Friday, October 31, 2014

Life, Death, and Chicken Fingers (by Nancy Ohlin)

For a while now, my daughter has been trying to wrap her brain around the concept of mortality.  Clara is six, and for a long time after she started asking those pesky questions (“When will you and Daddy die?” “When will I die?” “When will our cats die?” “You can’t die until you’re really, really old, right?  Like a thousand?”), we managed to appease her with soothing platitudes. 

But then things got real.  When she was just shy of four, she saw me get hit by a car in the middle of a crosswalk.  Last summer, she was in the ER with me when my husband almost died.  She’s also learned that my parents are no longer alive, and she has deduced from this that if my mom and dad can die … well, so can her mom and dad.  

In addition, she hears about dead pets, dead bugs, and dead other stuff from the kids at school.  There’s also the “where does meat come from?” business.   Just recently, she concocted a theory that chicken fingers come from old chickens who die peaceful, natural deaths, then somehow extrude edible meat out of their bottoms post-mortem.  (I know—ew.)

It’s both fascinating and heart wrenching to watch Clara work through her fears and anxieties about death.  Like me, she’s a person who feels things very, very deeply.  The other day, she was watching an episode of the children’s nature show “Wild Kratts,” about the food chain, and happened to see a tiny, faraway, cartoon image of a lion eating a gazelle.  When she got upset about this, I reminded her that it was “just a TV show.”  She replied, “But there could be a real lion eating a real gazelle in Africa RIGHT THIS SECOND” and burst into tears.

I guess cowardly parental obfuscation doesn’t cut it any more.

For me to talk to Clara honestly about the circle of life, though, I first need to come to terms with it myself.  The problem is, I’m not there yet.  I may never be there.  As good as I am at gratitude and be-here-now, I’m also chronically anxious about the future.  No matter how happy I am, no matter how rich my life is, the undertow of mortality is always present, reminding me that none of this is forever. 

Although I could take a lesson from Clara.  After her outburst over the lion and gazelle, she dried her tears and began chasing our cats around the house.  I asked her what she was doing.  She announced that she was a fierce lion, “the-king-of-the-savannah-not-jungle,” and that she was hunting gazelles for her dinner.

 Clara a.k.a. Wolverine, Halloween 2014

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Scariest Thing That Ever Flippin' Happened to Me...

The Visible Woman is an exhibit you used to see in museums. It’s a life-sized mannequin with transparent skin, so you can see her organs and skeleton. When I was about six, I was into the human body, so when we went to a museum, my dad took me to see this. We went into a small auditorium, where a real life woman stood next to the plastic one. When the chairs filled, we assumed she’d explain to us about the various organs.
Then the real woman walked back stage.
Then the lights went out.
Then the plastic woman’s brain began to glow.
“This is my brain,” said an eerie, disembodied voice.
That was enough for me. I began to cry. My dad, realizing how creepy this seemed to me, picked me up so we could leave.
This was so that no one would interrupt the presentation, and you exited through a different door. However, dad couldn’t figure out how to leave without disturbing everyone, so I spent about ten minutes crouched in the corner, my eyes closed, covering my ears.
         There. I've opened my soul to you this Halloween and shared my darkest memory. Hope you're  happy!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mice (by Margie Gelbwasser)

I have lots of fears, fueled by my anxiety issues. I thought of writing about some of them, like my writing or publishing fears, or my food issue fears, or worrying about my family. But I spend too much time obsessing about all these things already, so I figured I'd write about a tangible fear, that while still icky, freaks me out far less than the above.

Let's talk about mice, people.

I have no issues with Fievel or the little white mice in pet stores or Mickey or any famous mice. Nope, I'm talking about the brown and grey ones, also known as field mice. Yes, they're a lot smaller than me, but that's irrelevant. I've run to the other end of a room after spotting a mouse. I've bolted from rooms. I've stood on chairs. I firmly believe that movies with mice scenes need to have a warning. Like a big M next to the PG, PG-13, or R. M for mice. So I know there will be a scene where I'll have to close my eyes. No show is immune. I've watched children's shows, favorite television shows and dramas and out of nowhere, BOOM, mouse! Now, if the characters are in a sewer, I know to close my eyes and the person beside me (usually my husband) knows to not let me open them until the mouse is gone. If I'm watching with my seven-year-old, it's a stickier situation as he thinks it's hilarious to tell me the mouse is gone when in fact it and its friends are still on the screen. Boys.

