Bravery. Is there an App for That?

Arsonists Anonymousby Nora Snowdon, author of Arsonists Anonymous

I am not a brave person. If people are preparing to jump off cliffs with bungee cords attached to their ankles, ski down mountains at high speeds, hang glide or even parasail, you will not find me there. I don’t even like watching people risk life and limb for entertainment. I have skied, ridden a bicycle, and even met a grizzly bear mom and her cub up close out in the wild. But now that I am older, I’m a lot more chicken. The fear of pain and broken limbs far outweighs the momentary thrill of speed and daring.

I’d like to think that if I was at Richard Branson’s summer home and a fire broke out I’d rescue his mom, little kittens, and even Tom Cruise if I had to, but I can’t guarantee my appropriate reaction. In moments of panic often I just panic. So when it comes to my novels, what the heck am I supposed to do about writing the heroes? Are they all doomed to be gutless wonders like myself who always check the safety manuals before attempting anything? How can I write otherwise? “They” always say, write what you know and, by golly, I know wimps.

But I also have a vivid imagination. I think people who assume you can only write to your direct knowledge or experience are discounting the major part of a writer’s arsenal. Just because I could never pass a fireman’s physical exam, let alone rush into burning buildings, doesn’t mean I can’t imagine the motivations of many brave firefighters who do so.

When writing my novel, Arsonists Anonymous, I interviewed two guys I grew up with who subsequently became firefighters. And I toured a third fire hall located next my local library. It opened my eyes to a totally different way of viewing acceptable risks. These men and women are very safety conscious, albeit in a dangerous profession.

I think one reason I enjoy writing so much is that I get to vicariously enjoy the excitement and adrenaline my characters go through without actually risking pain and/or dismemberment. Same thing with writing romance—I get the thrill of falling in love without the dirty socks and relinquishing my TV remote. The one aspect of my character’s lives I covet in real life would be the ability to come up with snappy comebacks. But I guess if they’re rushing into scary situations for me, the least I can give them is a kickass sense of humor…