On Mother’s Day in 1983, Dad, my brother Johnny, and I presented Mom with a silver, 30-pound, top-loading VCR with a wire-connected remote control. It was our family’s first VHS player. That magical movie box, a wonder of Cold War-era technology, was responsible for my first foray into fiction writing.
I couldn’t tell you what my parents were doing while Johnny (7) and I (10) covertly watched an hour of The Exorcist, nor do I remember what the two other, likely more appropriate, movies we’d gifted my mother were. What I do remember are the inevitable nightmares that prompted Johnny and I to sweat out our nights under layers of blankets on the pullout sofa in the living room, believing the thick padding an impermeable membrane between us and evil.
In the bright, comparatively safe light of day, we enthusiastically shared the terrifying details of Linda Blair’s possession with the neighborhood kids, who naturally ate it up. We made up the repressed/forgotten/unseen parts of the movie, which changed a bit with each retelling. New characters and plots emerged and, at some point, I started writing the stories down. Naturally, the other kids wanted in on the storytelling. I wrote dialogue and assigned roles to the neighborhood gang. We rounded up props, blocked scenes, and rehearsed with the seriousness of professional thespians. When the junior director du jour deemed us ready, we performed our horror show for whatever audience we could round up. At first, our drama played out on the front porch or under the massive magnolia tree in the front yard, but we eventually moved the production to the derelict bandstand in the city park across the street.
This is where the magic happened, y'all. I remember a lot of grafitti.
There were plenty of stories in our creep show repertoire, and each one featured some manner of monster. When I think about those summers of amateur theater in Dellwood Park, my most vivid memory is of Johnny, dressed in our mother’s housecoat, using a borrowed skillet and spatula, earnestly performing the mundane tasks of making breakfast. The rest of us watch, bare legs sizzling on the hot metal benches, as the baleful howl sounds offstage. The dropped skillet clangs against the stage, the pancakes forgotten, as the beast spectacularly transforms beneath a construction paper moon.
This, but bigger and with more Elmer's glue. And full because, you know, werewolves.
Three decades later, as my first novel, Jeopardy Surface, nears publication, it's obvious to me that my writing soothes my need to examine what terrifies me, to bring it into the light and transform it into something tolerable, even entertaining. I'll also say that surprising, thrilling, and terrifying another person with a story is as gratifying now as it was back in '83. As I work through the final pre-publication process, as things are shaping up and my former thesis becomes a BOOK (it's still surreal), it’s not hard to imagine that old bandstand stage in East Texas. The glue holding the cardboard set together may still be wet, but the narrative is finished and the characters are waiting in the wings to make their debut. From my backstage vantage point I see you there, Dear Reader, sitting in the audience beneath a paper moon. Curtain's up.