Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Step Into My Nightmare...

True to the name of our blog, as authors, we love to write books that spike a reader's pulse to race. But we also love to read them.

Humans are one of the few creatures on this planet that actually gravitate toward what they fear -- going against the grain of instinct. You  wouldn't see a mouse climbing all over a sleeping cat (except maybe in a Tom & Jerry cartoon) just for the adrenaline rush. Yet humans will cluster around a TV set to watch others of our kind get slashed in a Saw or Halloween marathon; we'll tunnel under the covers with a flashlight to gobble up the last gory and violent chapters of a Stephen King novel.

Why? Why do we like books and movies that dance along the fringe of our nightmares? Maybe because stories -- whether we're telling them, reading them, or watching them --- give us a safe outlet to look our worst fears in the face. They take us to that place of terror, tease us and taunt us, yet all the while we know that if things get too scary, we can walk away or shut the pages. Simple as that. We have control.

We want to be brave and face what scares us most, but at a safe distance.

In every book I've ever written, I've incorporated at least one of my phobias -- whether an emotional fear or a physical fear. And I have plenty to choose from, let me assure you. ;)

In my YA fantasy, Splintered, spiders and creepy dolls each have their moments in the spotlight, and as I was writing those scenes, I felt empowered. That's an impressive feat, considering how deeply ingrained these fears are, dating all the way back to my childhood when I was most impressionable.

According to, we are born with only two fears: falling, and the fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned, as observed by psychologists in studies called fear conditioning.

My doll phobia started one night at the age of seven, while watching a Twilight Zone episode about a murderous talking doll, a pre-cursor to Chuckie. Here's a two-minute summary:

The storyline deeply disturbed me, mainly because I collected dolls. I had them on every shelf in my room. After the show, when I went in to get ready for bed, one of my favorite dolls, a Spanish beauty in a lace and satin dress, faced me from my dresser. I'd never before noticed how her eyes seemed to follow my every move.  As I put on my pajamas, I couldn't stop staring at her, aware for the first time how creepy she was. Maybe it was a result of staring too long without blinking, but the edge of her mouth appeared to wriggle, forming a sneer. I screamed at the top of my lungs, tossed her outside my door, and decided I would never like dolls again. I sold the entire collection in a garage sale shortly after, and to this day, dolls still have the uncanny ability to chill me to the bone.

With spiders, I was even younger, maybe five. But I still remember the distinct moment the seed of terror blossomed to a full-fledged thorn in my side. My older brother and I were playing in the backyard. He'd always fancied himself an insect warrior, so when a huge wolf spider scuttled out from the woodpile, he didn't hesitate to smack it with a skinny log. Problem was, this spider had babies all over its back, and the instant mommy got squashed, they scrambled all across the grass and our feet like the red sea closing in.

How many babies, you ask? This might give you an idea:

Wolf spiders are famous for piggy backing dozens upon dozens of babies on their back. YES. They're good mommies. But holy gruesome baggage, Batman! That spider's back isn't the only one that's tingling. 

Now that I've used these two fears in a book, does that mean I'm over them? NO. I still get shivers watching those videos above. But, it did give me a moment of control, and a constructive outlet for those irrational emotions.

So what are your fears? Do you find yourself drawn to books or movies that gravitate around those things? Maybe you have more in common with those film makers and writers than you ever imagined. Maybe they have walked inside those same nightmares and wrote a book or film to try face their own fears head on -- from a distance.


Jennifer Archer said...

What an interesting topic! I think that I explore my psychological fears in my books to a certain extent, but not so much my fear of things - the biggest being mice. I am SO creeped out by mice that I can't even stand to look at one, dead or alive, in person or onscreen or in my imagination. It's that much of a phobia for me. Weird, I know. I trace it back to when I was about eight years old and my family was watching television one night in the dark. Suddenly my dad said in a hushed voice, "Give me a shoe." And when my mom handed him my small one, he said, "No, a bigger one." A mouse was on the floor between the couch and his chair and he killed it with that shoe! Shudder.

Jordan Dane said...

Omg, Anita. Creeeeeepy. LOVE this post.

You totally creeped me out. Couldnt watch the spider video cuz it reminded me of an image I'd seen of a momma scorpion with babies on its back. Total yuck. Being from Texas, we deal with HUGE roaches, spiders, & snakes--as you know too. I'm not so afraid that I can't kill one, but I can't stand the thought of them.

