Monday, June 29, 2020

Emily Post Tramatic Stress Disorder (Brian Katcher)

So what's the scariest book you've ever read? Turn of the Screw? Call of Cthulhu? The Shining? All frightening tales, of course. But it was not until the quarantine that I stumbled across a true tale of terror: Emily Post's Guide to Etiquette (1934), which I'd picked up at a book sale for four bucks. Oh, the horrors within. Apparently I've been using the wrong forks, the wrong stationary, and the wrong footmen for years. But nothing will prepare you for the gut-wrenching terror of the subsection THE DINNER PARTY THAT JUST DIDN'T GO VERY WELL.

I have include a youtube video of me giving a dramatic reading of this horrific story. I must warn away anyone of a nervous disposition. This tale of a young wife giving her first dinner party is not for the faint of heart. Spoiler alert: THE SOUP WAS OFF-COLOR!

You have been warned.

No, I haven't gone quarantine crazy.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Heroes Wear Masks by Dean Gloster

            I have a complicated relationship with fear. Before I learned the truth, I used to think I was brave. In my twenties, I did stand-up comedy. In my 40s, I took up downhill ski racing. In my 50s I took up Aikido. After 30 good years at it, I gave up a successful career as a lawyer to go back to school and start over, and now I write novels for young adults.

Some of these activities require even more bravery
if you do them with my personal high-enthusiasm-to-skill ratio.

            But it turns out—sadly—none of that was actually bravery. I have some PTSD from a complicated childhood that I wrote about here, and my PTSD manifests through what’s called a counter-phobic mechanism: I don’t like feeling afraid or vulnerable, so—paradoxically—I move toward scary or dangerous things, in order to not stew in that discomfort:

And I’m drawn to things that involve a practice of mastering fear, because the feeling—fear, vulnerability—seems more important for me to vanquish than the risk of physical injury itself. I’m literally more afraid of being afraid than I am of getting hurt.

I spent most of my life not knowing about this stuff, but in therapy I’ve figured out some of it, and I’m working on some of the rest. In my latest YA novel-in-progress, Just Deal, my teen protagonist has a traumatic background and the same kind of counter-phobic mechanism I do, but (like me at his age) doesn’t know it. That makes the book fun to write, because I have a sense, as he wrestles with his stuff, that in the process I’m also wrestling with some of mine.

So you’d think I’d have just a teensy more sympathy for the people who, even in a deadly pandemic, won’t wear a mask.

(*Sigh*.) No.

The most common way the Covid-19 virus is transmitted between people is by droplets sprayed when we sneeze, cough or—especially, because it’s more common—speak. When we speak, we spray 2600 tiny droplets per second.

Here’s the captured droplet pattern from the “th” sound when you say, “Stay healthy”

Two studies have now found that about 40% of the people infected by Covid-19 are asymptomatic, but still transmit as much virus as those with severe symptoms. Even if you don’t have a fever or dry cough, you may kill people if you go out without a mask.

There’s a simple solution to our current pandemic: If almost everyone wears mask in public, the transmission rate of Covid-19 drops sharply, and each case results in fewer than one new case. When that happens, the epidemic dies out. It already has in places like New Zealand and Iceland.

It could also help some of us branch out from novel-writing to freelance stage coach robbery

And the coronavirus dies out without more extreme—and less-effective—measure that hurt the economy. In Japan, where there’s a tradition of widespread mask wearing, their incidence of Covid-19 is less than 1/50th of ours, per population—even though they haven’t shut Tokyo subways or even closed karaoke bars.

As a whole, the U.S. has done terribly in this pandemic—with 4.4% of the world’s population, we have 26% of the Covid-19 cases, and our infection rates are getting worse, unlike other first world countries.

In U.S. states where masks have been required, however, Covid-19 cases are down 25%. In states where no masks are required, Covid-19 cases are up 84%.

In the hard-hit Northeast, where mask and stay at home measures were introduced—and are being widely followed now—deaths and new infections are down, as they are in Europe. But the U.S. South, with the effort to “reopen” early and only limited mask use, cases are spiking, looking more like Brazil.

