Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fright and Writing


THIS MONTH WE ASKED INTRIGUE AUTHORS TO REMEMBER A FRIGHTENING MOMENT...and if they drew on that memory to use in their writing.

BAD NIGHTS, Sourcebooks Casablana, September 2013

I think all writers have vivid imaginations, which means there are a lot of things that terrify us.  When I was a kid, I lived in an apartment building where people got stuck in the elevator every month or so.  I wouldn't ride that elevator alone, so I'd run up and down five flights of stairs to our apartment---being chased by vampires all the way.  The vampires terrified me, but not as much as the elevator.  Or maybe I secretly knew the vampires were not real?

As an adult, I am scared of heights.  But I force myself to endure them.  I went up in a tandem glider plane, which I used as part of the suspense plot in BAD NIGHTS  And I forced myself to cross a suspension bridge in Vancouver, BC.   My heart was pounding, my mouth was dry, and I was shaking.  I use those reactions frequently in my books.
GHOST MEDICINE, Forge, November 2013
It was October, Indian summer and still hot at night, so the window right beside the bed was open about a foot. It was quiet in Shiprock back then, and you could hear the rumble of a passing semi on old 666, or the sound of machinery at the uranium mill, further east. And there were the crickets. They were friendly. It was when they stopped chirping that you had to worry.

I (David) was dozing off, in that middle ground where your mind drifts, when I heard a low but regular sound just outside my window. Someone was breathing out there - and it was getting louder. Needless to say, if someone is outside your window, close enough to hear them breathing....add to that the fact that you’re fourteen, alone at night in a dark room, and have been reading and watching and hearing all those scary stories.... I was frozen in place, too terrified to move. What if I turned around to look and it was that escaped maniac with the hook from those campfire know the one? The breathing continued. I was scared, but would it get worse if I turned around to look? Of course it would, you’ve seen the movies. They don’t attack until you make eye contact, right?

Well, finally I had to do something. I gathered up my courage, threw off the sheet, and rolled over to look out the window. Nobody was there. But the breathing continued. Inching closer, I thought...hey, he’s down there, waiting to pounce. But I had to know. I looked down. It was Buddy, our neighbor’s big boxer, sniffing the ground not ten feet from the wall. With his nasal situation, you could hear him breathing a mile away.

Now I’ve always wanted to try and package that fear, that edge of your seat experience that is so much stronger coming from your imagination instead of the movie or TV screen. It’s those emotions, with that edge of your seat excitement, that have helped us create our most exciting Harlequin Intrigue scenes.

WRITTEN IN THE STARS, September 2013
I loved to swim in the ocean. I remember one vacation to Greece I swam off the pier of a Corfu taverna at night with a group of other mostly young Americans. And then JAWS came out the same year. That first scene was so like the night we swam off the pier that I developed a shark phobia. 

I swear I refused to go back into the ocean for more than a decade. I didn't go back in until my late husband and I went on our first vacation to Mexico, where I learned to snorkel. While constantly looking over my shoulder to make certain there were no sharks, of course. 

As much as I loved snorkeling over the years, I never lost the fear. Which is quite evident in WRITTEN IN THE STARS. My heroine fears sharks, and as readers will attest, she has good reason during the big finish...

Fear comes in so many flavors…most of them bitter. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of imperfection (okay, yeah, that's really me!) I've woken up in the middle of the night desperate to call my family because of a dream, heart pounding, palms sweaty, and unable to go back to sleep. But when I think of a fear that causes a visceral response, it's actually heights. Not the height from an airplane. No, heights that scare me are the ones where I might actually survive, but if I fell…boy would it really hurt. 

Even if I'm perfectly safe, it doesn't change my reaction. For example, I truly hate glass elevators. My knees go numb, my heart starts galloping, my breathing gets short. I know the likelihood of me falling is slim, but even as I write this paragraph, my legs are shaking a bit. There is no real danger, and yet the possibility, the 'what-if,' evokes truly paralyzing fear in me. Is that why I write romantic suspense…to face my fears? Well, I will admit that in more than one book someone's dangled on the edge of a cliff…but of course, unless they're a villain, they don't usually fall.

It's October, the month of Halloween. Witches, goblins and the inevitable haunted house. Let me just say that I LOVE to be scared, but I've always laugh through slasher movies. Give me a good ghost experience and I've got the shivers. I'll mention this again…I love to be scared.

About five years ago, Tim & I had the opportunity to visit Universal Studios during October. Right. Halloween decorations. Nice visit except for the zombies. Don't ask me why, because I don't know the answer. But "Zombies" are always attracted to me. If I were in the middle of one of those zombie movies, they'd all be following me. Everywhere I went, there was a zombie following me. People would point, they'd take pictures, and I'd scream. Creepy "dead" people breathing down my neck and lurching over my 5'2" head… big time shiver!

I haven't written anything where the Zombie Apocalypse can be used. But I have used my slight fear of heights (or rather falling) in several books, especially .38 CALIBER COVER-UP & PROTECTING THEIR CHILD. I'm sure I will again.

