Carol: Being paranoid takes extra time, don’t cha know.

Once, my good friend Chris Crowe (Mississippi Trial, 1955 and Getting Away with Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case both from Dial Books for Young Readers), interviewed me for something or other. No, I can’t remember what (see further in the blog to understand why I cannot remember). In fact, I know it had something to do with books, but that’s all. Anyway, somehow, during the interview, we started talking about all the awful ways I don’t want to die. I had a pretty long list for Dr. Crowe.  Later, he sent me a copy of the article. Being the pal he is, he let me know that the very long paragraph of the ways I didn’t want to die had been shorten by something like 35 inches.

“Hmmm,” I had said, feeling a little embarrassed.

I am no longer embarrassed by my paranoias. I’d like to say we get along swimmingly, but that would mean that I had written an ‘ly’ word and it would also be a lie.
I hate my paranoid feelings. I hate worrying over everything little thing. I hate that every time I write about something, I’m worried I might get it, or it might happen to me or to someone I love (which would be far worse [maybe] than the awful thing happening to moi.) or that I’d see it happen, feel something might happen, worry that something did happen and etc. Being paranoid takes extra time, don’t cha know.

When I was writing an early chapter book about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, I experienced several earthquakes right there in Mapleton, UT (where we lived at the time). At least I thought they were earthquakes. It felt like there were some. Something shook. Or jiggled. And there was that day I went to speak to a room full of librarians and teachers on the top floor of a pretty tall building in Salt Lake City.  I warned the listeners about the possible tremors following me from place to place. Believe it or not, not one person believed me/and or panicked (as I would have if I had heard me say those things).

When I was writing If I Forget, You Remember I developed Alzheimer’s. This was off-and-on Alzheimer’s. I still have it, some days much worse than others. (See above lack of memory in the first paragraph.)

When I was writing The Chosen One I worried that I might have to marry several super good-looking younger-than-me men. Wow, I was stressed! Then I was worried I might have to do something fancy with my hair. And the fact is, I can’t ever find the brush, so I was going to be in trouble any way you looked at it.

Okay, both those things are lies (not the lost brush, though). I didn’t worry . .  that much. But I did wonder why in the world I hadn’t made Prophet Childs a *Vampire Prophet.  What was I thinking? Or not thinking? I mean, figuratively he was sucking the life blood out of The Chosen Ones. Why didn’t I make it literally, too? Why didn’t I make it blood blood?


Anyway. Paranoid writers aren’t always the best friends to have hanging around bugging you. Just ask Cheri Earl (Psst. . . Secret Instructions Every Girls Should Know pubbed by American Girl, co-author Rick Walton of last week’s guest blogging fame). Cheri will be guest blogging here, too.

Here is a (sort of) Made Up Scene that Could Have Happened (or maybe it has):

Me: (wearing the sweatshirt I said I would wear all winter 2009 and all the way to spring 2010–bought from garage sale, five sizes too big, paid tops in price at 25 cents) Look Cheri, I’m not so sure I can make it to the office to write today.
Cheri: Why not, Carol?
Me: My roaming tumor is roaming.
Me: And I have this terrible itch behind my eyeballs. I think it means something.
Cheri: (whisper) Oh, it means something.
Me: And I can’t walk out here like this. My foot, my fears, my fame. It’s . . .well, it’s too much.
Cheri: Carol, gotta go. My cat’s calling me.
Me: Wait, don’t hang up yet. Let me tell you how I know it’s a roaming tumor.
Cheri: No, let me tell you. The pain is moving from a spot behind your left cheek bone to a place in your shin.
Me: Well, yes.
Cheri: And you can feel it in the palm of your right hand.
Me: (pausing to wipe away tears—not laughter tears, mind you) Your cat’s calling. Go to Kitty, Cheri. I’ll care for my tumor on my own.

