I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. And according to news reports, you probably are too. An article in the newspaper the other day said that the majority of Americans are anxious right now. And it ain’t because of Halloween.
Americans are generally anxious because we are living in a time of turmoil – two wars and a tanking economy will do that to people. But some of them are actually terrified because of the upcoming election. I totally understand this. I am scared to death of what would happen if MY candidate doesn’t win the election. I’ve got all kinds of nightmare scenarios in my head. And I’m absolutely sure that I’m right. But here’s the thing, there are other people who are equally scared to death and no doubt have nightmare scenarios of comparable horror in their heads if THEIR candidate doesn’t win the election. I swear, I did not know this until I read a quote from a woman in Florida saying she would be “devastated … scared to death … in a near panic” if MY candidate wins.
Huh? THEY are as frightened of MY candidate as I am of THEIRS. I had never thought about that before. This really, really made me think. (You could see the smoke coming out of my ears, I was thinking so hard.) I wish I could talk to this woman. But it would not be the kind of conversation you might expect. I swear I don’t want to convince her to vote for my candidate or even assuage her fears about him. But wouldn’t it be great if we could all just tell each other what’s frightening us? Without rancor and anger or the need to persuade. Just an honest and open and perfectly safe discussion about what we are most afraid of. We could all tell our worst fears and nightmares – all the awful things that are not all that likely to happen (no matter who wins), but nevertheless, keep us awake at night. It would be like a giant, national group therapy of sorts. Maybe followed by a huge, non-partisan group hug. Hopefully, there’d be hot cocoa afterward, we’d all join hands and sing a rousing chorus of “This Little Light of Mine” and surely, we’d all feel a whole lot better.
Unfortunately, so much of this presidential campaign has been designed to make us all fearful. Mark Twain once wrote, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” The truth is, what we fear the most, doesn’t usually happen. So, really, why waste all that energy worrying about it? And why make such an important decision based on what you’re afraid of. Whoever you vote for in this Presidential election, make it a decision based on your hopes and not your fears.
Enjoy your Halloween everyone. But don’t let your fears get the best of you!
I may be the only author in the world who doesn’t really mind if she doesn’t go on book tour. That’s not to say that I don’t want to sell a gazillion copies of my book and wake up to find it posted in the top ten on a bestseller list, I just don’t want to travel to do it and the reason is because I’m terrified of flying. Really scared. Like I break out in a sweat when I get on the plane. I get sick in my stomach. And if there’s turbulence, well, I more or less completely lose my senses. My palms sweat, my heart rate skyrockets, and I hyperventilate.
This is, I realize, completely inconvenient. Modern life requires some travel. About ten years ago, in an effort to get over this fear, I went up in a plane with a friend who flies acrobatically. I was nervous but fine when he let me fly the plane. I maintained pretty well through the barrel rolls, but when he did a loop manuever, that was it. I turned white, then green, got the shakes, totally freaked out, and screamed until he landed the plane.
Even I recognize this is not acceptable behavior on a commercial airliner. Then there’s the dilemma I always face: do I medicate for the trip or face it sober? Medicating’s not an option if I’m with my kids, and if I’m alone, then what do I do when I arrive woozy and hung-over?
So far I’ve been lucky. I get to do local publicity. But if the tides turn and you happen to see a white-knuckled woman in an aisle seat whispering the Hail Mary as the drink cart careens down the narrow aisle, please just politely ignore me and then go buy a copy of my book.
We all have moments of pulse pounding fear in our lives that are forever seared into our brains. Thank God I’ve never mugged, or raped, but I’ve been terrified. Mind-numbingly terrified. And I’ve been angry at injustices and everything that make us afraid. That’s probably why I like to read and write mysteries. In a mystery, there may be violence and murder, but in the end all is resolved. The bad guys pay and the innocent get justice. Not at all like real life.
Growing up in the country, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the “mean streets.” But knowing that I was going to move to a city, I took a self-defense class in college. In Posed for Murder, I have Lydia McKenzie take a self-defense class because the experience was important to me, and I wanted to write about it.
At first, I didn’t like the class at all. The teacher told us horrible stories about women who were kidnapped, raped and tortured. We acted out frightening scenarios that I hated even to think about. What if you wake up in the middle of the night and a strange man is on top of you? What do you do? What if you are walking alone and are surrounded by three attackers? What if they have a gun? It was enough to give me nightmares.
