RG2E Featured Author Anne R. Allen on “Bag Lady Fears: How I Faced Mine by Writing ‘No Place Like Home'”

Happy Weekend, RG2E Peeps!

We’re welcoming back to The RG2E, one of my fave authors, Anne R. Allen, whose got a fascinating look at a very real issue – Bag Lady Syndrome.

Take it away, Anne…

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According to MSN financial columnist Jay McDonald, “Bag lady syndrome is a fear many women share that their financial security could disappear in a heartbeat, leaving them homeless, penniless and destitute”

And the Washington Times reports, “90 percent of women say they feel financially insecure…and almost half are troubled by a ‘tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady’. ”

Bag-lady syndrome can be paralyzing, according to Olivia Mellan, author of Overcoming Overspending, and a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in money psychology.

She says “Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet.”

“It cuts across women of all social groups; it’s not like wealthy women don’t have it,” says Mellan. “Heiresses, women who have inherited wealth, have big bag-lady nightmares because they really feel like the money came to them magically and can leave them just as magically.”

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Photo By David Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

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When you quit your day job to write full time—especially if you’re single—those fears can escalate to nightmares, anxiety attacks and debilitating self-doubt.

For me, they hit a crescendo when my publisher went out of business and I had to start at square one, writing query letters to agents and editors again like a newbie.

I had to face the fact there would be no more money coming in from the books I’d worked so hard to promote. My magazine writing gigs had dried up, too: either the journals had gone under or were no longer paying.  I’d been out of the workforce for years and the world was in the middle of a recession. My savings were dwindling fast. I feared I’d made all the wrong financial choices and I’d soon be living under a bridge.

I started having a recurring nightmare about living in a rusted, wheel-less truck in some kind of dump full of rats. My skin was crawling with insects. Sometimes parts of my body would fall off. I’d wake up screaming.

One morning I woke from one of those horrific dreams to an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition. (Yes, I have Public Radio on my clock radio: nerd city.)  They were talking to a successful Manhattan magazine editor who had lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff.

Look: it can happen to anybody, I told myself—even people with a ton of savings who have done everything right—and at least I don’t have all that much money to lose.

I got up and read my local morning paper, which was full of articles and letters to the editor complaining about our local homeless population, and how their camps and panhandling  were ruining our town’s idyllic image as “the happiest town in America.”

I flashed on how that posh magazine editor I’d heard on NPR could become one of those scruffy people standing outside the San Luis Obispo Mission with a cardboard sign. She could be one of those despised people living in the “filthy” camps.

So could I.

An awful lot of us are only one Bernie Madoff or catastrophic disease away from those camps.

So I took a day off querying and outlined a story about a New York magazine editor who is not only conned by a Bernie Madoff type, but married to him, so she not only loses everything, but is accused of being complicit in his crimes. On the lam and destitute, she ends up living in a homeless camp in the idyllic wine country near where I live.

For me, picturing somebody like Martha Stewart living in a tent and cooking over a Sterno stove, worrying about where to go for showers and basic bodily functions—not knowing which homeless people she could trust—helped me to walk myself through my fears and see that it would be possible to survive.

Thinking the “unthinkable” sometimes helps us to cope with our fears. If we can visualize ourselves in a terrifying situation that has a positive outcome, it can help us overcome the terror.

As the “Anxiety Doc” says “When it comes to treating anxiety, panic attacks and phobias, creative visualization techniques have proven very therapeutic for sufferers. In order for the visualization to be completely effective, the person must involve all their senses in the process. They need to see themselves performing the behavior, hear the sounds associated with it and feel any tactile sensations. In some cases, even the senses of taste and smell will be involved.”

That’s what a writer does! So as when I visualized my character, Home decorating magazine editor Doria Windsor, in a homeless camp, I pictured her surviving each of my own fears: the lack of hygiene, the stink, the cold, hunger, loss of dignity, etc.

And if she could do it, I could.

It also helped that I write romantic comedy. I had Doria—and my ever-unlucky sleuth Camilla—both find romance and a little wisdom as they face homelessness because of the Ponzi-scheming villain’s crimes.

Then I started giving the homeless people in Doria’s camp personalities and backstories. I researched by talking to a few of the homeless people who panhandle in front of some of my favorite stores in Morro Bay. One woman was remarkably plucky and full of humor.  She became the model for my character of Lucky. I decided not to make my homeless characters objects of pity, but strong-minded survivors who help solve the mystery of a homeless man’s murder.