YULETIDE PROTECTOR, Harlequin Intrigue, December 2013
What scares me? Well, one phobia I'm willing to admit to is my fear of swarms--especially in Mother Nature, swarms of anything kind of freak me out--especially when they're headed in my direction.  Swarms of bugs a tumble of snakes, circling sharks, etc.  I don't like to be stuck in big crowds of people, either.  "Stuck" or "trapped" is the key word there.  I'm fine in a packed baseball stadium, but a crowded elevator? No thanks.  I used swarms of carpenter ants in my book THE MARINE NEXT DOOR as a means of terrorizing my heroine shortly after I did battle with a swarm of ants who'd made a nest in an electrical socket in my house. 

When they hatched, they swarmed all over the socket plate and wall nearby, probably clinging to the heat. I try to protect the environment when I can, but that one involved lots of bug spray, shoe stomping (can't stand the crunching sound of an exoskeleton--makes me shiver!) and disassembly of the socket to get into the wall.  Shiny new socket and plate, and exterminator visit later, and the house is just fine. But I know my blood pressure went up, my muscles ached with being tensed, and my stress level was through the roof until I eradicated that swarm.  It was very easy to incorporate that same irrational terror and ick factor in both THE MARINE NEXT DOOR and again in my most recent book, TASK FORCE BRIDE.

MY SPY, October 2013
I'm not a fan of bats. At our previous house, we used to have them. Somehow, they always ended up in the bedroom. My husband would say, "Let's just turn off the light, open the window, and it'll fly out while we sleep." Because I can sleep while there's a bat circling over my head???? Men....

SPECIAL FORCES FATHER, Harlequin Intrigue, June, 2013

One of my greatest fears is of being closed up in a tight space. In Special Forces Father, June 2013, Kate's son is kidnapped and she is later taken by the kidnapper to force Travis, her long-time love and the child's father, to do the kidnapper's bidding. The boy is being held in a small FEMA trailer and that's where the kidnapper keeps Kate as well. 

The space is tiny and claustrophobic and when Travis finally comes to rescue them, they have to climb through a very small window. Kate and her little boy did great–but the author had clammy palms and a few near-panic attacks while writing those scenes. Have a great Halloween and may nothing scare you.  >>grin<<

COWBOY RESURRECTED, Harlequin Intrigue, October 2013
When I was six years old, my sister and I stayed up late one night to watch Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS. It terrified me and I still get chills when I walk by a tree full of crows. I have yet to use the imagine in one of my books, but now I'll have something to add to one of my future books to scare the knickers off someone else!

October is the month of my fourth installment of COVERT COWBOYS INC: COWBOY RESURRECTED. And it's a special treat because it has one of my backlist KILLER BODY included with it as a bonus! Don't miss your chance for two Texas stories that will keep you up reading to the very end.  ( Cowboy Resurrected )

HUNTED, Harlequin MIRA, January 2014
Having to take public transportation scares me.  At home, I drive everywhere, but here's what happens when I travel:

·      I got on a trolley where the driver actually turned around and walked away from the wheel while the trolley was moving toward train tracks – with a train heading our way!
·      I got on a bus that the driver let get so packed, I ended up riding on the stairs, pressed against the half-open door (my writing partner was literally sitting on the dashboard).
·      I got on a shuttle from the airport where the driving was so crazy the back doors flew open, and the people in the row ahead of me actually turned to check that I was still in the vehicle!  (This same driver proceeded to nearly hit someone in a crosswalk.)
·      I got in a taxi that refused to yield for an ambulance and actually drove faster as everyone else got out of the way and the ambulance was on its tail, sirens blaring.

Every single one of those experiences happened at writers’ conferences.  Do you think that’s a sign?

HUNTED is the first in the Profiler Series, available for pre-order now.

BLOOD ON COPPERHEAD TRAIL, Harlequin Intrigue, Feb 2014

When I was five years old, my father allowed my sister (age six) and me to ride a Ferris wheel at a roadside carnival.  

Crazy, right?  Crazier still, the Ferris wheel got stuck with my sister and me at the top of the wheel. I was petrified, but my sister, who clearly doesn't have a lick of sense, kept rocking the seat, waving at my mother and instilling in me a mortal fear of heights that persists to this day.  

So, of course, as a suspense author, when looking for things that scare my characters, I've drawn on that fear more than once.  Several of my books have included dangling from cliffs or bluffs or ledges.  

And I even had one book, my July 2013 Intrigue, THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN MIST, that featured a heroine whose fear of heights was nearly paralyzing. I stuck her in the attic of a burning house with no way out but down a rickety ladder.  Because, apparently, I'm an evil writer who likes to torture my characters as personal therapy.

UNDERCOVER TWIN, December 2013
My greatest fear is being attacked by a shark. Seeing JAWS at the tender age of 9 made me terrified of swimming in the ocean. And since I've lived most of my life within a few minutes of the Atlantic Ocean, this really changed my summer plans. Even now, I rarely go into the ocean past my ankles. 

Crazy, huh? 

