Scared Cow and Other Tales of Horror

CowMy father loves to tell the story of when I was a toddler living in the wilds of Westchester County in New York. In this suburban landscape, I had a paralyzing fear. Every night, before going to bed, I’d need to be reassured that I would safe from the evil creatures that surely lurked outside my window. Every night, I’d cry to my parents. Every night, when they rushed in, I’d tell them of these horrible beasts. Was it monsters? Vampires? Knife-wielding clowns? No, not for me. Nothing so benign! For I had a fear of cows. “Scared cow,” I’d whimper through my tears. Without ever having seen one in the real world, I had developed a cowphobia.

Before you worry about my well being here in eastern Massachusetts, where indeed if I drive about 10 miles west, I find fields of cows, there was a cure for cowphobia. My parents had a second child, my sister. This wee little baby was placed in a crib in my small room. And the day she joined me, Poof! I could sleep again, no longer tormented by evil bovine. “The baby protects me from cows,” I announced.

Ah, those were the good old days when my fears were easily assuaged by the 20-inch infant next to me. Now my fears are huge and they don’t go so quickly. What am I afraid of?

  1. My children. I live in fear of the day they realize I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
  2. Mice. When I lived (as an adult) in New York, I had a cat named Motorhead (and that is a story for another day). Motorhead was vicious with the mice. She’d toy with them and toss them and make sport of those poor creatures. As much as the mice repulsed me, I felt sorry for their treatment at the paws of my possessed cat, only I was too busy hiding in my loft bed, ladder blocked so Motorhead couldn’t climb up, to help those mice to dignified deaths. In fact, I’d stay in that loft until my baby sister—the same one who protected me from cows—used her key to let herself into my apartment and disposed of the mice for me. I don’t live near my sister anymore. If I suspect I have a mouse in my house, I will sell my house. Not sure what my husband and kids will do, but I will be moving far, far away.
  3. The big things. The ones everyone is scared of. Family getting sick. People I love leaving too soon. My children not being content in this world. The fears that I can do nothing about, but will keep me up in the wee hours of the morning.
  4. Okay, cows. But just a little bit. They’re so… cowish!
  5. Running out of bourbon. Why? See reasons #1, #2, #3.

Notice what’s not on that list? Writing fears. You know why? Because I really don’t have any.

I know, that’s uncool to say. Writers are supposed to be meek, fearful, neurotic creatures. No one has ever called me meek or fearful. Neurotic? Okay, I wear that one like a badge. But the truth is, I don’t have writing/publishing fears. I hope like crazy that people are going to read and love MODERN GIRLS. But the topic is controversial, and I know some people won’t like it simply because of the subject. I’m going to need to take a deep breath and move on, and while it’s easier to say than do, it’s not something I worry about. I could fear my next book won’t sell, but to be honest, I’m really excited about the topic and I’ve already fallen in love with my characters, and all I can do is put everything I have into writing it, and then I can worry about whether or not it’s marketable. I could worry that people won’t like the MODERN GIRLS. But the people closest to me have already read it and have supported and cheered me, so I know I’m not going to be disappointing them.

Writing is something I simply do. Some of it’s good enough to be published. A lot of it isn’t. But it’s not something I’m ever going to let myself fear. How can I fear writing when it’s as much a part of my every day life as eating or sleeping? That would be ridiculous.

Unlike cows. Terrifying! (Moo!)

Author: Jennifer S. Brown

Jennifer S. Brown is the author of MODERN GIRLS (NAL/Penguin). The novel, set in 1935 in the Lower East Side of New York, is about a Russian-born Jewish mother and her American-born unmarried daughter. Each discovers that she is expecting, although the pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, in this story about women’s roles, standards, and choices, set against the backdrop of the impending war. Learn more at

12 Replies to “Scared Cow and Other Tales of Horror”

  1. Scared cow. That is hilarious–especially since I had the same fear. My grandfather raised cattle and he thought it as so funny that I was afraid of cows. One day he walked through the backyard with a placid old milk cow and I screeched, ran upstairs and hid under the bed. I still remember my mother on her hands and knees peering under the bed almost weeping with laughter, trying to coax me out. I don’t remember why or how the fear dissipated, but eventually it did.

  2. Writing, eating, and sleeping — definitely not scary. That’s a very good point.

    When writers start to talk about the “risks,” I always remember the very wise words of Andy Warhol:

    “If you say that artists take ‘risks’ it’s insulting to the men who landed on D-Day, to stuntmen, to baby-sitters, to Evel Knievel, to stepdaughters, to coal miners, and to hitch-hikers, because they’re the ones who really know what ‘risks’ are.”

    So, unless you’re Salman Rushdie or somebody like that, yeah.

    1. I like your perspective, Anthony. And while I laughed at the Salman Rushdie line, you are right that some writers do have to fear writing, such as many who lived behind the Iron Curtain. We are lucky folk! But yes, babysitters are definitely the ones who take the real risks (see fear #1!).

  3. Spot on, Jennifer!

    I think we have to forgive ourselves for our weird fears, both the irrational ones (cockroaches for me; like you with your mice, I’m ready to call a realtor if I ever see one in my house) and those larger rational ones over our families, the world. Writing/ publishing fears just seem self-defeating. Why write at all if you’re afraid? You demystify it nicely by noting it’s about the love of process, of subject-matter, of those things that spark you to write in the first place. Makes it easier to let the chips fall where they may.

  4. I read that as sacred cow at first. a sacred cow and a scared cow are two very different things! I love your fearlessness in writing, both on and off the page. have I mentioned that I CANT WAIT TO READ MODERN GIRLS?

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