Camp Fear

We’ve been writing about camp all year, so when nudged to write about our fears this month for the Scene 13 Blog, my brain went to Camp Fear and what a cool series that would be.

Summer camp is such a great setting for a scary book or film. Plenty of horror movie SleepawayCamppostervillains have already terrorized hapless campers, after all. The reason? The camps are usually in remote places and the campers purposely try to leave technology behind. There may be no phones or no cell service even if there are phones. Sometimes, there isn’t even any electrical power. And how spooky is that to be chased around the woods with nothing but a flashlight in hand.

Until you drop it…

Camp Fear is also a scary place because you’re usually with a bunch of equally summerscareclueless friends. You go to camp to goof around and cook s’mores. Only the truly hardcore types show up with survival equipment. When I camp, I’m more likely to have bug repellant and sunscreen then mace or pepper spray.

SD_Camp_Scare_coverCampers make for easy pickings, I guess.

But I think the main reason camp can feel scary is not because of knife-wielding maniacs or hockey-mask-wearing killers. Camp takes away our toys and the trappings of modern society. It puts us in touch with nature and the big, scary world beyond our safe experiences. That’s what makes it fun and exciting. That’s what inspires us to link arms with our best friend while we’re walking through the woods at night. Because, you know, what if a creepster hopped out of the trees like in every ghost story ever? Or a bear?

camppaybackcoverCamp Fear—and camp fears—are great reasons to have the summer camp experience. You learn to deal with those jitters and feel more self-reliant because of them. You learn practical ways to address the real fears and safety protocols to increase your personal confidence. Also? You learn to carry a stick when you head to the bathroom at night. And keep a steady grip on the flashlight!

***On another note, we are thrilled about our new Camp Payback cover! We’re running contests galore to celebrate. You can take a peek at them here:


The Superfluous Life … Greatest Fears …

I’m a scared-y-cat. The last scary movie I saw was THE SIXTH SENSE. (And some people tell me that that doesn’t count.) I have the uncanny ability of freaking myself out under the most normal of circumstances. I can’t even watch advertisements for The Walking Dead, Supernatural, The X-Files, Hannibal, American HOrror Story … you get the picture.  As for books. Sorry, Stephen King. You are a master. But your spines will never open under my roof. (Not since I was in high school almost 25 years ago!)


But that’s not my greatest fear. I’m going to go out on a limb here and expose myself BIG TIME.

My greatest fear is irrelevance. It’s scary to me to think that I might live a life that doesn’t matter. I don’t think “matter” means to have paparazzi and fame and my face plastered on magazines. A life of that means something is one that is purpose-driven. Whether it be with my books or through teaching or mothering … I sometimes feel like I’ve lost the focus and I feel like my life my slip into a realm of irrelevance. So, for the second scariest things to see, I’ve put TED talks on my list.

ImageThey frighten the bejeezus out of me as they are the most terrifying segments of film on the planet. People who are greater than great and though I have moments of inspiration, it doesn’t take long for me to feel incredibly … irrelevant and superfluous, like I’m just not doing enough. How can I compare to:

A woman who was stung by box jellyfish and managed to swim another 24 hours afterward before “giving up.”

Authors who find a bit of “Allah” in their words … a piece of God.

Analysts and philosophers who have bucked belief systems.

Models, scientists, rock stars, musicians … all with gifts and genius and lives that scream RELEVANT.

I know. It sounds a bit neurotic. And as much as I love those TED talks, I feel intimidated more than inspired because greater than great can be found in simplicity, too. In quiet splashes and moments of grace. My grandma lived a life of relevance that, under the scope of today’s lens with trending and hashtags and hits and the social media boom,  might seem small. But how can a woman who serves up coffee and treats for anybody who stopped by, worked a farm her whole life and SAVED it from being lost, and had more love and hugs in her than anyone be “irrelevant?” And how can I get to a place where I feel comfortable here … with what I’m doing … grounded and secure … knowing that my work matters?

