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.

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.