls “raucous, raunchy, and sure to offend.” And it certainly doesn’t feel like talking to Bret Easton Ellis’s “favorite millennial provocateur.”

It feels like talking to a friend I haven’t caught up with in a while. And my friends just aren’t that cool.

We’re chatting because Kazemi lives a ruthlessly offline lifestyle, a philosophy at the core of Freewrite and which Kazemi sees as necessary to being the best artist he can be. Having garnered a book deal at the tender age of 18, he knows a thing or two about life as an artist.

Kazemi released his first book, Pop Magick, an occult book about how to manifest, in 2020. “Madonna helped me launch that,” he says, casually mentioning one of the biggest pop stars of the twentieth century. “So, yeah, that was insane.”

But it wasn’t until the release of his first novel, New Millennium Boyz, nearly a decade in the making, that things got truly wild.

Kazemi’s unflinching look at Y2K culture and teenage boyhood reads like a horrifying screenplay — or the transcript of a violent AIM conversation between bored, lonely teenagers. Even before publication, the book faced criticism calling it dangerous, prompting the publisher to splash a content warning across the front matter, to Kazemi's extreme annoyance. Conservative American moms later flagged it for book bans, leaving the Canadian author baffled.

Was an honest look at the 90s and early ’aughts really worth all that uproar?

We sat down with Kazemi to discuss the driving force behind his portrayal of this often-glamorized time period, why he felt compelled to present this reality to modern audiences, and how in the world he lives an offline lifestyle in the year 2024.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


 Mirror selfies without a smartphone

ANNIE COSBY: First things first. Are you a millennial?

ALEX KAZEMI: Yes. I was born in 1994, which means I’m on the cusp. I do not identify with any Zoomer qualities or tendencies at all.

COSBY: In general cultural discourse, millennials tend to get a bad rap – very infantilizing, even though some of us are 40. What's your take?

KAZEMI: I think it's pretty insane because we were dealt a really bad card, with the recession, jobs being lost, the digital age booming… Many of us still have memories of going to Blockbuster and, you know, AOL chat rooms and the early web. But then we watched everything go chronically online and digital through the 2010s. We watched technology and the information age replace a lot of skillsets. So we became a weird bunch, for sure.

COSBY: I do find it interesting that people glamorize that period specifically because it was the beginning of everything being online — so everybody's mistakes and drunken pictures are out there.

KAZEMI: Right? And we did it willingly.

COSBY: Oh God, the things I said to strange men in chat rooms.

KAZEMI: Me as well. And it’s so, so dark, because the internet has always been and will always be, even as we're adults and growing older, a mirror of our subconscious vomit. The frequencies we vibrated to when we were coming of age were more about exploration, and that's why there was so much stranger danger. There were so many scary scenarios that kids could get themselves into with the early web because of how unregulated it was, as well.

COSBY: Would you say New Millennium Boyz is a defense of the way we Millennials are? Or is it a commentary on how misremembered that era is?

KAZEMI: It's definitely a commentary. And it's supposed to be historical fiction, educating younger folks and also older generations about how, you know, this beautiful picture that you see of Rachael Leigh Cook from She's All That on TikTok? There was actually a lot of darkness and chaos going around, especially when it comes to very normalized racism, misogyny, and homophobia.



I find it very ironic that this new generation that is so fixated on social justice and evolution and freedom would fetishize the aesthetics of an era of true debauchery and chaos and cruelty — like really — which was mirrored in the art in that period. Look at 2000s teen movies! I just wanted to write a satire of that extreme teen genre, like Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, Larry Clark's Bully, Spring Breakers...

My second motivation was to really look at boy culture in the post-Columbine era and how this was very much a prescient, predictive time of where we would end up with the alt-right and 4chan and “incels,” and how it's all connected.

And then of course exploring the romanticized aspect of Y2K — going to the mall, people wearing Marilyn Manson shirts, and the aesthetic obsession with it. I wanted to create the book I wanted to see in the world that I didn't feel existed yet.

COSBY: I’ve heard you talk about the misogyny of the “teen girls are bitches” trope. It's like, have you met boys? Have you been a teen boy talking to other teen boys?

KAZEMI: Oh, they're the biggest bitches. They're so cruel. You see the “mean girls” trope in tons of movies, like Jawbreaker, but it’s so strange how we don't ever look at the cruelty teenage boys face. And not just the cruelty but also the misguidedness and the culture that feeds that.

Especially in the 90s and 2000s, boys were so encouraged to be testosterone-driven and hyper-masculine. Woodstock 99 was such a great example of the chaos of too much of something – and it’s being talked about now because of the documentary.

COSBY: New Millennium Boyz really explores this violence inherent to 90s culture for boys, and because of that, it got a content warning, right?

KAZEMI: Yes. During the final cuts of the book, when we were in edits and copy edits, I got the call from my publisher that “So-and-So is not going to stock it without a content warning because they're really worried about how teenagers are going to react to the work and if they're going to reenact the behavior.”

And I was like, this is a cultural critique. It's not anything to be glamorized. I think anyone who reads it would understand that.

COSBY: Do you think we as humans always look back on past time periods with rose-colored glasses, or is there something special about Y2K?

KAZEMI: There's something really freaky about what we're doing with the 90s and 2000s. I don't think we've ever before been in a place, as humans, where corporations like Meta and TikTok can just algorithmically feed into us all the time.

A teenager in the 90s could fetishize the 70s or the 60s, but they could close the book when it was done or finish the movie and turn off the TV. But with Gen Z, and every generation now, we're just inundated every day with memes, photos, videos, and other people’s thoughts.

