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.