There is definitely something about that feeling of being somewhere new and far away, alone, and realizing that no one really knows where you are. In this interview with Lori Rader-Day, she starts off with that hint of fear, and it’s definitely one that I can relate to. I distinctly remember the moment, during my first week of studying abroad in England, when I was sitting on a bench on my new college campus with no one around and realizing that I could disappear right then and there and it would take a while for anyone to notice. It’s truly a chilling feeling.
Lori touches on a bunch of other fears here that I think many of us can relate to, and her fiction can be equally as chilling and introspective. It’s exciting to know we have a new LRD novel on the way–The Death of Us is releasing in October 2023, and it features a mother who will stop at nothing to protect her son when the discovery of a submerged car stirs up buried secrets and a small town’s vengeance. Pre-order your copy now.
And find out what else scares her…
What’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?
I’m just back from traveling to Alaska, where I suddenly realized how vulnerable you are traveling solo. No one knows precisely where you are…
The scariest place I’ve ever been, though, was on a group trip. I was on a trip with Ball State University, my twice-over alma mater and where I worked for nearly ten years, visiting Asia. While in South Korea, we got special permission and careful escort to go the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea—a tiny little place carved out and primarily used for talks between the two countries. It’s not a tourist spot. You had to dress a certain, respectful way and be careful of your actions while you were there, so that the photos that were absolutely being taken of you couldn’t be used as propaganda against America or South Korea. There was a building right down the middle of the border so that North Koreans stayed in their country and South Koreans stayed in theirs, even as they were meeting across a table. A microphone cord delineated one country from another. I asked if we could step over the cord. So technically I have been in North Korea—very briefly. I was glad to get back over that cord and then out of that place. It felt like a place where anything might happen.
What is your greatest fear?
My greatest fear is probably that my husband will make me a widow. I know, I know, we all gotta go sometime, and the alternative, that I will make him a widower, isn’t great either. But it’s mostly about the timing, that he might make me a—OK, I wanted to say YOUNG widow but that ship might have finally sailed. Anyway, they say you should write about what scares you, right? So I wrote my (Edgar Award-nominated, hi) novel Under a Dark Sky to explore those feelings. (It’s about a young widow who is afraid of the dark.) Writing that book didn’t exorcise the fear, but at least I can say I cleaned out the metaphorical closets a bit.
These days I’m afraid I or someone I love will be killed in a mass shooting. The odds just keep getting better. What do we do about this?
Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?
I used to be gut-sick scared of public speaking. Hated it. Got through high school speech by the skin of my teeth; changed my major in college to avoid another speech class. There’s some statistic out there about how most people would rather shave years off their life than speak in public, and that felt true to me.
On the occasion of my first public reading, I was making myself absolutely sick with dread, until I realized that getting the chance to read my work in public was part of the success I had dreamed of my entire life, that I was working so hard for. That realization didn’t cure me, but it gave me enough courage to get up on the stage that night. And then I just kept saying yes to opportunities until I didn’t get nervous anymore. Now? Give me a mic. I live for it. My high school speech teacher came to one of my events a few years ago and was astounded.
Now that it doesn’t scare me to speak in front of an audience, I’m more confident in my abilities and can make sure the audience has a good time, too. I think it would be difficult to be a publishing author without some comfort with public speaking.
How do you deal with fear?
My examples so far show you exactly how I tend to deal with fear. I face it. I hand it to a character and inspect it from all angles, or dig deep for why I’m in a position to face a fear. Now, we’re not talking about all my fears, here. Spiders? No, thank you. I’m not facing a big spider if I don’t have to, and so far in my life I haven’t found a reason to have to face a big spider. Are there places in the world I’d like to visit, except for their spider population? Yes. But there are plenty of places in the world I want to see, some of them not known for spiders. Or…caves. I can barely type the word caves. *shudder* That’s all I’ll say on the topic. I’m not facing that one. Shut up.
What scares you most about the writing process?
I love writing the beginning, and I love writing the ending, once I know what it is. I don’t usually know what it is until pretty late in the game. The middle scares me. The beginning is where you hook the reader, ask them questions. The ending is where you reward the reader, answer the questions you’ve asked. The middle is where I can get lost, but it’s also where I figure out what I’m writing and why. All the discoveries about character are made there, and then I revise the beginning in support of them. I love the process of discovery in writing, but it’s also daunting, every time.
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
I’m scared that I won’t get another idea, or that I won’t be able to pull off the next idea I have. Or that something will happen to me, health-wise, that will keep me from doing this, long-term. I’m almost two years out from a breast cancer diagnosis, done with treatment, but in the early days of chemotherapy, I wondered if I would ever write another book. It was a scary place to be, because I’ve always been a writer, from a very young age. Who would I be, if I couldn’t be a writer anymore?
On a more daily basis, what scares me is that I’m somehow letting down my readers. My personal goal is always to try something new each time out—to scare myself, just a little, I guess—but that I’m entertaining myself, not readers. Maybe I would sell more books if I were a different sort of writer. I guess I worry I’m not the right kind of writer.
What’s the scariest story you’ve ever read? Is there a particular scene that really haunts you still?
I remember the first time I read Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” It blew my mind. A piece of assigned “literature” about crime that pulled zero punches? The story was first published in 1953, so I expected… something else, I guess, but even 70 years later, I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone. That first time I finished it, I thought… “You can DO that?” Well, Flannery could.
Lori Rader-Day is the Edgar Award-nominated and Agatha, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of Death at Greenway, The Lucky One, Under a Dark Sky, and others. Her latest book, forthcoming October 2023, is The Death of Us (Harper Collins.) Lori lives in Chicago, where she co-chairs the Midwest Mystery Conference and teaches creative writing at Northwestern University.