by JT Ellison
I made a BIG mistake this week.
On Monday night, I was innocently watching television when I saw a commercial with a sock monkey. On Tuesday, I was in a local bookstore and turned a corner, coming face to face with… a traditional sock monkey. Even my late night viewing has been corrupted. Phantom of the Opera has been on a never-ending HBO loop, and there’s an antique cymbal playing grinder monkey, one which makes me cringe with distaste because he looks like a sock monkey. Putting aside the delightful Kristy Kiernan’s hallucinations of spider monkeys and my own disinterest in the real beasts, the fake ones always capture my attention. They seem to be making some kind of resurgence. Whether they are on television, made from all natural ingredients or whatever, sock monkeys are suddenly EVERYWHERE I LOOK.
Now before you start thinking I’m just plain crazy, allow me to explain the genesis of this… well, fear is the only truthful term I can apply here.
When I was a little girl, I read a book called Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures, an anthology of short stories edited by Andre Norton and illustrated by the legendary Rod Ruth.
I remember reading this book one night when my parents were out. I had a babysitter. Mistake number one, no parents to turn to in my hour of need. Mistake number two, getting scared to death by the story of the basilisk yet continuing to read the damn thing. Mistake number three, looking at the illustrations. There was no way you couldn’t spend hours staring into the creatures eyes, especially that stupid basilisk. Mistake number four, allowing the book to stay in my room.
Of course I didn’t leave the book in my room. After I finished reading the stories, I took it into the living room and left it on the coffee table. But it ended up back in my room. At the time, I was entirely confident it was that damnable Patchwork Monkey, his nasty little fingers grasping the pages of the book, creeping, creeping up the stairs to my room, depositing himself on my night side table where he could sink those viciously sharp little teeth into my neck whilst I slept, unaware. But since I couldn’t sleep that night, kept drifting in and out, all I could understand was I heard dragging footsteps in the hallway, a hulking monster came to my door, and the book was placed with great care on my bedside table. See that little sucker, just sitting in the tree? Can’t you imagine those stringy red lips opening, those sharp little monkey teeth…
Man, it still gets me creeped out.
And I know it’s in my old boxes in my parents place, which means Mom is going to be stuck going through them looking for this treasure, which is sadly out of print and sells for $200 on eBay.
Why am I searching for the book? I have an idea for a story that is going to take some research into the Gothic and horror world to make work properly. This is something I avoid at all costs. Why would I spend any time scaring myself more than I already do? It’s bad enough to delve into the mind of serial killers and comb autopsy reports on a daily basis. My imagination is always on overdrive. Toss in the supernatural element and I’m going to be a total basket case for months.
Yet I’m compelled to travel this road, to search for better ways to tell a story, for deeper meaning, for alternate routes into my readers minds. I’ve been trying to get up the nerve to open a couple of Stephen King novels. Or watch a spooky movie. Anything to start the desensitizing process.
I figure this would be a good place to start. It’s a test of sorts. Do the stories that freaked me out as a kid still wig me out? If not, if I can read them as a writer and appreciate their menace, maybe I can move on to bigger and better stories.
What would you suggest? Any books or movies that I can start my research with that won’t leave me jumpy but will give me the essence of the genre? And if you’ve got some good Gothic recommendations, please include them too!
Wine of the Week: 2003 Affentaler Pinot Noir Monkey Wine (Baden)
If you want to read something exceptionally cool, visit The Rap Sheet blog for J. Kingston Pierce’s one year anniversary celebration. "You’re Still The One" has been a week of fascinating single title mysteries considered under/unappreciated at the time of their initial publication. Many famous, not so famous and familiar writers, bloggers and industry folk’s opinions are represented. My TBR pile will never be the same.
Thrilled to hear you’re contemplating a foray into the supernatural!
Let me get this straight, though – you’re asking for suggestions of kids’ horror books, right?
I’ll have to think about that one – I jumped straight into adult horror, since my dad had all the classics around the house.
If you’re asking for adult horror that’s not too hard core, that’s another story!
I just saw the movie “Pan’s Labyrinth” last night. It was pretty brutal (more in the “real world” than in the fantasy one) but it was a great movie. Highly recommend it.
X, I’m talking about adult, not kids. That would be more appropriate to what I have in mind.
Christa, excellent choice. I just ordered it. Thanks!!
And a Monkey wine recommendation to go with it!
I can’t help with the horror recommendations, Ms. JT, except for the work of our own Simon and X. I have to keep an arm’s length away from the stuff myself if I’m going to get any sleep.
J.T.,Like Louise, I am not very familiar with horror but . . .
The Lemony Snickett series is very dark; it’s dastardly rather than paranormal, but might fit the bill.
Also, I don’t know how I survived childhood with my favorite book — a very old version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with illustrations that emphasized warts on noses, evil eyes, and mouths twisted with rancor.
