When I was a little girl, there were monsters all over my room. I literally sawed the end off a broomstick and nailed it to the door frame of my closet so I could lock my closet door. This wasn’t a fear my parents understood, but what they did understand was that I believed the monsters existed.
For whatever reason, our fear of monsters seems to go away on its own as we mature. The memories; however, never leave us. By the time I was sixteen, I was a junior in high school and I was working after school for a daycare. After graduation, I continued to work for the daycare, believing I would go to college for a degree in working with young children. That, like the fear of monsters in my room, also went away on its own. My love of writing and the written word–ever present in my heart–would stamp out that thought as quickly as it came. Instead, when I was nineteen, I was promoted to caring for the toddlers and children up to age five.
Nap time was a challenge most days, and there were a few children in my care who were very much afraid to go to sleep. They explained as best they could that the monsters in their room would find them when they slept and they would have nightmares. I got them to nap by telling them that I would stand watch over them and make sure no monsters could find them. It worked to a certain degree, but the fear was there. I wasn’t going to go home with them, was I?
One afternoon that same year, I sat down on my living room floor and I wrote the text for what would become “There Are No Monsters Here.” I imagined a child who was afraid of going to bed and who believed monsters lurked in all the available space of his room. I asked myself: How is this child going to overcome his fear? About that time, a spider came crawling toward me. I screamed bloody murder (I’m 100% an arachnophobe). My mother, who was just down the hall in the kitchen, inquired about the reason behind my scream. I commented on the presence of a huge spider. She came out of the kitchen with a paper towel, calmly gathered the creature up in it, and placed the eight-legged monstrosity outside. My eyes were still the size of saucers when she came back inside, and as she passed me, she reminded me that the poor spider was likely more afraid of me than I was of it. I highly doubted that observation, but it did give the answer to my question.
What if the child in my story made the decision to find the monsters in his room so that he could face his fear? What if, when he went searching, he didn’t find them? And, what if, he made the brave decision to call out to them and tell them not to be afraid? What if, then, the monsters appeared all around him, but they weren’t at all what he had imagined? And what if having the courage to reach across the unknown was the best way to make a friend? Once I thought about that, the story wrote itself. In the weeks which followed, I read the story to the children at the daycare. I went so far as to create a coloring book for them. On the page where I mention the ugliest monster, I left that page blank so the children could draw and color their own. I received praise from the parents who reported back that their children were having fewer and fewer night terrors. It wasn’t an end-all solution to their night terrors, but it did help.
Many, MANY years later, I was sitting next to a friend and telling her about this story. For no reason I can fathom, she mentioned it to her father. And, for no apparent reason, he made a drawing of a child’s bedroom with cuddly monsters hiding all around it. She showed it to me and I immediately asked if he would like to illustrate the book. He agreed to illustrate it, and within six months, “There Are No Monsters Here” was available in Amazon and Barnes and Noble online bookstores. I’m very proud of this book. It was the first thing I had written that I could imagine being published, and that is why I chose to publish it first.
I was blessed with the opportunity to read it at the local Barnes and Noble during their story hour, and I was further blessed with a sell-out of “There Are No Monsters Here” within an hour of my reading. Those who have read it to their children who suffer from night terrors have told me their children are no longer afraid of going to bed. And those whose children did not suffer from night terrors have told me how much they simply enjoy the story. I am honored and humbled by their words and I am so glad something I wrote made a difference.
I’ve often been asked why I write. My answer has not changed very much over the years. The why is simple: I was blessed with understanding words at a very young age, and at a very young age, I realized I didn’t want to just read stories, I wanted to tell them.
I wanted to create worlds of my own, place characters within them, and see what happened next. That’s right . . . I don’t always know what happens next. Sometimes, even I have to wait and see. That might sound strange coming from the creator of the story, but it’s not that strange if you think about it.
Let’s say a world in the form of a city gets created in a story. Characters from all walks of life get thrown in together. Some meet, some don’t. But each will have a life all their own, until they interact with someone else. Let’s take Joe, for example. Joe is a character in this story who once had dreams of being an astronaut. Joe had parents who weren’t very supportive of his dream. Joe had friends who didn’t dream of being astronauts. And, soon the dream Joe had became just that: a dream. His reality is that he’s an auto mechanic who works from sun-up to sun-down. And, yet, there’s just that little spark of the dream in him that refuses to die. He spends his days under vehicles that need repair but his mind is among the stars. He lives his life this way, day-in, day-out. Until he meets Khara. Khara is a refugee from the planet Dulac. She looks human, she acts human, but she’s not human. Hiding from a Dredulian Tracker, she ducks into Joe’s shop. He comes out from under a vehicle and sees her for the first time. He’s taken by her strange beauty and, when he learns the truth about her, by her plight. He wants to help her, but how? Soon, the Dredulian Tracker locates Khara and takes her into custody. She is to be transported to the rival planet Dredul where she will be put to death. How can Joe help? Let’s say Joe meets Khara’s uncle, Korad, who had been separated from Khara in a laser blast on Dulac. Korad has followed her trail to Earth and her signature to Joe’s shop. Now, Korad might have an ally in this battle and Joe might just learn to be an astronaut at the guidance of Korad. Joe gets his dream . . . and maybe the girl, too!
I wrote that just now with no plan at all in mind. I put characters together in a story and trusted them to figure it out. As I become each character, I am driven to write in their interests. For Joe, it’s to become an astronaut and, perhaps, to be free of his mundane and lonely existence. For Khara, it’s to be rescued and to be safe. For Korad, it’s to find and protect Khara. Perhaps, in the process, Joe and Khara form a bond before the Dredulian Tracker captures her. Joe would then be driven more by love than by desire to fulfill his dream. His dream then becomes secondary but it doesn’t stop being important to him. Characters change in personality and motivation very much the same way real-life people do. For the writer, it’s about committing to the story and the journey. If the writer can commit, the story usually writes itself.
Happy writing everyone!