In which Deb Kristina outs herself as a ‘fraidy cat

coverHalloween 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 Kristina

9 Replies to “In which Deb Kristina outs herself as a ‘fraidy cat”

  1. Nice post, Kristina. I like Eloise James’s advice, and I look forward to reading your book. I’m a real scaredy cat when it comes to scary movies, too. I think it’s due to having an overactive imagination!

  2. Yeah, that’s some scary stuff! Y’know Gail wondered if she’d somehow “given” herself Breast Cancer just by writing a novel where the protagonist had breast cancer. I think that all the time. When I worked for a health education publisher – whatever I was working on that week, I’d be sure I had symptoms of! Stroke, brain tumors, hand-arm vibration syndrome … you name it! I was sure I was coming down with it all!

    Can’t wait to read your book, though!

  3. Kris:

    This is a truthful and poignant article. We all have fears, some on the surface and some well hidden. But the ones we acknowledge and share with others are not always the ones that scare us the most.

    My biggest fear is losing my kids. I don’t think anyone can fully understand loss until he or she has lost a child. Even after they’re grown up (as mine are) with families of their own, you don’t stop worrying about them. That fear is still there. I keep mine well hidden because if I let it out, it lands on my chest like an anvil. And next year my oldest granddaughter will be drriving. I can’t even bear thinking about it.


  4. Meredith, I think you’re right about the overactive imagination!

    Eve, believe me, I’ve had Gail’s experience on my mind! In fact, life imitated art with a separate event from my book (I won’t say here, I don’t want to spoil anything) and that was a bit spooky. Let’s hope that’s all that happens in my own real life.

    Oh Maggie, fears for our kids. That will keep me up all night, too. In fact, my fear of getting sick is for my family, actually, not so much myself.

    Hi Danielle, and thanks. Conquered? No. But I think acknowledging the fear took some of the power out of it. That, and my stern self-lecture I mentioned in my post.

  5. Maggie is right, of course. That really is the biggest fear.

    As far as fiction goes, I happened to be standing in front of the TV some fifty years ago and saw the old black-and-white Bela Lugosi Dracula about to bite the girl in the bed. I was scarred. I was wrecked. Messed UP, I tell you. My mother had to sleep with me for weeks.

    I didn’t get that loved-to-be-scared gene. I would pay NOT to be frightened.


  6. Kris, you touched on something that I find so facinating. Usually (note my choice of word), fear is rooted in an uncontrollable reality. It’s something that CAN happen, but we can’t control the WHEN, WHAT, HOW, etc. Fear is really all the same. Where our brain chooses to apply it is vastly different. Then there’s another category of fear…stuff we can control. Those with a fear of flying just don’t! They take the train. I would rather have the latter…a controlled fear.

    I’ve never feared cancer. I don’t think it’ll NOT happen to me, but if it did, it doesn’t seem to scare me. My fear is in fire. Where it will burn in my house and how to get our family out safe.

  7. Oh, I read but I forgot to comment!

    There are boogeymen around every corner, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve decided, in a puzzling combination of fatalism and optimism, to just deal with things as they come. But I applaud your ability to get over your fear and write about a subject that frightens you.

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