Lamar Giles

Episode 4

Lamar Giles

The Gift of Fear: Lamar Giles on How Horror Helps Kids Cope

Masthead Waves

About this episode

In our Halloween Special, Lamar Giles (Fake I.D, The Last Last Day of Summer) talks about how horror helps him cope with his anxieties, and why he believes in the power of the genre for young readers.


"The fear is like the ramp on the roller coaster. It's that build-up of adrenaline intention that you're having in that moment when that roller coaster is cranking. It's not the same fear of you walking through a dark alley at night and you sense someone's behind you in real life. That's a different type of fear that I don't know that anybody really wants. This is controlled fear. This is me going into it saying, Okay, I know this part's gonna be scary, but this part's gonna be fun and I want all of it." 

- Lamar Giles


Lamar Giles says horror is a pressure valve. It can release pent-up anxiety and fear in a controlled, safe, and fun environment. That's why he'll watch Hellraiser at 4 a.m. to comfort himself when he can't sleep. While the genre isn't for everyone, he knows other young readers will resonate with it the same way he did when he first read Stephen King at 11 years old.

Giles' career has been full of mystery and thriller stories, but with the 2022 release of The Getaway, he has finally fulfilled his lifelong dream of writing a true horror novel. He tells us more about how the genre has helped him in his life and why he thinks kids resonate with his writing.

  • Chapter 1 - Growing Up as Lamar Giles (2:18)
  • Chapter 2 - The Dinosaur in the Cereal Box (6:50)
  • Chapter 3 - The Draw to Horror (7:26)
  • Chapter 4 - It (8:32)
  • Chapter 5 - The Pressure Valve (12:56)
  • Chapter 6 - Connecting with Young Readers (16:25)
  • Chapter 7 - Writing Black Characters (17:21)
  • Chapter 8 - Publishing Horror (19:21)
  • Chapter 9 - The Getaway (21:09)
  • Chapter 10 - A Vehicle for Social Commentary (23:01)
  • Chapter 11 - Fear On Screen (24:12)
  • Chapter 12 - Scary Good Stories (26:20)
  • Chapter 13 - Beanstack Featured Librarian (26:55)


Lamar's Reading Challenge

Download the free reading challenge worksheet, or view the challenge materials on our helpdesk.

1-Oct-25-2022-06-46-42-0361-PM.   2-Oct-25-2022-06-46-41-4758-PM





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Lamar Giles: The fear is like the ramp on a roller coaster. It's that buildup of adrenaline and tension that you know you're having in that moment when that roller coaster is cranking like...


Lamar Giles: It's not the same fear of you walking through a dark alley at night and you sense someone's behind you in real life. That's a different type of fear that I don't know that anybody really wants. This is controlled fear. This is me going into it saying, "Okay, I know this part's gonna be scary, but this part's gonna be fun and I want all of it."

Jordan Lloyd: Lamar Giles has always wanted to write horror, but since debuting on the young adult scene with his book, Fake ID, in 2014, he hasn't really had a chance. Now, nearly 10 years later, his newest YA novel, The Getaway, ventures into that land of fear. Fear is something he's used to, something that he embraces. Lamar became hooked on Stephen King at just 11 years old and still finds comfort in scary movies today.

Lamar Giles: Horror has been a pressure valve for me because I can sit back and watch these scenarios play out and see how other people deal with horrible things in their life and oftentimes defeat it.


Jordan Lloyd: Lamar Giles is a middle-grade and young adult author known for titles like Fake ID, The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, and Not So Pure and Simple. Today, in our Halloween special, he tells us why fear is so comforting to him, why he believes in writing the genre for young people, and how he uses his stories as a vehicle for social commentary. He'll also share his spooky reading challenge for all listeners.


Jordan Lloyd: My name is Jordan Lloyd Bookey and this is the Reading Culture, a show where we speak with authors and reading enthusiasts to explore ways to build a stronger culture of reading in our communities. We dive into their personal experiences, their inspirations, and why their stories and ideas motivate kids to read more. Okay, Lamar, welcome. Let's start at the beginning. Can you paint a picture of what growing up was like for you? Like where were you? What was life like where you were? 