No matter what THEY say, however, feeling sad, scared, frightened, worried, afraid, bothered, giggly, emotional, tender and etc can help as a writer. No, I mean it. If you can put emotion on the page (toned down, yes–if your emotions are anything like mine), then you can touch your reader. And if you feel compassion for others (because you understand what most people feel—because you have felt it all because of your paranoid feelings), well, that means you can write about it. Emotion on the page is a connection to the reader. “You know how I feel” is a great compliment to get from a young adult  who’s read your book. So is “I want to make people feel the way I felt reading your novel.”

So get in touch with your feelings. Borrow them from others. Put them on the page and let your book come alive.

Now, if one of you has a minute, I have this fear I gotta talk about.

* Vampire Prophet is a character for a future novel. I call dibs on the idea.


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10 responses to “Carol: Being paranoid takes extra time, don’t cha know.

  1. Thanks Carol. Compassion is key. If somebody punches your character in the gut you want your readers to feel like they got the wind knocked out of them. And, Vampire Prophet will rock!

  2. If being messed up helps with writing, I’m going to be a billionaire. Just kiddin. Sort of. I completely agree Miss Carol.

    And p.s. your brush may be in the couch. That’s where we keep all of ours. Or the sandbox. They make great rakes.

    ACDC, in your honor, I put marshmallows in the microwave for my 4 year old today. The best is putting them immediately in the freezer so they are crunchy.

  3. Jandy Nelson

    Ouuuuuuu, I loved this! From one paranoid maniac to another! You’re the best. This had me laughing so hard. xoxo, Jandy

  4. Vicki

    Carol, I could see you talking on the phone, in your sweatshirt, with a long scarf loosely wrapped around your neck and dangling down. A box of tissues was close at hand somewhere near that stack of books–some read, some not–on the side table. Did I see reading glasses sliding down your nose through it all? I loved it and enjoyed a few giggles of my own.

  5. Carol,

    If you don’t write Vampire Prophet, can I have him?

    I’m at least as freaked out as you, so my version should be intense.

    I’ve heard of at least one person who likes to keep his relationships on the rocks because being unhappy makes his writing better, though some of us are neurotic enough for ulcer-causing emotion without trying quite that hard.

    Still, makes you wonder if the key to good writing is insanity, or at least an anxiety disorder.

  6. Amy

    Hahaha Elena. I totally agree. I think about all the stuff going on in my head and *try* to convince myself that everybody else is like that too…you know the anxiety and emotion does fuel good wiritng.

    Then again I think a good dose of crazy makes for some pretty fine writing too…You know I think of Ernest Hemmingway rotting away in a mountain cottage writing angry things…then I think of Edgar Allen Poe…’nuff said…and Stephen King…nobody wants to live in that man’s mind…

    Then I think, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself and sift out the most rational ones for paper. Here’s my favorite quote…

    “Paper does not blush.”

    – Italian proverb

  7. This was a great read Carol! I love getting into your mind a little more. You and Cheri are hilarious together! I loved your class at the BYU conference this summer.

    I think all writer’s are a little bit neurotic in one way or another. We have to be in order to be able to imagine ourselves in different worlds, even if that world is just a contemporary High School.

  8. I read this blog. I know I did. I may have read it several times. I can’t remember. All the subject changes mingled with those pesky, drifting snowflakes left me staring at the negative space left behind by passing snowflakes. But I shouldn’t blame you for my ADDled mind.

    Ooh, look! The snowflakes have changed direction!

    I tuned in on Vampire Prophet, however. Man! Why didn’t you do that? Then your main character could have pined for bare-chested polygamist vampires, some of whom were secretly very nice if only they met the right girl or girls, and she could have ridden off into the sunset, or visited Vegas, in her passive, but beef filled, lifestyle. I’m sure the critics would have loved that version just as much.

  9. roy

    hahaha i feel ya! i got the same thing going on, but you got the light stuff! you have to upgrade the fears to get the good words out. good entry, made me feel confident in my manic ways hahaha


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