Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It’s a beautiful world, but also a scary one

I’m not a Halloween person. And this is not said to judge anyone who is, or to detract in any way from what can clearly be a fun holiday for many people I know. But it’s not my holiday. I don’t like things that are ghoulish. I don’t watch horror movies, either.  I just don’t like to be scared. Not if I can help it. There’s so much fear in this life we can’t circumvent. It’s my goal to keep fear down to just the mandatory stuff and nothing more.

When I was a kid, I lived in a perpetual state of fear. And I really didn’t know why. It wasn’t directed at anything in particular. In fact, I think I purposely looked for places I could direct it. Maybe that gets to the heart of why a lot of people do like to be scared by movies and Halloween haunted houses. I just know that every night I’d lie in bed awake, often until one or two in the morning, petrified. Just absolutely petrified. Rigid with fear.

I took to reading stories of the paranormal, so I’d have a better picture of what I was afraid of.

I remember when I was ten or eleven, I used to have a lamp with shaky wiring. Every now and then when it was off, it would turn itself on. Every now and then when it was on, it would turn itself off. I was in my room in the dark, in bed, reading a story about a haunted house by flashlight. The people who had just vacated it had all the electricity to the house turned off. And, as they stood on the lawn watching, every light in the house turned on. Anyway.

And at the exact—and I do mean exact—moment I read that, my light turned itself on.

I’m amazed I survived to tell you about it. I swear it was enough to stop even an eleven-year-old heart forever.

When you’re a kid, it’s all well and good to say you’re scared but you don’t know why. But I’m not a kid anymore. And I’ve been through years of therapy, and decades of recovery. And I’ve got to tell you, there was scary stuff happening in my house. But I wasn’t dwelling on it consciously. So if you’re pretending nothing’s wrong, that all is well in your house and family, you will accuse yourself of being scared about nothing. We do that a lot as kids, it seems to me. And often as adults. Accuse ourselves of doing something for no reason whatsoever.

I said in the dialogue of a short story once, “Nobody ever does anything for no reason. People do things for reasons you can’t see. Sometimes people do things for reasons they can’t see. But nobody does anything for no reason.”

I also said once in an interview that, when I write, I follow the fear the way other people follow the money. I’m not sure that will make sense to everyone who hears it, but I think enough people will understand. If I can just pay attention to the subtext of fear in characters who will outwardly tell you they’re afraid of nothing, I’ll never run out of stories as long as I live.

My favorite of all my books (still, after all these years) is Becoming Chloe. Because it’s a rare example, it seems to me, of a book where fear of the world in general is openly the theme. It’s a book about whether we can love the world, love our lives unconditionally, without ever papering over what a dangerous and unpredictable place it really is.

It’s a beautiful world, but also a scary one, as Jordy says.

I can now lie in bed with one hand hanging off the mattress, and not think (much) about something under the bed reaching up and grabbing it. I can sit up on the side of the bed with my feet down on the floor. In a more adult arena, I can get a letter from my bank, or from a government agency like the IRS, without my heart jumping into my throat. These days I think, “It’s probably nothing much.” And I’m almost always right.

Then again, I’m old. These gains didn’t come quickly or easily.

And I’m still not ready to like Halloween. Mandatory fears only.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Childhood fear...

I love this month's topic, I've been blogging about it over at Kindertrauma, a great place to discuss all those horrible things that terrified you as a child.

For instance, the move that terrified me more than anything wasn't 'Friday the 13th,' 'Gremlins,' or even 'The Wizard of Oz'. It was 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman'. (follow the link to read about my personal experience)

The museum exhibit that terrified me the most?  The Visible Woman! (read all about it).

Most terrifying comic book? 'Holy Joe' by Jack Chick Actually, almost anything by Jack Chick.

And some more random horror here.

Happy Halloween, everyone! If you're in the St. Louis area on November 2nd or 3rd, check out my events!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


…which is to say, a big scaredy-cat. You’re probably still scared of the dark, and at night, when you turn off all the lights, you probably hold the back of your neck and run like a crazed chicken while reciting the alphabet and then fling yourself on to your bed so that whatever is under there (and there is something under your bed) doesn’t grab your ankles and pull you down,
down into the depths of hell!

