Reader Friday – PANIC!

Sorry for the late post this morning. So, let’s talk about PANIC today. There was certainly some of that coursing through my system this morning. I always experience a bit of panic at the end of the fall season, before winter, when I think of all I have to get done, and not enough time to accomplish it.

  1. What (in your nonwriting life) are your most common panic triggers?
  2. Do you use that emotion when writing about panic?
  3. What is your favorite book that set off the PANIC alarms, and kept you reading, or kept you from sleeping?
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About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at:

33 thoughts on “Reader Friday – PANIC!

  1. I try to live by the admonition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Don’t panic. Stoic wisdom, too: You can’t affect outcomes by worrying about them. For me, I watch out for “creeping anxiety” about something. Usually, that means “fasting” from the news for a time.

    I don’t recall panicking over a book, but I do vividly remember the anxiety (and nightmares) induced by reading Vince Bugliosi’s book about the Manson family, Helter Skelter. (This vibe was vividly and expertly recreated by Q. Tarantino in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the scene where Brad Pitt visits the Spahn Ranch…which was only about 8 miles from where I grew up. Ahhh!)

    • Great advice, Jim. You can’t affect outcomes by worrying about them, but I sure try, waking up at night “planning” for overcoming obstacles. And I am trying to wean myself off some of the news.

      Thanks for mention of the book and movie. I’ll need to stay away from them for now. I’ve got about all the worry/planning/anxiety I can handle at the moment.

  2. I don’t think in terms of panic (except for things like those moments when someone nearly side swipes you on the freeway, etc.) but more in terms of general anxiety. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, it increases with age. Most common anxiety trigger is either meeting needs (mine or someone else’s) or, tied to that, when working on a big project and you want to do it well, you get anxious wondering if you missed a detail, or if something could go wrong.

    Real life anxiety, like everything else we experience in life, is great fodder for writing fiction. Thankfully, while my characters have faults and foibles, I’ve not written any nervous nellies. I don’t need to read about them in fiction–I get enough of that in real life. LOL!

    Don’t really have any examples of panic books I’ve read that I can think of—horror genre or even very graphically violent books aren’t my cup of Barq’s. Everyone has to assess their own threshold for that and mine is low.

    • Interesting how anxiety increases with age. I’ve observed that in relatives, and now myself.

      And your comment about tolerance for violence/horror: “Everyone has to assess their own threshold for that and mine is low.” I also have a low tolerance, and I find that it can affect my writing, if I allow it to. It would be interesting to do a personality comparison between writers of horror vs. writers of cozy mysteries. Hmm. It reminds me of a book I read years ago, where the MC was constantly expressing her concern that everyone was “comfortable.” Got to make someone uncomfortable to have conflict.

  3. Sorry, TKZers! I’m the one who totally spaced Reader Friday today, and Steve ran to my rescue.

    I don’t often panic. My family jokes that the house could burn down around me, and my blood pressure would remain even. My husband panics as the weather starts to cool. Like you, he worries about having enough wood for the winter, snow removal, etc. etc., even though he’s well-prepared. My philosophy is, don’t sweat the small stuff. Problems will always arise, and we’ll deal with them. No need to panic or lose sleep.

    Thanks again, Steve! xo

    • Good morning, Sue. I admire your equanimity. That’s what this post should be about – “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

      What Sue didn’t tell you all is how tremendously busy she has been: Just released Haloed. Now getting ready to work with Cineflix to film three episodes of her stories. All while continuing to write and putting up with the nervous nellies in her life.

      Congratulations, Sue!!! Hang in there, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

      • Thank you, Steve! I wish they were turning my books into a net-streaming series. Sadly, that isn’t the case. It’s a true crime series that I’m on. Still exciting! I’ll write a post about it afterward.

  4. The worst feeling of panic is when something horrible is happening that I can’t do anything about…like being stuck in the hospital waiting room while a loved one is in a medical crisis, behind locked doors, being handled (or mishandled) by a bunch of unknown people. Then “Code Blue” comes over the intercom.

    As a kid, scary movies gave me nightmares so I avoided them and continue to do so. Who needs make-believe horror after listening to stories told by Holocaust survivors?