I'm pretty sure I know where my fear stems from. When we first came to America, we had no money. I was three, and my parents, grandparents, sister and I lived in a one bedroom apartment. We slept on boxes because we couldn't afford beds, and my dad stayed up at night and trapped mice so they wouldn't crawl on us. Mouse traps weren't enough. So, this is probably why the little critters skeeve me out to this day. But that doesn't change my fear. And it's not worth it for me to really get past this fear or else I'd lock myself in a room of the crawly, furry yuckies and hope to overcome it.

In the meantime, I'll continue petitioning for that M rating. :-)

Monday, October 27, 2014

Masks, Literally (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I met my friend Carrie at a high-school arts camp. We were both in the creative-writing track at the time. The camp was short in duration but had a life-changing effect on me; it was the first place I’d felt that I fully belonged.

I kept in touch with Carrie and several other campmates for a while, but then we all got involved in our lives and drifted out of touch. A few years ago, however, I became curious about some old friends and looked them up online. (In the time since we’d all been in camp together, the Magic of the Internet had happened!)

I discovered Carrie living happily with her family, and working in an art field I hadn’t considered: mask-making. As she says on her blog: “I make masks. Because art is more fun when you put it on your head.”

These are not the flimsy, cheap Halloween masks that are held on with a stapled piece of elastic. They’re elaborate works of art, painstakingly crafted.

Her blog and Facebook show all the work that goes on behind the scenes, and her gallery shows the finished work. Her work has even made an appearance on the TV show CSI:
 The CSI Mask Experience

While I realize that we here at YAOTL didn’t have to take our “mask” topic so literally, I seriously thought that nothing I could write about masks would be as interesting as Carrie’s work and her own thoughts on masks, as chronicled on her sites. And it’s fun, as a writer, to delve into other fields of art from time to time, to see what our colleagues are doing with other media.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Stranger Danger (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

It's hard to fear monsters anymore. Vampires and werewolves aren't scary since I learned they just want to love me. I make my husband watch The Walking Dead when I'm out of the house because the sound of zombie skulls splitting makes me want to puke, but on the whole, zombies don't have enough independent thought to be truly frightening, though said husband assures me there are different kinds of zombies, some of which can be quite autonomous. I'm sure I'd be scared if one came at me, but in general, piles of rotting flesh just gross me out.

You know what's scary? The Great Selkie, y'all. A fallen angel who looks like a bull seal, except when he looks like a man, who wants to drag me down to live in his crystal palace under the sea and drown me and roof the palace with my hair if I ever decide to leave...what?!

When I found out this month's blog theme—fear and disguises and other Halloweeny type things—I immediately thought of the first book that ever really scared the some-word-I'm-allowed-to-say-in-front-of-my-new-baby out of me: Mollie Hunter's 1975 middle grade novel, A Stranger Came Ashore.

This is the cover of the edition I read. Scary, no? This would scare anyone. Also, it was dusty and stained and generally gross in the way a library book from 1975 is apt to be.

I encountered A Stranger Came Ashore sometime during a childhood of library summer reading programs, but I didn't remember much except that it was about the Great Selkie taking the form of a man and trying to convince this kid's elder sister to marry him so he could do the whole dragging her down to the bottom of the ocean and roofing his palace with her hair thing. That and the scene where the stranger is creepily playing the violin and charming the family dog (who knows what's up) into submission. And I remembered being really scared and knowing I better not tell my parents lest they make me stop reading.

I read it again recently to see if it was as scary as I remembered. Alas, no. This is the cover now: 

 Shiny seals.

I'm not sure how scary the book was meant to be. Like many of Mollie Hunter's other books, it's set on a remote Scottish island and uses traditional Scottish folklore as a starting point. While I'm not as scared of the Great Selkie as I was at ten—never any need to fear because I'm a brunette, and the Great Selkie only goes for blonds, as he's also into a certain victim profile—I understand what scared me so much then.

When the Great Selkie hides his selkie skin and comes ashore as the man Finn Learson, he's as much in disguise as anyone could be—visibly, anyway, he's changed species. Finn Learson is cocky, too: he gives clue after clue about his true identity, but twelve-year-old Robbie spends most of the book as the only person who knows Finn Learson is the Great Selkie and thus as the only one who can save his sister. That's the stuff of nightmares: being the only one who can fight a monster only you can see.

