Hello and welcome back to the blog! Today, I would like to talk about fear, but first an update on my situation. If you haven’t read last week’s blog, I invite you to go back and do it now, as what I’m about to talk about will seem to come out of nowhere. For those of you who did read last week’s blog, I mentioned I had decided to renew my efforts to find a literary agent. I’ve been busy in the week that has passed since that post. I researched literary agents, five of which received a query from yours truly. Querying is an exercise in both patience and resilience. Despite this I am feeling invigorated at the idea of finding an agent. My hope is renewed, for the time being anyway.
That’s it in the way of news. Let’s get started.
The chances that you have survived as long as you have without feeling fear is remote. Fear is the thing that makes us flip the light switch on before entering a basement. It’s that feeling you get when you hear a noise from the depths of the house when you know you’re alone. It can make grown men scream like little girls if the levels are turned high enough (I’m not speaking from personal experience, of course). Some of us love being afraid, while others go out of their way to avoid it. But what is fear?
Merriam-Webster defines fear as an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. It’s that sense of danger that those of us who like being afraid get addicted to. Have you ever ridden a rollercoaster? I happen to dislike them to a great degree. Despite this, I was talked into going on several at Disney World a few years ago. I was petrified while riding the rollercoaster. When I got off, I felt amazing. It’s that sense of surviving something dangerous that keeps us coming back for more.
I prefer to get my fear experience through fiction and cinema. It’s a safe environment, yet you still get that innate sense of danger seen through the eyes of the characters. As a boy, I got that experience through Goosebumps and got addicted. I have stated it before, those books are the reason I write middle grade horror to this day. If you ever happen to read my work, you’ll find I take fear a bit more seriously than Mr. Stine does. They’re still good books though.
Now that we’ve talked a little bit about fear, I think it’s time to tell you about some of my own personal fears. I’ll start with the one that’s been with me the longest. The fear of heights. When I was little, my family took a vacation to Colorado. While we were there, we rode a cog train to the summit of Pikes Peak of the Rocky Mountains. I remember standing on the snow covered peak and looking down on the world below. Then I threw up in that snow.
My parents say that my stomach was affected by the steam from the cog train. That may well be the case. However, I have been afraid of heights ever since, so I’ll let you be the judge. I did try to conquer this fear a few years ago, coincidently on another vacation to Colorado. This time I was taking my own family accompanied by a large group of my in-laws. We went to the summit of Pikes Peak, where I didn’t lose my breakfast. I trekked up 224 steps at Seven Falls with my children and my own shaking knees. I was able to put my fear aside, though I’m still afraid of heights to this day.
This fear made it into Breaking Character: The Craven House in the way of a memory. Calvin, my main character, believes a fear of heights is his worst fear. In a memory, he recounts puking on the top of Pikes Peak in front of the gift shop. Afterwards, his parents bought him a souvenir T-shirt, which happened to be Pepto Bismol pink. His friends called it his “Pikes Peak Puke” shirt. Yes, every bit of that is from my own memory. Sometimes writers must embarrass themselves for the sake of their work.
Another one of my fears is that of things that sting, whether it be bees, wasps, or hornets. This one also stems from my childhood. I was maybe five or six and playing in the backyard. My sister had a plastic playhouse which resided in the backyard. Unbeknownst to me, wasps had made the playhouse their home. I was standing on the roof when my parents called us inside. I believe my grandparents were there, though that could be wrong. Choosing to showoff for some reason, I jumped on the roof. The wasps didn’t take kindly to this behavior. The wasps swarmed me as I ran screaming inside. It’s a miracle I was only stung twice on the back of the head. This fear hasn’t made into a story yet, but I’ve had a healthy fear of stinging creatures ever since.
The last fear that I will tell you about is the one that has been with me the shortest amount of time yet is now my greatest fear. Failure. As I grow older, the fear of failure has become a large part of my life. At the core, I’m afraid that I will never amount to anything, that I will fail at everything I do or that I already have and don’t know it.
This might seem like a silly fear to some of you and perhaps you’re right. In the past it has gotten in the way. It’s the primary reason I didn’t submit several books I wrote to agents, though a lack of self-confidence also had a hand in it as well. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a writer, plain and simple. It’s the only dream I’ve allowed myself to have. I also have no backup plan if it doesn’t work. A lifetime in retail awaits me if I fail.
Letting my wife and children down, the people who believe in me the most, is something I can’t fathom. Those four women are my world and reason for being. I know they wouldn’t think less of me if this writing thing doesn’t work out. Still, failing to provide them the life they deserve is what makes this writer quake in fear.
This fear found its way into Breaking Character: The Craven House as well. Calvin’s true greatest fear is failure. Yes, writers really do write about themselves quite a bit. At least this writer does. I’ve also written about fears that I don’t suffer from, including clowns, snakes, and nature taking back the world from humans. That’s just to name a few.
Unless you are some sort of cyborg, then you are affected by fear in some way, shape or fashion. It’s not the fact that you’re afraid that defines you, but how you respond to that fear. Do you choose to face it head on or let it conquer you? As the man who climbed 224 steps up the side of a waterfall while afraid of heights and is also querying agents despite the very real fact that they could reject him, I hope you choose to face it.
Until next time, remember to follow your dreams, no matter how much they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth