Friday, November 11, 2011

Scared to Death: The Authors' Viewpoint

by Sandra Parshall

Crime fiction authors put their characters through some horrifying ordeals for the reading pleasure of their fans. Have you ever wondered what scares the writers themselves – and whether they call on their own fears to ratchet up the tension in their stories?

We asked five outstanding writers which of their fictional scenarios sends shivers down their spines.

Tess Gerritsen, author of The Silent Girl, latest in the Rizzoli & Isles series:

“I tend to put my poor heroines through exactly the things that terrify me, whether it's being buried alive, or trapped in space or chased by serial killers. I would have to say that being buried alive is probably the worst of them, something that happened to one of my characters in Body Double. The pregnant woman in that book, Mattie Purvis, is kidnapped and held in a box underground until she goes into labor. She doesn’t know when -- or if -- the kidnapper will come back to get her. She doesn’t know if he's planning to kill her. All she knows is that she’s alone, in the dark, in a place where no one will ever find her. Eeek.”

Meg Gardiner, author of The Nightmare Thief, latest in the Jo Beckett series:

"The fictional scenario that most terrifies me takes place in my novel, China Lake. Heroine Evan Delaney is driving her six-year-old nephew to her brother's house when the cops stop her. Though she's the little boy's guardian, they arrest her for child abduction. They not only take him from her, but prepare to hand him over to his mother -- who has joined an apocalyptic religious sect. Desperate to get the boy back, she has lied and set Evan up for arrest. Handcuffed and locked in the back of a patrol car, Evan watches as the cops pass little Luke into the hands of violent lunatics. She has to find some way to stop it before her nephew is taken away forever.

"There's no secret why this idea terrifies me: I'm a mom. And if anybody tried to take one of my kids away, I hope I'd react with the do-or-die tenacity that Evan does."

Hallie Ephron, author of the new suspense novel, Come and Find Me:

“In Never Tell a Lie, I wrote about a woman, nine-months pregnant with her first child, and who has had multiple miscarriages. She's in danger of losing her unborn child. As I was writing, I followed advice I’d gotten: when you are writing extreme emotion, find a situation in your past that elicited that emotion and channel it into the writing. I revisited a truly terrifying moment (we were swimming) when I came this close to losing my baby girl. The detail of the situation wasn't the same at all, of course, but the emotion was.”

Simon Wood, author of Did Not Finish, first in the new Aidy Westlake series:

“Crash landing an aircraft that occurs in Accidents Waiting to Happen. It was based on something I had to do as a student pilot. I was involved in a near-miss in bad weather, and I had to set the plane down in a field, but I had time on my side to get my plane down. In the book, the plane is falling out of the sky and the pilot has to crash land. He has five minutes at best to find a safe spot to land and set the plane down before he runs out of elevation. The worst part of a scenario like this is that no one can help you and you can't pull over. You can only do your best. That's scary.”

Deborah Crombie, author of No Mark Upon Her, latest in the Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James series

“I have a fairly long line of dire deeds to pick from. Thinking about it, I seem to have been quite fond of the good old blunt instrument. But I have also drowned quite a few characters, and I think that terrifies me more than anything. Remember the scene in "The Abyss" where Ed Harris has to watch Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio let herself drown? Gave me nightmares for years. And Charlie in "Lost?"

“Maybe I should stay out of the water . . .”

Sandra Parshall is the award-winning author of the Rachel Goddard mystery series. Her latest book is Under the Dog Star, published this month by Poisoned Pen Press.


Morgan St. James said...

All of the comments are so "spot on." Tapping into our own fears or experiences make characters seem real because the emotions are real.I remember reading the scene in Accidents Happen with a pounding heart. As Hallie Ephron said, the experience might not be the same but the emotions are. It is akin to method acting for authors. MORGAN ST.JAMES

Sandra Parshall said...

The very thought of being buried alive horrifies me. When I was a young newspaper reporter (back at the dawn of recorded time), I had to cover the "story" -- as if it were news -- of a woman who was trying to set a record for being buried alive. I had to go out there and talk to her through a pipe sticking out of the ground. I thought she was certifiably insane. She had to be dug up early because she started getting muscle cramps and panicked. I was glad to get off that assignment.

Polly said...

My greatest fear? Going blind. I've written two books with blind lead characters, and it didn't do a thing to relieve me of the fear. Actually, it made me more frightened because I lived their lives while writing their stories.

Coco Ihle said...

Really interesting post idea, Sandra. I was curious what everyone would say. Their answers were right on.