When I write, I definitely explore & exploit my own fears. I figure if I can scare myself, readers would feel that too. I also pay attention to my body's physical reaction down to the minutia, to make sure I don't miss anything in a scene. I've gone ghost hunting for the adrenaline rush & rode with an on-duty cop in the wee hours to see what he faces everyday. (That was REALLY scary.)

I've explored my fears of certain types of death & death itself (in my latest book) & have put myself in the shoes of victims of violent crime. Dark places that are not easy to be. Spooked myself when I wrote a Quija board scene & had to call my mom just to hear her voice. (I was alone in my house at the time.)

Writers are weird.

Wendy Corsi Staub said...

I loved this post, even if the wolf spider freaked me out. Coincidentally, I spent days last week researching spiders (including Wolf spiders) for a scene I was writing in my upcoming thriller Shadowkiller, mostly because I'm terrified of them and as you said, Anita, we thriller writers often work our darkest fears into our plots. ::::::shudder::::: I'm often asked why I write what I write, and I say it's because I'm such a big chicken and it's cathartic. If I write terrifying things, they can't happen in real life, right? Last week, I trapped my heroine in an abandoned spider-infested well. Better her than me!

Jordan Dane said...

Hey Jenny. I found a mouse in the garage of my new house. So tiny. It had fallen into my recycle bin. I walked it & the bin down the street blocks away to an empty lot next to ranch land. Liberated him. Couldnt kill him.

I used to have them as pets when I was a kid until I realized they ate their own babies--when I SAW IT with my own eyes. Ew.

These days, if I can liberate stuff, I do it. If there is such thing as reincarnation, I don't wanna get whacked with a shoe.

Where's Ilsa? She needs to weigh in on this topic, Miss Child Psychiatrist.

Jordan Dane said...

Wendy---YOU ARE SICK!! Love it.

Angela V. Cook said...

Hi Anita! What a great topic to write about!

Ewww--that spider thing is CREEPY! Reminds me of that new show "Infested" (though I can't remember what channel it comes on). I can handle one bug at a time, but hundreds?!?!? *shivers*

One of my creepy fears is the closet. I can't go to sleep with the closet door open just a crack--it has to either be all the way open or all the way closed. Too many scary movies have involved a "slightly cracked" closet door!! LOL!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Jenny~ EEK on the mice! Not a huge fan either, but doesn't creep me out as much as spiders. we had one in our house a while back and hubbie had to kill it. :( My daughter thinks he just "stunned" it and then tossed it out to scamper away. She's a HUGE animal activist. Heh.

JD~ Okay, just the thought of a scorpion w/babies all over it makes my hair stand on end. *shivers* So cool that you've done all those things to get into a character's head! Reminds me of what actors do to prepare for a movie role.

Wendy~ LOL. Your poor MC. I'd be on guard. She's probably planning some way to get back at you ... characters have a direct line to our dreams, you know. ;)

Angela~ That's a great one, Angie! Come to think of it, I always make sure mine is closed all the way. Although I tell my husband it's to save energy. The heater doesn't need to heat the closet, right? LOL. Thanks for stopping by!

Dan Haring said...

Great post Anita! You hit on some excellent points. I think you're right about the control thing. Sharks and spiders are my big fears. A friend and I will randomly email each other pictures or videos like
this and this (not for the squeamish) to freak each other out. Scary stories are thrilling and exciting without being dangerous, and for some reason we just like that. Humans are weird :)

Anonymous said...

You had me sucked in with the Freddy Krueger picture, and then BAM! you talked about my worst fear: SPIDERS.

I thought my phobia was bad, but twink, having all those baby wolf spiders charging at you?! IM LIVING IN FEAR FOR YOU.

May I never run across the lawn without checking for wolf spiders (in case I step on them by accident and the babies charge me and OMG why did your brother even go NEAR it...I can't breathe:)).

I'm going to feel all creepy-crawly for the remainder of the day :)


Anita Grace Howard said...

Dan~ Thanks! Okay, I'm debating whether or not to hit those URLs you linked in. I had enough trouble downloading that wolf spider vid. And sharks?? Terrified of them. Ever since I saw Jaws as a kid. Heh

Kerri~ Haha! I'm so sorry to creepy you out! Yes, my brother wasn't afraid of any bug. So he was showing his bravery by hitting it. ICK!! Seriously, I've got my feet in my chair as I type this, just remembering. *shudders* Thanks for dropping in!