I'm not sure how well the book would play in today's more monster-friendly climate. A Stranger Came Ashore is a literary folktale, with all a folktale's emphasis on good and evil. Make no mistake, Finn Learson is a monster. Sure, he romances Elspeth away from her human sweetheart, but only so he can kill her. He doesn't fall in love with her and regret the monstrosity that compels him to drown her at the bottom of the sea. He genuinely means her harm, but he hides it so well that all anyone can see is what a great guy he is. Except Robbie, who sees through the disguise. Even I kept expecting something I missed on that childhood reading, some nuance to give me sympathy for the Great Selkie, but no such luck. He's not even lonely—he has plenty of Lesser Selkie companions. Drowning blond girls every time he needs a new roof is just his jam.

A monster who regrets being a monster is one thing, but a monster who has no problem with who he is? That's scary stuff. (Side note: Is this what makes the Daleks from Doctor Who scary? Because they have terrified people for over fifty years while carrying toilet plungers and egg beaters.)


I've never written horror or thrillers, but this rereading experience got me thinking about what might make a character in any genre scary.

Do you remember the first book that terrified you? What made it scary? It's almost Halloween, so unpack that fear in the comments.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Faking It by Carrie Mesrobian

Most of being an adult for me involves faking it.

Faking that I'm interested in what my kid's teacher is telling me about her test scores at conferences.

Faking that I really want to go select paint swatches for my house.

Faking that I know what's going on when it comes to my mortgage, my tax situation, my overall health and well-being, my personal goals and dreams, the political issues that affect my generation.

Faking that I have any clue that things will turn out okay.

I don't really have an issue with this, though. It doesn't feel false, necessarily, either. It doesn’t feel like lying. Maybe because I like writing fiction and all of fiction involves faking it too? Faking that I'm a 17-year-old boy. Faking that I've ever gone snowboarding or deer-hunting. Faking that I am a male virgin, that I enjoy smoking pot, that I have a brother, that my parents have divorced, that my mother is dead, that I know what it's like to make cupcakes from scratch.

Maybe other people are fully grown up and don't fake it. Maybe other people will read this and think I'm an idiot. Maybe other people find themselves in their 40th year and feel solid and expert and competent. But I don't. I still feel uncertain about 75% of what's going on in my life. (The other 25% is me being certain that I will fail.)

I wonder sometimes if growing up is just a matter of being accustomed to faking it?

To amuse myself when I'm not writing, I often fantasize. Conversations With My Fake Boyfriend is one such forum that I curate. There is something so ridiculous and delightful about that which will never happen to me. 

The theme this month is masks and fears and I love this theme. I love this time of year. Halloween is the wonderful holiday that contends with both; a purely fun holiday that pairs children with adults, happens in the dark, with strangers and favors and reveling in indulgence and frippery and faking it.

The nice thing about fiction is that it encourages faking it. It encourages questions and counterfactuals. Fiction reckons with a delicious uncertainty that plays out across a fanciful timeline, in a place that never quite exists, spanning multiple viewpoints. Asking these questions, making these fake people, posing and plotting and embellishing on what will never be reality is probably the one responsibility I feel honest about accepting. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Oh, the humanity! (by Patty Blount)

All this month, we "Outsiders" are blogging about things like masks and fear.

This is a post about fear, which is good because a long time ago, an author I admire told me to write about the things that scare me the most and I've tried to do that with all of my novels.

I need to work this into a story:

In my day job, I often work from home. Last week, as I was busy developing an article for our company's blog, my home phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID before I answered it and my heart simply stopped. The call was coming from my own house. I stared at the phone, each ring making my flesh crawl with goosebumps the size of marbles. Should I answer or not? I did not but long after the phone stopped ringing, I sat frozen in my seat, convinced that every groan the house made was obviously caused by the hockey-mask-wearing ax murderer slowly sneaking up my stairs.

You'll be happy to know I did not foolishly explore the basement. No, no, I sat with my back against a wall and my window open, in case I needed to leap out. I learned later that this is a new telemarketing ploy -- they hijack your own number to confuse you into answering the phone.

Note to self: inquire if a wrongful death suit can be brought against a telemarketer for the heart attack this practice is likely to cause? 

You know, the only time my phone rings lately, it's some political survey or a telemarketer.

