Tuesday, October 26, 2021

What ScaresWriters--Tara Laskowski

DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's such a treat to have Tara Laskowski here on JRW today! Her debut suspense novel One Night Gone won nearly every award in the book, and this month she has a new book that is just as terrific. And I think her topic today is very appropriate in the week leading up to Halloween! (Not to mention that I think she and the other writers she's quoted here have been eavesdropping on my thoughts...)


Here's Tara!

 What Scares Writers?

I’m fascinated by fear and the things that scare us. Fear is a leveling ground. It’s universal. It affects all of us. But like humor, the things that scare us are very particular. Our experiences in life shape our fears—I would probably not be afraid of earthworms if I hadn’t seen that horror movie where they come out of the showerhead, for example. So how does what terrify us define us?

Two years ago, I started a Q&A series on my web site called “What Scares You?”, where I ask writers and readers questions about their fears. The series has been illuminating for many reasons—I learn about new fears I’d never heard of before (such as trypophobia!), I recognize that some of my own fears are shared by many others, and I feel like I know the interviewees better after I read their answers.

For example, in interviewing Hank Phillippi Ryan, I discovered that we share a fear of jinxing ourselves by saying or thinking anything too positive. I’ve worked very hard to stop myself from destroying my own happiness, and yet I’m always worried that if I act too excited about something, the universe is going to come back and bite me. Even now, if I get really great writing news, I sort of tip-toe over into a corner and whisper, “Yay!” with a tiny fist bump, hoping no bad karma monsters will hear it.

For many writers I’ve talked to, the writing process itself causes fears and doubts to roar their ugly heads. We are scared of nearly every part of the writing process—from the blank page to the finality of turning our words over to the world—and those fears don’t really vary much from newbie to veteran writers. We’re all a ball of mess, basically.

But don’t take it from me. Here are some writer fears that have cropped up in my Q&As. Do you recognize any of these fears in yourself?

“I fear that instead of growing and challenging myself, I get stuck writing the same book over and over and over again. Also, that my ignorance and unconscious biases could lead to me writing harmful material. However, with that latter one, I hope that when I mess up (because everybody does) I will have the grace to acknowledge it and accept responsibility, then put in the work to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

~Mia Manansala

“That nobody will want to read or publish my books anymore and my career will end.”

~Hannah Mary McKinnon

“The blank page. Because it’s a sign of unlimited possibility but also potential failure.”

~Alex Segura

“Every time I start a new story, I worry that my idea isn’t big enough, twisty enough.”

~Rachel Howzell Hall

“Every morning when I sit down to write I feel a little frisson of dread. I’m not sure why. I think it has to do with exposure—the sense that I’ll have to peel away the protective layer between my inner self and the world—and, worse, that there won’t be anything there when I do.”

~Carol Goodman

“There is always a moment about halfway into a first draft where I get scared that I’m not going to figure out the rest of it.”

~Michael Landweber

For me, one of the scariest writer-moments I had was having to toss aside an entire draft of the novel that later became The Mother Next Door and start over. It was horrifying to do it, even though my gut (and, well, my editor and agent) told me it was the right thing to do. Those were dark times, and even though it was tough, I did learn something from the painful process, and I know I grew as a writer.

Whatever scares us about writing, the most important thing is to try not to let those fears paralyze us. We may seem unique in our writer insecurities and our deepest, darkest, worries, but chances are other writers feel the same way. In fact, I’ve seen several writers on social media discussing their experiences throwing out entire novel drafts, and it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. This is one of the reasons why I like to ask writers these questions—to make us all realize that we aren’t alone.

In casting light on our fears, maybe it’ll make everything seem a little less scary.

 


 TARA LASKOWSKI’s debut suspense novel One Night Gone won the Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and the Anthony Award. Her second novel, The Mother Next Door, was published in October 2021. She also wrote two short story collections, Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons and Bystanders. She has won the Agatha Award and Thriller Award for her short fiction and hosts the “What Scares You?” column on her web site. A graduate of Susquehanna University and George Mason University, Tara grew up in Pennsylvania and lives in Virginia. 