Yep. This is pretty much what goes through my mind when the lights go out. While I’m at it, I’ll confess that I’m also afraid of aliens, ghosts, hauntings, possessions, and any and all television shows about aliens, ghosts, hauntings, possessions, etc.).
See, some part of me is absolutely convinced that if I watch a show about aliens, I will shortly thereafter, be abducted. If I watch a show about a haunted house or a possession, I’m opening up some sort of wormhole through the tv and I will then be haunted or possessed. If my house is too cold, I honestly think some spirits have decided to make themselves at home.

There’s a part of my brain, I promise you, that is logical and rational and tries to talk myself out of these thoughts. But for the most part, it doesn’t work.  Looking back on my childhood, I can’t imagine why. But here are my best guesses:

I mean is it just me, or was this the decade of horror flicks? Friday the 13, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Poltergeist, Amityville Horror and The Exorcist.  I watched all of them, and you know, this at the ripe old age of 8, 9, 10, 10 and 3/4.  Also, I made sure to watch parts II, III, XXVI, of all above mentioned movies. Ah, and let me not slight Carrie, Christine, Pet Sematary, and some other Stephen King movies I’ve mostly blocked out.

When I was little, my toys were designated to the basement so they wouldn’t clutter the house—the unfinished basement that was gray and gloomy and had a coffin in the corner. Fine, it was actually an old school, huge, black water boiler, not a coffin. But it looked like a coffin to me. And I was pretty sure it was going to bust open and the zombies from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video would appear.  (yes, that’s right, toys in the basement. We also had plastic covers on our couches.)
Also, in that same basement was my father’s workbench with all his tools including a chainsaw and a machete, both of which I always imagined were going to come to life, fly off the worktable, and kill me (not sure where this came from, but I’m sure from one of the above mentioned movies).

My mom, for reasons unknown to me, thought it was very funny to scare me. She will deny this of course, but she did do this. Many times. And when a favorite cousin of mine with a sick sense of humor would sleep over my house, and we’d settle down to sleep in the pitch dark room, she would pretend she was possessed complete with the demonic voice and third person reference. Oh, and she would not stop.I found this to be so horrible and traumatizing, years later I would do the same to my little brother (sorry, Dave).

Looking back, I suppose there was basically no avoiding becoming a paranoid basket case that gets spooked at the slightest creak.  But oh well, I’m sure it made me a better person, in some way.

*cue in little brother reading this a week before posting* 

Dave: You also locked me in the garage, turned off all the lights, and did that possessed voice from the other side of the door.
Me: What? No I didn’t (grin).
Dave: You did. Several times. For a long time.
Me: Really? (laugh) Oh man, that’s so mean! (laugh) I was hilarious!
Dave: Yeah. Hilarious.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Everyone's afraid of something (by Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I used to think I was the only person in the world with fears. When I was growing up, I watched people jump joyfully into events that were fun to them, but terrified me: Driving. Partying. Meeting new people. Playing sports. Eventually I tried all of these things myself, and some of them I got used to and even enjoyed. Others I tried and decided they weren't for me.

But everything seemed more difficult for me than for others. Sometimes my fear was so strong that I got sick to my stomach. I spent my whole first week at college completely nauseated, nibbling small bites of food and fighting to keep them down. I wanted to go to college; I'd planned for it and looked forward to it and I loved being there, but the newness and the excitement made a perfect storm in my stomach.

It took a few days, but my stomach did settle. And what I eventually learned was that other people had fears, too—they just feared different things, some of which don't scare me. I'm not afraid of the dark, or of being alone, or of making my way around a strange city on mass transit. I was never afraid of the academic side of school (only the social side). When I listen to the rhetoric at election time, I realize that the fears that motivate people who are on the other side of the political aisle from me are not the same things that scare me. (Sometimes I think that is even the source of the political divide in our country: we fear different things.)

