My pre-author-reading-jitters are not exactly uncommon. Stage fright and the fear of public speaking are two very common fears. Fears are Monsters. Some creep up on you and others jump out and scream BOO! In the end, I got up and read my excerpt from POED and once I was at the podium, it wasn’t all that bad.
The program for the NYU semi-annual Poe event included a mixed bag of presenters including a veteran actor with a raven puppet reciting Poe’s most famous poem, a beatbox duo with a rendition of “Dream Within a Dream,” and a singer performing an original Poe-inspired song about what he claimed to be the biggest fear of New Yorkers — bedbugs!
Yeeeeeech! He’s right. The fear of a bedbug infestation is definitely up there with hurricane/blackouts and transit strikes. Very scary stuff! Those little bugs are tiny armies of monsters and no one is entirely safe.
But not all fears are equal.
There are rational fears, irrational fears and monsters that hover between the two. I think I’d put bedbugs into that monstrous category between what’s real and what’s a nightmarish fantasy.
Rational fears? Rational fears are very important. They are the ones that reign us in, tell us not to drive after a cocktail, remind us to check the battery in the carbon monoxide detector and make sure we look both ways at the cross walk. Rational fears are rooted in acknowledging the logical consequences — albeit unlikely consequences — of a specific choice or series of choices. Rational fears are significant plot devices for storytellers.
I have a rational fear of falling. I’ve tripped and stumbled many, many times but, as an adult, I’ve only fallen twice. A few years ago I fell and I broke my elbow and a few months ago I fell and sprained my ankle. Both times I was walking quickly on the street, not thinking about the uneven pavement. It’s rational to fear a repeat. But I’m not an entirely rational creature. Now that my ankle is healing I’m back to walking full speed on the streets again. In a completely rational scenario, I’d slow down.
I have a completely irrational fear of rodents. I can’t explain it, but I’m terrified of them — out of proportion with their size or ability to do actual harm. Other people fear snakes, dogs, spiders, bridges, elevators, injection needles, thunder, escalators, crowded places, dentists, flying, dark rooms… all with that same sense of monstrous loathing.
Tweaking real fears (normal rational and irrational fears) and creating truly monstrous fears is the work of horror writers. Starting with a real fear and twisting it into an overwhelming terror is a recipe for making a MONSTER.
Hitchcock did this many times. The three that come to mind immediately are “Vertigo” (which recently knocked “Citizen Kane” out of the top spot on the Greatest Movie of All Time List); “The Birds” and “Psycho.” An amazing number of people took baths for months after that one. Hitchcock was a master of taking the minor and ordinary discomfort and turning it into a monster. Who doesn’t experience a little surge of adrenaline at a sound coming from the other side of a shower curtain?
Now THAT’S a monster-sized fear!