Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to shine our spotlight on Kristin Dearborn, a local author we got to meet while we were at Necon this year. Her book, Stolen Away, just came out this June. For her spotlight blog, she wanted to give us this beautiful guest post on monsters and their importance.
I love monsters. The depraved workings of the human mind don’t do it for me; I want something unrecognizable, something unknown, something alien. Monsters are no better than the image you choose to project onto them. Zombies aren’t scary—everyday people’s interactions in a world with no more formal consequences are scary. When written, Dracula was more about xenophobia and a creeping fear of foreigners than the vampires we think of today. It is argued that Democratic presidencies spur more vampire movies in the US, and Republican presidencies bring forth more zombie movies (this may not be as true these days; when Obama took office, I don’t think zombies went anywhere.)
Monsters are a brilliant blank canvas to position the true story of a book. (Mild spoilers ahoy:) In Stolen Away, a creature known only as DEMON rapes human women, impregnates them, and steals their demon spawn to build his army. When I spell it out like that, DEMON barely sounds interesting. In the book, I bring my character’s baggage with me to face DEMON. When the protagonist, Trisha, is victimized by him, she’s at her lowest point. Though the monster is supernatural, what he does to her is no different than what happens to one in three women. It becomes a real, relatable experience, though with a paranormal mask. The best most of us can hope for after a rape is that our attacker be brought to justice. With a monstrous antagonist, we become empowered as we watch Trisha use DEMON’s magic against him.
Trisha and Joel, the protagonists of Stolen Away, are not un-monstrous themselves. They’re from the wrong side of the tracks, they have a history of drug abuse, and they became parents far younger than they meant to. Through DEMON’s magic, they both shift into alternate forms (perhaps true forms?). Joel becomes werewolf-like, a creature based on the inability to control animal impulses. Joel, we learn, has had anger management issues. Taking on the werewolf form is cathartic, a way to imagine working through those issues. The monstrous is perpetually a vehicle for coming to terms with life’s more unpleasant issues.
My favorite monsters are the Xenomorph from the Alien franchise, the titular Thing from John Carpenter’s 1982 film, and Dean Koontz’s Outsider from the novel Watchers. In addition to being some of the most fantastically designed beasties around, this trifecta depicts three very different types of monster.
The Xenomorph is completely devoid of humanity. It’s a killer. A predator, and when it’s brought onto the Nostromo, it’s just doing what it does. Through all of the films in the series (I’m excluding the AVP here), no matter how the humans try to fuck with it, the Alien wants to feed and reproduce, and make its territory a safe place for those things to happen. There’s no reasoning with it. The Alien isn’t evil; it’s a predator, one that’s expertly designed by Hollywood to push some very specific buttons in audiences regarding sexual trauma and fear. It doesn’t just kill; it forcibly impregnates the victim as a host before it kills.
The Thing is a horse of a different color. I can’t see the film without being influenced by Peter Watts’ short story “The Things.” (If you haven’t read it yet, head over to Clarksworld and give it a read. It’s free and it’s short. I’ll wait here.) The two texts together (I haven’t seen the 2011 version yet, someday I’m sure I will) paint a picture of an organism with a collective conscience, one that strives to survive by propagating itself. Unfortunately for all the planets with which it comes in contact, the Thing’s survival comes at the price of the host organisms. The story has been around since 1938 when John W. Campbell wrote his novella Who Goes There—also well worth a read. The tale mutated substantially into the 1951 Thing from Another World. Carpenter carefully considered each of these texts when he created him 1982 masterpiece, cleaving much more true to Campbell’s tale. Carpenter’s telling is set in the 1980s, at the start of the AIDS epidemic, and one can easily read his movie as an allegory for that. The sickness can be in anyone, the carrier may or may not know they’re a carrier, there’s no way to know. You can’t trust anyone. Is anyone who they seem? MacReady comes up with a blood test to determine who is human and who is Thing. The monster comes across as non-empathetic without Wells’ tale, but his short reminds us that every good monster is the hero of its own tale.
Finally, the Outsider is one of the most sympathetic monsters in literature. Ignore the 1988 movie of the same name, I’m talking about Dean Koontz’ novel here. The government, shadowy and evil, made two creatures, two sides of the same coin. Both are designed as weapons. One is a super smart golden retriever, created to be able to sneak across enemy lines and gather intelligence while appearing unassuming and adorable. The other was a more traditional weapon, engineered from baboons and crocodiles and other nasties to strike fear in the hearts of enemy combatants and to kill. Both creatures were fed a steady diet of popular culture, specifically Disney cartoons. The dog was doted on and adored, the Outsider was reviled. Then they both got loose. The Outsider carries a complex set of emotions, namely a seething hatred for his dog-brother, the favorite child. The Outsider is aware he is ugly, but finds solace in pretty, funny things. He loves Minnie Mouse and Disney, and can’t bear to see his own reflection in a mirror. This humanity elevates the Outsider from being a simple cardboard villain to being one of the most memorable monsters I’ve encountered.
What’s your favorite monster? Leave a note in the comments about which fictional beastie has scared you the most.
If it screams, squelches, or bleeds, Kristin Dearborn has probably written about it. Kristin has written books such as Sacrifice Island (DarkFuse), Trinity (DarkFuse), and had fiction published in several magazines and anthologies. Stolen Away was recently a limited edition offered from Thunderstorm Books, which sold out.
She revels in comments like, “But you look so normal…how do you come up with that stuff?” A life-long New Englander, she aspires to the footsteps of the local masters, Messrs. King and Lovecraft. When not writing or rotting her brain with cheesy horror flicks (preferably creature features!) she can be found scaling rock cliffs or zipping around Vermont on a motorcycle, or gallivanting around the globe.
Find more about Kristin online at kristindearborn.com or Facebook.