During my stomach-turning first week of college, and when I see public policy driven by fears that I don't share, I've sometimes wished for a world without fear. But that wish is fleeting, because I know fear also helps us. It protects us from real dangers, makes us cautious where we should be cautious. (Walk carefully along a cliff's edge!)

Fear usually means we have something to lose, something to cherish. Fear functions as our braking system; it teaches us limits. Without fear, we might run heedlessly over one another even more than we do. A person with no fear might be a sociopath.

Writers get to explore fears on the page, a safe place to do so. We get to test our characters, and in doing so, test ourselves. One of the essential questions I ask when drafting a story is: What does this character fear? And how will he or she face it? People often say a story is, "Character wants something; character fights obstacles in pursuit of that something." But another valid blueprint is, "Character fears something; character must face that fear."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fright Fest-- Hitting the Brick Wall

One of the scariest things to happen to a writer is to be chugging along, writing at the speed of light and then one day, an ordinary writing day, your fingers suddenly freeze over the keyboard, your brain churns off, and nothing creative this side of the Mason-Dixon Line comes out of you. You stare at the computer screen, hoping and praying that it’s just a bad day for writing. It happens. Some days you can write 1000s of words and other days you’re lucky if you hit 800 words. No biggie, you tell yourself, tomorrow is a new day. But tomorrow comes and then the day after tomorrow comes and you still can’t write anything worth being really excited about. 

Then it hits you like a brain to the bullet. You have writer’s block. 

As soon as you realize that, you run through your house screaming and flailing, because it’s the dreaded writer’s block—the most common form. Not the kind that prevents you from coming up with new ideas or writing new stuff, but the kind that hits you about 40k words into your shiny new idea or the third book in a series. The kind that zaps you of motivation and causes you to become addicted to Twitter or to start watching Honey Boo Boo—the kind that has you doing everything and anything other than writing. Maybe you’re baking cupcakes or you decide you need to clean your bathroom. You find yourself doing things just to avoid writing. When you realize that what you’re facing isn’t just a case of writing blahs, but a block, it’s a pretty scary thing. 

I write full time and have several books under contract that need to be written. My biggest fear is that my creativity is just going to dry up one day. So when these moments hit me, I do get scared. I start to panic a little. I tell my friends that I suck at writing when this happens. I watch horrible movies on the Syfy Channel. I freak out.

Here’s the good thing, though. This happens to every writer out there. It doesn’t matter if the writer only produces one book a year on a half a dozen. It happens. And about 95% of writers get passed it in a reasonable time. 

Recently I’ve battled writer’s block. Still am in a way. A few things I’ve done to help beat it is to realize what’s causing it. 

  • I’ve started to see that it happens every couple of books or if I have a lot going on outside of writing, like real life stuff or books that are coming out. Fall 2012 is tough for me. From August through December, I have a book coming out every month—two in November. I had to learn to give myself a break. I can’t always write a book in three weeks nor do edits in 48 hours. It’s not real to expect that out of myself every time or to allow anyone to expect that.  Forcing myself to do this and then getting on myself when I don’t, creates a super strong breed of writer’s block. Take it easy on yourself. 

  • Another thing that caused me to really not be able to write was back when I used to read reviews. Man, let me tell you, when you stumble across one that flames the book and I mean really flames the book, it kills your creativity. You start to doubt yourself. You sulk. You feel bad. You think you suck. Cue writer’s block with a healthy dose of self-pity. This is why you don’t go trolling for reviews. Not only will it stop you from complaining to your friends every five seconds or to anyone who will listen (trust me, it gets old), it will prevent you from spending time trolling, complaining, moping, and all around suckery when you should be writing. I think all writers learn this lesson the hard way. It’s like a rite of passage, but to keep going back and stalking those 1 and 2 star reviews isn’t going to help you write a better book. 

