I can still remember how the darkness seemed to be alive when I was a child. How it seemed to reach out for me. The thick, blurry-edged shapes would form and flee on my closet door, wisps of smoky purple against the moonlit dull yellow paint. I first saw the skeleton there when I was three, but I remember him vividly.
My three-year-old self was sure that I had been wide awake when I saw him emerge from the billowing shadows. A chill slithered up my spine and my blood pumped cold through my veins. The face was yellowed bone. The eye sockets glowed red with malignant spiritual evil. His head was crowned with three horns growing straight out of the bone.
My body shook uncontrollably under the covers where I hid. I knew he would come for me. Why else would he have appeared in my room? He was going to kill me.
Finally, I could no longer stand hiding. I slowly pulled the covers down from around my head. He was gone, but I expected he would reappear the minute my foot touched fluffy brown carpet fiber. I slid my back against the wall and moved as stealthily as a chubby little boy could, inching my way toward escape. Once I reached the hallway, I ran for my life and threw open my parents’ door.
“There’s a skeleton in my room,” I panted.
My parents were not in any way concerned. In fact, my father rather crossly commanded me to return to the place that I knew would be my end.
Amazingly enough, I lived to tell the tale. In fact, I have lived long enough to have children of my own who throw open my bedroom door and proclaim that monsters hunt them in their rooms in the darkness.
The darkness doesn’t come for me anymore. Even if it did, I wouldn’t notice. With adulthood comes fatigue, which I believe firmly accounts for the disappearance of Nyctophobia. It’s not that adults are too brave to be afraid of the dark, we’re just too tired.
It is strangely satisfying to feel that fear again. Aren’t we odd as human beings? We abhor having certain emotional responses, but in a way we revel in them. Why else would we create stories to force ourselves to feel vicariously through the characters we read about? It is a great thrill to feel with them as they save the world or fall in love. For some reason, we love to cry with them, feel rage with them, and tremble in fear with them just as much.
So, Living Bones started as a dream that I had. A nightmare. It became a book as I was driving home from the Willamette Writers Festival where I had spent the day learning about writing and pitching stories in hopes of landing an agent.
The day had been fun and successful. I had successfully pitched my stories to many agents. I then met an agent named Bree Ogden, who listened to my pitches politely but then told me that she was really looking for middle grade horror.
I don’t write horror, I thought to myself.
On the drive home, another thought came to me. An agent had just told me exactly what she was looking for. Why in the world wouldn’t I try? The next questions that I asked myself were very logical now that I knew I was going to try to scare young people.
What scared me when I was a kid? What scares me now?
And that darn skeleton popped right back into my head. I smiled when I saw him there, in my brain, because he still gave me the creeps. I had my villain, but there was so much left to decide about who he was and how he was able to move around as a bunch of bones. The story really took off from there.
I’ve always believed that a really good story has to have a really bad villain. Villains have the ability to either deflate or inflate the conflict. My skeleton lost the red eyes and horns and became Mordecai Bleak. And Mordecai has been giving people the creeps ever since he turned up on the pages of Living Bones.
To make a long story short, Bree read Living Bones and became my agent. Spencer Hill Press agreed to publish Living Bones. It has always been my dream to be an author, and now I am one.
In other words, my nightmare made my dream come true.