What are you afraid of?

 

THE ENEMY IS FEAR. WE THINK IT'S HATE; BUT, IT IS FEAR.GHANDI

I was pretty fearless when I was younger. I went on all of the roller coasters, even the ones that went upside down! I would try almost any food and, according to my mother, liked just about everything. I auditioned for (and landed) roles in school and camp plays. I collected caterpillars and let them crawl up my arm. I went to summer camp not knowing a soul and came out with great friends. At nine years old, I had a crush on a boy in camp and so did another girl in my group. Despite rumors that the boy liked my campmate, I expressed my interest and it turned out the boy liked me back! My first boyfriend 🙂 Basically, I was up for any challenge. There were a few exceptions. I went through a weird stage where I adopted other people’s fears as my own, and I spent a couple of months terrified of bridges. I stole the fear from Jennifer Davidson during our sixth grade trip to Washington D.C. and my mom still brings it up on occasion. But for the most part, fear wasn’t really part of my vocabulary.

As I hit my teens, I was not quite so courageous. I stopped going on the roller coasters for a few years, became too self-conscious to follow my passion for acting, and was too afraid of what other people might think of me to express my true feelings or stand up for myself.

I’ve never recovered my bravery toward performing in public aside from Karaoke in groups, but I’m back to going on the “scary” rides (except for the REALLY frightening ones), learning to embrace speaking in public (kind of a necessity as an author), and I definitely do not cower away from defending myself when necessary. I care what some people think of me, but only the people whose opinions I actually respect. In short, I’m no longer afraid to be myself.

But I’m still afraid of a lot of things. For example:

My mother dying – She’s healthy, knock wood, and not exactly ancient, but whenever I think about it, I start to cry. I even had a panic attack in the shower the other morning. (I know you’re reading this, Mommy, and I’m sorry I brought it up. I love you and wish you the happiest of birthdays!!)

My sister dying – Apologies for the morbid trend here. I don’t worry about this on a regular basis at all, but when I do, it’s a doozy. I can’t imagine my life without her in it.

Driving – I had my driver’s license back in the day—only took me three tests—but I let it expire by accident. I was never comfortable behind the wheel and haven’t done it in close to twenty years. I probably should take lessons again, but I don’t want to. I have chronic nightmares about being behind the wheel and losing control.

Living without Alan – I’m panic-stricken over being forced to go my entire life without ever seeing, speaking to, or hugging my best friend/boss/mentor/cheerleader/shrink outside of my dreams. I miss him so much, it physically aches, so I can still only think short term—today, tomorrow, or the next day.

Never meeting “The One” – I’ve always assumed when the timing was (finally) right, I’d meet “The One” for the long haul at last—the man I want to spend the rest of my life with who feels the same way about me—but between the wrong guys and the unavailable ones, it’s like searching for cellphone service in 1979.

Meeting “The One” – As much as I want to commit fully to someone, I’m terrified I’ll feel smothered or find it difficult to balance the freedom and lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed with my new coupled life. I hope giving up some independence will be worth it for the right person.

Losing my ability to write – Whenever I’m going through a tough time, writing makes me feel better. It’s really the one thing I can do that is guaranteed to wash away stress from my “real life.” I don’t know what I would do if something happened that prevented me from writing. What if I went blind or suffered from permanent writer’s block, or some other brain malfunction?

Cancer – Getting it, my family getting, my friends getting it.

Getting old – I’d much prefer aging to the alternative, but I dread the aging process—wrinkly skin, sagging neck, losing muscle tone despite working out five-six times a week, inability to stand up straight, people treating me like I’m a non-entity or a sweet old lady, losing my faculties. My grandmother told me after the age of twenty, life moves really fast and she was so right. Although every Monday, I wish Friday will come quickly, I don’t want life to pass me by!

Becoming invisible to the opposite sex – I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy attention from men. I like being flirted with and checked out. I don’t know if I will ever get to a point where I don’t care what I look like or whether others find me attractive and so the aging process (see above) scares me.

Dying – I don’t want to! Maybe if I knew what happened after we left the physical world, I wouldn’t be so afraid. Experiences I’ve had in the last year have convinced me that there is something else, but I don’t know what it is and hope not to find out for a long, long time.

Those are the major things on my list. What are you most afraid of?

 

Jealousy

When I told a close author friend recently how much I hoped all the hard work she was putting into revising her suspense novel would result in a sale to a prestigious publisher, a lucrative advance, and a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, she expressed how much it meant to her that my wishes for her success were genuine because it was evidence of how much I truly loved her. This introduced a discussion about other authors who are not always as supportive because they are too jealous or bitter about their own journeys to embrace another writer’s success. While I am always happy for and supportive of my fellow authors, I admit it is sometimes too easy to compare their success to my own and come out lacking.

I’m friends with several authors on Facebook whose newest books were released this month by traditional New York City publishers to serious fanfare. The authors’ readings at local bookstores were packed with fans clamoring for a signed copy as well as other impressive guests such as well-known local authors, editors, publicists, etc. Reviews of their books were written up in popular magazines and newspapers, and their first week Amazon rankings hit bestseller lists in both ebook and print formats. As thrilled as I was for these authors, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of envy as I compared these releases with the publication of own last novel which did well by my own standards, but compared to the likes of these other novelists, not so much.