And I guess this 90s nostalgia is partly because it represents familiarity for people of a certain age, but even for the people who didn't live during that time, it seems to represent a kind of order, a sense of quietness — “Oh, 90210 is on at 9 p.m. and that's all there is.” No choices to make. There weren’t one billion options like kids today have.

COSBY: So you think people are viewing that period as a time of simplicity and unplugging, which we’re all kind of yearning for now?

KAZEMI: Yeah, and you certainly could unplug then, but you can unplug today, too — we're just brainwashed into thinking that we have no choice, that we have no free will. But it's totally not true. You could simulate Y2K if you wanted to! You just have to set a lot of boundaries.

COSBY: Like writing on a Freewrite.

KAZEMI: Yes! That’s why I write offline. Over the years, I’ve had different cool ways to do that. For a lot of my teenage years, I wrote in Apple Notes. Then, I ordered a BlackBerry off eBay and used it as a word processor for a while. I have a dead AlphaSmart here — rest in peace.

I feel like what's so crazy about Freewrite is a lot of people don't know that these products exist, which is a problem.

COSBY: It's also super polarizing. Without even trying it, some people are like, “What is this hipster thing?” Meanwhile, we get so many messages from new users saying, “What is this magic? I'm actually writing for the first time in years!” It's really interesting to see people's reactions. Tech is such a weirdly touchy subject.

KAZEMI: And a Freewrite is way better than a typewriter. I'm not fucking doing the ribbon, there's no time for that.

COSBY: Some people do though, right? Aren’t you friends with Matty Healy?

KAZEMI: Yes, yes. I told him about Freewrite. I love his songwriting. I love the 1975's lyrics. I love him as a literary mind.

COSBY: Alex. [heavy pause] Is he the one being referenced in the song?

KAZEMI: [rolls eyes] Honestly, I'm not really interested in all the gossip. I don't think great artists should be reduced to that.

COSBY: OK, that's fair. I think they're both great storytellers, too. And it would be so hard to live a creative life under that kind of microscope. On that note, your offline approach to life goes beyond writing, right? How does that work?

KAZEMI: Well, it definitely includes a lot of conscious boundaries that annoy a lot of people.

I’ve had a flip phone for a few years now, and I have a landline. When it comes to the internet and iMessage and emails, I try to do regulated “office hours” of screen time.

It's a very privileged position to be in, because a lot of people have to be on call all the time for work. But being disconnected definitely gives me more time for my mind to be free and creative and to write more.

COSBY: And this annoys people?

KAZEMI: Yeah, it drives everyone insane. It's a huge boundary I put in my life. People have to go through loopholes to contact me. But it's the only way that I can have a life as an artist and as a writer.

All of this technology can be a tool. There's nothing inherently bad with the tools that exist on the Internet. It's just the compulsivity and the addictive mentality we have with it that creates this chaos for us as writers and artists.

COSBY: You've mentioned being on Tumblr before, back in the day — are you on social media now?

KAZEMI: No, I'm not. Sometimes I have to look at it on friends' phones to get a person's email or something like that, but no, I don't have social media. It's so scary, the pressure of having to perform or turn my most personally valuable things into currency — to monetize it. It just feels weird. I'm not into it. I'm not into it.

And when you're online so much, you're like, “I don't have to be doing this. Why am I doing this?” That's where that punishing feeling of addiction comes in. A lot of us, when we are in those spirals, we don't even really even want to be there. There isn't a sense of agency or control.

It's a loss of control.

And I think that submission of when you are looking at other people's work, what they’re doing, and you're scrolling, scrolling, it just creates a huge sense of inadequacy and darkness.

COSBY: It's interesting to me because time goes so much faster when I’m scrolling — and I feel the same way when I get really into something I'm writing.

KAZEMI: Like a flow state.

COSBY: Exactly! It’s complete absorption. But scrolling doesn’t make me feel good after, the way creating does.

KAZEMI: It’s like a black market, counterfeit flow state. A heroin flow state.

So I guess the question is: How can we induce positive, offline flow states?

COSBY: Isn't that the question. How do you do it?

KAZEMI: I find that just setting boundaries is so important. You have free will over your boundaries. This idea that we have no sense of agency and have to give all of our energy and life force to these corporations zapping us is just so crazy and unfair.

But when you bring up these things to certain people, they can't even fathom living without their online habits.

COSBY: Yeah, it has to be a conscious choice.

KAZEMI: You have to ask yourself:

"OK, am I going to just sublimate myself to be a consumer of everyone else's content? Or am I going to be a creator and produce?”

COSBY: Most of us know which one we want to be.

KAZEMI: You have to know which one you want to be.

COSBY: Any last words for the creators out there?

KAZEMI: For creators and artists and writers who are overwhelmed by information overload and the prospect of putting your work out there, just know there is an audience for your work. Just stay focused and don't be discouraged. You’ll find your place in the weird world.


Annie Cosby is the Marketing Manager at Freewrite, a former fiction editor, and the author of seven books — and counting. Her work deals with Celtic mythology and has twice won the YA Indie Author Project in Missouri. See what she's writing on Freewrite.

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It’s no secret that Taylor Swift is one of the biggest players in music right now. (Maybe one of the biggest ever.) As a lyricist, she’s enthralled audiences worldwide, but did you know she’s also woven a subtle tapestry of literary references throughout her discography?

Whether you love her or hate her (we’re talking to you, dads, Brads, and Chads) you’ll be impressed with these hidden literary references in Swift’s songs…