 The messaging around masks has been confusing—initially, the CDC didn’t recommend masks for the public because there weren’t enough masks for critically-needed health care workers. But the science is clear. Masks prevent transmission. Masks save lives.

There are several reasons, however, many people in the U.S. still don’t wear masks.

First, at least until you get used to wearing them, masks are a mild hassle—new, different, and your glasses fog up. As those of us who write fiction know, change is hard for people—that’s why such terrible things happen to protagonists: It takes a lot to make us change. But we’re there—in the U.S. this pandemic has already killed more than we lost in all of WWI. Wear a mask.

Second, masks remind us there is a deadly pandemic. That’s scary and emotionally difficult. They remind us about danger and mortality, and our culture is especially terrible at thinking about death. But the one thing we should have learned by now from Trump’s White House is that just pretending the pandemic will go away is the worst, deadliest response. Plan to wear a mask instead.

Third, there are the folks who think selfishness and entitlement are virtues enshrined in our Constitution, so they can’t be required to do something for the public good. (“FreeDUMB!”) Yes, there’s a First Amendment right to peaceably assemble, but it doesn’t mean you can stumble into Safeway during a pandemic without a mask, any more than the Second Amendment allows you to fire rifles into crowded apartments. That’s compounded, especially among some insecure men, by the need not to appear “weak” by visibly acknowledging the pandemic. You know it’s bad when even Dick freaking Cheney—in between shooting lawyers in the face—pauses to put on a cowboy hat and a mask for his daughter tweet out with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks:

(In fairness, I was always going to wear a mask around Dick Cheney.
I didn’t want him to recognize me as a former lawyer and shoot me in the face.)

Finally and unfortunately, mask wearing has been politicized by many Republicans. Our alleged President has downplayed the extent of the crisis—and his failure to respond to it—and much of his party followed that lead. Trump doesn’t wear a mask in public even when legally required, and he has encouraged his followers not to wear masks, which he claimed this month were used “to signal disapproval” of him.

Today the Texas GOP announced they’re going ahead with their 6,000-person state convention next month in Covid-19 hotspot Houston and will not require masks. Thursday night, Republicans in the North Carolina GOP legislature revived a statute criminalizing wearing masks in public, effective August 1.

A crisis like this is a test of culture, a test the U.S. may fail. We have a less inclusive, and more employer-dependent, health care system than many other countries, and less of a safety net. Making that worse, this week the Trump administration filed a brief seeking to terminate the Affordable Care Act, under which 20 million of us Americans get their health insurance—including those like me, who no longer have an employer. And we have a cult of selfish entitlement that makes it harder for us all to follow guidelines to help others.

Wearing masks only works if most of us do it.

Some of the people we love are—because of pre-existing conditions—puddles of gasoline in this pandemic, and those of you who don’t wear masks are juggling flaming torches around them.

            But people aren’t persuaded by facts, they’re persuaded by stories, so I’ll tell you one. There’s an E.R. doc, Tanya, the first member of her family to go to college, let alone medical school. She has $220,000 of student debt her parents have personally guaranteed, although without her income, they’ll never be able to pay it.

If you go without a mask, the guy you infect will end up in Tanya’s hospital, and if she has to do an emergency intubation to keep him alive, she will.

And when she dies of Covid-19 three weeks later, after her parents bury her, they’ll have to pay that $220,000 back.

Because this is America.

Wear a mask, please.

I get that we’re afraid, that we’re uncomfortable, but we have to do better. For each other. The world needs us to behave as grownups, regardless of our stuff. The world needs us to behave as decent humans.

Wear a mask.

Unless you do, I’m afraid a lot of us won’t make it.

Heroes wear masks.

Be a hero. Wear a mask.

            Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” His current novel is about two funny brothers who have to team up with their friend Claire to save the world. It has all the usual Gloster novel ingredients: Death, humor, the question of whether it’s possible to save someone, a love interest to root for, dysfunctional parenting, and a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Also a mergers and acquisitions lawyer dad who is missing 74 percent of his soul. You know: stuff happens. 

When Dean is not studying Aikido or downhill ski racing--and, let's face it, there's not as much of that going on right now--he’s on Twitter: @deangloster

Friday, June 26, 2020

Indie Publishing and Fear (Holly Schindler)

My first traditional book came out in 2010. I started indie (self) publishing in 2015.