Lamar Giles: Sure, I grew up in a town called Hopewell, Virginia, which is a factory town. So my mom was a career-long factory worker. She did 32 years. She was adamant that me and my sister not be factory workers. So her whole thing from a very young age was, she wanted us to be readers because she felt like the secret to us not having to tax our bodies in these physically gruelling jobs was to sharpen our minds through reading. And so I just remember very early on my mom made a deal with us where if we went to a store with her, we could always get a book. And so we'd always find a book to buy or a book or two books, and this becomes expensive for a factory worker.

Lamar Giles: Those were the good jobs to have in Hopewell, but it wasn't like it made you rich. So she had to alter the deal and instead of taking us to stores, she would just take us to the library. She would work a long shift, take us to the library, sit in one of the comfy chairs, maybe doze a bit while we go through the stacks and find books, and that really cemented her plan of making us strong readers. And out of that came to writing because I won a writing contest in fourth grade that really made me encouraged because it was the first time I was the best at anything. And so from that point on, I always toyed with story, the idea of making books. I was a big fan of TV and movies too, so I was really fascinated with how those things come to be.

Jordan Lloyd: Okay. Let's dig into your experience with the library a bit more. Did you go to the library a lot or do you remember any of the librarians from when you were younger? 

Lamar Giles: I remember going often because the apartment we lived in was fairly close to the library and I don't remember librarian names. It's just such a long time ago. I'm a little sad that I do not. I wish I did. But I do remember getting my own library card and having my mom sign a permission slip that pretty much said I could check out whatever I wanted. So like those weekly visits became like a big thing, and I would always take home a stack of books, like probably at least five. And obviously, I couldn't read all of them, but I just wanted them to be in my room in case, in case I didn't like one I could go to the other. That sort of thing. It became a habit that I loved. But once we ended up moving to different neighborhoods and I started to be around different peers, it became a habit I hid a lot because it wasn't the sort of thing that necessarily went over well with the guys in the neighborhood, being a "book nerd."

Jordan Lloyd: That's terrible. But I'm glad you stayed a book nerd. [chuckle] It's turned out well. It sounds like your mom really encouraged you basically to keep reading despite some of that bullying, which is amazing. On a lighter note, I've heard you reference Horton Hears a Who! Basically, it's a children's horror story, which made me laugh because it's completely true. I was curious about what other things you read early on and if your mom ever judged them, or... I think a lot of us have a tendency to do today. So did she ever judge what you were reading or was was everything fair game? 

Lamar Giles: Horton Hears a Who! I'm pretty sure I have a copy of that in my office somewhere right now. I'm certain I've read that to my daughter since she's been born. The thing was I gravitated towards weird stories, particularly ones that had a little bit of a spooky edge and sometimes even if they didn't, I saw spookiness there, like with Horton. So the stuff I remember reading when I was very young was like Roald Dahl's books, The Chocolate Factory, The Witches, that sort of thing. I recall Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe like really kind of being fascinated by the idea of a vampire bunny that's draining the vegetables in the neighborhood, and it was always something appealing about the fantastic, particularly if it was mixed with scary, which is why I think I gravitated so heavily towards King once I was reading a little bit beyond children's books.

Lamar Giles: And my mom never judged. Her whole thing was, if you're reading, it's an activity that should be encouraged. She recognized, even back then, that to discourage the books we picked out is discouraging reading because it's sort of setting the standard of what you like to read isn't somehow good enough or the right books.

Jordan Lloyd: You said you wrote your first book when you were in fourth grade? 

Lamar Giles: Yes.

Jordan Lloyd: What was it? A horror story? 

Lamar Giles: A little bit, yeah. It was about this kid who... It was called Giant Dinosaur Inside. It's about this kid who gets a cereal box that says there's a giant dinosaur toy in it, but the rules are you're supposed to eat the cereal and let the toy fall out. But he sticks his hand in the cereal, tries to pull the toy out, and because he broke the rules, he pulls out Godzilla or a creature like that that goes on this rampage through the city. Yeah, it's a bit of a horror story. Honestly, I don't remember how it ended, but I've thought about it quite a bit in the case of like maybe there's a picture book there in the future.

