Here Be Monsters: On Horror, Catharsis, and Uneasy Truces with Yourself, a guest post by author Rebecca Mahoney
When I moved back to New England, I lived on the second floor of what we call a triple-decker: three floors, three bedrooms each. I had two roommates. Two sets of three neighbors above and below us. And somewhere in the house, there was something else.
As a horror fan since birth, you would think this would have been the dream scenario for me. Though I’d always hoped that if I watched enough horror movies, I could avoid living one.
But there was good news and bad news, and they were both the same. I wasn’t actually living in a horror movie, and what lived in that house with me was not actually something else. The only things there with me in my unnaturally cold room, sitting on the edge of the bed as I tried to sleep, were my own fears: my anxiety, my then-constant intrusive thoughts, and the sense of overwhelming dread that was a constant passenger in those days. During that winter, my mental health was at its lowest. And it felt so all-consuming, so reality-shaking, that it felt like its own living being. That was how I imagined it, too. As something apart from me. A monster.
All of that said, this isn’t a story about that long winter. Or about the push and pull between me and my unwilling roommate, the thing that was, of course, also me the entire time. This is about the moment it clicked for me months later, in one of those fragile, early pockets of calm. I was chopping vegetables for soup, standing in front of an open kitchen window. And in that moment, I realized I didn’t envision my monster gone in this happy ending. I pictured it curled around my feet like a sated lizard, lulled by the sounds of my knife and the rain outside. I pictured it just as dizzy and exhausted and relieved as I felt.
Even the horror movie version of this ending was not going to come with an exorcism. My fear, my monster, couldn’t disappear, it could only change shape. I knew that already. But that was the first moment that felt just fine.
If you’ve known me for longer than a week, you’ve probably heard me give an impromptu TED Talk about the cathartic potential of a horror story. It’s an inoculation, a dose of fear in a controlled environment where the fear will always end. But it’s also a way to externalize your fears, to give them a shape as frightening and bombastic as they feel, to explore the ways you can outrun them and the ways you never will. As someone who’s always carried fear close to my chest, that’s what draws me to horror. It’s the lens through which I understand that fear.
But before that winter, I had never been drawn to monster stories. Not because I didn’t like them—like any self-respecting weirdo, I wanted to be Mary Shelley when I grew up. It was that they always made me so sad.
So many of our classic monster stories are tragedies by design. A monster can be almost human, almost animal, or something that’s neither. Sometimes they’re closer to a natural force than a living being. And monsters, to me, have something in common with one of the most frightening yet comforting things about nature: monsters may cause harm, even catastrophic harm, but they rarely seem to cause harm with intent. Maybe their understanding of the world is just at odds with ours. Or maybe, like my own mind during that long winter, they’re acting on hard-wired, self-protective instinct.
Either way. Imagining this hard, scared, incomprehensible instinct of mine as something monstrous probably wasn’t the most straightforward path to finding compassion for it. When the human and the monster fight for their place in the world, they rarely come to a truce.
But I started to think that house was big enough for the both of us. I’ve rarely thought otherwise since.
The Memory Eater, a story of a girl and a monster set at odds by years of painful family history, is my second monster story, hopefully the second of many. Because every time I write one, I come just a little closer to staring down something in myself that I hope, someday, to fully understand. And every time my protagonists learn a little more about the care and feeding of the monsters inside them, I learn just a little bit more about nourishing my own.
Rebecca Mahoney is the author of The Valley and the Flood and The Memory Eater, and the co-creator of independent audio drama The Bridge. Rebecca is a strong believer in the cathartic power of all things fantastical and creepy in children’s literature – and she knows firsthand that ghosts, monsters, and the unknown can give you the language you need to understand yourself.
She studied Creative Writing at Brandeis University alongside Japanese language and literature, and spent three years in the world of US-Japan relations in Washington DC. She’s particularly inspired by classical Japanese ghost stories and their influence on the modern horror genre.
She currently works in academia, and spends her spare time cursing sailors at sea.
You can find Rebecca Mahoney online . . .
About The Memory Eater
“An eerie tale offering equal measures of fright, angst, and emotional catharsis.” —Kirkus, starred review
A teenage girl must save her town from a memory-devouring monster in this piercing exploration of grief, trauma, and memory, from the author of The Valley and the Flood.
For generations, a monster called the Memory Eater has lived in the caves of Whistler Beach, Maine, surviving off the unhappy memories of those who want to forget. And for generations, the Harlows have been in charge of keeping her locked up—and keeping her fed.
After her grandmother dies, seventeen-year-old Alana Harlow inherits the family business. But there’s something Alana doesn’t know: the strange gaps in her memory aren’t from an accident. Her memories have been taken—eaten. And with them, she’s lost the knowledge of how to keep the monster contained.
Now the Memory Eater is loose. Alana’s mistake could cost Whistler Beach everything—unless she can figure out how to retrieve her memories and recapture the monster. But as Alana delves deeper into her family’s magic and the history of her town, she discovers a shocking secret at the center of the Harlow family business and learns that tampering with memories always comes at a price.
★ “Via poetic prose, darkly ominous ambiance, and Alana’s witty, undeniably teen voice, Mahoney movingly addresses themes of atoning for past mistakes, confronting intergenerational trauma, and overcoming grief in this unforgettable read.” —PW, starred review
★ “An eerie tale offering equal measures of fright, angst, and emotional catharsis.” —Kirkus, starred review
“Mahoney combines a touch of magic with a story of grief, loss, and growing up under the weight of a whole town’s survival.” —Booklist
“A contemplative, heartbreaking exploration of family and the ways in which we heal and hurt each other.” —BCCB
“Strange and beautiful, The Memory Eater is a book you won’t easily forget.” —Nicole Lesperance, author of The Wide Starlight and The Depths
“Tender and unsettling and endlessly inventive, The Memory Eater is a book unlike any I’ve read before. I will be thinking about this story for years to come—I only wish I could give my memory away and read it again for the first time.” —Courtney Gould, award winning author of The Dead And The Dark
“Eerie and atmospheric, here is a love letter to the power and importance of memory, wrapped up in a book you’ll surely never forget.” —Sarah Glenn Marsh, author of the Reign of the Fallen series
Filed under: Guest Post
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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