But then I slowly started to see the point. In each scenario, we had to come up with a plan. I learned that we have choices even at the moment that we feel the most powerless. We rehearsed and tried different techniques that would work even if our attacker had ten times the muscle mass that we did. And we learned not to panic, and figure out how to be smarter and faster then an attacker.
We are strong, much stronger than we imagine. Attackers are looking for vulnerable victims, so walking strong is to your advantage. Always be aware of your surroundings (no headphones, etc.) and trust your gut. Scream at the first sign that something is wrong (an attacker won’t know if anyone heard or if help is on the way, so they’ll be more likely to cut and run).
We don’t have control over everything in our lives, but we can walk the streets with confidence if we know that we have skills to fight back against things that go bump in the night. And if you have one Halloween resolution this year (if there is such a thing), I hope it is to take a self-defense class at some point in your future. It certainly helped me fight back against my fears.
This week, we’re blogging about “scary moments.” I’m going to do “scary moments, publishing style.”
One day, a few months after the sale of my book, I was talking to my agent. As we prepared to hang up, he sighed and glumly said, “Now I have to call one of my authors and tell him his editor is leaving the publishing house.”
“Yikes!” I said. “Geez. Don’t ever call me with that kind of news.”
So one fine morning, just as Bad Girls Don’t Die was all set to go into copyedits, my phone rang. It was my editor.
She said, and I’ll paraphrase: “I’m leaving the publishing house.”
There are not a lot of words to describe the feeling these words can give a first-time author (or any other author, I imagine). Some combination of the bottom dropping out and the sky falling down.
In most cases, your editor is the person who first read your book as a submission. She’s the person who liked it enough to champion it through dozens of meetings and to argue its case with people whose job it is to make sure the publishing house doesn’t lose money on bad investments. It’s kind of like having a den mother, grandfather, mentor, friend, and bodyguard all rolled into one.
So to lose that person… it’s pretty scary. You feel a little like a lost baby mountain goat, standing all alone on a peak in the middle of nowhere. (In fairness, I have to say that my agent was reassuring me the whole time. But you know how stubborn baby goats can be.)
I was set up with a new editor, and assured that things would proceed normally. My new editor was away from the office for a week or so, but she’d be in touch when she got back and had a chance to go through the latest draft.
I waited as patiently as I could, knowing she was busy (all editors are busy — always). As time progressed, the wait became agonizing, as I imagined her sitting down to read the manuscript with a giant red marker, slashing out entire chapters and muttering to herself about what a pain it was that she had to take on another author.
Finally, I couldn’t take it. I sent a hesitant email to see if she had a couple of minutes to talk. She called immediately.
I took a deep breath. In the manner of a mature, confident fifth-grader, I asked, “So… Do you hate my book?”
“No,” she said. “Not at all.”
“Is it a pain in the neck for you?”
“I didn’t have to take it on,” she said. “I chose to.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay, cool.”
And that was that.
Since then, my new editor has proven to be all the champion, den mother, grandfather, bodyguard, mentor, and friend an author could wish for. She’s dedicated hours and days of her time, invested her thoughts and creative vision and energy. She’s fun and funny and brilliant, and she even takes time out of her busy schedule to gush over my dog.
And that’s enough to wipe all the scary moments out of existence.
So, Delightful Editor, if you’re reading this… thank you!
~ Deb Katie Alender
Halloween has always been a source of both dread and delight. I love costumes, and who doesn’t love free candy? Yet, as a teen I always found myself participating in haunted hayrides, or watching scary movies with kids who could laugh at the blood spurting while I cowered in my sleeping bag at the slumber party. Even commercials on TV for scary movies would give me the willies.
It’s no better now that I’m an adult. I just turned in an article about a new book called Haunted Travels of Michigan and as I was interviewing the authors over the phone, goose bumps danced a conga line down my arms and I was ever so glad for the company of my dog in an otherwise quiet, empty house.
Although I’m still a weenie about scary movies, there are different fears keeping me up at night these days, one of which crept its way into my fiction without me even realizing it.
The protagonist of Real Life & Liars has breast cancer. If you’d asked me a year ago why I chose to give Mirabelle Zielinski breast cancer, I’d have given you some glib answer about needing something for her to grapple with, and I picked it out of the air. That’s all. A plot device.
Then I went to a conference of the Chicago-North branch of the Romance Writers Association, and Eloisa James was speaking. She said writing about one of her greatest fears turned into one of her most successful books ever. The authenticity created by mining her deepest fear shone through on the page and captured readers.
