I'm Ascarded

So I have a phobia. I actually hesitate to share it in a public forum. So irrational is this fear that I actually worry that one of my enemies will use it against me one day. What is it?

I'm terrified of snakes.

I blame this condition on my family (and really what can't I blame them for?). My grandmother was bitten by a water moccasin when she was young. So she has a good reason for her own fear. But she passed this on to my mother. Who passed it on to me. I'm not sure at what age the fear clicked on. I recall being in preschool and happily holding a garter snake someone brought in for show and tell. But later, when I was in high school, I was in my backyard and saw a rock. I said to myself, "There's a snake under there." But instead of listening to my instincts, I flipped the rock over. Sure enough, a seven-foot long black mamba hissed and jumped at me. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Maybe it was really a four-inch-long garter snake. But in my mind, it was a deadly black mamba (pronounced ma'amba a la the Crocdile Hunter, may he rest in peace).

Since that day, I--like my mother and grandmother before me-- swear I can smell snakes before I see them. They smell like dirt and evil, FYI.

After The Incident, I've avoided snakes at all cost. I refuse to walk in the woods without making enough noise to scare off any scaled creatures lurking in the underbrush. And forget about walking in the woods at night. I'm convinced--despite scientific evidence to the contrary--that snakes congregate in the woods at night to hatch their evil plans to take over the world. It's like an evil snake summit. And to that I say, "No thanks!"

I managed to avoid snakes for years until the time we took Spawn to a nature museum. They had a snake exhibit and a worker had some kind of snake out of the box for people to pet. Not sure the kind. Anyway, Spawn wanted to pet it, of course. And Mr. Jaye, who loves to torture me, suggested I show Spawn how it's done. Not wanting to let my son know how much of a wimp I am, I reached a shaking hand forward and touched it.

The good news it, the snake didn't bite or hiss or do anything other than look really bored. Nevertheless, I still broke out into a cold sweat and had to leave the room.

You'd think with all this that I'd avoid snakes in my fiction. But my fear of them is precisely why I've used them in the last two books I've written. They show up in descriptions (he smiled like a cobra), in settings (a tapestry showing the snake in the Garden of Eden), and in the book I'm working on a snake actually plays a role in a pivotal scene.

Why would I do this to myself? After all, I'm a visual writer, and every time I write a scene with a snake, I have to resist the urge to check under my desk just in case a snake is waiting to strike.

The truth is, writers have to face their fears on the page. Picking at these sensitive areas (Mark will have a field day with that phrasing, I'm sure) benefits the story. It allows you to mine the visceral and emotional reactions you yourself have had to these fears and add three-dimensions to your character's reactions to them.

What are some of your phobias?


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