Jordan Lloyd: So you clearly developed a connection to scary stories and mystery early on in your childhood. What do you think it is about the genre, horror specifically, that appealed to you? 

Lamar Giles: Well, I've tried to interrogate that for many years, and I'm starting to recognize this more, I think I've probably suffered from lifelong anxiety. I just remember always being anxious about so many things and always thinking the worst would happen, and with horror, the worst is happening. It's right there. It's like the worst possible scenario is happening for whoever those characters are. But in most cases, they're able to work the situation out and conquer the evil. It doesn't happen all the time. Some things have very grim endings, and in some ways, that has comforted me too, in the sense of like that character doesn't have to worry anymore. It happened, it's over. And I think horror has been a pressure valve for me, because I can sit back and watch these scenarios play out and see how other people deal with horrible things in their life and oftentimes defeat it.

Lamar Giles: "Eddie Corcoran was dead, all right. He died on the night of June 19th, and his stepfather had nothing at all to do with it. He died as Ben Hanscom sat home watching TV with his mother, as Eddie Kaspbrak's mother anxiously felt Eddie's forehead for signs of her favorite ailment, phantom fever, as Beverly Marsh's stepfather, a gent who bore, in temperament at least, a remarkable resemblance to Eddie and Dorsey Corcoran's stepfather, lifted a high stepping kick into the girl's derriere and told her to "Get out there and dry those goddamn dishes like your momma told you," as Mike Hanlon got yelled at by some high school boys passing in an old Dodge while Mike pulled weeds out of the garden beside the small Hanlon home out on Witchum Road, not far from the farm owned by Henry Bowers' crazy father, as Richie Tozier was sneaking a look at a half-dressed girl in a copy of Gem he had found at the bottom of his father's sock and underwear drawer and getting a really good boner, and as Bill Denbrough was throwing his dead brother's photograph album across the room in horrified unbelief. Although none of them will remember doing so later, all of them looked up at the exact moment Eddie Corcoran died as if hearing some distant cry."

Jordan Lloyd: That's a passage from Stephen King's IT, a book that overall terrified Lamar as a kid, but that one passage was the most powerful.

Lamar Giles: That whole interlude section in the book was what I found most terrifying of that book when I was 11, and I've never forgotten it. It was about a boy, Eddie Corcoran, who ran away from home from an abusive stepfather and ended up getting killed by the monster of the book, and it was just the idea of like this kid was trying to get away from one monster in his home and the one outside got him. It was something about the idea of he was never gonna make it. And our heroes, the seven kids mentioned who looked up at the same time, at the exact moment he died, it was something about the connection of he was never gonna make it, and that these kids have the burden of trying to avenge him. It just struck me in a way, and maybe it had to do with the fact I had a stepfather who, it wasn't an abusive situation like in the book, but we didn't always get along, and so I think the Eddie character resonated with me in that regard of like, there's this person in your house that's really not your ally, but if you leave, there's worse outside. What can you do? 

Jordan Lloyd: Stephen King's IT was released in 1986. By the time the novel came out, King was already a veteran of the genre. The book was his 22nd to be published, the 17th under his own name. King's work meant everything to Lamar, even when he was just 11-years-old. Lamar has described reading the book as a turning point for him and his aspirations to write. The influence is clear in his interest in creating horror out of real life settings.

Lamar Giles: I was fascinated by the idea, and I'm sure he wasn't the only one, but he was the easiest author I could access 'cause you could always get to a Stephen King book. The idea of him blending these very far out supernatural elements with towns that felt like my town, and this is not an original observation, people have said this so many times over the years, but he was writing about the haunted house on Main Street. It wasn't Transylvania. It wasn't Dr. Frankenstein's lab. This is your neighbor across the street doing grotesque things. That really struck me, and like I said, in addition, it was the accessibility, because when I could buy books, I was in a place where we didn't have easy access to a book store or a mall, but Steven King's books were always in my grocery store.

Lamar Giles: It was funny, I often say, it was Stephen King and Danielle Steel, and I just went towards King instead of Steel. In an alternate universe, it's the opposite. It was just like I could always get them, and it's why I'm a big proponent of accessibility and letting kids be able to get to books because... And I think Stephen King's maintained the popularity he has throughout the decades because of that. There's no place in America you can go to has a book where they probably won't have a Stephen King, and that's amazing in itself.