So … there you have it. IRRELEVANCE. I’m terrified that my words will ring empty, my life will be a series of stumbles without focus and purpose. Simply terrified.

Okay. Somebody pass the coffee … I need a double dose today! (feeling incredibly vulnerable!)


Grave fears

This month we’re supposed to share our fears. So let me tell you about something that scares the heck out of me (outside of something horrible happening to my family and friends, and the movie The Exorcist).

Image from : 10 Horrifying Premature Burials

I have a cross between claustrophobia and taphephobia. Everyone knows about the fear of enclosed spaces. Many people are claustrophobic. But I’m also deathly afraid of losing the ability to breath, even to the extreme that I fear being buried alive—which is called taphephobia. I even panic when I watch movies where someone alive is put in a box or a coffin that gets put in the ground. *shudders* I can’t stand it! I also panic when someone pins me down (like if we’re just playing around) and I’m unable to move my arms and legs, especially if there’s some weight put on my chest. I literally feel the air being pressed out of my lungs, and the inability to refill them. I also don’t like when something is too tight around my neck. Is there a word for the fear of not being able to breathe? Asphyxiphobia?

I have a theory about why I have this fear. If there are such things as past lives, I think in my past life I either drowned, got buried alive, or was choked to death.



Destiny Is Calling

This past Monday, I did a live chat on Google Hangouts with my friend Alanna Schaffer to discuss one of the characters in Shattered Illusions, Danny Michaels. Danny was my favorite character to write, because he was the most difficult to create. Building Danny’s life took more energy and more emotion than the others, who I felt were, in some way, a part of me. Danny, the destructive, angry, juvenile delinquent was completely out of my comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone is good. We should all do it as often as possible. I took that chance with Danny, and it caused me to fall in love with him. He grew up the most of the four protagonists in the novel, and I was able tp appreciate his mind and his decisions by the time I reached the last page. But, what does this have to do with fear? A few things, but I’m not ready to tell you yet.

I asked my friends and fans on Facebook and Twitter to submit questions for Alanna and I to discuss during the chat. My favorite question was this: “If you were to write an epilogue ten years into the future, where would Danny be?” Ah, we’ve located the fear: Questions about the future are perhaps the scariest thing in the world (for me).   When people question my future, I choke up and feel ill. The same thing tends to happen when people ask me about my characters. Talking about things that I have no answer to scare me. A lot. I mean more than spiders, heights and the boogyman. Fear of the future is the fear that shapes my life, because there isn’t a day that goes by when I am not in constant worry of what will be, and how it will come to be. The fear of regret or fear of making the wrong decision come in close proximity. I wrote my fear of the future into Danny Michaels, the rebellious know it all. The guy who doesn’t seem to give a flying flip about the direction of his life or where the future will take him is in fact the most terrified of them all. The difference between Danny and I is that he does a better job of hiding just how scared he is.

The truth is that I did write an epilogue, but a year into the future, not ten. Where would he be? Back in his shell, a bit disillusioned with life, still angry, but not as hard on himself as he once was. In a nutshell, Danny would still be left to wander. Even though he would eventually find his ‘fit’ in the world, a year into the future wasn’t that time. It scared me to admit that during the webcast, because, freakishly enough, the unpublished epilogue mirrors my life, almost exactly. Danny finds himself washed up and undetermined based on the circumstances following the last chapter of Shattered Illusions (I’m not giving any spoilers). The big question on his mind is ‘now what?’ That’s a question I find myself asking a lot lately. Where am I going? What am I doing? Who am I going to be? NOW WHAT? At the end of the unpublished epilogue, Danny has a little bit of a silver lining. Though it may not be easy, he’ll find his place, he’ll figure things out, he’ll get his act together. He’ll be okay. And that’s what I have to keep telling myself as well: Things are going to be okay. You’re going to be okay. If something doesn’t work for you, that’s okay too, you can always try something else. There is no wrong or right way to go about life. So, yes, I have a deep, deep fear of the future. Yes, my knees buckle whenever people ask me about the book, or about school or work or my social or marital status…but, no one has the answers to these kinds of questions. Every person in the world has to figure out what the right place for them is. It’s okay to be afraid, as long as you don’t allow the fear to take over your life. So I tell Danny, so I tell myself.