Anyway, back to fear. Heart thundering against my ribs, knees knocking under my desk, and clammy hands still clutching the innocent phone that had been transformed into a tool of the devil, I suddenly wondered when was the last time I felt such bone-deep fear? We're pretty fortunate. We live in a society where fear is not often a daily occurence -- emphasis on the not-often part. As I'm writing this post, I just saw a link someone posted on one of my social networks about Gamergate. If you're new to the term, it refers to a culture of misogny and sexism in the gaming community. Most recently, it concerns a developer named Brianna Wu, who has been the target of the most despicable threats made online from an anonymous account.

Because: FEAR -- guess the guy behind the keyboard is too afraid to identify himself.

While the Wu situation played out, Utah State University was supposed to host an outspoken critic of female game characters, but the speaker, Anita Sarkeeshian, opted to bow out after the school was threatened with the "...deadliest school shooting in American history" if the event took place by someone who apparently blames feminists for every damn thing wrong in his life.

Several days after this, news of author Kathleen Hale STALKING a book blogger who gave her a negative review lit up my Twitter feed.

Terrorism is alive and well on the internet and this scares me down to the depths of my soul and please don't misunderstand me -- I'm not criticizing Ms. Sarkeeshian for her decision. On the contrary, it scares me that it ever needed to be made. It scares me that a terrorist's threat worked. It scares me that such deep misogny exists in our society. It scares me that the very ideals this country was founded on are threatened and nobody seems to care.

It scares me because the only thing I can do about it is to keep writing the things that scare me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hate vs. Fear (Cyn Balog/Nichola Reilly)

My eight-year old daughter is scared to death of silverfish. 

In case you don’t know what they are, they’re creatures with a gazillion legs that are fond of hanging out in dark closets and bathtubs. A million legs creepier than a spider, I’d say they are not the most attractive things on Earth, but they probably think the same about us.

Last night I was reading a book with my daughter, and at one point the main character stood up and accidentally crushed an insect that he’d previously been studying.  My daughter started to cry.  I asked her why and she said, “Just because you’re scared of something doesn’t mean you hate it.”

When I was a child, I had similar fears.  These days, I have a lot of fears on my mind, but mostly grown-up ones about how I’ll pay the bills or whether my kids are safe.  And seriously, I HATE the thought of losing my home or having anything happen to my kids.  But another fear that’s on my mind—and gaining greater and greater prominence-- is one that’s been on my head since 2008, when I sold my first book, FAIRY TALE.

Back then, things were different. When you sold a book in YA, THE major hurdled had been jumped. You were no longer a dabbler, a wannabe, or a hobbyist… you were a professional.  Now, you could wear the bright “published author” badge on your sleeve, and things would be different. Agents and editors would forever now stand up and take notice of you.

But things have changed a lot since then. The success of YA meant that it exploded. When FAIRY TALE released in 2009, it was one of three YA books to release that week.  My most recent release, DROWNED, shared a release date with nearly a dozen  YA books.  And since the advent of self-publishing, anyone can be a published author.  While getting to “published” has become easier because of the many new avenues available, being successful at it has become exponentially harder, for just about everyone.

At first, my aim was to just write and sell one book a year. That was the limit of my abilities, I said, that was my goal. But as traditional publishing struggled to find its footing, competition increased and self-publishing grew, I started to realize that was not enough. It took longer for books to sell traditionally, and advances were smaller.  I needed to write more books in order to keep at the same earning level as I was at in 2009.

So, as I sit here writing this, I’ve written 5 books this year, in addition to working a full-time job.  I’ve self-published a couple, one is trying to find a publisher, one will be published next year, and the other one . .. who knows?  Yeah, I’m running myself ragged with the writing, trying to keep myself afloat, to not let go of that dream I had so many years ago, before I wrote my first book.  But this is all to counteract my greatest fear; that I will never write another publishable thing. Every book I churn out, I wonder if it will be my last, if the reviews will be so terrible or no one will want to work with me again.  The industry certainly does not make things easy to stick it out. Which I guess is why I need to.

And I love writing. I’d still be doing it, even if I’d never been promised a cent for it. After all, just because something scares you doesn’t mean you hate it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE LAST SISTER: Debuts Can Be Scary (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

My debut novel, THE LAST SISTER, released earlier this month, right after I gave birth to my debut child. So, yeah, exciting times at the McKinney-Whitaker house. We're blogging about fear in October, and let me tell you, beginnings like these are both exciting and scary, which I'm sure you already know or could have guessed because that is not an especially profound observation.

