B2BCyCon Out of the Shadows Horror Tour
The Scary Stories Trilogy Corrupted Me as a Child…and I’m Glad It Did
Those of us born in the 1980s, I think, had it pretty good. We had all the good Nickelodeon shows (You Can’t Do That on Television, Are You Afraid of the Dark, All That, Roundhouse, all the cool Euro-anime-like cartoon shows like Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea), Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite, books like Wait Til Helen Comes and Dollhouse Murders. All of those have many amazing memories attached to them, but what really stands out for me is one particular night during the summer before I started second grade.
On that night, my parents went out for the evening and of course (since I was seven and my sisters were five and three) our baby-sitter came over to watch us. It was a beautiful night and we were sitting outside at around dusk. I forget what I was doing that had me so distracted, but I hardly noticed my baby-sitter going to get something out from her bag. Next thing I know, I hear this high-pitched almost witch-like voice from behind me say “Hi, little girl…”
I turn around, and saw a rather grotesque image staring back at me.
Totally true story; my baby-sitter thought it would be funny to sneak up behind me with a certain book open to the illustration that went with a story called The Haunted House. Yes, it was the very first book in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Trilogy.
After my seven-year-old self jumped about six feet in the air, I did become very intrigued by the book, especially as she began to read some of the stories aloud. From that point on, I wanted her to bring the book all the time, and when the second and third books came out (More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and More Tales to Chill Your Bones), oh you better believe I was all over those.
That seemingly passe evening from my childhood actually would go on to have more of an impact on me than I think even I knew at the moment (a reading of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow at school later that Halloween also sealed the deal as far as my tastes were concerned). From that point on, I was a fan of dark fiction and horror, and the Scary Stories series would also be among those works that would go on to shape how I write my own stories. Yes, I very much thank my baby-sitter, Alvin Schwartz, and Stephen Gammell for that one.
With that said, I also pose the question of what it was that really intrigued not only myself, but other kids who were fortunate enough to grow up with these books. Even as adults, many of us still love them and remain freaked out by Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. Oh, those illustrations…like the one from The Thing. Yeah, that one still makes me cringe (if you don’t know what I’m talking about and are feeling brave, google Scary Stories to tell in the Dark, The Thing and you will see what I mean).
To be honest, I really can’t pinpoint one specific reason as to why the stories in those books stay with me, even to this day. There are several aspects of these books that continue to intrigue me and influence my own writing:
-One aspect IS the illustrations. I mean, come on. Even the stories that weren’t even that scary were given gruesome visuals that made them so. And Gammell’s drawings are so wonderfully macabre and detailed that one can almost feel the terror and unease experienced by the characters of the stories.
– Another is the pure simplicity of the stories. In fact, the stories aren’t even that long. Some are only a page long. But when the stories get going, they really get going and pack a lot within a mere couple of paragraphs.
– Much of the stories are based in urban legend and folklore. I love the idea of some incidents told of within the books’ pages might be based in some fact.
– The stories embrace the unknown and acknowledge that some things don’t always end happily or turn out the way you might like for them to. I’m sure some might disagree with me on this, but I do feel this is an important lesson for kids to be taught early on. Not all my stories end happily, and even those that do often have some sort of unresolve. Then there’s delving into the unknown, not really knowing what might be awaiting you at the end of the road, or who the person sitting next to you on the bus or subway is. Or even the person passing you by on the street (as per The Walk: “…and the man looked at my uncle, and my uncle looked at the man…”)…
The more I think about it, the more I am able to acknowledge just how much these stories have shaped my own writing and storytelling. In fact, my short stories series, Stories from Colony Drive is named for the street I grew up on. The street on which my baby-sitter sneaked up on me with one of Stephen Gammell’s brilliant illustrations in front of her face. My novel series, The Birthrite, also has a tinge of that old world folklore and delving into the unknown is a running theme.
Scary Stories kept me up at night, I’m not going to lie about that (I would sometimes lay in bed wondering if the creepy lady from The Dream was going to come out of my closet…). But they also stirred my imagination, and really influenced me to think outside the box and start to challenge myself as a writer and a creative individual from a young age. It was the reason I began writing stories and wondering about the world around me. It was the beginning of me becoming someone who constantly questions things and isn’t of afraid doing so.
I look back on that fateful evening on Colony Drive with great fondness and I am thankful to my baby-sitter for getting the idea to scare the ever living crap out of me.
And, thanks to Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell for awakening my imagination and probably those of many others. You guys rocked it. 🙂
Feel free to swing by my booth where I am having a few giveaways of my books and some items from my product line, Antiquity & Illusion. You can also check out my book series, The Birthrite, in the Book Expo, and hear an excerpt from Descent (The Birthrite Series, #1) read by Angela B. Chrysler in Story Time.
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