(You can watch the video of the live chat here.

Come Play With Me

A few years ago, while starting my practice on the Western Slope of Colorado, I would travel to my hometown of Vernal, UT to work a few days a month. Nothing scary there. Nothing, that is, until I was forced to sleep in my sister, Britain’s, old room. Britain, like most children of the 80’s was a huge fan of the cabbage patch doll. So much so, that she had about 200 of them that lined the top third of the room in two rows. That’s right, 200 old, moldy, weirdly slumped cabbage patch dolls staring at me from every direction. And let’s face it; have you ever seen a cabbage patch doll that didn’t look like Phil Collins? Creepy. After a long drive and feeling very tired I called it a night and fell asleep without incident even though 200 mini Phil’s were watching me.

“Come play with me,” a high-pitched voice beckoned. I sat straight up, wondering where the heck the voice came from. I looked around, saw nothing, and decided it was just a dream. I laid back down, feeling slightly jittery and tried to go back to sleep. A few minutes passed and once again I heard, “Come play with me.” I jumped up and turned on the light, my heart was racing. My ears hadn’t deceived me, I was awake and knew I heard someone asking to come play with them. What this the start of a Chucky movie? “Come play with me.” I whipped around, realizing the sound was coming from behind me. That’s when I came to my senses and realized that one of the little Phil’s batteries were probably dying and just needed to be removed. I found the offending doll, ripped out the batteries, and for good measure drop the doll unnecessarily hard on the floor. Just to be sure.

A few months later I was staying at my parents house again, and this time they were out of town. I was showering and heard a knock at the door. Not a regular knock, a loud, angry knock. It startled me, I had shampoo in my hair and was soaking wet. I turned off the shower and grabbed a towel. I looked opened the door, looked out, and no one was there. Irritated and cold, I got back in the shower. A few moments later I heard it again, but this time it sounded even louder and more urgent. I was more than annoyed so I stomped out of the shower, butt-naked, stalked to the front door and opened it. Nothing. No one was there.

So, yeah, I’m afraid of my childhood home. Maybe it’s the dolls, or something else. Either way, I don’t want to find out.

And no, Phil Collins, I don’t want to play.

Actual photo from Britain’s room

Acceptance makes us Fearless


Sorry for the late post.

What can I say that hasn’t been said? Hmm. I have personal phobias like most people.

1. Large hairy spiders. Small ones don’t bother me. In fact, I’m the designated spider killer in my house.

2. Anything that crawls: Worms and caterpillars.sssss

3. Slimy things: Slugs, sea creatures. Three of my kids are certified scuba divers because they attend San Diego Sea Camp every year and all they do is live on a boat, diving and studying marine biology. I can’t even wade in shallow waters with sea weeds without cringing.


4. Death. I’ve lost my parents (Mom at 13), two older brothers, one half-sister and a nephew. The worst thing a parent can go through is bury a child.

On a different note, we should never let our fears stop us from doing things. Fears should be a compass we use when deciding our next action. Denying our fears only make them stronger. Ignoring our fears doesn’t make us fearless, we give them power over us and they cripple us. Acknowledging and facing them allows us to live with it without giving them power. This is what makes us fearless.

Last, as a parent, the worst thing I can do is let my fears cripple those under my care, so I’m fearlessly forging on ahead by making my fears my *itches. Own your fears.

