The Things That Scare Me
I get asked about going to dark places in my books. Or about my childhood, and what exactly happened to make me the way I am. More than a handful of people have assured me they’d love to buy my books, but they can’t handle anything scary (to which I always reply, you can still buy the book). Hell, I’ve even had my own mother nervously inquire if something happened in my upbringing that she didn’t know about.
So, I get it. My books can have some scary elements. I write psychological thrillers with heaping doses of creep and paranoia. Sometimes brutal violence. I like plucking characters from their life and throwing all sorts of bleakness at them to see how they handle it. I enjoy watching the struggle. Is that perverse? I don’t think so. Because it’s when people are at their limit that they either crumble or thrive. I want my protagonists to thrive, but they’ve gotta earn it.
It’s also therapy for me. How? Because when I go back and look at my books and short stories, I find in them the things that scare me most. And in writing about my fears through my characters, maybe what I’m actually doing is confronting my own fears in a safe environment.
Judging from my assorted writings and in no particular order, these must be the things that scare me most:
- Losing my mind. This is a biggie. The theme of insanity—of what is real and what isn’t, of deep, gut-wrenching paranoia—is a thread through many of my books. No question a large part of this is having watched my father suffer through and succumb to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Your mind is what makes you you. It controls you. And you can’t run away from it. There is nothing in the world more trapping than one’s own mind.
- Something happening to my kids. Ugh. No question about this one. I’ve had some pretty terrible things happen to kids in my books but never a child of a protagonist. I don’t think I would want to explore that emotion on paper, powerful as it might be. There are some shadows I need to step around.
- Who knew? I had a fantastic knife collection as a kid—everything from delicate 19th-century blades to Bowie knives. Never really thought of knives as scary, but good God, do they make some gruesome appearances in my works! There’s something so personal and visceral about a blade. The responsibility associated with stabbing rather than shooting is scary. You’ve actually got to use your own force to make a piece of sharp metal effective as a weapon. Especially if you have to work through bone.
- Losing someone I love. This shares thematic elements with #1 and #2 above, but the idea of losing a loved one horrifies me. I’ve had more than one character lose people close to them, leaving them to fend for themselves. That gut-twisting sense of loss can’t be tossed aside. It will eat your mind until it’s full, leaving a lesser version of you in its wake.
- Finding out someone close to me is actually evil incarnate. OK, odds are better I’m that person to somebody else, but who isn’t scared at the idea of someone they love and trust actually living a secret, evil life? The idea of having everything you thought you knew about someone yanked away in seconds is terrifying. It speaks to the vulnerability in us lying just millimeters beneath the surface. But no, just to set the record straight, I’m no Dexter. He has much more lustrous hair.
- Something crawling in my mouth when I’m sleeping. I don’t think this needs any explanation.
- Baby-face masks. Masks are scary anyway. But baby-face masks with bulbous cheeks and squinting eyes? No, thank you.
- Losing my cat. OK, hear me out here. Yes, it’s a cat, but I’m responsible for this thing, just as we all are with our pets. What if it got out and a coyote ate it? Or smooshed by a car? And what if either of those things happened and my kids saw it? Man, game over.
- Being watched. Not that this weighs on me constantly, but it does come up often in my writing so I’m thinking I have a deeply rooted fear here. A character finding out he or she is being watched is a powerful way to showcase true fear and paranoia in your story, and with today’s technology there are more ways than ever for voyeurs to know just about anything they want about someone. Now that I think about it, just writing out my list of fears in a blog is providing strangers with intimate details about my psyche. Damn it. But the deadline for this is looming and I’m nearly done writing it. Oh, well.
USA Today bestselling author Carter Wilson explores the depths of psychological tension and paranoia in his dark, domestic thrillers. Carter is a two-time winner of both the Colorado Book Award and the International Book Award, and his novels have received critical acclaim, including multiple starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal.
His highly anticipated fifth novel, Mister Tender’s Girl, released February 13 by Sourcebooks Landmark.
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