  • Recently I discovered something that helped me get out of my writer’s block. I started to time myself in short increments. For example, for 25 minutes, I do nothing but write. No Internet. No instant message or phone. Nothing but writing. In-between those 25 minute sessions, I take breaks. I ended up writing over 2700 words in just three sessions when I was averaging that about a day or less for over two weeks. Discovering this was a miracle for me and helped overcome the dreaded writer’s block.

What have you’ve done to overcome it?

Happy Halloweenie!


Tuesday, October 23, 2012


           I’m six years old. On Saturdays, my dad takes me to Coral Reef Park to feed the ducks. I stand on the edge of the canal and toss handfuls of stale bread at Waggy, my favorite in the flock. He always comes to me, as if he knows his name.
            In my kindergarten class, we draw pictures of birds. I’m telling my friends about my duck in the park—his speckled feet and wrinkly face that looks smeared with jam. Then a boy marches up to our table.
            “I killed that duck,” the boy says.
            I’m crying so hard, I choke. The teacher puts her arm on my shoulder. She wants to know what happened. When I try to explain, it doesn’t come out right. The boy laughs. He says it’s all a big joke. I’m not sure what to believe. But I know one thing:
            I’m scared of that boy.
            I’m twelve. I’m getting C’s on my tests instead of A’s. My best friend moves away to Texas. I spend a lot of time hiding in the library, the only safe place I can find. I doodle my own comic books about spaceships and the end of the world. I try to imagine what would happen if the aliens torched my school. No more running laps in P.E. while the coach blew that stupid whistle. The bleachers with the splintery planks. Guys always trying to look up your skirt. The square pizza in the cafeteria. The aliens would zap all of it to dust.
Every morning, I wake up with my stomach burning like acid because I’m scared of going to school.
I’m eighteen. The aliens don’t invade my school, but a hurricane peels the roof off the library. I have a new best friend. She likes to read physics books for fun. She doesn’t laugh when I tell her my secret: one day, I’m going to write about all of this. At least, that’s the plan.
We take a test, WHAT CAREER IS BEST FOR YOU? and bubble in the answers with number two pencils. I tell the guidance counselor that I’m going to be a novelist. She says that’s cool but I need a “back-up plan.” I slam the door on the way out. Then I crumple up the test and throw it in the garbage.
I’m not scared anymore.

Monday, October 22, 2012

If Ideas are a Writer's Currency, I'm Broke

This month’s topic is seasonal – what scares us the most? Honestly, I don’t know where to start. I’m afraid of so many things – losing a child. Getting lost. Screwing up another friendship. The list is practically endless. But in keeping with the theme of this blog, I decided to focus on writing.
You know what scares me about my writing? It’s the nagging little voice deep in my brain that keeps asking me, “What if you never have another idea?”


Social networking opened up a whole new world for me. It exposed me to books I might never have read and introduced me to writers I might never have heard of, and in doing so, enriched me. But whenever you meet new people who move in your circle, the inevitable comparisons begin. You read about one writer who wrote his novel in three weeks and you wonder why you can’t do that, too. Then you hear about another writer whose debut novel hit the best-seller list and feel crappy that yours did not. But the most terrifying thing for me is hearing other writers say things like this:

“Oh, just got shiny new idea while showering today. Gah! Which one should I write first? Too many great ideas.”

And a tiny part of my soul shrivels up and dies because it never works like that for me. I don’t have hundreds of books or characters in my brain. At best, there may be two book ideas in my head. Finding viable ideas is the hardest part, for me, of being a writer. I have to consciously sit down and brainstorm ideas, play hours of What If games, and plot like an over-caffeinated soap opera writer. I do fill up note pages playing these games, but too often, learn the ideas that result from these games were already done.

So I abandon them. And then I always fear my last book will actually be my last book. I will be the literary equivalent of a one-hit wonder. But, as many of us know, fear is a relentless motivator. So, to fight my fear, I read often – both in and out of my genre, including the news, and try to read critically so that I can determine how I might have attacked this theme or answered that question. Usually, these efforts don’t add up to a book; they may be parts of a larger story, so the work is not entirely wasted. But whole book ideas? No. Still don’t have more than one or two.

