'Midnight Pals,' Imagining Top Horror Writers as Kids, Gets Hugo Nomination

The nominations for the prestigious Hugo Awards were revealed this Thursday, honoring the best in modern science fiction—and one of the nominees is the author of a popular Twitter account poking fun at some of the biggest names in science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Midnight Pals reimagines the classic Nickelodeon horror series Are You Afraid of the Dark. But instead of anonymous kids telling spooky stories "submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society," it's top writers like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe and Dean Koontz.

Written in script form, the account has its own lore, with Koontz as a wholesome, dog-loving kid, Redwall author Brian Jacques as a tiny cartoon mouse and Harry Potter scribe J.K. Rowling as a serpentine castle-dweller.

The account's creator, who goes by Bitter Karella, spoke to Newsweek about her success, the Hugo nomination and some of her favorite elements of Midnight Pals.

The germ of the idea came when Karella's wife was reading a Koontz book she didn't enjoy, and read some passages aloud. Karella suggested that the book sounded like an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark.

"I thought, 'Oh, that's mildly funny, I should tweet that.' I kicked around the idea for a few days in my head, kinda imagining what it would look like if Dean Koontz was around the campfire, and thinking, 'Well, he'd probably be talking to other horror writers,'" she told Newsweek.

"So I posted a couple quick little dialogues based on that, and it kinda blew up. And I thought, 'Oh, it's too bad I only thought to tweet a couple of these, I have so many ideas!' But then I realized, oh, wait, I might as well keep going. So it just sorta grew from there," Karella continued.

Despite Karella's gentle ribbing, a number of authors have celebrated their appearances in Midnight Pals.

"I didn't really expect much, but I've been really humbled that a fair number of horror creators have responded well," she said. "It's really just a huge thrill that so many of the creators that I've loved and followed for so long have noticed it. They've mostly been really good sports and it's funny that every so often someone will say 'Now that I've been in Midnight Pals, I've totally made it,' which is hugely flattering."

Fantasy author Diane Duane even sells T-shirts based on her Midnight Pals character—who lives in the vents of J.K. Rowling's castle in the series. And Sabbath author Nick Mamatas had kind words for Karella.

"As someone sitting alone in the dark of my tiny apartment after a dinner of gas station fried chicken, I am thrilled to be an inspiration to young queer creators such as Bitter Karella," he told Newsweek.

So did Manhunt scribe Gretchen Felker-Martin.

"Couldn't have gone to a nicer person, honestly, or a better piece of satire," Felker-Martin told Newsweek.

Not all the feedback from writers has been positive, but Karella says that she is a fan of nearly all of the writers featured in Midnight Pals, save two.

"I don't wanna name any names, but a occasionally an author will not be amused. A couple have blocked me and, I mean, that's fair, that's the mature way to respond if you don't wanna see something on Twitter," she said. "In general I try to keep the mockery pretty light—since most of these are people whose work I genuinely like, after all! The only real exceptions are Joss Whedon and J.K. Rowling. Those are the two I actually don't like. So I tend to really hammer on them."

Karella had harsh words for Rowling in particular, and her criticism of the transgender rights movement.

"I think it's despicable to have the world's biggest bank account and the world's biggest megaphone and use them to attack marginalized people," Karella said.

bitter karella midnight pals twitter hugo nomination
Bitter Karella is the author behind the popular @Midnight_Pals Twitter account, which uses the framework from the classic Nickelodeon show "Are You Afraid of the Dark" to parody horror writers. Courtesy of Bitter Karella

As far as favorite characters to write, Frankenstein author Mary Shelley is near the top.

"I have a lot of fun with Mary Shelley, she's kind of the fan favorite. From her writing and her life, she really comes across as such an original goth and I've sorta ended up writing her as Nancy from The Craft," Karella says. "She's kind of like one of the Muppets that Jim Henson would try to use sparingly, but whose thing would be to help end a scene by just coming on and wrecking the set."

Other favorites are more obscure, including an Irish-American writer from the 1800s.

"A very minor character but one that I always love to bring on is Fitz James O'Brien. He wrote a wonderful ghost story called 'What Was It?' which was basically 'I smoked a lot of opium and then a ghost attacked me at night,'" Karella said.

"I just love that the narrator of the story legitimately does not seem to see a link between those two events. Because of that, O'Brien's basically become the stoner of the group, so he'll pop in whenever I need to do a Cheech & Chong style routine," she added.

Another author gives her the chance to explore how different writers treat similar material.

"August Derleth running Call of Cthulhu games is another fave recurring bit," she said, referring to the pen-and-paper role-playing game. "It's a great excuse to talk about all the different authors who've 'reimagined' Lovecraft's mythos over the years."

But, she admits, some jokes are just goofy.

"Frank Belknap Long being a furry is another completely bizarre bit that I don't know where it came from," Karella admits. "A lot of gags just kind of happen and i think, 'Oh yeah, that's pretty funny, I'll just keep doing that.'"

The news Thursday that Karella had been nominated for a Hugo for Best Fan Writer took her off-guard.

"Someone mentioned on Twitter that they were gonna nominate me and I thought, 'Well, I like the sound of that!' So I did say on my account, 'Hey, if anyone else wants to nominate me, well, I wouldn't object!' I didn't really expect anything, but then it happened!" she said.

"I plan to immediately let this go to my head, like the dude who made Boondock Saints, and alienate all my friends," Karella joked, referring to director Troy Duffy, the subject of Overnight, the documentary about the making of The Boondock Saints.

More seriously, though, Karella said that though it was unexpected, it was a nice surprise.

"I would never have expected that a silly Twitter account would get noticed," she said. "Some folks have said that Midnight Pals has helped them deal in some small way with the stresses of the last couple years, what with the pandemic and the hell world we live in.

"I don't want to pretend that this is some huge thing like curing cancer, but it's hugely gratifying to hear that I can do something that might touch folks in a small way," she added.

Karella will find out whether she wins the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award on September 4, 2022. Hugos, considered the premiere science fiction awards, are presented yearly at the World Science Fiction Convention, which will be held in Chicago this year.