The Writer’s Pet: Eva Holland and Nerve

Eva Holland on her Alaskan Husky, Tacoma, and her book, Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear.

The Writer's Pet: Eva Holland's dog Tacoma
Photo: Eva Holland

No. 3 in the series The Writer’s Pet by Zazie Todd, PhD.  

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On the way back down the mountain from ice climbing, Eva Holland suddenly finds herself frozen with fear. This experience, and the recent loss of her mother, prompted Holland to write Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear, which beautifully pairs personal experience with the science of fear and anxiety. The New York Times described Nerve as “An intimate and wide-ranging look at fears and how we overcome them.”

Holland told me about her dog, Tacoma, the benefits of stepping away from the screen for a dog walk, and her approach to writing Nerve.

Cover of Nerve by Eva Holland

What is your dog’s name? 


Type of pet? 

Alaskan Husky

What do you love most about your pet? 

I love how happy he is almost all of the time - he's been this incredible shot of joy in my life during a tough year. He was a working dog - he's a retired racing sled dog - and watching his delight as he discovers all sorts of experiences in his new life of leisure has been a balm.

"I set out thinking it would be a book about "curing" or "conquering" fear, but it became a story about the value, the vitalness, of fear too."

What makes Tacoma happy?

He is reliably delighted by runs, walks, snacks, and new smells! But what he seems to love most, so far, is romping through tall grass and brush, getting his coat jam-packed with bits and pieces of plant life. I'm looking forward to seeing him in the snow.

The Writer's Pet: Eva Holland, author of Nerve, in a kayak with her dog
Eva Holland and Tacoma. Photo: Carrie McClelland.

Does Tacoma help or hinder your writing? In what way? 

It's hard to say so far - I brought him home in April and have not been writing a ton yet in the pandemic. But I expect that the necessity of stepping away from the screen to take him for a walk and clear my head will be good for my writing, overall? My prediction is that he'll be more help than hindrance.

Tell me about your book.

NERVE is a hybrid of memoir and science reporting. I use a personal narrative to explore the evolving science of phobias and trauma; anxiety and what I guess we can call dread are in the mix too. The book follows the story of how, with my mom's sudden death from a stroke in 2015, my worst fear came true, and how that experience led me to try to face, and overcome (or at least renegotiate), my other major fears. Along the way I look at recent neuroscientific and psychological research into threat assessment, fear memories and phobias, and more, and I try the latest therapies for various fear-related ills. I set out thinking it would be a book about "curing" or "conquering" fear, but it became a story about the value, the vitalness, of fear too.

"He's been this incredible shot of joy in my life during a tough year"

What prompted you to take that hybrid approach?

I was interested in the science of fear for my own reasons - because I had struggled with my fear of heights so much, and because of my experiences with flashbacks and traumatic memories after a series of car accidents. I did consider just doing a straight look at the science, but it seemed... odd, maybe even almost dishonest... to leave out the personal experiences that were driving my interest? It felt like an enormous omission. 

My hope was also that pairing the personal with the science would help make the latter more accessible and relatable, less theoretical, for readers who aren't ordinarily inclined to dig into science reportage. I knew that making a hybrid approach work would be the biggest technical challenge in writing the book, but my hope was that if I pulled it off, I would find a wider audience that way. 

Name your local/favourite independent bookstore that has your book for sale

My local is Mac's Fireweed Books here in the Yukon, but it's also been very cool to see services like Bookshop popping up to support indies even when we can't shop them in person. 

Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear is available in my Amazon store and was featured in my summer reading list.

The Writer's Pet: Eva Holland and Nerve
Eva Holland. Photo: GBP Creative

Eva Holland
is a freelance writer based in Canada's Yukon territory. She is a correspondent for Outside magazine, and her work has twice been anthologized in The Best American Science and Nature Writing. Her first book, Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear, was published in April 2020.

Website: Follow Eva on Twitter.

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

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