I’ve been reading Octavia Butler’s novel, Kindred, which is about “a modern black woman, who is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband, when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South.” From the opening page, this book is just as searing as you’d think it would be, and as I’ve been reading it, I’ve been thinking that if I had an idea for a book like this, it would terrify me and I’m not sure I could go there. So my question is two-fold. Have you ever been scared by something you wrote? Or, alternatively, what books have you read that you thought took courage to write?
Keenan: I think I suffer from adrenal fatigue. Or denial. I don’t get scared anymore. I get bored.
However, to address the brave book, I’d say it’s “The Liar’s Daughter” by Claire Allan. Here’s my Goodreads review:
Meet Heidi, the long-suffering dutiful step-daughter, Ciara, the long-suffering spiteful biological daughter, and Joe McKee, the man who molded both their lives and knows he does not deserve forgiveness for his sins. Joe is dying of cancer. Heidi is caring for him, despite her feelings towards him because it is her duty. Upon his request, she calls Ciara to the bedside and Ciara joins in the caretaking. Joe’s sister joins the vigil. Heidi’s husband, Alex, is in and out of the house. And then, one night, when the five are gathered, Joe dies – not of natural causes, according to the authorities.
Claire Allan takes the classic country house plot and makes it fresh again with her deep exploration of character. It’s an intense read and one I couldn’t turn away from.
The narration is amongst the best I’ve ever heard.
Dark and Murky Waters
Emilya: I’ve definitely upset myself by things I’ve written. There’s been chapters and short stories that made for very bad nights while I was in the headspace to write them. There are topics I will not go near because I don’t think I can handle the outside attention they will draw, and I believe that’s what the question is asking. So, the answer is I’m a chicken.
However, I did dip my toe into the very dark and murky waters of what makes family members hurt each other physically and in the end the story did not go far enough. This is not to say it wasn’t violent enough, because this kind of thing is not about violence but about something much deeper. I couldn’t go there. Once I do, it will be a good story, but, you know, too many demons.
As for bravest books I’ve read, I’d say Dave Eggers might have been the first author to make me realize that you needed to open your veins and bleed in order to write something truly affecting. I haven’t reached that level yet.
Michele: I have never been scared by anything that I wrote. I will not read horror fantasy, supernatural fiction, or anything that might affect my sleep because I’m already an insomniac.
True crime normally doesn’t scare me, with the exception of Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. The detailed account of the Manson Murders terrified me, but I couldn’t stop reading the book. I was truly horrified that human beings could be so barbarous and indifferent to victims.
When I was thinking about Susan’s question, I remembered the quote from Robert Frost. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I wonder if no fear in the writer might translate into no fear in the reader. I hope not. I think there may be a difference between creating fear and causing apprehension in readers.
Alexia: I haven’t been scared by anything I’ve written. I have stopped writing some things because I became so angry I shifted from story-telling into ranting. Books I think it took courage to write: The Souls of Black Folks, by W.E.B. DuBois, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. Poems I think it took courage to write: “We Wear the Mask,” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou, “The Hill We Climb,” by Amanda Gorman, and too many to list by Langston Hughes.
Connie: Susan, an interesting question—one I’ve never contemplated. Two thoughts occur to me right away:
- My first thought is that writing fiction can’t be as scary as writing non-fiction. In fiction, even though we put a lot of ourselves into the story, we hide behind the curtain. The story is about other people in another place and another time. In non-fiction, especially memoir, the life of the author is on full display. That takes courage.
- But my second thought was that writing about certain subjects, even in fiction, might be terrifying—especially if your viewpoint isn’t one that most people will approve or agree with. Taking a stand on principle when you know you’re a lone voice is a brave thing to do.
One of the reasons I avoid scary, emotionally intense books and movies is because as I’m reading or watching, I actually enter that world for a while. I’m not sure I could write something emotional intense or terrifying. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend my time there for a year of writing.
I’ll have to check out that book.
Tracee: I haven’t written anything that frightened me, in the sense of hide-in-the-dark scared, but I have written about emotions or feelings that were frightening. Things that happen that can’t be undone, or unexperienced. I suppose that even love can have that impact, so it’s nothing to be afraid of, perhaps.
You mentioned Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which I have recommended to dozens of people over the years. I must go back and reread. It is full of fear of every sort.