I didn’t like to read until I was 10. Prior to that, I’d shy away from books completely, reading only when I must or at least pretending to read when I’m under the stern eye of a teacher who loveth not idleness. I’d whittle away my spare time watching afternoon cartoons and Save by the Bell reruns. I don’t know what bought upon this sudden love of reading, but I’m willing to attribute it to rebellion.
My mom is superstitious and one side effect of her superstitions is a banned on all objects of the macabre. Black is strictly forbidden in the family wardrobe, stray cats are promptly shooed away from our garden, and there is a strict rule against bringing home any objects associated with death and the otherworldly. It’s almost as if the mere possession of these objects is an official invite for ghouls of the afterworld to merge with our reality. There goes my Halloween projects…
Around that time, R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series were the popular literature amongst the 5th grade crowd. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be interested in reading at all, but the temptation to piss off my mother was too great. So during the summer of ’95, I’d visit the library and industriously file through the big bin of tattered Goosebumps paperbacks, smuggle the literary contraband home in my backpack, and read them secretly on the porch or at night, stashing them away whenever my mother entered the room. What a thrill! The access to forbidden stories, the unauthorized merging of realities.
Of course, R.L. Stine never scared me with his cheesy stories and even at 10, I was skeptical about my mother’s unfounded beliefs that the dead flitted unseen among the living. But at night, with images of haunted masks and headless ghosts swirling in my head, with stray cats fighting in the garden below my window, their vicious purrs like the wailing of sickly infants, it wasn’t so easy to laugh at the existence of ghosts, demons, and bloodsucking fiends. Unable to sleep, I’d look over at those Goosebumps covers, harmless and even laughable in the day, but then there was something about that dummy’s wooden mouth, a grotesque elongation of the oral orifice that revealed a black, bottomless void made many times more sinister by the moonlight streaming in through my window. It was like staring into the eye of a hopeless, abominable abyss. I quickly flipped the book over and vowed never to fall asleep next to Goosebumps again.
In a year’s time, I’d read all the Goosebumps at the library, I even saved my lunch money to buy the newest Goosebumps from the bookstore, but I’d read those in less than 2 hours. It became apparent that the prolific Mr. Stine and his monthly installments weren’t enough to satiate my obsessive need to consume horror stories. Then began the brief transitional period of reading R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series and Christopher Pike; it wasn’t until I was nearly 12 that I discovered Stephen King in my childhood quest for the next twisted image.
And Stephen King provided plenty of twisted images—twisted images, dismembered corpses, wife-beating men, bloodsucking prostitutes—I’ve officially exited Sweet Valley High territory. Stephen King covers weren’t as obviously “horror” as Goosebumps covers, so my mom was okay with me reading King over Goosebumps. I’m just fortunate enough that my mom never heard of Stephen King and his penchant for foul language and fictional gore.
Was my mind sullied after reading Stephen King at age 12? Like a white handkerchief trampled in the muddy thoroughfare, my impressionable young mind was sullied through and through. I can confidently say that my imagination is more elastic (and by elastic, I mean twisted) because of Stephen King.
You wouldn’t think, what with all my blogging about Jane Austen and Diana Gabaldon, that I was a horror novel fanatic. When I turned 13, I had one foot in horror and the other in romance. How did this dramatic change in genre occur? For that, I credit V.C. Andrews for bridging the thin line between love and the macabre with a genre I would like to coin as “Horror-Romance”…but that is a topic best saved for another post.