Jordan Lloyd: Lamar has always toyed with horror elements in his work. While his debut novel, Fake ID, is a thriller, the scary moments and concepts are obviously present. His 2017 novel, Overturned, is a murder mystery, and in books like the award-winning, The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, he introduced otherworldly monsters and beings. So while The Getaway is first true horror, writing scary and thrilling stories has long been Lamar's game. Even among adults, this type of content is certainly not for everyone. I'll be honest that one of those adults is me. I read The Getaway, but it had me out of my comfort zone, and you won't otherwise catch me reading or watching horror. But given that Lamar's audience is primarily young readers, I wanted to learn more about why he finds so much value in writing the genre for youth.


Lamar Giles: I've come to think the more specific I get, the more relatable it is to people. That's something that we talked about when I was in school, and I can't be the only one who sees this stuff as a pressure valve, a release, and The Getaway came in the midst of 2020, which was a horrible year for the entire world. I wasn't capable of writing anything light and fluffy at that time. And I was concerned about my family when we found out my wife was pregnant with our daughter and I'm, like I said, a lifelong anxiety sufferer. So now I'm anxious about bringing a baby into this world where there's... And I needed to write something that would not only be a pressure valve for the reader, but for me too. I'm still in that head space. What I'm working on now is another horror novel. I still need the pressure valve.

Jordan Lloyd: Let's go deeper on that pressure valve idea. You're right, there's so much pressure everywhere, and with the pandemic and climate change, and for kids, we can just sprinkle in the general pressures of growing up. What do you think the role of fear is in releasing that? 

Lamar Giles: I think the fear part, if you're into it, 'cause everybody's not into this stuff. We know that. There's some people that's like, "I'm a scaredy-cat. I don't want anything to do with that." But if you're into it, the fear is like the ramp on a roller coaster. It's that build up of adrenaline intention that you know you're having in that moment when that roller coaster is cranking that...


Lamar Giles: Some people love that. I love that. And it's control. It's not the same fear of you walking through a dark alley at night and you sense someone behind you in real life. That's a different type of fear that I don't know that anybody really wants. This is control fear. This is me going into it saying, "Okay, I know this part's gonna be scary, but this part's gonna be fun, and I want all of it." And I think the readers who enjoy the sorts of books I have enjoyed and who will enjoy a book like The Getaway are those sort of readers who wanna go into it knowing this part's gonna scare me, but this part is gonna be the drop that I've been looking for.

Jordan Lloyd: Yeah, I like that. Are you basically just trying to create that same sensation, but at a more age-appropriate level for young people? 

Lamar Giles: I do. I try to create it. I just never know because this is where that specificity thing comes in where I try to write about things that scare me, hoping that I've depicted them in a way that will also scare you.

Jordan Lloyd: You have formed a really strong connection with young people. What do you think is the throughline of your stories that really hooks kids in? 

Lamar Giles: I think, more than anything, through all the books, there is a respect for them, and I'm not saying I'm the only one that does this. I think there are... I know many writers who feel this way, but I can remember being their age and people just treating your emotions, desires as less than sort of thing like, "You think that now but when you're older, you'll feel something different and better," or, "You have this opinion now. That's just because you're a kid, and when you're an adult, you're gonna have better opinions." And I never really bought into that. And so I try to have that respect for their experiences come through in my characters. I hope it reads that way.


Jordan Lloyd: That commitment to do justice to the reality of his readers is in some ways driven by a discontent Lamar once felt as a young reader himself. In the types of books he was drawn to, he felt there was something missing, the lack of Black characters in the books he loved made him feel unseen. A passion throughout his career has been righting that wrong and telling stories from Black perspectives in the genres he loves. And outside of just his own writing in 2014, Lamar was among the founding members of We Need Diverse Books, an organization that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to ultimately produce more diversity in children's books. I asked Lamar about how his own experiences as a young reader contributed to his approach to writing Black characters in his stories.