And it hit me. That’s what I’d done in the writing of Real Life & Liars without even noticing it. As I’ve progressed through my thirties, my sense of physical vulnerability has spiked. I often catch myself thinking, Why should I be immune from cancer? Nice people get cancer all the time, and they never expected it either. And my thoughts eventually come around to this: How arrogant can I be to imagine that I can get through my whole life healthy and in one piece? People who have cancer think “Why me” and here I am thinking: Why not me?
The way I yank myself out of this is a stern mental talking-to: Look. People who actually have cancer have to deal with this stuff. Maybe it will happen to you someday, but maybe not. Why wallow in it NOW when you’re healthy? For the love of Pete stop bringing it on yourself when you don’t have to. And go to sleep already. We have to get up early in the morning.
I’m not much like Mira. Whereas I worry about getting cancer when I don’t have it, she tries to ignore cancer when she does have it. As the story opens, she hasn’t even told her grown children yet, and when the news finally does come out, nothing can ever be the same again.
Isn’t that the root of all fear? We all dread being at the mercy of something we can’t control, be it ghosts, cancer, or the reactions of loved ones when we have to tell them something terrible.
Happy Halloween. Stay safe and healthy, one and all.
Deb Tiffany’s novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, has been chosen by Borders for its Original Voices picks. Look for it during January on the Borders website and also on display in their stores!
Deb Gail is still busy promoting CANCER IS A BITCH. On Thursday she spoke at the UW Medical School. The live link is here. She was interviewed on BoomerGirl.com here. Also interviewed for an article on capessa.com. On a live call-in show on WCVX-AM “Let’s Just Talk” some time next week. Will be speaking at the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation annual Research Luncheon in Milwaukee on Tuesday October 28th. On Wednesday October 29th she will be on a live radio show “Health Issues Today” on WRFG-FM from 5-5:30 pm CST. Also speaking at a special benefit the Ultimate Spa Salon’s Scret Garden on Thursday October 30th. And the CIAB t-shirts have a taken on a life of their own… more to come about that… and if you’d like a peek at her Milwaukee TV interview from last week it’s here!
We’re very happy to have Karen Dionne as our guest author today. She’s the founder of Backspace, an Internet-based writers organization with over 850 members in a dozen countries, and Freezing Point is her first novel.
When it comes to thrillers, readers are often drawn toward fiction that mirrors their real-world concerns. During the Cold War, spy thrillers were popular. Now that environmental concerns have gained the ascendency, we’re seeing a surge of thrillers in that genre. All thrillers play on people’s fears, but environmental thrillers pit man against nature in the classic struggle with a twist: Man’s interference with the natural world is often the source of the problem. That deep irony at the story’s core is what makes eco-thrillers so compelling. Bad things are happening, nature is turning on the characters – but the characters have brought the situation about themselves.
My environmental thriller FREEZING POINT features a concerned environmentalist who thinks he can alleviate the world’s desperate need for pure, fresh water by melting Antarctic icebergs into drinking water. Instead, his lack of understanding of the polar environment, coupled with corporate greed, creates an even bigger problem that ultimately threatens the entire planet.
One of the perks of writing a novel like FREEZING POINT is that I get to consult with experts in various scientific fields and learn about the subjects that fascinate me. But a consequence of researching an environmental thriller is that the more you learn, the more you realize a situation of which you were previously aware only peripherally, is actually far worse than you imagined.
The world’s water crisis is truly scary. According to Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, the Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted fourteen times faster than nature can replenish it. Silicon Valley has more water-polluting EPA Superfund sites than anywhere in the U.S. Thirty percent of the groundwater under Phoenix is contaminated, and the Colorado River is so oversubscribed that by the time it passes though the seven states tapping into it, there’s almost nothing left to go out to sea. Uneven distribution, pollution, abuse of the aquifer – the list goes on and on. These and other environmental problems desperately need solving. The earth is our home. If the environment turns on us, there’s no safe place. It’s hard to think of a situation more genuinely frightening.
However, I didn’t write FREEZING POINT to shine a light on a problem – we have Al Gore and others for that. My novel isn’t a treatise on the world’s water crisis or global warming – it’s a story, meant to entertain. If readers come away with an increased awareness of the real-world situation, that’s great. But if they finish thinking they’ve just read a terrific book, that’s even better. Because in environmental thrillers, when nature bites, it’s the story that bites back.