Sophia said...

I can never unsee that frigging spider video; I started scratching about 5 seconds in. That is just so messed up, but I could not look away. I shake my fist in your general direction. I can't wait to read your creepy dolls, though.

Kaylie Austen said...

Oh My God! I cannot look at a doll without cringing. Keep them out of my house. I once had to sleep in a room full of them...and they just stared at me all night. Unnerving. I'm surprised I didn't loose it.
Spiders aren't as bad...not like scorpions, or rats.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Sophia~ Ah, you like them creepy dolls, huh? I know someone you need to follow on twitter. She's collecting pictures of them for a book. Heh. Sorry about the arachno-foibles. *ducks your fists of rage*

Kaylie~ I always thought I must be the only girl who hated dolls! Nice to know there's another who's been privy to their demonic side. LOL

Bethany Crandell said...

A few comments:

1. I've never had a doll phobia, however I must have seen that Twilight Zone clip in my youth at some point, which would explain why I never liked that girl Tina Bergius in elementary school

2. Until I was six, I always enjoyed playing with rollie pollies. (It was cute how they rolled up into little balls). Well, all that ended when I moved a rock once and about nine thousand tiny white rollie pollie babies decided to make a playground out of my body. GAH.ROSS!

3. I had to turn off the spider video. It's been two minutes since I watched it and I can STILL feel spiders crawling on my skin.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Bethany~ LOL! Where are you when I'm writing my posts?? I need to have you adding witty repartee for me. Hee. ICK on the thousands of baby rollies. And yeah, you should've seen me trying to watch that video. I had to be sure it was okay before downloading. Hubbie was laughing at the goofie sound I kept making. Kind of a mix between a whimper and a quivering wail. Heh.

Riley Redgate said...


Good Christ, that spider video. I can handle a spider. I can even handle multiple spiders. But somehow, seeing 'em all stacked up like that and wriggling over each other eughdhjghejr CANNOT PROCESS.

I'm gonna have good dreams tonight... -_-

Jessica Nelson said...

Eeek! I'm not even going to watch those videos because I do NOT gravitate to my fears. LOL I run! AS a kid, I was pretty afraid of bees. Something about their buzzing...*shudder*
Now I'm okay and can't think of anything I'm afraid of at the moment. Hmmm.
Anyway, AWESOME post! I loved that info from AnxietyZone. Soooo intriguing!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Riley~ I know, right? The way they kept switching places on her back ... rearranging ... Just ICK. Sorry about ruining your night's sleep. ;)

Jessie~ Haha! I knew you'd hate those! Hee. I don't blame you w/the bees. I've always things buzzing by my ear. I'm always afraid they're going to crawl inside and it just creeps me out. Blick. Yah, it was interesting about being born w/only two fears. Hmmm.

Dan Haring said...

Ok, those of you with a thing for dolls, you either really need to or really shouldn't watch this creepy and gorgeous animated short. Enjoy!

BBC said...

Great post, great question. My fear? Falling. Geez. Apparently my phobias never matured.

Anita Grace Howard said...

Dan~ I LOVED that creepy short! Always wondered how dolls came about. *EEK* LOL. Thanks for sharing that!

Mindy~ LOL. You have an inborn fear then. I guess that means you never developed any of the individual ones. Consider yourself lucky. ;) Thanks for stopping by and following!

LisaAnn said...

Oh my gosh, worst closing photo ever! ;)

In my line of work as a zookeeper, I'm not really allowed to be afraid of animals. And I'm not, for the most part, but my alligator and snake fears CONSTANTLY reassert themselves in my dreams. I also sometimes have dreams about animals attacking me. And these are animals I'm NOT afraid of, like bears, orcas, even camels.

I think the dreams keep me grounded. And I have one WIP right now about my exact fears. Definitely surreal to face it!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Lisa Ann~ Haha! Yes, I tried to find the most gruesome doll pic possible to wrap it all up. I'm quite happy with the result. *bleck*

Intriguing stuff about your dreams. And now you've got me all interested in your WIP! Thanks for stopping by and for following!

Katey said...

I know I'm late to the party, Anita, but I finally figured out a quick and easy way to stalk you all across the web, so I am playing catch up <3

And this is exactly why I write horror most of the time. I love doing this. Love, love, love.

Seriously though, dolls are horrifying.