Thursday, August 09, 2007

Fear Factor

by Kristine Coblitz

Fear has been a hot topic here at the Working Stiffs lately. As crime fiction writers, it's almost inevitable that fear will work its way into most of our conversations about writing and life, as it seems a big part of our job includes digging into the dark places that most normal people don't like to go.

Not that we have to look too far for material, of course. The world today is filled with scary stuff such as terrorist attacks, deadly hurricanes and storms, bridge catastrophes, and increasing violence in our cities and suburbs. Just turn on the news for an hour and you'll see what I mean. There are numerous occurrences where crimes that we once believed could only be written by the most talented crime writers are actually happening in our own neighborhoods, sometimes on our own streets or in our very homes.

Now that I'm preparing to bring a child into this world, I've begun to really think about fear and the role it plays in our society. I'm a fearful person by nature. I tend to worry about things, mostly about things that are out of my control. Perhaps that's why I have the stamina to write about the topics I write about. I don't run from my fear. I let it fester and manipulate it to my own benefit to enrich my fiction.

But when you become a parent, things change. I don't want my child to grow up chronically afraid, yet I want her to grow up with a realistic view of the world. But how much is too much? With the media bombarding us with bad news and scare tactics on a 24-hour basis, how do I shelter my child enough so she can enjoy the innocence of her childhood for as long as possible before seeing how dangerous this world can be?

It's one of the many struggles I'll face as a new parent, I suppose.

When I was growing up, scary movies and books by Stephen King used to give me nightmares. Now it's the news. Go figure. Is it because I've grown up or because there are more things to be afraid of in the real world than on the movie screen or in the pages of a book? Sometimes I feel it's because I know too much. One of the drawbacks of our profession is that we can't live in denial about the bad stuff and bad people around us, which in turn has the ability to transform us into paranoid, overprotective parents.

I'm still struggling with whether or not this is a bad or good thing. Knowledge is power, after all.

When I was young, my bedroom was on the third floor of our home. I was convinced a ghost resided in my bedroom, although no hard evidence ever proved me right or wrong. Just walking up the steps at bedtime had me shaking in my Barbie nightgown and slippers. My nightmares were usually about haunted houses. Even as an adult, as much as I love Halloween, you'll never catch me in a haunted house--even a fake one.

I invite you all to take a step back in time to your childhood. What scared you as a child? What gave you nightmares? How did your parents alleviate (or contribute to, in some cases) your worst fears?


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

We started working on #2 right before 9-11 happened. I spent a lot of time wondering if I wanted to bring a child into the world it had just become.

You're not abnormal in your fears, Kristine. Just don't let them chain you.

btw, I overcame a fear at Cub Scout Camp -- Daddy Long Legs. It took a seven-year-old (not my kid) to get me there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susan. 9-11 was sort of a crossroads for me, too. But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that you can't let your fear dictate your life and prevent you from living it--or creating life, in our case.

Congratulations on overcoming your fear of Daddy Long Legs! If only I could overcome my fear of centipedes. Yuck!

Gina said...

I feared almost everything as a child -- ghosts, the dark, abandonment, heights, people -- but I think my biggest fear was anything involving corpses and/or blood. And yet I'd stay up every Saturday night to watch Chiller Theater. [For anybody not my age or not from the Pittsburgh area, in the pre-Saturday Night Live era Channel 11 would fill the Saturday night time slot with two back-to-back horror movies, ranging from the classics to the truly awful -- Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Tingler, The Blob, The Thing, The Beast With Five Fingers (an unattached hand that crept around on its own and strangled people), The Fog, The Haunting of Hill House, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Terror of Party Beach (possibly the stupidest movie ever made, but very scary), etc.] I guess I learned to deal with the fear by realizing that everything is pretty scary and we are absolutely vulnerable. When there's nowhere to hide, you have to tough it out.

Tory said...

I was scared of spiders as a kid. My mom had a deadly fear of worms. I remember her saying to me, "We're going to have to do something about your fear of spiders." I asked, "What about your fear of worms?"

I think the best thing a parent can do is be a good role model. You'll be great, Kristine!

Anonymous said...

Gina: You sure know your horror movies! The ones I remember most are the slasher films from the 80's--Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, etc.

Tory: Thanks for the vote of confidence! I think a lot of kids have a fear of creepy crawly things such as spiders.

Joyce said...

I must be really weird (no comments, people!). I've never really been afraid of anything. Most people run from noises or hide under the covers. I have to go and check them out. I'd be the first one to sign up to spend the night in a haunted house if I had the opportunity.

I remember my mother being afraid of just about everything, so maybe that has something to do with it. She was overprotective until I was about 16--by then she was too sick to worry much about what I was doing.

I've tried to keep a balance with my own kids. They are aware of what's going on, but they know it's best to face their fears rather than hide from them. I think they turned out okay.

Annette said...

Hey, Gina, back when I worked at Lowry's Western Shop, Chilly Billy Cardill came into the store once. You'd have thought he was a rock star instead of the host of Chiller Theatre.

And I admit to being scared of just about everything when I was a kid. I had a vivid imagination even then.

Lee Lofland said...

I'm afraid of Joyce...

Anonymous said...

LOL! Joyce, I think I'm afraid of you, too. (Just kidding, of course!) I'm jealous that you're not afraid of anything! What a woman.

I have to say that I'm much more afraid now as an adult than I used to be as a child. I liked being young and not knowing any better, I think.

Joyce said...

That's okay. The guys at work are afraid of me, too. One actually cringes when he has to tell me anything. I gave him "the look" once and he hasn't been the same since.

Nancy said...

Chilly Billy! I was on an airplane with him once, and it was bedlam.

As a kid, I was afraid of an Indian attack. (Yeah, waaaaaay too many John Wayne movies.) I could actually hear the drums as I fell asleep every night.---It was my heartbeat, echoing in my ears!

But raising kids not to be afraid---that's when you really overcome all your fears. You can't show them you've got hangups or you'll just transfer all your nightmares to them. Now *that's* hard!