I'm now officially a hybrid--publishing on both the traditional and indie platforms. But in all honesty, nothing has helped me conquer fears quite like indie publishing.
By committing to indie publishing, I know that all my books will be published. No more drawer novels that just couldn't find a home. The thing is, self-publishing isn't about not being "good" enough for traditional publishing. Often, it just means the work didn't quite fit publishing agendas or platforms. But by deciding that the book will go live one way or another, it erases the Is this ever going to see the light of day? fear. 
With indie publishing, you don't have one chance. If a book isn't selling, you can continue to work on it. Switch out covers. Change the blurb. If it's not hitting readers the right way, you can even take it down, rework the manuscript, and republish. Why not? Working on manuscripts even after they've been published has really diminished the fear of making some sort of mistake with a book. 
Indie publishing teaches you everything traditional publishing can't. With indie publishing, I'm making 100% of all the decisions. I design covers. I format the interiors. I write the blurbs. I handle marketing. I have an in-house editor who reads as I write; we bounce ideas and hone the manuscript. I do the copyediting. Because I'm making all the decisions, I learn more. And it informs how I write manuscripts I send to publishers. It makes me feel more confident about submitting those books. 
I've said it often, and I mean it: I think the best thing any writer can do is self-publish something. Even if it's under a pseudonym. It's really amazing how much you learn about the writing industry. And it gives you the kind of confidence that allows you to kick fear to the curb.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Fear vs Denial vs Caution by Brenda Hiatt

   For years, I had a sign posted above my desk that read, “Worry is the misuse of imagination.” It was a good reminder not to let my vivid writer-imagination run wild during non-writing times… like when one of my kids was twenty minutes late getting home at night. (In that twenty minutes, I could easily come up with at least two dozen horrific scenarios that had nothing to do with the truth…which usually involved spending a little extra time talking with a friend.) 
   Over the course of four house moves in recent years, that sign disappeared (it was, after all, just a piece of paper I’d hand-printed those words on). But 2020 so far has served up a whole bevy of things to worry about. Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve got climate disasters, murder hornets, a new awakening to racial injustice (along with the inevitable ugly backlash) and, here in the US, a political polarization reaching epic proportions not seen since the Civil War. One hardly needs my “handicap” of an overactive imagination to live in fear right now. 
   Time to make myself another sign.

   Though it takes very, very little imagination these days to turn reasonable concern and caution into outright fear, I still think we should resist making that leap whenever possible. Probably the most effective weapon against fear is knowledge. I find that, for me, the very worst kind of fear, the kind that keeps me awake at night, is free-floating anxiety—that persistent feeling of dread without a nameable cause. In my experience, the best first step to overcoming it is to pin down the cause (or causes) and name it (or them). If I can trace my fear to a specific source, I can work on a strategy to deal with that source. In fact, sometimes just naming that source is enough to reduce or even eliminate the anxiety. Murder hornets? Scary, but… they can’t get into my house and they haven’t even been spotted in my state, much less my county. Plus I have a completely screened-in patio. Covid-19? It’s here, no question, but I know which behaviors to avoid and what precautions to take to dramatically reduce my chances of getting it, things I now do as a matter of course. 
   So while fear can be a healthy and necessary response to external threats, staying stuck in fear is anything but healthy. Some choose outright denial to escape the fear, but I much prefer confronting it face-on and figuring out what I can do to make myself and my world safer. It’s a course I highly recommend, since I’d like everyone reading this to stay safe, too! 

Monday, June 22, 2020

What Scares Me The Most (by Patty Blount)

All month, we "Outsiders" are blogging about fear. 

Oh, boy, what a broad category this is....

I've written novels that scared me (Some Boys, Someone I Used To Know). 

I've done things that scared me (traveled alone to a place I'd never been before). 

I'm living through things I never expected, like this presidency, and this pandemic. 

One of the things that scares me is how utterly paralyzing fear is. (she says, unironically). I hate feeling afraid. I avoid it, which means I frequently avoid doing the things that create fear in me. Like travel, for example. I have a faulty sense of direction and getting lost is terrifying. When my debut novel was about to come out, I'd been invited to a few events in New York City. 