    Congratulations, Sue!!!!

    • Great examples from real life, Debbie. In spite of your avoiding scary movies, you certainly do a wonderful job of putting angst and panic into your novels. I remember reading Instrument of the Devil and feeling enough dread I wasn’t sure I would finish the book.

      Thanks for your comments!

  5. Good morning, Steve.

    I rarely panic. Anxiety can be a different issue. However, there’s a fine line between the two in my experience. A sudden unexpected crisis can be trigger. At any rate, yoga, deep breathing, and that stoic mindset Jim mentioned all help me deal with that. If there’s a situation coming up that might be stressful, mentally rehearsing how it can go in a positive way is very helpful.

    Unexpected crisis is one of the writer’s go to devices in my experience when it comes to stress-testing characters 🙂

    I don’t actively seek out books that induce panic in me, but I’d have to say “Silence of the Lambs” did it best when I read it years ago.

    Have a wonderful, hopefully panic-free weekend!

    • Great points, Dale. Good examples and good ways to handle it in our lives. Excellent point about that fine line between panic and anxiety. I wonder if part of that fine line between the two has anything to do with our ability to maintain control vs. losing control.

      “Silence of the Lambs” was all I could handle as a movie. I’m not sure I want to read the book.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. I come from a military family. We weren’t allowed to panic. If we started to get worked up Dad would say “Work the problem.” And we did. Came in handy later.

    The closest I ever came to panic was missing uniform pieces in Catholic school. That’s when St. Anthony became my favorite saint (patron saint of lost objects.)

    Happy Friday!

    • Thanks for stopping in this morning. I know we probably were AWOL when you first checked in.

      I like that information about St. Anthony being the patron saint for lost objects. I’m going to try to remember that the next time I lose something (which is getting more and more frequent).

      Happy Friday to you, too!

  7. In my non-writing life, panic is triggered when our German shepherd, Hoka, barks in the hallway at 2:00am.

    Reading: months and months ago, JSB advised me to read pages 25-43 of Dean Koontz’s book Whispers to learn how a master storyteller builds suspense.

    Boy, howdy, was I in a panic, from the first moment she heard the sound behind her to the last moment in that chapter, sitting in her home wondering if he’d really left her home. About 18 pages of layer upon layer of sheer terror building to a crescendo.

    I haven’t looked at the darkened hallways in my home quite the same since. Thanks, JSB. (I think…)


    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Deb. I’m going to look for Koontz’s book. I’ve read several of his books, and it seems to me he has passages like that in all of them. A real master.

      Hope your weekend is void of panic, and Hoka has quiet nights.

  8. Panic and I have an Yin/Yang relationship. My degree is in Aeronautics. My classmates and I were taught to be commercial pilots. Part of that is staying composed and to quote a fellow alum, “Work the problem.” You really don’t want to panic when you are making life and death decisions at 400 mph. It freaks people out that I can be calm in high stress situations.

    Flash forward to life as a pizza dude. Time to rely on your fear/flight response. Does it feel wrong? It is GET OUT NOW. As I teach drivers now, that is your fear/flight response. Trust it. Several million years ago, your ancestor decided not to play with the saber toothed kitty. That is why you are here today.

    With that, tell your kiddies. If it looks like a robbery, or maybe a robbery, my pizza brothers and sisters and I are going to treat it like an attempted robbery. An attempted ARMED robbery. Do not, pop out suddenly, hide behind doors, hide in shadows, hide in bushes, or hand over a wad of cash, or gab for the pizza. Fired for being armed at work is just fine.

    • Great advice, Alan. You’ve given us two excellent examples of the opposite sides of response. Yin/Yang.

      Someone knew what they were doing when they gave us the fight or flight reflex. Good emotion to work with when working with characters.

  9. Panic is an instinctive emotional reaction to a life-threatening situation where time is of the essence. It results in action that bypasses the much slower logic and reasoning circuits. As Mr. Bell points out, death doesn’t have to be physical; it can also be psychological or social, which is why people can feel panic in stressful situations such as making a potentially career-breaking presentation.

    In literature as in life, victims are the folks who have poor responses to panic, for example, by running away screaming from that pack of pitbulls roaming the street. Heroes are generally people who feel the panic but get their logic and reasoning quickly back online to find more successful responses, for example, by climbing on top of a car as the pitbulls charge.