 For fans of Lisa Jewell, Aimee Molloy, and Joshilyn Jackson, an upmarket suspense novel from a multi-award-winning author about a tightknit group of suburban mothers who invite a new neighborhood mom into their fold, and the fallout the night of the annual block party, when secrets from the past come back to haunt them…

 

“A polished and entertaining homage to Big Little Lies and Desperate Housewives… The denouement is bonkers, but satisfying.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A witty, wicked thriller packed with hidden agendas, juicy secrets, and pitch-perfect satire of the suburban dream.”

—Andrea Bartz, New York Times bestselling author of We Were Never Here

The annual block party is the pinnacle of the year on idyllic suburban cul de sac Ivy Woods Drive. An influential group of neighborhood moms—known as the Ivy Five—plan the event for months.

Except the Ivy Five have been four for a long time.

When a new mother moves to town, eager to fit in, the moms see it as an opportunity to make the group whole again. This year’s block party should be the best yet... until the women start receiving anonymous messages threatening to expose the quiet neighborhood’s dark past—and the lengths they’ve gone to hide it.

As secrets seep out and the threats intensify, the Ivy Five must sort the loyal from the disloyal, the good from the bad. They'll do anything to protect their families. But when a twisted plot is revealed, with dangerous consequences, their steady foundation begins to crumble, leaving only one certainty: after this year’s block party, Ivy Woods Drive will never be the same.

From award-winning author Tara Laskowski, The Mother Next Door is an atmospheric, campy novel of domestic suspense in which the strive for perfection ends in murder...

 

DEBS: I am shuddering at the thought of throwing out an entire draft of a novel!! Talk about a writer's nightmare!


READERS, tell us what you're afraid of!

 

P.S. Tara's WHAT SCARES YOU? interviews on her website are great! I am now addicted.

 

 

57 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Tara . . . it sounds amazing; I am definitely looking forward to reading it.

    What scares me? Not being good enough/doing well enough . . . REALLY messing up [because I tend to mess up regularly, but it’s usually salvageable] . . . . Spiders and mice and driving on busy streets . . . .

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    1. Thank you! And yeah, I'm not a fan of any of those things either...

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  2. WOW, throwing out an entire first draft of a novel sounds terrifying but am so glad it worked out in the end for you, TARA.

    What scares me? BIG spiders, in real life, on the screen or even a photo.

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    1. Yeah, when you can see them breathe, they are too big.

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  3. So many congratulations, Tara. Yes, throwing out a manuscript is a terrifying thought - but it certainly worked out well for you in the end! My copy of the new book is at my local indy bookstore waiting for me to pick it up, and I can't wait to read it.

    Beyond being afraid something horrible will happen to my sons, I think, honestly, I have a fear of not being liked. And of, as Mia put it, writing the same book over and over.

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  4. Tara, you better tell us more about throwing away an entire book because now we writers are terrified! Congrats on the new books...

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    1. Hahaha! It's a long and terrible story! I actually wrote about it if you really want to know more: https://taralaskowski.com/2021/04/ladies-and-gentleman-my-edits-are-done/

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    2. Oh, Tara, that's so hard! But I'm so glad you persevered. You have to let us know if the third book is easier!

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    3. YAY YOU! (and you should always count Murder She Wrote.)

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  5. Tara, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book. I'm the one who catches those pesky spiders and puts them out in the garden. I have a healthy respect for wildlife and carry my bear whistle when I hike, and try to stay in a group.

    I am terrified however, by the Supreme Court and the possible loss of rights we fought for so valiantly 60 years ago. I am terrified by others' ability to define me and things that I value.

    Oh, and I am absolutely terrified of missing my plane.

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    1. Right there with you on the Supremes, Judy!

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    2. Judy, meet you at the boarding gate,- we'll be the only people there for our flight long before they've even boarded the previous flight. And I relocate spiders as well. Also mice if I can catch them. Which reminds me, right about this time of year I usually get a mouse or two...

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    3. Oh, yes, I'll be at the gate way early, too!

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    4. Ha! I'm always at the airport three hours early! It annoys everyone else in my life.