I grew up in Queens, New York. The City was just over the bridge, a fifteen minute train ride away. Yet I hardly ever went there because I was afraid to go alone. I am like a tourist in New York City. At last summer's RWA conference, my pal from Montana, author Kari Lynn Dell, had to navigate the subway system to get us back to our hotel. I was useless.

I'd been invited to South Carolina becuase Some Boys was up for an award from SCASL, the South Carolina Association of School Librarians. I almost didn't attend because I'd have to go alone. 

Thankfully, with GPS technology on our phones, I can avoid getting lost now and that cuts my travel fears in half. 

But travel is only one thing I fear.

Fear itself is a basic emotion. In fact, I would go so far as to call it an instinct, a biological response, rather than an emotion. We're faced with danger, we either flee it or we fight it. It's a base response, one that every living being on earth comes with, factory-installed. 

Our species, the human species, also comes equipped with the ability to reason, to make decisions, to think. Sadly, too many of us allow others to think for us -- which results in something psychologists and sociologists called "group think." Group think is when everyone allows individual thought or expression of thought to take a back seat to what the group expects. Consensus becomes more important than thought itself. Group think can become dangerous because it often precludes what's moral or right because of the group's goal. Group think is why we have kids who stand by while others bully. Group think is why we (still) have systems in place that are racist. 

It's also closely related to "mob mentality." Mob mentality is a type of group think that's ACUTE, meaning it's often whipped into a frenzy catalyzed by some situation. Mob mentality is probably the closest our species comes to animal pack behavior. It's why other kids join in when a bully chooses a target. 

I find myself living in a state of perpetual and prolonged fear -- something like FEAR STANDBY. I can go from from afraid to panicked instantly because my fear response has been cultivated and stoked by a self-serving president who appeals to that most primitive of instincts in all of us. 

I'm afraid that Americans are losing sight of what America means: liberty and justice for all --  FOR ALL. That's the part the group/the mob wants us to forget. There are no exclusions. ALL OF US have rights. We cannot deny rights to ANY group, even if that group practices something we despise -- and get to call ourselves AMERICANS. What I am most afraid of is too many of my neighbors, my fellow citizens, will get so caught up in the group think this president stirs to remember the very definition of America.

Living in FEAR STANDY mode, as I have for the past 4 years, is taking its toll. 

This is why I write. 

When I write, there is no COVID, no racism, no misogyny. There is no Fox News, no moronic president who refuses to wear a face mask during a pandemic and calls Nazis 'very fine people.' There is no us vs. them EXCEPT protagonists and antagonists in stories who try their best to do what's right, what's ethical -- even when it goes against the crowd. 

What frightens you? How do you manage that fear? Tell me in the comments! 

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Building New Paths

I’m basically a terrified person.

I wasn’t always. But when something terrible happens in your life that you never expected - never dreamed could ever happen - ends up happening, it suddenly seems possible that something terrible could happen at any time. And the possibilities feel endless.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons I became a writer. To somehow channel those possibilities. To make sense of them. To calm my fears with fictitious resolution.

Recently, a lot of things have plagued my mind: climate change and environmental protection, Covid 19, racism. One of our sons expressed concern that I might grow paralyzed by fear.

And I realized something. I’m not paralyzed by fear. I’m angry. No, I’m enraged.

Because what’s going on isn’t unexpected. It was predicted. All of it.

Was it inevitable? I don’t think so. It could have been rerouted if the path had changed.

And here's the thing. It can be rerouted NOW.

But paths can’t change themselves. New paths are created by footsteps. Lots of footsteps...walking together, step-by-step, rejecting the previous road. 

Sometimes there are markers to follow.

Sometimes we can team up with friends.

Sometimes we need to start a new path on our own.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’m still afraid, but the anger is grounding. Refreshing. Empowering.

And I’m starting to see some change. People who’d grown silent are starting to speak out. Those who have been yelling into what must have felt like an abyss are finally being heard. Despite the threat of illness, millions are pouring into the streets to protest.

Paths are being carved. With feet. Hands. Hearts.

Some are walking, some are running. Some are screaming, some are singing. Some are talking, some are writing.