    Physical threat to my loved ones is when I feel panic, and I’ll feel echoes of that panic if I read a book describing a similar situation. I read Dracula as a young teen. It scared the daylights out of me. Monsters never frighten me because they’re easily recognized, but vampires look just like the humans I see around me every day.

    • Thanks, KS, for those points on panic and the response to panic. Excellent. I like the way you explain it in terms of how quickly the characters get their logic and reasoning back. We need heroes with quick response (constructive response) modes.

      Good comment on vampires.

  10. I have “oh, crap” moments like remembering I left the hose running, but full-fledged panic is so rare I can’t recall many moments. I think it’s a genetic thing because my dad was like that, and my siblings are similar. Working with horses as a girl reenforced that. You do not freak out around a prey animal that weights a ton more than you do and has hooves and teeth. As an aside, if you have a kid or grandkid who wants riding lessons, get them lessons. I’ve had my life saved more than once by my ability to not react in fear or panic, and to know how to roll in an accident.

    Books and movies don’t make me panic, either. My analytical teacher/writer brain is always in the background so the emotions don’t get too out of hand when the monster does a jump scare.

    • Thanks, Marilynn. Your horse analogies reminded me of stories my father told of being a young man in the West, managing a herd of cattle on horseback. The comment that I always remembered was “If you have a bull with horns who’s looking for trouble, you never let your horse be turned sideways. You keep your horse facing the bull and let him know your not afraid.”

      I would never have made a good cowboy.

      Have a peaceful weekend.

  11. Good evening, Steve. I just received an email from you and it reminded me to check TKZ again. Sure enough, you have presented a topic upon which I am an expert. Maybe.

    My most common panic trigger is the sudden and unexpected appearance of a spider. Funny you should ask. It happened yesterday. Twice. It means it is time to spray the exterior of the house with napalm once again. Concern over the well-being of my children and granddaughter comes in second. I don’t feature either of those in my writing. It seems like cheating.

    The books that immediately come to mind as panic triggers for me are The Shining by Stephen King and The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. Need I say more?

    Thanks, Steve. Have a great weekend!

    • Thanks for checking in again, Joe. I apologize for the delayed post this morning. Sue and I got our wires crossed. That’s the fastest post I’ve ever done. I thought of the topic while shaving, wrote it in five minutes, found a picture and posted in ten minutes. Panic mode.

      I wasn’t thinking. I should have found a picture of a spider for the picture at the top. Next time.

      And thanks for mentioning the two books that have caused the most fright for you. I already have those two on my TBR list. I need to move them up to the top.

      Have a great weekend!!!

  12. I get anxious at different levels about anything I can’t control immediately but rarely move into panic mode. Right now, I’m out of town visiting my 96-year-old mother, and I’m more resigned than anything else. Also HOT because it’s 90+ here in SoCal, and she hates running the a/c, but that’s a personal thing.
    And, when I travel, I ‘worry’ until I figure out what I forgot. This trip, it was my iPad mini that I left in my hotel room.

    • Hi, Terry. Thanks for stopping in. SoCal sounds like an oven, and they don’t want you to run your AC. I hope your visit with your mother goes well, and you get your iPad back.

      I tend to worry with travel, too, trying to figure our what I need to do at each hotel, airport, or whatever. My brain won’t shut off at night. I hope your travel, over all, is enjoyable and uneventful.

  13. Hi Steve – I’m running late to the blog today. A few weeks ago I did a TKZ post about nicknames and call signs where I divulged my c/s name was “Alfred” and said there was a story behind it. Well, it’s from Alfred E. Newman – the character on Mad Magazine’s cover whose slogan was, “What? Me worry?”

    • Good evening, Alfred. Thanks for dropping by. You’re never late.

      I did wonder about the back story for your c/s name. Thanks for sharing it. I can remember the picture (I think) for Alfred. I didn’t read Mad Magazine, so I don’t know anything about his character, but I take it from what you’ve said that he was laid back.

      So, did you get the name because you never worried about anything, or because you were always worried?

      Have a good weekend.

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