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    5. I relocate spiders, and several years we have entertained a garden orb spider on our front porch for months. (They are big!) I know they freak some people out but I find them beautiful and fascinating to watch. No desire to pet a tarantula, however...

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    6. And I love being at the airport early. To me it feels like the "zone of no responsibilities." Your to-do list can't touch you. You only have to wait for your flight.

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  6. Congrats on your new book. What scares me are rats/mice

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  7. Congratulations, Tara. I ordered my copy yesterday.

    I'm right there with the "writing the same book over and over again" and "no one will want to publish me" fears.

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  8. I've got Tara's book right here atop my TBR pile! Can't wait to dig in...

    I'm afraid to say what scares me because I'm afraid that will make it happen. Instead I write about it happening to fictional characters. Not sure why that makes it less scary.

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    1. OMG, Hallie. Now I'm thinking of the little old lady whose house filled up with garbage. Eeek!

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    2. Hallie, is that the flip side of Tara and Hank not wanting to jinx something good?

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    3. Edith, I was going to say that it sounds like Hallie has some of my jinxing fear!

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    4. I have a little bit of jinxing fear, too. Maybe that's more common than we think.

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  9. Tara, your first book was so good, and I can't wait to read this new one. Apparently, it was birthed through fire!

    Two of my daughters have trypophobia! One has it in the extreme, and the third daughter may also have a little bit of it. I confess to feeling a bit of nausea myself when I see trigger photos.

    But my biggest fear is of heights. Even if I'm just looking a photo of a precipice I get that sickening drop in the pit of my stomach. I wish people would quit posting those pictures on Facebook!

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    1. Thank you, Karen! I find trypophobia so interesting! And I think I get it, but I never realized that it was scary until someone pointed it out to me. I'm not as scared of heights as I am of crawlspaces or small underground places. Shudder.

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    2. I had to look up trypophobia. So interesting!

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  10. Congratulations on your book release, Tara!

    I fear a number of things, none of which I want to put voice to here. Suffice it to say that I try to allay them by talking to myself and trying to be rational rather than emotional about them.

    As for the blank page, I always taught the students in my classroom to start out with "I want to tell you that..." -- and then let the writing flow from there. Obviously, the "six secret words" are eventually deleted, but they sure work powerfully for me when I'm stuck (anywhere on the page).

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    1. I love you six words, Amanda. Sometimes I'll start a blank page with "just write something!"

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    2. Oooh! Totally trying this! Thank you.

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  11. Welcome to JRW's Tara, I just read the blog about book # 2.0 revised. Such a good lesson in perseverance. I don't read many thrillers, yours is very tempting.

    Fears: oh my. I think I spent most of my life being afraid. Of failing, of dying alone and unloved, of 'them' finding out, and so on. I finally hit the old age stage where I tell me, I am still here dammit way cool. (until that teeny voice says..brain stroke.. you will know you are damaged and beyond repair.. bwa ha ha welcome to hell.

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  12. I am not afraid of rats or mice or snakes or spiders. I do, however, have a thing about roaches. Not the little brown ones, but the big, black, flying waterbugs we get in the south. If I open a drawer and come face to face with one, I will scream and jump a foot!

    But I have every writer's fear you listed, Tara. "I can't actually write. I'll never make this story work. Everyone will hate this book and my career will be over." Etc., etc. Of course the only cure for any of this is to just write.

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    1. I HATE THOSE BUGS. It's one reason I'm glad I don't live in the South.

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  13. Wondering if that fear that "Everyone will realize that I can't actually write..." thing is more common among women writers than men.

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    1. Interesting thought, Hallie. I wonder if Tara has a take on that from all her interviews.

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    2. I just interviewed a male writer the other day, a truly unique and hilarious person, and asked him what he did to handle his bad writing days. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind. SERIOUSLY.

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    3. That is interesting! Maybe someday I'll do a meta-analysis, whatever that is....Seriously, though, I'll pay attention to that in future interviews and see what patterns emerge.

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    4. Based on my reviews of male self pubs vs female I would say ... men tend to think this is golden..