Lamar Giles: I'll say this very plain, it wasn't so much that I was called a book nerd when I was young, it was you're reading White boy books in the sense of these aren't characters that look like us. They're not from where we're from. Why are you focused on these things that don't represent us? And one thing that I was always determined to do, if I ever got on in the industry and got to write characters, they would be Black characters. And part of my thinking was, I would make it safe for someone like me to walk around with one of my books in their hands and not have that opening for someone to say, "Why are you interested in this thing that doesn't represent you?" But I think across the board, in general, kids just aren't as tolerant of that sort of bullying anymore, I hope anyway. I'm very proud of some of the schools I've gone into, the kids I've talked to all seem to recognize like it's fun to have creative passions. You don't have to be limited to this box that someone else determined. So I think they're just a smarter, more congenial, comforting generation, and if I can entertain them in any way, I'm happy to do so.

Jordan Lloyd: As we've learned throughout our conversation, Lamar's journey to publishing his first true horror novel was not direct, but that wasn't because he wasn't ready to write the genre, it was because he couldn't find any publishers that wanted to support it.

Lamar Giles: When I first got into the industry and I sold my first young adult novel, Fake ID, in 2011, this was a time when things like Dystopian and Dark Fantasy were mega hot. I think Twilight was at its peak, The Hunger Games was either at its peak or ramping up. And essentially, having tried to break into the business for a decade, I understood that to try to get into the industry writing something that even sounded like any of those genres, you were gonna be at a disadvantage because that means you're going through the system of trying to get an agent, and that agent is seeing 100 or 200 proposals every week for the same sort of stuff. Me being able to write in different genres... I also liked mystery, and the idea of a contemporary mystery featuring a Black boy hero was something I knew agents weren't seeing a lot of. But just because I got in with a mystery, I had to write for mysteries before I was allowed to do anything else. "You're the mystery guy. That's what you do." So it took over 10 years.

Jordan Lloyd: So you enjoyed writing all those other stories, but it sounds like this has always been like your true calling or passion? 

Lamar Giles: Yeah, and it's not to diminish any of those earlier books because I had fun writing all of them, but I've been waiting for a chance to write the sort of book that would have freaked me out when I was a kid.


Jordan Lloyd: In September of 2022, 11-year-old Lamar's dream became a reality when his book, The Getaway, was released. The novel follows protagonist, Jay, who lives in Karloff Country, a world-class resort, during an impending apocalypse. Unbeknownst to the employees of the resort, the owners have been selling off shares to an end-of-the-world oasis to the wealthy. The story's commentary on classism is one of the most frightening horrors of The Getaway. It has been well-received by readers and critics alike, and has even drawn Lamar comparisons to Jordan Peele. I asked him about what it's been like for him to receive that reaction after all this time.


Lamar Giles: It's been really gratifying to see the reaction, people who were finishing the book and DM-ing me, and the emails. I just never know if it's gonna land the way I think in my head, but to see people saying it's freaked them out, it's made them think about what could be possible in our world, it's everything I could have hoped for. The additional thing I'm hoping for is that the reach is enough and the publisher is pleased enough that I might be allowed to write more stories in that world. That's sort of a touchy thing sometimes because it's a business, and depending on how the business goes dictates what the publisher wants to do next, 'cause I don't typically have contracts for multiple books. My contracts tend to be one-offs, and so it would have to be a situation where the book does well enough where I could pitch a story that continues in that world and they'd be like, "Cool, we're in." But the reaction so far has been almost universally positive, and so I just hope that continues and that opens the door for more stories in the world where Karloff Country exists.

Jordan Lloyd: You've always got a level of social commentary woven into your stories, and I like how you take things like real-world depression and exaggerate that to such a plausible extreme. I think that's what makes it so disturbing, is that it all feels very possible. Is that crossroads of horror and reality, is that where you like to find yourself? 

Lamar Giles: Yeah, I feel like that's a sweet spot for me. I feel like I work well in that space. The book I'm working on now, I can't say too much about but it's gonna have more of a supernatural bent, but the social commentary will still be there. It's the way I find to work into the story. It's usually something on my mind about something that's happened in the real world that allows me to stretch, and like with The Getaway, I've said several times over the last few weeks, it's fiction, but it's not made up. These are plausible things exaggerated, and even in the book that I'm working on that will have a supernatural bent, the supernatural part is more just a catalyst, but what the humans do, it's gonna be stuff that humans have done.