I think my biggest fear is this means I’m not a real writer. Shouldn’t real writers have stock piles of ideas? Ideas are a writer’s currency. The more ideas we have, the more books we write and the larger our careers grow. What if Carrie were the only story Stephen King wrote? Would we still remember his name? I imagine writers like Neil Gaiman and Nora Roberts have so many ideas, they have to stick them in off-shore bank accounts so they don’t get lost. But me? I have my one or two book ideas sewn into the lining of my clothes and hope I don’t get rolled.

*shivers* Hold me. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Things That Make Me Go EEK! (Rachel Harris)

I’m gonna let y’all in on a little not-so-secret, secret…I’m a wuss. 

Like a straight-up, cringe at blood, shrink from confrontation, scream at frogs type wuss. It’s just one of those things that makes me extra special I guess. So I have to admit that when this month’s topic was presented, it was a challenge for me to choose just one fear to focus on.

And then it hit me. Why not make a list to show the world what a complete and total scaredy-cat I can be!

And so I present, The Top Five Things That Make Rachel Go EEK!

(and yes, lyrics from C&C Music Factory are now stuck in my head)

1.       Frogs. Big frogs, little frogs, any kind of frogs. They can be real, stuffed, or made of porcelain, I don’t care. They creep me the heck out.
2.       Roaches. Dude, I grew up in New Orleans. These suckers are everywhere. And the loud crunch their bodies make when you step on them to kill them is even ickier somehow than the actual vile creatures themselves. ~cringes at the thought~
3.       Seeing other people in pain. If there is blood, the eek factor goes up ten-fold, but seriously, if I just know you are in pain, I feel pain. The term is ‘sympathy pains’ and it makes me sound sweet and sensitive, but really it is just a huge pain in the butt. Sometimes literally. I can’t read books with suffering, because I become miserable in the process. And horror flicks? Oh, heck no. See? Wuss.
4.       Mice. I hate to tell Cinderella, but mice aren’t cute. I’ve yet to meet one that sings and can sew a mean dress. Mostly, they just scurry around and make me jump on furniture.
5.       Vlogs. Yes, Vlogs scary me. Have I mentioned I’m a bit of an odd duck? I can talk in front of a crowd of people and standing in front of a video camera is no big deal, but for some reason, when I go sit in front of my little computer camera and try spilling my guts to the world, I freeze up. I forget where I’m going or trying to say. I ramble. And I sound like an idiot.  Don’t believe me? Check this out: Why Rachel Shouldn’t Vlog

So there you have it, my top five list of random things that scare the snot out of me. What’s in YOUR top five?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Scary Story (Lauren Bjorkman)

I should have known not to go.

But I was fourteen, and my best friend invited me to see a movie.
I went along, even though she picked a scary movie, and I hate scary movies.
I went along, even though it was about psycho killer stalking a baby-sitter.

The next week I got a call from a family—one of my regular baby-sitting gigs. They paid well and had good food. I liked the little girl, Rachel, except when she practiced her violin. I let those factors sway me.

Everything went well that night. No stranger called, no creepy breathing into the phone, no one asking, “Do you know where Rachel is?” She was with me, of course, watching re-runs of Love Boat with me in her parents’ bedroom. Everything went well until something went *crash* downstairs.

You know how in horror movies, how you get furious at someone who goes to investigate? Well, I didn’t investigate. I locked the bedroom door and called 911. When the police car arrived, I went downstairs to meet them. They looked around, but found nothing.

By the time the parents came home, we had fallen asleep in their bed. When the dad drove me home, I forgot to tell him about the 911 call. Or I was embarrassed. Or something else. I was a teenager. Give me a break.

The next day the dad called to chew me out. I’d forgotten that Rachel would tell them about the incident. They never asked me to baby-sit again.

But I didn’t mind.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fear. Who needs it? Me, apparently.

When something scares me, my instinct is 1) turn and run in the other direction; 2) look away pretending it doesn't exist; or 3) keep weighing all the options until it's too late to deal with and it goes away by default.

