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.
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