-by Laura Bickle, a.k.a. Alayna Williams
I traded with the lovely Jeffe today. She'll be regaling you with tales of fears on Monday.
But I'll talk about my own today. I've said it before, but I think that writers have a responsibility to challenge both readers and our own fears. What scares us? Why? I feel as if I'm doing my own best work when I dig deep into what scares me. If a story wakes me up breathless in the middle of the night, if it makes me cry, if it gives me nightmares - I've hit a nerve. Something dark that needs to be dragged into light and examined. And, yes, researched. I want to know why I'm fearful, beyond the initial emotional reaction.
This piece first ran in February on Stella's wonderful Ex Libris blog. It ran the week that ROGUE ORACLE was released, two weeks before the Japan Tohuku earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear crisis. Like so many other people around the world, I watched. Wondered. Waited.
And yes, I was afraid.
Mining Old Fears in Fiction
by Alayna Williams
Every once in awhile, I think it's good to go rooting around in the dirt of my fears for story fodder. We all have things that scare us and tend to linger. Maybe it's a childhood terror, a phobia, a bit of something inexplicable that boils up once in blue moon in a recurring dream. Every so often, I take my shovel to the forgotten stuff in the back of my brain and see what I can unearth.
But something about the story captivated and frightened me. Partially, I think it was because I grew up in a very industrial area, in the shadow of many chemical plants. Everyone's father had, at one time or another, returned home in the middle of the night in a plastic moon suit, scrubbed red, without the boots, wallet, and lunchbox he'd left with. It was scary. We couldn't see or smell or taste anything different when we threw our arms around our dads. But our mothers worried about the invisible. About cancer.
I remember seeing some pictures of Chernobyl on the news, of an industrial plant not quite so different than those plants that surrounded us. And seeing fire. And the rumors about plumes of poison moving over Europe, unstoppably.
It made me shudder. My mother turned off the television when we were in the room.
It did give me nightmares. And I think many of the other kids.
But, like most other things in childhood, the memory of that fear faded. We grew up, didn't think about the half-life of cesium or whether potatoes could be cultivated in earth a half a world away. We forgot, went to work in the same plants our fathers did, whether for a summer or years after.
I forgot, too. The vicarious memory of it was buried somewhere in my subconscious, and I had no cause to go anywhere near it. It was not part of my everyday life. I went to work every day and preoccupied myself with more proximate fears, like crime and work, and bills and the well being of the stray cat on my doorstep.
But I think a bit of that fear remained to dig around in. I was working on the ORACLE series, and using Tarot cards as story prompts. I was developing the idea for ROGUE ORACLE, plucking cards at random. I kept picking the Tower over and over...the Tower depicts a tall, dark structure against the night sky. Lightning strikes it and destroys it, sending two figures falling to earth. The symbolism of the card is about the end of things - a paradigm shift, the destruction of all that came before.
I saw pictures of beautiful land that had been overtaken by nature, by wolves and grass. Photos of rusted cars and helicopters. Articles about the children in hospitals affected by rare cancers, years and years beyond the event. Birds making nests in open seams in the Sarcophagus, the containment structure over the reactor. That, in my mind, was the Tower. In my bystander's head, it became a deeply powerful supernatural entity - something that had the power to reach through time and continue to affect generations of people.
And, because it scared me, I had to write about it.
First two images: U.S. EPA archives. Third image: "Feel Chernobyl" by metzgorein