One of my biggest fears is . . . change. Change is risky! It shakes things up! You don't know what things will look like on the other side!

Unlike me, my heroines seem to love leaping into the unknown, whether it's Persephone climbing into Hades' chariot  or Addy closing the door on a home-made time-travel machine to start a new life in the Middle Ages. And thank goodness for that, because what kind of novel do you get if someone faces their dilemma by 3) weighing all the options until it's too late to deal with and it goes away by default--? Writing about their adventures doesn't make me have fewer fears, but it does help me face them.

Once before a book event, my hands were shaking. My daughter acts, so I asked her how many plays she'd done before she stopped being nervous. "I'm still nervous before every show," she said. "And that's good. It means you're awake. All your energy is right there to grab and use."

She's also the one who told me Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do one thing every day that scares you."

I've always loved the statue of Shiva Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance, who holds the flame of destruction in one hand, and the drum of creation in another. The whole cycle, how you need change to grow, is expressed in that graceful figure. I got my own little statue of Shiva Nataraja, and then what did I do with it? I hid it away because I was scared of the fire of destruction part.

And yet so much of what's good in my life happened because I faced my fears to dare something new: getting in front of groups to lead storytimes; doing a home-stay language program in Italy; finding a story I had to tell and learning to write a novel so I could tell it; and helping that book and then another find their way out into the world--including walking onstage with my shaking hands. Taking on each of those felt like leaping off a cliff. But once I was doing them, it turned out they were fun.

Maybe I'm making friends with change. That little statue of Shiva Nataraja now dances on top of my dresser, where I see him every day. Will I ever get as brave as Eleanor Roosevelt?

Let's not push it!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

What Scares Me (by Wendy Delsol)

So … I’m kind of a nervous ninny, meaning lots of things scare me.

Here are but a few:

—Anything about alien abductions. Seriously. What could be more freaky? And I believe the well documented stories such as Barney and Betty Hill, the Allagash Waterway abduction, and Travis Walton (all of which have more than one individual passing lie detectors. Uh-huh!). If you’ve never watched the movie “Fire in the Sky” (based on the Travis Walton story), rent it this Halloween. Ho my. It’s so creepy.

—Heights. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon is terrifying. And don’t get me started on bridges over large bodies of water. Can you say recurring nightmare (more on those later)?

—Large crowds and volatile situations. There’s a mob mentality that I’ve experienced twice in my life. The first was after the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 World Series. A friend and I went downtown to celebrate. It’s since been dubbed the first “victory riot” in the states. It quickly became a very scary scene with muggings, roving gangs, cars being flipped, etc. We hightailed it out of there as fast as we could but not before encountering a few hysterical victims and some roaming thugs.
I also lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots in 1992. I worked in the vicinity of LAX Airport and had what was normally a 20-minute commute. Once the riots began, we were excused early from work. Traffic was insane. Everyone was in a hurry to get out of town. After almost two hours of bumper-to-bumper gridlock, I needed gas. The line at the station extended into the street, but I patiently waited my turn. Back then, you had to go into the building to pay for gas (no pump-side swiping of your credit card, kids). When I returned, a man had angled his car in front of mine and was pumping the gas I had just paid for. I confronted him but quickly backed down. He was wild-eyed and clearly taking advantage of the situation. Though several onlookers came to my aid, the gas station made me repay for a second tank of gas. It became a shouting match between the attendant and witnesses. In the end, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

—And, of course, this crazy publishing gig. It can be truly ghoulish. Will (insert title) get published? Will (insert title) review well? Will anyone buy (insert title)? I spoke earlier of recurring nightmares. I now have a new one to add to the rotation (which previously included plunge from bridge into water, waitress hell, and college finals’ fiasco). I call it the nobody-shows book event. It’s just you and the book-store coordinator. I’m just not sure whether this falls into the boo or boo-hoo category. Either way, it gives me the willies.

Happy Halloween to all. Here’s to keeping the bogies at bay.