On eating roasted crickets and fearing winged monkeys: A chat with best-selling author Sarah McCoy

I can’t believe I’ve never met the amazing Sarah McCoy in person. And that’s because Sarah—Unknownbesides being the acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico and The Mapmaker’s Children, to be released on May 5, 2015—is one of those people who is so giving and vibrantly expressive that she may feel like a closer friend than people you see every day. She has always struck me as one of the boldest and most forthright writers I’ve had the privilege of editing, so I wanted to learn what (if anything) she was afraid of.
My Fearless Year (MFY): Name one thing you are afraid of. Do you tend to face this fear—or flee it?

Sarah: I asked my husband, who I call Doc B, what he would say I was afraid of. “Spontaneity,” he said, which garnered a wifely swat, a laugh, and an admission: He’s right. However, I’d probably say I’m most afraid of disappointing those around me or myself. I’m my own harshest critic, and I suppose that lends itself to my fear of spontaneity. I like calm order, knowing where all my juggling items are so I don’t drop any… so I don’t disappoint with an egg splat!
     In that regard, I guess I face my fear daily. I keep moving, releasing and catching responsibilities to the best of my ability. But at the same time, I dodge spontaneity as much as possible. Please, no monkey wrenches thrown into my juggling act, thank you very much. Of course, life being life, there’s always something. Maybe not a monkey wrench but a monkey. Crazy, winged monkeys.
mapmakersdaughter_thumbMFY: Is there a fear you’ve conquered in the past?
Sarah: I was frightfully shy as a child. Crowds and meeting new people used to make me shake with fear and anxiety. I’m an extreme introvert, which often surprises my readers. When I was 13, I remember thinking that if I didn’t buck up and engage people, I’d spend the rest of my days cowering. Seeing Mr. Fear as a character—a villain in my own personal story—enabled me to stand against it. I wasn’t going to let it win.
     I started my crusade on what most would consider the most ordinary of battlegrounds: my dentist’s office. My family had just moved to Virginia so everything was a terrifying unknown. My dad dropped me off at the office and instead of walking in sheepishly, I entered with the biggest smile I could nervously muster and said to the receptionist, “Hi, I’m Sarah McCoy, a new patient. I just moved to town. How are you?” That baby step was the first mighty strike.
MFY:  What book, movie, piece of music or other form of art has helped you get over or cope with a fear?
Sarah: Words have always had weighty power over me. Growing up, my mom kept a quote on our refrigerator door: Be strong and courageous and do the work… it’s part of a Bible verse from 1 Chronicles. Funny how a single statement can burn itself into your mind’s eye without you knowing it. It comes back to me often even now— the image of that piece of paper with one magnet holding it strong. A comfort. A battle cry. An encouragement when I’m afraid.
     Being a writer, stories of characters who conquered their fears have always been a source of great inspiration, too. Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables was one of my childhood favorites. I thought, if she could overcome so much—being an orphan, being mistreated, feeling lost, having a temper, wanting so much more but not knowing yet how to achieve it, etc.—I might be able to do similarly. She showed me that perseverance, faith, and hope were keys.
MFY: What common fear (fear of heights, etc.) doesn’t faze you at all?
Sarah: Ninety-nine percent of creepy bugs. I squash spiders with my thumb. Centipedes with my bare toes. Cockroaches with whatever shoe is handy. Bees and flying pests get the swatter. Ants and colonies of itsy-bitsies, the spray. I have no qualms about eating roasted crickets, toasted mealworms, and skewered scorpions. Oddly, there is only one bug in insect nation that terrifies me, and it’s nearly entirely benign: the praying mantis. Blame a naive, childhood viewing of the mantis mating ritual on the Nature Channel. I get full-body shivers just thinking of them.
MFY: Name one person, living or dead, who exemplifies fearlessness to you.
Sarah: Hm, I’m having a hard time with this question because every person I know has had major fears. They were never entirely fearless but made the choice to get up, stare down life’s monsters and say, I choose to be courageous. I choose peace over anxiety. I choose good over evil. I choose to own this fear and not let it own me. choose. We’re only human so if we aim for “fearlessness,” we’re doomed to disappointment (my aforementioned fear). Instead, I believe all of us have the capacity to take action—to be a little braver each day.