On fearing centipedes, pandemics and people who clip their nails on the subway: A chat with acclaimed author Christopher Healy

Christopher Healy, Fearless Husband.
Christopher Healy, Fearless Husband.

From time to time, as frequent readers of This Fearless Year may have noticed, I like to chat or correspond with brilliant authors about their worst fears. (A little light conversation, you know.) Today’s Q+A was especially hard to pull off, as it required me leaning over the armrest of my chair and informing my husband, Christopher Healy, author of the acclaimed Hero’s Guide trilogy (The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle and The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw), that he was going to be contributing to my blog, or he would really have something to be scared about. Kidding! Though, really, he had no choice.

My Fearless Year: What are you afraid of? Name one big thing and one micro thing.
Christopher Healy:
Well, one big thing I’m afraid of is a micro thing: Germs. Bacteria. Viruses. The scariest book I’ve read in a long time was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (although it was also amazing). I can’t watch movies like Outbreak or Contagion or any kind of worldwide plaguey stuff. Those are so much more terrifying to me than, say, a zombie apocalypse thriller. Unless maybe the zombie-ism is caused by a virus. Then I guess it’s a toss-up.
On a less consequential level, I am also afraid of centipedes.

MFY: Who is the scariest person in the world and why?
Anyone who clips their nails on public transportation. Because if they’re willing to do that, they could literally do anything next.

MFY: Is there any piece of music, book, or work of art that makes you feel courageous?
CH: When our daughter was hospitalized with a rare neurological condition last year—which was easily the scariest overall time of my life—I used to feel strangely hopeful and emboldened every time the song “Pompeii” by Bastille came on. I say “strangely,” because it’s a song about the destruction and demise of an entire city and contains the repeated line, “How am I going to be an optimist about this?” But the way I interpret it—and I’m probably completely wrong on this—“Pompeii” is a fight song. It’s a guy who’s in an objectively awful and seemingly unwinnable situation, but who refuses to give in to it. He’s looking for a way to get through it. And when the chorus says, “If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you’ve been here before,” it reminds me that I’ve survived hard times in the past. This is just one more. Also, that “ay-oh, ay-oh” part in the song is really cool.

MFY: You have written a lot (humorously) about courage, and how people find it within themselves. Which of your characters’ quests for courage do you relate to the most?
In the Hero’s Guide series, Prince Frederic (Cinderella’s prince) starts off as a shut-in who’s afraid of basically everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s an evil witch or a dust bunny, Frederic is cowering either way.  I am, thankfully, not that neurotic. [Editor’s note: This is not 100% true. I have seen him flee from dust bunnies.] But the part of Frederic that I relate to is that he’s a guy who has always wanted an adventurous life. He knows he’s got a bold soul hiding somewhere inside him. But the fears, which have been pounded into him since childhood, are more powerful than his yearnings for excitement. Having to work hard to bust the brave guy out from where’s he’s imprisoned deep inside the shy, timid guy—I’ve been there.

MFY: Is there a fear you faced recently, and overcame it? If not, which fear would you like to confront?
I’d really love to overcome my fear of spontaneity.

MFY: Hallelujah! I mean…oh really?
CH: Yes, I know. I am fully capable of hearing a simple suggestion like, “Hey, let’s go grab some brunch,” and having the mental response of, “Now? Oh, no. I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I haven’t prepared!” My life would be much easier—and probably more fun—if I could get over some of that.

MFY: To that point, do you want to grab some dinner out tonight?
CH: Hmm. I’ll think about it.

Christopher Healy’s next book, The Worst Thing About Saving the World, will be released in 2016. Follow him at @ChristophrHealy.

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