Fear of Death (not my own) and how evil writers exploit…themselves

HPIM6311Fear is a particularly poignant topic for me, because I recently had a really intense session with the fear of death.  It was after 10 p.m.—and my much beloved little dog Ginger had been fine all day—when she jumped down from her couch bed, staggered toward the hallway and vomited violently.  She was very weak and groggy, so I called for my mom to come stay with her while I went down to tell my niece that we were heading for the emergency vet’s office.  By the time I got back upstairs Ginger was unconscious.  I remember patting her frantically, calling her name and getting no response, and the sick trembling terror that she’d never wake up…

The next morning, after the abdominal ultrasound, the vet diagnosed acute pancreatitis with an unknown amount of liver damage.  She told us as kindly as possible that Ginger’s chances were “low,” we were looking at thousands of dollars to try to save her, and that not to try was a perfectly legitimate choice.  I steeled my nerves and asked her to put a number on “low,” and was told that Ginger’s odds of survival were somewhere between 20 and 30%.

We talked it over, but Ginger wasn’t in pain and if she did survive her quality of life would be normal.  And the idea of losing that tiny scrap of warmth and joy from our lives was utterly intolerable, so we decided to try.

I spent the next three days drenched in fear, but the worst moment came very early on the second morning Ginger was in intensive care.  I dreamed that I was walking down the hall and Ginger was sitting there, wagging her tail and looking up at me.  My sister-in-law said something about loving dogs, “even if they’re only amusing.”  I put my hands on my hips and told Ginger, “She thinks you’re just amusing.”  Ginger jumped up and put her paws on my knee, the way she does.  I reached down and boosted her up, and she wiggled up and lay against my chest as if she were giving me a hug.  Her abdomen felt kind of odd, slooshy and squishy, but that didn’t matter, because I could feel her sending me the most amazing wave of pure love.  It was incredibly warm and sweet and joyous, and I loved her back with all my heart…and woke up, heart pounding, convinced that she had just died and come to me to say goodbye.

I lasted 20 minutes, crying madly, before I gave up on telling myself not to be silly and called the vet to beg someone to go back and check that she was still breathing.  The desk clerk very kindly sent someone, and yes, Ginger was sound asleep and still hanging on.

We’re 9 days past that morning as I write this, and though she looses energy too quickly, and sleeps a bit more than usual, Ginger is not only alive, she’s been home for 6 days now.  And even more miraculous, although she’s feeling a bit insecure, she’s the same bright, active, loving little dog she’s always been.  She may spend the rest of her life on special diet that supports her liver—we won’t know that for a while—but she’s come back to us and she’s going to be fine.

And my fear is finally beginning to fade.  I’ve almost stopped waking her up when she drops off to sleep, to be sure she’s still alert.  I’ve begun to stop thinking that she’s choking when she sneezes, or that her digestion’s shutting down if she burps.  (And forget the panic my mom went into when her eyes rolled up so you could only see the whites—she was probably looking at a bug on the ceiling.)  But Ginger is fine.  And I’m almost beginning to believe that with my heart instead of my head.

However, that brings me to the place where Hilari-the-writer kicks in—and writers can be amazingly ruthless about their own emotions.  Not in terms of not feeling them, but in terms of using them.  Of making objective notes about them, if not in the midst of the emergency, at least very soon afterward.  I really don’t recommend this experience to anyone…but I’m going to remember the way that intense fear lingers after the emergency is past, making you twitch at the smallest dog burp, irrationally terrified that your happiness will be suddenly snatched away.  Like an ache in a broken arm, even after the bone has knit.  (Line clearly destined to show up in a book someday.)  And in the last book of my Knight & Rogue series, which I’m planning to start pre-writing soon, the bounty hunter that the bad guys send after Michael is going to have a dream where his murdered sister came to him—and that loving dream, and the grief it left behind, will be a large part of why he’s dedicated his life to tracking down unredeemed men and killing them.

I don’t think we writers are actually cold, calculating monsters…but when you’re a writer everything in life eventually turns into grist for your stories.  Even things as deeply important as the near death of your dog.

Hilari Writes SF and fantasy for kids and teens—and you’ll be glad to know that Ginger is doing just fine.