Imagine a partly open closet door in a dark room and a child huddled under the covers watching that door to see if it creaks open. In the shadows it’s hard to tell if it has moved a fraction. Is there a soft noise from inside? Who or what could be in there? Monsters? Ghosts? Aliens? How about a furry shoe, a living wolf shoe from some twist on Little Red Riding Hood? That was what kept me awake at night, that and the belief there was always a gorilla outside my window as soon as it got dark.
Now I was a fairly smart kid and I knew wolves couldn’t be transformed into shoes. I also knew gorillas didn’t roam free in my small Iowa town, but that didn’t stop me from the horrors of imagination. On nights when my imagination raced out of control, I feared the gorilla was actually in my room under my bed. I also knew as soon as I stretched my legs out, it would reach out from the end and grab me, so I would lay there all scrunched up, determined to thwart the creature one more night.
I have no idea where these fears came from, except my mother did have a lot of shoes, but no furry ones beyond a pair of faux cheetah pelt high heels. (Note-I am not my mother’s daughter. I will never own faux cheetah pelt high heels.)As an adult, I have the whole array of normal adult fears of worrying about loved ones and illnesses and finances, but nothing as heart-pounding as those irrational childhood terrors.
Good thing the memories of those are there though, because writing for middle grade means bringing up as many memories as you can, not for the specific incidents, but for the feelings that came with them. In my books, I’ve never been trapped by a forest fire like the President’s son in Wildfire Run or caught in a blizzard like the actors in Wolf Storm, but I can call up the fear of disaster looming over them by remembering how I felt in less life-threatening disasters of my own.
So I’m curious, what fears or memories could you or do you use for writing? And how do you call them up? If I want to remember mine, I absolutely have to be away from people, away from all the chores of everyday life and away from the internet, as much as I love it. Sometimes I even do something I’m afraid of now to bring back the memories of those sorts of fear. After my children were born, I developed a fear of heights, so if I want to call up terror, I go out on a high place and look down. That does it. I’m also afraid of giant squid, though that’s a little harder to experience them first hand. With those giant creepy eyes they have, I don’t even have to run into a squid to get into that fear. It’s heart-pounding just to think about them.
Here’s your chance to confess and to help other writers realize the weird range of kid fear. Spill your childhood terrors!
~ Dee Garretson