A specialist in scary tales for kids — with a special talent for terrifying teenagers — Pamela Schembri has a day gig as a librarian at the Newburgh Free Academy. But you’ll also find her spinning yarns at school assemblies, storytelling workshops, as well as at large venues like the Tribeca Film Festival. Sometimes she scares herself: “I used to sleep with the lights on,” she admits. “I had this incomprehensible fear of the ‘Chiller Theatre’ hand coming out of the ground.”
Currently lives: Montgomery College
Degrees: Music theory and composition
Masters: Library Science
American idols: Eshu Bumpus and Joseph Bruchac
False start: I was studying aerospace engineering at Penn State on a full Air Force ROTC scholarship. I also played the oboe. I dropped out after one year.
Favorite childhood story: My mother’s version of “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” She didn’t try to make it politically correct, she just let the lady die at the end.
Favorite Hudson Valley-based story: “Huckleberry Turnpike” — my father’s most famous story. A young man who takes some haunted items from a church, which leads to his demise. In high school, my friends and I would pile into a Chevette and look for the church at night.
Favorite childhood memory: Listening to “Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghost Stories For Young People” with my sisters in a pitch-black basement.
First story ever told: “The Tiger’s Whisker,” in a graduate school class in children’s literature. The professor said, “You have a gift; you need to use it.”
First gig: Storyteller during the Halloween season at a farm. I learned to scare kids without scaring them too much.
Father’s reaction to career choice: Horrified, then indifferent, and finally proud. He was still recovering from my decision to study music. He was hoping I’d audition for the Army band.
That’s another story: I bought a historic house two days before 9/11 in 2001. It had a ghost, but there was so much construction, he left.
Secret weapon: For older kids, I tell a scary story and then say it isn’t true. But then I say the next story is true. And it will be an urban myth like “The Vanishing Hitchhiker” or the “Choking Doberman.” That gets them.
Author of: “Scary Stories You Won’t Be Afraid to Use”
Why be scary? We like to feel afraid but know we’re safe. If you create something for kids’ imaginations to chew on, they can explore their fears.
Currently writing: I’m writing a children’s story called “Silver Starlight Wish.” I hope it takes off.
Learn more: www.pamelaschembri.com