In a way, they’re the real heroes of my story.

Not long after I started the book, I got an offer from the editor of a small press to publish my backlist. Then another offered to look at the new stuff.  Between September 2011 and December 2012, I published seven books. NO PLACE LIKE HOME is the most recent. It’s the fourth in my series of Camilla Randall rom-com mysteries.

NPLH final

On Amazon

$4.99

Things are looking up.

I’m not saying that I’m entirely over my bag lady fears. Some of us never will be. But I don’t have those nightmares anymore and the panic isn’t lurking there under the surface every time I lie down to sleep.

I’m giving away a copy of NO PLACE LIKE HOME, so leave your name in the comments (and an email address would help our admin a lot) and one of you will be chosen for a free book.

So tell me: Do you have bag lady fears? Have you ever had nightmares about being homeless? How do you cope with them?

About Anne:

Anne R. Allen is a former actress and stage director who lives on the Central Coast of California. She’s the author of six romantic-comedy mysteries. Her newest is NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

Until the end of February 2013, her previous Camilla Randall mystery, SHERWOOD, LTD is FREE on KOBO and Smashwords. It is also available in paperback from Amazon. It’s inspired by Anne’s own misadventures with her first publishers, an outlaw band of Englishmen following their own self-styled Robin Hood.

She has written a guidebook for authors with Catherine Ryan Hyde (author of the iconic novel Pay it Forward.) HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE…AND KEEP YOUR E-SANITY! She shares an award-winning blog with NYT bestselling author Ruth Harris at Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris

Author page at Amazon.com

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Wow, Anne! What a fabulous post! I write about Madoff-style Ponzi-scheming too in my Cozy Cash Mysteries, but I never thought about it from the homeless angle. Fascinating!

Thanks sooo much for sharing with us today, and for the Ebook Gift Copy and FREE Ebook too!

The Best of RG2E Reading Wishes — D. D. Scott, RG2E Founder

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21 thoughts on “RG2E Featured Author Anne R. Allen on “Bag Lady Fears: How I Faced Mine by Writing ‘No Place Like Home'”

  1. This book sounds excellent, I can’t wait to read it! Of course I have had Bag Lady Fears, but I also try not to focus on the what ifs because that in its self will drive you crazy! I have anxiety issues as well but the main thing for me is trying to remember you can’t change the past or predict the future only try to focus on the present! I would love a copy for my Kindle!
    allysonbrann06@yahoo.com

    • I’m such a cybermoron. I forget that I can answer individually here, not just in the thread like on my own (Blogger) blog. This is good advice for all of us who suffer from anxiety. Taking things one day at a time and breaking things into smaller bits helps fight off that overwhelming sense of doom. I know it all too well.

  2. Great post! I know that I have the Bag Lady fears, but I try my best to believe in my faith with the Lord and put it in his hands. I try my best to re-evaluate how I am living now and see what I can do to change some things to not make me go crazy thinking that I will be homeless or walking to work. I try my best to live day by day since I can’t predict the future. I’m looking forward to reading No Place Like Home.
    beckyqward@gmail.com

    • It is best to stay focused on the present, but be prepared for sudden change. A hard line to walk sometimes. I wish I knew how to do it better. I’m sure your faith helps.

  3. WOW, what and insightful post.
    I know how hard I have worked to hopefully afford retirement.
    I feel for all who invested with not only Madoff, Wall street and unscrupulous banks.
    I watch every penny and fret over making ends meet.
    I do however try to remain positive, and focus on the positive possibilities.
    I am so happy for your renewed success, Persistence does pay off!
    I would love to read “No Place Like Home” on my Amazon Kindle.
    I will check out the other books in this series as well!
    Thank you for this opportunity to win.
    bkg0605(at)aol(dot)com

    • Thanks Barbara!. Persistence does pay off. Although some people called it stubbornness and a complete lack of realism. I had a lot of friends drift away during the process.