Jordan Lloyd: So you've been touring for The Getaway recently. Do you have any experiences from those author visits to schools or libraries that have really stuck with you? 

Lamar Giles: There's one that stands out particularly, but not for the reason you probably think. It was in North Carolina. It was a middle school, and I talked. We opened the room up to Q&A, and it was going how Q&As usually go. People have questions about the writing process, what your favorite book is, but in the middle of it, this kid raises his hand, and I call on him. And he goes, "What's your favorite Breaking Bad episode?" And here's the thing, I'm a big Breaking Bad fan. The creator, Vince Gilligan, is from Virginia. I'm from Virginia. I know quite a bit about that show. I've rewatched it a few times, and so I could answer the question. I'm like, "Well, my favorite episode is Ozymandias."

Lamar Giles: And this is gonna spoil Breaking Bad for people who haven't seen it, so if that's okay. I go, "It's Ozymandias," but I don't want to say what happened in case people hadn't seen it, and someone else in the auditorium says, "That's when Hank dies." I said, "Okay." And so we move on to the next question, and the next question is, "Who's your favorite character on Breaking Bad?" And so at this point, I'm wondering, 'cause I have a presentation up in the back, I'm like, "Did I say something about Breaking Bad? Where is this going to?" And I was like, "Well, Gus Fring is my favorite character." The crowd starts to... They start to clap, the whole school. And then the whole rest of the Q&A is just questions about Breaking Bad, which was fine. I could answer every one of them, but I never saw that coming. This never happened before. I doubt it'll ever happen again.

Jordan Lloyd: Okay. Well, now we know your favorite show. [chuckle] Do you also enjoy horror movies? 

Lamar Giles: Yeah, I know we're talking about reading mostly here, but if I'm being honest, I think reading and movies, reading, movies and TV went hand in hand in my development as a storyteller. Loved horror movies. Still do. The other night I couldn't sleep, and I woke up and put on the new Hellraiser, which is not... I don't think a thing most people would do. And it's 2 o'clock in the morning and I'm watching Hellraiser 2022 until 4 o'clock and it ends, and I'm like, "Okay, I can go to sleep now." Which is probably the opposite effect of what that would do to most people.


Jordan Lloyd: As today's episode is our Halloween special, there's no better theme for Lamar's reading challenge than fear. He put together a frightening list of stories for a challenge he calls Scary Good. All of our listeners can check out that list and join Lamar Giles's reading challenge by visiting There you can find all of the details and book recommendations, and check out our past reading challenges from guests like Meg Medina and Varian Johnson.


Jordan Lloyd: And now, it's time for today's Beanstack featured librarian. Today we celebrate Christopher Parker, a media specialist at Blue Ridge Elementary in Blue Ridge, Georgia.

Christopher Parker: My most successful library program is Book Buddies in grades K through three. Every time they come to see me to check out books, we will spin the wheel of names to get the Book Buddy person. So a Book Buddy is in essence a stuffed character with the book that accompanies he, she or it, and just a Book Buddy bag, a cinch bag, that goes home with the child for their week that they have their library books. It just really excites those little ones. I have a gazillion of them, and they get to pick out which character they want, and it's funny that I just had one today that got hers, and she's like, "This is the one I got last year," so they want the same one. It's funny, I was like, "Oh, you don't wanna pick a different one?" But nope, she wanted I Am a Unicorn and she got her unicorn Book Buddy today to take home.


Jordan Lloyd: This has been The Reading Culture, and you've been listening to our Halloween special with Lamar Giles. Again, I'm your host, Jordan Lloyd Bookey, and currently, I'm reading The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo and Clean Getaway by Nic Stone. If you enjoyed today's show, please show some love and rate, subscribe and share The Reading Culture among your friends and networks. To learn more about how you can help grow your community's reading culture, you can check out all of our resources at This episode was produced by Jackie Lamport and Lower Street Media and script-edited by Josia Lamberto-Egan. We'll be back in two weeks with another episode of the show. Thanks for joining, and keep reading.


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