Sunday, June 16, 2013

Using Fear to Write

But first some news:  Coming soon from Camel Press, my first Eve Appel Mystery, A Secondhand Murder.  At Eve's Florida consignment shop the bargains are to die for.  This is thrift with a twist.

My Fears: Can I make them work for me as a writer?

I watched the rain continue to come down last week and watched our little trout stream turn into a raging river.  Oh no, I thought.  Not again.  Two years ago the stream spilled over its banks leaving our basement filled with three to four feet of water.  The worst part wasn’t the basement.  It was the fear the night before that the river would sweep the entire house away.


I’ve always had a fear of drowning.   My parents did not have the money to buy swimming lessons in the summers when all the other kids were learning to paddle their way the length of the community pool.  It was not until I was in my teens that I learned to swim, but I never passed my beginners’ test because I was too terrified to jump into the deep end of the pool, a requirement to pass.  I swam with my head out of the water, never able to put it under water and learn to hold my breath.  I still swim that way although I’m more comfortable being in the water.  I can do almost every stoke as long as I don’t have to put my face in the water.


I have recurring dreams about driving down a road and the road leads into a lake which I drive right into.  I usually wake up.  So no, I’m not water nymph. 


Seeing that water rise again this past week brought back all the terrors of the flood two years ago.  I was alone then because Glenn was on a cross country motorcycle grip promoting his book.  He’s here this year, so I felt comforted by his presence, yet still frightened by the prospect of another flood.  The last time they declared a state of emergency which means no one is to be on the road, a real catch twenty-two.  How as I to get out of the way of the waters if I couldn’t drive off?  The best I could hope for was someone pulling up to my back deck in a boat while I handed them my two cats and abandoned the house.  That’s if they found me and not the house floating down the river with me and the cats in the attic.


To my great relief the rain let up and the waters subsided the next morning, giving me the emotional space to think about fear and to realize that my fears have colored my writing.


I don’t think I have many fears, but fear of drowning in a flood found its way into several of my books as well as the feat of wild fires.  I’m big on finding natural disasters particularly terrifying for my protagonists. 


But there are the little other fears that are more personal.  I do use these to provide exciting moments for my sassy country gals.   I have a fear of heights that has developed over the past five years.  It is related to a medical condition, vertigo.  My protagonist in Angel Sleuth finds she can deal with being hung over a chasm and handle the challenge of getting to safety.  Good for her.  She should be better than I, don’t you think?  I hate snakes.  Now isn’t that a kick when I live in Florida where we can grow ‘em big and scary?  For some reason I’ve been reluctant to use this fear in my writing until just recently as I was working on the second book in my Eve Appel Murder Mystery series.  I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I used snakes not simply to scare, but to work for my protagonist. 


When I was a kid I used to be scared of vampires and werewolves.  Not now, so you won’t read about my protagonist turning into a vampire any time soon.


What are your fears?  Do you use them in your writing?  Do you like protagonists who share these fears and overcome them?


  1. Lesley,
    First, let me congratulate you on "A Secondhand Murder." Can't wait to read it!
    Fear is a great topic! I don't share your fear of drowning. I love the water and I'm a strong swimmer.
    So, what am I afraid of? The first thing that pops into my head is "tornadoes." They scare the heck out of me. They swoop down and make mincemeat out of everything in their path. (I'm using that fear in the third novel of my Malone mystery series, which, with any luck, will be published in early 2014.)

    1. I don't like tornadoes either. there's so littel warning and we now seem to get more of them and they're bigger.

  2. Fear is a wonderful thing for a writer to have. If there's something you fear you can convey the emotion more accurately to your characters and, ultimately, to your readers. Me? I'm scared of lots of things. Especially things that sneak up on you in the dark. Oh, and spiders. I don't exactly fear them. But I'm kind of like Woody Allen when he was called on to stomp the one in Annie Hall's bathtub. Icky critters.

    1. I don't mind spiders except for the wolf spiders we get around here. They jump at you!

  3. Fear is powerful. I have an odd one. In my job, I hang at the bottom of a helicopter and get "lifted" to remote locations to chase bad guys. That's pretty high, right? And I have no problems. But, let's say I'm at the Ghost Bar at the Palms (Las Vegas) and in the outside area there is a piece of the floor that is see through.....alllllll the way to the bottom. Man, just got the chills, bad ones. So I'm standing on a stable floor looking down about to pee my pants, but can hang on a rope under a helicopter?? Crazy, I know. But the fear from the Ghost Bar floor bothers me, forces me to wake up during restless nights..

    Anyway, I could go on for ever. Great BLOG! Thanks for sharing it.

    1. I find your fear of that floor and not the helicopter ingteresting. Before my vertigo got really bad, I could tolerate naturally occuring heights like cliffs but couldn't deal with human made heights like bridges. Now it's all a big scary thing to me although last year I was determined to hike up the gorge at Watkins Glenn State Park-big drop offs but beautiful. I did it up, but decided against going backdown. I took the wimpy bus down. But I was pretty proud of myself for doing up, of course I held onto Glenn most of the way.

  4. I have a dream so similar to yours, Lesley. I'm driving down a road and the road is crossing a lake, but as I'm driving, the water gets deeper and deeper so I can no longer see the road and there's no place to turn around and go back so I can only hope the road keeps going straight.
    I have very few fears. I do worry about my house catching fire and all my pictures, etc. burning up, but I don't worry about myself. Also, I don't fear snakes. I used to chase the boys with them when I was little, and once I managed to convince a rattler it should get off a mountain trail because I was hot and thirsty, and didn't want to go up or down to get around it.

  5. Well I have an anxiety disorder so it's hard to pinpoint certain fears in particular. I guess I will have to go with blood. I hate blood. It is ironic that in my novel, there are quite a few violent scenes although not too graphic. I love the way you have the topic of fears lead into your story. I have no idea how to even begin my web site, but I have been getting quite a few good pointers from the posse. Great job!

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