Before our family moved to Havasu in 1968, we spent summer vacations at the beach. It was either Newport or San Clemente. Each day there, I rode the waves on my canvas surf rider. The thought of sharks never entered my mind as I swam out to meet the waves. But then, when I was in college, I did something foolish. I read Jaws.
Jaws forever altered my relationship with the sea. Ocean waves became a scary, unsafe place. I suspect I’m not the only person changed by Jaws.
But, it isn’t just about sharks. Writers have been instilling fears—sometimes irrational, sometimes rational—into its readers—or movie goers. I imagine the fear of clowns came from creepy clown cinema. There are probably some people out there who cower behind a shower curtain, and no doubt the need for a child (or even adult) to check under the bed before going to sleep was probably inspired by some horror movie.
I’ve an active imagination, and I am fairly confident that if I wanted to—I could write terrifying books of horror. But, when I consider doing that, I ask myself, do I really want to inspire the type of fear that could possibly linger and prevent the reader from doing something he or she once loved? Like I once loved riding the surf.
A while back I received a fan letter from a reader, who told me she once had a fear of ghosts. The thought of ghosts—the possibility of ghosts—terrified her. But then she started reading my Haunting Danielle series, and she began seeing ghosts—even the possibility of ghosts—in an entirely new light. She was no longer afraid of them.
While it’s a writer’s job to stir a wide range of emotions in the reader—including fear—when the story is over, I rather like the idea of leaving the reader in a better, happier place.