I think most, if not all, authors are a little bit scared to let the world see their work. We might dream about being bestsellers, but deep down we know that comes with its own set of issues. (The more people who read you, the more people to ask who you think you are to go writing a book anyway!) If I'm the only one who deals with this, please leave me in blissful ignorance. Once upon a time, this story about a teenager in Colonial America who goes on a revenge quest for her family's murderers and falls in love with a highland soldier was just mine. Then a few trusted readers saw it. Then a few more. Then agents and editors and booksellers and reviewers and bloggers. Then everyone started asking me if I'd read OUTLANDER because I guess all those 18th-century highland soldiers are alike. (I haven't yet.) And now it's out there. Anyone can read it, and I have no control over who does, how they react to it, or what they think of me as a writer and a person afterward.

This is scary, especially the first time around. At least, I hope it gets better the more debuts you do. All I know is, that if I ever have another baby, I'm going to know not to buy clothes that go on over her head. 

Here's my playlist for the novel, because I do love a novel playlist. If you like the music, I bet you'd like the book.

Enter below to win a signed copy of THE LAST SISTER!

And if you'd like to read reviews, read a sample, or order the book, click here!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ebola: And Other Stuff You Probably Shouldn't Be Afraid Of

Unless you live in a cave, you probably know there's this disease called Ebola. It's very dangerous and often lethal. If you watch television news or have any Facebook friends who do, you've probably heard all sorts of dire warnings about the great threat that Ebola poses. (Side note: If you or any of your Facebook friends watch Fox News, then you've also likely heard how President Barack Obama is somehow singlehandedly responsible for the Ebola epidemic.)

Well, here's something you're not likely to hear on the television news shows: good news. If you have not been to West Africa recently and if you are not a medical worker who has come into close physical contact with an Ebola patient, then your chances of contracting this disease are slim to none. This, however, is not nearly as exciting as the threat of a deadly epidemic and so the television news shows continue to play their dramatic music and do their best to terrify their viewers.

Look, here's some nice non-scary flowers. Take a deep breath, relax. It's going to be fine.

I don't scare easily. Let me clarify that. If I'm watching a movie that has even a hint of suspense I'll close my eyes, hide under a blanket, leave the room or perhaps do all of the above simultaneously. If somebody comes up behind me and shouts "Boo!" I'll jump sky high and scream my fool head off. If a television newscaster tells me the end of the world as we know it is just around the corner, I'll roll my eyes and switch the channel to something far more entertaining, say, a documentary about watching paint dry.

Right around this time, two years ago every newscaster along the Eastern Seaboard was warning us about some hurricane that was all but guaranteed to obliterate the entire Mid-Atlantic Region. People began running around like chickens with their heads cut off. I, of course, rolled my eyes and watched paint-drying documentaries.

A few days before the storm that was supposedly going to end life as I knew it, I dressed up like a witch and went to a Halloween party. As you can no doubt tell from this photo I was in mortal fear and preparing for the apocalypse.

As it happens, the newscasters (for once) were right about that whole hurricane thing. It was called Sandy and they decided it was too big to be deemed merely a hurricane so they made up the word Superstorm (One can only assume that insurance companies worried about all those claims from people with hurricane insurance were behind this name change.) Technically, it didn't obliterate the entire Mid-Atlantic Region, though you'd be forgiven for thinking so if you happened to watch any news coverage of the storm. In my own neck of the woods, we lost power for a week and none of the gas stations had gas. For the second year in a row (the previous year snow knocked out power) the kids didn't get to have Halloween and we were forced to eat the food we had in our pantries and all that Halloween candy we'd stocked up on. It was annoying and frustrating, but still something short of the end of the world scenario that had been forecast.

Here's my great-grandfather with some giant bugs. They're fake like most of what you see on television, so you don't have to be afraid of them, either.

The blatant fear-mongering that the media engages in is a not so subtle form of mind control. Those who succumb to the fear that the news shows are peddling will find that their thoughts and their actions change as a result of what they have watched. If you're reading this you didn't die of the Swine Flu or Bird Flu epidemic that was supposedly going to wipe us all out. You didn't die as a result of the nuclear bombs that North Korea or the Taliban never actually dropped on us. Granted, there are scary things out there, but most of the time the stuff the news shows get all alarmed about probably doesn't pose much of a threat to you.