Hi JT,I can’t say that I know of any books that scared me as a child. However, I did have a similar experience. I made the mistake of watching the original Night of the Living Dead when I was 12-years-old and babysitting for a neighbor. The kids I was babysitting were already in bed, the parents were late getting home, and there I was in a strange house watching that movie. What really freaked me out was the beginning of the movie when the brother is teasing the sister and says “They’re coming to get you Barbara.” I have brothers who always teased me but in the movie he said that and the zombies actually did get them. The juxtaposition of an ordinary event like a brother teasing a sister that then turns into the creepy guy/zombie actually attacking still haunts me to this day!
Well, look. I really think you should read THE SHINING. You can always STOP reading, after all! But you need to read far enough to get why it’s the classic it is.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is all psychological and a basis for so much that came after.
You have read SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, haven’t you?
leave sock monkey’s alone. i like one and i have one.
Simon, you do realize that he’s been plotting your imminent demise, right???
Pari, you know what? I may have missed my mark entirely. Perhaps the fairy tales WOULD be the better place to start.
I’ve not read THE SHINING, X, so that will be step one. I have read SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. LOVE it. Serial killers I can handle.
Mary-Francis, there’s a reason why I never liked babysitting. It was access to other people’s monsters.
Louise, I COMBED for that wine. : )
Oh yeah, fairy tales!!! Nothing more gruesome than those. I loved and love the Lang series of anthologies in different colors – and those creepy and erotic etchings. My favorite by far – THE BLUE FAIRY BOOK, which I put into my extremely fairy tale- inspired second novel as a tribute.
I’ve only dabbled in horror, but if you want old school goth try HP Lovecraft. If you can get past the sometimes antiquated language, it’s pretty heavy on the creepy factor.
Stephen King did a Lovecraftian style short called “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which I liked better than the original Lovecrafts. Apparently HP was a big influence on King.
When it comes to movies, I think people forget how truly horrifying the Blair Witch Project was, mainly because of all the parodies. I told my girlfriend (now my wife) if she ever stacked rocks in front of my apartment door we were splitsville.
There’s a great old horror anthology from 1946 called MASTERPIECES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL that’s been reprinted within the last few years. It’s like 600 pages of classic “what was that noise” horror.
I have the reprint but also a beat up copy of the original, which my mother pinched from her hometown library. So you can see where I get my love of books.
Don’t know if this would count, but I read George R.R. Martin’s novella “Sandkings” when I was a teenager. It’s sci-fi, but with a very strong horror component, and one of the single creepiest things I have ever read in my life.
I much prefer old-fashioned ghost stories to grisly contemporary horror. My favorite author of same is Montague Rhodes James, (M. R. James), author of GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY (1904), MORE GHOST STORIES OF AN ANTIQUARY (1911), A THIN GHOST AND OTHERS (1919), and A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS AND OTHER GHOST STORIES (1925). Some time ago they were published in an omnibus edition variously published as COLLECTED GHOST STORIES by M. R. James and THE COLLECTED GHOST STORIES OF M. R. JAMES, which is, alas, currently out of print.
And putting on my Diction Cop uniform, I herewith gently admonish your use of “disinterest” to mean “lack of interest”. “Disinterest” actually means “without vested interest”, i.e., “objectivity”, as in “a disinterested third party”, like an arbitrator. Lack of interest is best expressed by “uninterested”.
Now I’m going to remove my uniform and put on my armor to protect myself from all the rotten vegetables headed my way for being such a pedantic horror myself.
Mike, Lovecraft sounds like a good idea.
Graham, I’ve requested the anthology at the library. Thanks for the suggestion.
Dusty, it’s on the list. Thanks!
JLW, old ghosties are always the best.
I’ve never read The Shining and probably should. I did read Silence of the Lambs and while it horrified me I have to say I was incredibly intrigued.
I actually live fairly close to the The Devil’s Tramping Ground, which is in all the NC ghost story books. When I was growing up we had an album of NC ghost stories and the DTG one was terrifying – the narrator told of UNC students spending the night inside the “ring” and “never being the same again.” In the background you could hear the screams of what were assumed to be insane college students.
I have never yet been to the real thing, but perhaps it’s time. 🙂
One of my former writing instructors was in the horror genre. His name is Dennis Etchison and most of his best work is in short stories. Other classic horror writers in this short form are, of course, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.
JT, you might try John Connolly’s THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. There’s a huntress in there who still creeps me out.
“Simon, you do realize that he’s been plotting your imminent demise, right???”
Fran, it’s one of my all time favorites. If that’s what the rest have in store for me, I need to start reading ASAP!
Naomi, thanks for the suggestions. I never think of Bradbury as horror, but I guess he really is, huh?
Simon, I’m not. But my monkey is out of control.
Chiming in late after a crazy graduation weekend — JT knows I can’t watch any movie that messes with my mind, but for some reason reading such stories is never a problem. My all-time favorites growing up were the compilations “presented” by the master of suspense himself – Alfred Hitchcock. The ones I remember reading were mostly collections like “Stories to Stay Awake By”. Don’t remember much in the way of plot details (except for one particularly well written story about a guy who looked like a cat), but most of them were both entertaining and delightfully creepy enough to have left a sensory impression that has stuck with me all these years.
Good luck with the quest, JT!