  4. GREAT POST!. But I’ve never read one of yours that wasn’t. I’d love to have “No Place Like Home,” except that I already have it. I’m working my way through the Camila Randall boxed set. I’m currently in the one set in SANTA YNEZ, CA––where I live! I get very annoyed with writers who write about a specific place and bollix up everything about it. (The problem with research done on Google, I suppose.) You absolutely nail it. We got ‘em heading over the the Maverick Saloon with all the dollar bills on the ceiling, over to the Chumash Casino, on and on. I think you even got the location of the bathrooms at the Maverick right And the writers’ conference where the whole thing takes place! What a hoot! I’ll say more when I review the book. Great job!

    • Great to see you hear, Sandy! I’m so glad you’re enjoying Ghostwriters in the Sky. I had so much fun with the setting. Santa Ynez is such a set of contradictions: Cowboys and Bikers and Movie stars and Ronald Reagan and Indian gaming and old California money. And yes, I have been to the Saloon on several occasions and had to wait in line by the pool tables for that bathroom :-) What I enjoyed most, though, was my character who’s a cowboy poetess with dementia. A heroine with great long-term memory.

  5. wow, what an inspiring story of how you worked thru your own fears. Yes, we all seemed to have the ‘bag lady’ fear. I have been dependent on my husbands income for many years and am unable to work full time due to disability. I often fear what will happen if something happens to him. I am recently indy published, but still not making anything near what he makes. i am so inspired and awemofmyour cerative energy and how you put it to work for you by turning it into a novel. Thatntakes courage and chops! your book sounds so intriguing. I would like to have a copy.

    thanks again for sharing your awesome vision.

    Lily Silver. darklily60@gmail.com

    • The disabled are especially at risk, and when a disability isn’t outwardly visible, it can be hard to get help. You’re lucky in having a spouse to provide for you, but as you say, bag lady fears can merge with the universal fear of losing a loved one. I hope your indie books take off and make you a great income! .

  6. Oh my word! I thought I was the only one with bag lady syndrome. I grew up with financial uncertainty, so I’ve always been “frugal,” AKA cheap. As I approach retirement and no full-time job, I worry if Social Security will run out of money, if my savings will be depleted by a disaster, if my car will need replacement, etc.

    It’s one of the reasons I decided to indie-publish. While I may not make a whole lot of money doing it, at least I’m not waiting around (for years) while I try to get an agent, a publisher, and, eventually sales. Whether I succeed or not is up to me.

    Thanks for this informative post.

    • I’m cheap too. My sister says I pinch every penny until it screams :-). Then every so often I do something totally crazy and go off and travel and spend too much.

      I’m with a small press for the same reason. They can get my books out there with in a month or so of my delivery of the final edits. And they’re not going to stop publishing after four months the way the Big Six do if you haven’t sold thousands.

  7. Allyson–Good advice for all of us who suffer from anxiety. Taking things one day at a time and breaking things into smaller bits helps fight off that overwhelming sense of doom. I know it all too well.

    Becky–It is best to stay focused on the present, but be prepared for sudden change. A hard line to walk sometimes.

    Barbara–Thanks!. Persistence does pay off. Although some people called it stubbornness and a complete lack of realism :-)

    Lily–The disabled are especially at risk, and when a disability isn’t outwardly visible, it can be hard to get help. You’re lucky in having a spouse to provide for you, but as you say, bag lady fears can merge with the universal fear of losing a loved one. I hope your indie books take off and make you a good independent living! .

  8. As someone born during the depression, my children and husband are aware that I live with an underlying fear that its all smoke and mirrors and one day…It sounds like your fears were more visceral than mine. Anne, would you be willing to take an excerpt from what you wrote describing your fears and do an essay for the NW Tolosa column. I think it would really resonate with women readers.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win your book.

    Judy Guarnera

  9. Oh, yes, Anne, I have bag lady nightmares since I quit work to write full time. Especially since I have only about a year and a half of savings left with which to supplement my more-than-inadequate social security. But then I remember that my son still owes me at least $10 grand for the orange juice he drank while growing up, and I take heart once again. And maybe by the time he’s finished paying that off (and starting on the bill for his laundry – he doesn’t know about that one yet! LOL), my suspense novels and my Write It Right series on wiring fiction and creative nonfiction will start to bring in that depleted supplement. One can always hope!
    aim2write@yahoo.com

  10. Susan–It is terrifying, isn’t it? Anybody who hopes to make a living in the arts is taking a wild gamble. But people do make a living writing, so why shouldn’t we be among them, right?

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