People don't think clearly when they're afraid, and maybe that's why the media seems so determined to cause mass hysteria. Less afraid people might ask rational questions like, is having a healthcare system that's controlled by insurance companies a good idea? Or why do we still have above ground power lines in areas that are full of trees? Or maybe even why am I watching this ridiculous television news, surely there's a documentary about paint drying that I could watch instead?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cockroaches (shiver) On My Wall by Jody Casella

This morning as I was blearily making my coffee, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, SOMETHING skittering across my counter.

As I write this post, WHATEVER THAT SOMETHING IS is still there and I am waiting patiently for my husband to wake up and smash that something dead.

In the meantime, I am ready. With a plastic bucket. And some tape...

I could tell you about my fears. The usual. Scary movies. Storms. The big one: death. Or worse, the deaths of people I love.

But instead I would like to tell you about the summer I lived in a dumpy apartment in Memphis that was infested with cockroaches. 

When I moved into that apartment the summer between my junior and senior year, I was feeling very grown up. I had lived in Connecticut, which for the record, is 1250 miles away from Memphis. That summer I took two jobs. A very cool internship downtown at Memphis Magazine. And a super gross nighttime job waiting tables at Perkins Restaurant (I still have nightmares about this job. Most of these nightmares consist of a demented hostess seating table after table in my section and grinning maniacally while I race around like a lunatic trying to give everyone water. This was a directive at Perkins. You must greet customers by giving them water within 45 seconds.)

But back to my story.

I was feeling proud and independent and also, defiant with a dash of guilt. My roommate was a guy. Gasp. We were just friends but once upon a time I was a Catholic school girl, so it was a bit of a scandal (For more on THAT story, see here)

The night I moved into the apartment, I was with my friend Patti. We had finished setting up my belongings--not much--a suitcase, a futon, a plastic shelf with a few books--and had collapsed onto the couch, when we SAW it. A winged three-inch-long cockroach skittering up the kitchen wall.

At this point I had already had a few frightening run-ins with cockroaches. Let me say here that you will not find cockroaches in Connecticut. At least, I had never seen any. And certainly, you will not find winged three-inch-long cockroaches. So it was a bit of a shock the first time one of these lovely creatures FLEW at my face.

The one on my kitchen wall paused at face level.

Patti and I were both afraid to smush it. The fear, of course, is that it would fly at us and get caught in our hair. For a tense few minutes we--Patti, me and the cockroach--looked at each other and twitched nervously. Patti noticed a plastic cleaning bucket on the floor near the sink and she suggested that I pick up the bucket and run at the wall where the cockroach was.

"Trap it," she said. "And slide it down to the floor. Then you can step on it."

"Why me?" I asked.

"Because this is your apartment," said Patti, grinning maniacally.

I picked up the bucket. I ran toward the cockroach. I smacked the bucket on the wall around the hideous twitchy body. It occurred to me at this point that if I did try to slide the bucket down to the floor, the cockroach would likely fly at my feet and skitter up my leg.

Patti's next brilliant idea was to tape the bucket to the wall and leave it until my roommate, the guy, moved in and he could deal with it.

She scrounged around looking for tape. This was a sublet, furnished apartment so everything in it belonged to someone else. By the time Patti found the tape, my arms were hurting from holding up the bucket.

We taped the bucket securely and left it there. When the guy moved in a few days later and wondered why there was a bucket taped to the kitchen wall, I explained the situation and added that it was my hope that he would take care of the problem.

He didn't really like this idea, and the bucket remained where it was for the rest of the summer. Some nights when I returned home from Perkins and collapsed on the couch in my smelly greasy polyester uniform, I'd look at the bucket on the wall and shiver. But mostly, I forgot about it and went on with my life.

I wish I could say something philosophical and deeply meaningful here. Something about accepting our fears. About independence. About stereotypical gender roles and the killing of insects. About cruelty to all of God's creatures.

But I've got nothing.

At the end of the summer my roommate grew a pair and carefully removed the bucket from the wall. The cockroach was still alive and twitching. I screamed. My roommate expressed surprised.

He opened the door, and the cockroach flew off into the night.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Writing the Fear Away (Amy K. Nichols)

On my desk is a framed quote by Marianne Williamson titled "Our Deepest Fear". A friend gave it to me a couple of years ago when we were both embarking on creative journeys. You may have read it; it's very well known. Here's how it begins:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? 
This quote knocked one of my biggest fears between the eyes with a two-by-four. I thought, Hey, she has a point! Who am I not to be brilliant, talented, and all those other things?! And I rode a wave of courage all the way through finishing a novel, getting an agent, and signing a book deal. Woohoo! Fear conquered!