But, who knows, maybe if I hadn't developed a fear of becoming shark bait I would have swam in the ocean much more and really would have become a shark snack. As for using that fear in a book, I've never explicitly thought about that fear, but I imagine having experienced fear at all comes into play when writing any scenes using that type of emotion. ( UNDERCOVER TWIN

PRIMAL INSTINCT, Harlequin Intrigue, April 2014
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – oh, and clowns. Fear, and clowns. That’s all we – . Wait, spiders. Fear, clowns, and spiders. Oh yeah, and snakes…

I have lots of little fears, and joking about those is pretty easy. But I also have an issue I tend to really struggle with: claustrophobia. I’m blessed that it is not so bad that I’ve needed therapy or struggle with it all the time. But it’s bad enough that I have to really get my conscious mind under control when I’m in an elevator or an airplane or the back seat of a minivan. And you’ll never see me with the covers pulled up over my head. 

I decided to make claustrophobia a struggle for my heroine in the first of my upcoming Omega Sector books (release dates TBD 2015). It was easy to draw on some of my own fears to make her panic realistic. Plus researching how to help her overcome claustrophobia is helping me do the same. Writer and director extraordinaire, Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) when asked why he writes, answered: “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters I am not. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of.”

I’m thrilled my writing gives me those same opportunities also.  And a chance to face my fears in an unorthodox way.  My debut Harlequin Intrigue novel PRIMAL INSTINCT will be released in April 2014. 

~ ~ ~


  1. I'm scared of crazy people, but I think that's just more common sense then anything else.

  2. There are some fun stories and some great pictures in here. Thanks for the illustrations, Angie. Of course, it always is fun to look for illustrations instead of writing, right?

    1. You got that right!
      Or do copy edits...
      Or do promo...

  3. Rebecca...I read your comment about the suspension bridge in Vancouver. The one I used here is actually from the day Tim & I visited. Pouring down and drizzling rain...the bright side is that there weren't too many visitors braving the weather.

    1. Good, bec the worst thing about the suspension bridge was there were a lot of people on it MAKING IT SHAKE.

  4. Robin's picture is actually from the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta during conference this year. Couldn't resist the dizzying effects of looking up between the glass elevators. (yep, another one of my snapshots)

  5. Geez, I'm afraid of heights, crazy people, mean people, snakes...the list goes on. :)
    Great post

  6. Being outside and having a bug fly in my hair....eeeeeekkk!!!!!

  7. Even though I listed acrophobia as my big fear, Angi's comment about tight spaces reminded me that when I dream of really scary stuff, it's always being stuck in a tight space. I have dreams sometimes that I'm in a cave trying to wriggle out of a tight space. Or I might dream I'm on the top bunk of a bunk bed and the ceiling is only inches from my face. Or I'm trying to swim through an underwater cave and the space keeps getting smaller and tighter...

    Geesh. I think I need a tranquilizer now.

  8. Laura AKA Loves 2 Read RomanceOctober 2, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    I don't like tight spaces or that trapped feeling either. I also don't like bugs, snakes & bats. I don't know if my aunt now has a fear of spiders but the one day she saw this weird hairy spider. She was going to take pic of it but decided to step on it instead. All of a sudden there were hundreds of little spiders everywhere. Apparently it was a mother spider caring her babies. Needless to say her shoes were covered by the end of it.

    I am not a big fan of scary movies or being scared. I think that's why I like the Intrigues there is some scare but not too scary. I also look forward to the movies on Disney Channel this time of year. They get you in the spirit without giving you nightmares

    1. I'm usually the spider killer in my house, Laura (hubby dispenses of snakes; I step on spiders)... but having a bunch of little spiders swarm all over my feet afterward would have totally freaked me out.

      I do love good tension and suspense, but not horror movies. There's a certain sound (something moist and slimy moving) that really bothers me in those. Now a campy monster movie from the 50's or on SyFy channel? Most of those are good fun for me. As long as they don't have that squishy, maybe blood, maybe a big snake moving, etc. sound. Eeuw!

    2. Oh Gosh... My skin is still crawling with the image of hundreds of baby spiders on my feet. ewe

      My hubby has three official jobs: Vomit, Light bulbs & Bugs.
      He's joked about that for years. I've added to his list...but those are the three he can remember.

  9. In addition to sharks, I am afraid of heights. Mostly things like getting on a ladder to change a lightbulb -- enough to make my stomach twirl. But on one of my early visits to Europe, my roommate, her sister & were eating in our car up at the Furcha Pass in Switzerland, and a guy banged on our car. He needed help getting someone wounded off the mountain after a climbing accident. Guess who went out on the mountain on a five foot ledge with at least a thousand foot drop... And yes, it made it to an early Intrigue, Death Spiral. :)

    1. WOW... Patricia.
      That's definitly story material.

  10. And of course, my knees shook every time I went up that elevator. What a great pic, Angi! HUGS!

    1. Thanks, Robin. That hotel is great for pictures.

      (and hugs on the elevator roommate is the same and stared at the doors every time)

  11. Loved reading everyone's posts. :-)

    1. I can't believe we live in the same town, and we talk more online than in person. LOL!

  12. Spiders, snakes, all sorts of creepy, crawly things.....

    1. I don't like them, but being on my own so much now...I've learned to deal with them. Still can't live with them in my hair though. That will get me to scream for sure.