Most importantly, some are listening.

With these new paths come bridges that connect us on both physical and philosophical levels. With these bridges come empathy. And with that empathy, a glimmer of hope.

Come with me...we’re making progress, but there’s still so far to go.

Let us share our stories, promote change and help heal the world.

Oh, and if you join a protest? Please wear a mask. Like I said earlier, I’m basically a terrified person.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Spark to Spark by Kimberly Sabatini

This month we are blogging about fear.

I don't think there's ever been a time in my life where there's been so much to be afraid of.
And yet, despite the fear--
There are so many sparks of hope that keep rising from the unknown.

But I shouldn't be surprised.
The same patterns repeat when I pay attention.

I see it it clearly when I look at the years since the fire on my property.
The disaster started with a spark from power line.
There was so much smoke and chaos.
Scorched earth and charred trees.
Then there was the oddity of the sudden change--so barren and unfamiliar.
It felt like all the color in the world was taken away.
The trees kept falling--unable to stay rooted in the upheaval.
But resilient weeds began to grow--tendrils of hope.
And now--once again.
What catches my eye is a spark of green.
A field in the middle of the forest.

Spark to spark.

Look for that same pattern in the middle of all this fear.
Whether it's a pandemic, politics, social justice or even publishing.
There's a circular pattern to beginnings and endings.
That's how we write the best books.
We wouldn't lie to you.

Recognizing the patterns when you're afraid can be comforting.
Even in the middle the scariest things igniting around us.
But if we can take the heat, see through the smoke, persist--give it some time...
We will often find another spark on the other side.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Fear (Mary Strand)

This month our topic (decided among our group of YA bloggers a few months ago) is fear: what we’re afraid to tackle, how we’ve managed fear in the past, etc.

I had planned to write about fear as it relates to my life as an author, but I live in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was viciously murdered by a police officer just over a week ago (as I write this), and what I planned to write is now irrelevant.

If I told you how I’m “managing” my fears right now, it wouldn’t be either a success story or an uplifting read.

2020: a year of fear.

We spent most of March through May worried about COVID-19. Would we catch it? Would someone close to us catch it? Would we die from it? Stores and restaurants and almost everything I love (live music! theatre! travel!) basically ended. Seeing friends: mostly gone. Hugs: gone. Masks: the new fashion statement.

It’s now June, and COVID-19 is still with us. But George Floyd died. 

George Floyd’s murder has become a turning point for America, but whether we turn in the right direction - and there IS only one right direction - is still up in the air. We MUST fix — no, eradicate — the racism, dangers, and other problems faced by people of color on a daily basis. If we don’t, in the grand scheme of things, COVID-19 isn’t all that.

Meanwhile, several of my friends live in the “war zone,” as some call it here in Minneapolis, the area near where George Floyd died. It’s filled with good people of all colors, and peaceful protests, but it’s also a target of opportunists (including many not from Minneapolis) who are looting, burning, and doing what they can to destroy our city. The area of violence is expanding on a daily basis, reaching out into neighborhoods that initially felt safe. Even in my neighborhood, which IS relatively safe, I’ve gone to sleep a few nights in the last week wondering if someone would vandalize, break in, or even torch my house. Wondering if we’d live through the night. Wondering if my kids would come home safely. Many people have a much harder time of it, 24/7. And it doesn’t yet show any signs of ending.

My young-adult kids are quite active in both the ongoing protests and the cleanup and rebuilding of Minneapolis. My fears for them know no end. My pride in them: same.

Sometimes all you can do with fear is try to survive it and come out the other side. Both here in Minneapolis and throughout the world, if you’re not feeling fear right now, you’re not paying attention.

But I’ve said enough. Right now, Fragile R Us.

So. Wear a mask. Listen to others, especially those who have completely different lives from you or who think differently from you. (Unless they’re truly stupid and/or hateful, in which case make use of the “unfollow” and “snooze for 30 days” buttons on Facebook.) Be kind. Do what you can to make this world a better place for EVERYONE. Vote.

That’s all I’ve got right now. It’ll have to be enough.

And maybe that’s my whole point: whatever you’re doing to get through the crises and fears of 2020, it’ll have to be enough.

Stay safe.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at