My debut novel comes out two months, and a new fear has cropped up. It isn't as immediately terrifying as sending a query letter or waiting for news while on submission. Rather, it's more subtle, whispering in my ear as I check email, catch up on Twitter, lay my head on my pillow at night. It sounds something like this: What if no one notices? What if no one cares? Despite getting good reviews from Kirkus and PW, this fear is nibbling away at me. At times it feels like a selfish fear, a very indulgent, good-problem-to-have kind of fear. (Even writing this post about it feels kind of ugh.) But just because I dismiss the fear as frivolous doesn't mean it isn't there, or make it go away.

It's a pretty awful thought, all this anticipation and preparation ending up being for nothing. It touches on a lot of my worst insecurities about not being good enough. Actually, not so much being inadequate as being invisible. Inconsequential. Obscure.

But obscurity is a double-edged sword. Emily Bronte once said, "If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results." Aldous Huxley said, "I'm afraid of losing my obscurity. Genuineness only thrives in the dark. Like celery." Not to put myself anywhere near the same league as Bronte or Huxley, but I wrote my debut novel before I was concerned with agents and editors and publicists and websites and social media followers and, and, and... Obscurity is where good work is done. When I'm on deadline, I shut out the world and go in my cave and write until it's done. I become obscure.

Seems obscurity and writing go hand in hand. And writing is what this gig is all about. Perhaps the answer to this fear is enough obscurity to make good art, and enough attention to not feel like a complete failure. Write until I write stories that get published. Write until I publish something that resonates with readers.

I know my fears will never go away entirely. There will always be something lurking there, kicking up my insecurities, keeping me unsettled. My hope is that the answer to all of them is writing, because that's where you'll find me: in my cave, writing my fears away.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fish, Tornadoes, and Failure--my fears, then and now (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Holy wow, this has been a great month so far for YAOTL! This theme has really brought out some incredible stories and truths. I mean, Jen’s list of fears is hilarious and awesome, Sydney’s post about the masks we wear as authors is on point, and Kimberly’s post about wanting to take off the mask (and wishing everyone would) and her fears about not being brave enough rang so true for me. Overall, everyone has been so brilliant that I barely know what to add to the conversation and at first I couldn’t decide—fears or masks! I was going to talk about using my characters as a mask—Emily from I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone was totally the girl I wished I was from her musical talent to her tough girl attitude to her long, straight, black hair (mine is frustratingly wavy)—and what it feels like to take that mask off now that I’m writing a memoir, but I realized that I already sort-of covered that in this post over at my own blog about what I has surprised me so far about memoir-writing. So check that out if you wish—the long and the short of it is while I don’t mind being honest about my experiences, taking that mask off and facing the more embarrassing or shitty sides of myself is pretty damn uncomfortable—and I’ll focus on my fears here.

Over the years, some of my fears have changed and some have stayed the same. For example, compared to my childhood, I’ve definitely become a wimp when it comes to reading and watching horror.  Like a lot of my fellow bloggers, I was a Stephen King addict as a kid. At twelve, I had no problem with scary books or movies, but then in my twenties… this is so silly, I saw The Ring and was freaked out for an entire week! Since then, I mostly stick to humorous Buffy and Supernatural type horror, and I have read genuinely scary things (like Amity by Micol Ostow which I adored and talked about on Rookie here) during my lunch break!

Spiders. Yeah, that never changes. Always have been terrified, always will be. And I’ve noticed a lot more spiders in the Pacific Northwest since I moved here last year. And they are bigger and uglier too! But there are a lot less mosquitoes than there were in Chicago, so I try to deal… As long as they are outside my apartment. When I found one just hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the living room like it had tried to build a big cross-room web, I completely freaked and called my husband to take care of it, then lectured the cats for not doing their job.