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  14. Oh, I love this book! And I think the fear interviews are fascinating. SO revealing! I just interviewed to Col. Chris Hadfield (an astronaut! and so much more) who talked about the difference between fear and danger. SO fascinating!

    And okay, Debs, if a THING flies at you, that's simply aggressive and unacceptable. That's not fear, anyway, that's surprise. GAH.

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  15. Okay, I should not have clicked on the link to What Scares You before commenting, because an hour later I had to wrench myself away to come back here!
    THE MOTHER NEXT DOOR sounds like a perfect Hallowe'en read to me, because one of the things that unnerves me are those perfect, conforming suburban HOA cul-de-sac neighborhoods. My sister and I stayed at our parents house for a week in October while getting it ready to put up for sale. It's an "adult only" neighborhood of virtually identical townhouses, with very little deviation in landscaping allowed. Trash cans go out on Tuesday EVENING, not during the day. They're taken in Wednesday MORNING, not left til later. Garage doors are closed unless in use. No signs, flags or yard decorations.
    It creeped me the heck out, and of course the fact there was NO ONE in the neighborhood under the age of 55 just made it more sinister.

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    1. Those identical suburban neighborhoods always make me think of Camazotz in A Wrinkle in Time.

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    2. Aw! Thanks for reading those! That neighborhood sounds intensely creepy!

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  16. Snakes. I jump and snake dance away if I am within 6 feet of one. And nighttime in the city. When it's late and dark I don't feel safe outside if I'm alone, even in my own fenced yard. But that isn't the case everywhere we've lived. Just urban areas.

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    1. Snakes are jerks, the way they sneak up on you.

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  17. Tara, welcome to Jungle Reds and your novel sounds perfect for a Halloween read with spooky vibes.

    Reading the post reminded me of a story my Dad told me about his childhood. He had a pet taranatula (apider) and he brought the taratula to school. He said that because of the scary movies with spiders, his teacher and his classmates were afraid of the big spider. I cannot spell the word for taratula this morning.

    What scares me? I try not to think about it. LOL. However, I know which novels are scary. It also depends on the scary level. It can be scary without the graphic violence.

    Diana

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    1. Thank you! And I agree with you that sometimes things are scarier when they are more subtle (not outright violence.)

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  18. Congratulations on The Mother Next Door, Tara. I'm reading so many good comments about it. I love the creepiness factor of things appearing perfect but really being far from it.

    My greatest fear is the oldie but goodie fear of heights. I see pictures of people standing and looking over cliffs, and I can't imagine how anyone does that. Even the pictures of people getting on their stomach and crawling to the edge of a cliff or famous high spot to look over it make me queasy. On my senior trip in high school to NYC, we visited the Statue of Liberty. At that time, in the Dark Ages, visitors were allowed to go up to the crown. It was easy going at first, regular stairs, nothing disturbing, but then it changed to a rickety metal staircase, with spaces between the stairs (my fellow acrophobia sufferers know how disturbing the open air spaces between steps are). I slowly made it to the top, to the crown. However, I froze when facing the trip back down. I had to have one person in front of me and one behind me holding onto me and taking me down those stairs. Another terrifying part of my acrophobia is walking across a bridge over water. The only way I can do it is if there is a giant sidewalk where you don't have to be on the edge where you can look down and see the water below. I have been able to find two well-known bridges that fit the giant sidewalk criteria, the Rainbow Bridge joining Canada and the U.S. at Niagara Falls, and then there is the Memorial Bridge joining Arlington and D.C. across the Potomac River.

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    1. Kathy, Dash was showing me a video recently of the 10 scariest bridges. DON'T EVER WATCH THAT VIDEO! :-)

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    2. Kathy, how terrifying. But I guess you know why I've never gone up in the London Eye:-)

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  19. The Mother Next Door sounds delicious in a spooky, evil, way. Congratulations and much success!

    Like you and Hank, I suffer from the say it/jinx it fear. Sometimes ya just gotta hide from the universe and karma.

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  20. Hi, Congratulations , your book sounds and looks very intriguing ! Thank you for sharing this with us. What scares me is the unknown. Have a great day and stay safe. aliciabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

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