What Scares You, Annette Lyon?

In reading through Annette Lyon’s answers to my interview questions, I was struck at how many of her fears are so specific to motherhood. I very much identified with a lot of them myself. There’s both the fear that many parents share–that something bad will happen to your child–but also more complex variations on that theme: I won’t survive to have kids or I won’t be able to get back to my children or see them again. All of these resonated with me on a core level.

Annette just published her first suspense novel, Just One More, which she says is the scariest thing she’s ever written. You can buy your copy here or wherever you most like to buy your books.

How do you deal with fear?

In the middle of a fearful situation, I stay outwardly calm and push through, almost detached from the situation. When it’s over, then I fall apart. One example: My freshman year of college, I attended an event with a speaker at an arena. This was way before 9/11, so security was basically nonexistent. A man rushed the platform and held the elderly speaker hostage, saying he had a bomb and would detonate it if the speaker didn’t read his manifesto. (The speaker refused.) A friend was totally freaking out, crying, screaming, and trying to run (toward the floor!). I stayed weirdly calm because I had to calm her down. Not until the situation was resolved and I was alone did I come unglued. The same pattern happens today, only even more so as a parent. I’ve done all kinds of things with outward calm that I’d have never done at all if it hadn’t been that one of my kids needed me to. And then I fall apart afterward. I doubt I’m unusual in that.

Is there anything you are terrified of eating?

Oranges. Weird, but there’s a good reason. I was about 12 and was home alone with my sister. She said something funny as I was taking a bite of an orange wedge, and when I laughed, it got sucked into my windpipe. I literally was choking—no air getting through at all. I tried pulling it out with my fingers, but my throat was clamped tight around it. I tried to Heimlich myself against a counter. No dice. My sister just stood there in shock. I remember thinking I was going to die in front of her. I prayed, saying I couldn’t die yet because I was supposed to grow up and be a mom. Then my throat muscles released, and I could pull out the orange wedge.

The orange was there long enough that it damaged my vocal cords. I had a scratchy voice for months and couldn’t sing even a little for a long time.

The fear of oranges has leaked into my kids. When they were little, I always made sure to cut up orange wedges, and when they got older, I regularly lectured them to take tiny bites.

It may sound bizarre, but I can’t attribute the fact that I’m alive after that to anything other than other-worldly intervention.

“I was taking a bite of an orange wedge, and when I laughed, it got sucked into my windpipe.”

Do you enjoy scaring other people?

In a controlled environment, yes, meaning it’s a situation when people expect to be surprised or scared and choose it. Like the time as a kid, I set up a “haunted house” in our basement and charged neighbor kids a nickel to go through it. I had a blast with that and happily freaked out a few kids on my street.

But I had plenty of jump-scare-type things as a kid when I felt trapped or thought I was about to be hurt, things that I still have a visceral reaction to. I’d never do that to someone else.

Writing a scary book, though? That’s under the first category. If it’s a suspense novel, the reader knows what they’re getting into. They’re in control, and they’re able to close it at any time. I’m quite happy to scare someone that way!

What scares you most about the writing process?

That I won’t be able to write a good book again, that I’ve drained the well, and that’s that. Writing isn’t like being a plumber or even a surgeon, where you have a specific job to do, and except for the rare complication, it’s basically the same job every time. There are only so many ways to clear a drain or perform bypass surgery. And if you do try to be creative, you might just ruin the system or kill a patient. But with writing, on some level, you’re faced with reinventing the wheel every time, or at least parts of it. I live in constant fear that I won’t be able to pull off my next idea. Not that I’ll run out of ideas, but that I’ll fail in executing them.

Annette hanging out with a Roman Aquaduct, unaware her passport was being stolen from her car.

What’s the scariest place you’ve ever been?

It wasn’t so much the location per se, but what happened around it: I visited the Holy Land with my husband and parents during what was a summer of unrest: fighting in Gaza, and later, shelling from Lebanon. I had four young kids, and I’d never left any of them for nearly two weeks and definitely not as little as three, the age of my youngest at the time. As we walked along some ruins of Roman aqueducts along the Mediterranean shore, our car was broken into, and my passport was stolen. That was terrifying: would I be able to get home to my kids? How soon? Walking past young soldiers all over Jerusalem who were carrying Uzis didn’t help ease my nerves! In my emergency replacement passport picture, I’m trying to smile through tears and red, swollen eyes.

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?

Just One More, for sure. I’ve written tense things, including a novella about a ghost haunting a building and a World War II-era novel that has quite a few scenes I think might qualify, especially ones from the point of view of a man going through a psychotic break as the result of PTSD. But Just One More as a whole is, I hope, scary on some level throughout!

Do you have a childhood memory of your parents or other trusted adults being truly terrified by something?

Whenever my little sister cried hard, she’d stop breathing and pass out. Every time, Mom swooped in, grabbed her little toddler body in her arms, and bounced her up and down, head down, head up, and back and forth begging her to breathe and wake up. The terror in her voice will always haunt me. Anytime my little sister got upset, I feared she’d just stop breathing and die.

What’s creepier: clowns or dolls?

Dolls, hands down. Some of it for me is the uncanny valley, but also the horrifying idea of something inanimate, something I should be able to control, taking over. Absolutely chilling. As a kid, I had lots of dolls and stuffed animals in my room, and the idea that they could hurt me was far scarier than the idea of a clown ever breaking into the house and then finding me.

That said, clowns can certainly be creepy. I’ve actively avoided reading or watching IT, which probably helps. Plus, I had an uncle who was a clown—his professional name was Bow Tie—and he absolutely wasn’t scary. So dolls it is!

Which evil, murderous persona most matches your personality and why: slow-walking psychotic serial killer; vampire stalking victims in the wee hours of the night; rich megalomaniac with grand plans to take over the world; centuries-old demon witch looking for revenge; or Hyde-like, fueled with rage and no impulse control?

The old witch looking for revenge, for sure. I’m fascinated by serial killers and megalomaniac types, and while I think I can write them, they don’t resemble me at all. Neither does white-hot rage that’s out of control. But I could totally be a witch hiding in the background, minding my business with my herb garden, quietly planning revenge until the time is right. After all, I’m somewhat of an introvert, I love nature and forests, and I have a strong sense of justice. Carrying out revenge in an alternate, fictional world where justice has been cheated? That seems up my alley.

Annette Lyon is a USA Today Bestselling author. She’s won a Whitney Award (2010) and is a nine-time recipient of Utah’s Best of State medal for fiction and short stories. She’s the author of more than a dozen novels, even more novellas, a cookbook, a grammar guide, and some 120+ articles. She’s worked as a professional editor for publishers and bestselling authors and graduated cum laude from BYU with a degree in English. JUST ONE MORE is her first suspense novel. She has four adult children, one grandchild so far, and a flame-tipped, geriatric cat with an attitude. She is represented by Jill Marsal at the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.