I confided my inferiority complex to a non-author friend who responded with these words of wisdom, paraphrased for the purposes of this blog: she assured me that I was every bit as much of an author as these writers regardless of the level of success achieved thus far. And she reminded me that no matter how many books I sold or how famous I might become, there would always be authors who were both more successful and less successful than I, and all I could do was keep writing. And she was right. In fact, several of my author friends have told me they wished they sold as many books as I did. One went as far as to say she wanted to be me when she grew up. The statement made me laugh, but it goes to show that the measure of success depends on the person doing the measuring.

I can’t say I won’t continue to experience pangs of jealousy from time to time, but I hope these feelings will inspire me to keep honing my writing skills so that each book I put out is better than the next. It’s unfortunate that some people, in any field, prefer to surround themselves only with people to whom they can feel superior. To the contrary, I love having role models I can look up to and learn from. And lucky for me, I have so many successful writer friends who are so very generous with their knowledge.

How do you turn potentially unhealthy feelings of inferiority into something constructive?

so good, they make me better

As I was reading The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell, I felt a sense of dread. I didn’t fear the fate of the characters because, even though the author put them in several formidable and embarrassing situations, I’m a fan of conflict and was confident she’d resolve everything to my satisfaction in good time. And it was also not because the plot was awful, the characters undeveloped, the pacing slow, or the dialogue stilted—exactly the opposite. The sense of alarm was a result of reading a fabulous book by an adept storyteller who, as far as I was concerned, did everything right. As an author, too, all I could think about was my own work in progress and how it was all wrong. Not all wrong, but not quite where it should be or where I wanted it to be. I spent the weekend modeling myself after Mansell—not imitating her style, copying her plot, or anything quite so nefarious, but spicing up the dialogue (Mansell is a master of dialogue), beefing up the humor, cutting out extra words, and fleshing out the characters as I’m sure she did painstakingly while writing The One You Really Love. I’m only on the first draft and my projects always improve with each revision, but even at this early stage, I know it is better and I owe it to Jill Mansell.

Theoneyoureallywant

This exercise got me thinking about other consummate authors who have unknowingly helped my writing.

 

For instance, Emily Giffin has taught me that even in light women’s fiction, characters don’t have to be all good or all bad. The main character, Rachel, in Giffin’s debut novel , Something Borrowed, managed to be likeable even while coveting (and sleeping with) her best friend’s fiancé. Giffin wrote the character in such a way that the reader experienced Rachel’s conflict right along with her. Rachel had loved Dex long before she basically threw him in Darcy’s lap. Giffin did the same thing with Ellen in Love The One You’re With (my favorite of her books). Ellen’s happily married to Andy, but is still drawn to Leo, the first man she truly loved (the one who broke her heart and whom she never quite forgot) when he comes back in the picture. Giffin does not encourage infidelity in the novel, but she creates a character many can relate to even if they are too ashamed to admit it. Ellen is human, not evil. Giffin strikes this human/flawed/likable balance with each and every novel she writes and it’s something I’ve kept in mind when writing my own novels where, as anyone who has read them knows, the characters are not perfect. Most specifically, my character Maggie in How Do You Know?  is in love with her long-term boyfriend Doug, but has her doubts he’s the one and desires time to figure things out before she makes a lifelong decision that will affect both of their lives. Maggie isn’t uncertain because she’s a selfish person, but because she can’t help it. Most human beings can’t control where their heart goes and I (along with Emily Giffin) don’t think fictional characters should have to either.

lovetheone

 

Another author I admire for her craft is Rainbow Rowell, who I consider to be my biggest author crush. I adore everything about Rainbow’s novels, from the quirkiness of her characters, to the swoony-worthy yet innocent romantic elements in her books, to the original worlds she creates. What stands out to me the most are the interactions between her characters, especially the ones who are romantically involved or at least want to be. Rowell has such a unique way of describing how the characters feel about each other, and it always feels very personal and intimate to me as a reader. In Landline, for instance, main character Georgie has this to say about her husband, Neal, in the first one percent of the novel: “When Neal smiled, he had dimples like parenthesis—stubbly parentheses. Georgie wanted to pull him over the breakfast bar and nose at his cheeks. That was her standard response to Neal smiling.” Reading that description, I knew instantly that Georgie loved Neal without being told. The characteristics that Georgie loves about Neal are very particular to him. Georgie loves Neal’s ears. Ears that were “a little too big, and they poked out at the top like wings. Georgie liked to hold his head by his ears. When he’d let her.” This description is specific to Neal and only Neal as opposed to a trait which could be used to describe just about anyone— he had beautiful eyes, full lips, a great butt, etc. Because it is so particular, it makes me believe the love Georgie feels for Neal runs deep. Rainbow Rowell does this consistently in her books and I love it! I squealed with delight when one of the teenage beta readers for my upcoming young adult novel, Kim vs. The Mean Girl, compared my book to Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. I can’t bring myself to agree, but this blog post has inspired me to be mindful to dig deep like Rainbow does.

landline

I’m sure there are others, but these three authors are currently at the top of my author-inspiration list. What about you? Whatever the activity, who inspires you to be better?

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-apr-2016