Tornados and big storms. This is another one I’ve had since childhood. Growing up in St. Louis and Chicago, that air raid/tornado siren went off A LOT (even though it was often set off by thunder and lightning) and I was always the first one to race down to the basement. In fact, when I was little and started to see the signs of a major storm coming, I’d load up my doll’s carriage with all of my prize possessions—Music Bear, Blankie, my favorite book of the moment, I’d even put my hamster in his ball and put him in there. This fear both deepened and changed during my last couple of years in Chicago. Despite my tornado fear, I’d loved thunderstorms, but suddenly thunderstorms in my area would be accompanied with torrential downpours which would flood my basement. Like one storm was so big and bad, we got FEMA assistance to fix things! So I’d say this fear actually turned into a real adult trauma. So, you might be asking, why the hell did you move to Seattle? Doesn’t it rain all the time there? Yes and no. Our winters are rainy (a big perk over Chicago snow and cold, which was not a fear of mine but definitely another adult trauma), but it’s basically this constant mist. Downpours and thunderstorms are rare—people get really excited about thunderstorms here and hopefully I will, too eventually, but the trauma lingers a bit even though I’m on a second floor apartment that obviously doesn’t flood. Tornadoes are not an issue at all in Seattle, but now I get to have a new major disaster fear: earthquakes! And I am seriously sweating that one. Just the other night I was lying awake worrying about what I’d do if my cats got hurt in an earthquake. Sigh. (They’ll hide, right? They’ll totally hide and be fine. Please reassure me.)

Fish. This was a fear that developed when I was eighteen or nineteen, living in Wisconsin, and made the brilliant decision to swim drunkenly across a lake in the middle of the night with my friend Kevin, who was a total jokester. We got to the middle of the lake and he remarked, “Boy, I bet the fish out here are enormous. They could probably take off a toe or something!” And suddenly I realized I was in the middle of a dark-ass, freakin’ lake and ginormous fish were probably lurking right by my legs, possibly even touching me or preparing to eat my toes like Kevin said. I panicked. It’s a miracle I didn’t drown. Instead I swam my ass back to shore as fast as I was capable with Kevin chuckling after me. Probably a good thing because I was exhausted and if we’d actually gotten to the other side of the lake, I don’t think we could have swam back. I’ve refused to do more than wade in anything that might contain fish ever since… so basically I’ve been relegated to pools. The ocean is extra terrifying because of sharks and stingrays, etc. (I also almost stepped on a jellyfish and then realized I was surrounded by jellyfish in Maine when I was ten, so it’s surprising this fear didn’t happen sooner.) But GUESS WHAT? I faced that fear just this month! My husband and I went to Hawaii and he really wanted to go snorkeling even though he’s not a great swimmer. I decided that I was more afraid of my husband out in the water alone than I was of the fish (even though our first outing was with a group) and I also didn’t want to miss out on whatever he might see so I braved it and…. It turns out snorkeling is SUPER COOL! Also if I can SEE the fish, it means that should they come too close (or should they be a shark or something, OMG I’m still afraid of that!), I can totally swim away! We don’t have our underwater pictures developed yet, but above is a dolphin swimming next to the boat we snorkeled off the side off.

Failure. I was a straight-A student and a perfectionist. Like even when I was a stoner punk rock kid. I’ve always taken failing—my definition of which is “not being as good as I think I should be”—really really hard. It’s led to a lot of misery in childhood and in adulthood. I still beat myself up for things like my eight-year relationship with an alcoholic which of course failed and wasted a lot of time and money. I’ve also beat myself up for my books not selling well enough and the five years that it took me to sell this most recent book—and the manuscripts that didn’t sell during that time—were total hell. Tears. Pain. Ugh. Again, it might be more trauma than fear. But I’m working on it. Being kinder to myself, more forgiving (that relationship was a placeholder for meeting husband, right? And I worked hard to write and promote my books, I did my best). I’m also working at not setting such impossibly high standards that I’m setting myself up to fail. I can fear spiders all my life (and sharks and earthquakes) that’s fine, but I don’t want to fear failing so much that I don’t try. Fortunately, it hasn’t really gotten that bad, but I’d like to make sure it never does.

The Future. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with failure (and also time, which Joy wrote so perfectly about here). For the longest time, I’ve feared not knowing what will come next. Will college work out? (It didn’t the first time around.) Will this book sell? (Some have, some haven’t.) Will I end up losing everything if I move across the country without a job? (I didn’t.) Sometimes I get so freaked that I become obsessed with horoscopes and tarot because I just want something or someone to tell me that it will turn out, it will all be okay. I wish my life was a book and I could just peek ahead (even though I try to avoid ever doing that with books). This is another one that I’ve gotten better at, though. Especially since taking that big leap and moving last year and seeing it pay off so well. Life is for living, not for fears of failure or the future. My friend Marcel, who passed away a few years ago, once wrote a list of his rules for life on a paper towel (that pretty much sums up how amazing Marcel is), and this is number one:

I look at that every time my fears are threatening to hold me back and tell myself, take the risk and love, achieve, live!